Biker rides to break cycle of homelessness

By Katy Bond

Elaina Grott, a senior entomology major, poses with her bike.

Photo provided by Tom Campbell, Purdue Agricultural Communication

​Elaina Grott, a senior entomology major from Mount Prospect, Ill., rode her bicycle from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Cruz, Calif. As if a cross-country bike ride wasn't enough, Grott rode with a team for Bike & Build, a nonprofit that raises awareness for affordable housing. ​Full-size image (74 KB)

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​Like a lot of people, Elaina Grott went on a cross-country road trip last summer. But the senior entomology major from Mount Prospect, Ill., made the coast-to-coast, 4,265-mile trek on a bicycle with 28 other riders.

​"Looking back on the trip, it seems like a dream," said Grott. "It is sometimes hard to believe I biked that far, but then I remind myself it really happened."

​The trip was not just a test of endurance. Grott biked 81 days from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Cruz, Calif., with Bike & Build, a nonprofit organization that empowers youth and raises awareness for affordable housing projects.

​"The riders were the youth in this situation," said Grott. "And it was definitely an empowering trip."

​The bikes stopped once a week for a build day. On those days the riders worked on affordable housing projects for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds and repairs affordable housing for those in need. While construction might sound like hard work, it wasn't as demanding for the riders.

​"Build days were our rest days," Grott said. "Basically, any day we weren't on a ride was a time to rest for us."

​All that riding made the bikers hungry.

​"You burn about 4,000 calories biking every day, so we were eating roughly 6,000 calories every day." said Grott.

​Businesses along the route donated food to the riders. Mom-and-pop diners were always willing to donate lunch when they heard what the riders were doing, Grott said.

​"I can't even tell you how many free milkshakes we got from Sonic along the way," said Grott.

​There were days the riding got tough. Grott said only 10 percent of the riding was physical, the rest was mental.

​"There were some days I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, but then there were days I wanted to be anywhere else but on my bike," Grott said.

​Eastern Oklahoma and Texas were the hardest. Strong winds forced riders to crawl at about 12 mph. They averaged 18 mph elsewhere.

​The riders overcame tough stretches by playing games. When a rider was having trouble he or she would start singing the "Star Spangled Banner" as loud as possible and then all the other riders joined in to encourage the rider to keep going.

​"That's how we made it across the country," Grott said.

​The games also helped to fight off boredom. One game they called "hot seat." While riding in a straight line the lead rider yelled out a question and everyone had to respond.

​"We also loved to play a game called 'Hey, cow,'" said Grott. "We would yell, 'Hey, cow!' as we passed a herd, then count how many cows turned to look at us. You can tell we would do anything to pass the time."

​Grott and the other riders also made time to celebrate important milestones. They made a habit of stopping at state lines to take pictures with the state signs.

​There were personal milestones, too. Grott said one of those was biking 12,000 feet up Independence Pass in Colorado.

​"That was probably the one day of the trip that made me feel the most accomplished," Grott said.

​And when they finally made it to the Pacific by Santa Cruz, it was a special moment for all the riders.

​"We all rode in a large group to the beach," said Grott. "When we got there we all threw our bikes down and sprinted towards the water. Unfortunately, it happened to be the longest beach ever so we were slowly jogging by the time we hit the water."

​Hitting the salt water after such a long adventure was like nothing she ever felt. But the end of the trip also meant saying goodbye to 28 friends.

​"It was heartbreaking," said Grott, "I realized I was leaving the greatest people I had ever met." ​