Bike & Build - Stacy's Cross Country Bike Trip
In the summer of 2015, Stacy biked across America with Bike & Build, to raise funds, spread awareness, and build homes for affordable housing.
I could not even begin to describe how it feels to say "I biked across the United States of America." It still does not feel like it truly happened. Just a week ago we were crossing the state line from Arizona to California. As we've come to expect the state sign was unimpressive. It was, however, a wonderful treat to swim in the Colorado River, the natural border that separates the two states.
Immediately after crossing the state line, it the atmosphere was truly Californian. Cactus were replaced by palm trees and the smell of authentic Mexican cuisine filled the air. Our hosts that night astounded us with an incredible dinner of carne asada. Most of us agreed it was the best meal we've had on the entire trip.
Perhaps it was because our bodies were worn from thousands of miles on our bikes, but the final rides through California were surprisingly challenging. We encountered a true desert landscape between Blythe, CA to El Cajon, CA. It was the first time the temperature reached over 100 degrees on our trip. We also had one of our greatest elevation gains from El Cajon to Julian where we went from about 400 feet below sea level to around 4,6000 feet elevation. Overall, riding through California was bittersweet. The realization that our destination was just a little ways down the road gave us the energy to press on; however, the reality that an incredible summer would have to come to an end was a heavy feeling. Spending 72 days with the same people 24 hours a day is truly the way to build a strong family dynamic. Getting closer to the coast meant that we all would have to go our separate ways.
The final ride into San Diego was a fun and steady descent to the coast. With only 20 miles to ride, we dragged out our last few miles by taking a long break at Starbucks and then meeting at a park just 4 miles away from the coast. The entire team met up at the park so that we could ride in as a group. I had tears in my eyes for the last few miles. It finally hit me that I had biked across the country with this incredible group of people. As soon as we set eyes on the shoreline, we dropped our bikes and helmets in the sand and sprinted for the water. I was overwhelmed with happiness. Everyone hugged in the water. We jumped. We danced. We screamed. It was truly unforgettable. After the impromtu celebration in the ocean, we all went back to collect our bikes and ceremoniously dip our front tires in the Pacific Ocean.
I'm still not quite sure how to process everything that has happened. By accomplishing this dream, I definitely feel more confident in taking risks to achieve the seemingly impossible. I also have discovered how impactful a passionate group of people can be when rallied together for an important cause. What has probably influenced me the most is the love that I experienced getting to know my Bike & Build family. It hit me when we all met up in front of the Grand Canyon Park entrance. In order to avoid the individual park fee and pay as a group, we had to load our bikes in to the trailer, 15 at a time, and ride the van through the entrance of the park. I rolled up on most of the group waiting to get loaded into the van. Somehow I lost my balance and couldn't clip out of my pedals and tumbled onto the street. It wasn't a bad fall but I busted open a scab on my knee and cramped up my foot. Not really because of the pain, but I found myself laying on my back with tears coming out of my eyes half laughing half crying. But looking up at the sky, so many smiling faces reassured me that I was taken care of. Abby shaded me from the sun. Zach pulled my bike out of the road, Vinny asked me laughing, "Why did you do that?" Hunter poured hydrogen peroxide on my open wound. It was in that moment that I knew I was loved.
From a broad perspective, by taking hundreds of young adults across the country every year, Bike & Build is empowering some incredible people to make a substantial impact on the world around them. I now have a stronger sense of social responsibility, an huge appetite for adventure, and a great love for my Bike & Build family. Thank you to all of my donors who helped to fund this journey, everyone I had the pleasure of meeting across the country, all of the strangers and friends who offered us hospitality along the way, drivers who gave us three feet of space when passing on the road, all of my Bike & Build family members who laughed and cried with me, and Bike & Build for giving me the most amazing experience of a lifetime!
Riding out of Colorado I felt as though I had wings on my feet. I thought it was because we had a day off in Durango to rest, but I quickly realized it was because The entire ride was a slight declination. Either way, we cruised into Utah with some incredible scenery.
Rolling into Bluff, UT was also the first ride I took on alone. It started out sort of unintentional. I figured I would jump on with a group later in the day. However, I found going at my own pace to be extremely energizing. Along the same lines, riding through the desert landscape and unbelievable rock formations was quite a spiritual experience.
Riding alone can be dangerous, but I think I needed a day for some self reflection. I also had the opportunity to meet Inhyung Cho, a 27 year old from South Korea who came to the United States to bike from Los Angeles to Chicago. He said he was wanted to take on adventure before attending law school in the near future. He also mentioned how riding alone was a great opportunity for some deep thought - a feeling I could relate to.
