CRYSTAL LAKE – Alex Knicker is going to live her life one mile at a time this summer. The lifelong Crystal Lake resident and University of Illinois senior will embark on a roughly 4,000-mile bicycle trek from New York to San Francisco with 19 other riders to raise $150,000 for cancer research and support services.
The group, Illini 4000, is a nonprofit organization created by students at the university that has already raised $633,500 in the seven annual summer rides. For Knicker, the experience will be a meaningful way to fight a disease that claimed her grandmother and an opportunity to bring perspective to a difficult physical challenge.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but it’s just another challenge that can’t even begin to be compared to people dealing with cancer and having to go through chemotherapy,” she said. “It will feel really good to finish this ride and know I’ve been able to contribute.”
Knicker, a Prairie Ridge High School graduate, has been preparing with her teammates throughout the school year, usually three times a week. Some, like Knicker, have little or no experience in serious road cycling and need the training to deal with the roughly 75-mile daily trips the group will take.
Along with the eight and a half hours on a bike each day, the crew also takes a minimalist approach to the trip, sleeping in sleeping bags at churches along the way and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every lunch and pasta or lentils for each dinner.
“I think the first portion will be easier because once you hit the west it is a lot more difficult with all the mountains,” Knicker said. “But for a personal experience it is going to be awesome seeing all the small towns in America. I wanted to do this while I had the time and was young and healthy enough to do it.”
The most rewarding experience could come from the group’s side project, she said, which past riders have described to her as worth every mile of the trip. The group chronicles its chance encounters with people it meets who have dealt with cancer. The stories are posted at www.portraitsproject.org to serve as inspiration, she said.
The trip is scheduled to start May 24 in New York City and end Aug. 3 in San Francisco. It will include stops in Illinois between June 8 and June 14 spanning from Champaign to Chicago and west again toward Rockford.
With $30,444 raised as a team to this point, Knicker said she is hopeful for more before the journey begins in four months. Donations can be made for individual riders online at www.illini4000.org/donate or by check.
Once the trip begins, those interested can keep up with the group’s progress through riders’ blogs at www.illini4000.org.