• MIT students and cross-country cyclists Taku Iida, Greg Mahowald and Kyle Rattray cross the Massachusetts-New York border.

    Photo courtesy / Kyle Rattray

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  • Greg Mahowald, Steve Bond of Hector, N.Y., and Kyle Rattray, after Bond put up the MIT cyclists at his home.

    Photo courtesy / Kyle Rattray

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  • Polly Letofsky waves to the cyclists along a country road in Ontario just outside Port Huron, Mich.

    Photo courtesy / Kyle Rattray

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  • Taku, Greg and Kyle in Ludington, Mich., just before crossing Lake Michigan.

    Photo courtesy / Kyle Rattray

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Mile by mile with Kyle


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Denise Brehm
Email: brehm@mit.edu
Phone: 617-253-8069
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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"Forty-five days, 3300 miles, 25 flat tires and we are DONE!"

So wrote MIT student Kyle Rattray, who with fellow students Greg Mahowald and Taku Iida completed their cross-country bike ride on July 25. The trio biked from Boston to Seattle--including an emotional celebration in Rattray's hometown of Sunnyside, Wash.--with the goal of raising $25,000 for the American Cancer Society.

In his final thoughts about the trip, Rattray alluded to "It's Not About the Bike," the book by Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Said Rattray: "This trip was not about the bike ride, it was about fighting cancer."

Rattray, also a cancer survivor, kept a diary of the trip. Excerpts may be found below.

Day 1 (June 10)

Boston to Belchertown, Mass.: 100 miles

By the end of the day we had a broken chain, two broken racks and a flat tire. Through the Berkshires we mashed three miles uphill, to be rewarded with seven miles straight down. As we passed through Ware, Mass. we saw a sign that listed the speed limit at 20 mph. We were going 35 mph.

Day 2 (June 11)

Belchertown to Pittsfield, Mass.: 75 miles | Total miles: 175

By Northampton, the rain was coming down so thick we couldn't see the road a few hundred yards ahead. Our clothes, bags and bodies were soaked and freezing.

Day 3 (June 12)

Pittsfield, Mass. to Canajoharie, N.Y.: 90 miles | Total miles: 265

No one in Albany rides bikes. I am not even sure if anyone in Albany has ever seen a bike before. Drivers were out for blood, and nearly got it a handful of times until we got out of the city proper. The police in Canajoharie, N.Y. gave us permission to set up tents in the city park for the night. With I-90 on one side and a busy rail track on the other, we didn't get a great sleep.

Day 4 (June 13)

Canajoharie to Utica, N.Y: 50 miles | Total miles: 315

We rode along a ridge above the Erie Canal for about 50 miles into Utica, N.Y., to stay the night at a shelter arranged for us. What we didn't know was that we would be staying at an addiction house. I admire these people for cleaning up their lives, but do not want all of my worldly possessions to be kept there. We went to a hotel.

Day 5 (June 14)

Utica to Hector, N.Y.: 85 miles | Total miles: 400

Big hills, lots of sand in our clothes and mouths and bikes. Not much shoulder. It was hell, and we were freezing. Then God decided to give us a break and open up the clouds (witnessed from a mall food court in Syracuse). As we rode from Syracuse to Auburn, we saw some great small farms, dairies and towns. Tonight we are staying along Seneca Lake in the home of a grape farmer who drove 45 miles to pick us up. He has 30 acres of Concord grapes and even though I'm 360 miles from Boston and 3,000 miles from the Yakima Valley, I feel closer to home.

Day 6 (June 15)

Hector, N.Y. to Le Roy, N.Y.: 79 miles | Total miles: 479

Hit the road from Hector with a ride along Lake Kuke (one of the Finger Lakes). This is farmland and everyone waves, whether they know you or not. We met a man who was training to ride around Lake Ontario with a group of elderly men. We ate dinner at Pizzaland in Le Roy. The owners caught wind of our trip and arranged for us to stay the night on the lawn behind the restaurant.

