The 4K for Cancer is as intense as it sounds: 4,000 miles, coast to coast, to raise money for a cure.

Riley (from theBikeDyke) and I met our first year at Mount Holyoke College through Project: Theatre, a student-run organization. We were in multiple plays together during our time there, but my favorite memory of her is from our rehearsals for 12 Angry Men. We were supposed to be building character rapport by looking into each other’s eyes without talking — but we couldn’t do it without laughing. I think we derailed the whole rehearsal.

Mount Holyoke College Class of 2015

Riley and I at our recent 2 year Mount Holyoke College Reunion

Riley also has the travel bug and has biked across America twice on a 4K for Cancer with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

I’ve always been so impressed by this (repeat!) feat, so I had to talk to her about it.

Here’s the deets on the 4K for Cancer:

What made you decide to ride your bike from coast to coast?

There were a number of reasons I wanted to bicycle across the country. The first was just plain old desire for an adventure, which bicycling from Baltimore to Seattle (and then Baltimore to San Francisco) inevitably would be. I spent the summer before my ride living in a cabin in beautiful Acadia National Park, teaching outdoor education to children, and I wanted to spend another summer primarily outdoors.

4k for Cancer Mount Rushmore

Riley and her team mates at Mount Rushmore

The previous year, my childhood best friend’s father had passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer, and I was looking for the most fitting way to honor his life. He loved being out in nature, and I think he would have loved the idea of bicycling 4,500 miles in one summer so I did the 4K for Cancer. The second bike trip was because I had caught the travel by bike bug and needed to do another trip or risk someday selling all my possessions and bicycling from city to city. I’m not sure it was the perfect remedy, as I wish I was on a bicycling trip right now.

How do you train for a cross-country bike ride like the 4K for Cancer?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

An unfortunate rule.

Ideally, you’d train with bike shoes and clip-in pedals so you can get accustomed to clipping in and out (and clipping out BEFORE you hit the brakes). You’d do a few 50-60 mile rides to prepare you for the days that we bicycle up to 115+ miles. You’d get used to drinking water while on the bicycle, become comfortable cruising 40+ miles an hour downhill, and try your hand at not fishtailing on messy gravel roads. I didn’t do any of that. I rode ~8 miles on two flat tires and bought my clips the day before I took off.

How many hours / miles did you cover on a typical day?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

A new state to cross off the list.

It definitely varied day to day. On average, we would cover around 60-70 miles, but could go as high as 120. Somedays, we’d get lucky and only have to cover 30-40 miles. The amount of time really depended on weather, terrain, and luck. One of those 35 miles day was up the steepest mountain I’ve ever bicycled up. That took a lot longer than going 80 miles through flat Nebraska with no headwind. Typically, we’d wake up at 5 or 6 and try to be on the road by 8 to maximize on daylight. We’d bike until it started to get dark, but we never bicycled when it was actually dark out.

How many states did you get to explore on the 4K for Cancer?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The whole crew in the van.

On my last trip, I believe I went through around 13 states. Some states, you just pass through and others, it feels like you spend lifetimes in. There was a day where we bicycled through four states in total!

On my previous trip, I believe I hit 15 states. It’s a great way to really get to know a place.

What was your favorite state to ride through? Why?

There were so many states I fell in love with!

On my first trip, I was obsessed with Minnesota and Montana. Minnesota has such a friendly atmosphere, it’s just like how people describe, and lots of great coffee. Montana is the most beautiful state I’ve biked through. Bicycling to the top of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park is still one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.

4k for cancer thebikedyke yellowstone national park

Having a great time at YellowStone National Park

On my last trip, I loved bicycling through Colorado, even though the terrain wasn’t the easiest and the weather wasn’t the nicest. There are so many bicyclists in Colorado, it felt like we were at home. One of my teammates from my first bicycling trip lived in Boulder at the time, so seeing him during my second trip was a really comforting and encouraging thing.

Was there a particular state or area that was difficult to bike through?

4k for cancer thebikedyke tennessee

Welcome to Tennessee!

I think all states have pluses and negatives, but hands down, Tennessee and Missouri were the hardest states to bicycle through. I’ve never had someone point a shotgun at my head while I was bicycling, and now I’ve had it happen twice! Let’s just say that a lot of people in those states are not fan of bicyclists, even though we were literally biking in a straight line on public roads. They seemed to really value their solitude in those places.