We have now entered the desert of Arizona in our final stretch to California. Most of us agree there is so much more vegetation than we expected. I am also hoping to see a traditional cactus with a tall head and two arms.
One of the things I was looking forward to most on this ride was reaching the Grand Canyon where we spent our fourth and final day off. Coming from a mountain state, a big hole in the ground is pretty much the exact opposite of what I'm used to. There are no words to describe how incredible the canyon is. It truly is a wonder of the world. It's vast walls look like a painting that could never be captured in a photo. It is completely surreal. Several of our team members hiked the canyon from rim to rim. I had to sit out because of some knee pain, and I worried a 14 mile hike would keep me from being able to bike the following day. I'll have to come back someday and spend sometime inside the canyon. Regardless, camping along the rim under the stars for two nights was an unforgettable experience. Not to mention the amazing sunset over the canyon.
Beyond the incredible scenery, Arizona has been a place to wind down and reflect on the trip as a whole. It's hard to believe we've biked over 3,000 miles. I've come to realize that Bike & Build has truly redefined the idea of home for me. Essentially for the last two months, we 28 riders have been homeless.However, I've found a new home in so many unexpected places. Whether it be with my new Bike & Build Family wrapped up in a cinnamon roll (A special form of a group hug), or under the roof of a hospitable host, or raising a frame on the foundation of a new home on a build site, or on my bike seat climbing Monarch Pass, or at the dinner table with a generous community who pulled together a pot luck for us, or simply sleeping on my thermarest under the stars in the Grand Canyon - I can truly call all of these places home. If home is where the heart is, my heart is growing everyday to fill the many homes I now have all across the country.
Hello, Colorful Colorado! It's a great feeling to be back in my home state. After crossing the border out of Kansas, we took a quick ride through the Eastern plains of Colorado passing through Lamar, Rocky Ford and Pueblo. As soon as we crossed the state line, a feeling of hometown pride filled my heart. It was especially rewarding to hear from all my fellow Bike & Builders that Colorado is their favorite state on this trip.
We had a great opportunity to build with Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity in Fountain, CO. Although I was a bit disappointed that we would not be staying in Colorado Springs for the build days, it was inspiring to be the first Bike & Build crew to work on the growing Habitat neighborhood in Fountain. For the last few years, Bike & Build has participated in a Blitz Build with Pikes Peak Habitat where our route, NC to SD, lay a foundation for an entire home in two days and a second route, SC to SC, stays for a week to nearly complete the home.
For my sweat equity hours before the trip, I worked with Pikes Peak Habitat and had the pleasure of getting to know site managers Joe and Gary. It was great to work with them again and also to meet Ashley, their Volunteer Coordinator, who took great care of our group throughout our stay. It was also an incredible surprise when I found out my good friends from work at Catholic Charities were hosting a potluck dinner for us! It truly made me happy to have a warm welcome from my hometown!
Riding through Colorado has been the most beautiful and the most challenging. Right out of Colorado Springs, we climbed into the Rocky Mountains. Having been gone so long, the altitude did seem to make breathing a bit harder but I enjoyed the challenge. Of course, every tough climb is rewarded by an incredible descent. Riding into Buena Vista, I hit 45 mph - a new personal record.
As I expected, the unpredictable weather in Colorado has been a serious challenge. Just 10 miles out of Buena Vista, my group was hit a by a thunderstorm and hail. We were not able to find shelter and huddled together under a tree as the hail passed. It continued to rain heavily so we didn't feel safe descending in the rain. WIthout phone service to call the support van, we ended up hitch hiking with a generous mother and son from Buena Vista, Verna and Farin. I'll never forget their kindness. They drove us and our bikes in their pickup truck into town to our host. Since the support van was still miles away with all of our clean, dry clothes, our host wrapped us up in shawls from their lost and found and kept us warm with hot chocolate while we waited. It was definitely a ride I will never forget!
Despite the crazy weather and intense mountain climbing, these last few rides have given me a sincere appreciation for my home state. After a build day in Buena Vista, we visited a volunteer's home where he cares for rescued farm animals.
Just yesterday we climbed three mountain passes along highway 550. This highway is rumored to be the most dangerous highway in the United States with cliff drops right on the edge of curvy switchbacks with no guard rails along a steep two lane road. Not to mention the aggressive drivers that go out of their way to run you off the road. Ironically, HWY 550 is also one of the most beautiful highways in the United States. Despite the dangerous conditions and intense climb (we climbed over 7,000 feet in one day), the breathtaking beauty was definitely worth the struggle. Climbing these mountains at 5 MPH is really the only way to truly take in the incredible scenery. I can't believe I have the privilege of living in this beautiful state!
