Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bike and Build Week!!

November 4th through 10th is Bike and Build Week! We are counting down the days until 2014 rider applications go live on November 12th!

Bike and Build changed my life and opened me up to so many new experiences. It has almost been three months since we celebrated the end of our 4,265 mile journey to the Pacific Ocean, but I still think about the summer and all of my teammates every single day. My heart still aches for the adventure.

A few other Bike and Build alumni and I are having a callout this Thursday, November 7th, at 6:30 pm in Recitation 103. We will be telling stories about our adventures this summer and hopefully convincing more ambitious individuals to sign up for Bike and Build this year. If you are on Purdue's campus, please stop by that night and say hi or stay for the meeting.

I don't want anyone to let this opportunity slip by. I wouldn't trade anything for the memories I have from this summer. It was truly the summer of a lifetime and one that everyone should experience!

See you at the callout!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 81 and Beyond - Santa Cruisin'

The train stopped at Terminal 3, my terminal. I picked up my bin, wrapped in a generous amount of duct tape, knowing it will probably raise suspicions at the airport. I looked at my traveling buddies, Kevin and Mike, who haven't moved, waiting for the Terminal 1 stop. 

"It's been fun," we said as we gave our last goodbyes. "I'll visit you and Marcus at Purdue," promised Kevin. "We'll shred."

The train doors slid shut behind me and I was alone for the first time in months. As I sit here at Gate 74, my helmet in my purse, tan lines hidden in the sleeves of my jacket, I am trying my best to figure out what exactly happened this summer. I've been off the bike for four days now and already the 81 days we spent biking and building have already started becoming foggy. People bustle past me, not knowing the journey we have just completed, a journey that has opened up so many possibilities and intimately linked  28 people together. 

Day 81 started like any other riding day. The music blared at 5:45 and people began deflating their thermarests and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Our favorite songs from the summer were playing, songs that I will forever associate with Bike and Build: "Dead Sea" by the Lumineers, "First Generator" by Free Lance Whales, "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, and others. Breakfast was eggs and bacon, a last meal fit for kings. 

After breakfast, we took our time getting on the road. "Five or Die," my chore group, was on clean-up and we didn't complain for how long it was taking to clean the building. We were just enjoying our time together. A group hug formed as the song from Marcus's Bike and Build video played and I looked around at all the people I loved and choked up. I walked to the bathroom to take some deep breaths and try to stay calm. Kat came in after a few minutes.

"Is anyone in here? We're taking a group picture outside."

"Jyes," I uttered from the back stall, my voice cracking. She laughed when she saw my watery eyes. "Oh mama!" she said shaking her head. We hugged and walked out together. 

We mounted our bikes and started off as a pretty large group. We were super-sweeping with Sarah and Amanda. Josh and I lead the way with Austin, Nyx Kat, and Brian. We cheered loudly as we passed cars and pedestrians. People honked and waved, gawking at the giant American flag that Brian had rigged up on his backpack. 

We were prepared for it to be a hard ride. It was only 58 miles but we had one last mountain range to climb before we could descend to the Pacific. After getting out of San Jose, it was not long before our climb began. The steep grade of the road had us all sweating and panting in no time. The mountain is a popular cycling spot and we were joined by many other riders all asking what we were up to. We explained Bike and Build to them between breaths. "Today is our last day!" we proclaimed. It seemed crazy to say it out loud.

Lunch was at the top of the pass, at mile 20. I saw most of my teammates standing around the trailer and I stood up on my pedals, cranking hard up the rest of the mountain. They cheered as they saw me come in. It was there that we saw the first sign:

Brian, me, and Laini, so close to the ocean that we could almost taste it!

We spent a lot of time at lunch eating our last peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and talking to other cyclists coming up the mountain. Austin took a whole watermelon and used the edge of a road sign to cut it up, which worked surprisingly well. "Hit-tza!" he grunted with every slice. 

We descended for a few miles before we started climbing again. Towering redwood trees enveloped us in a quiet forest as the road narrowed. Marcus, Austin, and I lost the rest of the group as we climbed, looking around in awe at the scenery. After a short descent, I saw Marcus and Austin stopped at the bottom of a small decline. I pulled up next to them and unclipped. No words were said as we listened to the silence of the woods, which overcame us like a heavy fog. We smiled at each other and breathed deep. 

