The Keller Magazine

The final mile

Kris crosses the finish line in Alaska on August 11.
Kris crosses the finish line in Alaska on August 11. Family courtesy photo

If you’re a regular reader of K Magazine, you’re probably familiar with Keller resident and UT-Austin student Kristopher Novak, whose story we’ve chronicled over the past year. As part of Texas 4000, the longest annual charity bike ride in the world, Novak and his teammates pedaled their way from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska, to raise money to fight cancer.

The 4,500-mile journey took the better part of the summer, and Novak saw a dazzling array of sights along the way.

“In Texas and Oklahoma, it was endless seas of cows and corn, towering grain elevators and tractors,” he says. “Colorado began as the lush front range of the Rockies but soon gave way to sandstone canyons. Utah reversed this trend, promptly taking us back into the cool arms of the mountains. The mountains followed us through Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.”

Once Novak and company reached Canada, the mountains disappeared until they got to Banff (in Alberta, Canada).

“If you didn’t look too closely, you might mistake the mountains in Banff for the ancient weapons of giants,” Novak says. “They were extremely jagged and slanted and towered into the sky. I will never forget when I saw the Cascade Mountains on my descent into Banff. Its beauty left me breathless.”

Speaking of breathless, Novak faced many challenges during the journey, including times when his asthma acted up.

“One big challenge was riding through British Columbia,” he says. “I had expected it to be rainy, so this didn’t really bother me. The real problem was smoke from the wildfires. I’ve been an asthmatic my whole life. There were a few times when we were biking through places infested with smoke I had to make the hard choice to stop riding.”

Another hurdle was climbing the Grand Teton Pass in northwestern Wyoming.

“There was one section where we had to climb 1,500 feet over three miles,” Novak says. “Up until the climb, the rain had been cold and miserable — much colder than I’d expect for it being summertime — and, since I hadn’t expected it to rain that day, I didn’t have my rain coat with me.”

Instead of letting his mind “drift toward a negative place,” Novak thought of his teammates around him and “how wonderful it was to be with them.”

“Almost on command, the sun came out,” he says. “After that, the climb became much easier, and the view from the top was just unreal.”

Novak also enjoyed the scenery at Yellowstone National Park, but not in the way you might think.

“We got into Yellowstone quite late, and we couldn’t go see the famous landmarks,” he says. “Feeling a little disappointed, I went for a walk in the woods and came across one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. It was a lake so still that it reflected the soft colors of the sunset. I grabbed my other teammates, and we watched the colors change in total silence. There was a real beauty in sharing that experience.”

Novak grew close to each of his teammates during the journey, even though it was a fairly large group.

“Twenty-five people may seem like a lot, but being together for 70 days gives you a lot of time to get to know each other,” he says. “In fact, I feel like I may know the person I talked to the least on my route better than I know many of my friends back home.”

In addition to making some new friends, Novak now has a new hobby.

“I discovered that I absolutely love camping,” he says. “There were just so many things about it that felt magical: the heat of the campfire, the security of a tent, the comfort of a sleeping bag.”

Further, the trip taught Novak to “appreciate environments in their entirety, not just their good things.”

“Take, for instance, the rain in British Columbia,” he says. “The ever-constant rain blocked the view of the mountains and often left me feeling drenched to the bone. Without this rain, however, the plants of British Columbia would die off and the land would lose the beauty that the sun reveals. Anytime the rain began bothering me, I remembered this and instantly felt at peace.”

Novak was also inspired by the help his team received along the way.

“Complete strangers were so willing to help us on our journey,” he says, “whether that was giving us food, filling up our water coolers or providing towing services, as was occasionally necessary. Kindness of this sort is not something I can ever repay, but I hope to pass it forward.”

Novak and company finished the journey to Alaska on August 11. Upon arrival, he felt a mixture of relief and “profound sadness.”

“It was odd having the people I spent every day with for the last two months suddenly gone,” he says.

Reflecting on the journey, Novak called it “4,500 miles of oatmeal, butt pain, group hugs, scenic views and waking up in cold, damp sleeping bags. Most importantly, it was 4,500 miles of getting to know some of the kindest and most inspiring individuals I have ever met.”

Novak says he’d gladly undertake a similar challenge in the future, but preferably one with a little less structure. “There were many cities we visited that I would have loved to spend some more time in,” he says. “When we were in Denver, I really fell in love with the vibe of the city, so I may move there after I graduate.”

Thanks to generous donations, Novak met his goal to raise $8,000 in the fight against cancer. For more information about the organization, visit texas4000.org.

Editor’s note: While most of the team flew back home, Kris helped drive the support vehicles and bicycles back to Austin.

 

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