SEATTLE -- Exactly 197 bicyclists began pedaling up the Cascade Mountains Monday in a 46-day adventure from Seattle to Atlantic City that has already raised more than $1 million for the American Lung Association.
The TransAmerica Bicycle-Trek was hailed by sponsors as the largest coast-to-coast cycling fund-raising event held in the United States, and the largest single fund-raising event in the history of the American Lung Association.
Each participant -- representing 30 states -- entered the event by raising at least $5,000, and many of the trekkers have ridden in American Lung-sponsored bicycle tours in their home states.
The mountains dominated conversation as they began the first 75-mile day from the Seattle waterfront on a cool, bright morning.
Many 'flatlanders' used to gentle hills talked about pumping all the way to Skykomish during the first of two days it will take them to get over the Cascades.
Sometime during the second day, the bicylists will have pumped to the top of Stevens Pass, 4,061 feet above sea level.
'I can't wait to get started,' said Shirley Johnson, 50, one of two riders from Montgomery, Ala. 'But I'm a little anxious because I'm not used to the mountains. I've been training on some hills we've got at home, but they're not the Rocky Mountains, that's for sure.'
Charlie Madden Jr., 48, of Shirley, Mass., who was riding alongside his 24-year old son, Charlie Madden III, said he also had the mountains on his mind.
'We've done some parts of the Appalachians,' the older Madden said, 'but nothing like what we're going to see during the next five days. We've been riding over 'pebbles' compared to what we've got ahead of us.'
Trek director Tim Kneeland said the event is special because the participants are committed -- through fund-raising -- before they take to the road.
'I've been involved with groups like this for 20 years and I've never been around one with more energy,' Kneeland said. 'That's because they have all invested themselves in a commitment that is real strong. They believe they are doing something good.'
Kneeland predicted nearly all will finish.
'Only serious injuries or family situations will stop these people,' he said.
The riders include Jack Fultz, a winner of the Boston Marathon; an 11-year-old boy and his mother; and a 61-year-old man. The average age is 33 and about two-thirds of the bicyclists were men.
Kneeland said the entrants averaged $6,068 apiece in collecting $1,195,396. The most collected was by Len Beil of Indianola, Wash., who received $23,000 in donations.
The trekkers, who will be supported by 23 volunteers in seven vehicles, will ride 75 miles daily with five rest days. They will ride through 11 states in taking a northerly route through the United States, arriving in Atlantic City on July 16.