Can you tell us about a time when you felt overwhelmed or exhausted? What made you keep going?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

She got into a fight with the road and it won.

Sure! I would say that every single day I was exhausted and at one point or another (even though overall it was a blast!), but one day where I was really having a difficult time was bicycling up Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest paved road in the U.S. We had “climbing buddies” because the ride was so steep, which just means a teammate who sticks with you and makes sure you’re doing ok.

My climbing buddy had broken her thumb really badly the night before and was in a crazy amount of pain going up the mountain. We started to get really dizzy because of the giant altitude shift. I’m severely asthmatic, so I had to keep meeting up with the van and plugging in my nebulizer so I didn’t have a giant asthma attack. Then, a huge thunderstorm hit and we had no shelter to hide from it.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

A happier time on the 4KforCancer 🙂

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KforCancer van

My number one fear is lightning, so I was petrified, but also really frustrated that we couldn’t finish the climb, because it was such a notoriously difficult ride and I really wanted to finish it. In that moment, my teammates and the people we met along the way battling cancer or who had lost loved ones to cancer kept me going on this 4k for Cancer. My team immediately sprang into action and began loading bicycles on top of the van and cramming 20+ people and all of our gear into a 15 passenger van. Some of my other teammates had hitched a ride with a park ranger, and I was impressed that they had beaten us up the mountain.

The view from the top of Trail Ridge Road was incredible- it looked like we were in a fairytale of some sort. It just didn’t seem real. It was a nice reminder that I was safe, I was surrounded by my teammates who were family. Everything was going to be ok.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Goofing around on the road.

Was there ever a moment on the 4k for Cancer course when you felt totally at peace?

There were so many moments that felt like I was totally at peace.

One day, it was down-pouring and freezing and my climbing buddy Krista and I were for some reason totally in sync. The ride was really hard and a lot of my other teammates were having a difficult time, but for some reason, Krista and I were almost in a meditative state! The road we were on was super dangerous, and Krista’s back tire kept flinging mud up in my face. I ended up looking like I was covered in a million freckles, but they were all made from mud.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Mud freckles

Near the end of the day, we reached the peak of the mountain and just coasted crazy fast down. It was one of those really rewarding days where you have steadily climbed for hours and you get to reap the full benefit by having this amazing downhill. At the bottom, we were absolutely freezing, but so happy. We took these photos on my phone of us just being so happy with how the ride went. We must have looked absolutely bonkers.

What kinds of places do you sleep on these rides?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KforCancer “Uniform”

We would sleep on the floors of churches, schools, YMCA’s, etc. I was one of the people on my team who coordinated housing ahead of time, which meant contacting previous hosts and asking if they’d be willing to let us crash again or cold-calling all of the potential hosts in a random town in the middle of America. Sometimes, we’d get really lucky and a church or organization would coordinate homestays for us! That was like Disneyland, because we’d get a hot meal and a hot shower and maybe even a bed and a chance to do laundry. The strangest places I slept on the 4k for Cancer were a firehouse (in the garage, next to the firetruck!), the Utah Jazz basketball stadium, and the barn of a rodeo.

How does a “bike road trip” differ from that in car?

It’s so different! When you’re in a vehicle, you don’t have to constantly be looking out for every piece of glass or vent in the road, you don’t have to expend an incredible amount of energy on big mountains, and you aren’t completely exposed to the elements. But, you have a much easier time stopping and talking to locals, going into shops and businesses, meeting other folks on the road, and you have a deeper understanding of the places you bicycled through, because you saw them at 15 miles per hour from sunup to sundown.

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The team with their bikes.

Even though it can be exhausting, you might be battling heat stroke or freezing because your clothing is soaked, or you might be caught in a headwind that makes you feel like you’re moving through molasses, I strongly prefer the latter. After bicycling 9,000+ miles, my executive opinion is that it makes for better adventures.

What advice would you give someone going on a 4k for Cancer or similar trip?

4k for cancer thebikedyke

The 4KForCancer Team San Francisco

4k for cancer thebikedyke

Friends for life.