Day 7 (June 16)

Le Roy, N.Y. to Niagara Falls, Ont.: 85 miles | Total miles: 564

We have now officially become homeless men. The bathroom at the Burger King is a common place for us to use the sink for a "bath." Our beards are uneven and dirty and our clothes are starting to smell. We were lucky with a tailwind, so we were able to do a solid 18 mph for most of the day. Coming into Niagara Falls, we realized that the American side is really run down and the Canadian side has amusement parks, good buildings and a great view of the falls. We almost snuck illegally into the country by going under the gate, but border patrol stopped us. Welcome to Canada. Our hosts in St. Catharines picked us up and drove us to their farm several miles away.

Day 8 (June 17)

Rest day in St. Catharines, Ont. | Total miles: 564

Our hosts own about 2,000 acres of farmland on the Canadian Escarpment (a fertile hill that runs from Rochester to the northern tip of Ontario). Their farm mechanic helped us clean our bikes and our host gave us the unofficial tour of Niagara Falls. We met Charlene, who lined up our sponsorship from Welch's and found places for us to stay. She brought along her daughter Alissa who was recently treated for a brain stem tumor. Meeting Alissa reminded me a lot of my own treatment: meeting other kids and losing some of them, dealing with the doctors and nurses who try to do good but cause a lot of pain in doing so, and trying to make sense of a confusing time. Alissa beat her disease. This part of the trip--meeting new, exceptional people--is really what makes the cross-country trek worth it.

Day 9 (June 18)

St. Catharines, Ont. to Thamesford, Ont.: 85 miles | Total miles: 649

When roads in Ontario were laid out, they were not done like they are in the United States, running north/south and east/west. They are at an angle northwest/southeast. So to get straight across the country we had to zig zag all day long. After getting lost twice and finding ourselves in the middle of nowhere more than a dozen times, we found a small park along a river in Thamesford. The land in this part of Ontario is flat, so camping was easy. What we didn't know was how fast the weather changes. At 3 a.m. the clouds broke; we were soaked with 3 inches of rain in a few minutes. Everything we owned was cold and damp and heavy.

Day 10 (June 19)

Thamesford, Ont. to Port Huron, Mich.: 78 miles | Total miles: 727

Crossing into the United States, Taku forgot his Green Card (he is a Japanese citizen) and we had to put up a slight fight to get through customs. We still had to pay a $200 fee.

We heard of a woman walking around the world to raise money for breast cancer. I saw a woman on a cell phone with a push cart at the side of the road. I knew it was her. She had flags of various countries all over the cart. Polly Letofsky has been walking west for the past four years. She left Denver in 1999 and flew from Los Angeles to Australia, walked across it, then flew to Asia and walked to Europe. To date she has raised $100,000 and inspired almost as many people along the way. She hopes to be done in a year. We shared stories, advice on how to get free stuff, swapped information (she's at http://www.globalwalk.org) and went on our way.

When we got to the border, we stopped at a bar in Canada and the man at the bar worked at the border patrol. He told us that we couldn't ride our bikes across the border on the interstate, but his buddies would drive us over.

The Holiday Inn gave us a great deal on a huge suite because what we were doing was for a good cause. I'll never forget this day.

Day 11 (June 20)

Port Huron, Mich. to Chesaning, Mich.: 108 miles | Total miles: 835

Michigan is mostly flat and we got the best of the wind today: a slight tail wind. Our start was late since the movie "Canadian Bacon" was on TV and we had to finish watching it. We stopped for lunch at Lapeer, Mich. and ahead of us I noticed a man with the same bike bags as I have. When we passed him I yelled, "nice panniers" and rode ahead. At the stoplight we had a chance to chat. He was riding from New York City to St. Paul, Minn., largely on the same route we were taking. He was a bit slower than us, so we compared notes and sent him on his way. By day's end we had hit our longest day, more than 100 miles. Chesaning, Mich. is a small town noted for its Showboat concert every summer. We camped out in Showboat Park next to the big riverboat and chatted with the locals.

