Day 6: The Heart And Soul Of This Trip

The ride dedication today was for a friend of Phil, who passed away before his time. Sergio was diagnosed with leukemia while in middle school and passed away shortly after.

Before today, for myself at least, this group and this trip felt like a bike group with a cancer focus. However today I realized that we are truly a cancer group with a bike focus. After our quick ride of only 23 miles with slight rain into Rochester NY about half of our group had the opportunity to visit a Hope Lodge. These special places are a sector of the American Cancer Society’s outreach to allow those with financial need to have a place to stay during their cancer treatment for free.

One of the harsh realities of living with cancer, besides the obvious physical and mental strain, is the financial burden it places on its victims. The Hope Lodge today allowed the group to better understand why there is a need for these types of locations, and we learned that without them, many of these patients would otherwise sleep in their cars in hospital parking lots. While other organizations like Ronald McDonald House focus on the parents of children affected by cancer, Hope Lodges are geared toward adult patients and even allow them to have a caretaker with them during their stay. I was impressed with the nice amenities that the Lodge offered to its guests. The rooms looked similar to hotels and there were common areas with books and games.

After the tour the team was “surprised” (the surprised was accidentally spoiled for us by some well meaning hosts) with a police escort to meet the mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren.  Due to our other recent brush with fame meeting mayor De Blasio, at this point I was starting to feel famous myself.  With five squad cars to block traffic for us we biked as a team to town hall. When we arrived, journalists and security guards led us to a private press conference where the mayor herself presented us with a proclamation slip, naming May 26, 2017 Illini 4000 day!

Although this one day proclamation will only be valid for this day on this year, it was still amazing to me that the team was able to get this type of press and access to officials. I4k continues to surprise me.

With two different city mayors, a day named after us, a police escort, and overwhelming community support from the towns we have visited in only the first week, the team agreed that no other summer in our lives will be able to top this one.

Only thing missing now is a red carpet.



Day 5: Behind the Scenes with I4k

The ride dedication today was for Lou, the father of a medical school colleague of Zach’s dad, whom Zach knew personally. Lou had a rare cancer, merkel cell, and after he was in remission for two years, his son noticed a node on his neck. The Dr. said that once the node reached one inch in diameter that he should have it checked out, and once it reached this size, he was informed that he would have to undergo cancer surgery, radiation therapy, and dialysis.  As a self proclaimed “numbers guy” Lou figured that he would beat cancer in his own way by declining these harsh treatments. Within two weeks of this decision Lou passed away.

Today consisted of our first time riding through rain (for the entire 67 miles).  While this made the ride very unpleasant it was not enough to bring the girl gang riders down (myself, Julissa, Neeca, Christina, and Stefany) as we sung in chorus throughout the entirety of the trip.

Tonight the team happens to be staying in one of the “four corners” churches that make up the only spot in the US that four churches from different dominations reside on different street corners.  This town had a very warm, small town feel to it, and we were greeted by our hosts with Illini themed decorations, a delicious homemade meal, and friendly members of the community to chat with. We even had an enthusiastic museum tour guide give us a history of Palmyra, and how it came to be named that.  The team is very much looking forward to a semi-rest day tomorrow with a 23-mile ride to Rochester.

On another note:

Once people hear that we are doing this journey they usually have many questions (if they have any questions at all).  Many are surprised that we are a completely student run group.  To undertake a mission this grand in scale, it involves a lot of logistical planning that takes place behind the scenes on the day to day. Today I will introduce some of what goes on.

Logistics: (2 person job) Colin “route master” McKeough

This task involves checking the routes the day before to make sure there is no construction or potential hazards, making sure they do not have to plan re- routes, giving the team an overview in the morning, and explaining tricky cues.

To complete this job Colin uses Ride with GPS, an essential phone app for all I4kers.

Each day his job takes 40 minutes a day (20 at night and 20 in morning).

He got involved with this position because he was on the logistics committee leading up to the ride.

Portraits: (2 person job) Stefany “portraits gal” Stefany Veldhuizen

For this job, Stefany looks out for future portraits. To do this she asks the stayovers if they have community members interested in giving interviews, and encouraging the team to reach out to community.

For example, the other day, the team gathered at an ice cream shop during a rest stop where we met a woman who was a cancer survivor.  She then gave us her ‘portrait’.  Besides this, Stefany also sets up cameras, keeps track of the mics, and makes sure consent forms are filled out.

Overall her job varies in how much time it takes. It depends on if we actually gather a portrait that day or not. However, in the end, she and the other portraits partner Dylan, transcribe and edit the videos, which she assumes will take a long time after the ride.

For Stefany, being able to hear people’s stories is really moving.  She enjoys hearing the different perspectives, and helping them to inspire others. What she refers to as “the soul of why we ride”.


Readers, feel free to give feedback on the blog in the comments section and any suggestions for things you would be interested in reading about.

C’Est la Vie




Day 4: I4k Magic

Today’s ride was dedicated to the family that we collected a portrait from earlier this week in Albany. Charlotte, the mother, and Raymond her son sat down and spoke with us at the YMCA. Only last month their father, Roland, who had two children, died from colon cancer suddenly. He unknowingly had stage four cancer and within days of finding out, he passed away. Somehow this family gathered extraordinary strength to discuss their experience with us for our project.

In our training and meetings leading up to this trip during the school year many riders who had participated in this trip in previous years talked about the “magic” of I4K. I was initially skeptical of how great this experience would be because when breaking it down: it involves many hours of arduous physical activity, infrequent opportunities for showering, laundry, and wifi, early mornings, sharing small spaces (and sometimes one bathroom) with a large group of people, having near constant hunger, and learning to get along with 27 unique people. Sizing up this experience in this way might make it seem like some sort of military training.  However, I have already began to fall in love with spending the summer in this way and I am so grateful that I decided to participate in this organization.

