Texas 4000 riders stop in Walker
Twenty-five college students from the University of Texas rode their bicycles into Walker from Brainerd in a driving rain July 9. The cyclists are on a 70-day road trip that started in Austin, Texas, June 1 and will end in Anchorage, Alaska, Aug. 9. The group, called Texas 4000 (TK4 for short), is one of three teams of cyclists — 75 in all — making the journey on three different routes. The purpose of their ride is to raise awareness and funding for cancer research.
Aside from the obvious, what was unique and a bit unusual about the 25 cyclists was that very few people knew they were even in town, partly because their stay was less than 24 hours. But the student cyclists left a huge, positive impression on the host homes who took them in overnight, and a few others involved in the event.
I was contacted last November by one of the team members, Mitchell Keo, a grad student considering entering medical school. Mitchell told me about the group, their goal and mission, and said they would be going through Walker July 9 and 10. Mitchell said they were looking for a number of host homes that could put the cyclists up overnight.
That began months of planning. I presented the idea to Walker’s Bicycle Committee and we proceeded to plan for this event.
July 9 came with a torrential downpour as 25 cyclists made their way into Walker and to the city park where host homes and committee members treated them to a barbecue, Walker style, on the shores of Leech Lake. The students quickly got to know their hosts and seem to build a strong bond with those they came into contact with.
When they left early Wednesday morning, it was not without a few tears and a tremendous impact on the families who hosted the team, an impact that will be remembered for a long time.
Before leaving, the student cyclists told us that in their 39-day journey so far, Walker was the most beautiful town they’d visited, the first “real” lake they got to see, and the friendliest community they’d been in.
As coordinator for this event, I would like to personally thank all those (that I can remember) who donated and/or worked hard to see this event succeed.
Host homes included Steve Bilben, Simon and Lynn Whitehead, Teri Bjorkland, Al and Joan Sanford, Darren and Kandi Kelderman, Mark and Jan Vondenkamp, Greg and Roxie Parks, and Paul and Linda Nye. The Chase on the Lake Hotel also donated five rooms for nine students to stay.
I would also like to thank Jeff Holly at Walker Home Center, Erin Haefele at The Green Scene, Mark McKenna at SuperOne Foods, Cindy Wannarka and staff at the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Lynn Mineer of Mineer Signs, and Dean Morrill of The Pilot-Independent. Additionally, I want to thank my two music buddies — Jeff Menten and Keith Thunem, who with me provided music for the barbecue. Interestingly, the students commented that Walker was the first town on the journey that provided live music, something for which they expressed gratitude.
I’m quite certain there were others that I either was unaware of or those I overlooked who contributed in some way to this event. Thank you to all of you!
Wednesday morning found the host families and cyclists on the city hall lawn in front of the large map sign of the Walker/Leech Lake area for a photo op. Unbeknownst to the host homes, the morning ritual of the TK4 team was to go around and dedicate the day’s ride to someone — such as a person struggling with cancer, one who had succumbed to the disease, as well as a fellow team member and/or a host home.
The second morning ritual was to go around the circle and mention something that each of us was grateful for that day. The moving experience was at once touching, heartwarming and emotional before the cyclists concluded with their third ritual, a team cheer/chant before leaving Walker with strong memories and perhaps a desire to return someday.
Thanks to all of you who contributed to this unique experience!
Back Street Bicycle Service and Repair