Shuttle Day (We made it to CALIFORNIA!)

Today we shuttled straight to Crescent City, CA due to wild fires. We are all safe and excited for our scheduled rest day tomorrow! Stay tuned for regular blog posts beginning back up again Monday evening :)

Day 69 & Day 70: Crescent, OR to Grants Pass*, OR

So we had a slight change in plans to our route as you may have noticed. Originally, we were supposed to go from Crescent, Oregon to Crater Lake National Park, and then the next day ride into Grants Pass. Unfortunately, there was a forest fire that went through the Crater Lake area and caused some damage to our campsite we were due to stay at. So instead of biking to that campsite, we shuttled from the viewpoint at Crater Lake into Grants Pass. Thankfully we still got to see beautiful Crater Lake, we knew about our campsite being closed before we biked there and we got a full refund, and the stayover hosts in Grants Pass were so kind and let us stay here an extra night and during our impromptu rest day today.

Our ride to Crater Lake was dedicated to Patricia Nelson. Patricia is a family friend of Viraat’s who hosted him back when we were in Cleveland. She recently found out that she has breast cancer, which is an impossibly difficult thing for anyone to find out. We biked with her and her family in mind as they process that news and begin the fight ahead of them.

Riding into Crater Lake was stunning. I know that many of us did not know what to expect, and at mile 53 when the lake finally came into view we were amazed. Crater Lake is a really cool area formed from volcanoes and rain/snow water deposits. The water was so unbelievably blue! I know that everyone always says that about any body of water, but seriously it was SO blue. While one group of riders shuttled to the stayover, the other group stayed and saw the sun set over the lake.

Our wonderful generous stayover for the past two nights has been St. Paul’s Lutheran church. They not only let us stay two nights on short notice, they also cooked us two dinners and two breakfasts. We are so thankful for them! They also arranged for us to have showers and laundry which was above and beyond anything we could have asked for. We were thankful for everything and for having a place to stay out of the smoke.

With two days passing I have two teammates to brag about!

First up: Jonathan (Jon as many of us call him)! Jon is a great teammate and a really strong biker. On the road, he is very deliberate with communicating with cars, and you never question what he is doing. He packs our van every single morning with all of our stuff, and he does an amazing job at it. Jon is also not afraid to speak up & out on his own behalf or the behalf of his friends. He is hands-down the most fashionable person on the team and somehow packed his entire stylish closet in his one backpack?? Not sure how he did that, but it is awesome and so is he!

Next up: Sisi. Sisi is a person who just gets more and more interesting the more that you talk to her. She has had so many life experiences and has a lot of stories to share. She loves sailing and enjoys deliberately getting lost in order to have an adventure. She is full of surprises and never fails to keep a day interesting! Sisi is also almost done with her PhD with is incredibly exciting. She does research on Ovarian cancer which is important and relevant to this trip.

Day 67 & 68: Bend, OR to Crescent, OR

Yesterday was our rest day in the amazing city of Bend! We all had a great time exploring, picking out Christmas gifts (Illini 4000 Christmas is on July 25th), and having some time to ourselves.

Today’s ride was dedicated to an individual that we had the chance to meet in Bend on our rest day, Al Hubard. Al is a cancer survivor who has also biked across the country from Virginia Beach to the Pacific Coast. He had a very inspiring story and we are happy to report that he is cancer free, and has an incredibly positive and uplifting attitude.

Today was a super short ride: only 47 miles into Crescent, OR. We got to the stayover before noon and were able to go to the market and get some food and relax. We all hung out for a bit before starting our ride in review meeting, which was a chance for us to reflect on the things that went great during the summer, and the things that could go even better in the future. After that, we all ate FREE Taco Bell for dinner thanks to a generous donation from the La Pine Taco Bell. We are staying in an abandoned restaurant/mall this evening. I promise it is way more awesome than it sounds! Free bowling all night and a lot of places to explore.

In short, today was a great day :)

A great part of my day was getting to watch a movie with Cari at the stayover! Cari is an awesome person and I am glad I have gotten to know her over the course of this ride. She has done all of the really cool artwork on our van which has allowed us to be more easily recognized no matter where we are. She is a part of the dinner chore, and does a great job portioning out food to make sure that everyone gets a fair amount. I also appreciate her passion for social justice and the fact that she will speak up and out when she sees or hears something that doesn’t feel right to her. I know that she was very apprehensive to do this ride (because who wouldn’t feel a little nervous!?) but she is absolutely killing it on the bike every day. She has taken some spills, but got back up stronger than ever.

Day 66: Maupin, OR to Bend, OR

Today’s ride was dedicated to Leon and Justin. Leon is the husband of Cari’s mom’s college roommate, and Justin is their son. They are both battling prostate cancer and are remaining incredibly positive throughout the entire process.

We had another very hot and pretty long ride today: 91 miles almost entirely uphill into Bend, OR. We took frequent water stops, pulled over into restaurants and gas stations, and found as much shade as possible to help the day go by safely! We also had a wonderful ice cream donation from Cold Stone Creamery that made the last 20 miles so much better!!!

