A Travellerspoint blog

Blog 4: Crossing into Tennessee!

Waynesville, NC to Sweetwater, TN

Hey Y'all!

I think I have met more Ohioans in Sweetwater, TN than I have in Ohio. It seems like everyone from southwest Ohio waits until they are retired and moves down to this slice of paradise in the foothills of the Smokies! Let me step back. Since my last blog we have ridden from Waynesville to Gatlinburg, TN (65 miles), then from Gatlinburg to Maryville (a 40 miles ride), took a day to build in 97 degree Farenheit weather and then headed to Sweetwater (only 35 miles). The rides have gotten significantly easier after Gatlinburg because we crested the western end of the Smokies and have been gliding down the foothills towards the Mississippi. The summer has also caught up with us and it has been in the upper nineties the last three days. But we are surviving.

The group itself has stayed fairly cohesive. I have been a little frustrated with the group leaders because the atmosphere is extremely campy. This means that the 1 AM curfew on build days has actually been enforced and we get chastised about little things – i.e. not talking to community members enough after building for 8 hours in sun – and it is starting to wear on me. I understand the point of the rules and regulations put in place, but they aren't really empowering people when they subject us to their version of what is “fun.” Nonetheless, I shall prevail.

Not to say all is poor. I love cycling. I love climbing mountains and I love going fast down hills. I also have some great friends and few enough responsibilities that I can’t complain too much. So I won’t. But I will give some highlights:

1. Passing into Tennessee: North Carolina and Tennessee but up to each other at the top of a mountain pass. My friend Colin and I climbed for forty miles at an excruciating 7 mph and reached the top around 1 PM. Although he beat me to the top, it was pretty cool that we were the first two people to reach Tennessee. We took pictures while holding our bikes over our head. I will place pictures on facebook soon and – if I can figure it out – I will plop them on here too.
2. Memorial Day in Gatlinburg: The descent into Gatlinburg was terrifying. Thousands of tourists are driving into or out of the area and being a biker was incredibly dangerous. This was exacerbated because it was memorial day weekend. The town itself was also really weird. The fact that the beautiful Smoky Mountains are bordered by such a filthy city is kind of depressing. We did get to camp out that night, which was pretty cool.
3. Maryville: We built for a day here and celebrated my Dutch friend’s (Olivier) 24th birthday. I had a lot of fun for many reasons: I got to sleep on a couch, I was awesome at pool, I got to put up two walls at the build site, and got to serve drinks at a community dinner hosted at the church (which is my next highlight). Together these things made Maryville a lot of fun. FYI: They pronounce it "Mur-ville." I have no idea why.
4. The Community Dinner at the Church in Maryville: we didn’t realize that when the Church of the New Providence let us sleep on their grounds we were going to be put to work. My job was to pour sweet tea and water and hand them out to folks. The fun part about the experience was not the work but rather the people. Let’s do a quick equation:

Free church dinner + middle of no where town in Tennessee = folks who can't afford food (the intended crowd), cheap people (we all know examples of these type of people), and the winkies (Just looking for a good time).

Now, I don’t want to sound judgmental about the people at this meal but I did accidentally confuse one lady at the meal solely on the concept of drink refills. The rule was one cup per person, but pitchers could refill indefinitely. She returned to my table with her individual cup five times to keep refilling it and distributing it to her family one by one in a matter of five minutes. Classic.

Well I am tired and we have 70 miles to ride tomorrow in 90+ heat again so I am signing off. I miss you all and hope you are enjoying summer! I know I am.

Live. Love. Ride.

Posted by jsheehan11 17:48 Comments (0)

Blog 3: End of Week Two

Chapel Hill to Waynesville, NC

Hello All!

This week has been a busy one so I haven't been able to blog until today, but its been a lot of fun! Since my last blog I have ridden from UNC Chapel Hill to Winston-Salem (85+ miles), then to Taylorsville (70+ miles), then on to Newland (65 miles), and finall onto Asheville (80 miles) where we built for two days. This week has been significantly more difficult than the week before fora couple reasons: first, We rode many more miles in a shorter time period. Second, We hit the foothills and then the mountains of Western North Carolina. Third, the Blue Ridge Parkway is really tough to ride. At the same time I have seen some of the most beautiful views of my life and climbed to 5,700 feet above sea level - woo!! Also, the group is starting to get really comfortable with each other so we have become significantly closer and - as with any close knit group - friction has slowly started. But nothing bad yet. Probably the most difficult thing for everyone (myself included) is the lack of sleep. There are just too many thing to do! We all want to check out the different places and clean our bike, present to different communities, eat (all the time), and somehow get enough sleep so we can ride the next day. It has been a really big challenge for me.

