Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin

As a UT PGE student, Hannah Knaup (BSPE ’18) signed up for the longest annual charity bike ride in the world – the Texas 4000.

Knaup thought the 4,000 mile trek would be solely about pushing herself physically on a bike, but she learned the journey was much more about self-discovery - the person who left Texas is not the same person who rode across the finish line in Anchorage, Alaska.

After Knaup’s grandpa passed away from cancer when she was in high school and seeing her two best friends’ parents experience the illness, Knaup became motivated to get involved with Texas 4000. The organization cultivates student leaders and engages communities to promote cancer awareness. In addition to the ride each participant is also required to raise at least $4,500 and partake in 50 hours of community service. Knaup’s dedication and passion for the cause helped her to raise $6,000 that will go towards cancer research or cancer support activities.

There are three route options (Sierra, Rockies and Ozarks) for the riders – Knaup took the Sierra route, which took her west to California and then north through Oregon, Washington and into Canada. The major cities along the route include: Santa Fe, N.M.; San Francisco, Calif; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; and Vancouver, B.C. The UT Austin team, which included more than 60 students, left the Forty Acres on June 1 for the 70-day excursion.

“After getting out of Austin, it was cool traveling through West Texas as my teammates would always point out all the drilling rigs to me as they know I’m a petroleum engineering major,” Knaup said. “It was exciting to have my future career intertwine with the ride.”

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Hannah Knaup

Heading into New Mexico, the group stayed in a rural area to provide support to people fighting cancer and to educate the rest of the community on the best methods for preventing the disease. Knaup and her teammates told those who are touched by cancer that they are riding for them. She also brought potentially life-saving information to the rest of the community with the goal of reducing the number of cancer patients.

“The family that hosted us lived in an economically underserved area, but they were incredibly generous in taking care of us,” Knaup said. “The Texas 4000 organization has three pillars – hope, knowledge and charity. Going into the ride I put a lot of emphasis on the knowledge pillar, but after visiting the different communities I realize the tremendous importance of the hope pillar.”

Pedaling into California, Knaup knew she would be tested as she had to make it through the sweltering heat of Death Valley in the middle of summer. This would, by far, be the hottest part of the ride.

“On the first day, it was 122 degrees – the heat really took a toll on us,” Knaup said. “Luckily that night we didn’t have to camp outside as a UT Austin alumnus lives in the area as a park ranger. We stayed with him and a few of the medics in the area, which was a lot of fun.”

Once the team made it out of the record 127 degree heat on the second day, which included a van ride after the first 25 miles due to concerns of heat exhaustion, the team made it out to San Francisco with a surprise waiting for the Texas Engineering students. The Cockrell School Engineering Dean Sharon Wood met the students at the Golden Gate Bridge for a ride to the majestic Sonoma Coast State Park.

“Dean Wood is an incredibly fast rider, so I was struggling to keep up with her but she was super encouraging and inspired us to keep riding,” Knaup said.

As Knaup rode north into Washington with continued elevation changes, she fell ill with a virus and had to spend four days in the SAG (support and gear) vehicle. After recovering, she got back out on her bike in Canada, wearing a much welcomed sweatshirt, and rode the last 10 days into Anchorage, Alaska. From heat waves to an illness to visiting many communities, Knaup learned a lot on the road.

“Starting the ride, I put a lot of emphasis on the biking, but it is not why we are here,” said Knaup. “It is about listening to people’s stories – everyone has been affected by cancer directly or indirectly – and most importantly it is about spreading hope.”

Hannah Knaup Texas 4000 Instagram Posts

Day 13: We left Farmington, NM and biked 75 miles to Bluff, UT. We had to go into the SAG vehicle for 30 miles because of a storm that was rolling in and because of some smoke that was coming from the fires in Durango. I like my teammates. I like when the sun is hidden behind clouds. And I like downhills.

Day 21: We rode 105 miles to Mammoth Lakes, CA. This ride was physically and mentally tough. We were on the bike for 14 hours and I have never been so happy to get off the bike at the end of the day. My ride group was fun, the scenery was beautiful, and I was even greeted at a rest stop by a little puppy named Bear.

Day 29: We rode 45 miles into San Francisco. I was greeted by friends and family, which made me so happy! I had been feeling homesick, so it was nice to see some familiar faces. I spent that night eating dinner and relaxing at my relatives’ house. I joined this organization for my Grandpa Bob, so to be able to bike through where he lived and see that side of the family really meant a lot to me.

Day 39: We were supposed to ride 110 miles to Florence, OR, but we only rode 60 miles due to some host obligations. We were greeted by some of the most welcoming people. This community was so willing to interact with all of us, and I know so many of us riders appreciated their engagement. My teammate and I then went home with our wonderful host family. They let us lounge in their hot tub and gave us beds to sleep on. I hope my retirement looks like theirs!

Day 70: Our legs brought us here!!! 70 days. 4000 miles. 10 states. 2 countries. $600,000+ raised. I have been changed for the better because of the 23 people I spent the summer with.