LLHS grad Erica Johnson completes 72-day cross country bike trip

Last updated: September 02. 2014 1:28PM - 688 Views
By Tom Robinson Dallas Post Correspondent



Erica Johnson, second row left, captained a team of 30 cycles across the United States to raise funds for cancer patients through the Ulman Foundation.
Erica Johnson, second row left, captained a team of 30 cycles across the United States to raise funds for cancer patients through the Ulman Foundation.
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Erica Johnson thought climbing the Appalachian Mountains on a bike was challenging … until she hit the Rocky Mountains.
 
“Climbing the Rockies is something I'll never forget,” said Johnson, a former Lake-Lehman athlete who learned of the difficulties involved while taking part in the Ulman Foundation's 4K for Cancer.
 
The 72-day, 4,000-mile cross country bike ride to raise funds for cancer education and support started in Baltimore where the foundation is based.
 
“We hit the Appalachians in the first week of the trip and, at that time, I thought they were pretty brutal,” Johnson said. “Then, when we had about half our miles under our belt, we hit the Rockies.”
 
Johnson and her team climbed Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America. Trail Ridge Road in the Rocky Mountain National Park uses long continuous curves to steadily climb at a 5-7 percent rate for 48 miles. Eleven miles of the highway travel above the treeline where the park's evergreen forests stop, continuing to a high point of 12,183 feet elevation, well over two miles above sea level.
 
From the bottom to the top of Trail Ridge Road, conditions become windier and temperatures normally drop 20-30 degrees.
 
“That was definitely a huge accomplishment for all of us,” Johnson said.
 
Trail Ridge Road and the challenge of completing it was the only thing that could knock the team slightly off schedule in its 72 days. The winding route planned for that day was altered slightly to miss Vail, Colo. and take a more direct route to the team's destination north of the city.
 
A college internship with the Ulman Foundation last summer led Johnson to the charitable commitment and the beginning of a career.
 
A recent St. Francis (Pa.) grad, Johnson decided to take part in one of Ulman's events before starting a job there. Johnson will start in September as a program coordinator in Ulman's Support Through Sport program.
 
“I came out of college open to just about anything,” said Johnson, who majored in accounting and finance at St. Francis, where she was part of the Division I school's improvement in field hockey. “Once I interned with them, it definitely became more of an interest of mine. Once I finished the summer, I had a fantastic time and became really passionate about what they do.”
 
Johnson's summer internship involved assisting the program coordinator of Team Fight.
 
“Team Fight is a program where people sign up to compete in triathlons, marathons and half marathons and they fundraise for the Ulman Foundation,” Johnson said. “In turn, we provide practices, coaching and gear for them.”
 
Now, she has experienced one of the events from the inside.
 
More than 100 cyclists took off from Baltimore in four teams, headed for Seattle, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco. Johnson captained the crew of 30 that headed to San Francisco.
 
As it zig-zagged the country, Johnson's group had built-in stops, such as to present scholarships to a cancer survivor and a boy who had lost his mother to cancer.
 
The group was up at 5:00 each morning to start its day. Johnson was on a bike for all but eight days when she was responsible for being in one of two support vans.
 
“It definitely was a challenge mentally and physically,” said Johnson, who played both field hockey and basketball while at Lake-Lehman. “The hardest two weeks were the first two weeks. No matter how much you train, your body is never prepared for something like that.”
 
Johnson said the teammates and the cause helped motivate each cyclist.
 
And, volunteers assisted in the cause along the way.
 
Each participant in 4K for Cancer raised at least $4,500 before even beginning the ride. For that commitment, they were provided with a bike, 4K clothing, a duffel bag and a book bag.
 
The two 15-passenger vans were filled with participants' bags, water and essential supplies like a toolbox, leaving just enough room for a driver and one passenger in each. When the group made it to a new destination each day, a network of volunteers built of the event's 14-year history had shelter and a meal arranged.
 
Except for the few days when hotel rooms were donated, the riders would find their duffel bags and the sleeping bag that was packed inside and spend the night on the floor of a church, school or fire hall before repeating the endurance test the next day.
 
As the end of the journey neared, Johnson was eager to see her parents, Russ and Doreen Johnson of Lehman, and grandparents, Joe and Diane O'Hara of Forty Fort, who all flew to California to be there when she completed the trip.
 
Alumni from previous 4K for Cancer rides met the team for its final and shortest ride in San Francisco. Four of them took over the vans so that all team members could participate in the final 13-mile leg, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to the finish at Crissy Field.
 
As they crossed the bridge, Johnson said it was natural for many of the riders to look around for family members, not realizing they had about a mile path along the beach to the finish.
 
“Then, as we were riding in, we saw they had covered both sides of the path and had signs,” said Johnson, who followed up the trip by driving to San Diego to visit more family, including her uncle, John O'Hara, a cancer survivor. “That made it really exciting. As soon as you got there, you just wanted to jump on your parents because you hadn't seen them in 70 days.
 
“But, at the same time, it was the last time you were with your team. So, we rode through the little tunnel they had created for us and kind of did a group hug as a team and did our last final group cheer.”
 
The end of the journey left much to celebrate for the group, including a physical challenge conquered and a contribution to helping others whose lives have been touched by cancer.
 

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