They rode bicycles across 8 states to fight cancer. And they’re not done yet.

Traveling along Excelsior Road in Baxter Monday, July 8, cyclists with the Texas 4000 head for the Lakes Area Presbyterian Church to spend the night before leaving Tuesday on their way to Anchorage, Alaska. The 4,000-plus-mile ride by 25 cyclists is founded on the pillars of hope, knowledge and charity and to bring awareness in the fight against cancer. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER -- It was a nice day to go for a ride -- and to fight cancer.

With the sun in the sky and the wind at their backs -- and only about a month of bicycling before reaching their final destination of Anchorage, Alaska --- participants in the Texas 4000 made a pit stop Monday, July 8, at a Baxter church after leaving Austin, Texas, about 38 days ago.

“My grandfather grew up smoking,” Madeline Yuan said. “He was recently diagnosed with lung cancer in December and recently beat it. He’s in remission right now. But my grandmother on my dad’s side passed away from breast cancer before I was born.”

The 20-year-old graduated from the University of Texas, where all the bicyclists in the Texas 4000 studied to take part in 4,000-plus-mile bike ride that began June 1 and ends Aug. 9.

“I applied to be a part of Texas 4000 because I was immediately drawn to the pillars of hope, knowledge and charity,” said Yuan of Abilene, Texas. “I think hope is necessary for battling all things and hardships, no matter, like, what stage of life you’re in.”


The 25 bicyclists following the Ozarks route -- one of three routes of the Texas 4000 -- arrived in small groups, one after the other, at Lakes Area Presbyterian Church to stay the night before departing at about 7 a.m. for Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada where they are expected to arrive Friday.

“Before this, I wasn’t even a cyclist. The most biking I ever did was biking to class, but this is completely different and completely new,” said Brandon Nguyen, a 22-year-old from Houston who plans to attend medical school.

Texas 4000’s mission is to cultivate student leaders and engage communities in the fight against cancer through leadership development, grantmaking and the bike ride from Austin to Anchorage. Previous cycling experience is not required, and fundraising, training and volunteering take place prior to the start of the summer ride.

“Getting used to cycling is something really new to all of us, I think. It’s a completely different world than just commuting cycling,” said Nguyen, who had to compete to participate in the 18-month program designed to cultivate the next generation to lead the fight against cancer. Texas 4000 aims to empower a student to raise $4,500, ride 2,000 training miles with a team, volunteer more than 50 hours in the community, and play an active role in planning aspects of the ride to Alaska by attending weekly meetings and taking leadership positions within the team.

“I think we all came into it thinking it would be a very physical challenge, but it’s also as much as a mental challenge when you’re riding eight, 10-plus hours a day,” Nguyen said. “It’s really mentally taxing, and that’s something I never imagined that would be a challenge going in.”

The Ozark route bicyclists have ridden 2,724 miles and raised $653,973 of their $760,000 as of Monday, according to the Texas 4000 website.


“We look for students with a passion to fight cancer, previous organizational involvement, good communication skills and a demonstrated ability to work well with a team,” according to the Texas 4000 organizers.

“I had a grandfather who unfortunately passed away from pancreatic cancer … but his death had a great effect on my mom’s side of the family, and I saw how he was such an important father figure to my mom, and my aunts and uncles,” Nguyen said.

Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly to nearby organs and is seldom detected in its early stages, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“My grandfather brought them all together (but his death) also kind of ripped them apart when he passed away and so that turmoil, I saw the struggle with that, with my parents and what my aunts and uncles went through,” Nguyen said.

The Texas 4000 summer ride is the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, according to organizers, and the team splits the second day of the journey into Sierra, Rockies, and Ozarks routes and later reunites in Canada to ride the last nine days together into Anchorage.

“Another reason why I wanted to ride was when I was around 13, I had a younger cousin who was diagnosed with leukemia,” Nguyen said. “And for me, that was really scary because when you look at young kids or children, you think of how much they have to live for and how much life they have in front of them.”

The bicyclists who leave Austin arrange all accommodations in advance during the training year, relying on the generosity of host families, churches and schools for shelter and are prepared to camp when housing is not available, according to the ride’s organizers.

“Last year, they were going to stay at Crow Wing State Park, but the mosquitoes were so bad that they didn’t stay there,” said Mark Ford, pastor of the Baxter church. “The pastor of the Presbyterian church in St. Cloud had gone to Austin seminary and asked me if they could stay.”


Messages of prevention and early detection of cancer are shared through educational programs given by the bicyclists in many of the towns they ride through, such as the one at the Brainerd Family YMCA following their afternoon arrival at the church.

“We do these things by giving these presentations to the community, and what’s special about today is that it’s going to be a youth program, so we’re going to be able to spend time with some of the youth of Brainerd and just hang with them,” Yuan said Monday.

Nguyen said, “There are so many people out there that have cancer stories of their own, or they know people who have passed away from cancer that make me want to ride. … Cancer really doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone.”

Ozarks route

The Ozarks route is the newest of three Texas 4000 routes and was added in 2013 to reach more people with the fight cancer message across the American Midwest and Canada.

The Texas 4000 (Ozark bicycling route) began June 1 in Austin, Texas, and ends Aug. 9 in Anchorage, Alaska, in an effort to fight cancer. Google Maps

The trail goes through East Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota before crossing the international border into Canada and crossing the provinces and territories of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon.

This route has the most large cities of the three, with riders passing through Houston; New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis; Chicago; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Edmonton, Alberta; and Whitehorse, Yukon.


Those interested in riding, volunteering, sponsoring, hosting or donating to the Texas 4000 should call 737-300-2318 , email or visit .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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