By Kelly Corbett
What does senior special education and history double major Joanna Felsenstein have in mind after graduation? Unlike many college graduates who will move back home to start the job search, Felsenstein will embark on an 80-day bike trip across the country. She and a team of bikers will travel 4,072 miles through 16 states, stopping along the way to volunteer with 15 affordable housing organizations and nonprofits in need of extra hands.
“I enjoy cycling very much and when I heard about this opportunity, I could not think of a better way to see the country, get fit and volunteer this summer,” Felsenstein said.
Starting on Monday, May 30, Felsenstein and 29 other bikers will cycle across the country. Their journey will begin in New Haven, Conn., and end when their bike wheels hit the sand of the Pacific Ocean in Half Moon Bay, Calif. As part of the “Bike & Build” program, participants in this 11-week long biking expedition will have “build days” during which they take a break from their peddling to help build houses organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together. Approximately 60 of the 80 days on the trip will be spent on the road, while the other 20 days will be spent with power tools and hardhats.
Besides getting quite the hamstring workout in as she peddles from destination to destination, Felsenstein’s real desire to embark on this journey comes from her Jewish roots. Felsenstein was taught in Hebrew school that we all have an obligation to help others. “Tikkun Olam,” meaning “Repair the World,” is one of her favorite concepts in Judaism and she hopes to do just this, along with lending a helping hand. Felsenstein also explains that her passion to help others has inspired her to become a teacher.
A typical day for the “Bike & Build” riders will begin with a carb-rich breakfast. They will then pack up the storage van and trailer before sunrise and reunite with it later for a lunch break after cycling through half a day’s journey. The group will travel roughly 70 miles each day of the trip.
After lunch, they will continue the rest of the day’s journey until they arrive at the house of their host (granted they have a host that night) and give a “Bike & Build” presentation. The “Bike & Build” team will also offer a bike safety talk to the local kids.
Not all days will be the same, though. According to Felsenstein, “there’s also a rule that if it’s over 90 degrees or over 90 miles, we eat two lunches and have two stops.”
In preparation for “Bike & Build,” there is a 500-mile training requirement. One of these preparatory bike rides is 65 miles long, and another required obstacle is a group ride in the rain. In addition, all riders must fundraise $4,500 each before they embark on this cross-country journey.
Besides her required training, Felsenstein has been hitting the gym daily to get in better shape. She is working to increase her stamina through fencing practices offered by the club sport on campus, of which she serves as president. In addition, Felsenstein plans to start biking outside daily as the weather warms, beginning with 15 miles per day and working her way up from there. She also wants to join a local cycle group for training support and gear advice.
Felsenstein is one of four leaders on this 80-day journey and is in charge of setting up sleeping accommodations for the group. Some nights, the bikers may find themselves roughing it on the floor of high school gyms, synagogues or Jewish Community Centers — but hardly ever a real bed. For the nights where shelter is unattainable, the riders will each have a ThermaRest inflatable mattress and will camp outside, Felsenstein said.
Other duties Felsenstein is in charge of include organizing 20 days of the trip and food donations, educating riders on the affordable housing curriculum and planning the end-of-trip party. She and the other three leaders must also be CPR and First Aid certified, Felsenstein said, in case anyone gets injured on the road.
Thinking ahead to this summer, Felsenstein has already taken into consideration some of the factors that may become hazardous during the team’s travels, including keeping a lookout for cars, potholes, lane positioning and weather conditions. She also plans to learn the hand and voice signals used by experienced bikers.
Felsenstein said that she is most nervous for her team’s trek through the uphill battle that will be the Rocky Mountains during their time in Colorado. Another potential concern is the wind, which can offset their balance and lane positioning, according to Felsenstein.
Despite being on the road for a majority of the day, the riders plan to recharge their phones every night in order to stay connected with friends and family. Felsenstein is excited to take lots of pictures along the way and will be keeping her own blog to track her journey. Her “Bike & Build” team will also be posting photos and journal entries on the website bikeandbuild.org.
As May nears, Felsenstein said that she is most excited to meet new people from the communities they will travel through and bond with her riding team during the trip.
“I want to be engaged with the people we see, hear their stories and have conversations about the effects of the affordable housing cause and what we can do to make a difference,” Felsenstein said.