Biking across the country for affordable housing

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Volunteering is like dieting. It’s something everybody wants to do, but most of the time life gets in the way.

What’s the best way to avoid getting distracted as a volunteer? Do it while biking cross-country for 11 straight weeks, so you really have no other option. That’s what Old Brookville resident Valerie Angulo, 24, is doing.

But you don’t have to remind Angulo to volunteer. She willingly applied to be a rider with Bike & Build, a program that produces service-oriented cycling trips to benefit affordable housing across the country. On May 22, she was one of 90 volunteers who began pedaling from Yorktown, Va., to Portland, Ore., and who will work with affordable housing programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together, and local non-profits in each state along the way. At press time, they were in Charlottesville, Va.

Angulo, a graduate computer science student at New York University, is no stranger to philanthropic work. She always knew she wanted to do a year of service after college, so after graduating from Villanova in 2014, she applied to a 10-month service program with AmeriCorps NCCC, or National Civilian Community Corps. “I really like working in groups, and doing work that’s meaningful and makes an impact,” she said. “And I thought it’d be cool to learn a lot of new skills like construction and trail work.”

A 3,856-mile bike ride cannot be undertaken without some preparation. Prior to the trip, Bike & Build riders are required to log 500 miles on their bikes, complete 10 hours of community service with local affordable-housing programs, and raise $4,800 each.

The community service was the easiest part for Angulo, because she already volunteers for New York City chapters of Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together. She met the funding requirement by asking friends and family for donations, selling watercolor paintings and creating art prints to sell in Washington Square Park and Union Square.

At the end of the journey, each rider donates the remaining money to an organization he or she worked with on the trip.

Angulo is prepared to stay with other volunteers in church basements and community centers across the nation. Food is being provided, but the riders bring as much of their own gear as they can fit in a medium-size duffel bag. She has a supply of padded pants, gloves and protective outerwear, and is riding a Liv Avail SL 2 bike provided to her by Bike & Build.

Several vans are following the riders, carrying emergency supplies, food, excess gear and their bags.

The plan is to stop to build for a total of 23 days out of the 76-day trip. During building days, they will work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then enjoy a few hours of free time. And sometimes they may take a detour. “We do stop on the road for national parks or something cool to check out,” Angulo said before the group embarked.

She said she was most looking forward to visiting Kansas for the first time, riding through the mountainous terrain of Colorado, and finishing in the coffee shop-filled city of Portland. She was also intrigued by the opportunity to work with local community-housing organizations in each state, because she is already familiar with national programs like Habitat for Humanity.

Adjusting to the schedule during the first few weeks will probably be the most difficult part of the trip, Angulo said. On riding days the group will log about 70 miles. That, combined with changing sleep schedules, time zones and altitudes, and the intense physical activity, will make for a daunting challenge. “I like challenges,” she said, “and I thought this would be a really good way to challenge myself physically, but have a deeper purpose behind it as well. It really spoke to me.”

Want to keep up with Angulo during her cross-country trip? Check back with us every week in the paper for our mini-series “Biking for a Cause.” 

To keep up with her trip in between dispatches in the Herald Gazette, visit https://classic.bikeandbuild.org/rider/9394.