It wasn't long before the the rest of the group caught up. All were impressed by the beauty of the forest. I put my helmet camera on and decided to descend behind the group so I could get some good shots of Brian's flag waving behind him as we weaved through the redwoods. 

I descended cautiously. The road was very narrow and I was nervous about being surprised by an oncoming car. The pavement curved suddenly and sharply around trees that looked like the legs of massive elephants. I craned my neck to look up but could still barely see the crown of the forest. I kept my fingers on my brakes as I navigated the turns. Ever since a near crash around a corner coming down Hard Scrabble pass in Colorado, I have been very wary about descending when there are sharp turns. 

Brian flew down the road in front of me, letting out whoops of excitement. He slowed considerably to navigate a very tight switchback. "Yeah buddy!" I exclaimed when we had come out of it. Ahead was a reverse switchback that turned us around again. Suddenly, Brian was riding in the dirt shoulder of the road. He had taken the sharp corner too wide and could not correct himself. He swung into the shoulder and rapidly unclipped as he flew over the handlebars and landed softly in the pine needles, his flag waving wildly as he rolled. He came to rest on his back in the dirt. I checked back and swung my bike around to go back for him. Luckily, he was perfectly fine and we laughed about how comical his fall looked. I realized that my helmet cam was on the whole time so we were excited to watch the video later.

When he'd collected himself and got back on the bike, we met up with the rest of our group at the state park headquarters at the bottom of the descent. There were a lot of tourists there so we stopped just briefly to take a group shot with a massive tree and buy some postcards. Everyone was starting to get pretty antsy to see the ocean. 

We had another very short 1.5 mile climb before conquering the rest of the descent. I caught up with Kat, Nyx, and Rachel and we stuck together. The wind was to our backs and we only had 10 miles to the Pacific. We would see the ocean in no time. All of us started to feel a little anxious to realize how close we were to finishing the journey. Butterflies formed in my stomach as the miles ticked down. 

However what came next worked like a bug-zapper on those butterflies. The steepest hill that we'd encountered all summer suddenly rose up in front of us. We looked at each other in disbelief. It wouldn't be a Bike and Build day without some type of struggle and the last day was no exception. Our hearts beat hard while our legs turned slowly, straining against the steep grade, as we worked to conquer our last climb of the summer. However, while the hill was steep, it was no more than a mile or so long, and it wasn't too long before we'd climbed up and over the apex. We were home-free and ocean-bound. Nyx and I sang Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue" loudly as we cranked out the last few miles.

All of a sudden, the ocean appeared on the horizon, camouflaged with the sky. We screamed in excitement and pedaled harder. Tears blurred my vision and I just about lost it when we encountered this sign:


I cried like a baby into Kat's arms, in absolute disbelief that we were here, in our destination city, after months and months of biking. "We're here, Mama!" Kat said, hardly believing her own words. "We made it!"

We met up with the rest of the team at Little Ceaser's, the designated meeting spot. Now we just had to wait for the last few riders and sweep before traveling in a group the final mile to the ocean. As one!

The last mile together was unforgettable. People cheered for us as we paraded down the streets, a red and blue blob on wheels. We made as much noise as we could, yelling and screaming and celebrating. The loudest cry came when we first caught sight of the ocean. Sailboats were lined up in a harbor, floating in what seemed to be bluest water I had ever seen. We could not take our eyes off of it.

Suddenly, people we recognized lined the beach. Friends, family, and other loved ones were standing on a beach. That must be our destination!!!!! We turned our bikes into the sand and leapt off of them, forgetting about them, forgetting about everything, as we tore off our shoes and jerseys. Our eyes were on one thing: the sparkling ocean water separated from us by a small strip of sand. I ripped the Vel-cro open on my shoes and managed to pull my feet out. I couldn't find the zipper to my jersey and gave up quickly as my teammates sprinted to the ocean, screaming. I didn't even have time to take my socks off as I ran as fast as I could through the deep sand. All the aching muscles in our legs were forgotten. All the long hours on the bike were put out of mind. All of the obstacles and struggles were long gone. We were here and there was the ocean. 

