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UND student spends summer cycling across America

Surrounded by her fellow riders, Mariah Salfer and the group of bikers making the trek across the country to raise money for cancer research stand with the back wheels of their bicycles in the ocean to begin their journey from Baltimore to Portland, Ore. Photo courtesy of Mariah Salfer.1 / 2
Mariah Salfer stands with her parents Kim and Ron before beginning her more than 4,000-mile bike ride across the country to raise money for cancer. Photo courtesy of Mariah Salfer.2 / 2

Mariah Salfer isn't an experienced cyclist but after five straight days of biking, she was still in good spirits.

"I guess I like to challenge myself and try to do things I've never done to find out if I like it or not," she said. "You never know until you try it and I've always had that attitude in life."

The 20-year-old UND sophomore from Sleepy Eye, Minn., began her cross-country ride Sunday in Baltimore, Md. She has been training since January and will ride roughly 100 miles each day, ending her journey more than 4,000 miles later in Portland, Ore.

Her ride, along with 22 other college-aged cyclists, will raise money for the Ulman Cancer Fund, which aims to raise awareness for young adults with cancer. Salfer said she used social media, wrote letters and asked for money in person throughout the region, successfully meeting the requirement to raise $4,500.

"It's going to be a really cool summer," she said in a phone interview with the Herald from Clarion, Penn.

Her mother, Kim Salfer, said Mariah first talked about the idea last Christmas and while the idea was a little scary, she wasn't shocked because her daughter had always been a free spirit.

"It's for a good cause so we would never try to talk her out of it," Kim Salfer said.

One of the most difficult parts of the ride so far has been learning how to climb hills efficiently shifting gears, as there weren't any to train on in the Grand Forks area, Mariah Salfer. On the other hand, one of the best parts of her journey has been the bonds she has formed with her fellow riders.

"I think cancer is something everybody has a story to tell, whether it's personal, a friend or a relative," she said. "It's something that can bring people together."

Mariah Salfer, far right, stands with her fellow bikers on the second day of their journey in Bedford, Penn.

In 2014, the Ulman Cancer fund raised $2.9 million and put 89 percent of its revenue toward programs for cancer patients,including the delivery of 1,500 care bags to patients going through chemotherapy, according to organization's annual report.

During the trip, the cyclists are volunteering on rest days and handing out scholarships to young people with cancer, something Mariah Salfer experienced Thursday when they met a 22-year-old named Megan and gave her money for college.

"It was awesome to hear her talk about her story, struggles and experiences," she said. "It reminded me why I'm here and what this summer is all about."

Both of her grandfathers battled cancer along with several aunts, uncles and community members she is close with in Sleepy Eye.

"Everybody here has some connection to cancer," Mariah Salfer said of her fellow cyclists. "It's why we're here."

Her mother said could see Mariah working for a healthcare nonprofit one day.

"I think she has always been very smart, very well-rounded and very grounded," Kim Salfer said. "She can put a lot on her plate and manage it all."

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.