Do it! Seriously, do it. Even if you think that you can’t physically do it, even if you are scared or anxious, do it. Your body will adjust to the miles, and you will become so accustomed to life on the road that you’ll be comfortable sleeping just about anywhere and wonder why you ever had more than three outfits to begin with. Even better, you’ll make true lifelong friends, because they will literally have been in the trenches with you. You’ll have a deeper understanding of who you are as a person and just how dang resilient you are. And you’ll have memories that will make you so glad to be alive.

You can find Riley on Instagram and Youtube. 

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I went to college 1,809 miles away from home at a small liberal arts school nestled in the Pioneer Valley called Mount Holyoke. So, given the distance, after my May 2015 graduation I wasn’t sure when I would be able to return.

That is until I got a frantic text from my friend Cassidy in late December.

Apparently, literally every other member of my friend group was meeting up in Boston to surprise our friend Brittney as a late Christmas gift and I was the only one not coming. Was there any way I could be there?

Yeah sure, let me just buy a ticket to Boston less than two weeks before departure for a trip lasting roughly 48 hours.

getting ready for the airport

Except that’s exactly what I did.

And while I spent most of my time lying on apartment floors giggling with my girlfriends, if you want to do a quick Boston trip and still see all the sights, it’s completely possible.

Blanchard Liquor

Catching up with my friends. We’re laughing because Blanchard was the name of our student center…and now this liquor store as well.

  • Day 1

Arrive in Boston. Logan airport is only about a ten minute Uber from downtown, so if you are staying centrally, it’s easy to drop off your luggage and start the Freedom Trail right away.

I’d been to Boston so many times that I skipped the historical bit this go around and chose a tasty meal at Quincy Market instead, but even if you’re not into the “birth of American freedom” it’s hard not to get pumped up about it in Boston. Seriously. Every time I’m there I want to punch a redcoat in the throat or something.

Boston Freedom Trail

Baby She’s a Trip at the Old North Church (1 if by land…2 if by sea) circa 2010.

Quick Boston Trip

Reenacting the Boston Massacre in 2010 (look how little I was!)

After you’ve had your fill of history, make sure to explore Boston’s harbor and have a lobstah or two, or maybe even a nice bowl of clam chowda.

  • Day 2

 The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is a must see even if you don’t like art. Be sure to check out these art history snapchats, as they might change your mind.

MFA Boston Snow

Snow day at the MFA

MFA Boston

#Vanity

On this quick Boston trip, I may or may not have used my three hours there in a futile attempt to avoid the snowstorm going on outside (two years in the south really decreased my tolerance for the stuff).

The museum is also nestled near the famous South End, so if you like old brick buildings and cute Instagrams, then this is the area for you.

Friends being classy AF and taking in Renaissance art

After exploring the museum, feel free to pop over to Cambridge to pahk ya cahr in Harvahd Yahd, or Fenway if you want to watch the Red Sox lose (again).

  • Day 3

Depending on how quick your quick Boston trip actually is, you might take some time to venture out into Lexington and Concord (where the shot heard round the world was fired), Salem (to try some witches), or even Plymouth (to see the hella underwhelming Plymouth Rock).

Plymouth Rock is Small

#Selfie with Plymouth Rock in late 2014…which as you can see is small and disappointing.

  • Quick Tip:

Of course, I was having so much fun with my college girlfriends that I didn’t want to come home, so when United said my flight was overbooked, I was nearly delirious with joy. When the gate agent announced that he was offering $600 travel vouchers, I don’t think I had ever moved so fast.

Unfortunately, I learned a harsh lesson about volunteering to be bumped off your flight. It was the first time I did it, so I assumed that since I was first in line to volunteer, they would call me over when they needed me, but that wasn’t the case.

As I was minding my own business in the gate area, texting my friends to make sure they didn’t wander too far so we could all enjoy my hotel room courtesy of United Airlines, the girl who had been behind me acted like a total vulture and hovered around the desk.

Mon petite croissant – a lovely friend I wish I had more time with.

Because she was right in the agent’s eye line, she got the upgrade when he realized the flight was full. I walked over to hear her get a $600 travel voucher, $10 dinner voucher, free night at the Embassy Suites Boston, and a 1st class ticket in the morning.

