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Friday, June 21, 2013

Ft. Thomas Woman Harrowing Bike Trip to "Build Houses and Lives"

Nate Tokarek, Arden Stewart, and Jessie Modrall
By Pat Lafleur, 
Alt. Rte. Columnist 

It was to be an 80-mile ride, from Pahrump, NV to Baker, CA -- a solid day’s trek for a bike touring group. That’s 80 miles through nothing but heat, dust, and pavement. No rest stops, no gas stations. Nothing. The temperature that day was a scorching 118 degrees, not counting the extra 10 degrees the blacktop generally emits from below.

This is where Jessie Modrall -- a Ft. Thomas native and HHS grad -- found herself, on bike, riding with an organization called Bike & Build, when their support trailer broke down. This meant no way to refill hydration packs, no way to get food. Things were looking dark in the desert sun.

Before I continue, though, some backstory: Take your local youth cycling club, cross it with Habitat for Humanity, and you’ve got Bike & Build. For over a decade, Bike & Build has contributed more than $4 million to housing groups to fund projects planned and executed by young adults, ages 19-25.

Currently, a group of 28 riders is on a voyage from Virginia Beach, VA to Canon Beach, OR, and -- this past weekend -- they made a stop in Ft. Thomas, KY, staying at St. Andrew’s Church on Chalfonte and S. Ft. Thomas.

Bikes take a rest at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Chalfonte & S. Ft. Thomas 

Jessie, who became affiliated with Bike & Build in 2011, returned to Ft. Thomas from her current home in Pittsburgh to spend the weekend facilitating the group’s stayover. While in Ft. Thomas, the group participated in 2 local build projects, both in Cincinnati.

While Jessie won’t be continuing with the group beyond their stay in Ft. Thomas, she did participate in a ride from Jacksonville, FL to Monterey, CA last May-August. During those 4 months, they stayed in upwards of 75 different towns, all with their own stories. “In each we were able to talk to people about the organization,” she said, “as well as explain to them why the affordable housing cause is one worth supporting.”

And the experience has obviously stuck with Jessie. She recalls a particular project along her cross-country ride, in New Orleans: “We weren't just building houses, we were helping someone build a life, a place to call home, and a way to be part of a community. We helped rebuild a home in New Orleans for a man who, after being a lifelong resident, was still, 7 years after Katrina, not able to live in his home.”

Now, back to the desert sun, bearing down on Jessie and her ride group, stranded with a broken-down support trailer. “We survived only by flagging down passing cars and RVs and asking if they had any water or food they could spare,” Jessie explains. The group was drawing closer to their final destination. “There were a million ways the day could have ended in disaster, but as a group we pulled together to keep one another safe and motivated.”

To learn more about Bike & Build and how to contribute to their cause, either on bike or not, check out their website.

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