NCSU grad leads Bike & Build from VA to OR

We’ve got a special guest blogger today!  Timur Ender is a 2011 graduate of NC State University and received a Golden Spoke award for cycling advocacy at the 2011 Golden Modes.  Read on to learn about his amazing 3,800+ mile cross-country bike journey with 32 other cyclists…

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them…”
– Ernest Hemingway

This past summer I had the honor and privilege to lead a group of 32 of my peers on a bicycle trip across the country to raise money and awareness for affordable housing.  This bicycle ride was organized through the non-profit Bike & Build based out of Philadelphia.  Bike & Build was formed in 2002 with the first routes leaving the summer of 2003.  The organization currently has 8 routes going from east to west every summer.  Each route has four leaders and approximately 30 riders. 

Prior to the trip all participants (riders and leaders) are required to fundraise $4,000.  Our trip raised $150,000 and together with all of the combined totals from the other routes, Bike & Build plans to donate well over half a million dollars to affordable housing this year.  Riders are also requested to do a number of training miles, sweat equity on a habitat build site, and research an aspect of the affordable housing crisis prior to arriving at orientation.  We later present these topics to each other in order to gain a better understanding of the affordable housing crisis in the U.S.

Our trip began from Virginia Beach, VA on May 27 and concluded in Cannon Beach, OR on August 8.  We started out as strangers and by the end we were inseparable lifelong friends.  It takes a special type of person to participate in Bike & Build.  The people who participate are generally physically active, civically engaged, and committed to serving others.  Although many participants are physically active, most who participate in Bike & Build are by no means “hard-core “cyclists.  Most have completed around 200 training miles before the summer begins and show up to rider orientation with helmets from Wal-Mart.  By the end of the summer everyone is a strong cyclist, though still with helmets from Wal-Mart.

On the road, we wake up at 5, eat breakfast at 6, and leave at 7.  We had a 15-passenger van and trailer that carried our food and gear and is responsible for setting up a lunch stop every day.  The 4 leaders took turns driving the van.  We average around 70 miles a day.  We would rely on the kindness of others to take care of us and help us save grocery money.  We slept on the ground in churches and often had a generous, potluck dinner provided to us by the church members.

We would stop about once a week to build with an affordable housing agency.  If the build site was within 4 miles we would ride our bikes, otherwise we would use our van for transportation.   Our task on the build site would be to accomplish whatever that host agency had ready for us to do.  Depending on what stage the house was in we would do anything from roofing, nailing, painting, or insulation.  Often times we were able to accomplish much more than what the habitat agency expected of us.

Participating in Bike & Build exposes participants to the urgency and complexity of the affordable housing crises in the United States.  Habitat affiliates often have hundreds of people applying for the 10 homes that are built every year in a city (depending on the affiliate).  But riding across the country also exposed me to the warmth, kindness, and hospitality of the American people.  It exposed me to the desire of Americans to step up and be part of the solution. 

Seeing America by bike is quite the adventure.  There are no windows or obstructions from hindering one’s view of the incredible landscape.  When cycling, there is a connection is made with the road and the rider is able to feel the terrain.  Ernest Hemmingway said it best, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.  Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”  And finally, the non-intrusive nature of the bicycle meant that people often approached us and asked us what we were doing. 

Now that I have returned to Raleigh I plan on continuing to be involved in bicycle advocacy.  Namely, I plan on working to make sure the transit and affordable housing bond passes so that Raleigh can continue to prosper and working with the Raleigh bicycle & pedestrian advisory commission to ensure safe transit facilities for cyclists. 


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