Cross-country service tour makes stop in Janesville

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Nico Savidge
Sunday, July 14, 2013

JANESVILLE--The group of college-aged men and women bustled around a bare house on Cherry Street on Sunday afternoon, stapling plastic sheets over newly insulated walls, trimming grass with a weed-whacker and hammering strips of siding.

Each was clad in a blue shirt proclaiming their mission, “Pedaling for affordable housing,” and tracing in green the 4,000-mile route they're riding by bicycle across the top of the United States.

The group, part of an organization called Bike and Build, rode into town Saturday. They're about a month into a trip that started with their back wheels dipped in the Atlantic Ocean in New Hampshire.

They ride out this morning, heading north up through Wisconsin, before turning west on their way to British Columbia and the Pacific, where they'll dip their front wheels next month on the other side of the continent.

When the riders aren't covering their average of 75 miles each day, they volunteer at Habitat for Humanity projects along their route.

They did roofing work in Lebanon, N.H., put up siding and insulation in Buffalo, N.Y., and laid sod in South Bend, Ind.

On Sunday, half of the group of 30 riders filled the house at 1130 S. Cherry St. in Janesville with the sounds of hammers, staples, yard work and pop music out of someone's small speakers. The other half was at a project in Beloit.

“They've been out here in the sun all day,” said Dave Thomas, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Rock and Jefferson Counties. “Most kids their age are sitting at home in front of the TV having something cold to drink—they're out here doing this.”

For riders, who come from all over the United States, the trip is as rewarding as it is challenging.

In small groups along country highways, they'll cover endless miles together while raising money for local affordable housing groups and learning about housing issues in America.

Some days, they only ride a few dozen miles; others, it's more than 100. They make 10 stops at Habitat for Humanity sites such as the one in Janesville.

The journey instills in them a mission of service, rider Heather Nelson said.

After graduating from Georgetown this spring, and with a job starting in the fall, the Boxford, Mass., native decided to trek across the country a second time. Nelson rode from Providence, R.I., to San Francisco in 2010.

“I just thought, what better way to spend my summer than to do Bike and Build again?” Nelson said.

It's an incredible experience for participants such as Mwiti Murungi of New Orleans, who view it as a way to give back while seeing the country from the seat of their bikes.

“You can't ask for a better trip,” Murungi said. “You're going to wake up in the morning and get on your bicycle, or you're going to wake up in the morning and make a difference in somebody's life—a tangible difference. Nothing beats it.”

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