This last ride took us from Gunnison, CO to Durango, CO where we have our 3rd day off out of 4. Although I missed tons of details over the last few days, I don't want to spend my whole day off sitting inside working on my blog! I'm out to explore the city of Durango!
We've officially reached the halfway point across the country. So many things have happened, it's hard to keep track and keep up with my blog. In the last two weeks we've covered two state lines. We crossed from Arkansas to Oklahoma and then Oklahoma to Kansas.
My expectations for this part of the country have absolutely been exceeded. I thought southern hospitality was limited to the south, but we've been met with extremely welcoming hosts in the last few weeks. In fact, on the way out of Grove, OK we were in line to catch the aftermath/tropical depression that was Hurricane Bill. With severe flooding on the roads, it was not safe for us to bike so we had to be shuttled to our next destination in Bartlesville, OK. Our hosts in Grove kindly allowed us to borrow a van. With some extreme skill, we loaded 28 bikes, and 30 people into two vans and a trailer full of bins and bags. We made it into Bartlesville in the late morning and were met with tons of snacks and treats as well as a tv with Bluetooth functionality to watch movies. In some ways, not getting to ride felt like a snow day from school.
Our host generously took me, Danielle, and Zach into downtown Bartlesville. Although it started with pooring rain, it eventually cleared up and we hit a local pizza joint, went to the city's history museum, and had a drink in the Price Tower, the only sky scraper ever built by Frank Lloyd Wright.
It seems like Oklahoma passed in the blink of an eye. From Bartlesville, we made our way across the border into Arkansas (pronounced arc-kansas) City, KS. At 95 miles, it was a long, windy, and gravel filled ride.
Kansas lived up to most expectations and then some. Our hosts have been generous and welcoming. We had a pleasant ride into Wichita. We also had a unique opportunity to share dinner with our hosts and some the local homeless population in a park downtown. It was a great opportunity to see yet another perspective of the ways that affordable housing impacts communities differently.
Along the same lines, we had a build day in Stafford County, KS with Eco Devo. Their representative, Carolyn, energized us with the passion she has for her home in Kansas. As she explained, Eco Devo is not just about creating affordable housing for people in this rural area. They are a catalyst for community development, socially and economically. It was great to hear about how in a small town, having a group of young cyclists stop by and work to improve some special projects is such an event to the people. Carolyn estimated that our work in one day - gutting the inside of a house, landscaping, painting a storefront, bleachers and a shed - was probably around $5,000 worth of labor. She also said that she hoped that the small touches, like a new coat of paint on a shed, would inspire the community to take more pride in their homes or businesses and spruce things up a bit. We had several enthusiastic reporters on the scene as well who will hopefully share our story to inspire the community as well.
It's build days like these that snap me back into reality to realize why this trip is so important. Less than 48 hours of our time can be a catalyst for change in a small town that rarely sees a newcomer for months at a time. On a large scale, Bike & Build, is doing this all over the country and touching numerous communities along the way.
Seeing the impact that our ride has is especially valuable on tough ride days. We've definitely had a few. Kansas winds sure can be discouraging. I can say that our 97 mile ride into Stafford and our 77 mile ride into Dodge City was incredibly difficult. It would seem that climbing mountains would be the most difficult thing to do on a bike, but riding into a headwind or a crosswind is much more difficult. When you ascend a mountain, you almost always get a reward of a fun and fast descent. The wind, however, is unforgiving. You can pedal as hard as you can and still only reach a maximum of 10 MPH. It feels as though all of your energy is being sucked out of you.
During our challenging ride into Stafford, I was inspired when we passed two cyclists who were participating in the Race Across America. These amazing athlete cross the country from West to East in 9-11 days averaging 1-2 hours of sleep a night. Although my group passed them quickly and only had time to cheer from across the road, another group had the chance to snag a picture with one of the racers who had stopped for a short break. It's inspiring to even see these amazing people taking on such a crazy challenge that is so similar to us. It truly was just what I needed to help me get through the impossible winds of Kansas.
It was such a relief to reach the Colorado State Line. Never have I felt so much home town pride. I'm excited to see some old friends and introduce my new friends to this beautiful state. More to come soon!
Arkansas is truly a hidden gem in the United States. We rode into Arkansas from Memphis, TN on a century ride. It began flat and windy which really was a poor first impression of the state. As we continued to move across, we event silly hit the Ozark Mountain Range - the most beautiful part of Arkansas in my opinion.
