SUFFIELD, Conn. (AP) — Local resident Noelle Albert still vividly remembers a particularly long — and in her mind, torturous — 40-mile family bike ride when she was 10.
She cried and protested, and in typical childhood exaggeration, at the end of the day vowed that she would never again ride a bicycle.
But Albert, now 19, hasn’t stuck to that vow. Instead, she is preparing to embark in May on the longest bike ride and greatest adventure of her life.
Beginning on May 10 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, Albert plans to ride 4,084 miles over the course of almost three months en route to Santa Cruz, California.
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The route will take her and 31 other riders through the varying terrain of 10 states, from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi to the lonely desert roads of Nevada.
They’ll ride wearing the uniform of Bike & Build, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit group that organizes service-oriented cycling trips to raise money and awareness for affordable housing and to empower young adults to engage in a lifetime of charity work.
To that end, Albert and her fellow riders will spend 14 days of the trip working with organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together, and Youth Build to aid in the construction of affordable housing.
By day, Albert will ride anywhere from 30 to 110 miles to reach the night’s destination. Each night, after a shared meal, she’ll sleep wherever the group has ended up that day, whether it be a school, a community center, or a church basement.
In exchange for a place to sleep and eat, the riders will give presentations on the importance of service work and, as Albert puts it, having a happy, healthy home.
In the meantime, Albert will ride. It’s just as simple as it sounds and it’s something she’s looking forward to. She can’t wait for the days when the only thoughts on her mind will be the next turn of the pedals, the next mile ahead.
While on training rides over the past month, Albert has gotten a sweet taste of the relief such a single-minded existence can bring. She’s experienced moments of happiness when the worries of school and work fall away, but because she’s still here they always re-assert themselves.
Albert likes to be organized. She likes to have plans. So when she takes to the road in May with only a duffel bag and a backpack, the open-ended nature of the days may take some adjustment. But Albert sees it as an opportunity to learn to be OK with uncertainty.
The trip was described to Albert as a life-changing experience, and that’s what she’s expecting. Albert was young when an older cousin first told her about the ride, but the idea never left her mind. She’s since spent countless hours scrolling through the organization’s website and dreaming of her own chance.
So despite knowing that signing up would only add more responsibilities to her already busy life, Albert waved off suggestions to wait to complete the ride until after finishing college.
Albert knew that once she graduates from the University of Connecticut in two years — she’s in the Honors Program studying nursing with a minor in anthropology — her responsibilities will only increase. And like any true adventurer, when faced with the opportunity Albert decided that there is no time like the present.
She applied to the Bike & Build program in December, and within a month learned she’d been accepted. Then the hard work started — raising $5,000 and riding 500 training miles.
Raising such a large sum of money worried Albert the most, but the training has been more difficult. Besides attending classes at UConn and working at the university’s Outdoor Adventure Center, Albert also trains other honors students who work with freshmen on adjusting to life in college. That’s left her struggling to find the hours required each day to complete rides of 20 or more miles.
Raising the money, on the other hand, has been a great success. Albert has been amazed by the generosity of family, friends, and strangers, who together have now donated more than $5,600 to her effort.
Albert has since raised her goal to $6,000 and is still collecting.
Some of the money will be used to purchase Albert’s bicycle, which she will be able to keep after the ride. Another portion will be used to pay for the van that will follow the riders and carry supplies, their bags, and equipment for bicycle repairs.
A majority of the money from each rider is combined into a grant. At the end of the trip the grant will be awarded to an affordable housing organization of the riders’ choice. In that way, the riders can have an impact on the building of affordable housing beyond the towns along their route.
Albert’s desire to help others isn’t a new one. When she was young, her family made a tradition of volunteering with their church. The minimum age was 14, though, so every year until she was old enough she’d have to stay home. It always drove Albert crazy.
It was around that same time that Albert realized she wanted to be a nurse. Like biking, it was once something she swore she’d never do; she wanted to be unique and take a different path than her parents, who work in the medical field.
Then a surprise surgery and hospital stay at the age of 13 brought Albert in contact with nurses who made her feel happy and important during a stressful situation. She knew from then on that she wanted to do the same for other people.
In the simplest terms, Albert wants people to feel loved, just as she does. She’s aware of the privileges that have allowed her to thrive and wants to use them to help others.
Albert believes strongly in the importance of a home — not just a building with four walls and a ceiling — but a place where one can be comfortable, feel loved, and know that they belong.
Information from: Journal Inquirer, http://www.journalinquirer.com