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Empire State Ride aims to roll over cancer

The Roswell Park Alliance Community Advisory Board was kicking around fundraising ideas a couple of years ago when talk turned to a week-long bike ride from Buffalo to New York City. Terry Bourgeois took a 180. How about a ride that started in Manhattan and headed west to Niagara Falls? The Empire State Ride to End Cancer was born.

Terry Bourgeois hopes the Empire State Ride will continue to grow.

Terry Bourgeois hopes the Empire State Ride will continue to grow.

Bourgeois, a North Dakota native who moved to Western New York in 1999, made the first ride alone. Ten people participated last year and about 60 already have signed on for this year’s journey, which rolls from July 30 to Aug. 6.

Those who put up $100 and raise at least $3,500 for Roswell will show up in the Big Apple with a bike and a pair of overnight bags. A transport company will pitch tents and air mattresses for stops along the way, food will be provided and there will be at least a couple of special tours.

The average daily trip will be about 80 miles a day.

One-day trips with $750 fundraising thresholds also are possible.

Learn more at

“This can be a destination event, a lifetime experience, a bucket list item,” said Bourgeois, 53, Praxair Technology Center site director, and a co-director with The Ride for Roswell.

“Just as everybody has cancer in their lives in some way, I believe everybody knows somebody that would be interested in experiencing New York State. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. Last year, we had two women from France join us and they thought it was spectacular. This year we have people from Houston, Illinois, Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere wanting to come and visit New York State with this as a vehicle to do so.

Q. What drives you to participate in Roswell causes?

I’ve had cancer in my family but what really propelled me to get engaged was coming out of the military, and arriving in Buffalo shortly after, I got engaged in some of the cancer events with Roswell. I was just in the military for 12½ years and I took an oath that I would uphold the Constitution of the United States and defend us against all enemies foreign and domestic. Then I stand here and see this enemy, cancer, taking out, or affecting, one in three women and one in two men, and I thought, “This is much bigger than any war that could exist.” There’s more people that are lost to cancer than in all the wars combined. That’s what got me. This is a huge, huge impact to society.

Q. Why have folks have decided to do the Empire State Ride?

A common thread is people who are doing it because they want to stand up to cancer. Some are cancer survivors, and it’s a challenge for them, and a statement. Others have loved ones with cancer or have lost loved ones. It’s punching cancer back a little bit. From others, I’ve heard New York State was someplace they wanted to go. Riding a bike across the state sounds very attractive and appealing – and if you can do that and support a good cause, it’s a win-win.

Q. What was last year’s ride like and how did it help you prepare for this year’s ride?

It was very rewarding to see these people coming together in New York City. For a couple of them, it was the first time they’d ever been to the city. The fact that you’re getting ready to go 540 miles, the impact of the imagery of the city behind you, the Statue of Liberty and all the iconic pieces of New York City, you just feel it’s big time. Someone was whistling the tune “New York, New York” when we started. ... Having hundreds of people do this across this great state at some point is going to be phenomenal. Last year, the reality of that being possible hit me. Day one, coming out of the city, going across the George Washington Bridge and looking over your shoulder and seeing Jersey and Manhattan on a crystal blue day was just spectacular.

Bear Mountain is the next big visual stop and riding along the Hudson is just absolutely gorgeous. During that first day, people are just getting to know each other. You’re getting ready to go on seven days together and just starting to meet people. That’s what Day 1 is about. One, it’s the impact of the city, realizing you’re really going to do this thing, and then it’s saying hi and hello and getting to know first names.

Beyond that, you go through the normal stages of team development – storing, norming and forming – and starting to find what people’s riding styles are. People that are really hard core riders will group together. People that are middle-of-the-road will group together. Then you get people who are just kind of comfortable touring along, and they’ll group together. So you start finding your niche a little bit on the second day.

On the third day, you really start forming into teams in terms of being aware of where your buddies are at, watching out for each other, communicating with each other. If someone needs encouragement, you have that bond starting to develop where you have true teamwork.

