Students bike across nation for a good cause

By KATRINA TULLOCH ([email protected])

Some students spend their summers relaxing. Some visit family.  Some get a job. Arthur Huang, an English major and Chinese studies minor, and Melissa Danielson, a studio art major and psychology minor, will spend next summer biking across the United States.

Huang and Danielson will be touring with the service organization, Bike and Build, which raises funds for affordable housing projects and cycles young adults all across the United States to help build those houses. Huang’s route will be from Providence, R.I. to San Francisco, Calif.  Danielson’s route will be from Charleston, S.C. to Santa Cruz, Calif.

Photo courtesy of http://bikeandbuild.org

Danielson, ’10, had uncertainties when applying for the program.

“I thought, I don’t know, can I do this?  Can I bike across the country?  Because I’m not an avid biker at all,” Danielson said. “But I decided just to go for it…I got waitlisted until a few days before Christmas, then I got an e-mail saying I got my first choice route and I was ecstatic.”

This is the first time Arthur Huang has done anything like this as well.

“I heard about it through a Davies leader,” said Huang, ‘12.  “Someone introduced me to Ben [Buchanan], a student who did it last summer. He told me it’s pretty easy for a novice rider, so I’m not too scared.”

According to bikeandbuild.org, Bike and Build has contributed $2,305,345 to housing groups to fund projects planned and executed by young adults since 2003.

“I think the issue of affordable housing in general is kind of a hidden epidemic,” Danielson said. “There are so many people right on the cusp of facing that issue, and so many people who just fall between the cracks, you know?  I think it’s awesome that we not only raise the money but do the labor too.”

The over two million dollars raised by Bike and Build since its launch includes the $662,200 donated from the summer of 2009, when Bennett Buchanan, ’11, first joined. Danielson first heard about the project from Buchanan who first heard about it while spending a summer in Colorado.

“I was on this moonlight bike ride with some random cyclists,” Buchanan said. “I was telling them how I wanted to cycle across the U.S., but I didn’t know who to do it with. One of the guys had done the Habitat Bike Challenge, which isn’t around anymore, but Bike and Build is modeled after that.”

Even after being accepted to participate in the project, staying in is no small feat.

“Each rider has to raise $4,000,” Buchanan said.

What if you don’t meet that goal?

“Then you don’t ride,” Buchanan said, cracking a smile.

Huang and Danielson have already begun feverishly fundraising.

“Bonner is giving me $3,000 to go, and the rest I need to fundraise on my own,” Huang said.

Huang turned to the Allegheny Student Government as well, which allotted $300 to him for the trip.

“I expected to get more but there’s a $300 cap for personal trips,” Huang said.

The majority of these funds will go directly to the affordable housing groups, such as Habitat for Humanity. Bike and Build riders stop at construction sites along their route to help build homes for the sponsored families.

“Those would be our rest days,” Huang joked.

“Having a habitat house is cheaper because it’s built by volunteers and a lot of the appliances are donated,” Buchanan said. “It was really great during the build because you’re laying the foundation down with the family who’ll be living there. Or there’ll be a guy watching you put up the wall to his future bedroom. You’ll have dinner with the family you’re building for. It’s just such a cool experience.”

Habitat for Humanity can take advantage of this project locally as well.

“Towns can apply for grants,” Buchanan said. “We could have a Bike-and-Build route go through Meadville if someone submitted a grant.”

Buchanan describes the project as an incredible learning experience.

“I would say it’s empowering, if anything, in one word. Because you learn so much all at once. I learned a shitload about fundraising,” Buchanan said. “I definitely didn’t think I could do it. I was writing tons and ton of letters to everybody. I really got past the whole taboo of asking people for money, not even feeling bad about it, like ‘Hey, you wanna give me a hundred dollars?’”

Buchanan got most of his money from close friends and family but the college helped too.

“I got a decent amount from ACCEL, which was awesome, to buy my gear,” he said.

Buchanan definitely recommends the experience to students at Allegheny.

“I feel like it’s good for people with a sense of adventure,” Buchanan said.  “I just think it’s so amazing, they’re all 18-25 year olds riding. And it’s really cool that even if you don’t have money or you’re not in shape, because if you sign up, you can make it happen.”

Buchanan rode his bike last summer from the outer banks of North Carolina to San Diego. His route brought him through Tennessee, through Oklahoma, into Kansas, through Colorado, down to Arizona and across Southern California. Buchanan’s favorite stop was in Colorado.

“I love the culture and scenery,” Buchanan said. “We also went by the Grand Canyon…The Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina were unexpectedly tough cycling, Kansas was pretty cool. Kind of smelly. Lots of cattle.”

The end of the route doesn’t always mean the end of the ride.

“Some people ride their bikes home,” Huang said. “I think I’m just gonna fly home.”

But not before the celebration where everyone dips their tires on the West Coast, according to Huang.

This is the Bike and Build tradition known as the “wheel-dipping ceremony,” where the riders start their routes by dipping their back tires in the Atlantic and end by dipping their front tires in the Pacific.

“Just so we can say we rode ocean to ocean,” Buchanan shakes his head and laughs. “It’s actually really bad for the bike.  Sand gets in your wheels and salt water really isn’t good for your tires.”

Danielson is excited to bring her experience as an art major to her expedition.

“We’re not supposed to pack a lot for the trip but I’m bringing my paints,” Danielson said.  “I want to try and paint something for every place we go, even if it’s just a little index card.”

Having already biked across the nation, Buchanan plans to tour in different parts of the world, with Europe in mind for his next destination. But until then, he is adamant on promoting Huang and Danielson for this summer.

“I remember when I was fundraising; anything to spark a new donation was really, really good,” Buchanan said.

Danielson and Huang plan to hold a fundraising bake sale later this semester.

“The tagline is going to be ‘Baker turned Biker,” Danielson said.

To make donations to Arthur Huang and Melissa Danielson’s routes, go to bikeandbuild.org and click on their personal biographies. There is a chart on the site that will track all the riders so sponsors can watch the progress of the people to whom they have donated.