Week 1 – Bike & Build

6/15 – 6/18: Portland, ME
Mileage: n/a (arrived by airplane)
Host: St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 678 Washington Ave

After a couple days on our own, the trip leaders are joined by the 24 other riders whom we will help safely reach the other side of the country. We play name games, give presentations on what they should expect, share a couple meals, run through a couple practice rides, and stress anything safety-related whenever possible. We teach our riders how to care for their bikes, how to communicate on the road, and how to prevent common bicycling errors. Policies and rules are discussed, fears and anxieties are addressed, and general excitement for the adventure to come is shared.

Turning left

We also get to have our first build day at the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland. We install windows and put up insulation, climbing around scaffolding and up ladders all the while. There is a slight drizzle and breeze making the day almost too chilly, but the pizza provided by Habitat helps to warm us all up.

Leader crew

6/19: Kittery, ME
Mileage: 71
Host: Second Christian Congregational Church, 33 Government St

First ride. First day on the road. We dip our rear tires in the Atlantic and are on our way. Some riders are better acquainting themselves with cue sheets, riding as a group, and learning how to communicate with each other. A couple groups of riders may have gotten themselves a little turned around throughout the day. Lunch is had in a beautiful park in Kennebunk, ME, and a sigh of relief is shared upon completing this first slightly trying yet absolutely beautiful ride.


6/20: Andover, MA
Mileage: 60
Host: The Pike School, 34 Sunset Rock Road

We start the day with a little more routine than before. Chore groups complete their tasks. Riders prepare the bicycles with more ease. Morning route meeting is relatively efficient and seemingly smooth. And the spacing between rider groups almost seems natural. After bicycling for about 60 miles including some challenging hills near the end, we have our fabulous dinner with the Webbers and start feeling a little more comfortable with the idea that we might be doing this for the next several months.


6/21 – 6/22: Fitchburg, MA
Mileage: 44
Host: First Parish Church Universalist Unitarian of Fitchburg, 923 Main St

Today was a shorter ride coming in at just over 40 miles, and it was nice arriving at the host a litter earlier. The extra time meant we could take a slightly more leisurely shower at the nearby YMCA as well as enjoy some of Neil’s anecdotes. Neil greeted us at the First Parish Church and even though he was a bit older than the rest of us, he spent the night on the floor in a sleeping bag in solidarity. Both mornings—one before our build day and one before our bike ride—Neil serenaded us as we woke in the chapel. Neil was full of facts, stories, and just general enthusiasm.


The build day was particularly exciting as we were asked to move about 30 tons of stones to fill a trench in the backyard. We finished the task with 2 minutes to spare at the end of the day. It was fun seeing the hustle in our team after lunch.


The Webbers

I have now officially begun what will be a 77-day adventure across the country with Bike & Build starting in Portland, Maine and ending in Santa Barbara, California.  I chose to apply to be a trip leader for a Bike & Build ride because it allows me to further my interest in cycling while figuring out a way to give back.  I feel so fortunate to have grown up in the family and the household that I did, and I feel that providing that stability for other families is a meaningful way for me to contribute to something much larger than myself.

In addition, after our second long day of cycling, tonight’s dinner hosted by the very gracious Webber family has made me realize another purpose to why I am excited to be a part of this organization this summer.  Chris Webber, the Webber’s late son, was also a trip leader back in 2005 and was later hired as Bike & Build’s first Program Director in 2006.  Tragically, Chris was hit and killed in a pedestrian accident in New York City in 2007.  Since then, his family and friends have hosted Bike & Builders traveling through Andover, MA every June.

We enter their warm home through the turkey aromas of the kitchen, which immediately makes me think of Thanksgiving, of family, and of tradition, and I realize that this whole Bike & Build phenomenon is larger than I had imagined.  The number of lives that this organization has touched extends far beyond those who are living in the homes built by its riders or even the riders themselves.  The families and friends of past and current riders are just as much a part of this group, of this tradition.  We get to know the Webbers and their friends, enjoy a delicious Bike & Build Thanksgiving-esque feast complete with mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and more, and this is all followed with a presentation by one of our riders, Sam.

Sam had been approached several months back while still at university by someone who had been best friends with Chris Webber since attending day care together.  This best friend told the story of Chris, what he stood for, the type of person he was, and his tragic ending.  This meeting was emotional in every way—laughter was shared as great Chris stories were relayed and tears were shed from the magnitude of the loss.  This meeting led to Sam painting a beautiful picture of Chris that she graciously let all of the rest of us riders sign around the edge.  As Sam recounted this story and presented the Webbers with this vibrant painting of their son, most of the room was in tears.

The point of this story is not one of sadness, but of love, of community, and of support, all three of which Bike & Build seems to effortlessly foster.  Over the past 3 days—one day of building and two of riding—I already feel this community within my group of riders.  That said, it may help that these last several days have felt like a month due to how much happens in a day and the amount of effort we have already put in towards this adventure.

Tomorrow, I will wear a pair of bicycles socks that the Webbers gave us in memory of Chris, but even more importantly, I will wear them in celebration of his life and the persisting sense of community that he instilled into the Bike & Build organization.  I want to say thank you to the Webbers and to all of my co-riders on this trip even though less than 1 week has passed on our 11-week adventure.