By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Samantha Wendt hadn’t ridden a bike much at all since she was six years old.
She admitted that riding a half mile would have totally worn her out.
So it makes perfect sense that she would sign up for a 70-day, 4,000-mile bike trip.
Especially if it was for the right cause.
And for Samantha, Texas 4000 proved to be that right cause.
It is an organization of cancer fighters. It is comprised solely of student riders, volunteers and community supporters. Every member is passionate about spreading cancer awareness through hope, knowledge and charity.
Since being founded in 2003, Texas 4000 has raised more than $7.2 million for the fight against cancer. They donate 60 percent to cancer research and 40 percent to support services.
“I have immediate family members that are affected or have been affected by cancer, so this cause really resonated with me,” Samantha explained. “This trip is physically challenging, but I want to show how much I really do care. Plus, it’s a cool experience and I’m seeing parts of the country I’ve never seen before.”
Samantha is 23 and was born and raised in Texas. She is the daughter of Steve and Anita (Buenker) Wendt. Her father graduated from Effingham High School in 1984 and her mother from Teutopolis High School in 1986. Her grandparents are Virginia and the late Henry Wendt, of Watson; and Carol and the late Ed Buenker, of Teutopolis.
Samantha is a graduate of the University of Texas and earned her Master’s degree in Professional Accounting from UT in May. After her trip, she will join Price Waterhouse Coopers as a Forensic Services Associate.
After learning about Texas 4000, Samantha was interested and filed an application. The two-month process included both a group and individual interview. She was accepted into the group in November 2016 and assigned to the 2018 summer trip.
“There were three requirements,” Samantha noted. “You have to raise $4,500; perform 50 hours of community service; and turn in 2,000 training miles on your bike over an 18-month period. I was an overachiever. I turned in 3,600 miles.”
There are three groups and a total of 69 riders this summer. Each group will ride more than 4,000 miles, but on separate routes. They all left Austin, Texas, on June 1 and will arrive in Anchorage, Alaska, on August 10.
One group took the Sierra Route. It headed west through New Mexico into California and then up the west coast through Oregon and Washington and into Canada.
Another group headed more east on the Ozarks Route. It went through Louisiana, then headed north, going through St. Louis and Chicago, then into Wisconsin and Minnesota before entering Canada.
The 24 members of Samantha’s group are taking the Rockies Route. They have pedaled through Oklahoma and Colorado. They have biked through the Glacier National Park and into the Canadian province of British Columbia.
On Day No. 48 – July 18 – while in Prince George, British Columbia, Samantha took time to talk to The News Report.
“Things have gone really well on the trip so far,” she said. “We pack a lot into every single day. There have been some hard moments and some amazing moments as well. It’s been an incredible experience.”
There are challenges like a lack of sleep, plus the wear and tear riding like this has on your body.
The weather has been a pleasant surprise, however, Samantha admitted.
“It was really hot through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas,” she noted. “But to beat the heat, we’d get up and start riding early. Once we got into Colorado, it was a little cooler; and we’ve had some rain in Canada. But overall, the weather has been as good as you could hope for.”
The group rides eight hours each day and the goal is to average 80 miles.
“Our toughest challenge was in Kansas,” Samantha explained. “It was about two weeks into our trip and we encountered terrible crosswinds – about 15 to 20 mph. We pedaled as hard as we could, but it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere. That was a hard stretch.”
One day in Canada, the group turned in 144 miles while riding at an elevation of 7,000 feet. They went through two mountain passes during that stretch, as well.
“That combination of miles and elevation was really tough,” Samantha admitted.
Exhaustion is another challenge the group faces on a daily basis. But the group comes together every morning for a few special minutes, which almost serves as therapy.
“We talk about who we’re riding for or we tell stories about people we’ve met and talked to on our trip,” Samantha said. “It refreshes us, helps us overcome exhaustion and reminds us why we’re doing this. Then I get back on my bike and my legs aren’t as tired as I thought.”
Samantha is riding for her cousin, Katie Wendt, who was diagnosed with Childhood Leukemia when she was in middle school. It then came back again in high school, but according to Samantha, Katie has been cancer free for more than 10 years.
“Katie has been in inspiration to me,” Samantha said. “She has always had a bubbly personality. She’s fun to be around; the life of the room. I know the disease took a lot from her, but you would never know it. I have been amazed at how she handled everything and didn’t let it change her.”
In addition, Samantha has met some incredible people along the way. When people discover why the group is doing the bike trip, some open up and share their stories. Some have battled cancer successfully so far; some have lost loved ones and talk about how difficult that has been.
“Again, those stories remind us of what a great cause we’re doing this for. Those stories, plus others will honk their horns at us and yell words of encouragement while we’re riding,” Samantha added. “Those things help make some of the harder days not that hard at all.”
Here are a few Fun Facts:
- The riders will pedal at elevations ranging from 500 feet to 14,000 feet.
- The team will consume more than 10,000 energy bars, more than 700 gallons of sports drinks, and more than 5,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the trip.
- The team will change an average of 5 flat tires each day.
- The ride is the longest annual charity bike ride in the world and is more than twice as long as the Tour de France.
- Since being founded 15 years ago, more than 600 team members have ridden more than 2.7 million miles.
On Day 60 – July 30 – all three teams will meet in White Horse, which is in the Yukon Territory, and complete the remainder of the trip together. On Day 65, the group will enter back into the United States and arrive in Anchorage five days later.
Despite the weather, fatigue or even a flat tire, Samantha remains steadfast and passionate about her commitment to the trip.
“I’m riding for everyone who has not only been directly affected by having cancer, but for all those who have been affected indirectly through witnessing loved ones, friends and acquaintances fight a battle against an invisible enemy,” she emphasized. “I ride for those who have their entire lives turned upside down, yet they do not ask for pity from anyone else.
“I ride for hope and for optimism,” Samantha added. “I ride to inspire those who are going through, or helping someone else through one of the toughest fights they could face. I want to share stories of survival and give people the little bit of strength I can provide in order to help them reach another birthday.”
If interested, people can follow Samantha’s progress or make a donation by going to www.texas4000.org/rider/2018/rockies/samantha-wendt/.
So after completing this 4,000-mile journey, will Samantha continue to be an avid bike rider?
“I don’t know yet,” she quickly responded.