By Katie Curley
NEWBURYPORT — A group of four city residents, from a recent retiree to a recent college grad, is ready for the ride of a lifetime.
On May 15, Jeff and Erica Marcus and their mother, Elizabeth Marcus, along with fellow Barton Street resident Pippa Dorfman, will hit the road on a cross-country bicycle ride to raise money and awareness for bipolar disorder, as well as lung and brain cancer, diseases which claimed the lives of their family members.
"Half of my family was taken away by cancer and bipolar disorder," Dorfman, 22, said. "This is a good way to face it and connect with them on some level."
Dorfman and the Marcus siblings, childhood friends and Newburyport High School graduates, will be traveling along with Elizabeth Marcus to Utah where Erica Marcus, 25, now lives, before heading to Anacortes, Wash., where they will start their bicycle journey back home. With an endorsement from Massachusetts General Hospital for a ride they call "Leave Cancer in the Dust," the four will be raising money for research while keeping their family members' memories alive.
"This is an opportunity to heal as a family, Pippa included, and to get over the hard stuff while deciding what we will turn it into for ourselves," Erica Marcus said.
Jeff Marcus added, "We are each personally affected; this is a beautiful tribute to their lives."
Dorfman lost her brother Jeremy to bipolar disorder and father Ron to brain cancer in the last five years. The Marcuses lost their father and husband, Howard Marcus, in 1999 to lung cancer.
The idea started when Jeff Marcus, 22, was inspired by a college professor while attending Emerson College in Boston. The professor had told stories about a trip across the country by bike, and Marcus was immediately taken by the idea. After talking with the rest of his family and Dorfman, they all jumped in.
"Two years ago I started talking about it and my sister wanted to come and my mom is retired and she wanted to come, too," Jeff Marcus said. Dorfman, a student at Bates College in Maine, had been debating the idea of biking across country. When the Marcuses suggested she come, too, she jumped on board.
"It just fit," Dorfman said, noting she is in the process of transferring to the University of British Columbia. Jeff Marcus graduated last year and is in transition, while Erica works with troubled children in a wilderness program in Park City, Utah. Her company is giving her the time off to participate, as well as donating to the cause.
Having never ridden more than 45 miles in one day, all are concerned their legs will not be able to carry them over the steep Rocky Mountains and the long miles along the Canadian border they will traverse before dipping through New York and New Hampshire and coming home.
"The first month is going to be horrible," Jeff Marcus said with a laugh. "Our bodies are going to be like, 'Why are you doing this? You did this yesterday.'"
Elizabeth Marcus will be driving a minivan carrying heavy equipment and food for the 20-somethings.
"I'm looking forward to spending time with them," Elizabeth Marcus said. "You don't get to do that a lot, and there are parts of the country I've never seen before."
The group will camp most of the way, conserving what money they have saved for food and gas for their minivan.
"We don't want people to know about this just for donations but also so they can send their thoughts our way," Dorfman said.
None of the riders know what will happen or what they will run into along the way, but all four are confident they will finish the journey, both personal and physical, and see the world in a new way afterward.
"The experience is in the trip, not getting home," Jeff Marcus said. "I keep imagining seeing Newburyport after biking across the whole country; I have no idea what will happen."
To donate, track the trip, or e-mail well wishes:
— Log onto http://www.leavecancerinthedust.org/home
— E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The group will check e-mail when possible along the trip.