Her grandfather is an avid cyclist, bike commuting to work every day as he nears age 80. Her father is a lifelong cyclist, too, and she grew up watching him ride the MS 150, a one-day, 150-mile ride to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
So it makes perfect sense that Alexandra Neff ’14 would spend her summer biking across the United States.
“I’ve always wanted to go cross-country on bike,” says Neff, who will head out on bike from Baltimore, Md., following two days of training on May 25 and 26, pointed toward Seattle. “I’ve watched my Dad doing the MS 150s, and always wanted to do that.”
With the decision made that she would bike across the country this summer, Neff set about searching for organizations that coordinate such rides, and came across 4K for Cancer in January. 4K for Cancer is a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore that coordinates annual cross-country group bike trips for college students to raise funds and participate in uplifting activities along the way.
More than 70 students bike three different routes across the U.S., each departing Baltimore, headed for San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Seattle. The groups make stops along the way to donate money to charitable organizations connected with the cancer community.
Neff will ride with a group of 28 students on the Seattle route, covering more than 4,000 miles in 70 days. Each participant raises $4,500 from sponsors in order to join the ride.
“I’ve known so many people who’ve had cancer,” says Neff, including her great aunt. “It’s been very present, a big part of my life. I knew I wanted to make a connection with the cancer community.”
While growing up in Pullman, Washington, Neff watched her mother, an oncology nurse, working with many cancer patients, and greatly admiring her passion for her service.
To train for the trip, Neff has worked in regular rides to Mount Holyoke College and back, a ride of more than 30 miles, and along other PVTA bus routes around the five area colleges. She knows she will be challenged on the Baltimore-Seattle ride, with its daily pedals of between 60 and 110 miles.
“I’ve never biked that far, ever,” she says a bit ominously. But she will have the support of two dozen fellow cyclists, as well as a van pacing the route. “I’m excited and a little nervous about the social aspect.”
As an added bonus late in the trip, Neff and all her teammates will stay at her grandparents’ home for a night as the group wheels through Kingston, Washington. Her cycling grandfather may be tempted to join the ride.
In addition to the ride itself and the ways it allows her to connect to the cancer community, Neff expects to learn about herself in ways she doesn’t yet realize. She knows in some way the experience will inform her double major in government and French studies, and her future interest in advocating for underrepresented populations, in Africa, perhaps, or among the LGBTQ community.
“I just want to learn, and help people,” says Neff, a mission she gleaned from her mother. “My mom is, like, my idol. She’s so inspiring, and she taught me that we must help each other.”
When she arrives in Seattle on August 4 with no more than a duffle bag and a worn saddle, Neff will be greeted by many family members who live in the area, including her mother, father and grandparents.
“I’m so excited to get to the other side and know I did this,” she says.