Week 2 – Bike & Build

6/23: Northampton, MA
Mileage: 39 (stopped short due to a minor bicycle spill)
Host: Christ United Methodist Church, 271 Rocky Hill Rd

Today, I rode sweep with Abby. Riding sweep means being one of two riders who will remain at the end of the pack and make sure that everyone completes the journey that day. The irony of the situation today is that I end up getting into a bit of a spill just after lunch and am forced to sit out the second half of the day (I shared this experience in my last post). The day was beautiful up to that point, and it was actually still quite beautiful the second half even though I was in the van trying to make sure that the blood seeping through my bicycle shorts didn’t stain anything. Although I didn’t ride the second half of the day, the group was forced to detour because of some road work, and the detour caused everyone to climb one of the steepest hills imaginable. Some riders made that a Hike & Build moment, but again, it is going to be all of these blips that will make this trip so memorable.


6/24 – 6;25: Pittsfield, MA
Mileage: 43
Host: First United Methodist Church, 55 Penn St

It’s my van day, and this is a blessing because it’s my first day post-spill, and my leg can use the rest. Van days rotate between the four leaders, and on our respective days, we will be responsible for locking up the host site, finding a perfect spot for lunch, running errands to ensure the trip continues to run as smoothly as possible, and of course, being available and responsive to the unpredictable.




6/26: Poughkeepsie, NY
Mileage: 80
Host: Oakwood Friends School, 22 Spackenkill Road

It’s my first day back post injury, and I’m a bit apprehensive especially given that it’s an 80-plus mile day. That said, from the very beginning I plan to take the day slow and steady. The weather is relatively pleasant as it is a bit overcast, which is a great condition for riding. At lunch I close my eyes while sitting on a bench and enter directly into a deep sleep. This reminds me of my late grandpa who could and would sleep almost anywhere. From an outsiders perspective, it probably didn’t look particularly comfortable, but it did the trick to re-energize me for the second half of the day.

We knew we were getting closer to the mountains as the hills starting to pop up with more frequency and fervor. Rounding a bend and seeing more hill until the next bend is a bit of a mind game in that mental toughness is something more challenging to achieve than quadriceps toughness. With a couple breaks, some snacks, and the reciprocating encouragement between riders, we all make up these hills on our way to Poughkeepsie.


6/27: Port Jervis, NY
Mileage: 60
Host: Drew United Methodist Church, 49-51 Sussex St

The highlight of the day comes at the end of a very warm and constant uphill grind near the end of the day when alas we see a sign intended for trucks that we are about to a approach a 4-mile significant downhill grade. Coasting into Port Jervis at the end of this day is a delight for all of us even if there were some serious hills getting to this point.


6/28: Mount Pocono, PA
Mileage: 70
Host Mount Pocono United Methodist Church, 12 Church Ave

Anytime a town name has the name Mount as its first word, that is a descent sign that there will probably be some climbing to get there. And then along the way, we begin to notice street names like Mountain View Road, Summit Ave, and Skyline Blvd. To make things even more exciting today, when we are about 20 miles shy of our destination, we find a detour in the road due to a missing bridge. The detour, to our surprise and our demise, adds about 10 miles and is always at a nice pitch, either up or down.

Another highlight of the day is the food at our host. Delicious! Great dinner and even better dessert. The Mt. Pocono UMC even had this salted chocolate and caramel that makes my mouth watering just thinking about it. Overall, this was my most challenging day yet, and it was really satisfying to have completed it in any fashion.


6/29: Berwick, PA
Mileage: 60
Host: First Presbyterian Church, 320 Market St.

One scary part of today was near the beginning of the day at then end of a nice, long gradual downhill, I pull into a situation with a huddle of Bike & Builders surrounding a scene with another car and a police car just outside the scene. I pull in and find that one of our riders has been hit by a car that was pulling into a parking lot. Fortunately, the rider is okay other than a little road rash, and the car was not moving too fast because of the situation. That said, this also bring the risks of what we are doing into focus and all of the other riders take a little while to regroup across the street as some of us enjoy our first Wawa’s experience.



