On June 3rd a special group of University of Texas students will embark on a trying journey, taking them from Texas to Alaska… all by bike. Keep in mind that most of the Texas 4000 team hasn’t been on a bike since their age was in the single digits and their training is on a truncated time table. The learning curve is steep and the effort is not to be taken lightly, but these students find their own ways of staying motivated and keep riding.
We had a chance to talk with a 2017 T4K member recently, her words will give you some insight to their experiences while preparing for the trip. Heidi Simmons bucks the trend somewhat when it comes to most T4K riders. Heidi has been a triathlete for 10 years and is working on her Master’s in Nursing. This experience has lent well to her nearly 80 teammates.
How did you first discover T4k?
I learned about Texas 4000 several years ago when a few of my friends told me they were going on this "bike trip". Sarah Fernandez rode Sierra in 2011, Brooke Willard rode Rockies in 2012, Aaron Leondar rode Rockies in 2013.
What made you want to be apart of T4k?
Initially the allure of riding my bike across the country was a temptation I had to explore. After I learned that the team dedicates their experience to fighting cancer, I was hooked. I have been a triathlete for 10 years and a cancer nurse for 5 years, so T4K seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my passions.
Had you been involved with Cycling in anyway before you were selected to join the t4k team?
In high school, my mentor Teresa got me involved in local triathlons. My first race was a cold, rainy, St. Patrick's Day sprint triathlon, but I had never had more fun! Since then I've raced sprint, olympic, and Ironman Austin in 2015.
What has been the hardest part of your training?
Adirondack hill! So far it's the only hill I've had to stop and walk up the last section, but I'm determined but make it up next time.
What has been your best moment thus far being apart of the T4K team?
Rolling in to the finish line after our half-century test. One of my teammates, Margot, had been struggling through some injuries and being new on the bike so she asked Adrian and me to ride with her for her half century test. She was so scared she wasn't going to pass her test. Despite the cold and rainy conditions, she kept a great attitude throughout the whole ride and responded well to our encouragement. The last five miles she got a fire lit under her and she basically sprinted to the finish line and finished with plenty of time to spare! I remember screaming for joy, fist pumping the air, and looking back at Adrian who was grinning like a kid! It was elating to see our whole team waiting for us at the finish line cheering her on. Everything about that day was amazing!!
Has there been any part of your preparation that you have been surprised to find out?
Learning how to group ride. I didn't realize how challenging it was going to be to ride in a pace line and trust the riders in front of me to make calls.
Do you have any morale boosting items/practices that you use to get through the tough training rides?
I have a cup of coffee before every ride. Without fail. My teammates think it's kind of boujee, but it's my way of channeling some normal into the chaos. During rides, I think about my Grandma Sue. She's the reason why I ride for T4k and thinking about her cancer fight reminds me to dig deep and keep pushing. There were days when she didn't want to go to the hospital or get chemotherapy, but she did it anyway because she loved her family and wanted to spend more time with us. When finishing a long ride or climbing a hill seems impossible, I think of her.
Do you have a favorite route?
Anything through west Austin - I love Mount Bonnell and West Lake Hills area.
What is your favorite part about getting out on your bike?
Being outdoors! I love going fast, but I also love going for a chill ride on a sunny day enjoying the open road.
What is your favorite recovery food/beverage?
Bacon and eggs. SO MANY EGGS! I'm a pretty equal opportunity eater though. Recently I've been munching on Mighty Fine hamburgers, J. Blacks Pizza, and Wu Chow Tangerine Beef. Oh and SNO-BEACH - SO MUCH SNO-BEACH!
What are you most looking forward to on your ride to Alaska?
I really love to travel and am really looking forward to seeing a lot places like the national parks. I've also been corresponding with my Bicycle Buddy which is effectively a T4k pen pal. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I hope to meet her on Day 22.
The first leg of the Texas 4000 is from Cedar Park to Lampasas and known as The Atlas Ride. The ride is open to the public and is a great opportunity to show your support for this group. After riding through some of the best terrain in Texas you are also treated to some of the best BBQ in Texas, along with live music and a send-off party. You can register for the event and find more information at Texas4000.org.