Saturday, August 31, 2013

Last night as just us

August 30, 2013
Santa Clarita, CA to Santa Paula, CA

Second to last day of riding!! It's still hard to believe that the trip is ending, but it quickly is. Today was a really short day, just 34 miles, so we took our time leaving Santa Clarita by getting Starbucks. A very typical ME2SB13 thing to do if you couldn't tell. The ride itself wasn't very eventful--we were on the same highway for most of the ride. There was quite a bit of debris in the shoulder that we were looking out for. Abby did a wonderful job of pointing out all of it and having fun at the same time. The scenery was again amazing with rolling mountains and green farm fields at their foothills. 

At lunch we visited a few thrift shops. At one we found this amazing pedicab!  The shop owners let us take it for a spin and I hopped in the back! It also has a CD player with subwoofers on the back, but they didn't have the right batteries to use it. 

It was still an amazing ride regardless. Jeff and Emily took it for a spin after Natalie and I were finished. We sure were a sight. 

After lunch we quickly made it to Santa Paula. My parents flew in to LAX from Philadelphia this morning and so they swung by the church we were staying at on their way up to Santa Barbara. It was crazy to see them knowing they had been on the easy coast that morning and it had taken me all summer to make it here on my bike. Tonight my chore group gave our first and only dinner presentation about Bike & Build to our hosts. Since we hadn't done one all summer, we had the lucky privilege of doing this one even though it wasn't our job. Afterwards, our leaders gave us all personalized supersize awards for the summer in small shimmery notebooks that we can all sign like yearbooks. I got "Best Hitchhiker" to commemorate the time I got Chris a ride in Oklahoma when he got a flat we couldn't fix. We spent the rest of the night writing in each others notebooks and sitting outside by the bonfire. It was a really great way to being some closure to our trip with each other as we all prepare to go desperate ways really soon. 

A day at the park

August 29, 2013
Palmdale, CA to Santa Clarita, CA

We start our last three days of biking today! We've been calling them the three Santas because first we go to Santa Clarita, then Santa Paula, and finally Santa Barbara. Pretty hard to believe we've made it this far! This morning I found out that Six Flags Magic Mountain is basically in Santa Clarita and that it could be very possible to go there today. Even though I left in the last group of the morning, since we didn't stop for Starbucks we were out front for most of the ride. Not too far into the morning ride, Jeff reached 4000 miles! I don't think I'll reach that exactly, but it's definitely getting close. If only my bike computer hadn't decided to not work all the time... Regardless, I am still super impressed by everyone on this trip for making it this far. To make us seem even more awesome though, today's ride included a stretch of race course for a California bike race. Part of the race includes a King of the Mountains award and our route today included one of the peaks. It was a hard hill to get up--definitely not something I'd want to race. 

The downhill on the other side was so incredible though that it was worth all the pain of climbing. We stopped at the trailer for lunch along the downhill and took a quick splash in the shallow creek that was along the side of the road. It was quite refreshing and I stuck my head under a small waterfall to cool off. 

Back on our way, at least 85% of the rest of the ride was downhill. It was unreal and amazing! The scenery was also gorgeous--mountainous and very California. We got to the host site in amazing time, and pretty soon after started biking to Six Flags, which was only about 6 miles away. After a little confusing about group rates if our while group wasn't there at once, we were in the park taking on all of the roller coasters! Usually I'm pretty scared of roller coasters but this trip has made me feel like I can do anything so I just went for everything. I am so glad I did! We had a group of 8 and had an absolute blast for almost 5 hours in the park. My favorites were the one where it rotates you 90° so you're flying like superman and the ride actually called Superman. We also got some pictures with the local super heros in spandex. 

We made it back for 6pm dinner and then a group of us went out for Rita's--the first Rita's in Southern California! I tasted just like home. The night was then spent doing nails, chatting with Sam, and watching chick movies.  So relaxing. I love this group. 

Building with YouthBuild

August 28, 2013
Build day in Palmdale, CA

Today was our last build day of the trip!! Not sure how we already got here... Lucky for us today was one of the best build days of the trip. We worked on the build site with YouthBuild students from Palmdale as well as East LA. We were also surprised by two alum who live in the area--a Providence to Seattle '04 alum and a ME2SB '11 alum. They were all amazing people and it was really great talking to some of them and getting to know them. The build directors were wonderful and patient. All of us were always doing something. We were working on the site for the new YouthBuild apartments that would house some of their students that were homeless or had unstable living conditions. There was also a wing that would house single parents with one child. In the forefront was a community center that would be a part of the complex. I was put on the framing team of the community center. Two walls were already up and one was all put together waiting to be lifted so we tackled that beast first. Once that wall was up, we started on the construction of the last wall! Eventually it was also ready to go up. It was such an awesome feeling to have all four walls of the community center up! 

