Cyclists pedaling cross-country for charity
Small groups of brightly-clad bicyclists pedaled through Marlinton Saturday afternoon on their way to Mountain View Assembly of God in Edray. The cyclists arrived at the picturesque little church from Lexington, Virginia, having completed a grueling, 77-mile ride across three mountains.
The young athletes might have been mistaken for Olympic trainees as they labored across the mountains, but gold is not their goal. These riders are more interested in wood, steel and drywall.
They pedal for Bike and Build, a charity dedicated to two major goals: achieving affordable housing for all Americans and inspiring young people to a life of community service. The group conducts fundraising and cross-country bike rides to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.
More than 250 Bike and Build riders are traversing eight different routes across the USA this summer, stopping along the way to work on pre-planned construction projects. The projects are funded by Bike and Build and sometimes completed in cooperation with Habitat For Humanity.
The group that rode through Marlinton on Saturday was the Central U.S. group, who began their journey in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 19.ﾠ Their journey will take them through the heart of the nation and end at Cannon Beach, Oregon, on July 31.ﾠ
Pastor Ernie Smith and the Mountain View congregation welcomed the 32 weary riders on Saturday and served them a generous, home-cooked meal in the church's dining room. The riders spoke to the assembly after the meal and thanked them for the hospitality. Many said it was the best meal they'd had so far on their trip.
Group leader Sharif Morad, a University of Virginia graduate, said students from Connecticut started the event that would become Bike and Build.
"College students from Yale decided to bike across the country for Habitat For Humanity, starting in 1995," he said. "That was based out of Yale and it ran for a couple years, but there were a couple accidents, so Marc Bush decided to found Bike and Build."
The Habitat Bicycle Challenge was conducted to support Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven (HHGNH) and included eight cyclists riding from Connecticut to California in the summer of 1995. After two fatalities occurred during cross-country rides, HHGNH ended the Habitat Bicycle Challenge in 2007.
Marc Bush, a former Habitat Bicycle Challenge rider, formed the independent Bike and Build charity in 2002.
Morad said Bike and Build makes safety its top priority.
"We avoid interstates and try to plan the routes ourselves," he said. "Safety is our big thing. In the history of Bike and Build, nobody has passed away. We've had some accidents but it's been pretty good because we're all about being safe."
Each group of 32 divides into groups of four to six cyclists to ensure visibility and sufficient space for vehicles to pass safely. A support van follows each group to provide first aid and transportation for injured riders.
Since starting with two groups in 2003, Bike and Build has added an additional group and new route every year. This summer, more than 250 participants will ride cross-country on eight different routes. Along the way, the groups will donate more than 10,000 hours of labor and $550,000 to worthy housing projects.
Aileen Strickland, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said a desire to help others, along with a love of travel, attracted her to Bike and Build.
"I think it will be an amazing sense of accomplishment," she said. "Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought I could do this. But once you're signed up, you're committed to do it. When you're with everybody else, it makes it easier.
"Seeing the work that we're doing is really important," she said. "How much 32 people can do in one day on a job site is amazing."
Alyson Fletcher, a 2007 graduate of William and Mary College from Newport News, Virginia, said the pedaling became more difficult in western Virginia.
"I think it was pretty hard," she said. "Yesterday was extra hard because we climbed Afton Mountain and did the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were almost to lunch and it was three miles uphill you probably could have walked up faster."
Zachary Sheehan, a video editor from Burbank, California, said he was compelled to help in some way.
"There's a point at which you're sitting at a desk and saying, 'what am I doing with my life?' he said.ﾠ "I felt the very distinct compulsion to help somebody - anybody - in some tangible way," he said.
"Plus, it's been on my bucket list of things to do, since I started biking about six years ago, to ride across the country."
Bike and Build has raised more than $2.3 million dollars and donated thousands of hours of labor to housing projects since 2003. For more information, see www.bikeandbuild.org.