Day 12 (June 21)

Chesaning, Mich. to Farwell, Mich.: 90 miles | Total miles: 925

We hit the road at dewfall. In Midland, Mich. we jumped on a 25-mile rail trail. A flatter, straighter road I have not seen; we could see the curve of the earth. I flew into a bee and its stinger broke off in my quadriceps, forcing a short rest. We later set up camp in a middle-school playground. After the sheriff gave up chasing us, we set up again outside the teachers' lounge.

Day 13 (June 22)

Farwell, Mich. to Manitowoc, Wis.: 90 miles (plus 70 by ferry) | Total miles: 1,015

The rolling hills to Ludington, Mich. were long. The 70-mile ferry ride across Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wis. was great, like being on the ocean--water all around. We met a cyclist going from Kalamazoo to Chicago who gave us advice on how to get to Green Bay and bought us a hotel room for the night.

Day 14 (June 23)

Manitowoc, Wis. to Green Bay, Wis.: 40 miles | Total miles: 1,055

We were lazy and left at 11 a.m. The weather was humid so the 40-mile ride felt like 100.

Day 15 and 16 (June 24-25)

Rest days in Green Bay, Wis.

We stayed with a fraternity brother and his family; another brother drove up from Madison to hang out. Lots of TV, junk food, sleeping and sitting around. It was great. By the time we left we were ready for the next 1,000 miles.

Day 17 (June 26)

Freedom, Wis. to Plover, Wis.: 80 miles | Total miles: 1,135

Another headwind all day. Even downhill we couldn't get above 13 mph. On a busy stretch of road a truck rear-ended the car next to us. At first we thought it might have been our fault--being in the way or something--but the driver was really gracious and gave us suggestions to improve our route. By the end of the day we felt like we had done 180 miles. Walking down stairs was nearly impossible.

Day 18 (June 27)

Plover, Wis. to Augusta, Wis.: 90 miles | Total miles: 1,225

Same headwind, better scenery. Augusta itself isn't much bigger than a Boston city block, but it had a newspaper that interviewed us, and a local Amish population. Our hosts for the night fed us well. Nearly all the furniture in their home was oak and Amish-crafted. We learned that local Amish men court girls in open wagons and sing and yodel to and from dates.

Day 19 (June 28)

Augusta, Wis. to Prescott, Wis.: 105 miles | Total miles: 1,330

The hills in western Wisconsin are tall and gradual and usually overlook a field or mountain range (picture a mini-Cascade mountain range). At the town of Elmwood, a bridge was out; we had to take a very steep 12-mile detour. One hill was an 11 percent grade, basically a straight up-and-down wall. We had never seen a paved road so steep before--almost needed ropes instead of bikes.

In Ellsworth, Wis., we met a group of bikers from the Twin Cities. Seems like everyone who bikes goes into the "if only I was younger, I'd be with you" routine. Makes us glad we are young and doing it. By the time we made it to the Minnesota border, a family contact through Bailey Nurseries, Inc., arranged a place for us to stay and took us there. We had a whole house to ourselves.

Day 20 (June 29)

Rest day in Bloomington, Minn.

This was our best day off. We saw Charlie's Angels "Full Throttle" (best movie ever), bummed around Calhoun Lake in Minneapolis with a friend from Boston and got to be normal college kids on summer break for a day. The family we stayed with treated us very well. We brought my bike to get tuned at a local shop where the mechanics were so impressed with our ride that they gave me a full tune-up and a few replacement parts for free.

Day 21 (June 30)

Bloomington, Minn. to Redwood Falls, Minn.: 95 miles | Total miles: 1,425

Riding was great going out of the city--good traffic and lots of open space. By the time we hit our halfway point for the day, none of us was all that tired. Being too relaxed can be problematic sometimes, though. I wasn't paying full attention and the shoulder of the road at one point went to broken gravel just as an oversized-load truck passed. I was about three inches from ending up at the back of a newspaper in the obituaries. Though we had almost been clipped a few times, it was the first time (and not the last) that it really shook me up for a few miles.