Next we started sheeting it with thin sheets of wood. This required a lot of hammering and nailing. We spent the rest of the day putting up the sheeting, all working together as a team to get as much of it done as possible. It's such a satisfying feeling seeing the building slowly but surely be covered in sheeting. The afternoon sun got really hot, but overall we got about 80% of the walls covered in sheeting. As people were cleaning up, Jeff and I decided to tackle one more sheet and put it up in record time. 

Other people on the site were mixing and pouring cement, sledgehammering interior walls, and painting the exterior of buildings. Everyone felt satisfied with the work they'd done by the end of the day. This evening we made our final decisions for the allocation of grant money! The organizations won't find out about our decisions for a while so I don't really want to say anything, but I will say that I'm very happy with where we decided to allocate our money. It was really cool to be a part of such major decisions as to where our fundraised money goes. Tonight Bike & Build directors Justin and Natalie came out to meet us and spend the rest of the trip with us! It was awesome to have them back--last time we saw them was during the first week of the trip. To celebrate we had a few no smile dance offs and watched videos that we've made thought out the summer. It's been an unreal trip and it's hard to believe its winding down. 

Friday, August 30, 2013


August 27, 2013
Wrightwood, CA to Palmdale, CA

Today was the second day that we backtracked on our route and got to go back down the mountain we climbed up. I left the host site with Jeff and we made it to first lunch in record time at a record average speed! It was super exhilarating and exciting--I almost wanted to blow past lunch and see how quickly we could make it to the host site.  Luckily we stopped because Andrew's mom surprised us with delicious snacks of veggies, humus, sweet potato chips, and much more.  It was a real feast, and by the time we left lunch everyone had arrived.  Tonight was a big night in ME2SB world.  Tonight was prom night, so accordingly we were calling Palmdale "Promdale".  Before we checked in at the host site, Jeff and I, along with a bunch of other riders, went to the local Goodwill and picked out our outfits for the evening.  The ladies that worked there were awestruck by the fact that we came from Maine and were amused by our prom.  We all came away with some pretty great costumes though!  Dinner with the hosts was great and we learned a lot about what a YouthBuild is and how it works.  Long story short, it is a charter school for students 16-24 that either dropped out of high school or regular high school wasn't working for them.  They also do a lot of leadership building and construction work.  They do a lot to rebuild communities in Palmdale.  Prom was so much fun and every couple or threesome had their own original theme with no repeats.  Everyone went above and beyond what I thought they would do.  Jeff and I were an old couple and my wrinkles looked scarily real.  Prom itself was held at a bowling alley with a bar inside.  I spent most of the night bowling with Jeff, Casey, Sean, Jake, and Ella V though.  It was the best prom ever.

Mountain Road 2.0

August 26, 2013
Victorville, CA to Wrightwood, CA

Today was finally a short day, but there was a lot of climbing.  We started the day with a Starbucks break and met a few characters.  First there was a guy who worked with at-risk youth and asked for a picture with us to show his students that people their age are doing things with their lives other than drugs and alcohol.  The next woman told us about how here daughter had run off in the middle of the night with the car, no shoes or phone, and her mom's wallet.  She was asking us to look out for her if we saw her or the black truck she was driving.  It was an interesting interaction to say the least.  By lunch we'd already climbed quite a bit, but nothing like what was ahead.  
Switchbacking up the mountain with Casey, we finally made it to the town of Wrightwood.  

It is a very touristy mountain town with lots of cute cabins and shops.  Everyone was exploring the town for most of the day since there was another really large climb to the campsite we were spending the night at.  

Eventually a group of us decided we would take on the climb that we'd been dreading all day.  Luckily I was with a good group of people that helped pass the time with fun games.  

About 3 miles from the campsite, Shane greeted us with his new Bike & Build flag and told us about the trecherous climb we were about to encounter.  It seemed like all of a sudden we turned a corner and we were going straight up.  It was worse than Mountain Road in Massachusets.  But this time I made it all the way up without stopping once!  I was in the middle between David and Sean and we switchbacked up the mountain the whole way up.  Slowly but surely we made it all the way to the top--it was the BEST feeling in the world.  To make it even better, the campsite overlook was amazing.

