Day 37 – Altus, OK to Memphis, TX – 72 miles (van)
We crossed back into Texas another time in some hot weather. In Memphis, I walked around the town which was very quiet and dead. The town square is almost empty without many running stores, and the whole place was silent. The sunset, as almost always in Texas, was nice to watch from the town.
Day 38 – Memphis, TX to Amarillo, TX – 90 miles (van)
Anothe day in the van while going to Amarillo. It was a very hot day with temperatures over 100 degrees. Even riding in the van, it gets extremely hot while waiting for riders. At night, I met up with a few Couchsurfers who took me outside the city to walk along a path while watching the sunset, then we went to Cadillac Ranch, and then to a local bar to watch some live music.
Day 39 – Day off in Amarillo, TX
In Amarillo, we got out 2nd actual day off with no biking and no building. The first was in New Orleans a few weeks back. Some people went to a canyon close by, but the van didn’t have enough room to take everyone, so I was stuck back at the church. I decided to take the day and do something I hadn’t done for quite some time…go to a coffee shop and work on the computer the whole day. I sorted and uploaded pictures and wrote a bit. Sorting through a few thousand pictures takes time, but I got pretty much caught up from the beginning of the trip.
At night, a Bike & Build alum’s family hosted us for dinner. They cooked up Mexican food for us with enchiladas, chips and salsa, tacos, and other varieties as well.
Later, I caught another nice sunrise from the church and worked on my bike.
Day 40 – Amarillo, TX to Dalhart, TX – 77 miles (van)
After Amarillo, we went to Dalhart, Texas, a smaller town. The unique thing that happened with this town is that two Bike & Build groups met up here for the night. So we stayed at the same church with the South Carolina to Southern California route. That means that this church hosted 57 Bike & Builders. They cooked dinner and breakfast for us, and we all slept in the gym. It was really cool meeting them and hearing about their experiences. Strange seeing other people in Bike & Build uniforms. Unfortunately, they were having a tough week with several 100 mile days with 100 degree days and a lot of headwinds. Because of that, they were pretty tired and we didn’t get to know them a lot. But it was still nice to meet up and exchange stories.
Day 41 – Dalhart, TX to Clayton, NM – 45 miles (van)
On this short day, I tried to try the bike again after our lunch. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too soon. After a few miles, my knee started hurting again and got back to where it was a week earlier. After 7 miles, I had to stop since it was getting progressively worse. I was pretty upset that this happened since I knew it would be a while again in the van. So I stopped in a little town called Texline, right before getting into New Mexico. I stopped at a little café called Granny’s Diner and had several cups of coffee along with the special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The owners were Mennonites who had moved there from California many years ago. They were very nice people and it was fun talking to them.
Day 42 – Clayton, NM to Mosquero, NM – 88 miles (van)
So again I was off the bike. This time the team climbed a mountain going up to Mosquero, the biggest one of the trip so far. Again, it was extremely frustrating to not be a part of this. It was a really cool ride and it started to really feel like New Mexico already with expansive desert and many mountains. In Mosquero, we stayed at a little school in the tiny town. At night, many of us went to the roof to watch the sunset, which was absolutely beautiful in the clear New Mexico air.
Day 43 – Mosquero, NM to Las Vegas, NM – 97 miles (van)
This was a pretty tough day for the team who had very hot weather and strong headwinds the last 10 miles or so. I think their average speed the last 10 miles was 5 or 6 miles an hour.
Day 44 – Las Vegas, NM to Santa Fe, NM – 67 miles (van)
Santa Fe was city that really surprised me. I had never known much about it, and I loved getting into town and seeing all of the adobe buildings. It was very touristy, but it’s a very different feel from any other city I had been to. The city had many shops, small cafes, churches, and live music. The Cathedral has a conquistadora that was brought over from Spain from the 1600s.
The first day we got there, I just walked around the city taking it all in. There also happen to be a lot of Spanish speakers there and the city has a bit of a Hispanic feel to it.
One of the riders on the trip had a birthday on this night, and her father was nice enough to pay for all of us at a restaurant. He wasn’t even around but he was generous enough to buy us dinner all the way from Vermont. I had a nice country fried steak and then walked around to enjoy the beautiful city.
Day 45 – Build Day in Santa Fe, NM
On this build day, we weren’t supposed to meet until noon with the organization, so we had all morning to do whatever we wanted with our time. With a friend, we walked around the still sleeping city and enjoyed the peace and quiet. When places started finally opening up, we went to a little French café where the waitresses were all Hispanics. How’s that for some mixed culture?
For the Build Day, we worked with a local housing organization, called St. Elizabeth, that provides shelter for the homeless and many other services involving housing. This seems like a great organization, but all we did was pick up trash along the river for about an hour. This was one of the most disappointing build days that we had since we were not working in any way with the operations of the organization. To be fair, they would be picking up trash if we didn’t, so we did save them hours and money because of that. Even still, we had 27 people ready to help, and we had very little work. With the advance notice that we’ll be coming, you would think an organization would be able to put together something bigger for us.
