It’s been a month since I arrived in Monterey, CA, to end my bicycle trip with Bike & Build. I meant to get to this earlier, but moving to Kansas to begin work has caused me to put it on the back of my mind.
I first heard about Bike & Build about 3 years ago from a Couchsurfer I met in Providence, Rhode Island. He told me how cool of an experience it was, and from then I decided that I’d do it at some point. To be a normal rider, you could only be up to 25 years old, so I decided to go for it since it’s my last year. An extension of my leave of absence was all I needed to get more time, so after getting the signatures, I was good to go.
Overall, the trip was challenging, rewarding, frustrating, physically and emotionally demanding, and a learning experience.
As simple and easy as it sounds, a life of just biking, eating, and sleeping is actually very challenging. Some days are much easier than others, but almost every day has its own challenges. Whether it’s the challenge of 110 miles, or 120 degrees, 50 degrees and rainy, 5 flat tires, 30 mph headwinds, or just general mental and physical tiredness/soreness/exhaustion, there was almost always something. The days that should’ve been extremely easy (50 miles) turned into tough days. We had a very tough team, and I think this spread to everyone else. Never did we have anyone get in the support van just for lack of motivation or desire. And I think we all had many days where it crossed our minds, we’d push through it. Knowing, in the back of our minds, how fortunate we all were to be biking across the US was a good motivator for those times, and also remembering our cause helped a lot as well.
As for being rewarding, this was in a few different ways. First of all was the affordable housing part of the trip. This is the reason for our trip, and the 17 build days we had were very rewarding. The most memorable days were working with the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans, framing a house in Dallas, roofing in Fresno, and working on a house in Atlantic Beach. A few of the projects, we worked with people who were going to live in the house. And we met people who were already living in houses built by Habitat. To me, it’s very cool to see who you are working for rather than just the organization. Meeting these people and seeing their excitement and enthusiasm for the house is incredible. I learned a lot about the reasons and solutions for the lack of affordable housing, and I saw why affordable housing is necessary and how it can affect a family. Even though the trip is over, I will continue supporting the affordable cause where I am located.
The second way the trip was rewarding was through the daily challenges I talked about. Each challenge overcome is a win. And eventually, we were pushing ourselves to levels we never thought we could do. We biked 86 miles in Death Valley in 120 degree weather. If you told us in May that we’d make it through that, we’d say you were crazy. The most anticipated part of the trip was Tioga Pass, 12 miles of an average 8% uphill grade. Before the trip, 12 miles sounded like a bit of a challenge, let alone 12 miles uphill. We completed this in less than 2 hours and with relative ease, and then we biked another 65 miles through very hilly Yosemite National Park. These are a few of the bigger challenges, but every time we arrived at a host, it felt like an accomplishment.
The trip was also very frustrating in many ways (not everything can be perfect). My personality and way of travel did not mesh well with the trip. Throughout my travels, I have become very independent and strive for freedom and choices in my life. I am not sure what I was expecting with the trip, but it was quite a shock. In the trip, pretty much everything outside of the bike riding was planned by someone else. Wake up time, which chores I’ll be doing, when to eat breakfast, what time to be to the host by, dinner time, the time for meetings, and bed time. And even the bike riding had a big restriction for me, and that is the buddy system where you always have to have another person with you at all times when you’re riding. This meant that I had very little time in the whole course of the day to be alone, which is time that is extremely important for me. Oftentimes, this drove me crazy! By the time I’d eat dinner, do any bike maintenance, and then get through any meetings we had, I even had very little free time. Putting this on repeat for 2.5 months was tough. It felt a bit like the bus tour I had in New Zealand where I felt like I was just being led around without being able to make any decisions myself, and this is exactly the opposite way of how I like to travel. In South America, every decision was my own, and every day I could decide what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, etc. It was a shock to go into a trip so different.