Unfortunately, just after we had set up the tents for everyone, the van came up to tell us that the group down in the town had figured out a church camp that we could stay at instead that had showers, a kitchen, and cabins with bunk beds where we could sleep.  So we packed up everything and headed back down the mountain.  The place we were staying was awesome, but it was pretty defeating to have climbed all that way just to be brought back down.  During and after dinner we discussed all 16 grant applications that our group was responsible for this summer.  There were a lot of great applications with innovative ideas and youth involvement.  It's definitely going to be hard to choose which applications to allocate our money to.

A day in the desert

August 25, 2013
Twentynine Palms, CA to Victorville, CA

Last night I went to bed super early and woke up when laundry crew came back. In my not fully awake state, I thought that it was already morning and time to start getting dressed.  Luckily, I thought to look at my phone and check the time and realized with was in fact only 10:00pm.  When I did wake up in the actual morning though (at 4:00am), my  legs and knees were the stiffest they've been all summer long.  Not the best way to start off a 90 mile day.  I rode with Jeff today, and as we made our first turn onto a road we would be on for a while he goes, "Don't look up ahead."  So obviously I do the opposite and look ahead and there is the steepest and longest hill ever.  Luckily we made it up and had a good downhill on the other side--that always makes the pain worth it.  The rest of the day was filled with tailwinds and steep uphills and downhills.  There were a few downhills that made you feel like you were on a rollercoaster because you would get close to the edge and still not see the road until you were basically going down it.  One of the uphills got so steep so quickly that I didn't have enough time to shift down and I ended up having to dismount and walk up the rest of the way.  It seemed like today we met a lot of people who had really good reactions when we told them what we were doing--they all basically thought we were crazy for biking all the way here from Maine.  We biked through the desert for most of the day and even saw an emu!

The day was hot and long so we just kept cycling and making our way through the 90 miles.  There was an awesome couple that run a BBQ place on the side of the road that we were biking on that flagged us down and gave us some cold waters.  When we finally got to Apple Valley we were back in real civilization with strip malls and stores everywhere.  We ended up staying in Victorville though just passed Apple Valley.  Victorville was a very sketchy place--right when we got in a few riders witnessed a fight on the street.  At the 7-11 we stopped at, the cashier greeted us with "Did you guys lock up those bikes out there??"  We also discovered this magical beverage (although we didn't try it).

Since the gyms we were supposed to shower in closed at 5, we had to figure out how to use the hose spikets on the side of the church.  So people don't steal their water, there was just a nut where the handle should have been to turn it on.  Using the handyman skills I've learned this summer, I used a wrench to turn the water on.  Matt had to help turn it off though because I was having a major struggle turning it back.  Tonight was also the last night of olympics!  The final event was a full team no smile dance off! Somehow it ended up being me against Matt at the end for what seemed like forever. Neither of us would crack!  Finally we called it a draw after a silent round, a solo dancing round, and heckling from other riders.  This meant that my chore group came in second place!  A long way from last place on the first night of olympics.  It's hard to believe we're about to start our last week of Bike & Build!  Not sure how this summer has gone by so quickly.

120 miles of epicness

YAugust 25, 2013
Parker, AZ to Twentynine Palms, CA

Today has been a very anticipated day for our group for a while now.  We've done a few century rides, but today was 120 miles.  It was also through the middle of the Mohave Desert.  To try and beat some of the heat and to get in at a reasonable time, we got up today at 3:30am and left our campsite around 4:45am.  It was still pitch black outside when we left so we all had our lights on, even though they honestly weren't doing much for visibility--more for saftey for cars on the road.  Very early on in our ride we crossed into California!  The moon was still out and the sun had barely risen above the horizon when we got there.  I can't believe that we've made it to California!  It seemed so incredibily far away in Portland, yet here we are on our bicycles.

I biked with Sam and Kamal today.  We kept a good pace for most of the morning, not killing ourselves but not going too slowly either.  Andrew was in the van and did an amazing job of always making sure there was water about every 20 miles, whether it was the trailer or these awesome 5 gallon plastic bag jugs of water that he would leave on the side of the road for us.

At our first lunch stop, Jake's parents surprised him with a visit!  They live in Southern California so it wasn't that bad of a drive.  His dad ended up biking a bit with him and they had brought cold water and gatorade as well as peanut M&Ms!  By the first water stop beyond lunch, Sam was really not feeling well so the rest of the ride was just Kamal and me.  We got to chat for most of the ride because the road and shoulder were wide and not that many people were driving on the road we were on.  We kept chugging through the desert miles, dealing with a few dust storms.

The ride was surprisingly beautiful despite the same tan color everywhere, even on the mountains.