Day 46 – Santa Fe, NM to Abiquiu, NM – 45 miles (van)
After a few great days in Santa Fe (a city that I’d love to go back to and spend more time), we headed to Abiquiu Lake, New Mexico. We took a gravel road up to the top of a mesa and were greeted by a guy named Danny and his wife, Gabriella. Danny had seen the Bike & Build come through several years in a row, so he contacted Bike & Build headquarters to get set up to host us. So this was his first year ever hosting and his smaller house with beautiful views of surrounding mountains and valleys.
We got there, and almost immediately he had refreshments out along with hot pasta. For dinner, he cooked out brats and had over friends and neighbors to join us. He even invited in a country western musician named Wiley Jim who yodeled and sang to the crowd for about an hour. Danny and Gabriella even had a clay tennis court up there. We set up our tents and camped out for the night (I didn’t even sleep in a tent, but under the stars). They are another example of strangers giving so much to us and the organization. Thanks Danny and Gabriella!
Here is Danny’s website with his videos and pictures from our stop there: http://newmexicooutdoor.com/Bike___Build.html
Day 47 – Abiquiu, NM to Cuba, NM – 100 miles (van)
On July 4th, we set out for Cuba, New Mexico. Marcus, being the patriotic American that he is, bought a 5’ x 3’ American flag, built a flagpole with PVC pipe, and heroically biked 104 miles while proudly showing his piece of art flying high over his bike. We stayed in a tiny church on a Navajo reservation literally in the middle of nowhere. These guys were also first time hosts, and they really treated us well. The preacher lived in a small house next door, and him and his wife made an enchilada casserole for us. Very spicy but extremely delicious. I was talking to the preacher, and he told us that this is one of the most dangerous areas of the country. I kind of laughed since we were literally just out there ourselves. Once every five minutes, you’d see a car go by in the distance. He said, “Really, this is an area with a very high crime rate.” I was very surprised. He explained that the poverty of the Native Americans here has caused many problems. He was actually worried about us biking on the main road with our bikes, saying that it’s not rare that people are mugged out there. He said that 9 girls at the local high school had committed suicide in the spring.
Being here and hearing about this really shocked me. It shows the deprivation and the problems in the Native American culture that, it seems to me, are often ignored. Throughout our history, Native Americans have been pushed aside and treated poorly. I honestly don’t have enough experience to judge how they are treated now, but I am not sure what’s happening to try to help these people get out of poverty. It’s a culture that does need help, but I believe their culture needs to keep their traditions and language as well (which seem to be getting less and less).
Day 48 – Cuba, NM to Farmington, NM – 102 miles (van)
We then did 102 miles to get to Farmington, New Mexico, and were greeted by the church sign, “Welcome Bike & Build!” It’s always a great welcome to see this. At night, I was on the laundry chore group, so we packed up our laundry burrito (literally 2 large tarps full of 27 people’s dirty clothes from the past 3 days wrapped up like a burrito). It’s the Bike & Build way.
Day 49 – Build Day in Farmington, NM
We worked with an organization called Echo in Farmington, who have a small elementary school there. They asked us to assemble a new playground that was just purchased. At first thought, this sounds like a relatively easy and quick task. We poured quick dry concrete and assembled pieces all day until 4pm and still didn’t finish! We almost got there, but unfortunately we had to leave before getting it all set up. It was still a cool and enjoyable day. Although I would like to see if the playground is in use now!
Day 50 – Farmington, NM to Teec Nos Pos, AZ – 55 miles (van)
We finally made it into Arizona! We passed within 6 miles of the four corners, but unfortunately the van didn’t stop there. We stayed in a small place in Teec Nos Pos, AZ, which is on a Navajo Reservation about 8 miles from the four corners. So with no other way to get out there, hitchhiking was the only way.
I stood on the main road holding up my thumb for about 3 minutes and a car had already stopped. It was a girl named Andrea and a guy named Michael, probably around 21 years old, both from there and 100% Native Americans. Friendly people who actually went out of their way to take me out to the four corners. They even drove me through the gate and got me in for free since I was with Native Americans!
The four corners was extremely touristy and not really worth going to. I guess I’m happy that I went, but never again will I go. It’s just a concrete structure marking where the 4 states supposedly meet. Nothing significant at all and very touristy.
It was more difficult getting back to town. I waited for about 15 minutes and probably watched 30 cars pass before someone stopped and let me into the back of his truck and went back to town.
Day 51 – Teec Nos Pos, AZ to Kayenta, AZ – 72 miles (van)
Then on to Kayenta. Kayenta is very close to the Monument Valley, so we had a few van loads of people to make the 20 miles drive out there. I had never heard of monument valley, but it was an incredible place. Many movies were filmed there, and you see pictures of it in television ads, etc. We arrived at about 5pm and stayed until after the sunset. Because of my knee, I just sat around. But the views of the bare desert with the mountains and colors were amazing. The sun casted light on that made the desert shine orange, and the sky was blue with a nice thunderstorm miles in the distance. The whole setting was just great to see, and I snapped many pictures and videos.