Another negative part is the very little amount of time we spent in each town/city. Most places, I would’ve wanted to stay a day or two more, at least. We sometimes would be to the host at 7 or 8pm and then leave again at 6am the next day. This leaves just enough time to eat and sleep. Even the days that we arrived at the host at 4pm, we still would only have a few hours to go around town to walk around, have a beer, or just relax. No matter if it was a nice little fishing town like Apilachicola, Florida, or Zion National Park in Utah, it would’ve been cool to have another day or seven. To me, traveling is about meeting the people, trying new foods, and learning the history, but by taking your time. Unfortunately, this was a negative part of the trip for me. I should’ve known this going in, but I guess I didn’t anticipate being so exhausted after most rides to have the energy or time to do anything. So even though we were seeing the country, we weren’t seeing it exactly how I’d like to experience it. I guess that’s the downfall with organized trips!
Being one of the oldest in the group was also challenging. I wasn’t really used to being around younger people, and Americans in general after being out of the country for 15 months. The topics of conversation, the sense of humor, and just the general way people acted on the trip were very different from my ways. My ways aren’t better or worse, just different. I was used to talking with travelers from around the world. Just with that, it’s a very different setting for communicating. Being in less developed countries in South America, I was not used to the widespread technology we have in the US. Worse yet, I wasn’t used to the overuse of technology (especially phone) in the US. Still one of my biggest pet peeves in the US are cell phones. Rarely do you see someone who doesn’t have a smart phone and doesn’t it use it every time they are idle (or many times when not idle like driving, walking on sidewalks, etc). And I’m not sure how people can afford these. Most people are paying $100 a month for data plans. That’s $1,200 a year, which means they have to earn almost $1,500 gross salary to just pay for their cell phone. So many people who have them are students without jobs or working very low income jobs. In many cases, I can see why a smart phone would be a great tool. But I think people use it as more of a distraction than anything else. I’ll keep my $100 a month and pay attention to things in real life, thanks.
Even with the frustrations, the trip was a great learning experience. A few of the key things I learned are:
Independence is the key to my happiness
This is the most important thing I learned on the trip. It’s something I have talked about in blog before, but I realized that I need it in almost every aspect of life. Before, I thought it was just in the manner or being able to do what I want and to be financial independent (these two go hand-in-hand). But I never thought about how it affects almost everything in my life.
The biggest revelation is that I need independence even from organizations of any sort. I found myself start to almost rebel against the trip, people on the trip, etc. I had to find ways to get away from the people on the trip and to get away and not even think about the trip. I realized that I have felt this way many times in the past with organizations that took up a majority of my time. This includes the women’s basketball team, the financial program at the company I work for, and even the non-profit I worked for in Peru. When something is taking so much of my time, I start to feel trapped. This especially happens when I am also friends with the people I work with and hang out with them outside the normal work hours. So with my finance program, I was always around other people in my program…in meetings, at company events, and most of them hung out together on weekends. Same with the organization in Peru; everyone worked together and then did weekend trips, went out, etc. Obviously, this happened on the bike trip as well. When this happens, I find myself creating space between myself and the others and almost alienating myself from the group. People sometimes take offense to my absence and I become known as the guy who always skips out on events.
This tells me that I need to even be independent even in my profession/volunteering. I have never particularly liked any boss I have had. I find myself get tired and fed up with organizations. When I was out on my own in South America, I never felt like this (granted that it wasn’t working, but I think it still shows something). I think this means that I need to find some kind of work that lets me be independent, like being self-employed or having a type of job that gives me more freedom (responsibilities not relying on others, working from home, etc.). This is something I had considered in the future but never seriously. thought about as something I needed, more of something I wanted. I’ll be trying to figure out how I can make this happen.
I love biking and I want to implement it into my future travels
Biking is great. It’s good exercise, it reduces fuel consumption (helps environment and saves money), it’s fun, and it’s a great way to experience a country. Not only do you see the country, but you feel the geographical features of the country. You have a new respect for the hills and mountains as you pedal up and down them, you see everything with nothing between the landscape and your eyes, and you go at a nice and smooth 16 miles per hour rather than flying at 70.
I’ve started using biking as my main form of transportation by biking to work, out to eat, to the library, etc. It’s a great way to get around for all the reasons I mentioned above. Biking for travel saves a lot of money. Once you have the bike and all the gear, you can save a bunch by not paying for gas, a car, buses, etc. The way I want to travel is with a bike, a tent, and a sleeping bag. With this, I could travel extremely cheaply while exploring a country the best way. This gives ultimate freedom by getting around when I want but also not needing to spend much money on long trips. Obviously this is a nitty-gritty way to travel, but it’s exactly my style!
