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Grads Pedal from Texas to Alaska

Almost done: Shannon Kintner raises her bike in triumph as the charity bike ride team crosses into Alaska for the final legs of their 4,000-mile journey.

By Cindy Ziervogel

Shannon Kintner was only a casual bike rider and self-described nerd when she first heard a fellow student recruit for a charity bike ride that would last 70 days, cover more than 4,000 miles and cross seven states and three Canadian territories.

Shannon is a 21-year old senior at University of Texas studying photojournalism and a 2008 graduate of Elkins High School. Her classmate’s pitch for participants in the 2011 Texas 4000, a community of cancer fighters and all University of Texas students, caught her attention right away.

According to the organization’s website, Texas4000.org, the students call themselves a community of cancer fighters. The riders are passionate young people who train, fundraise, educate, and bring hope to those with cancer. The organization believes it’s a journey that takes grit, determination and support and is a metaphor for the battle against cancer.

Shannon knew she had nearly all the right qualities — a love of new challenges, a desire to help the community, and a belief in a cause that will help fight cancer. She also had a favorite cousin, Andrea, who died from lung cancer at a young age, so the fight against the disease was very personal for her.

But there was one sticking point; Shannon was far from being a long distance bike rider. In fact, she had never ridden her bike more than five miles at a time. So when she heard the words, “You don’t have to be an experienced rider to join,” she was in.

Forty-five riders besides Shannon, including two other Fort Bend ISD 2008 graduates, Shiyam Galyon of Clements High School and Melissa Abrantes of Dulles High School, shared the same passion for raising money and awareness for cancer research. They were in too.

Shannon never faltered in her commitment to the cause, but before she embarked on her journey she tried to imagine the nitty-gritty days of life on the road. Some things she could predict, others she just had to see for herself – and they ranged from inclement weather to food boredom and aggressive drivers.

In the category titled, “No way to predict this scene,” Shannon and some of her teammates witnessed — from behind a fence in Banff National Park — an encounter among a group of animals that seemed surreal.

“We were about to cross a bridge when we stopped to watch a bear that seemed to come out of nowhere, then an elk, and then we saw a wolf. They were chasing each other through water and land. It seemed like we were in some kind of magical place,” said Shannon, who easily could have been describing photos from a National Geographic magazine spread, if it were not for the fact they were watching it live.

Last fall, Shannon and 45 other students had started their hard work of fundraising, trip organizing, and reaching out to the community. Around this time they also began training, which included running, mandatory Saturday rides, and weekly mile requirements. The first week of training the team rode 40 miles and by spring break, a few months later, they were up to 150.

Before Shannon signed up for the journey, she had only ridden her bike recreationally. At the start of training, she struggled.

“I could hardly ride 5 miles at first. During training I felt like I was the worst cyclist on the team and I didn’t want to be that person,” she said. “The first athletic thing I ever did was soccer in second grade, and I hated it and quit. I was a nerd in high school. I was not athletic at all.”

The training these riders go through is tough, but knowing upfront what they would face in their 70-day trek might be even tougher. They were told to expect thunderstorms, hail, 115-degree days and nights below freezing. The trip is more than 4,500 miles, which makes it the longest annual charity bike ride in the world. And it’s twice as long as the Tour de France.

With information gathered from the previous seven Texas 4000 rides, which began in 2004, the 2011 team of cyclists knew they would pedal at elevations ranging from 500 feet to 14,000 feet, and at their highest latitude would pedal within 300 miles of the Arctic Circle. They expected something close to spending 30 nights camping, sleeping 16 nights in a gymnasium, 14 nights with host families, nine nights in churches and only one night in a donated hotel room.

They knew they’d be eating about 6,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the ride.

And, they were to assume they would have an average of five flat tires each day.

With all the preparations, warnings and expectations, on June 4 Shannon and her team began their 70-day journey from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska. It was summertime and they were prepared to use about four gallons of sunscreen. But the sun wasn’t their only weather issue. Shannon thought the rain was one of their biggest obstacles.

“It rained everyday in British Columbia,” she recalled. “We’d wake up and it would be chilly and cold. We had the coldest nights there. Hard to get over when you didn’t know what the scenery looked like because it was so dreary. We were in Canada for more than half our trip.”

Shannon quickly found out that her rain jacket was water resistant, not water proof, and with temperatures hovering around the low 40s that meant she was soaked and bitterly cold. Her wet clothes just stuck to her. Shannon specifically remembers her most difficult day.

“I didn’t want to keep going at that time. I was very frustrated. I was riding by myself when someone came up behind me and said, ‘Remember what you’re biking for.’ I immediately thought of my cousin – if she could endure this (cancer), then I could endure a cold ride. These are good problems. And the pep talk helped.”

Another obstacle the riders faced was sharing the road. When they left Calgary for Banff, there were no more back roads. Shannon described the highway traffic as busy as US 59 in Houston. Although they rode together as a group and their clearly marked van full of gear rode along with them, there were still a lot of aggressive and impatient drivers.

“We were putting our life in the hands of people going 60 mph speeding past us.

But if someone didn’t feel comfortable they could always ride in the van.”

The van was big enough for everyone to ride in. The second van pulled a trailer that fit bikes, sleeping gear, duffle bags, extra bike parts and cooking stuff.

Despite some of the physical issues of life on the road, Shannon was thrilled she made the journey. The physical part  alone was quite an accomplishment, which netted Shannon a newly acquired love of her bike and the euphoric feeling you get from physically pushing yourself.

Shannon said that when it comes to athleticism, her whole family, which includes her mom Barbara, dad Terry and brother Matt, were all like she was before her 4,000-mile ride – basically not athletic.

But after the 70-day journey things changed for her dad, who has taken up bike riding.

“I got my dad into cycling because of what I did,” says Shannon.

The motto of Texas 4000 is “Fighting Cancer Every Mile.” Shannon’s success, aside from the physical accomplishment, was in raising more than $5,000 for cancer research and being part of a team of dedicated students who stopped along the 4,000-mile journey to give presentations
at hospitals, organizations and local churches. Their goal was to bring hope and awareness to the fight against cancer.

For more information about the organization, the riders and their journey, or to make a donation, visit Texas4000.org.

Shannon leads the pack for part of the ride.


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