Photo courtesy of Patrick Crean
Patrick Crean remembers the first time he and his younger brother, Will, used their bikes to escape from their Midlothian neighborhood. "I was about 12, and my Christmas gift that year was a mountain bike," he says with a grin. "That gave Will and me a chance to go places, like to the 7-Eleven to get Slurpees." Crean, now 21, might wish for more than a Slurpee on his next bike adventure, since it entails riding 3,794 miles and stopping along the way to help build houses, all in the dead of summer.
A junior at North Carolina State University studying mechanical engineering, Crean will join about 25 other students for the 2014 Bike and Build project. They'll bike across the country, helping to construct houses for the underprivileged en route, some of which will be done through Habitat for Humanity. Founded in 2002, Bike and Build has donated more than $4.5 million, put in more than 160,000 hours of building, pedaled more than 7.5 million miles and "engaged more than 2,000 young adults in spreading the word about the affordable housing crisis in America," according to its website.
Crean's group will start May 28 from Virginia Beach and end Aug. 7 at Cannon Beach, Ore. Each team member must raise $4,500. Of that amount, $500 can be designated to go to an affordable housing organization of the rider's choice. Among other costs, the funds cover expenses for an accompanying support car to carry gear and food.
"This isn't a professional bike tour, and we aren't guaranteed the best of food," Crean says. "I think there will be a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Air mattresses will be supplied, useful for overnight stays at sites such as churches, but there may be some sleeping under the stars. Participants will rise early, with the possibility of covering 100 miles in a day. They can stop along the pre-arranged route, as long as they catch up at day's end. Of the 72 days on the road, nine will be devoted to building houses, the first two in Suffolk and Lynchburg, and four days are allowed just for recreation.
Crean has raised more than half of his funding goal thus far. A bike is supplied when the rider raises the first $1,000. Riders also may use their own bikes, earning a $600 credit.
"I've always wanted to bike across America," Crean says. "It's also a great opportunity to make new friends and help out disadvantaged people all over the country." As an afterthought, he adds, "I guess I might find myself and all that stuff. Mechanical engineering is all right, but it's real tough to think about what I'll be doing the rest of my life."
Crean's father, John, is a mechanical engineer, and his mother, Anita, a former occupational therapist, took early retirement to spend time with their sons and pursue a writing career. Crean credits his parents with setting a good example. "When I was growing up, we were real involved with the church, doing community service," he says. "My father helped out when I was in Boy Scouts, too."
Crean earned his Eagle Scout Award by building cabinets for the Neighborhood Resource Center, located in Richmond's Fulton Hill area. "During that time, my mom suddenly got really sick, was in the ICU and couldn't even talk. My parents ended up moving to Atlanta for several months for her rehabilitation. It was hard to continue the project, but she encouraged me to stick with it. While she's much better now, in a way, her illness gave me more of a drive to seize the day, as cheesy as that sounds. You just never know what will happen." He adds, "I've been fortunate to always have a place to live. The chance to give back, even if it's just getting one person a roof over his or her head, makes the whole trip so much more important than just a chance to ride my bike all summer." To donate to Crean's trip or track his progress, visit bikeandbuild.org/rider/7255 .