What’s it like to load food and provisions onto your bicycle and set off for a two-month, cross-country, quadriceps-powered ride? Ask Virginia Tech student Mason Cavell of Blacksburg.

By day, Cavell crunches data and numbers for the Office of Economic Development. By night, Cavell, who is graduating in May with a master’s degree in urban planning from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, recruits riders and plots routes for a three-year-old bike-riding enterprise that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for multiple sclerosis (MS) research.

The cross-country trips came about when alumnus Don Fraser, who graduated in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in biology, talked three friends into cycling from Maine to Seattle. Cavell was one of those friends, and since that first sojourn the friends have built a nonprofit organization that does more than just spin its wheels.

“The money we’ve raised has funded a full-time nurse practitioner at the James Q. Miller MS Clinic in Charlottesville,” Cavell says. “Over time, our tours have become so popular that there’s a waiting list – so instead of doing just one trip this year, we’re doing three.”

The nonprofit is called Bike the US for MS. Last year’s riders pedaled 3,800 miles to raise more than $100,000, starting out in Virginia and ending up at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. The group also engages in service projects such as building a ramp for an MS patient in Roanoke. MS is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, sometimes affecting the patient’s mobility.

The disease is personal for Cavell and Fraser, who both grew up in Blacksburg, because Fraser’s mother has MS. After earning their undergraduate degrees from Virginia Tech, the two friends worked in Seattle until Fraser decided to return home. He is now a watercraft and biological technician in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, working closely with his father, faculty member James D. Fraser, a professor of fisheries and wildlife science.

Cavell soon returned to Blacksburg as well, both to work on his master’s degree and also to help get Bike the US for MS established.

“Our target demographic is college kids because they have the summer off,” Cavell explains. “But we’ve attracted retirees as well. Many of our riders have ties to Virginia Tech. It’s exciting, because no one else is doing anything on this scale, with cross-country tours lasting two months or more.”

The tours raise money that mounts when each rider brings pledges of $1 per mile or more. On a good-weather day, riders can cover 70 miles or more before sundown. On the website, each rider is featured with a page, such as Cavell’s, along with a tally of his or her pledges.

Upcoming tours are June 1 to Aug. 1, Virginia to San Francisco; May 28 to Aug. 1, Maine to Seattle; and Memorial Day to July 4, Seattle to San Diego.

Anyone interested in joining one of the 2011 tours can contact Cavell at (206) 498-7954. A two-month ride will require approximately $1,500 for food and campsite lodging costs, and bikers will also need a tent and sleeping bag.

Even though the premier goal is to help others, the rewards for Cavell have been many. “Seeing the backroads of America from the vantage point of a bicycle is a life-changing experience,” he says. And resume-bolstering learning experiences have included setting up a nonprofit, marketing via the Internet, scheduling sleeping stops for 25 riders, and generating news coverage. And, of course, how could he not enjoy being a “spokes” person for the group he helped found?