The first splash of the Pacific ocean hit my face. It tasted like sweat and tears. I kept running until I couldn't pick my feet up anymore and then I dove under the waves. It was quiet underwater, only the sound of water and waves. When I surfaced, the shouts of my teammates filled the air. Everyone was going absolutely crazy, screaming, hugging each other, kissing, crying, splashing, and jumping. Adrenaline ran through every part of my body and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I blindly reached for anybody I could find and pulled them into my embrace. A giant group hug formed and we sang "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing," by Aerosmith. Family and stranger alike took pictures of the strange group of people celebrating in the waves. 4,250 miles and we were here. Santa Cruz. SANTA CRUZ!!!!!!!!

The "Sexy Six"

Marcus and me

28 people started a journey together in Charleston and 28 people ended a journey after 4,250 miles, buckets of sweat, some skinned knees, hundreds of peanut butter jars, countless nails driven, many tears and laughs, and more moments of happiness and awe than I can ever count. Today, my heart splits into 27 pieces as I say goodbye to 27 of the most amazing people I have ever met and fly back home. As I watch from the plane window, our beautiful country spans out as far as the eye can see in a beautiful mosaic. I am still in disbelief that we biked the whole way here. Never has my heart been so full of happiness and sadness at the same time. It will take me many months to fully reflect on what this summer has meant to me. This journey has been an adventure of a lifetime, filled with moments that I will never, ever forget. Moments that I share with 27 others. Though we are scattered across the country, our experiences will link us together and I cannot wait to reunite with my 27 dearest friends again one day. Until then, may we all keep our eyes and hearts open to the passion to serve and the spirit of adventure. 

Thank you for following this blog. I hope it has inspired you to chase your own dreams and have your own adventures. Never settle, there is so much out there waiting for you to explore. 

I love you, SC2SC 2013. 

Signing off until the next adventure,

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"
-A.A. Milne

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thank You!

We made it to Santa Cruz!

It is going to take me a few days before I can process everything that happened on Day 81 - San Jose to Santa Cruz. I am simply posting this entry to let you all know that the entire team made it to the beach safely and are absolutely loving every second we have left with each other. Please check back in a few days for the full description of the last day. I've been so busy trying to figure out the end-of-the-trip logistics (and partying!) to be able to write a worthy Day 81 post. Thanks for your patience and also for all the supportive text messages on the last day. I dropped my phone on the beach to run into the ocean and by the time I picked up my phone again, my inbox was flooded with messages. I love you all and I'm sure I will see some of you the few days I am back in Mount Prospect!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 80 - Tying it All Together

Light filters in through the windows of the church, casting intricate shadows on the ground as it shines through the spokes of our overturned bikes. A door hangs open and I can see our trailer in the parking lot. Its blackboard is chalked with some of our outdated statistics: "3,217 miles ridden! $150,000 raised! 76 days completed!" But that was almost a week ago. 

I look around the room at my teammates, some sprawled out on their thermarests, others talking quietly, their heads close together. Cindy plays a haunting melody on the piano and the music floats in the air like breath on a cold morning. We're so close to the Pacific coast that we can almost taste the ocean. The proximity has cast a strange mix of emotions over the group: elated to have almost completed our journey, heartbroken knowing that we will have to say goodbye soon. 

The ride today was very easy. We had a climb early on and the rest of the ride seemed downhill or with a tailwind. We rode in a large pace line. Unfortunately at one of the stoplights, there was a miscommunication in the line about whether we were going through a yellow light or stopping. Josh, the leader, stopped and Austin, the guy behind him, continued riding. Austin locked up his back wheel attempting to stop and fell over (on his non-deraillieur side thank goodness.) He was okay but a little scratched up. He's been wanting to crash all summer so today was his day. 

We rode easily into San Jose, stopping briefly at a farmer's market and a burger place to grab milkshakes. We told anyone who wold listen that we were on our way across the country. It's so fun to see the look of disbelief on their faces!

We saw our first road sign to Santa Cruz today. It put everything into perspective, how far we've come and how little we have left. Thank God the coast is close and we are all still here in one piece!