When I look at my team members I am so proud of the progress that they have made. At the beginning of the year we all started out with varying base levels of fitness.  Each day I am amazed at how my teammates push themselves and each other to achieve impressive physical feats (so far, an average of 70 miles a day with lots of uphill climbing).  And while one may think that this type of challenge each day would bring out the nasty competitive side of each person, thus far I have only witnessed collaboration and encouragement. It makes me so happy to see how well these people have been able to create a warm and open group dynamic in such a short amount of time.

Thanks you for being such a great squad 2017 team. I can’t wait to reach San Francisco with you all.




Day 3: Team Member Tuesday

Quick notes about the ride today: although there was a lot of uphill climbing, being able to speed down a hill at 30mph +, along with the gorgeous rural hilly scenery and rolling through cute towns made it all worth it.  Upstate New York does not get enough credit. Little Falls, NY, where we are spending the night tonight, is a quaint town with wooden olden style large houses surrounded by hills.

This morning we dedicated the ride to a teacher at Neeca’s high school.

“Alexa was a beautiful English teacher and water polo coach at Elk Grove High School. She was very much a hippie.  Even though I didn’t have her as a teacher she was always smiling.  Although I knew that she had beat cancer previously I thought that she was done. She was so tough. In April of last year she passed away. During the memorial service at the school I started crying when I heard her husband speak, and I’m not a crier.”

Today is the first segment of Team member Tuesday. Each week a rider will be interviewed in this feature series.

Rider: Neeca

Year in school: Rising sophomore

Favorite things about Illini 4000 thus far: Bonding with the team and all the inside jokes

Least favorite thing about Illini 4000 thus far: HILLS

One thing that surprised you about this trip: All this year leading up to the trip we heard about how we could only bring a small backpack and that we wouldn’t shower everyday, but I thought they were exaggerating.  They weren’t. Lights out at 10 and having only a short time to get ready in the morning these past days have shown me how slow I move in everyday life.

Do you think after this trip you will love or hate biking? Probably love it…in Illinois

After this summer you will have biked across the continental US, what is another thing you hope to accomplish? I want to run a half marathon in the spring of 2018

What are you looking forward to the most? Going to everyone’s weddings on the team.

Favorite CLIF flavor? Blueberry crisp

PBJ or spaghetti with lentils? PBJ

Sink laundry or all natural? Sink laundry for sure

Slow and steady or FAUC (fast as you can)? Slow and steady

Summarize I4k in one word: dirty

Don’t forget! You can still donate to our cause! Our goal is $150,000!

Don’t forget to stretch,


Day 2: The Real World, Illini 4000

Each day the team dedicates the ride to someone affected by cancer. Today we rode for Mason’s grandfather. He lost his battle to cancer in 2011.

From the first day of starting school to the first day of starting a new job, we all know that the first day doesn’t really count. Today, day two, I actually felt like what a real day as an I4k rider is actually like. We got up at 5:45 we rode some miles, had a few PBJ sandwiches, and arrived at the stayover. Okay… maybe we did get lucky today because the place we were spending the night at greeted us with a homemade banner crafted by some cute kiddos, had a multi course meal waiting for us when we pulled up, allowed us access to their sauna and hot tub, and had what we riders like to call the jackpot (showers and wifi).

I’m not sure if there is something in the water in this little town, but every person that I met was overwhelmingly kind. Our hosts made sure we had everything we needed and went above and beyond turning a YMCA hockey rink into a pseudo youth hostel.  Some of the team had to take care of a few bike repairs and the shop we went to gave us complimentary parts, helped us with repairs on a multitude of bikes, and even stayed open well after their hours to ensure that we would be safe on our ride. Word of advice: if you ever find yourself in Delmar, New York hit up Savile Road bike shop, they really know their (cycling) stuff.

Hearing of all the evils of the world in recent months, moments and people like this really give me hope.

Today felt like the first real day because a shower brought me more joy than it ever has and eating pineapple from a communal bowl with bare hands didn’t phase anyone at the table.

Although we were not blessed with the idyllic weather of yesterday, today we were blessed with the kindness of strangers.  I am so happy I decided to do this ride.



(Maggie Benson NOT Mackenzie Bach)


Day 1: Ups and Downs

Quote of the day: “51 Kickapoos?  I wasn’t even counting but I bet Josh was just Joshing” – Neeca

Firstly, huge shout out to Bipin and his family for graciously hosting our team the past 2 days, we are very grateful for your hospitality.

I would compare the first day of Illini 4000 like so; have you come home one night feeling really optimistic, and then accidentally walked face first into a screen door (and maybe then ripped the door off the hinges)? If so, then you would understand how I4k day 1 felt today.

Although the team suffered few losses today, the metaphorical screen door was not enough to bring down team morale. The route from Central Park to Beacon, located in upstate New York, consisted of scenic views of the New York City skyline, the Hudson Bay and River, Victorian style homes nestled along the water in small towns, and Bear Mountain.  It baffled me that this type of rustic beauty was located only 30 miles away from the biggest city in the country.

Even though 63 miles is considered a shorter route for the team, we climbed more than 3,600 feet of elevation and descended 3,500 feet in total.  Broken down this entailed many climbs and many downhill speed rushes. Because the team was not used to this type of speed burst, there was a downhill collision (which resulted in no serious injury), a flat tube and a busted tire, and some heat induced nausea.

Overall, if every day of this ride has the weather, views, and feeling of fellowship amongst members like today, then I would consider this summer one of the best of my life.

Lesson of the day: exercise caution on downhill rolls.