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Young cross-country cyclists stop in Duluth to work

A group of young adults cycling across the country stopped in Duluth this weekend to work on a Habitat for Humanity project -- and celebrated reaching the halfway point of the cross-country trek.

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Bike & Build volunteers work on a Habitat for Humanity house in West Duluth on Saturday. Bike & Build organizes cross-country bicycle trips to benefit affordable housing projects. Since 2003, participants have peddled 8.5 million miles, raised $5.1 million in donations and logged 185,000 hours on construction projects. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

A group of young adults cycling across the country stopped in Duluth this weekend to work on a Habitat for Humanity project - and celebrated reaching the halfway point of the cross-country trek.
The loud sounds of tools came from inside a West Duluth shed as the group worked in the shade on a hot, humid Saturday. The group spent the day dismantling the shed and painting and digging up the remnants of a sidewalk, as well as helping 1Roof Community Housing. The effort was part of the national nonprofit Bike & Build, where cyclists ages 18-25 spend a summer biking across the country to work on affordable housing projects.
The group of 24 cyclists began the 3,981-mile ride in Portsmouth, N.H., and will end in Vancouver, British Columbia.
They plan to stop 10 times during the cross-country ride to work on housing projects, group leader Ben Bondurant said. In Duluth, they helped with home repairs on North 57th Avenue West through the Western Lake Superior Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush With Kindness. The program provides repair work for low-income residents, many of whom are elderly or disabled, said Habitat for Humanity volunteer Sophie Wilkowske. Fifteen houses in the Duluth area are being repaired this summer in the program.
Bondurant became interested in affordable housing when he volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Durham, N.C. Bike & Build participants must spend 10 hours volunteering in affordable housing programs to gain experience in building houses and to get them excited for the upcoming trip, he said.
“Biking and building seems like a weird pair,” said Sophie Gibson of Charlottesville, Va.
However, she explained that biking draws young people in and then once they get on the site, they realize it’s fun to work toward accomplishing a goal together.
Gibson, an art and history major in the Brown University-Rhode Island School of Design’s Dual Degree Program, had her interest in volunteering piqued during a service trip to build houses in Nicaragua. Next she turned to the United States and heard of Bike & Build from a friend.
“I was looking for an adventure,” she said. “I wanted to do something in my own country.”
The cyclists arrived in Duluth on Friday evening and checked out the Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal Park, Bondurant said.
“Coming in wasn’t too bad, but I’m anxious about going up the hill to leave,” Bondurant said of biking on Duluth’s hillside. The group was scheduled to leave Duluth today.
Bondurant, a native of Georgia, said this is his first time in Minnesota. It’s also a first for many of the group’s members.
They stayed with host families in St. Paul, giving them a night to do laundry and sleep in a real bed, said Jason Lee of Holliston, Mass.
After St. Paul, they stayed at the Moose Lake Fire Museum and stopped between Moose Lake and Duluth to celebrate the halfway point of their trip, Bondurant said.
Although Vermont was the prettiest state so far for Lee, he said Minnesota’s roads are the smoothest on which to bike. Plus, they’ve experienced Minnesotans striking up conversations with them and buying them meals with a politeness that Lee said he’s not accustomed to in Boston, where he recently graduated from Northeastern University.
“People are very nice in Minnesota,” Lee said.
Gibson has visited family in the Twin Cities but has never traveled north to Duluth before. In addition to her first visit to Duluth, seeing the Great Lakes for the first time has also been a highlight, she said.
Ten miles was the most Gibson had biked at one time before she signed up for Bike & Build, during which participants have averaged 70 miles per day. All participants must bike 500 miles to train for the trip. The first few weeks of biking through the mountains were tough, but then they reached Ohio and “I have never been somewhere so flat,” Gibson said.
Biking across the country has shown her how the county’s land naturally fits together in a mix of mountains and plains, she said.
Additionally, biking gives them a different experience from zipping across the country in a car, she explained, adding, “We can take it in more slowly.”

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With one hand holding her ladder, Myra Owen scrapes paint on the wall of a West Duluth house on Saturday. Owen is a member of group of cyclists traveling from New Hampshire to Vancouver, British Columbia, stopping to help with housing projects along the way. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Related Topics: WEST DULUTH
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