We're riding 60 miles into Santa Cuz tomorrow. It is supposed to be a tough ride, taking us over some passes before we descend to the beach. We will be going through the Redwoods and I can't wait I see them!

We finally finished painting our trailer. The front has all of our favorite sayings on it!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Day 79 - Pump n' Pray

One-by-one, each rider took off this morning on the way to Livermore. I watched as they disappeared down the street. It is funny how, after so many days of riding together, it is easy to identify each rider by their different styles of riding. The first riding day, the first time we all dressed in our matching cycling kits, everyone looked the same. It was nearly impossible to tell who was who. Now we know each other so intimately that they way you sit on the bike or your cadence can give you away to someone riding behind you. 

"Who is that? Kevin?"
"No, that's Josh. Look how he puts his head down."

"Is that Cassie?
"Nah, it's Rachel, see how she stops spinning?"

Each of us have our own quirks that make us identifiable. Marcus has a smooth and steady spin, his legs always moving. Austin's pink handlebar tape gives him away every time. Emma has a little teddy bear dangling from her camelback. Brian looks like a tree riding his bike. It doesn't take much to set you apart. 

I started off with Austin this morning and we eventually caught up with Cindy and Amanda who latched on to our paceline. There crop lands were mowed down and there were no hills to block the wind. It swept across the desert plains and hit us as a stiff crosswind. There is not too much you can do in a paceline to combat a crosswind. When the wind is blowing in from the side, you can form a diagonal paceline called an echelon, but due to the amount of traffic on the road, it was unreasonable to ride in an echelon because we'd have to keep falling back into a line every minute. 

Somehow the time passed quickly as we navigated sketchy California roads. We arrived at lunch near a beautiful state park and watched the waves roll in on a lake while eating goodies DMed from Whole Foods. 

Brian, Austin, Cindy, Amanda, and I took off after lunch together but our paceline soon dissolved after the shoulder of the road started splitting into giant crevices. The holes were big enough to throw a rider off their bike and most likely ruin their wheel. I swerved onto the rumble strips to avoid riding headlong into a crack the size of the Grand Canyon, and I looked up to see everyone else in the paceline going in all different directions. The road was probaby so damaged due to earthquakes. Lucikly, everybody managed to avoid the holes. After that incident, Brian and Austin took off because the road was too dangerous for a long paceline.

Once Amanda, Cindy, and I were alone, the chaos started. The debris in the shoulder of the road was atrocious. We should have known the flats were coming. Soon, Amanda's tire went flat. We pulled off to change it. Less than 10 miles later, Cindy went flat and she'd already had one today. We had 25 miles left and we were already growing short on tubes. We fixed Cindy's flag and tarted off again but in less than a few miles, her back tire was completely flat again. We reluctantly pulled over, frustrated because we still had 20 miles to ride.

When you change a flat, you need to remove the wheel from your bike and pull out the broken tube. It is important to inflate the blown tube in order to find the leak and to determine what caused the flat. Sometimes, the flat is because your tubes weren't inflated enough. Other times, it may be due to debris poking through your tires. 

I could not find the leak in Cindy's tube. I accused her of forgetting to inflate her tire when she'd changed it a few miles back. She swore to me that she had but I found it hard to believe she'd gone flat so fast without a noticeable tear in her tube. I started pumping up a patched tube that Austin had given me days ago. As I pumped, I hear the unmistakable sound of air escaping. "PSST-pssst-PSST-psst," the sound was punctuated with each stroke of the pump. The tube was leaking out the patch. "Arghhh, Austin!" I cursed, laughing even through my frustration. There are a few members of the team notorious for accidentally giving people ruined tubes and Austin is one of them. I put a second patch on the tube and stowed it in my bag for later use.

The only usable tubes we had left were the blown ones from earlier that we had patched with our patch kits. "This is sketchy," said Cindy as she fixed her third flat. "Pump n' pray!!" she said, gritting her teeth as she inflated the tube. I threatened to throw her wheel like a frisbee into the bushes if she got another flat. We all laughed nervously and, once the tube was inflated, took off again, praying our tires would stay true. 

Less than five miles later, my bike unexpectedly began fish tailing right and left and I heard the flapping of a loose tire. I looked between my legs at my back wheel to confirm my fears. Now, I was flat!!

