WE DID IT!!!!

With the anticipation of a bride on her wedding day, the 20 road-tested members of the 2009 Illini 4000 Bike America departed Yelm, WA for their ultimate destination: Magnuson Park in Northeastern Seattle.   Underneath blue skies and Blue Angels fighter jets, the team cruised through the 70 mile route like the veterans that they are, easily conquering the few obstacles that stood between them and the seemingly-impossible End: crowds of pedestrians watching the Blue Angels soar overhead, steep roads, and a maddening network of streets.  After 71 days of brushes with cars, wrong turns, and brief periods of homelessness, nothing could stop the Illini 4000 team….

At approximately 5:15 PST on August 2nd, the 2008 Illini 4000 Bike America team turned into Magnuson Park and broke the ceremonial toilet paper finishing tape, thus concluding another successful year in Illini 4000 history.  Greeted by adoring friends and family, the 20 members of the Illini 4000 exchanged hugs and took photographs before enjoying a WONDERFUL spread of pizza, veggies, fruit, sandwiches, oh-so-delicious lemonade, and even a birthday cake for rider Connie Ger (August 5th — Happy Birthday Connie!)  It was truly the perfect end to our last ride.*

But wait, there’s more….

After leaving the park, the team traveled to the beautiful University of Washington campus.  Here the majority of the team divided-up and settled in at its last stayover locations, the Chabad House (for the girls) and the AEPi Fraternity House (for the guys) just down the block.  For many of the (male) team members, staying at the fraternity house added a new element to their Illini 4000 experience — particularly because it gave them the opportunity to watch television for the first time in 72 days! 

Alas, it must be noted that the separation of the team and the absence of several riders — who had chosen to spend the night with their family — foreshadowed the second seemingly-impossible fact: everyone would soon go their separate ways. After 72 days living, laughing, riding and sleeping side-by-side, the team would soon be no more….

It would be no more, but not without one final celebration.  At 9:30 am on Sunday, August 3rd, the 20 riders of the Illini 4000 got on their bikes (haha) and made their way to the Campagne Restaurant in downtown Seattle for a brunch hosted by the U of I College of Medicine.  Here the team enjoyed the most spectacular food ever tasted on an Illini 4000 Bike America Ride and celebrated their achievement as an entire team one last time….

And so, with everyone’s stomach full of organic yogurt, quiche, and blueberries, the team ventured into the street outside of Campagne and Seattle’s (truly) world famous Pike Place market for one last round of hugs, songs, and photographs before saying goodbye to the individuals who had – more or less – made up their world over the previous 72 days.

It was a great ride.

*Acknowledgements:
Special thanks MUST be given to the following families for helping put together this wonderful reception: The Xiaos, Topols, Gers, Cillicks, Ludmers, Clarks, and the entire Erikson clan.  Of course, the Illini 4000 wishes special thanks to Mr. Ger for serving as both official photographer and support-vehicle driver2 (thus allowing everyone to ride into Seattle), Allen Tran (for being support vehicle driver 1, preparing delicious food over the past few days, and making our team look larger than it really is in all team photographs), the Cillicks (for making awesome "We did it!" t-shirts), and Jill, the American Cancer Society representative who trekked out to Magnuson on her day off to talk about the importance of raising money for cancer research.  We, the riders of the Illini 4000 Bike America team thank you for making the end of our ride so memorable.  Thank you also to Sarah Robinson and the U of I College of Medicine for hosting such a wonderful brunch  and giving our team the opportunity to one together one last time.

The same must be said to all of the family members, donors, religious leaders, churchgoers, cancer patients,  cancer survivors and strangers who are reading this message who could not make it Seattle.  You provided us with nourishment, lifted our spirits on windy days, and jumped our car when we played the music too long and killed the battery!   We could not have made it this far without your help.

Note: While this journal documents the final days of the Illini 4000, we would encourage you to continue to visit our website in the coming days, weeks, and months.  Riders will surely be posting  additional end-of-the-ride posts as they return home and regain access to the "interwebs", thus providing you with a more comprehensive look into the end of our journey!  In addition, we will soon be making our donation to the American Cancer Society, Camp Kesem, and preparing for the 2009 Illini 4000 Bike America Ride.  That’s right — we’re already thinking about next year!  As long as cancer remains a serious public health issue in America, generations of Illini 4000 riders will continue to ride across the country in support of cancer research and awareness.  We’re a young organization — you don’t want to miss the next chapter in our story!

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