Day 22 (July 1)

Redwood Falls, Minn. to White, S.D.: 95 miles | Total miles: 1,520

After an uneventful ride for the day, we were scheduled to stay with a Lutheran minister for the night in White, S.D. (population 250). We asked "Where is the Lutheran church?" and the reply was "Which one?" Then we were given three different directions to a church in a town with only nine blocks. This was a trend we found all through the Midwest--lots of churches and lots of down-to-earth people who want to help. Rev. Terry Martin, a leukemia survivor, was one of them. Since his illness, he continues to preach, holding worship in three churches in the area. Dr. Martin is a wise old pastor who immediately commands admiration from those who meet him. I would have loved to spend more time with him.

Day 23 (July 2)

White, S.D. to Huron, S.D.: 85 miles | Total miles: 1,605

What a terrible day, for many reasons. First: we started late in the day just as it was getting hot. Second: Taku and I decided to even out our bad tan lines, so we went shirtless for the first part of the day. After three hours I was completely burned and in pain. Third: We faced headwinds all day that seemed to shift direction every time we did. We never made it above 13 mph. Finally, at lunch we were dead tired from the heat so we ate far too much greasy food and then slept for too long. When we rolled into Huron we were a sad trio of broken -down boys.

Day 24 (July 3)

Huron, S.D. to Pierre, S.D.: 115 miles | Total miles: 1,720

We had a tailwind from the start and were able to hold a 19 mph pace for most of the day. The downside: my back was under the heat of the sun for the full day. When we got to Pierre, I had 150 dime-sized blisters from my shoulders down to my waist. I went to the hospital, where I was treated for second-degree burns and minor heat exhaustion. My riding was going to be put on hold for at least a few days.

Day 25 (July 4)

Rest day in Pierre, S.D.

We almost surprised our friends in Boston by flying home to be with them for the holiday. Our fraternity house roof deck overlooks the Charles River where the fireworks are set off, and we can hear the Boston Pops perform live on the Esplanade. It's a huge party and the best place in the world to be on Independence Day. Unfortunately, the air fare was too expensive and I was too sore to go anywhere, so we stayed at a hotel and watched TV and slept.

We didn't know then that the next few days were going to be even more problematic.

Days 26 and 27 (July 5 and 6)

Pierre to Sturgis, S.D.: 172 miles (Rest days for Kyle) | Total miles: 1,892

July 5: Mixed blessings became our trip theme. My sunburn was getting worse. The hospital gave me silver sulfate for the burns; unfortunately my skin had a reaction to the stuff and the burn flared up even worse. Luckily I was also given codeine--enough said. Since I was unable to ride, we discussed our options. By chance, the owner of the hotel we were staying in heard our situation and offered to arrange a room for me in Sturgis, S.D., where I would meet Greg and Taku in a day. He even drove me 172 miles there. When we drove past Taku and Greg on the road, he gave them bottles of water and chicken to eat. Without him we might have been stranded until I healed.

July 6: I spent all day today on the hotel bed with the A/C on high, letting the codeine do its job. When the guys rolled in, they said the entire stretch was so desolate they ran out of water just before Sturgis. My blisters were healing enough that we thought we could ride together the next day.

Day 28 (July 7)

Sturgis, S.D. to Alzada, Mont.: 70 miles | Total miles: 1,962

We left at 3 p.m. when the sun was ahead of us and not on my back. As luck would have it, the wind was also on our backs. We were able to cover the 70 miles in just three and a half hours. Since we usually ride in the daytime, we didn't know how beautiful the sunsets are in this area. Swirling storm clouds and a huge sun going down behind mountain peaks was our view riding into Montana. A record for least time in a state--we did 15 miles through the corner of Wyoming in 45 minutes. The wind howled and almost blew us off the ground that night, so we only got four hours of sleep.

Day 29 (July 8)

Alzada to Lame Deer, Mont.: 120 miles | Total miles: 2,082

The wind from the night before stayed with us into the afternoon. Coming to a small hill in Broadus, Mont., the road turned to dirt because of construction. We had to carry our bikes four miles to avoid falling on the uneven ground. By the time we got to the town of Ashland, the wind did a 180 and turned into a headwind. Luckily we met some Methodist missionaries from South Carolina who just happened to be heading to the same place we were. They offered to house, shower and feed us at the church. The climb into Lame Deer was 1,500 feet over a 7 percent grade. It was some of the hardest riding we've had. We slept like rocks.