"AHHHHH!" I yelled in frustration as we pulled over yet again. I knew there was something seriously wrong because my
tire went flat so quickly. What I though was a staple in my tire turned out to be a boomerang-shaped metal shard sticking through both sides of my tube. It looked like a toenail clipping from the Devil. 


It ripped a hole in my tire which we booted up with a dollar bill. Paper money and Clif bar wrappers work great to temporarily mend tire tears. I was forced to use Austin's doubly-patched tube. "Pump n' pray!!!" I said, really praying that this time we'd get in. 

A surprise mountain pass later, we descended into Livermore, CA. I had flat-anoia the entire time, constantly looking at my back tire to make sure it stayed inflated. But we made it in without any more flats!

We had our last mail drop and our last family meeting. I got a lot of goodies from home for my birthday. It is awesome to get some new clothes!! All of us on the trip pretty much wear the same outfit every day, so everyone knows when you get new clothes. I got many compliments for my new Califonia t-shirt. 

The last family meeting was surreal. We went around the circle and did our "highs, lows, and shoutouts," which is what we do every meeting. We laughed a lot and cried a little. Most of us are in disbelief that this trip is almost over. Maybe it will hit us in a few days, after we taste the salt of the Pacific. 

Family meeting candid

Day 78 - LAST Build Day!

"We're going to need a group to suit up and work on lead abatement at the side of the house..."

A wave of déjà vu came over me as I pulled on the lead abatement gear for the second time this summer. Looking like an oversized marshmallow in my extra large coveralls, I grabbed a paint scrapper and got to work stripping the paint off the wall. The site supervisor estimated that the job would take two and a half hours. Having scraped walls before, I estimated it would take longer. Luckily, we were working in the shade so wearing the suit was bearable. 

We scraped all morning and continued after lunch. By this time, the sun was high in the sky and our shade had evaporated. Our bodies poured sweat inside the suits and we periodically had to remove our goggles to dump out the sweat the gathered in them. 

Fittingly, as we worked, we talked about what our hells would be. Mine would definitely be sitting naked and alone in Antartica with a strong wind blowing for all eternity. Austin's was pretty much the exact opposite of mine. He would be in the heat and humidity, bundled up as if it were winter out, alone, forever. Ethan argued that scraping paint off of a never-ending wall dressed up in lead abatement gear would be his hell. 

The rest of the team worked on demolishing a few sheds and cleaning up the landscaping. The yard looked beautiful when we were done. We were working with a Habitat program called "A Brush with Kindness." It works not on building new houses but on smaller projects that help beautify the community. We were working at a center for mental health. The patients there would benefit from having a nice yard where they can sit and enjoy the weather and each other's company. I hope we could help make a difference in their lives. 

Marcus and Nyx working on mulching

This evening, we had a great potluck dinner provided by the community. It was the healthiest meal we've had in a while and the best cornbread I have ever eaten! Yum!!

Our three day home stretch begins tomorrow. Santa Cruz, here we come!!!!

Day 77 - 13 out of 13

We completed our last day of our 13 day stretch today. It was not a very physically challenging day, the road was flat and there was only a slight headwind. However, it was pretty mentally challenging. My body was tired after riding constantly for almost two weeks and I did not have much motivation to ride. I was a sweep rider today with Ethan. Due to some logistical issues this morning, we could not leave the starting point until about 11 even though most riders left by 8. 

The ride itself was fine. Ethan and I cranked it out, taking turns pulling each other for three miles. The miles went fast, we were eager to get to the host site in Davis. We stopped only once for lunch and rolled all the way through the rest of the ride. We passed lots of flooded rice fields. White cranes, startled by our approach, spread their wings and took off silently. A large flock of black birds also took off from the fields, temporarily blackening the sky. Killdeers made our presence known with a loud squawks. It was beautiful to watch them fly. 

We had a great dinner tonight and took a very pleasant hose shower. The community here is very friendly and we feel welcome. Tonight is the eve of my 21st birthday so we are probably going to go out and grab some drinks later. It should be a good time!

Cindy playing some soothing piano music while we relax inside the church