It's beautiful rides like this that make me wish I had a Go-Pro. There are so many beautiful scenes I can't take photos of while riding. But I'm doing what I can to stop and enjoy the scenery as much as possible. The Ozarks were not nearly as intense of a climb as the Blue Ridge Mountains, but we did encounter a few steep and curvy ascents and descents. It was also lots of fun riding the end of the ride in the pouring rain.
We had two build days in Arkansas. One in Little Rock and one in Fayetteville. In Little Rock, we had the opportunity to work in their massive ReStore. The space that the Restore was located in was an old car garage that had been donated. They had plenty of space to do pre-fabrication work for build sites and also sold a variety of things from building materials to books. It was like a thrift store but better. We worked on clearing a lot that will eventually be developed into a garden.
Working in Fayetteville we had the chance to build on a two story house with Habitat. We met a future home owner, Sarah, who shared her inspiring story about overcoming from addiction and trouble with the law to becoming a role model for her three children and a homeowner. Although we didn't get to work on her house, we found out that if we choose to grant our funds to Washington County Habitat for Humanity, it will go directly to Sarah's house that they will break ground on in August.
We're getting pretty close to the halfway point on our journey. Tomorrow we leave Arkansas, pass breifly through Missouri and complete our ride in Grove, OK. after all these mountains, I think I'm ready to take on the long and windy plains!
Tennessee came and went in the blink of an eye. Today we made our way across the Mississippi River, crossing state lines into Arkansas. It was a disappointing state line again. It was not safe to bike on any of the bridges so we had to shuttle across in the van. The state line is right on the bridge, so we passed by the sign very quickly. Arkansas so far has been hot and windy. We're lucky to be staying in a beautiful church that is 130 years old. A generous group of the members are cooking us lasagna.
It was great to have our second day off in Memphis, TN. The city is rich with history. We walked down Beale Street during the day and got to see the old clubs and bars during their off hours. It was also great to see the Mississippi River for the first time. We had an amazing view of the entire city and the river from the top of the observatory in the massive Bass Pro Shop, the gem of Memphis. It's funny because when we would ask people the thing we needed to do while in Memphis, many would suggest the Bass Pro Shop. The store is housed in a reflective pyramid that is some 25 stories tall. Inside is the usual shop with all of your hunting and fishing needs. Addditionally, the shop includes a variety of indoor ponds with live catfish, a fudge shop, a restaurant and bowling alley, and a Ducks Unlimited exhibition. To top it off, you can take a special elevator to the top of the pyramid where there is a bar and a balcony with a beautiful view of the city. According to the locals, the pyramid was an event center and closed out for lack of money. Bass Pro bought it and converted it a few years ago and now it is a huge tourist attraction.
All this biking has definitely made me appreciate the great people I am riding with. Everyone is here because they want to be. We've had some great times like making human cinnamon rolls and dancing in the rain. It's a good feeling to be in the company of people who are like minded but also have a variety of personalities and skills to bring to the group. It's already bittersweet to think that we're almost halfway through the trip. I'm looking forward to getting to know this people even better as we continue this incredible journey together.
We are in the middle of a long stretch of bike days - 7 days straight to be exact. To top it off, right in the middle, we did our first century as a group today. In fact we rode 108 miles. I spent the day riding with Zach. It was great fun! We rode at a steady pace the entire time, with minimal short breaks and reached the destination as the first group. It was a beautiful ride in many places and hot and empty in some.
It was a great experience to be able to complete a century with another person. I did my first century alone during my training. My friend Andy challenged me to a Bike-A-Thon, for which he donated $1 for every mile I rode in 24 hours. I expected to go 100 miles, but ultimately completed 120. From what it looks like, I won't be topping that mileage on this trip.
I'm also still astounded by the generosity of the strangers we meet and the hosts that put us up every night. At one of the small towns, Melissa - pictured above - gave us all free coffee. We also stayed a night at the National Guard Armory where our hosts allowed up to climb into a tank.
Just yesterday, we stayed at a host who boasts to be the "best host on the NC2SD route." As of today, they absolutely have been the best host. When we arrived, they took out bikes and washed and tuned them. We walked into town and got free ice cream from the general store. A volunteer chiropractor took a look and anyone who was interested. They served us dinner and breakfast and even made us sandwiches for lunch the next day! After going to see a free movie at the movie theater, they topped things off by letting us stay in the empty dorm rooms where we all had beds and many of us got our own rooms. It was a luxurious experience indeed. While free ice cream and bike service is great, i can forget the many people who we talk to on our rides who are simply interested in what we are doing or where we are going. It's always a great opportunity to promote the cause and get to know the local area.
It's hard to believe we're already 3 weeks into the trip and have ridden over 1000 miles. With all this biking, it can be easy to forget what we're biking for. We don't have another build day for a while, but I'm getting excited to get back into it!