Day 30 (July 9)

Lame Deer to Hardin, Mont.: 55 miles | Total miles: 2,137

The next morning we got to hang out with the group we met and chat with them about their trip and ours. People here were really welcoming and gracious. If not for them, we would have almost certainly had trouble camping the night before. To make the day even better, as we turned a corner in Busby, Mont., a Jeep drove by with a Gatorade hanging out the window. Greg's parents had driven up from Arizona--a surprise to all of us. They carried our gear, fed us, hydrated us and took pictures.

Days 31-33 (July 10-12)

Hardin to Billings, Mont.: 50 miles | Total miles: 2,187

July 10: The ride from Hardin was relatively easy--only two respectable hills to speak of and with Greg's family following closely, the only complications were flat tires. The hill into Billings (known as Billings Hill) overlooks the town and provides a peaceful descent. For the whole trip, Billings had been a sort of "mental landmark" of the home stretch. We are finally winding down.

July 11-12: Rest days in Billings, Mont. By chance, one of my high school friend's parents recently moved to Billings and offered to house us for two days. We spent them eating, sleeping and occasionally moving--if the situation called for it. It took us three hours to catch up on e-mail and then another three hours to catch up on "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" on TV. Man, I miss cartoons. That night John took us to a rib place where the three of us ate five pounds of ribs and two pounds of fries. Good thing about biking is you eat whatever you want.

The next day they let us take their Suburban up Beartooth Pass, an 11,000-foot climb known as "the most scenic drive in the country." It was. At 9,000 feet there were glacial lakes and streams with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Above the tree line, only wild flowers and grass grew. It was like being in "The Sound of Music."

Next time: In the final miles of the trip, it would be the kindness of family and friends that kept us going.

Day 34 (July 13)

Billings to Hereford, Mont.: 85 miles | Total miles: 2,272

Going out of Billings our major obstacle was going to be the Continental Divide; all else leading up to that were details. Having my mom there with the camper was a huge help, now we had meals, water, a defined place to sleep and--c'mon--it's my mom, she's great. In the first 10 minutes of the ride we had a two-mile climb up a 7% grade. Because we were so out of shape from two days of inactivity, I almost collapsed at the top. The elevation and heat were definitely going to be more of a concern. The riding was normal for most of the day until the wind kicked up and the hail set in. By day's end we had bruises on our arms from the ice balls. Our campsite was great, except the water was probably half sulphur and therefore tasted and smelled like rotten eggs.

Day 35 (July 14)

Hereford to Skidmore Pass, Mont.: 85 miles | Total miles: 2,357

Because we knew the Rockies were coming up on us, after every turn we'd see a hill and think, okay, is it going to start now? It didn't, yet. Our major concern that day was my mom. We had depended on her to follow us in the car, and therefore gave her all of our gear. Unfortunately she miscalculated where we were going to be at a certain time and ended up losing us for four hours. She thought we were dead, and we thought she was abandoned on the road somewhere out of diesel. Neither was true. Luckily, a local woman sympathized with our story (she had lost a husband, mother and brother to cancer) and gave us water until my mom caught up. No harm, no foul. At the end of the day we had to go through a respectable pass to get to the campsite at the beginning of the Rockies. It was a gorgeous combination of huge mountains and trees with small farms in the flat, open lands between the mountains. With the thin air we felt new forms of pain.

Day 36 (July 15)

Skidmore Pass to Continental Divide, Mont.: 70 miles | Total miles: 2,427

For two days we had pretty normal rides, up and down through hills and valleys with occasional animal herds to break up the monotony. I love how indescribable beauty is considered monotonous in the West. We started the day with a 25-mile constant descent from our campsite into Helena, where the divide would begin. The divide was a 6,500' pass with an average 6-7% grade. I was honestly quite scared and nervous approaching it. In my mind it was going to be one of the hardest things I had ever done physically. The ride was basically an hour of pain interrupted by a photo op with Mom half way up. Though I didn't cry at the top, it was one of the many times on this trip that I was very near tears of joy. We high-fived and celebrated with a few beers. It wasn't quite as tough as I had thought it would be. This was going to be mentally easier from here on, we thought.