I have a “direct” personality
I didn’t realize this until halfway through my trip when someone told me that my personality is “direct”, meaning that I say things in a very straight-forward manner without really beating around the bush. I honestly didn’t realize I was like this. I never used to be. I was always very passive and liked to avoid conflicts. Thinking about it, I tend to agree that I am more direct. I am not sure if this is from my time working in finance with a corporation, traveling, or both. I imagine it’s both. I’ve realized in both situations that if you want something to happen, you need bring it up and ask for it. In finance I’ve realized that if you don’t question things, it’s still your fault if it goes wrong. In South America, you will get ripped off if you don’t haggle and just take the price they give you. All of these mean that you need to be proactive and aggressive for your benefit and those around you. On the bike trip, I would ask a lot of questions to try to understand why decisions were made and also to try to help decisions. I didn’t realize this at the time, but some people were offended by this and saw me questioning their abilities. This wasn’t my intention at all, but it came off that way to them. This is something very useful for me to know this so that I can adjust to other people’s personality styles.
I don’t enjoy being in large groups of people
During the bike trip, we were usually in decently large groups of people when we weren’t riding. This got very old very quickly for me. I found out that even after being around being for hours and hours and hours, I still didn’t really know most of them. Being in groups changes a lot of people to where they become attention obsessed and will do a lot just to get laughs or some type of approval from others. When you’re in large groups, you never really get to truly know someone. There are different pressures, different fears of letting people know who they are. You can only really get to know who a person is if you talk to them in small groups or, better yet, one-on-one. You can get to know their past, their hopes and dreams, their passions, and get a feel for how they live their life. Large groups are good for cheap laughs, but this gets old very quickly. Even though I spent so much time with 26 others throughout the summer, I really only feel like I know less than 10 of them.
Affordable Housing is a serious issue in our country and organizations are changing that
There are no counties in the US where a person with a minimum wage job can afford a two bedroom apartment at fair market rent (“afford” meaning be able to use less than 30% f their salary on housing). There are many people in positions where they are working minimum wage jobs and happen to be single parents. To compensate for this, they may have to work 2 or 3 jobs while trying to raise kids. Having a safe, stable, and quality place to stay affects kids in more ways than we know. It’s not just affecting the adults living there but also has detrimental effects on the children. Organizations are doing a great job of helping the cause. Habitat for Humanity is one of the most impressive organizations that I have seen. Most people probably think they are giving away houses for free encouraging people not to work. This is far from reality. Habitat gives 0% mortgages on the full cost of the house, and the homeowner is required to put in at least 300 hours of sweat equity. Not only are people held accountable, but Habitat is sustainable. They have a rigorous screening process to make sure the family is suitable for the house and able to pay off the mortgage. And Habitat is run by very passionate people. I am extremely impressed by the organization and have so much respect for them. I plan to continue volunteering with them wherever I am located at.
Traveling is my life!
This is nothing new or even something that I discovered on my bike trip. I’ve known this for a while, but as always, a large trip reconfirms this. Through the people that I did get the chance to meet and talk to along the way, I learned so much about our country and the different cultures. Staying on Navajo reservations and learning about their food and culture and lifestyle is something I will always remember. The poverty and problems in their communities are something I did not know, but now I am aware of this and want to help this in the future. I had the chance to meet many Hispanics in southwest and was able to get a glimpse into their lives as minorities living in the US (a feeling I had as a minority in South America). I met victims of Hurricane Katrina and had the chance to stay for a week in one of the hardest hit areas of Katrina. I learned about the hardships and challenges still facing people living in this area. And not to mention the food. I had the chance to try gumbo, crawfish, Navajo tacos, and many other local dishes. There is so much to our country that I never knew about. The country is much more beautiful in the west than I ever imagined. And all these things make me want to keep traveling, both in the US and outside. I’m currently trying to figure out my future and balance with work/travel, as this is the main challenge!
So that is all for this trip. It’s been a challenging trip for many different reasons, but, like I said, it’s been extremely rewarding. I have no regrets doing it and it has given me ideas for my future. Thanks so much for the support you all have given me. I look forward to the next adventure!