Day 52 – Kayenta, AZ to Kabito, AZ – 66 miles (van)
Kabito is a tiny town on the Navajo reservation. We stayed in a small church behind the gas station in the town. For dinner, several locals came and cooked us Navajo tacos, their fry bread with all the taco toppings (including really hot sauce). They were absolutely delicious and apparently are a Navajo specialty (but I wonder how far back this was started).
Day 53 – Kabito, AZ to Page, AZ – 37 miles (van)
Going to Page was one of the shortest days we had, so everyone pretty much got there around 10:30am. This was essentially a day off. Early in the afternoon, I used the computer for a while looking for jobs and also putting photos and videos on my hard drive. A bit later, we took a van load to Lake Powell, the local lake that was pretty much created by the dam. It was a beautiful day and was a fun time swimming and jumping off 20 foot rocks into the lake.
At night, the locals had a pot luck for us with tens of different types of food. They were very nice hosts and we had nice conversations with them. It was a great day “off” in Page!
Day 54 – Page, AZ to Jacob Lake, AZ – 80 miles (van)
The scenery to Jacob Lake was very nice…some very flat areas with spottings of mountains in the distance. The sky was very blue on this day which highlighted the colors around us. Going into Jacob Lake, there was a 10 mile climb, which was the biggest of the trip so far. It was cool to be at the top and see the flatlands below where we had just been. You could literally see in the distance for tens of miles, seeing the straight road disappear into the distance.
The surroundings changed towards the top of the mountain. We started to get into the highlands, and the desert changed to pine trees and a bit colder weather. I had no idea the landscape changes like this towards the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but it was a welcome change. We stayed at the campground in Jacob Lake and enjoyed the cooler weather.
Day 55 – Jacob Lake, AZ to North Rim, AZ – 43 miles (van)
We had a shorter ride to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of about 43 miles. The temperature was nice and in the 70s and 80s. We got to the campground at a good time and had the chance to do some hiking. Because of my knee, I tried to take it easy at least a little bit. We walked along the rim of the Grand Canyon taking in the views. The Grand Canyon is so much bigger than I expected, and I had high expectations. The vastness of the entire canyon was incredible. From most viewpoints, it wasn’t even possible to see the river at the bottom. And we were just seeing a small part of the entire canyon; we couldn’t even see the south side.
We walked along the top rim until the hotel and then relaxed there for a while. Obviously here, there were a lot of tourists. The parts before were pretty quiet, which made it even better. The North Rim is the lesser visited, whereas the South Rim is where most of the tourists come. It was cool to see the side that most people don’t.
Day 56 – Day off at North Rim, AZ (Grand Canyon)
On our day off, I did get to do some hiking (while trying to take it easy on my knee). I hiked along the top of the canyon since going down, I felt, would kill my knee. The weather changed very quickly several different times. We could see a storm coming in the distance with lightning and rain. Being out hiking, we had nowhere to go so we just had to take it while it passed. Then we had some sun before another storm came with rain. Seeing it all come from a distance was really cool. We got out to a viewpoint where we could really see the vastness of the north part of the canyon. Seeing it for 2 days never got old. It was very, very impressive.
At night, we were hosted by the park with an all-you-can-eat catfish dinner at the employee building. This was for all the park employees, but they invited us to come for dinner. The hot meal was good, and we took advantage of it by taking in as many calories as possible. With the rainy weather, it was also nice to have hot soups and hot chocolate. I got to sleep early since it was raining and I was exhausted from the hiking.
Day 57 – North Rim, AZ to Fredonia, AZ – 74 miles (van)
The weather coming out of the Grand Canyon was very rainy and cold. I was still in the van, but it was miserable for the riders because it was so cold. After 25 miles, everyone stopped at a little store/restaurant and warmed up. By the time they left, the weather was better and they continued on. We had to go back through Jacob Lake, so many people stopped at the hotel there for lunch. At that point, I got on my bike to test it out again. I rode for about 10 miles in the area while everyone was eating lunch. The knee felt pretty good, but I didn’t want to overdo it again, so I took the van the rest of the way.
Day 58 – Fredonia, AZ to Zion National Park, UT – 48 miles (van for 25 miles)
My knee finally was feeling better, and it had been for a few days. The last time I had tried to ride, I attempted to ride too early and reinjured it. I didn’t want that to happen again, so I waited 3-4 extra days without pain before giving it a try. Waiting was difficult, but injuring it again was not an option. I had also bought a knee brace that I wore while walking around and would wear when biking, and that seemed to help.
Since this was a short day, I decided to give it a try. I waited until lunch and then got my bike out of the van and got ready to ride the last 23 or so miles. This was probably the best time I could’ve gotten back onto the bike. After about 10 miles going up and down some hills with nice scenery, we got to the edge of Zion National Park. Even before entering the park, the surroundings were just beautiful. In the distance you could see the mountains which make up Zion.
I had never heard of Zion before this trip and I am not really sure how. Granted that I haven’t been to a lot of national parks in the US, this place is beautiful and just very unique. For about 13 miles, we descended. We bike on a two lane road that winded its way around desert mountains that were so close that it seemed we’d be riding up the next one around the corner. The whole feeling of biking again, being surrounded by mountains so close, and the pure luxury of going downhill made this one of the best rides of the summer. We’d stop and take pictures and admire the scenery, get back on the bikes and cruise another few miles, and then do it again.
