LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - For ten years, hundreds of University of Texas students have cycled 4,000 miles each year from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska to raise money, knowledge and hope for cancer research and this year was no different.
Texas 4000 is a federally registered non-profit organization that is partnered with Livestrong and MD Anderson.
But instead of the traditional two routes: the sierra route, which goes through California, and the Rockies route, which goes through the Rocky Mountains, 22 students decided to try a new route through East Texas called the Ozarks route.
"It's been great, actually. It's as much fun as we thought it would be. It's been great to meet all the people who want to share their stories and join in with what we're doing. It's been more than any of us could've asked for so we're having fun and we're just happy to be in places like this," Nick Muston, a student, said.
The Ozarks ride started on June 1 in Cedar Park, Texas and will end on August 9 in Anchorage, Alaska. Each rider has to raise $4,500 through personal fundraiser's, but the students rely heavily on donations from people they meet along the way.
"It is amazing. I mean, we had to spend months and months and months figuring out whom in the world would believe us that we were riding a bike to Alaska through East Texas. Meeting all the people who are opening up their homes for us tonight and going to Lufkin is something that we were really all excited about and we're really excited to be here," Samantha Archer, a student, said.
The students even got a special surprise from a friend who is a member of St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church. With her help, the students were given the opportunity to stay with several host families Wednesday night and get a hot meal after riding in from Houston.
"It's to really be able to help them out, really. I'm a cyclist myself, so I think it's good to be able to support an event like this and you know it's a good cause, collective for the Livestrong charity, for cancer research. It's great. I think the church is always looking for outreach opportunities so I think it was an easy thing to convince us to do," Bernard Hylands, a member of the church, said.
Tina McDonald says she decided to host two students because she felt it was the right thing to do.
"The charity that they are supporting, Livestrong as well as MD Anderson, is close to our heart so it seemed like a great thing to do," McDonald said.
For each rider, this ride means something different. But for Rene Castro, this ride is for his childhood friend who lost his battle with Leukemia at the age of 14.
"He fought three hard years and he passed away. He passed away when he was 14. He's sort of the--his passing was the event that I sort of view the world through. It's my lens. I realize that every day is a very precious gift," Castro said.
But St. Cyprian's wasn't the only Lufkin organization to help the students. Members of the Angelina Bicycle Club also helped out and directed the kids to the church from Corrigan.
"We just kind of wanted to help out our fellow cyclists. We wanted to help out these college kids in any way that we could support them," Hollis Harvey, the ride coordinator, said.
Harvey said Wednesday was very hot and some of the students even ran out of water.
"I know how brutal it can actually be out there in the heat and what not and anytime that you can get as much help as you can, the better off that you are," Harvey said.