September 24, 2014

Cornellians Construct Houses on Summer Bike Trek

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This summer, four Cornellians participated in Bike and Build, a national non-profit organization that organizes cycling trips to raise money and awareness for affordable housing.

Among nine available routes, bikers spend up to 11 weeks traveling across the United States, dedicating certain days en route to building houses. Participants are required to raise $4,500 before their departure and volunteer for at least 10 hours at a construction site with an affordable housing group, the website says.

Cornellians who participated last summer said that there was a large amount of training required before the trip.

Kristen Ewing ’14, who took a route from Maine to Santa Barbara, said that though the training was difficult, it was “absolutely necessary” for preparing for the trip.

“Riders have to complete 10 hours of sweat equity on an affordable housing project site in order to gain experience building,” Ewing said. “I wouldn’t say that the training was easy.”

Rosalind Foltz ’16 said that finding the time to train long-distance last semester was difficult due to final exams, yet she agreed with Ewing that the training was necessary.

“We were instructed to ride 500 miles total with one ride exceeding 65 miles,” Foltz said. “But if any of us happened to lack in conditioning at the start of the ride, we had no choice but to get in shape climbing the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and West Virginia.”

Foltz said she was thankful for her training when climbing Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Pass — the highest continuous paved road in the United States — when she had to make her way to Granby, Colorado.

“We climbed for about 25 miles straight up, shot down the other side of the pass and then had to contend with incredibly strong winds from Lake Granby,” she said. “[There was also a] threat of a thunderstorm on our way into town at the end of the day.”

Despite the intensive training and physically demanding work, Laura Anderson ’14 said the trip “was an adventure.”

“Every day was an adventure, whether it was exploring small towns and meeting locals or having the mayor of Portales, New Mexico declare it Bike and Build Day,” she said.

Ewing said the hardest part of the trip was constantly migrating from location to location.

“The most time we ever spent in a city was three nights in Columbus, Ohio, but we usually only stayed in a city for one night,” Ewing said. “While we often wished we had more time to slow down and explore, we usually had to rush and keep moving.”

When asked about the downsides of the trip, Anderson said she wished for more free time because “there wasn’t much in the way of downtime.”

“We had three days off the entire summer and most evenings after our rides, [but] we had chores to do, town-hall style team meetings, seminars about issues related to affordable housing and grant reviews,” she said.

However, Foltz said she enjoyed discovering the new towns and cities they visited.

“One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to know all of the little towns and big cities that hosted us,” Foltz said.

In Amarillo, Texas, for example, the riders both framed an entire house alongside its future homeowner and enjoyed a variety of local diversions.

“One of our team members took the 72-ounce Texan Steak challenge and we formed a cheering squad 33 strong in the middle of a restaurant,” she said. “We learn[ed] how to rope a cow from a Texan cowboy-pastor and more.”

As a whole, Anderson said the experience made her more aware about the housing conditions in other parts of the country.

“This summer was really eye-opening not only in that I got to see how most of the United States lives, but also how badly parts of our own country truly need help,” Anderson said.

Over the past 11 seasons, Bike and Build has donated more than $4.5 million, spent 160,000 hours on construction, pedaled over 7.5 million miles and engaged more than 2,000 young adults in informing others about the affordable housing crisis in America, according to their website.