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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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A happier time on the 4KforCancer 🙂

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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Studying abroad can really suck.

You’ve been told that it will be the best experience ever, and it is…at first.

But then the homesickness sets in.

Since most students choose to study abroad during their junior year, most assume that the transition will be a breeze. They think that homesickness is something only freshmen experience. But it’s not.

I was one homesick Texan while studying abroad and I was in ROME. So the homesickness was compounded by feeling guilt for even feeling it in the first place when I was in such a cool city. It was awful, but I overcame it, so I know you can, too.

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My Rome away from home.

Here’s how to deal with homesickness while studying abroad:

Say No Sometimes

Often, people put so much pressure on themselves to “have the best time ever” when studying abroad that they forget how they usually act. While studying abroad IS this amazing once in a lifetime thing, you’re going to burn yourself out and ruin it if you don’t slow your roll every once and a while.

When you’re at home or on your “home” campus, do you sleep in on Saturdays? Do you say “no” to events because you have a paper due? Don’t feel like you have to go 100 miles an hour at all times. You’re there for at least a semester, maybe even an entire year – you have the time to pace yourself.

So maybe the friends in your study abroad program are going to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight, visit the Sydney Opera House, or even zip line in the Costa Rican jungle. So what? Those events will still be there next week, next month, next semester. Don’t feel guilty for sitting out on some things to recharge for your next adventure.

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Taking a break in Florence.

Get Out There

I’m not contradicting myself, I promise. People experience homesickness differently. While some need a reminder to recharge so they can continue to build friends at their study abroad program and enjoy themselves, others need that nudge to step outside their comfort zone.

Homesickness is often significantly tied to culture shock, which is a real and serious thing. It can be loosely defined as that confusing and nervous feeling that you get when you leave a familiar culture to live in a new and different one.

 Here’s how it usually goes:

  1. The Honeymoon Stage

This is how you feel when studying abroad still seems like a vacation. Everything is new and exciting and you might as well be at summer camp. You might be a little nervous, but you don’t miss your parents or home or dog or whatever because you’re having so much FUN.

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My first week in Italy.

  1. The Frustration Stage 

This is usually when the worst of the homesickness sets in. You’ve been abroad for a few weeks and everything bothers you – even things you once found magical. You might find yourself even actively resenting the place you thought you were going to love.

“Why don’t they speak English?” “Why don’t the buses seem to follow the schedule?” “Why can’t things just be like they were AT HOME?”

In this stage, you long for the normalcy of home. But don’t worry – it gets better.

  1. The Adjustment Stage

There is no set timeline for going through these stages. Those around you might power through them, while you might linger behind.

That’s okay. It’s not a competition.

BUT to get out of the frustration stage and into this one, you need to actively try to make yourself at home in your new city.

As your surroundings become more familiar, you’ll find that you start feeling a little less homesick. This is because you’ll be able to recognize bits of the local language, start enjoying the food, and understand the transportation.

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Finally feeling at home at the John Felice Rome Center 🙂

You can jumpstart this process by doing any of the following things:

  • Make an effort to learn the language, even if your program doesn’t require that you take it.
  • Take a trip to the grocery store. If you know people’s stomachs, you know their heart. Pop in your earbuds and get to know the local grub.
  • Take a preplanned walk around your city. Bring a paper map with you and wander. Which brings me to….
  • Find a place that’s yours. Maybe it’s a special bench, overlook, of café. Anything that you can call your own will help ease the transitional homesickness.
  • Talk to a counselor. If you’re still feeling down in the dumps, don’t be embarrassed about going to speak with the counseling office at your study abroad program, or the international students coordinator if you’re at a university. Their job is literally to make your time abroad the best time ever.
study abroad homesick tips

My “special place” — Il Pellicano Gelateria

4. The Acceptance Stage

You might make it to this stage, you might not. But after weeks, months, or even years of cycling through the previous stages of culture shock, you will get to the point where you can simply accept your new culture for what it is. It doesn’t mean that you understand it – or even like it – but you can function just fine and feel joy, not resentment.

Practice Self Care

While you’re still navigating homesickness abroad and the stages of culture shock, try these “quick fix remedies.”

  • Set up a weekly Skype session with the person you miss most. And don’t cancel!
  • Watch a familiar show. If you binge Pretty Little Liars in America, keep up with it in Australia. The characters can be like old friends and bring sense of normalcy to your new life.
  • Create a routine. On Tuesdays you have lunch at the café down the road. On Wednesdays you Skype with mom. On Thursdays you do laundry. Stability is a great way to combat homesickness.
study abroad homesick tips

Friends in Firenze.

Now go forth and prosper! And you can cry. That’s totally okay.

If you’re studying abroad this semester and need to vote in the American elections, click here. 

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Heads up: you have to pick a new president.

And Senators. And Congressmen. And County Commissioners (whatever it is that they do).

So whether you’re a Hillz fan or all for Trump (or hate both, which let’s be honest, is the case for a lot of people), if you’ll be away from home on Election Day, you’ll need to register for an absentee ballot.

First things first, you need to register to vote. It only takes like five minutes and you can find the online registration forms here.

how to get an absentee ballot

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s everything you need to know about how to vote absentee:

Qualifying

People usually vote absentee because they are

  • College students who study outside of their congressional district.
  • Expats working abroad.
  • In the military.
  • Regular Joes who decided to take a vacation in early November.
  • Unable to get to the polls.

Absentee voting by mail is NOT for people who just don’t want to wait in the lines on Election Day. I know it’s the worst, but that’s what early voting is for.

Registering

Election Day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Because of this, it can be anywhere from November 2nd – November 8th. This year, American voters get a little more time to think about things, because Election Day isn’t until the 8th.

To receive your absentee ballot, you’ll need to

  • Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website and select your “home” state from the dropdown menu (or your domicile state, if you want to get fancy about it).
  • Make sure you have access to a printer.
  • Download and fill out the Federal Post Card Application.
  • Mail it to your “home” county’s voting office.

You can find the list of addresses on the FVAP website, and please note that I’m saying COUNTY not COUNTRY. Easy mistake, but it could cost you your vote.

how to get an absentee ballot

Deadlines

To avoid being complacent in the biggest presidential election of all time, now that you know how to vote absentee, you need to get after it!

Technically, the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot varies by state (and you can find a complete list of voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines here) but the general consensus is

  • you have until the last week of October to request one

and

  • it needs to be received by November 8th, not postmarked by then.

I voted absentee while in college in both the 2012 and 2014 elections. As long as you follow the steps above, voting while away from home is easy as pie.

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