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US: Cross-country riding for 4K for Cancer

By Shalini Kathuria Narang
September 08, 2010 20:42 IST
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This January, when Pooja Singal, 22, a pre-med student at John Hopkins, told her parents she wants to do a cross-country bike ride with the non-profit organization 4K for Cancer, her parents laughed. And when Abhishek Gupta, 29, a PhD student of economics at John Hopkins, told his parents in Delhi about his intention to ride, they wondered why he needed to ride a bike for that. Why not just fly?

But July 31, Singal, Gupta, Gayatri Patel and 22 other riders reached the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to complete a 4,000-mile trip that started in Baltimore May 30.

"Two of my good friends did the 4K for Cancer bike ride in 2008 and they told me it was the best summer of their lives," Singal said. "I was inspired and wanted to try it. It is once in a lifetime that one gets to do such a thing."

Each biker has to raise at least $4,500 for the cause.

"I started talking of my family and friends and then spoke at my elementary school and high school to raise funds," Singal said.

About half of Gupta's funding, he said, was given by his professor, Robert Barbera. "My father gave $500 and I requested him to place a box in his retail store in New Delhi with the message about the ride. Around $200 was collected via that box," Gupta said.

The bikers got their bikes in mid March and went through some 25 to 30 miles of training rides on the weekends and some spinning classes in the gyms. "There's really not much training. Nothing prepares you for the ride like the ride itself," Gupta said.

Besides the beauty of the landscape, Singal and Gupta Abhishek praised the generosity of strangers and the small town life in the United States.

"It changes something within you," Gupta said. "It is a very different experience going through small towns, meeting people who are so selfless and giving. I learnt that not all people are out there to get you, and I can trust others."

Congregations at churches on the way hosted the riders' at dinner. At these community events, the riders took turns to present their organization's goals and talked to the people about their experiences.

While Singal and many other bikers found the ride from Capitol Reef National Park to Escalante National Park in Utah the hardest part of the trip, Gupta found the going toughest when traversing the Rocky Mountains in the National Trail Ridge Road in Colorado.

"Very steep headwinds, altitude, lack and oxygen and gravel-filled road took its toll on me. I was pushing myself against my limits," Gupta said.

Twenty-eight riders started from Baltimore but three dropped off on the way — two due to chronic pain and one because of a family emergency. The bikers rode in groups of three to four people. Sometimes they got lost, in some cases riding up to 10 miles in the wrong direction. The 63-day trip included 12 rest days. The riders rode between 80 and 100 miles per day.

"Though I have not been touched by the disease in any personal way," Singal said, "I chose to ride with 4K for Cancer because I believe in the cause. Since 4K was [set up] at John Hopkins, it was easier to get to know the others I would be riding with."

Gupta, who will join Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania as an assistant professor of economics this fall, said, "This experience will be one of the best; no, the best experience of my life I think."

Image: Abhishek Gupta, Pooja Singhal and Gayatri Patel.

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Shalini Kathuria Narang