Going coast-to-coast for cancer patients

Riders raise money for Hopkins center


Decked out in the blue and white skin-tight shorts that will be her primary clothing for the next two months, Kaylin Beck strapped on her helmet, mounted her bicycle and set off yesterday from the Inner Harbor with 26 other students on a cross-country ride to raise money for cancer patients.

Never having ridden more than 15 miles at a time, the Johns Hopkins University sophomore from New York City admitted to moments of trepidation as she envisioned the heat and the hills that awaited her.

Beck, however, was able to draw strength from the success of others.

Everyone in the program's five-year history has completed the ride.

"If nobody has not finished," Beck said, "then maybe I can finish, too."

The Hopkins 4K for Cancer is a 52-city trek through the heart of America that organizers say will raise at least $70,000 for Hope Lodge, a 26-room center for cancer patients and friends. The cyclists, most of whom volunteered one day a week at Hope Lodge over the past school year, plan to complete the journey July 30 by dipping their front tires in the water at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The program has raised more than $250,000 through five previous rides. Hope Lodge is run primarily by donations.

"This money helps keep up our facility," said Cheryl Wainwright, the center's weekend staff manager.

Gloria Jetter, regional executive director of the American Cancer Society, praised the riders for embarking on such an ambitious undertaking. She spoke to the group during a morning rally on the Hopkins Homewood campus.

It is the most extensive student-run project in the South Atlantic Division/Maryland region, she said.

"You guys do an amazing feat, biking across the country," Jetter said. "It's truly inspirational."

For the participants, the ride can be extraordinarily taxing as well.

Joe Siegel, a senior from Bow, N.H., who is studying chemical engineering, was part of the group that made the trip two years ago. Siegel, one of the co-leaders this time, took a more demanding approach in his preparations: He began training in October.

"It was one of the worst and the best experiences of my life," Siegel, 22, said. "I didn't train enough for the first one. When you hit the Appalachians, they get you and they catch you off guard. But after that, you get in shape, and it's the best ride of your life."

The bikers will average 80 miles a day, maxing out at 120 miles during one particularly grueling stretch through Nevada. The route will take them through Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Boulder, Colo., and Las Vegas - and to elevations as high as 12,000 feet in parts of Colorado.

Lodging will be provided by churches, YMCAs, high school gymnasiums and college recreation centers. Sleeping bags, food and gallons of water will accompany the bikers in a van.

After leaving Hopkins, the riders stopped briefly at the Inner Harbor, where most found themselves posing for pictures for parents who wanted to say their farewells.

Siegel gave his father a firm hug, while other parents reminded their kids to call with frequent updates. An ovation went up as they pedaled on Pratt Street, headed for Waynesboro, Pa., where they were to spend the night.

A number of former participants came back to see this year's class off.

"You talk to people from each year, and it's really a culture of support," co-coordinator Katie Ross said. "We're really a 4K family, a team that transcends any specific year."

Ross was part of the 2004 team, a ride she said she made for family members she lost to cancer. Ross said it's going to be hot, there will be rain and the cyclists' legs are going to get weary, but the best way for participants to push themselves is to draw on a personal case.

They can look to one of their own for such motivation this year.

Travis Snow, a Hopkins graduate from New Hartford, Conn., made three previous trips, but after last year's ride he found a mole on his back that was diagnosed as melanoma. The mole was removed, and Snow, who had to spend time at Hope Lodge as a patient after volunteering there, is in remission.

He addressed the riders shortly before they left.

"It was a surreal experience for me to be on the other side of Hope Lodge," Snow told the bikers. "It was a cool experience - but scary, obviously."


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