Tonight’s stayover is at the Foundry Church which is in the beautiful, downtown part of Bend! There are so many restaurants and shops nearby that we are all excited to explore on our rest day tomorrow! We are mega ultra thankful to Marie for finding this stayover. Our original plan was going to be camping in our tents in the parking lot of a local cafe due to the fact that we could not find an indoor stayover. Marie made a couple of calls and made this happen, including in-house laundry and a ton of room for everybody to spread out. We are SO thankful and happy to be here.

I have got to tell you all about Zihao, who is the team favorite. Seriously, it is impossible to not love this kid. He is absolutely hilarious and can make anybody laugh at any time, even on the hardest of days. If he senses that someone is down (they don’t even have to say a word about it), he will offer to help in any way that he can and will bring people back up by asking them questions, telling stories, or just being his hilarious self. Even when Zihao himself is not having the best day, he is still enjoyable to be around and will never, ever take his not-so-good day out on other people. He has an extensive knowledge about basketball and I know that I have personally learned a lot from him and enjoy hearing him talk about something he is so passionate about. Zihao would be the perfect person to have on your team in any sort of situation because he would always be positive and reliable, and everybody on this team especially knows that. I’m thankful that I have gotten to know Zihao on this trip, and thankful for his reducing fractions (today is day 11/13!) and discussing prime numbers with me.

Day 65: Goldendale, WA to Maupin, OR

Today we dedicated our ride to Kenneth Ballom, who battled a brain cancer diagnosis. We met Kenneth’s father the other day in Pullman, WA. He had recognized our support van and saw the Illini paint on it and asked us if we were from Champaign. It turned out that his father, Kenneth, used to be a vice chancellor there, and they were both from Illinois originally. We were excited to hear about his story and to talk about Illinois with someone who knew the area!

It is HOT out there now, folks, we have been outrunning summer so far but today it finally caught up to us. Today was a 71 mile day that we thankfully finished fairly quickly before it got too extremely hot out there for us. We had some truly beautiful downhills today: one into Oregon and one into the Deschutes River Valley. It is interesting because we are on the east side of Oregon that does not get much rain, so today was a ride through the desert! Tonight we are at Maupin Junior High School where we are lucky to have in-house showers! That is big time after such a hot day.

Another very important person on our team is one of our ride leaders: Steven. Steven did the ride in 2016 when he was a freshman, and had one of the most impactful experiences of his life. He applied to be a ride leader this year to give back that life-changing experience to all of us on the ride, and he has definitely accomplished that. The team agrees that we probably would have had a difficult time ever getting out of New York if it wasn’t for Steven. He has kept us really organized and has strived to run a tight ship since day one. He is really good at calling for food donations and has secured us countless meals and showers. He is always down to pull off of the road for something cool and engage with any and every stranger that we meet. He is a great, safe leader and I am really thankful to have spent the summer getting to know him and learning from him.

Day 64: Yakima, WA to Goldendale*, WA

Today’s ride was dedicated to Sister Regina Dubickas. Sister Regina is a friend of Viraat’s father, and is currently battling cancer. She is fighting hard and with such admirable strength, and we thought of her throughout the day while we biked our last full day in Washington.

You may notice that our original route has us in Maryhill State Park this evening instead of in Goldendale. Originally, the plan was to bike to the State Park and then camp tonight. However, camping after a long day of biking is not always the most comfortable, especially at this time of year when the heat is starting to take hold. We were really excited when Viraat reached out to the Father’s House Fellowship and they told us that we could use their church to sleep in tonight. Instead of camping in the heat, we were able to stay in this wonderful facility that has in-house showers AND laundry (so good because the last time we did laundry was 2 weeks ago and things were getting a little smelly)! 75 miles up hills in the heat is a lot easier to do when you know that you have a comfortable place to stay that night when you are done, that is for sure!

In two weeks, we will be in San Francisco! I am not sure where the time has gone, but I know that I am excited for these next couple of weeks with this wonderful team.

Our team would not be nearly as wonderful if it wasn’t for Mike, one of our ride leaders. Mike completed the ride just one year ago in 2018! It was really fun to get to do the ride with him because he so vividly remembers a lot of our stayovers and knows a lot of the cool spots in town to show us. On the days that we bike a different route from his year, Mike is always down to explore cafes or cliffs or anything that comes up along the way. He collects license plates that he finds on the side of the road – which I didn’t think would be a common occurrence, but he has at least 25 license plates by now if I had to guess, and it is fun to see what he has collected by the end of the day. Not only is Mike an adventurous person who genuinely enjoys biking and finds adventure in every day, he is hands down the most kind and patient person I have ever met (and the whole team agrees with me about this). You can go to Mike for anything at all and he will be there to listen and help. He is a trustworthy leader and also an amazing friend to everybody on the team. Sometimes it can be easy for tensions to run a little high when you are around the same people for 70+ days, but Mike is always there to remind us that we are a team and should always be kind to one another. I have learned a lot from Mike about how to be a good friend and a great leader, and we are all thankful that he was selected to help lead us across the country.