Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Bike and Build stops in Moose Lake


The Bike and Build group pauses for a photo in front of the Moose Lake Depot before leaving Friday morning.

Twenty-four bicyclists spent Thursday evening at the Moose Lake Depot Community Center during a stopover on their way to Duluth.

The bicyclists were one of eight teams riding across the nation as part of the Bike and Build, a nonprofit organization made up of eight to 10 teams of bicyclists who stop on their trips across the nation or along the coast to help on affordable housing projects. The riders came from states across the nation.

"We help with any affordable housing project," said Josh Rasmussen, 28, one of the four leaders of the group during an interview at the depot community center. "Habitat for Humanity is the largest organization that we work with."

Members of the teams are 18-25 years old, and are in college or have graduated.

"The bicyclists have no specialties," Rasmussen explained. "But we can provide labor. Sometimes they need someone to move gravel. Instead of them hiring a machine that would cost $100 an hour, we can do it for free."

Before coming north, the team worked on a building project in St. Paul for AEON, an affordable housing organization, where they helped with landscaping and property maintenance. The next project was in Duluth last Saturday.

One of the riders, Michelle Marrocco of Dracut, Massachusetts, 24, said she graduated from college two years ago, and had been working at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where she had been interning in the performing arts department and worked in the gift shop. She was looking for something different when she learned about the ride.

"I was unfulfilled," she said. "I was looking for a reset button to do something more important, more valuable. I had a few expectations but this trip has gone above and beyond what I had expected."

For Hannah Langsdale, 21, the trip has been quite the challenge in more ways than one.

"I just graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, with a degree in biology," she said. "I had not a clue of my career goals. I'll figure it out as I go.

"I originally thought that this would be a huge challenge. I had never biked before, just an eight- or nine-mile ride two years ago. I got so sore."

She explained the bicyclists had to train for 500 miles before they left on the trip. And they each had to raise $4,500 before they left on the trip.

"That was hard," said Langsdale. "I had never done anything like that before."

Langsdale said she came up with the idea of crocheting Nosy Cozys nose warmers, and raised $1,000 on that project alone.

"People that I knew and hadn't seen for a long time came around and gave donations for the Nosy Cozys," she said. "I found one donation of $150 in my mailbox from an anonymous donor."

As the bicyclists have ridden from their starting point in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on June 16, they have traveled through Vermont, upstate New York, ridden across the Appalachians, spent a little time at Niagara Falls, seen several of the Great Lakes, rode through Wisconsin and on into Minnesota.

From St. Paul, the group rode north to Moose Lake.

"We stopped at Peggy Sue's in Willow River," said Langsdale. "They were celebrating 20 years in the restaurant. She was delighted to see us and had to have a picture taken with us."

Langsdale said that happens often on the trip.

"A couple of us like to stop and talk to people along the way," she said. "We are often the last ones in for the day."

The group hit the halfway point of their 3,981-mile trip between Moose Lake and Duluth, it was reported in the Duluth News Tribune, Sunday edition.

According to the Bike and Build website, the group rode to Grand Rapids on Sunday, Park Rapids on Monday, and will stop and help with a building project in Fargo, North Dakota. They average 70 miles a day.

"We had rain the first week," Marrocco recalled. "Since then the weather has been quite lovely. There have been a lot of overcast days with temperatures around 75. This week it has been getting really warm."

In an email on Friday, one of the riders reported the group had gotten soaked on their ride to Duluth.

"We stop when there are thunderstorms," said Marrocco. "We don't like storms."

The bicyclists don't ride in a large pack, they break up into groups of two to six riders, Marrocco explained.

Rasmussen is one of four leaders in the group.

"Each leader takes over for a couple of weeks," he said. "We make the plans for the route and take care of the logistics."

The group stays in churches or in host homes, as they did in St. Paul. A van pulls a trailer to transport their gear. In places like the depot community center, each rider has a sleeping bag on an air-filled and memory foam cushion placed on the hard floor. The evening meal was provided by the historical society.

"We ask for donations of food along the way," said Marrocco.

The 24 riders develop a closeness.

"You have to be understanding and flexible," said Rasmussen. "There are reroutes, it's hot, and there are delayed meals.

"Each one is different in unique ways. Being together teaches acceptance and understanding of people's viewpoints. That's a big part of this as well."

The riders keep in contact with family and friends with their smartphones, and there are a couple of computers they can use.

The trip is scheduled to end on August 27 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rasmussen explained.

"The people will go their own ways from there," he added. "Some will be biking down the coast, and a couple are going to Alaska. The goal is to create service-oriented mind sets. Seventy percent of the Bike and Build participants end up in service-oriented positions."

Marrocco and Langsdale have developed close friendships with the other riders.

"These people will be a part of my life from now on," said Langsdale. "I can't imagine my life without them."

Besides the ride and the assistance with the building projects, the group has another mission: to provide grants for applicants for affordable housing projects.

Langsdale explained the riders will read through the applications and chose which are to receive grants that range from zero to $10,000 from the funds that each rider raised and other donations.

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