Day four, you’re taking a left hand turn at Albany and starting to head to a little bit more flat country and maybe a little bit of wind, and that’s where teamwork really starts to come in. That’s where the camaraderie really starts developing. The rest of the way, you’re gelling and it’s just a fantastic time. You’re joking around with each other and having some great conversations.

Q. Are there some landmarks you can look forward to?

Starting off in the city, getting up into Dutchess County – there’s fantastic bike paths up there and that’s really kind of cool – then you get around the Franklin Delano Roosevelt estate. We’ll have a rest stop right there and it’s cool to say you’ve been there. After that, there’s a lot of farm country, and you can get fresh peaches, which are always great when you’re riding a bike. There are lots of fruit stands, and your experiencing that when you come into Albany. And Albany is just awesome, with the beauty of the State Capitol and the architecture. Then you have a highlight coming up with a tour of the Saranac Brewery. With all that’s going on with craft beer today, having Utica and Saranac Brewery is definitely a milestone. We’ll have a dinner there, which is fantastic.

From Utica, we stay slightly outside of Syracuse and that’s beautiful country. Plus you have the people that you’re riding with. Then you get to Rochester and think, “Holy crud, there’s only one day left.” And there’s kind of a celebration there because it’s the last night together. You realize, “Wow, it’s almost over, and we’ve been through a lot together as a team.” There’s anticipation of the destination: Niagara Falls. Some people have never been to Niagara Falls and this is the final bookend for this amazing journey. Going along the Erie Canal, going through Lockport, having a courtesy stop at Lake Effect Ice Cream in Lockport. Medina had a great thing for us there. The history along the whole way, that’s part of the experience. Then coming toward the end, touching the canal and seeing Lockport, is also incredible. And then you get to Niagara Falls and the power plants and it’s just a perfect ending to a great story.

Q. Talk about the sleeping arrangements.

We have support from a company that does a tent service. All we need to show up in Manhattan with our bikes and two bags of our personal gear. The tent company will transport your bags to your evening stop. When you get to wherever you’re going to stay that evening, your tent will be set up, your bags will be there and there will be a chair and a towel there for you. The next morning, you put your bags outside your tent, you get on your bike and go and they take care of it and set up your tent the next evening. It’s very luxurious tent camping. Some people are a little leery with tent camping but you don’t need to be with this. It’s fully supported and they do a great job.

All you need to do is make sure you get from one point to another, and if you need help, we’ll help you do that, too.

Q. You’ve got to put $100 up front and raise $3,500 for the whole trip. Are there any out-of-pocket expenses along the way?

The food is provided. You’ll want to have some spending money if you want to stop at a coffee shop or someplace quick for a snack, but after you’ve covered your transportation (to New York City), everything else is included.

Q. Are you riding on both roads and trails? And what if you can’t do 80 miles a day?

It’s roads and trails, but it’s pavement the whole time. We have an option if people want to do half days. Even if you say you want to do the whole thing but there’s a day you only want to do a half-day, we have a transport option where we’ll take you to the midpoint and you can ride the rest of the way. A couple people took advantage of that last year. We also have full support. There’s a vehicle behind the last rider. We know where everybody is.

Q. It sounds like this would be great to do with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Absolutely. I think we have some people doing that. The first year for me was a life-changing event. I learned so much about myself doing the ride alone. The second year, I witnessed that with other people. The physical challenge for yourself is not an insignificant accomplishment, but the other part is just the camaraderie. Riding it with a friend, riding it with a spouse, is a fantastic way to forget about everything. It’s you, the environment and the road.

Q. What do you do when you’re not riding?

It varies by your ability. Generally by the time you get to your spot for the evening, you’re ready for a rest. It’s really sitting around the camp and talking. And bedtime comes pretty fast when you’ve done 80 miles during the day. Believe it or not, there’s not a lot of spare time.

Q. How do you train for a race like this?

We do have a great blog running on the website and one of them is about answering that question. There’s a lot of information about what to expect on our website. The preparation involves getting out there and riding, trying to strive to ride three to four times a week. You can be in good physical condition through other ways of exercising, but getting time on the seat – starting off with 20- to 30-mile rides three times a week – and building up to at least one really long ride on the weekend, 70 to 80 miles.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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