Day 37 (July 16)

Continental Divide to Missoula, Mont.: 110 miles | Total miles: 2,537

With the high (in both elevation and endorphines) of the divide behind us, we felt the ride into Missoula would be cake. The nature of the roads meant we needed to take Interstate 90 for 50 miles to get where we wanted to go. This was a mistake. The road was downhill, but the headwind kept us slow. Glass was everywhere and construction made us detour every few miles. It was nice to have rest areas at even intervals, but most drivers who passed us honked, yelled, or otherwise made our trek unnecessarily difficult. We rolled into Missoula swearing and angry that night. Luckily my dad was there. I hadn't seen him in six months and it easily made up for the frustrations of the day.

Day 38 (July 17)

Missoula to Lolo Pass, Mont.: 60 miles | Total miles: 2,597

We took a late start because our distance was going to be short. It gave us a chance to check e-mail, shop and just do nothing (if only for a half hour). Dad had the great idea (sarcasm) to follow us as closely as possible in the car to shield us from traffic when the shoulder was gone. He had the best of intentions, but on the windy road it only made drivers angry--at us. We climbed very slowly for the first 55 miles of the pass and then in the last 5 we finally hit the grade, almost straight up for 1000 feet. That night in the campsite we met some bikers who were doing a trip from Portland, Ore. to Butte, Mont. I LOVED the look on their faces when we told them what we were doing and how long it had taken us to get here. They were all engineers, too, so they had great admiration for some Techies from Boston who were getting away from tooling and into riding.

Day 39 (July 18)

Lolo Pass, Mont. to Orofino, Idaho: 140 miles | Total miles: 2,737

Wow. That is all that can describe today. We woke up at 4 a.m. to beat the heat. We started at 5,500 feet and would end the day at 1,500 feet. There was usually no shoulder to speak of and the drivers hated us, so we had dozens of close calls that day. The highway hugged the Clearwater River and therefore we had to contend with concrete barriers placed to prevent drivers from crashing into the water. This essentially put us between a rock and a hard place when it came to finding a place to ride. A century (100 miles) is considered a long way to ride in a day, we did that plus half again. Not a smart thing to do given all the variables we had to deal with, but we got a ton of miles under our belt and were that much closer to the Pacific Ocean. Wow, my butt was sore.

Day 40 (July 19)

Orofino, Idaho to Dayton, Wash.: 95 miles | Total miles: 2,832

We hit Lewiston in 107 degree heat, which made dehydration a serious and dangerous concern. On the map the hills going out of the city were only a few hundred feet high. What we didn't see until later was that the map was written in meters, not feet--yeah MIT!--and that we had miscalculated for almost 1500 feet of climbing over 6 miles. The grade was constant and the road was winding. By the top Greg and I were near fainting and almost completely dehydrated. We weighed ourselves a few days later and the heat resulted in 12 pounds of water loss--eat that, Jenny Craig. After the major hill we had mostly a flat ride through the state.

Day 41 (July 20)

Dayton to Pasco, Wash.: 70 miles | Total miles: 2,902

Riding into Washington was all familiar: no more fear of unknown terrain or people. Eastern Washington was in my blood and I was jubilant to be home! We made our way through the rolling wheat fields into the irrigated apple and grape farms of the Columbia Valley. I no longer felt like I was on a bike ride through the country, but rather a local ride around my neighborhood.

Day 42-43 (July 21-22)

Pasco to Sunnyside, Wash.: 55 miles | Total miles: 2,957

July 21: Sunnyside, Wash. Because we were so far ahead of schedule AND so close to home AND had ridden over the Continental Divide AND 140 miles in one day AND been on the bikes for eight days straight, we took a little break. The joys of one's own home are only fully appreciated when one has been deprived of them and suffered without them for a long time. This was not like flying home and being happy to sleep in my own bed, coming home this time was the first time I was really able to understand how good I really had it growing up and even now.

