Cassie Hansen will bike 340 miles for those with HIV and AIDS as part of the 2011 NorCal AIDS Cycle.

The sun was shining Friday morning as Cassie Hansen drove out to Shasta Valley for a leisurely 60 mile bike ride.

Though such a journey would have been challenging six months ago, now it’s just a warm-up for something much bigger.
Hansen is preparing to ride 340 miles over four days during next month’s NorCal AIDS Cycle, which raises money for local people affected by HIV and AIDS.

So far, 2011 has been a busy year for Hansen. A 1999 graduate of Mount Shasta High School, she’s now a lecturer at University of Nevada, Reno and is working toward getting her Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science and Physical Geography.

Earlier this month, Hansen  completed her challenging comprehensive exams, which consisted of two six-hour days of written tests followed by four hours of verbal questioning by a committee.

Preparing for her exams meant hours of sedentary work in front of a computer, Hansen said, and when she wasn’t studying, she was training.

“To keep my mind sharp and my body healthy, this challenge has been very helpful,” she said, adding that her trepidation for the ride counteracted her nervousness about the exams.

“Over the past years, I feel I’ve been so focused on my own research... almost self-centered,” Hansen said. “This  ride is all about giving back. It’s an amazing opportunity to help those in the community who really need it.”

Though she now feels comfortable in the saddle, Hansen has never been much of an extreme athlete or cyclist. To prepare her body for the grueling challenge, she has been training hard six days a week.

On April 16, she completed her first Century, riding 100 miles in the Sutter Buttes.

Since she began training, Hansen said she’s seen a definite difference in her health and stress levels.

“I haven’t been sick at all this year, and I think I handled the stress of my exams better... After I finished my last big exam, I spent seven hours on the bike. It was nice to focus on pedaling, on just the basics.”

Hansen will be riding in the NorCal AIDS Cycle alongside friend and fellow Ph.D. student KC King, who’s originally from Davis. They’re calling their team the “Nor-Cal Ex-Patriots.”

“If I survive this, I could see riding again, perhaps expanding the challenge to include my friends and family,” Hansen said with a smile at her husband, Spencer.

She also plans to run in the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey in June as part of the relay team “Ladies With Latitude,” which includes area natives Nicole Gunkel, Kobi Hart, Rosemary Romero and Heidi Jensen.

Starting in Reno, runners go up to and around Lake Tahoe, down to Carson City, up to Virginia City and back to Reno.
“It should take about 20 hours, so someone on the team is always running,” she said.

By May 2012, Hansen hopes to have completed her dissertation, which will be about moisture transport during the epic 2010 storm in the Mt. Shasta area.

“A lot of my research has to do with moisture transport across the Pacific Ocean,” Hansen explained. “There’s not a lot known about the Pacific, because it’s such a large area and there’s not much surface observation.”

Hansen said much of the precipitation we see in Siskiyou County originates in the Philippines and travels 9,000 miles before falling here.

Once her dissertation is complete, Hansen will receive her doctorate. In the future, she and Spencer hope to move back home to Mount Shasta.

About the ride
The NorCal HIV/AIDS Cycle will take place May 11-14, beginning in Folsom, then proceeding through Lincoln, Loomis, Auburn and Gridley on the first day. Participants then set up camp and wake up the following day for a ride through Oroville and Durham and along the banks of the Sacramento River, ending for the night in Colusa. The third day, cyclists make a seven mile climb out of the valley, then ride mostly downhill along Cache Creek to stop for the night in Woodland.
The final day, participants ride through Winters and Davis before completing the challenge in Sacramento.

Hansen emphasized all the money she raises will stay in Northern California to help provide healthcare and other support for local residents who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.

Though people have been very generous, Hansen has noticed that fundraising for HIV and AIDS has been more difficult than raising money for other causes.

“There seems to be a stigma around this particular disease,” Hansen said. “It’s been a real eye opener, you think this wouldn’t be a problem in 2011, but it is... I can’t even imagine how it would feel to live with a diagnosis like this and not have access to healthcare and other basic needs.”

Hansen said that’s why she decided to support this particular cause.

Since 2005, the NorCal AIDS Cycle has raised nearly $900,000 for those affected by HIV and AIDS in Northern California, from San Francisco to south Siskiyou County.

Making donations
So far, Hansen has raised $1,745 toward her goal of $3,000. Family, friends and even strangers have reached out to contribute to her ride. “It’s been amazing the support I’ve seen from the community,” she said.

To make a donation, visit Hansen’s personal NorCal AIDS Cycle webpage here.

For more information about the event, go to