At second lunch the winds started to pick up, which was very enjoyable since it had been a hot uphill to reach the trailer.  However, the winds didn't come empty handed.  Just a few miles out of second lunch, we saw a flash of lightning over the mountains to our left.  The storm only grew bigger as we biked onwards through the desert.  Eventually it started raining, the lightning and thunder only getting closer and louder.  A few times we thought about stopping but figured there wasn't any real place to find shelter in the desert so we might as well just keep biking until we find the trailer or the car that was supposed to be meeting us 17 miles out of lunch with gatorade and snacks (he was a friend of Kristin's that did Bike & Build back when it was the Habitat Challenge run out of Yale University in '98).  The rain eventually turned to small hail pellets and felt like needles on our skin.  Visibility was sparse and we could no longer see any of the mountains that were surrounding us.  Needless to say it was mildly terrifying but absolutely awesome at the same time.  Finally we saw the cars tail lights in the distance and quickly made our way to them and huddled on the side of the car to get out of the rain for a bit.  As luck would have it, he was parked at our 100 mile mark.  At this point the storm was right on top of us and we could hear the thunder right after we saw the lightning. Just as we were about to all get in the van, it let up and we could see the road ahead so we decided to keep going and finish the last 20 miles.  As we got going, we realized that the road had flooded from the storm leaving rocks, cacti spines, and other debris in the road.  There were also times when the waters were rushing up to our shins and knees!  We walked our bikes and carried them through most of it until the road ahead was clear.  It was crazy and insane--drivers going by just smiled and laughed as we laughed at ourselves.

Once we were out of the valley, the ride was relatively easy.  We were pretty tired but only took one snack/water break before biking on to the host.  The last few miles we passed a lot of creepy abandoned sheds that I was convinced were meth shacks.  There were a lot of them and they didn't really make any sense as to what their purpose was, other than of course meth houses.  This story line kept us entertained for the rest of the ride.  It was the largest feeling of accomplishment when we finally reached the host.  Never in my life did I think I would ever bike 120 miles.  And to top it off, our ride tomorrow is 90 miles!  That's 210 miles in two days.  This has been the most epic of adventures, pushing myself far beyond any limit I had ever imagined.  The rest of the night was filled with hose showers, cleaning of bikes, and an early bedtime so we can be up at 4:00am tomorrow to do it all again.

Like we're on vacation

August 23, 2013
Mohave Valley, AZ to Parker AZ

Starting the ride this morning, we encountered more humidity than we have experienced in a while.  Almost immediately I had sweat on my arms and face--not very pleasant when you know it's only going to get hotter as the day goes on because you're in the desert.  We spent the morning following the Colorado River, also the Arizona/California state line.  

Lunch was in the touristy town surrounding Lake Havasu so there were lots of shops and places to stop.  

We grabbed first lunch, filled up our waters, and made our way to Starbucks.  After a well deserved Starbucks break, we found a point of access into Lake Havasu, thanks to a group of guys on our trip, and took a dip.  It was so nice and refreshing.  Boats with music playing were going by and it felt like we were on vacation.

By the time we left the water (we were there for a while) the temperature had risen greatly.  The rest of the ride was up and down big hills, and once we left Lake Havasu there weren't many places to stop and take cool breaks.  The heat was grueling but the scenery was pretty amazing with the mountains, desert, and the lake all in one view.

At second lunch there was barely any shade to be found except right next to the trailer on the hot pavement.  We did our best to hydrate, but the last 10 miles were almost unbearable.  I finally had to ask the group to stop about a mile from our turn because my head was getting so light from the heat.  We took a quick break in the shade, but it was already too late for me I think.  Once we got going again I was swerving a bit on my bike for the last 2 miles.  I made it about 50 yards from the site of the trailer in a county park where we were camping for the night when I tried to make a hard left, lost my balance, and fell to the ground hard on my left side.  It was an annoying way to end the day because I knew I could have prevented it if I had just listened to my body earlier when I knew I needed a break from the heat and more water.  Luckily we were staying right along the banks of the Colorado, so after a few minutes getting myself together on the ground I jumped in a cooled off immediately.  We're staying at a vacation type campsite on the river so they had a beach bar where we hung out at before dinner and then we ate dinner at a waterfront restuarant, compliments of an almost-alum (he was signed up to do Bike & Build, not sure which year, but then ended up not doing to accept a job offer).  It was a wonderfully relaxing night, but wake up is at 3:30am tomorrow to get our longest ride of the trip in--120 miles!  Maybe one day we'll all be back here and be able to relax and enjoy ourselves like we're actually on vacation.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another best day ever