There is one part that has tunnel of a mile or so through the mountain, and we were unable to bike through this. Rather than waiting for the van, my group hitchhiked with a nice Swiss couple who were there for vacation. They dropped us off on the other side where we gladly got back on the saddle for some more cruising.
Eventually, we got to the campground where we’d be staying for the night. After locking up the bikes and changing to shorts and tshirts, we took a bus up through the park to the trailhead of a hike called “The Narrows”. The hike was an easy mile hike in a valley before taking you straight through a small river…literally. We trudged through ankle deep water which then turned into knee deep and finally stomach deep. I’d never done a hike like this, but it was fun and unique and challenging with the flowing cold waters. I took my water proof GoPro and think I got some good pictures.
In the evening, I climbed up to a small plateau and watched a storm roll in. It was cool that I could see it from such a distance and watched it inch towards me. Eventually, I had to stop taking pictures and video and take cover down below where there were some buildings. After the storm passed, the stars shined bright on this summer night!
Day 59 – Zion National Park, UT to St. George, UT – 39 miles
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a full day off at Zion, but we did take advantage of what we could. Since we had a short day of 39 miles, most people went off hiking in the morning. I did a short hike of a few hours, which was pretty cool, and then walked back to the campground, grabbed the bike, and pedaled to St. George.
In St. George, we were welcomed by some enthusiastic workers from the local Habitat for Humanity. They loved the idea of Bike & Build and definitely showed that to us with their energy and enthusiasm.
Day 60 – Build Day at St. George, UT
St. George is a beautiful smaller city surrounded by mountains in southwest Utah. It seems to be a place where retirees like to come and live, and this is done with good reason. The mountains provide a nice backdrop to the city in all directions, and it seems to be a slower pace there.
For our build day, we were split up into smaller groups of 7 or 8 people and taken to different houses to help with the individual’s houses. I went to the house of an elderly woman who wasn’t able to work on her house, so we dug up weeds, helped reconstruct a fence, painted, and a few other random tasks. It definitely got hot during the day, but we still put in some good hours of work and got done around 3pm. In the evening, I biked with Chika over to the main part of town where a little fountain park was set up in the town square. The weather was perfect for the evening bike ride and we stopped in an ice cream shop on the way home to finish off the build day.
Day 61 – St. George, UT to Overton, NV – 92 miles
We started getting into what I would call the “real” desert on this ride. You could just feel it. The air was extremely dry, there was hardly any green, and it started to get bare. We were on a side road along the interstate when Marcus spotted the “Welcome to Nevada” sign on the interstate. We locked up our bikes and Froggered across the interstate to get a couple pictures with the sign.
At second lunch, I decided to call it a day because of my knee. It was feeling pretty good, but I didn’t want to push it too soon.
Day 62 – Overton, NV to Boulder City, NV – 72 miles
Going from Overton to Boulder City was an extremely challenging yet rewarding ride…for the first 40 miles. Up and down large hills/small mountains, through long and straight roads that never seemed to end, and seeing a double rainbow as bright as day. Then ending right before lunch with a very tough hills that were the toughest I had faced in a while. I felt great going into lunch. But that’s because it wasn’t so hot between 5:45am and 9:30am. After this, the heat just turned on. I got a flat tire 5 miles after lunch, and I was dead afterwards just after pumping it up. The sun was beating down and the dryness of the air was clearly only going to get worse. We continued on as it just got hotter and hotter and hardly any shelter. I had brought along a small umbrella, which helped a lot for those times when we stopped. We pushed and pushed, and it was not an easy ride, either. Finally, after a large hill with about 8 miles to go, my body had seemingly taken enough. I had to stop for a while til I got to feeling a bit better and then moved on. Eventually, it got to where every mile I would have to stop and rest up. With about 5 miles to go, I was with Holly and decided to call it quits. Coincidentally, a guy with a pickup pulled right up behind us when we were on the side of the road and offered us a ride. He was a local off-duty policeman who had seen us there and wanted to make sure we were okay. He then drove us to our host, which was up several hills in town. I definitely made the right decision in calling it a day when I did. If I had tried to do the last part, things would have been much worse.
I slept for 3 hours or so at the host, awoke for dinner, and then soon after went to be again. The way I felt, I think it was mild heat exhaustion. Like I said, I’m glad that I stopped when I did! I was planning on going into Las Vegas that night (about 30 miles away), but I obviously didn’t feel up to it after that bike ride.
Day 63 – Boulder City, NV to Pahrump, NV – 80 miles (van for 18 miles)
On this ride, I rode the first 35 miles, rode in the van for about 18 miles, then finished up the last 27. The reason for the 18 in the middle is because there is a big hill, uniquely named the “Hump to Pahrump” that I didn’t want to test on my knee. The ride overall wasn’t too bad. In the morning, we rode 4 miles from the strip and got some views from a distance. The last 27 miles were surprisingly easy with a tailwind.
