The West!

A lot of amazing things have happened since my last post, sorry for such a delay.

I was unable to see Karen (a breast cancer survivor I met last summer) because her floral shop,Ambler Hill, was closed. I was pretty upset about it, as was the rest of the team, so we used some good tunes to change our moods. When we arrived to Rockville, Indiana, things got even better. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by the church members by name–they remembered me from last year! The night we spent at Rockville is by far one of the best nights I’ve had on this ride. Everyone was so warm and loving, especially Randy and Charlene. When Randy told me and Ellie how he prepared his church for our arrival, he would use phrases like “our riders” and “our bikers.” Hearing someone refer to us like that brought me to tears because it was so evident how much Randy believed in our charity, our cause, and our ride. It was inspiring for sure and I will never forget him or that night.

From Rockville we headed to Champaign. On this day, my group shared some stories–some funny and some that were a bit on the serious side. Something that really put cancer into a better perspective for me was when Katie talked about her mom’s cancer experience. When she said the words, “I just found out that my mom had cancer,” my whole body got the chills. I can’t even imagine what it feels like to know that your mom is battling such an awful disease like cancer. So lately whenever I am feeling down on a ride, I think about Katie and her mom and I ride for both of them.

Spending time in Champaign was really nice. I was able to see my sister, 2 of my cousins, and a few of the board members. My sister treated me to a dinner and then made me a huge breakfast in the morning. It was really tasty!

Arriving to Chicago was amazing! Our 30 mile ride into the city was quite an adventure and I really enjoyed it. Once we got to the Bean, I was greeted by my mom, cousin, and many of my greatest friends. It was so nice to see everyone and I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people. After our arrival, I went back home to Minooka and just relaxed with my mom. I returned back to Chicago the next night and enjoyed a nice Mexican dinner with friends. The next morning was our ride along and picnic, which was such a successful event. We raised a large amount of money and I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and friends. A lot of alumni showed up and that made the event even more special. Thank you for planning that event Brad!

After Chicago, we rode up to Lake Geneva. I volunteered to drive this day and luckily I was able to ride the last 20ish miles of the day! Thanks Sean Laude ;) Because I was able to hop out of the van, I got to ride with Ellie, Maggie, Connor Yanz, Conor Canaday, and Alex (a 2007 rider). We had so much fun–we stopped at a skate park to practice our bike tricks, played with some dogs, did a Coke challenge, etc. It was really nice to be able to ride with Conor one last time before he was off for Canada. Once again, the Topol family hosted the Illini 4000 at their lake house. With the generosity of both the Volkman and Topol family, we had a delicious dinner and the best cheesecake ever for desert.

The rest of the days in Wisconsin and Minnesota all seem like a blur. I remember eating some cheese curds, drinking bagged milk, eating a ton of doughnuts from gas stations, discovering how good gas station breakfast sandwiches are, and drinking a ton of Coke. Wisconsin is one of the most beautiful states I have ever seen. I love the rolling green hills and all of the cute baby cows. One of these days I am going to get off my bike and pet one of those little guys. I seriously can’t handle how cute they are, especially when they run and hop around. Check out this little guy that I just found on Flickr:

In Rochester, we had two special events: a visit to the Hope Lodge and a tour of the Mayo Clinic. Once again, the Hope Lodge changed my life. Being able to sit down with cancer fighters and hear their stories is empowering. I spent most of my night at the Hope Lodge with a woman named Marcia, who is on her second battle with cancer. She was filled with love, positivity, hope, and happiness. She loves Cher and working hard at each of the jobs she has. She even used to work at a department store just for fun! Her love of life has further instilled in me the idea of pursuing the things that make me happy. Because in my opinion, life is only what you make of it and you always have a choice to create positivity and happiness. On our second day in Rochester, we visited the Mayo Clinic. We were given a tour of the Mayo Clinic Center of Innovation, which is where people work very hard to change the way we experience health care. I want to work for a place exactly like this. Not only was the office beautiful, but the work environment was fun and everyone there genuinely loved what they were doing.

After Rochester, we had a few more days of riding in Minnesota until we reached South Dakota. We stayed in Mitchell, South Dakota, for two nights and during our event day, we visited the Avera Queen of Peace Cancer Center. This tour was much more educational and very enlightening on what it is like to give, receive, and pay for cancer treatment. Hearing the prices for treatment was shocking and I do not know how people do it. I hope that my future in occupational therapy will also allow me to advocate for better health care.

These past few days of riding have been so much fun. I taught a few riders this crazy look-back trick I like to do (it’s not really a trick) and we all showed off our bike dancing skills (all of those skills are inspired by the one and only David “Taco” Walder). I can finally ride my bike with no handlebars. FINALLY. I’ve been trying ever since I bought my first bike in third grade. I’ve genuinely impressed myself. A few of us have also been getting into slam poetry. It’s fun!

This morning was so surreal. We were departing Chamberlain, South Dakota, for Murdo, South Dakota. I wasn’t too excited because I was still bitter about my experience in Murdo last summer–I bought cheesesticks for $5 and the restaurant only gave me 3 cheesesticks! But anyways, the morning started off really well because the McDonald’s next to our stayover donated a free breakfast sandwich for all of us. After enjoying my meal, I walked outside and was getting ready to ride out with my group. As soon as I got close to my bike, a group of kids walked pasted and I recognized one of the younger girls. Her name is Izzy and I met her last summer in Chamberlain when we recorded her cancer experience for Portraits. I thought that maybe she remembered me, but I couldn’t tell so I didn’t say anything. I immediately regretted it and luckily, I saw her walking again on the sidewalk, asked if she remembered me, and she did! She said she was doing well and we even took a picture. It was so good to see her and it was definitely fate. Chamberlain is a small town, but it’s not that small. Our timing was perfect and meant to be. That was the best way to start today’s ride and I still can’t believe it happened. Today’s ride was a lot of fun–my group started as Team Bacon, quickly changed to Team Flat,  and ended the day as Team Slam Poetry. Maggie’s poem was better than the two hour nap the entire team took in front of a restaurant today! So glad I recorded Maggie slamming it.





Comments (4)
  • Brad Topol Brad Topol says:

    Awesome post! I hope that you post Maggie’s poem somewhere. I’m jealous of the teams crazy skillz. Plus what’s up with these traveling Moshurs this year? Very cool

  • bhapner Bridget Hapner says:

    Gabrielle, Gabrielle! I remember the cheese sticks incident of which you post and I laughed out loud as a read that part. Amazing that you saw Izzy in Chamberlin — the timing was perfect and meant to be! Glad to see that Izzy is doing well. I’m intrigued by these ‘coke challenges’ that you write of, it sounds like you guys are finding ways to have fun on the road. I second Brad — awesome post. Ride Safely!! – bridget

  • Gabrielle, great post! I am so thrilled that you are apart of this amazing journey again this year. What memories you shall have. I am glad to hear you finally mastered riding with no hands! I never have been able to do that!
    It truly is fate that you ran into Izzy. I am so glad she is doing well and that you were able to get a photo with her.
    Please continue to ride safe, enjoy all the beautiful landscapes you encounter and make many more awesome memories with the I4K.
    Love you, mom

  • Nancy Replogle says:

    I checked out your Baby Cow picture — very cute! It is good to hear this ride is reinforcing your mission in life — to create positivity and happiness through your work and those you touch. Crazy look-back trick and bike dancing — sounds like a YouTube hit! Take lots of pics and videos so we see the multi-talented Illini 4K in action. Stay strong and Enjoy your ride.

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