That was supposed to be mine!

I was furious, but I learned my lesson: all’s fair when there’s a $600 travel voucher on the line.

So if you volunteer to be bumped off your flight, stand by the desk until your voucher is in your hand.

I did shed some tears on the flight home, but I’m unsure if they were exhaustion from a whirlwind weekend, disappointment that I was ROBBED of my $600 voucher, or simply because I missed my friends.

But at least I’m headed back to Boston in May!

Wagamama in Boston

P.S. Did y’all know they have WAGAMAMA in Boston? I about flipped my lid.

 

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*Suggested listening while learning how to ride Amtrak with ease: “City of New Orleans” –  Arlo Guthrie How to ride amtrak with ease. A station in Europe.

European train stations are both architectural wonders and hubs for commuters, locals, and tourists alike. I once met a girl from Belgium whose dad commuted via train weekly to work in Luxembourg. He felt that Belgian schools were better and wanted to keep his family around Brussels. Luckily for him, it didn’t mean he had to compromise his career.

In the good ole’ US of A, the story is different. Many times (especially in smaller cities) stations are far from downtown and sometimes in areas that most people would otherwise avoid. You could say that in addition to this, our country is so large that trains are inefficient and antiquated. But I want to challenge that.

I’m not saying that taking the train from New York to LA is the absolute best way to travel, but it can be done! Follow these tips and you can survive pretty much anything Amtrak throws at you.

Here’s how to ride Amtrak with ease:

 1.) Always Be Early.

Since there is no required arrival time and no extensive security line at a train station, you might think you can just waltz in whenever. While officially that may be true, you want to be early if you want your trip to go smoothly.

Early arrival means you can board before the rest of the heard (a perk for those trying to save by traveling in coach) and can get your pick of seats. This is also helpful since Amtrak cars still only have outlets along the window-side walls. You don’t want to have to awkwardly reach across someone you don’t know to charge your phone.

2.) Book Tickets in Advance.

Many people think of train-travel very informally, and thus do not believe they need to book tickets as far in advance as they would for a plane. Some do get lucky doing this, but a solid money-saving tip is to always book as soon as you can. Ticket prices skyrocket the closer to the departure time. Additionally, some special deals (such as AAA discounts) are only good if you book a certain amount of time before your trip.

3.) Pack Lightly.

Very few Amtrak lines have checked baggage options. Additionally, the usually limit passengers’ allowed baggage. This is for your own good, as it difficult to make it through a busy station – let alone the train itself – if you have too many things to carry.  A good example of how to pack for the train would include a backpack and/or a small rolling suitcase.

4.) Prepare for Delays.

Unfortunately, one of the real truths about Amtrak is that delays are common. While they are obligated to help you out if you miss a connection because of them, it’s always good to take this into account at the outset so you can try to avoid it as much as possible. Make sure you have enough time between connections (I prefer an hour because it’s not too much but not too little either) and pack lots of snacks!

Some other quick tips:

  • If a train seems crowded, take the first open seat. If you pass one up, you could end up on the floor.
  • If you have to change trains, always charge your electronics at earliest convenience, even if your battery is still pretty full. You never know when the next charging opportunity will be. You can also purchase a portable charger.
  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, opt to store your ticket there. iPhones will automatically prompt you to store your ticket in iBooks. This way, you can never misplace your ticket and its one less piece of paper to worry about.
  • Pack a sweater or blanket, and wear warm-ish clothes when you travel. I have worn my Patagonia fleece on Amtrak even in the brutal heat and humidity of Washington, DC in August. The AC is freezing after you’ve been sitting in it for a while. How to ride Amtrak with ease

So now you know how to ride Amtrak! Go forth and conquer (and let me know if I missed anything in the comments).

 

A newly-minted Mount Holyoke College Alum, Abby is never happier than when she is headed some place new.

This is likely why her dream (and current career goal) is to join the Foreign Service. After studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland, she decided that the best kind of weather is a rainy day in the city. A native of northern New York State, she now lives in Washington, DC. 

You can follow her on Twitter here.

I used Affiliate links in this post. This means that if you purchase any products recommended, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps offset the cost of running She’s a Trip. Thanks! 

 

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