In Pahrump, we had many community members be hosts where we split up into small groups, like in Athens, Texas. I was with Alex and we went to the house of two retirees who had moved there from New Jersey a few years back. They lived about 15 miles from town and had some horses and a small pond. They were a nice couple who made us feel at home. I fell asleep to the TV while sleeping in a real bed. This was luxury!
Day 64 – Pahrump, NV to Baker, CA – 84 miles
Pahrump to Baker was the hardest ride we had for one reason…the heat! Going just south of Death Valley, It just got hotter and hotter throughout the day. We started the day at sunrise (5:45am) and got through the first 40 miles pretty handily. After 40 miles, we all stopped where there was some shade along a big wall of rock. We still hadn’t seen the van come by for lunch, and it’s usually at 35-40 miles at that time. We waited and waited with no signal. Finally, Alex hitchhiked a ride back to the closest town and found out the van had had a flat tire and was being fixed. After an hour and a half of waiting, the van finally came and we refueled for the ride ahead. By this point, the heat was getting up there, but we kept riding and re-hydrating.
In the early afternoon, it got up to the hottest temperature I’ve ever felt in my life. We worked our way up and up over a hill and finally got to the top with a sign pointing out that we had an 8 mile descent at about a 5% grade. This is biker heaven, especially with this kind of heat. Against all of my beliefs and prior experience, going down the hill actually made the heat worse. Literally, it felt like an oven. It hurt my eyes through my sunglasses and almost felt like your skin was burning. It was so hot and dry that you didn’t sweat, it just evaporated right off of you. This hill was almost funny. I’ve never felt like that before and I’m not sure if I’d want to do it again. But at the time, it was surreal. The actual temperature got up to the 125-130 degree range. Absolutely ridiculous to be biking 84 miles through.
After this hill, it was a downright struggle. The heat was just too much, our body was using too much water, and it was just rough. Because of the van’s flat tire, it was very far behind us and unable to keep us and our camelbaks rehydrated. At one point, a group of us stopped and found the little shade that someone had found. A lot of us were out of water and others were low. So what’s the rational thing to do? Start stopping passing cars to see if they have extra water. This is when random acts of kindness really blow you away. Most people did have some extra water to spare and were happy to give it to us. But then there are people like Randy and Chellie, a passing couple driving back to their home only 50 miles away. Randy and Chellie stopped and gave the water they had to the first group of bikers they saw. Knowing there were more ahead, they drove back to the nearest town 30 miles back, filled up their coolers with water and ice and gatorade, and then made stops at each Bike & Build group. After they did this once and ran out of supplies, they went and did it again. This giving just from pure generosity was really amazing. Without them, we wouldn’t have made it to Baker that day. They even gave us wet rags to cool down. Their kindness will always be appreciated and never forgotten!
So finally the van caught up to us with about 20 miles left. I was absolutely drained as we sat in the van to get cooled off. Knowing that there were 20 miles left was torture. After about a 45 minute break, we went for it. The heat was still there, but it was gradually cooling down. The first 10 miles were still tough, but the sun started setting and the temperature got down to the 90s with no sun. After this, the only way we wouldn’t have made it was the lack of light. So we got a 2nd wind (or rather 15th) and cruised into town with our headlights and taillights flashing.
The full day of biking from 5:45am to 9:00pm was one of the most challenging days but also the most rewarding, knowing that we had accomplished that. Biking 84 miles in the 120s is, looking back, probably one of the stupidest things I’ve done. But knowing that we finished the ride is something that I’ll always have!
Day 65 – Baker, CA to Barstow, CA – 56 miles (van 28 miles)
A day after the hottest day of the summer, I had what I’ll call a “hangover”. My body was still feeling the affects of the days before in the heat, and it was not cooperating. Even though the ride was pretty easy, I just did not feel good. I biked until lunch (mile 28) but finished the day in the van.
In Barstow, we stayed in a little hostel type place which we had reserved. There were two small buildings, one full of bunch beds and the other a few bunk beds, a kitchen, and a shower.
At night, we ate at a tourist restaurant in the small ghost town of Calico. Calico is kind of a strange town with the theme of being a ghost town. Whether it actually used to be a real town, I’m not sure. But to enter in the daytime, you have to pay…to get into the town. It was an interesting place to walk around, and the host who provided as dinner at her restaurant was extremely generous. Her restaurant was actually closed, but she had her staff make us a pasta dinner. Many people then went back to her house where she has a lake and other stuff to do. I decided to head back and catch up on some sleep!
Day 66 – Barstow, CA to Ridgecrest, CA – 89 miles
The ride to Ridgecrest was yet another difficult one. 89 miles in that kind of heat is never easy. We stopped at McDonalds along the way and a few other places. I was having bike troubles at the beginning of the day with flat tires, so I ended up riding with sweep the whole way at the very back of the group. We had a good climb up through some mountains about 20 miles before getting to Ridgecrest. Up in the mountains, there was a small town with a gas station, so that was our safe haven to rest and rehydrate with water and gatorade. About half the people who walked into the gas station commented on how crazy we were. After hearing so many times throughout our trip how crazy we are, it’s hard not to believe it. But we consider it crazy in a good way!
