The next time you pass a biker on the road, look twice. Not just for safety, but because you may be passing Annie Deluca. The Northland resident is trying to get her 500 miles in this spring as she prepares to ride thousands of miles this summer.
It is her way of raising awareness about the need for affordable housing in the country.
Deluca is training for a 2,888-mile bike trip along the east coast from the Florida Keys to the Canadian border. For most people, the ride alone would be a feat. Deluca and her friends also will stop every few days to wield a hammer and build homes for people in need.
The ride is part of a unique biking and volunteer experience orchestrated by Bike & Build, which hosts rides young adults ages 18 to 29 across the country to help build affordable homes and spread awareness of the need for affordable housing across the United States.
Since its start in 2003, the group has donated more than $6 million and 225,000 volunteer hours to the affordable housing cause.
This summer, Deluca is one of two people from Missouri and the only person from the Kansas City area scheduled to take part in a Bike & Build, though there is also a rider from Lawrence, Kansas, who is training for the same trip as Deluca.
The “Keys to Canada” trip is Deluca’s third Bike & Build experience. The first one in 2015 was a mere 900 miles between Bar Harbor, Maine, and New York City. The next year, she rode about 4,000 miles from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Bellingham, Washington.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Deluca said. “Going on these little back country roads, you get to see parts of the U.S. that you would never see. You get to see it at a slower pace and enjoy the experience. It is also really great talking to people and seeing these towns and cities. You hear their stories and see a different side of life.”
Deluca is not riding alone. Every ride includes about 30 bikers from across the country.
They will wake up early every day; gather to examine maps of the day’s route; learn about the housing situations, costs of living and fun facts about towns they will encounter that day; then head out on a daily ride between 30 to 80 miles to the next stop.
Every three to five days the group stops for a day and spends time building with an affordable housing organization in the local area.
“We were in Buffalo, New York, two summers ago,” Deluca said. “We built with them for two days and were able to build three sheds, frame a house and do siding on another house. The amount of work that 30 people can do in two days is a lot.”
Bike & Build sends about 140 riders each year on three cross-country trips and two regional routes. The closest route to Kansas City is the Central United States route, which goes through southern Missouri and spends ten days riding across Kansas.
Director of Outreach and Alumni Relations for Bike & Build Lily Goldberg said the organization started the East Coast trip because they are aligning with the East Coast Greenway project, which aims to create a 3,000-mile protected bike route from Florida to Maine.
“We are looking at ways to get our bikers off roads and onto bike paths,” Goldberg said.
The organization also has a heavy focus on education, both for the riders and the people they encounter.
“They become advocates,” Goldberg said. “They are all wearing Bike & Build shirts every day. They roll into towns and people ask them what they are doing. They are spreading awareness.”
Most nights, the bikers sleep on pads in donates spaces of community centers and churches with meals provided by volunteers.
In order to have the privilege of making the ride, Deluca and other riders each must raise $5,000, the bulk of which goes to create grant opportunities for affordable housing organizations.
“A lot of the times people think they are paying for me to go bike,” Deluca said. “They are not. The money goes towards the cause. Most of it we give away in a competitive grant program.”
Deluca will be allowed to give $500 to the organization of her choice. Each host center will be allowed to give $100 to their organization they choose.
The hardest part of the trip is getting up every day and riding for more than two months, but Deluca said the reward is worth it.
“It’s definitely different than anything else,” she said. “You just have to learn how to be on your bike all day. The physical challenges you get used to. It’s just a lot of mental. You get out of your bubble and learn your world is bigger than what you think it is.”
To donate to Deluca’s ride go to: Give.classy.org/annie2018