A little tumble

After leaving Fitchburg, MA in the morning, lunch today is atop a small mountain.  Some of us turned Bike & Build into Hike & Build to make it to the summit of one of the inclines.  That said, once we arrived, the lunch spot was beautifully nestled into the side of a lake and shaded by trees a plenty.  Today I am riding sweep with Abby, which means that it is our responsibility to stay at the end of the pack and make sure everyone does okay.  This is also an excuse to go slow, smell the roses, and take lots of pictures along the way.  Near the end of lunch, I am working on a fellow rider’s bicycle trying to increase the tension on her front derailleur.  Unfortunately, the fine-tuning adjuster is maxed out and the only way to make a greater adjustment is to play with the spot where the cable is secured to the derailleur.  This is one of those situations where I know what I need to do and how it’s supposed to work, but making it all happen as I imagine is never as easy as it seems.  In the end it takes three of us to make her shifter functional again, but after some success we are ready to continue on our journey.

At lunch, we also learn of a section of road that bicyclists are not allowed to ride on due to construction or some other crazy excuse.  Regardless, we are forced to detour.  Continuing onward from this lunch spot we make our way through a beautifully wooded even if pothole-filled road.  The road also starts to pitch downwards more and more as we continue, and a steep grade plus potholes can make for a slightly trickier ride.

I pick up speed as we continue down this road, and as we round the last corner, the main road on which we’ll be turning comes into view, and for the sake of this story, I’m going to stay that this happens rather suddenly.  I feel that I can safely make the turn at the bottom without going too far into the road, so I slow down slightly and prepare to lean into the turn.  I’m also pleased that my current momentum might help me up this next uphill stretch.  My miscalculation comes at the bottom of this hill just before the turn.  There is a healthy patch of sand and gravel, and as I am already aware of, road bicycle tires and loose gravel don’t get along very well.  As I am turning at regrettably too fast a clip, my tires slide out from under me and I am soon sliding through this patch of road.  Being clipped into my pedals, I remain fully attached to my bicycle.  I also unintentionally continue holding onto my handlebars as my slide across the sand, gravel and pavement finally slows.

The slide seems to last a while, but in reality, I recognize that it was probably no more than a couple seconds, if that much.  I come to a stop, and I don’t move for a a little while as I try to assess the damage.  The adrenaline pumping through me makes me feel superman-esque, but as my heart rate returns to a normal rhythm and I unclip from my bicycle and stand up, I begin to acknowledge what hurts.  The road rash on my arm is obvious, full of sand, and quite tender to the touch.  I take a look at my leg because it is sending my brain all sorts of pain signals, but I don’t notice anything.  My lower leg because it was bent slightly inwards as my foot was attached to the pedal is relatively unscathed.  I then notice that under my very stylish Bike & Build cycling bib, a little red is permeating through where there hadn’t been red before.

By this point, two fellow cyclists, Abby and Alex have caught up to me and are quite concerned.  That might be because my adrenaline still has my legs shaking a little bit, but also because anytime a fellow rider sees another rider go down, the reality of the risks of cycling come into stronger focus.  With them as an audience, I pull up my spandex a bit to expose the nickel-sized divot that has been carved out of my leg.  Similar to a golfing divot, I attempt to replace the patch of skin that was ripped off and place it back over the uneven turf that is my lateral upper thigh.

Although there is some consequences involved with this type of accident including the rather intense shooting pains felt when cleaning out the wound with soap, water, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol swabs, in the grand scheme of things, I was fine, my bicycle was relatively fine (the derailleur needs to be bent back into shape), and other than a good story and a small scar, the trip will continue.  As one of my riders really likes to say, “It’s all just part of the adventure.”


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.