The 10 miles after the gas station were still pretty difficult. But the last 10 were perfect to end a day. It was essentially all downhill right into the city, so we had a good 30-35 mph pace going all the way to the end with ease. Once at the host, I was on dinner crew so I had struggle my way through cooking dinner. This is one of the most difficult parts of the Bike & Build experience. As if biking 90 miles in that kind of heat weren’t enough, trying to work up the energy to cook for 27 people is not easy.
Day 67 – Build Day at Ridgecrest, CA
Our build day consisted of everyone’s favorite job…destruction. The local Habitat bought a piece of land a few years back with an abandoned building that was pretty much useless. They let us do the remaining destruction work and throw rocks/other pieces into a trailer to be towed away. Destruction is much more work than it sounds. When it involves taking down walls and bashing walls in with a sledgehammer to find the support poles, it’s all pretty tough work. The people at Habitat for very well prepared for us and provided us a nice lunch made by locals. It was another hot day but a pretty good “build” day!
Day 68 – Ridgecrest, CA to Lone Pine, CA – 79 miles
Heading north to Lone Pine started a few great days that cyclists always love…a strong tailwind. We biked in a valley surrounded by mountains on both our left and right. Just over the mountains to our right was Death Valley. On our left were the Sierras. We had 20 mph tailwinds pretty much the whole day. If this isn’t perfect, then I don’t know what is. I was riding with Marcus on this day, and we were cruising. We were going so fast that we actually completely missed second lunch. Because of that, we were the first ones to the RV park just south of Lone Pine, our host for the night. We covered all 79 miles by 12:30pm. Not too bad of a feat and largely due to the tailwind (and a little bit due to being in shape after 3,000 miles!).
At the RV resort, we took advantage of the swimming pool. The owner of the RV park made a very good meal for us and even provided wine and beer. Thanks again to the RV park for hosting us!
Day 69 – Lone Pine, CA to Bishop, CA – 63 miles
After a tremendous breakfast, we kept heading north with the nice tailwind. Another easy day through the valley. Even though these were 79 and 63 mile days, it gave us a good rest before what we’d all been looking forward to, which was going up Tioga Pass and into Yosemite National Park.
Bishop was a quaint town surrounded by mountains. We stayed at a small church, and, again, I was on dinner crew so we cooked up a nice chili.
Day 70 – Bishop, CA to Lee Vining, CA
We started the day just looking ahead to the next day of Tioga Pass. What we didn’t expect was how difficult this day would be. After about 10 miles, we started an ascent that didn’t seem like it’d be too bad. What we didn’t expect was 15 miles uphill. We worked our way up a steady climb, as the views just got better and better. After that hill, we figured it was all downhill from there. We even went over a pass of 8,000 feet. Since we had a climb up to 10,000 feet the next day, we figured the hard part was over. Well it continued to be difficult. The whole ride was up and down, and we could eventually feel very close to Yosemite. The mountains, the lakes, and the all around scenery. Mentally, we weren’t prepared, but it was one of the more difficult rides of the trip. It did come with some reward towards the end, though.
About 15 miles away from Lee Vining, we had a major downhill along with a strong tailwind. This combination along with the length of the downhill turned into a great rush. It started and I felt I was going fast…I looked down and I was at 40mph. I was thinking, “Alright, 40. Awesome!”. Then I looked down again and it shows 45mph. “Never been this fast before!”. Then a few minutes later…53.8mph! At that point, I decided it wasn’t a good idea to look down at my speedometer. We were flying. It was an incredible feeling of wind in your face, the speed of the road going under the tires, and the obvious danger going along with going almost 55mph. I just held on. I don’t think I had pedaled since 40mph or so. It was a moment that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Lee Vining is at the base of a mountain and looks over Mono Lake. After getting to the host, I filled my post ride with a burger and a beer from a local pub. Later in the evening, our team went over to the community center for a “fashion show”. It wasn’t a normal fashion show, though. It was a fundraiser. And what better way to raise money than have people dress up in costumes of their choice and introduce them on the runway. About 10 members of our team participated and walked the runway from anything from a rock to Hannah Montana. Was a fun night to spend while meeting others in the community.
Day 71 – Lee Vining, CA to Yosemite National Park, CA – 76 miles
We all woke up pretty pumped for the challenge ahead of us called Tioga Pass…12 miles uphill at an average 8% grade and sometimes as steep as 15%. We’d been talking about it since before the trip. At this point, we were all pretty confident with the shape we were in and probably a lot less nervous about Tioga Pass now than 2 months earlier. The morning air was brisk which is a definite advantage. A lot of us started out with arm warmers which were quick to come off.
For me, it was all just a slow and steady climb. Never having a downhill was discouraging, but slowly counting down the miles helped knowing there was an end in sight. I worked my way up it at an average of about 5mph, just down the almost 55mph I was doing the day before. I rode with Jay for a while, then we started going at our own paces, kind of passing each other back and forth. Along the way were beautiful views…one of the road we had just climbed with forest down below it, one with a high altitude lake, and then a few other lakes with deep blue water surrounded by mountains.
