Little me, big world
I can’t believe it’s almost the end! We are in Sparks, Nevada right now and are coming up on the crest of our final week. I do realize that my blogging activity has slowed recently. Rather than laziness, I’d like to think that this is due to the fact that I’m really enjoying these final weeks of riding. Even though we’ve had some really challenging rides (9 straight days of riding, and over 750 miles), I’ve been in such a great mood and the time has flown by. I will warn you now, however: this blog post is going to be a long one!
Utah feels like ages ago, but I can clearly remember its beauty. Our first day in Utah was in Moab, home to two incredibly beautiful national parks: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The town, which sits in a canyon surrounded by huge red walls of rock, is home to many outdoor activities (hiking, mountain biking, rafting, climbing), as well as to some Bike and Build alumni! We had both a build day and a day off here. Several friends and I spent our day off hiking in Arches National Park, which contains over 2000 sandstone arches and bridges that were naturally created by erosion over time. Although the mostwell known Delicate Arch was closed due to flooding, we visited some other really spectacular rock formations. Visiting the park, which covers over 76,000 acres,definitely made me feel like a tiny speck in this beautiful world.
As we continued westward in Utah, the scenery didn’t live up to that of Moab, but I loved seeing the different terrain of our country. I actually didn’t realize how popular Utah was as a tourist destination, especially for foreigners. Going through Capitol Reef National Park, most people donned thick accents and nice cameras. Most of the mountains and hills we rode over resembled other things; some looked like piles of sand, some covered in bushes that resembled enormous bread rolls covered in mold. And, as I had expected, there were several stretches of nothingness, where all we could see was the straight road leading us to the horizon.
Entering Nevada felt daunting. Let me clear up a common misconception: Nevada is NOT FLAT. DEFINITELY NOT FLAT. AT ALL. Picture 10-20 columns of mountains all running down Nevada, and then picture my 30 fellow ridersand I slowly crawling over them like ants. I think we’ve summited 3-4 passes every day. They may not compare to the 12,000-ft elevations of the Rockies, but they do still make my legs burn! In between each mountain range is a huge valley, where we have to lean our bikes into the strong cross winds to stay upright.
Speaking of the valleys, my perspective in Nevada has been completely unreliable, especially when gauging distance on the roads in between each mountain range. From the beginning of the road, it looks no more than 5 miles; but by the time you’re 4 miles in, you realize the distance is probably closer to 15 miles. What looks relatively flat from a distance is actually a slight incline for several miles. If I’ve learned one thing in Nevada, it’s to not trust my own perspective!
We have been riding on pretty much just one road in Nevada: Route 50, nicknamed “The Loneliest Road in America.” Its pseudonym is quite fitting; for the past few days, we’ve seen no amenities or signs of civilization in between the towns we’ve stayed in.
However, as we’ve creeped closer west, we’ve seen way more human life! Today, Beth, Emma and I stopped by Reno Fitness and Cycling to borrow one of their tire pumps, and one of the employees, Dean, recognized our jerseys and exclaimed “Bike and Build!” as we walked in. Apparently, Dean and his wife hosted a Bike and Build group at his own home six years ago when the group was originally planning to find a campground. He even took them around on their boat in Lake Tahoe! (Unfortunately, he did not make the same offer to us! Darn!) Dean and his coworkers at the bike shop were so friendly, supportive and helpful, and gladly assisted us with a few quick fixes, without charge. I think the cycling world has a reputation for being somewhat elitist and presumptuous, so it’s really wonderful down-to-earth and welcoming riders. It was great exchanging cycling stories with them, and our conversation with them was definitely a highlight of my day.
I also had one of my favorite rides yesterday, going 110 miles from Austin to Fallon. We saw some really cool places along the ride: a shoe tree (exactly as it sounds), Sand Mountain (also exactly as it sounds), and salt flats (salts left from what used to be part of the ocean manymany ages ago). Since we were heading to an overall lower elevation today, we descended into several vast valleys between mountains that made us feel like ants. However, more exciting to me, our ride actually passed by a couplesmall gas stations and stores, unlike our previous Nevada rides.
We took a break at Old Middlegate Station, where we got to meet the owners, Fredda and Russ. Old Middlegate Station used to be on the Pony Express, which was a short lived by-horseback mail delivery system that ran from California to St. Louis, Missouri. While indulging in our caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks, we had a great conversation with Fredda about all the travelers she meets and how she ended up in such a small town. Fredda grew up in California, but after visiting this part of Nevada, she felt a deep connection “to this part of the country” and couldn’t leave.
We had noticed that a group of young, hipster-looking folks were filming us during the entire conversation, but it wasn’t until the end that we found out we were part of a documentary! The three people were part of Flyover Pictures, filming a documentary about the pitstop Fredda and Russ own. We learned that Old Middlegate Station is completely powered by a diesel generator (very unsustainable), and are hoping to transition to reliance on a renewable energy source. The documentary will raise awareness about their goal, and hopefully consequently help them raise funds to make it a reality!
I think yesterday was so enjoyable both because of the landscape and sights we saw, but more so because of my company. I rode with Michelle (one of our leaders),Kaitlyn, Sarah, and Melissa, who is sadly leaving our trip in 2 days to head back to work. Melissa is perhaps one of the most genuine, self-reflecting, and positive people I know, and I am so grateful to have met her. I really hope she has rubbed off on me a bit; I would love to have an ounce of her awareness and sincere appreciation for every emotion, person, and situation that she encounters. I have come to really value every person on this trip for their unique perspectives, their quirks, and their stories. I know I can learn something from everyone. Our group of girlsspent the entire day talking about our first impressions about each other, singing our favorite songs, and laughing about who knows what. I couldn’t have asked for a better day!
Distributing the money we raised!
Anyway, I spoke a bit about Bike and Build’s mission in one of my previous posts, and our group of 31 riders accomplished a major milestone in our trip last week: we decided on our grantees! As many of you know, each of us had to raise $4500 in order to participate on this trip. About 87% of this money goes directly to our mission statement: raising money and awareness for affordable housing, and instilling a lifetime of civic engagement in young adults. This year, our group raised more than $40,000 for affordable housing, and we have the unique opportunity to decide where that money goes. We had 18 grant applications to review, and the most we could grant a single organization was $10,000. Coming from a nonprofit that is significantly funded by grants, I was really looking forward to reading through different proposals, even though my role at Samasource was definitely far removed from this process. It was interesting making such a monumental decision with 30 other people, many of whom are not as familiar with the grant selection process, and many of whom had differing opinions on which organizations we should fund. Many of the proposals we read were from organizations we had volunteered with on our build days, so we naturally felt much more personally connected to their causes. I had never read any grant proposals before, but I can see why the process takes so long. I found so many contradicting goals, many of the proposed measures of success were very vague and intangible, and there were many unanswered questions.
After a lot of discussion, we decided to divide our money between 8 different organizations. I’m personally unsure of how I feel about our ultimate outcome, since we ended up spreading our funds pretty thin. Perhaps I’m accustomed to the bigger-figure grants that Samasource usually gets, but the maximum grant amount of $10,000 didn’t seem like a lot to begin with, and we ended up giving each of our 8 grantees a lot less than that upper limit. I realize that any contribution can help an organization get closer to its cause, but I worry that the funds we distributed are trivial amounts. I would have rather fully funded fewer causes to make a larger impact, but I guess I should feel satisfied that we were able to support so many awesome organizations.
Anyway, we are about to head into California and are in the home stretch! As much fun as I’m having, I’m really excited to ride through familiar parts of my home state and arrive on the beach in Half Moon Bay. It’s going to be a weird transition back into the real world, but I think I’m ready!