August 22, 2013
Kingman, AZ to Mohave Valley, AZ

We finally hit the desert today, and boy was it hot. However, today was once again the best day ever. It still amazes me that they can even get better after some of the awesome days we've had! The day started off slowly. Ella V needed her bike fixed and I wanted to send some things home, so I waited for her with sweep, our friends Jake and Shane. At Starbucks before the bike shop opened, we met an awesome guy named Ron who was excited about what we were doing. On our way to the post office while Ella V dealt with her bike, Ron drove up next to us and asked if we could chat. He wondered if we had had any press coverage in Kingman, which we had not. So Shane, Jake, and I biked down to a cool Arizona Route 66 sign and got our picture taken with our bikes. We also gave a mini presentation about what Bike & Build is while Ron filmed it for the press. He also was super kind and donated 5 new tubes to our group!  we've been getting lots of flats recently so they will come in handy I'm sure. Lucky for us, the post office was right across the street so we just walked on over and waited for it to open at 9am. Ella V's bike was fixed around that time as well so she biked over and met us and we went on our way. Ultimately, we left Kingman around 9:30 while everyone else had left close to or before 7am. The rumor of the day was that we were going to be climbing a mountain and then descending it on the other side. As we biked towards the mountain, we brased ourselves for a grueling uphill. The road leading to the mountain was awful and bumpy and made my arms tingle/itch. It was the worst. After a quick shop at the general store at the base of the mountain, we started the switchbacks. They were actually kind of fun! The view was fantastic and the heat had not set in at all yet. 

Lunch was just after the peak of the mountain--a very deserving reward. We decided that since we were the only ones there we would have a picnic (most likely everyone else had been gone for about an hour at least). It was an epic picnic. 

After a beautiful lunch, we descended through the switchbacks of the other side of the mountain. It was fun but kind of difficult to go down the switchbacks since the turns were so tight. About halfway down, we came upon the tiny town of Oatman, AZ. It used to be a mining town and now it's more just a touris attraction along Route 66. The craziest part of Oatman is that they have wild donkeys called Burros freely roaming the streets. It was insane. They at my cue sheet! We had a lot of fun exploring the town, and we even got an old time western posed photo of the four of us! It was a great pit stop. 

The rest of the ride was completely downhill, but the temperature increased substantially! I got a small bloody nose on the way down but decided that it would be better to deal with it on the bike then to stop and absolutely melt in the heat. When we got close to the town, all of us had the same idea--find water! We saw a pool in a gates community but couldn't find anyone to talk to about using it so we headed out and went to a different country club community. They didn't have a pool, but they gave us cold water and told us how to get to the Colorado River where we could swim. Since it was almost 110°, we decided to head there immediately to cool down. It was an amazing decision.  The water was a bit cold but perfectly refreshing. It's crazy to think that this water came from the same river we saw when we hiked the Grand Canyon!

We really didn't want to leave but we were already going to be late for dinner so we headed out to find the host site. There, we ate a ton of pizza and went out back to find a slip and slide. Obviously we had to do it for a little bit. Well worth it as well. Afterwards, we took the best hose showers imaginable! It was the first time it was hot enough to actually desire a hose shower over a real one. 

Waiting for Olympics to start, a few guys that hadn't gone to the river yet and I caught a ride to the river with one of the hosts. It was so beautiful. We were looking across the river at California and you could look up the river to see Nevada. Our second tri-state of the trip! Despite my love for Pennsylvania, this one migh have beaten the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York one... 

The evening ended with two more Olympic events--the thermarest roll and the bag weighing. I thought I was pretty fast at rolling up my thermarest in the morning but oh my gosh did everyone go fast! Jeff did it in just 28 seconds!! It was super exciting. Even with some technical difficulties, my teammate Sean was able to come in 3rd place. The bag weighing involved everyone packing up their bags and getting each groups average bag weight. Since we're at an elementary school, we used the school nurses office which had a scale. Side note, yay Mom for starting her job as the new school nurse at Penn Charter this week!! Anyway, the runnings were close with most people weighing in in the mid-30 range. The heaviest bag was 55 lbs with the lightest being 27.5 lbs. My bag was the second lightest at 28 lbs. Maybe if I wasn't carrying around 40 dice that my mom sent me I would have been the lightest... (just kidding it's a fun game!), but either way my team had the lightest average weight so we won the event! It was really exciting for us since we started out in last on the first night. We're all talking about how excited we are to be almost to California, but at the same time having a hard time imagining life without crazy adventures and 26 other awesome people to do them with. Reunions have already started being planned and we haven't even parted ways yet!