Going nice and easy wasn’t too bad. Marcus, on the other hand, was trying to beat a record on a website called Strava, which allows people to time their rides and compete with others. Marcus got to the top of the 12 mile stretch in about an hour and ten minutes, but not without vomiting three times. He did manage to set the record. I made it up in an hour and fifty minutes with breaks.
At the top, after getting through Yosemite’s entrance, we all waited for everyone to make it. The sun had come out, and we all just kind of sat around and hung out. Nate was chalking the road with a tally of everyone making it up, showing how many of us had beaten Tioga. We got a team picture at the top, and then we went on our way.
What we didn’t realize was the difficulty of the rest of the ride. Tioga Pass gets up to almost 10,000 feet, so we thought we’d just be going down from there. We were wrong. We still have 64 miles to go that we had overlooked. It turned out to be a really good ride, but very hilly and a lot of cars. Apparently, people lose all sense of safe driving when they’re in national parks. Just my group alone had many close calls of cars trying to pass us around curves and over hills where they had to almost cut us off to get back in the right lane.
Pretty much the rest of the ride was going up and down hills. As always, we got some good speed going down some of these monstrous hills. One of the last hills was a good 10 mile drop while going through tunnels and winding around curves with views of an open field down and on the right. We finally got to the campground and then took a walk around the park. We stayed in a local school which teaches kids of the the park workers.
Day 72 – Day Off at Yosemite National Park
One of our four days off was conveniently at Yosemite, obviously a prime location for some extra time. We had all decided to do the Half-Dome hike, so we all entered a lottery system to get passes. Because so many of us wanted to go, we were able to place enough entries into the lottery (4 per person) to get the passes. So 18 of us woke up early and got a start at sunrise.
Half-Dome is a 22 mile round trip hike that is highlighted by the steep climb up a huge, solid rock. Going up the rock, all you have is cables to hang on to and the occasional wooden board to give you more traction and a place to rest. If that doesn’t sound daunting enough, try tacking on a 10 mile up-hill hike to get to the base of Half-Dome.
Hiking up Half-Dome was like nothing I had ever done before. It was one of the most difficult things I have done, but I am very happy to have done it. It was absolutely frightening to be climbing up hundreds of feet and to look left and right and not see a thing that would stop you if you fell. Many people brought rock climbing harnesses to strap on which made it more secure, but we didn’t have that luxury. I just had some slippery tennis shoes, a few gloves, and all the strength I could manage to use in my upper body. For the physical and mental challenge, I’d say this is one of my greatest feats. Getting to the top of the rock and seeing the views of the Yosemite valley below and all of the surrounding mountains was incredible. Far down below and in the distance, we could see the area where our host was located. Luckily, I was in probably the best physical shape of my life to do this. If not, I’m not sure if I would’ve made it.
The way down the rock was overall easier. I used a fireman style of climbing down, almost sliding my hands down with the cable. It did use a long of energy but it felt more secure. I felt relieved after getting down. The 10 mile hike back was not easy, and we made it harder on ourselves by not bringing enough water. We found some people who had a water disinfecting system, so we were helped out a ton by getting water with them. We finally got back to the campground at about 9:30pm after starting the hike at 5:45am. Not the relaxing day off that a lot of people would want, but it was well worth the effort.
Day 73 – Yosemite National Park, CA to Oakhurst, CA – 70 miles
I was one of the lucky two to be sweep on this day. I was with Emily in the back of the pack with the extra tubes and first aid kit. What should’ve been a day where we get in at 3pm turned into a day we got in at 7pm. The ride in general was pretty good, though. The first 25 miles took us just over an hour as we descended and then had a nice tailwind. After that, though, it became very hilly with some decent climbs. With about 10 miles left, Alicia found a bunch of blackberry bushes. These were just full of blackberries, so I just feasted for myself while she collected for later. It’s hard to help yourself while picking fresh fruits. For me, it’s almost impossible not to eat all of what I pick. The ride finished with several hills when I thought that each one was the last one.
Day 74 – Oakhurst, CA to Fresno, CA – 59 miles
Coming out of Oakhurst, we had a huge unexpected climb. What was probably about 10 miles of climbing was actually harder than Tioga Pass a few days earlier. Maybe it was because our legs were still sore from Tioga and Half-Dome, but this was tough. Some of the hill was steeper than any of the parts at Tioga. Seriously going 4mph is tough to handle up a big hill. But as always, we got through it.
The rest of the way was a pretty easy ride. There was a road closure as they were blowing up a cliff to later turn a 2 lane road to a 4 lane road. So we waited until we got in with the pilot pickup truck and caught a ride across with him. After this, Nate and I cruised into Fresno and arrived early in the afternoon.
Afterwards, I went straight to McDonalds to refuel with plenty of high fat foods and a lot of Powerade. Throughout the summer, McDonalds and a few other fast food restaurants became almost critical for us. Never have I eaten so much fast food. But when the temperatures get so high, you are burning so many calories, and you feel like you can eat anything, these places became daily stops. When you get can all you can drink Powerade for a dollar, or 1,500 calories for $4, they proved to be pretty powerful. Not to mention the ice cream and just cold drinks in general. Because of that, we spent plenty of time in fast food places, and the time seemed to steadily increase as the summer went on.
