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Bike & Build: Heat, hard work and good times

Published July 23, 2009 12:01 am

SLC native one of 32 cyclists building Provo home
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As a senior economics major at Boston College, Justin Gibbs was all too aware his job prospects might be bleak when he graduated this spring.

So, last fall when an older buddy told the Salt Lake City native about his experience with a cross-country running program that built houses, Gibbs was all ears.

Later, Gibbs did some research and learned about Bike & Build, a nonprofit group that employs people ages 18-25 to cross the United States and build homes for the needy.

And in all-night studying session during midterms, Gibbs completed the online forms and began hoping he would be chosen to spend his summer on the back of a bike averaging about 80 miles per day and stopping in some of the nation's hottest cities to build houses.

What sounds like a sure-fire heat-stroke to some is a blast for Gibbs.

"I get to see America in the best way possible," he said, and added he learned a lot about community service as a Judge Memorial High School student. He graduated in 2005.

Gibbs is one of 32 riders taking part in a home-building program running from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Cruz, Calif. There are seven other cross-country rides taking place this summer.

According to Bike & Build's Web site, each rider must raise at least $4,000 worth of donations to participate.

Gibbs' team averages about 70 to 80 miles per day and also recently completed a six-day blitz build in Colorado Springs, Colo. The program, which started June 29 and continues until Aug. 14, will cover about 4,200 miles.

So what's the toughest part?

Is it biking 95 miles a day, as the group did Monday to get from Duschene to Provo after starting at 6 a.m? Or is it roofing a house in 90 percent humidity, as the bikers did in Arkansas?

Gibbs, who has completed three triathlons, said biking comes easier.

Battling sore shoulders is sometimes overcome, Gibbs said, when seeing the sacrifice of the family members he's working alongside.

Gibbs said while building a home in Birmingham, Ala., he could barely see his hammer and nail because of the sweat in his eyes.

"You see the families out there sweating with you and that motivates to get as much done as you can that day," he said.

The group routinely starts its day at 4:30 a.m. and takes 90 minutes to eat breakfast and pack its support trailer.

Group leader Claire Rudolph, of Chicago, said the group encountered hail and rain heading west through the Colorado mountains, but said that wasn't as bad as the steamy roads of Texas and Oklahoma, which heats up the group's water bottles.

One-hundred-degree water is "not that refreshing," said Rudolph, a University of Wisconsin graduate.

Rudolph also appreciates seeing small-town America up close.

"You realize how much you miss in a car or flying somewhere," Rudolph said. "You go past nice and slow and take it all in."

Rudolph added that Gibbs is among her crew's most entertaining members and is always good for a laugh.

"He's a true asset to the team," she said.