This weekend, Franklin County was visited by 32 energetic activists.
For the third consecutive year, Bike and Build wheeled in on US 98 and made an overnight stop at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Apalachicola.
Sister Jeanne Drea said she received the first inquiry from the group by telephone in 2011. “They called and asked, ‘Do you have showers?’ and I said ‘No, but we have a hose,’” she said.
On Sunday evening, the cyclists were treated to a low-country boil for supper and slept on mats on the floor of the parish hall.
Since 2003, Bike and Build has contributed around $5 million to housing groups to fund affordable housing projects planned and executed by almost 1,500 young adults. Riders alternate days of riding and construction.
Riders on the southern route start in Jacksonville and wind up in Monterey, California. On travel days, the group bikes around 60 miles. The bikers traveled from here to Panama City and then to Defuniak Springs.
The group will be on the road for two-and-a-half months.
Beginning in 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, the southern route was moved to skirt the Gulf Coast from the Panhandle to New Orleans and build days have focused on restoring communities damaged by the 2005 storm. The group will spend June 2 through 7 doing construction in New Orleans, and then travel to Baton Rouge where they will spend another day working as builders before taking off for North Texas.
Riders are accompanied by a support van but they still travel light. Each biker has a hydration pack to make sure they have plenty to drink in hot weather. They carry floor mats for sleeping and quick drying microfiber towels. Many of the riders also carry video cameras on their handlebars.
Although they have days off built into the trip, they stop riding only for dangerous weather like lightning.
Participants need not have previous building or cycling experience, or even a bicycle; Bike and Build provides the bicycle, which participants are allowed to keep upon completion of the trip. Bicycles are manufactured by Giant Bikes, USA of Newbury Park, California and are provided to Bike and Build at a discount.
Riders are required to complete 10 hours of “sweat equity” working with affordable housing groups before beginning the trip, and are required to ride at least 500 miles in training before their summer begins.
Group leader Gregory Powell said the group works closely with Habitat for Humanity.
The group of riders has four team leaders but for most participants, this is their first cross-country ride. Leaders arrange for lodgings on the trip and take turns driving the support vehicle.
There were 32 cyclists ranging in age from 18 to 25 in the group that biked through the county this year. The majority of Bike and Build participants are college students.
Each rider must earn at least $4,500 to win the right to participate in a cross-country adventure. Participants come from 47 states and Canada. Part of the money is used to support construction projects during the trip and the rest is donated to affordable housing projects chosen by the riders. Each rider can send $500 to the project or community of their choice.
According to Wikipedia, Bike and Build was spun off from the Yale Habitat Bicycle Challenge, and was founded by Marc Bush, a Yale alumnus. He was also the director of Bike and Build from 2003-05.
Chris Webber, a trip leader on the northern U.S. route in 2005, was hired as Bike and Build's first program director in 2006. He was hit and killed in a pedestrian accident in New York City in March 2007. Bike and Build maintains a memorial fund in his honor, and raises money for the fund with an alumni-only ride that takes place in Florida each winter.
To learn more about Bike and Build visit http://bikeandbuild.org/cms/.