Okay, some highlights:

1.Winston-Salem: After a long, hot grueling ride uphill into W-S we ended up on a hill overlooking the local minor league team, the Dash. We watched about three innings and really enjoyed cooling off in the breeze above the stadium.
2.Taylorsville: is basically Ravenna, except it is in North Carolina. It is the county seat, is kind of trashy but has some cool architecture and is surrounded by a bunch of trailer parks. Now, I am not saying that is the worst thing in the world… but it was not my favorite city. It was funny, however, that we stayed in a Christian Children’s Academy and got orange juice served in little plastic jugs. It brought me back to my days at JAG elementary.
3.Newland: the ride from Taylorsville to Newland was only 65+ miles but the elevation changed from 1200 ft up to 4500 ft and then back down to 3500 ft. Specifically there was a 10 mile climb that was straight up. It was also the first time most of us had ever ridden a mountain. We had about 10 people hitch hike or get picked up by the van. I made it, but just barely. At least the town of Newland was quaint and homey. It made up for the difficult climb.
4.The Blue Ridge Parkway: is the most amazing ride! We were on it for 70+ miles and climbed approximately 7000 ft while on it. I hit my new record of 45 mph in a descent and had the most grueling ride of my life. Probably the best part of the entire experience was looking back after 60 miles of climbing and seeing the ridge of mountains that we climbed through. Then we descending straight down (from 5700 ft to 2200 ft) for twenty miles. My average speed for those 20 miles was 37 mph. It was definitely in the top five things I have ever done in my life.
5.Asheville: This city is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. It is like Austin of North Carolina – super hippy and nothing like any other part of North Carolina. While there I got to lay a subfloor with a nonprofit called “Mountain Housing,” participated in a drum circle, and attended a bar that was wall to wall with old arcade games. It was a very unique experience!

Finally, I am in the process of uploading photos from the first two weeks, but I haven’t got good enough internet service yet. As soon as I do I will put them online. Well, that’s all for this blog. As always:

Live, Love, Ride.

P.s. I free wrote this, so I am sorry for any grammatical mistakes. Internet time was sparse.

Posted by jsheehan11 11:09 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Blog 2: End of Week Number One

Belhaven, N.C. to Chapel Hill, N.C.

Hello again! I am just finishing the first week of Bike & Build and I have had some fun in the last couple days! Since last blog we traveled from Belhaven to Greenville (54 miles) then to Wake Forest (my first 100 mile ride!!) and then to Chapel Hill (a 40 mile ride). Along the way I have had the pleasure of almost bonking (essentially “hitting the wall” in biking terminology), siding an entire house, and concreting a great relationship with all of my fellow bikers. To be succinct, it has been an incredible week. Here are some highlights:

1. Southern Barbecue: If you want to have a lengthy conversation with any genteel southerner all you have to do is ask about their barbecue. The North Carolina barbecue is unique because it is vinegar-based (rather than the tomato or mustard varieties in other parts of the South). Because of its uniqueness, North Caroliners are extremely proud (and picky) about their sauces. It’s true hometown pride!
2. Century Ride: On Wednesday I thought it a good idea to ride a 90-mile ride pretty fast. Because I was clipping along at 17+ mphs for the duration of the ride I had to track and mark the course so the other riders would not get lost – which meant that we got lost a lot. Due to these diversions from our course I ended up finishing a 100-mile ride at Arby’s. The ride was satisfying because I had never been physically pushed as hard as that and was on the point of exhaustion. I am pretty sure the only thing that kept me going was the promise of Arby’s at the end. And damn was it good.
3. Chapel Hill: is just flat out gorgeous. We got to check out some of the local food joints and bars and had a great time in this diverse college town. Probably one of the more amazing things about Chapel Hill is how much intelligence, beauty, and southern hospitality that it contains. We ate like kings, walked through Tolkien-like arboretums, and chatted with published scholars. It was pretty awesome.
4. The first time we all went out: was hilarious. Because all the bikers have been waking up between five and six in the AM we have been pretty tame. Well that changed on Thursday night because we had a build day (meaning we got to sleep in until 7 AM) the next day…so we all went out. We drank on top of a building on the infamous Franklin Street and took over a bar called “Goodfellows.” There was a lot of imbibing and dancing. Although it was a lot of fun, it hurt real badly the next day on the build site.
5. Building: I worked on a house in Chapel Hill for two days exclusively siding with some vinyl. It was informative and a lot of fun. It reminded me of shingling at the water plant during my high school summers working with village. I also got to meet some very interesting and dedicated people who work with Habitat for Humanity and actually was able to take part in a housing dedication ceremony to a Burmese family living in America. All very cool things.

Well, the group’s laundry is finally done so I am heading to bed to get ready for a 90-mile ride to Winston-Salem tomorrow. Hurray for 5 AM wake up calls! To end on a positive note, I bought a compression sack today and my bin finally fits everything adequately. No more sitting on the lid of my bin while I wrench it closed with a ratchet strap. Hip, hip, Huzzah!

Live, Love, Bike.

Posted by jsheehan11 18:34 Archived in USA Comments (0)

First Few Days

Nags Head, NC to Belhaven NC

Hello All!

