As quickly as it sneaked up, orientation quickly passed by. Everyone met early afternoon on Wednesday in a community church in Atlantic Beach, FL, just outside of Jacksonville. Orientation was essentially meeting everyone, team building exercises, and bike and safety training. We definitely went through some important information about riding safely in groups and what to look for on the road. We also went on a 15 mile practice ride, right after we had went to a parking lot to practice starting and stopping (bikes with cleats and clip on pedals are much more complicated) and signaling. The 15 mile ride was great, biking through some nicer neighborhoods of Atlantic Beach and also going through plenty of hard rain. At one point we had to stop because of close lightning. But we finished up and ended up back at the church for more presentations.
A few things I wanted to comment on. The team part of the trip will play a much bigger part than I originally expected. It’s not going to be a bunch of individuals biking across the country. We do everything together…from waking up at the same time with a wake up call, eating all meals, riding, and everything in between. We have “chore” groups assigned for each day for certain tasks, like setting up breakfast, cleaning up the place we stayed, and so on. We are a large group with 27 of us, so to keep things rolling we’ll be working together.
One thing I hadn’t really thought too much into, which I found might be the best part of the trip, is the hosts. We’ll be meeting new people every night who are welcoming us to stay with them, feeding us dinner, and just all around hosting us in their cities. We’ve been told that people are really excited about meeting us because of what we’re doing. Most towns we go through are regulars on the route, so they know what to expect but look forward to having us. I’ve already had some great conversations with people I’ve met at different places. Having the chance to talk to different locals every day intrigues me. Finding out about their lives, their towns, their sports, their food. And everyone is extremely friendly.
And speaking of food…the FOOD! In the 3 days I’ve been here, we have been fed. People or restaurants have donated pretty much every meal, and it is incredible. Mexican, BBQ, pastas. The problem is that I am eating so much and can’t stop, but the good thing is that it’s not a problem. When we’re biking 75 miles a day, I can eat whatever I want to pack in the calories. Last night, we had BBQ donated to us. Ribs, chicken, turkey, beans, sweet potatoes, y sweet tea. I literally ate for 40 minutes and couldn’t stop. And the sweet tea, that stuff is addicting. I’m talking like 5 cups before stopping addicted. That will not get old and am considering filling some water bottles with it.
After dinner, we went bowling where we had gotten coupons for a free game. I luckily bowled the game of my life after at least of a year without bowling, and I ended with a 195. Not sure how many more times in my life I will get that close to 200. With one lucky game, everyone thinks I am a bowling pro. Little do they know that I usually average a 120 or so.
Today, we had our first build day. We went over to the local Habitat and were introduced, and then we were split up into 3 different groups at different build sites. We worked for about 3 hours in the morning and another 3 in the afternoon. We painted, put in installation, and installed some plastic ceilings for patios.
Afterwards, we got some showers at a local fitness club. This will become a common thing, I think. They just allow us to use their showers and that’s it. This one had a sauna in the bathroom that I took advantage of both days. The ratio of girls to guys is ridiculous. There are 19 girls and 8 guys. That means that when we go somewhere to shower, the guys are done with plenty of time. That means when there are saunas available, more time to relax. And, also, I hope that it means we will have plenty of extra food!
After the showers, we headed over to a different local church that set up a dinner for us. About 7 women cooked pasta for all of us in their little banquet room. The Bike & Build presentation was given to explain our trip, which we’ll make pretty much every night. The people at this church were very, very friendly. Very welcoming, great food (and never-ending sweet tea), and had some great conversations with them. I also talked with a mother and daughter, Sirita and Janelle. I hope that I have convinced Janelle to do Bike & Bike in a few years!
No doubt, meeting the people will be one of the best and most rewarding parts of the trip. After just a few days, this has been the most memorable part. The food doesn’t hurt either. If I come back a bit fatter after my trip, even though I had just biked 4,000 miles, you’ll know exactly why.
Day 1 – Atlantic Beach, FL to St Augustine, FL – 35 miles
We started out day 1 with all of our chores groups, getting everything ready like we will be doing for the next 11 weeks. We packed everything up, ate breakfast, got our bikes ready, then headed to the beach. With some locals from Habitat there, we dipped our tires in the Atlantic Ocean. I had a nice conversation with a mother of two named January who has lived in a Habitat house for 6 years now. Along with the 0% interest mortgage on the house which was sold at cost, her kids will have scholarships from Habitat to go to college. Meeting people like January is extremely empowering and rewarding. It’s helping people like her that we’re pedaling for.
After a pre-start swim, we set off west. Following the coastline south, we passed monstrous houses, country clubs, and many other bikers. Within an hour, we had already stopped at another beach for a swim. We might as well take advantage of being by the ocean while we can.
Halfway, we stopped for lunch and had some leftover bbq ribs, chicken, turkey, and a random spread of bread, peanut butter, granola bars, etc. Leftover ribs after 15 miles of biking is extremely satisfying.
We made it to St. Augustine, a beautiful little city near the coast. I didn’t know this before, but St. Augustine is apparently the oldest city in the US. It’s a city with beautiful Spanish architecture, and there happened to be a big Spanish festival going on when we arrived. Typical dances, live music, and various other events filled up the day. After arriving, I took an extra 10 miles bike ride to get to the beach and back. I have to take advantage.
At night, we painted the trailer that holds all of our stuff. Very creative people came up with great ideas and we all chipped in to paint.
Day 2 – St. Augustine to Patatka – 40 miles
We had to get out of the church early, so a 5am wakeup call greeted us. The morning routine followed, then we started the journey. A few of us stopped at the lighthouse in St. Augustine and happened to spot a few sea turtles while on the dock. Then another beach stop. Then a stop at a conservatory for a 45 minute hike each way in the hot Florida sun (as if biking 40 miles wasn’t enough exercise). We made it to a swampy marshland where a salty river flowed through. I was pretty dead after the hike, but made it the last 12 miles to lunch. After a nice break, we booked it to Patatka for the last 13 miles, going an average of 17.5 mph.
After a shower, I walked around town and ended up hearing live music at a bar. I went in and found a biker bar with a blues jam session going on. I was the youngest person in the bar by at least 25 years, and I was the only guy without a beard. But as always, talking to some of the local people proved interesting.
Later, we were invited to a city church gathering. 5 local churches were putting on a bbq in the park, so we joined them. Everyone was extremely interested in the trip and very generous. Afterwards, a few of our teammates gave a presentation, and a lot of the people even gave money for donations. Really, the generosity and caring of the people is moving. Everywhere we go, people are treating us well.
Tomorrow is our first “real” biking day with 75 miles or so. I’m trying to rest my already sore legs to make it to our destination.