The church we stayed at in Fresno made us dinner both nights we were there. This was the first time they had hosted Bike & Build and they were definitely great!
Day 75 – Build Day in Fresno, CA
In Fresno, Habitat has several houses in a community. All these houses are located within a few blocks of each other, so our group was split into 4 different sites. I chose to go with the roofing site despite the heat, since I had not yet learned how to do roofing. We worked with 2 workers from Habitat as they showed us the ropes. They were hard workers and very organized, so it was great working with them. By the end of the day, we had finished about 1/3 of the roofing on the house. This is in over 105 degree heat where the shingles are almost melting.
Fresno has a big Laos population, and Habitat seems to work closely with the community in providing better homes. For lunch on our build day, a few local women made homemade spring rolls. They were just any spring rolls; they were the Fresno award winning spring rolls. I downed at least 15 of these by the time they were gone.
Day 76 – Fresno, CA to Hollister, CA – 115 miles
Our last ride of the trip over 100 miles. I was sweep for the day which proved to be a long one. The previous night, we started looking over grant proposals. Part of the responsibility of Bike & Build riders is choosing grant winners a good portion of the money we raised. All of the grant proposals were laying out on the table, and I wanted to get a start on looking over these since I knew the following day would be almost impossible to have the time. I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep.
We started the day a bit later, around 7am. The ride wasn’t too tough in the beginning, since it was flat and not excruciatingly hot. However, since 115 miles were in store for us, there was no way to miss the heat. At one point, I actually found myself almost falling asleep on the bike between the heat and the lack of sleep the night before. I stopped and took a 5 minute nap and felt a little recharged, or at least enough to last me for a while. It was dry and hot with not too many cars around. We got to mile 75 around 5pm and had a nice stop at a bar almost in the middle of nowhere. There, I bought some gatorade and we had second lunch with the van right outside the bar. The winds had started up, and we had a strong headwind going straight west. The 5 miles right after second lunch were some of the hardest, pedaling with all I had and only going about 8 miles per hour. Fortunately, we then got into the hills and the wind died down. The next 20 miles were great, going up, down, and around these hills with actually green spots (trees, grass, etc). The sun was starting to go down and was cooling off. It was very fitting for our last big biking day.
By the time we rolled into Hollister, it was pretty much completely dark. It was already about 9pm when we got to the local YMCA to stay for the night. After downing a good 2,000 calories of pizza, I showered, and then joined in on the grant discussion. As a group, we selected about $50,000 worth of projects to fund. The projects we picked ranged from Habitats we had worked with to other organizations we’d never heard of but liked the project. The projects were required to drive youth involvement. I don’t remember the exact projects we had picked, but we will received updates in the future about the status of the project.
Day 77 – Hollister, CA to Monterey, CA – 40 miles
I woke up in the morning and found that most of the others were out watching a powerpoint presentation that one of the leaders, Jack, had put together of his pictures from the trip. It was hard to believe that this was the last day of the trip. Ironically, our last day was overall the coldest of the summer. Almost everyone started out with arm warmers or rain jackets in the misty and foggy morning. Even though it was just 40 miles, we started around 7am so we could take our time. We went through our last set of small mountains, which were covered in fog to the point where it was hard to go fast without worrying. The fog left maybe 40 feet of visibility. After getting through the mountains, we finally got to a small town about 20 miles outside of Monterey. I was one of the first groups there, so we stopped and got a coffee since we were freezing. After 2 hours, almost everyone was hanging out at the gas station drinking coffee or hot chocolate. The entire day was just so much different from the first 81 days. Never would we have dreamed of coffee and hot chocolate in earlier days (especially just a few weeks before in the 125 degree heat).
After this, we all hopped back on our bikes (most of us feeling pretty good after the huge amount of caffeine intake) and continued on towards the coast. We pedaled in between strawberry fields and admired the greenery and enjoyed the cool weather (I was enjoying it, at least). With just 3 miles left, we stopped for lunch and to all gather. The leaders said some words, Jay ate his first peanut butter sandwich of the trip (he hates peanut butter), and the excitement built.
The final 3 miles, we all rode together on the bike trail leading to the beach where friends and family awaited. Marcus led with his oversized American flag waving, the leaders were in the back, and I tried to not crash while I GoProed it all. When we got to the beach, we threw down our bikes and ran into the cold bay waters. The water was freezing but after biking 4,000 miles to get here, it was hard to get out. We had been through a lot in the past 82 days, and the icy cold waters made it a reality that we had made it. All 27 of us started in the Atlantic and ended in the Pacific. I must say that I was happy to be done but even happier with what we had just accomplished.
After finally returning to land, food and drinks awaited for us along with friends and family. I’m sure most of us ate our fair share of foods that we’d all been craving. We hung around for a few more hours before everyone fizzled out. Many left for good from there but many stuck around Monterey.
As for me, I enjoyed my free time with no schedule and not having someone tell me when to get up. I got some much needed sleep and enjoyed the bay area for a few days. I welcomed the colder, sweatshirt weather after an extremely hot summer. After trips like this, it seems like it all passed by in a blur. But looking back at pictures and thinking about everything we had done, it was several year’s worth of memories.