I am currently in Belhaven, NC and loving the 80 degree weather! So far we have riden from Nags Head to Swan Quarter (Which is 70 miles, but due to peat moss fires we only rode 45) and from Swan Quarter to Belhaven (which is 35 miles). The first few ride days have been fairly easy and I have enjoyed myself greatly! Our group, consisting of 33 members (18 males and 15 females), is a great group. We have a range of different riding levels from ironmen competitors to people who - let's just say - don't know how to shift gears on their bike. Sadly, I don't have a whole bunch of time to blog today so I will make a quick couple comments:

1. Southern cooking is amazing. Sweet tea, pineapple casserole, vinegar barbecue, pulled pork, and the seafood! Woooo-eeee! I am in heaven down here.

2. Seeing the South church by church is very interesting. I have sang gospels in one church and held hands in prayer in another. Each of the churches have one thing in common - they are full of good people who mean well. That underlying factor has made it easy to sit through the "Amens!" and "Hallelujahs!" for the past couple days.

3. Biking rocks. There is no better way to meet people and see the country.

4. Donation magic is where we shamelessly guilt people into giving us things because we are doing a nonprofit trip across the country. It is scary at first, but really does work! Free hot dogs after a 30 mile ride are great!

5. I am surprised how easy it is to A) sleep on a mat every night and B) wake up at 6 AM everyday. Maybe I should become a buddhist?

Okay, that is all for now... I am actually doing laundry for the whole group. I love you all and miss you! I am sorry for any grammar mistakes I didn't have to re-read this before posting.

live, love, bike.

Posted by jsheehan11 12:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

An Introductory Blog

To get the ball rolling on this blog I want start by saying thank you! Whether you are a family member, a friend, a donor, or any combination of the above I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to read my blogs. On every sojourn I try to keep a blog (or update, as I used to refer to them) because I enjoy writing them and I love your comments. Because of this enjoyment I have written almost 50 pages over the last couple years about China and Brazil. For this series of blog postings I will be writing about my travels within – and across – America. Essentially this means that I will be taking the same cultural approach I took in China and Brazil and apply it to some areas of the country I less familiar with (i.e. the South). Yet, I get ahead of myself – this first blog is simply going to be background information. The real travel blogs will begin right before I start biking across the country and will end upon my completion.

This blog series is a cultural description of my travels across the Southern part of the U.S. on a bicycle. This trip will take me from Nags Head, North Carolina to San Diego, California and will be completed in conjunction with an organization called Bike & Build. On this trip I will bike anywhere between 30 and 110 miles per day for a two and half month period. I will also be periodically stopping to help the affordable housing cause by building homes (hence, bike & BUILD!), raising awareness for the affordable housing movement (by wearing brilliant blue bike suits), and seeing America at its finest (i.e. we get to stop at Graceland)! I am undertaking this journey because I support the affordable housing cause, love cycling, and enjoy putting myself through life-changing experiences. Through my travels I hope to support a great cause, meet incredible people, enjoy America the Beautiful, and blog about everything for you – my readers, donors, friends, and family – who I love so much!

Now that I have described my personal interest and reasoning in this trip, I would like to offer some insights, resources, and places for you to get involved in the affordable housing cause. The first is, of course, Bike & Build (http://bikeandbuild.org/cms/). Bike & Build has donated over $2.7 million to the affordable housing cause in the last eight years of existence! On top of that they have helped develop a burgeoning group of young leaders who will continue supporting the affordable housing cause for generations to come. Finally, they have only lost one participant in eight years (out of hundreds) in one of the most grueling, dangerous treks a human can accomplish. In short, they are pretty darn amazing!

If you are like me, you are probably asking why Bike & Build is focused on affordable housing? The answer is that the organization was started to support affordable housing because the creators saw that 95 Million people in the U.S. (1/3 of the population) could not afford their current living arrangements. In recent times this has been exacerbated by an economic recession, a mortgage crunch, and an increase in unemployment. According to The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/) if the cost of a person’s house costs more than 30% of gross family income then the living arrangements are unaffordable. Most homeowners housing costs range from 10 – 20% of gross income, but renters costs come to a median of 29%. This means that the affordable housing cause is for low-class families who must decide between food and shelter!

Finally, I will be doing work with Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) because they are well connected – though not affiliated – with Bike & Build. Habitat is well known for their work in affordable housing projects around the world but I will specifically be working with the Miami University Habitat and others along the way. To learn more about the affordable housing cause I highly recommend Habitat’s website for some great information and ways to get involved.

Well, that is all I have for this first blog post. If you wish to learn more about Bike & Build or want to donate to my personal fundraising efforts, go to http://bikeandbuild.org/cms/, click donate, and find my name! I Appreciate the support and hope you enjoy my blogs as they tumble out of my brain! For now, I am just working on getting ready and graduating college. Until next time, Bon Voyage!

Posted by jsheehan11 22:34 Comments (2)

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