Michael Grant has no bicycling experience.
This summer, however, he’ll get more than enough practice as he rides 4,000 miles from Baltimore to San Francisco in 70 days as a part of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults’ 4K for Cancer program.
After hearing about the trip from a friend, Grant, a theater major who graduated in May, said he was immediately drawn to the challenge.
“People have said, ‘You’re crazy, why would you do this?’ but when I first learned about it, it was one of those things I [had] to do,” Grant said. “I don’t even own a bike, but I think that’s the best part about it. I love the sense of adventure of not knowing what you’re getting into.”
Aside from a desire to travel, Grant’s motivation stems from his mother’s battle with cancer. When he was 13 years old, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She passed away shortly after he moved from his home in Valhalla, N.Y., to Philadelphia.
“It was crazy because it was my first day of classes at Temple,” Grant said. “It was a long fight with cancer, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it was really emotional. It was at the point where she was living in a hospice and there was nothing we could do, so I kind of knew that leaving for college was a final goodbye.”
Before the ride, each participant must raise $4,500 for the Ulman Cancer Fund – Grant has pledged $6,000 and said he plans to utilize his fundraising page on the organization’s website and host events to raise money.
On June 1, four different 4K for Cancer bike rides begin – while each one starts in Baltimore, the three other groups will head to Seattle, San Diego and Portland, Ore., respectively. The moment before departure, Grant said, is similar to a pep rally.
“There are so many sendoff videos I’ve been watching that are so moving, every time I watch them I just bawl,” he said. “I can’t wait until that’s me.”
Once his team, which will have about 25 members, begins the ride, they’ll rely solely on donations from the towns they stop in for food and shelter. They’ll sleep in church basements, at community centers or in the homes of host families. Each morning two different team members will drive a van to their host destination, explain their mission and ask for donations so meals are ready by the time the bikers catch up.
On some days, the group will be on the road by 7 a.m. to reach their destination by late afternoon. Along the way, there will be at least five stops for service days that are planned in advance by two team leaders.
“We’ll stop at hospitals, hospices and community centers, basically anywhere where cancer has touched a community to volunteer and help out,” Grant said. “It’s anything from administration work to yard work, then directly interacting with cancer patients and delivering them care packages.”
On mornings the team travels, the day will begin with a dedication circle where every team member dedicates their ride to someone affected by cancer and writes the person’s name on their calf.
“It could be someone you know or someone you meet along the way,” Grant said. “If you’re going up a huge hill and you don’t think you can go anymore, you bring it back to the person you’re riding for, and that motivates you to keep going because it’s just a physical challenge and you can do it. My entire ride will be for my mom, and then each day I’ll dedicate to someone.”
Though they initially showed reluctance toward his plans to participate in 4K for Cancer, which will be in its 13th year this summer, Grant said his family became supportive once he explained why he felt compelled to take the trip. His friend Julie Britton, who completed the ride last summer and told him about the program, has been one of his biggest supporters.
“It’s no easy journey, but the sense of accomplishment you feel every day is worth the struggle,” Britton said. “[Grant] will have a new family to succeed and relate hardships with, and the generosity of the people you meet along the way humbles you.”
The only aspect of the ride Grant said he’s nervous about is the toll biking more than 50 miles a day will have on his body.
“There are going to be days when it’s freezing cold, there will be days where we ride in the rain, it’ll be hot, it’s going to wear on us very quickly,” Grant said.
When Grant reaches San Francisco in early August, he said he’s most excited for the final few miles across the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Riding into San Francisco is going to be one of the best moments of my life,” Grant said. “Seeing all these people here to support us that were there at the beginning, there’s going to be an overwhelming surge of emotions and accomplishment.”
Cheyenne Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.