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Bike & Build crews provides helping hands on Basalt affordable housing

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Alex Ciolko from Buffalo, New York, works on a Habitat for Humanity house in Basalt Thursday morning.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

To donate

To donate to members of the Bike & Build team that stopped in Basalt and Carbondale, visit http://www.bikeandbuild.org/cms/component/option,com_wrapper/Itemid,461/. Scroll down to the South Carolina 2015 roster and click on individual team members to make a donation.

It’s tough averaging 75 miles per day on a road bicycle while enduring the heat of the Oklahoma plains and tackling the challenges of the Colorado Mountains.

Throw in eight hours of hard labor on home construction sites during the “off days” and you’ve got the ingredients for building quad and calf muscles and strong character.

Thirty young men and women stopped in Basalt and Carbondale Thursday and Friday to help on Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork projects while pedaling their way across the country. They are a team from the nonprofit organization called Bike and Build. All of the participants are between ages 19 and 26, with many of them in college and others doing good deeds before beginning their careers.

The team departed from Charleston, South Carolina, on Memorial Day. They plan to cover the 4,233 miles to Santa Cruz, California, by Aug. 14.

To make their feat even more amazing, the 30 participants raised about $150,000 prior to the trip to construct an entire home for a needy family in Fountain, Colorado. Each member must raise at least $4,500 before the start of the trip.

Amana Carson, 20, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, a student at St. Joseph’s University, said she had volunteered on Habitat for Humanity projects before but had never really cycled prior to this summer. She decided it would be nice to bike across America while volunteering her labor on affordable housing projects

“It’s been amazing — the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said.

Alex Ciolko, 24, of Buffalo, New York, is one of four “route leaders” on the team. She completed her master’s degree in biomedical engineering this year and is preparing to start her career, so she decided to spend the summer helping less fortunate people. She previously participated on a Bike & Build project that involved cycling from Bar Harbor, Maine, to New York City. Now she’s helping the coast-to-coast team stay organized and on track as a leader.

“I like being able to give back and not just be on a vacation,” Ciolko said.

The experience over the last couple of years will inspire her to volunteer more throughout her life, she said.

Each of the Bike & Build teams undertakes a “blitz build” project where they concentrate for about five or so days on a specific house. For this team, that project was near Colorado Springs. That meant they were out of the saddle of their bikes and their legs were well-rested when they tackled the east side of Independence Pass on Tuesday.

It was a great team-building experience to make sure everyone reached the summit, said Ellie Trent, 24, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina, and another route leader. The four route leaders take turns driving the 15-passenger van, which pulls a trailer. All 30 participants get to bring one piece of luggage. They also transport sleeping and camping gear and coolers for food. Riders-workers can ride in the sag wagon when they are sick or nursing an injury, but they typically are expected to ride. While 75 miles is the daily average on the road, Trent said, they have covered up to 113 miles in one day on this trip.

Reaching Colorado and seeing the snow-capped mountains was a highlight of the cycling trip, Trent said. The group received a special greeting from Mother Nature at the top of Independence Pass. “A giant hail storm comes in and starts pelting us,” she said.

The storm came on so fast and furious that some team members had to be shuttled off the summit to Aspen. They were cheated out of the classic descent, so they were hauled back to the summit by van the following day.

Trent’s biography on the Bike & Build website shows that her group has covered 2,451 of 4,233 miles as of Thursday. It was day 53 of an 83-day trip. It was also their 15th day on a construction project. They have enjoyed a total of three rest days on the trip with no work and no pedaling.

This is Trent’s second coast-to-coast tour with Bike & Build. She picked this route because it goes through Salt Lake City, where her parents met nearly 30 years ago. The experience has been so rewarding, she said, that she took a construction job with AmeriCorps. She will begin later this year.

Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork, said this is the eighth year that Bike & Build has helped the local chapter with a project. The teams are always well-organized, punctual and experienced.

“It gets everybody pumped up to have them here,” Gilbert said. “They are our second best crew. The best is from the Department of Corrections.”

Gilbert and volunteers that work with the local chapter of Habitat try to make the Roaring Fork Valley stop memorable for the Bike & Build teams. This year, the 30 members stayed for two nights in homes in River Valley Ranch. Carson said it’s been a treat for the team members to have their own bedrooms and access to bathrooms. They typically spend most nights on the floor of a church in the towns where they stay.

Rider-worker Zoe Nemerever, 25, of Seattle, exudes enthusiasm for the affordable housing cause. She did her first coast-to-coast trip with Bike & Build in 2013, then worked two terms as a construction crew leader for Habitat For Humanity of Charlotte, North Carolina. She is on a second Bike & Build trip before pursing a doctorate in political science. She wants to study policies affecting affordable housing.

She said it’s interesting to see how different Habitat For Humanity affiliates must tailor construction to their environments and communities. She and other team members were surprised by the quality of the homes in Basalt and Carbondale. A house is being constructed on Homestead Drive in Basalt, in the well-established Hill District. A house in Carbondale is being constructed in Keator Grove, a recently developed neighborhood.

Nemerever said she understands the need for the Habitat houses to blend in. They don’t want projects to be ostracized as low-income housing.

The Bike & Build team left Carbondale Saturday for Meeker after donating two days of labor. Their next project is in Provo, Utah, before they power through the sparsely settled western U.S. to California.

Nemerever’s biography captures the gusto she brings to her work. “When Mother Theresa said, ‘Give, but give until it hurts,’ she was specifically referring to the feeling in one’s groin after they’ve been on the saddle for 84 miles because they believe that safe, decent, and affordable housing should be available to all Americans.”

scondon@aspentimes.com


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