By HAZLE PARK
It’s called “a bike trip across the country for affordable housing.” That’s a simple way to summarize Bike & Build, a summer-long program run by a nonprofit group aiming to make a difference in the United States. Along with the adventure of a cross-country bike trip, participants in the “B&B” program make stops to volunteer by building houses for victims of weather disasters and other housing-organization causes.
The 80-day-long trips include about nine weeks total on the bike. Routes top 4,000 miles and include mapped itineraries varying for each B&B group. One route goes from Virginia Beach to Cannon Beach, Ore.; another, Providence, R.I., to Seattle. Back to back 70+ mile days are requisite for riders who sign up.
About two weeks of each B&B trip are dedicated to building projects at affordable housing sites along the ride. This year marks Bike & Build’s 10th anniversary since its inception in 2002 as the Yale Habitat Bicycle Challenge. Since then, millions of dollars and 100,000+ work hours have been delivered by thousands of Bike & Build participants, all ages 18 to 28.
As I am typing, a B&B group dubbed “SC2SC” (Southern Carolina to Santa Cruz) is on their way to Charleston, S.C., to start their trip. Another group, “NC2SD” (North Carolina to San Diego) have already finished their first build day. Southern Route riders are biking to Tallahassee, Fla., in 90-degree heat, and they will soon wield hammers and saws to pitch in for a five-day build in New Orleans that will benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.
You ride for eight hours or more to get from site to site between build projects. Sweaty riders get short showers — sometimes with only a garden hose! — followed often by a presentation to a community group or media to raise awareness for affordable housing. Riders hit the sack in an attempt to recover before another long day ahead.
Life-long bonds are formed while sleeping shoulder to shoulder, cheering on each other during the rides, and exploring state after state along the route. “Our trip didn’t really end at the Pacific Ocean,” said Aileen Strickland, a B&B veteran who was a group leader in 2010. “There is a bond formed between these caring cyclists that bring alumni back for more.”
Strickland said B&B has become “her family, network, and everything beyond.” Every winter she participates in a memorial ride with the group. This summer, she plans to ride again in Pennsylvania for two weeks to celebrate the organization’s 10-year anniversary.
Prior to a Bike & Build trip each rider raises $4,500 or more as a donation. Funds are used to feed riders throughout 10 weeks and disbursed to housing organizations. Applicants must train and condition their bodies for the ride, and the group’s preparation starts long before the roll-out for a summer trip.
Sound like a good way to spend your summer? It’s not too late to sign up for a 2012 route. Bike & Build is looking for riders (and builders!) to pedal and volunteer from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific over the coming months, including a summer of long days on the road and many memorable stops along the way.
—Hazle Park is based in Minnesota. For more info on the Bike & Build program go to BikeandBuild.org