Goodbye North Carolina! Hello Tenessee! On Sunday we crossed our first state line. The experience, in some ways, was a bit anti climatic. Perhaps because the state line sign was very small and not really photo worthy. On the other hand, Sunday's ride was absolutely the most beautiful ride yet. We rode 67 miles through the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, with the climb totaling at 7,664 feet. Talk about altitude gains! As tough as it was to climb, the view was definitely worth it. The early morning climb was perfect. We took the Blue Ridge Parkway up into the mountains. A light fog gave us the full "smoky" effect that can't quite be captured in a photo.
Being in the mountains also made me a bit homesick. I know I often take the Rocky Mountain Range in my backyard for granted. The fresh mountain air of the Apalachains was a nice taste of the high altitude life I kind of miss. We've got some mileage to cover in Tenessee. I'm excited to continue to take in a different culture and get to know the locals in this new state.
As we move along, it's hard to believe how far we've come in just a few short weeks. Looking at a map of the United States is really quite surreal. I can't believe I've crossed an entire state in my bicycle. Many more states to come!
Tonight we have a unique opportunity to stay in the Haywood Pathway Center. This place is the perfect example of a community coming together to take care of one another. The campus began as a correctional facility and was recently converted to a homeless shelter. In relation to affordable housing, it is a great example of repurposing. Talking to some of the community members who stay here, I learned that this project was a community wide effort involving many churches, organizations, and other groups.
Everyone staying at the shelter has been very welcoming and excited to host us. Although at first it felt as though we were invading their space, after talking with some of the locals, it seems our young energetic group has had a positive impact on their group. One resident even talked about how grateful she was to see people like us dedicating our time to such an important cause. I am totally inspired by this united community! I hope that this energy will help me get through our tough ride through the blue ridge mountains!
It's been a crazy couple of days getting through North Carolina. We've already locked in nearly 500 miles and 24 hours of building. So far, build days seem to be more physically demanding than ride days. I've trained on hills, long stretches of plains, rain and wind. However, swinging a hammer for 8 hours a day is much harder than it looks.
Our first build was with Orange County Habitat for Humanity in Chapel Hill, NC. We worked on shingling roofs in the hot sun all day. It was amazing to see how much work 30 + people can get done with good leadership, The site manager were very patient and taught us lots of tricks of the trade. Hoyle and Janet also came around to share more cookies as well as some helpful advice and encouragement. Ultimately, we nearly finished three roofs in 2 days!
Today we had a build day in Charlotte, NC. We got to build a frame from the 2x4's to the sheet rock. Its one of the most rewarding build experiences to build a frame. When you arrive at the site it is simply level ground of cement. By the end of the day, a brand new structure is standing. Hammering was much harder on the frame, particularly for getting nails in to the cement to stabilize the frame and getting nails in to the sheet rock. I hammered my thumb so many times, it almost brought me to tears. Hopefully by the time I get to the next build site, I will be better at aiming a hammer.
On another note, we're getting better at riding together on rides. I'm feeling more confident riding in traffic. The patterns of ride days are also becoming routine. On long days, like our last two 80 miles rides, we wake up at 4:3 0 a.m. to be able to roll out by sunrise. We stop for lunch between 40 and 50 miles and finish up before 4. On the last ride in to Charlotte, it was kind of a funny ride. I started the day riding with just one other rider, Vinnny, We were fairly close in skill level and had a very smooth ride until the snack drop around mile 30. At that point Mary joined our group and the three of us rolled along. Lunch was supposed to be 20 miles out, but we missed a turn and ended up riding an extra 6 miles. We pushed through til lunch and rolled out again. Little did we know, we missed another turn and this time, ended up 13 miles off route. We didn't feel so bad though, because 7 other riders were as lost as we were and met up together. Unfortunately because it was getting late and we have to be respectful of our hosts, we had to call the van to pick us all up. Ultimately, we fit 8 bikes into the trailer that was already stuffed with bins in addition to 12 people and 4 more bikes in the van.
I was a little upset knowing that just 12 days in, I've already missed a ride. I was especially angry that I was being picked up because of time, and not necessarily for safety or because I was injured. However, I'm coming to terms with the experience as is. Bike & Build is not so much about the accomplishment of biking across the country as it is making an impact. If I have to ride in the van, it doesn't mean that my summer will have less of an impact than if I rode all 3,593 miles. The most important thing is all of the homes and lives we will touch along the way.
Stacy Sprewer is an artist who rides a bicycle. She uses her creativity and love of cycling to inspire positive change in society. During the summer of 2015, Stacy biked across America on a charity ride with Bike & Build.