Trek from Baltimore to Oregon has special meaning
When Kiera Zitelman graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring in 2009 and the University of Maryland, College Park in May, her mother, Carole O’Toole, told her the same thing.
“I remember her saying, ‘I didn’t think I’d be here to see you graduate,’” Zitelman, now 22, said.
That’s because when Zitelman, of Kensington, was 2, O’Toole was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. At one time, she was given 18 months to live.
But O’Toole has survived for decades, and not only was there at both of Zitelman’s graduations, but plans to be in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 10 when her daughter’s cross-country bike ride to raise awareness of young adults with cancer comes to an end.
Zitelman is riding in the Ulman Fund’s annual 4K for Cancer ride that began June 2 at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Four teams of 25 to 30 members each are cycling to either San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle or Portland, covering some 4,000 miles. They each are required to raise at least $4,500 for the cause.
“We frequently hear how inspiring the ride is,” Zitelman said. “At the beginning I was scared of riding across the country, but as we’ve gone on, I definitely see how people are inspired by us.”
Riders started the journey by dipping their tires in the harbor then headed west. By the first day, they had started their first climb of the Appalachian Mountains. The second day, they had climbed 6,000 more feet.
“It was pretty brutal,” Zitelman said.
The bikers have no budget for food or lodging on the journey, instead relying on donations and hosts along the way. Zitelman, who as of Thursday was trekking through Utah and into Nevada, says the group mostly stays in churches and YMCAs along the route as well as guest houses that hosted groups in years past.
“The kids are told to pack a sleeping bag and a bed roll,” O’Toole said, along with clothes to last them the 70-day journey. “That’s it.”
Riders plan to finally reach the Pacific Ocean Aug. 9 where, just as they did in Baltimore, they will dip their tires in the water then spend the night gearing up for a final push inland to Portland.
Through the journey, Zitelman said, the team has become a family. Once the riders finally arrive in Portland, she said, most will stay for a few more days to say goodbye, then make their way home on their own. A number of riders are from Maryland, but most are spread up and down the East Coast. Many teammates have already made plans to visit one another later.
“I don’t think I’ll bike to see them,” Zitelman said with a laugh. “I think I’ll take a long break from cycling after this.”