Bike and Build

June 4, 2019

Kernersville resident Marina Cotarelo shares her story of how her passion for cycling helped others through the organization known as Bike and Build, as she toured across the United States from coast to coast.
Cotarelo explained that Bike and Build is an organization which empowers young adults for a lifetime of service and civic engagement.
Cotarelo first learned about Bike and Build from a friend while she was attending college.
“I had put together a bucket list of things that I wanted to do and one of them was to bike across the country,” she said.
Cotarelo admitted that at the time, she had no real cycling experience; however, because she had a series of knee injuries, it was something that people encouraged her to do.
To prepare for the trip, Cotarelo said it was required that she do at least 500 miles of training and had to volunteer with an affordable housing agency.
“I did my (volunteering) with Habitat Restore in Pennsylvania,” she said, noting that she lived there at the time.
Along with training and volunteering, Cotarelo and the other cyclists also had to do their own fundraising, with funds raised going into a grant program. Participants had to raise a minimum of $5,000.
Cotarelo explained that during the cycling route, which started in Connecticut and ended in California, she biked a total of 4,100 miles over 78 days, with 16 of those days being build days, where they built with affordable housing agencies, and three to four days which they took off to rest.
“We averaged about 72 miles a day and would ride anywhere between 34 to 121 miles a day,” she said.
During the ride, Cotarelo said they had support vehicles carrying their bags and water from one community to the next.
“There were 30 (people) on our route and we will not ride more than three to five people and you cannot ride alone,” she shared.
After waking up each morning, Cotarelo said they took about 15 minutes to pack up their belongings and put them in a trailer, eat breakfast, and met to talk about the expectations for the day and to form the teams they would be riding that day.
Along the route, Cotarelo said they stayed at a lot of churches and schools and camped when they got to national parks out west.
“We operate off of in-kind donations, whether that is food or a roof over our heads. Many churches and schools across the country opened their doors to us for a place to eat and sleep,” she said. “The generosity of strangers that I experienced on this trip is something that will stay with me forever.”
Cotarelo said the purpose of the cross-country ride was to raise awareness and funds for affordable housing and to raise awareness of cyclists’ safety and bike safety; however, she also gained a lifetime of memories along her tour.
“You see things from a completely different perspective and you’re hyper aware of potholes and other things,” she recalled. “You also have the leisure to get off of your bike and explore a shop or a field of sunflowers.”
Some of the things that Cotarelo remembered from the trip included a large ball of twine in Cawker City, Kansas, a house with kangaroos and a helicopter in Texas, and Mark Twain’s hometown in Moberly, Missouri.
Of all the communities that she biked through, Cotarelo said her favorite was Baker, Nevada, where she said the population was a whopping 68.
“We stayed in a tiny church at the foot of a national park,” she said.
She said there were 12 people from the community that came to the church to spend time with them. She said she pulled her phone out to show one of them the route they were taking and mentioned that they had never seen a smartphone before.
Different than the worries one would have while working on deadlines or making a sale, Cotarelo said she worried about her meeting her bare needs, getting to her designated stopping point safely each day, eating enough, being a good steward of the earth and making sure her teammates were doing well.
Cotarelo admitted that there were times that were scary during the 78 days on the road, some of which were close calls from distracted or aggressive drivers. One of those, she said was on Route 34 as they were riding into Loveland, Colorado when a tractor-trailer came too close and about wiped out everyone in her group.
On another day, a fellow rider wasn’t so lucky, she said.
“We were going through Estes Park, Colorado because we wanted to ride the Rocky Mountain Pass,” she said.
Cotarelo said after their group arrived at one host location, they were called down to the gymnasium for a meeting. She said on that day, they learned that one of their crew was killed and one was paralyzed after being hit by a vehicle.
“That is a really scary moment that many people take for granted,” she said.
One other close call that Cotarelo shared was one that was on the last day of their ride, while riding along Route 1 into Half Moon Bay in California.
“One of our riders was going down hill and flipped over into a barbed wire fence,” she said. “She was sent to the hospital, but she was alright.”
As a seasoned cyclist who has witnessed close calls while riding on the road, Cotarelo reminds drivers to stay alert and not drive distracted.
Although there are dangers of cycling on the road, Cotarelo uged not to let it hold you back.
“It’s worth it if you can get over the danger and have the confidence to get out there,” she said.
Six months after completing the cross-country cycling adventure, Cotarelo said she went to Ft. Lauderdale and biked to Key West and back over Christmas break with a friend.
“We were completely self-supported,” she said.
With the ingenious idea of attaching a pool noodle with a bungie cord to their bikes, Cotarelo said they didn’t have any close calls in Florida.
Cotarelo said she completed the Bike and Build cross-country tour in 2016, but more recently completed an alumni ride in December and January in Texas.
“The alumni ride was a small eight-day version of the (cross-country tour),” she said, adding that they did a build day on that ride as well that helps women, who have been victims of domestic violence get back on their feet.
Having participated in these rides, Cotarelo said it has created a small community across the country that she can now connect with and rely on.
Cotarelo added that she learned several things including how generous people are to strangers, “especially members of churches who came in to supply dinner and donate food for our route.”
Cotarelo said she also had the chance to meet some of the families at the build sites who they were building homes for.
“A lot of people take for granted today where they live,” she said.
For more information about Bike and Build, visit bikeandbuild.org.

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