Biking across the country may sound like a joke to most college students, even the more athletic ones. It certainly started as a joke for Patrick Acker, the founder of Cycling4aCure.
“I just turned to Oliver and said, ‘Hey, want to cycle across America?’” said Acker, a sophomore engineering major.
The joke became serious in 2012 when Acker created Cycling4aCure with fellow engineering students Oliver Donkervoet and Morgan Bissell, sophomores at Virginia Tech. Its trip across the United States, which is still being planned, all started because of a single person: Acker’s grandmother.
Acker’s grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2011. She received a basket from Cindy’s Hope Chest, a nonprofit based in Charlotte, N.C. that supports cancer victims. Cindy’s Hope Chest provides care and service for women battling cancer, often free of charge.
Cycling4aCure signed a contract with Cindy’s Hope Chest in October so they could take tax-deductible donations. Their real journey began over the summer.
Starting the race
“I’d never raced before,” Acker said. “Now I’m up to about 140 or 180 miles of cycling a week.”
All three members of Cycling4aCure stressed the importance of preparation other than physical training. Even though Bissell won’t spend a moment of the journey on a bike, Acker said he will be one of the most important parts of the team.
“Without him driving the RV, we’d be out there totally alone,” Acker said. “Even though he’s not cycling, each of our roles in this is completely equivalent to the other. Without one person you can’t have the others.”
Acker, Bissell and Donkervoet may come from the same path of study at Tech, but each teammate calls a different place home. Acker hails from Richmond, Va. and Bissell from Ocean City, Md., so are both relatively close to home; Donkervoet, however, is from Honolulu, Hawaii.
“I’m definitely a long way from home,” Donkervoet said.
Despite being little more than a year old, Cycling4aCure has built a strong community of supporters. The team credited much of their success to St. Edward-Epiphany, a private school in Richmond.
Acker, Bissell and Donkervoet raised money and built connections by selling luminaries. Their team sold approximately 300 bags that were used to commemorate family and friends at a Light The Night event.
“The smallest connections have turned into the biggest opportunities for us,” Acker said.
Sponsors such as St. Edward-Epiphany, Nestle and PowerBar are taking the three teammates closer and closer to the starting line. Their ride will begin in San Francisco, Calif., and end in Virginia Beach, Va., spanning more than 3,400 miles.
Preparing for the journey
Donkervoet, the organization’s most experienced cyclist, said that their route’s highest climb — the 14,293-foot Mount Evans Road in Colorado — doesn’t compare with what he’s seen at home.
“The longest climb in the U.S. is Haleakala in Maui, and I’ve already done that,” Donkervoet said.
Donkervoet is also a member of U-Neak Designs Cycling Team, a group located on the east coast that races often. He said that training to constantly ride across the different terrains of each state was completely different from riding in a comparatively short road race.
“I’m basically here to ride and to make sure that this fool, (Acker), doesn’t burn out too early,” Donkervoet said.