By DAVID GREEN
Mary McQuilkin stood on a beach in San Francisco one August day in 2007 when a collection of uniformed bicyclists arrived on the scene.
It was the end of a cross country journey that began more than two months earlier in Baltimore.
The end of their journey marked the beginning of something for McQuilkin, a recent nursing graduate. In a few weeks, she will be among the weary bicyclists walking into the Pacific Ocean.
McQuilkin is one of 27 riders making their way across the continent at a pace of about 100 miles a day—at least that’s how it’s going in this flat part of the world.
The annual bicycle ride is known as the Johns Hopkins 4K for Cancer—4K as in the approximately 4,000 miles they’ll travel as they wend their way across, and 4K as in the $4,000 in pledges that each student must secure in order to participate.
The students plan the trip and, in addition to battling wind and fatigue, they volunteer in community projects along the way.
Fayette has become an annual stopping point to wrap up day seven of the 63-day sojourn. The travelers are fed and housed by members of the Fayette Christian Church.
The mission of the bike trip is to spread awareness of cancer, raise funds for research and foster hope in individuals in their battle against the disease.
Despite the grueling effort needed to complete the journey, several riders are back for a second trip. Rob Attorri rode two summers ago and says he was “in awe of all the people he met.”
“I didn’t understand just what we were doing,” the North Carolina native said about his first trip across. “I never thought that a bunch of college kids could inspire patients, survivors or their families, and yet, in all the places we went, there were whole communities who were touched by what we were doing.”
When he had the opportunity to sign up again, he couldn’t resist. Besides, says veteran Christopher Louie, a neuroscience major from California, every trip is an entirely new experience.
Raffi Wartanian, a film major from Maryland, rode in 2006, but he had difficulty fighting the urge to participate once more, to test his “patience, endurance and maturity.”
Christine Santos is another repeat rider. She rode two years ago and says her life has never been the same.
“It was the most difficult thing I’d ever set my sights on accomplishing,” the cellular biology major said, “and I never would have expected to gain so much from 65 days on a bike.”
One thing she learned was to never underestimate the generosity and kindness of strangers.
“In the fight against cancer there can be no strangers, though, we are all working toward the same ultimate goal,” she said. “No matter how large or small you think your part may be, whether it’s holding someone’s hand, riding a bike cross-country, or just lending someone a sympathetic ear in a time of need, it all makes a difference and it’s all needed.”
Caitlin Leach, a political science major from New Jersey, says she’s making the ride for those who aren’t able. Those whose lives have been cut short by cancer, those who are preoccupied fighting the disease, those who are hospitalized or too sick, those who know the frustration of not being able to do what they want—“this ride is for you,” she said.
Rookie traveller Craig Sadler has to laugh when thinking back to his freshman year.
“When I first heard about the 4K, I thought the trip was not only ludicrous, but also in vain,” he said.
Cancer seemed like something insurmountable and he felt stripped of hope. Now he sees the ride as something he has to do, something to offer hope to others.
“I will ride for several reasons, but most importantly, I ride to encourage people to not lose hope as I did,” the senior biology major said. “I hope that my ride will encourage others to continue their struggle, as well as give friends and family members the hope they need to stay optimistic, even in the toughest of times.”
The long ride is an opportunity to give something back to society.
“After four years of taking classes and working through my summers,” Elizabeth-Ann Moss said, “I thought it was finally time I devote a summer to serving others.”
4,000 miles? That’s the distance to the center of the Earth, says Joseph Lopez. It’s the length of two Tour de France rides, and it’s his summer on a bicycle.
“4,000 miles is nine weeks of celebration, protection and preservation of life,” said the chemistry grad from Holy Cross. “It’s an adventure with an inspiring purpose.”
As the riders struggle against the prevailing wind, the semi-truck traffic, the changing weather and eventually the mountainous terrain, they will keep in mind what their efforts mean to others.
“I’m doing this trip because I can inspire people to join the fight against cancer,” Santos said. “I can give people hope, and I can remind myself and others that just because something seems insurmountable it isn’t impossible, not if you have the support of friends, family or even someone you just met.”
• For more information about the 4K for Cancer project or to make a donation, visit the website at www.4kforcancer.org.