July 22: Pasco to Sunnyside, Wash. The homecoming. We knew it was going to be something special coming into my hometown, but we didn't know what to expect really. As we made our descent from the hill behind my house into the city, a police officer came up behind us with his lights flashing. At first we thought we had done something wrong, but instead he said he was our escort into town. Every intersection we came to, he shut down and let the sirens blare as we made our way to the local Wal-Mart. Waiting in the parking lot were reporters from all the local TV, radio and newspaper stations as well as 100 friends and family and local government officials. We were received as local heroes. Whereas I was close to tears before, I was outright crying now. Wal-Mart presented us with a huge donation and we were given a performance by the high school cheerleaders. Miss Sunnyside and her court presented the three of us with gifts from the city and everyone on site came up to us personally and shook our hands. Afterwards Wal-Mart held a hot dog sale and donated the profits to the Cancer Society. Sunnyside was my personal stopping point, the ride to Seattle was only a detail in my mind. Words cannot express the gratitude I have to my home for that support they gave us that day and it is a testament to the type of people I am lucky to call friends.

Day 44 (July 23)

Sunnyside to Nile, Wash.: 70 miles | Total miles: 3,027

Our next (and final) obstacle was going to be Chinook Pass. Being a biased Washingtonian, I also think this was the most beautiful riding we had. The pass was long and gradual, but quite doable. Once we got out of the Yakima Valley, the roads were shaded by trees which cut down on heat and the drivers were more accustomed to cyclists and therefore more than shared the road.

Day 45 (July 24)

Nile to Enumclaw, Wash.: 80 miles | Total miles: 3,107

We were about a quarter of the way up the pass. Riding into Chinook is a great view because we have huge mountains on all sides. At the top we were met by a mountain lake and some breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier. From the Pass you can see Mt. Adams in the distance and Mt. St. Helens (the volcano) peaking behind Adams. The river that met us at the descent is called the White River because it is supplied from glacial run off, which is quite clean but a murky white color. Descending the pass was long and gradual, but much scarier than any other descents we faced. At 35 mph we went over potholes, ruts and bumps all the way to Enumclaw. The shadows from the trees made it even harder to judge where obstacles in the road were. No injuries, but many close calls.

Day 46 (July 25)

Enumclaw to Seattle, Wash.: 55 miles | Total miles: 3,162

The closer we got to Seattle the more friendly the roads and local drivers became. We even had a dedicated trail all the way to the Space Needle laid out for us. Taku was hooked by the beauty, friendliness and pro-cyclist attitude of Seattle. So was I, again. At the Space Needle we were again greeted by friends and family and took almost as many photos as miles we have ridden. For nostalgia, I poured some of the Atlantic Ocean water I brought with me into the Puget Sound.

Final thoughts

Forty-five days, 3300 miles, 25 flat tires and we are DONE! We have seen some of the best sunsets, braved harsh weather, dealt with isolation and dehydration and learned the importance of using sunscreen! I think Greg, Taku and I all now see the country in a whole new light and we have this ride to thank.

However, to steal a phrase from Lance Armstrong, this trip was not about the bike ride, it was about fighting cancer. We felt such warmth from the people we stayed with, the strangers we talked to and those who sent us letters in the mail; it was a warmth that can only be felt from our similarities in dealing with cancer. Every time my muscles hurt or I wanted to just pack up and quit altogether (and it did happen), I thought of the millions of cancer survivors out there and went on. I am blessed to have walked--or, as the case may be, ridden--away from the disease.

I hope that those who are reading this will learn from my example and do something about cancer. If it hasn't come into your life yet, unfortunately, it probably will. It's never too early or too late to get involved. This country and world are so big, and it's easy to get caught up in our own affairs and lose track of what's really important. But really, everywhere we went people were the same: they talk differently, act differently and may even be jerks (i.e. see Albany, N.Y.), but when we brought up what we were riding for, the response was always the same: how can I help? I dream of a day when cancer is something I tell my children about as a problem of the past; I want dictionaries to erase its definition and word processors to not recognize the word cancer because it no longer holds meaning.

I thank everyone for all their support.


Topics: Students, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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