On the 1st of each month, we feature a story of someone putting their “Faith & Sweat” into action. Meet Sarah Hey.
Imagine driving between red rock formations, through valleys and towns, and over mountain passes.
Slowly, you ascend the steep, curving roadway, then pump the brakes as you descend the other side of each purple mountain majesty.
You inhale sunshine, clouds, and sky, finding your peace today in the Colorado Rockies.
By the time you reach your day’s destination – Buena Vista, Colorado, 102 miles away from those red rock formations in the Garden of the Gods – you’ve climbed some 7,200 feet, descended some 5,600 feet.
Up, up, up, down. Up, up …
Now imagine doing that on a bicycle.
Sarah Hey laughs.
Now imagine also riding that same bicycle all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific – Nags Head, NC, to San Diego. The majestic Colorado Rockies welcome you 2/3 of the way through the trip.
All told, you ride 3,601 miles in 73 days, including the 15 days you stop to help build affordable housing AND including your only three days off.
Sarah Hey laughs. That was her initial reaction, too.
“That’s crazy,” she told the friend who introduced her to the idea of cycling across the country a couple of years ago. “I could never do that.”
Since that time, though, Sarah has changed her mind, her self-talk, her direction. While majoring in studio art and psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she started researching the trips organized by Bike & Build, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit focusing on affordable housing. She signed on for a three-week trip to the Pacific Northwest in summer 2015, beginning right after graduation.
She loved the camaraderie, the outdoors, and even the long ascent through Mount Rainier National Park so much that she signed on for one of the cross country rides this past summer and raised more than $6,000 toward her trip. “This was an opportunity to grow as a person, while doing a bit of good in the world,” she says.
Affordable housing is a growing concern in the United States. A home is considered affordable if payments plus taxes and utilities do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. But wages are not keeping pace with the rising costs of living, according to Bike & Build.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that 1 out of every 4 families who rent housing spend more than that 30%, and some spend even more than 50% of their income, on housing costs, leaving few other resources for nutritional, medical and educational needs.
So the group of 28 young adults set out on the 3,600-mile journey from Nags Head, NC, in mid-May to raise awareness and hammers. Their first building stop came a few days later when they helped put roofs on Habitat houses in Orange County, NC, near Sarah’s home.
They dipped their bike wheels in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego on July 24.
In between, they slept on the floors of churches, YMCAs, and community centers. Their best meals were potluck suppers provided by local churches. What they lacked in sleep, possessions and personal space they made up for in energy and freedom. Their personal possessions fit into small bins and were carried by van and trailer between destinations, but the experience proved to the cyclists how few material possessions they needed to be fulfilled and happy.
The trip, of course, was not without its challenges. Few are, especially ones that change your life.
The day after crossing the first mountain pass in Colorado, Sarah developed altitude sickness but was able to stay on the bike and continue the trip. Some days were one long, continuous mountain climb. One day, while crossing the desert in southern California, one of the cyclists reported that his GPS registered the temperature as 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Another day, lightning kept the cyclists inside and concerned that they would not reach their destination before nightfall.
“Those days remind you it’s not about the miles necessarily,” she says. “It’s just about the experience and doing it together.” She realized that life is like that, too: sometimes there’s a situation or experience that can best be described as just a long, uphill climb, and you don’t know what’s coming or when it will end, but you get through it with your people.
Stretching yourself to go farther, embracing the beauty and fun on the journey, not getting too wrapped up in yourself – those were her life lessons, she says. “I realized that if I had the ability to persevere and get through these things,” Sarah says, “what else can I do that I previously thought I couldn’t?”
The journey also caused her to rethink her career aspirations. A friend from the 3-week “Drift West” trip in 2015 works in Wilderness Therapy, helping troubled adolescents and young adults sort through life challenges such as addictions. The NC to San Diego group met up with him when they stopped in Durango, CO, and he encouraged Sarah to apply to similar programs.
Being outdoors, living in close community with others, and making a difference in the world helped her to feel “so very much alive,” she says. So she’s decided to apply for a wilderness therapy guide position, while now working to gain experience and training that she thinks would help. She’s taking an 8-day intensive Wilderness First Responder course, and learning how to work on a crisis hotline.
This new aspiration fits with her interest in psychology, but isn’t something she would have seen herself doing just a few years ago.
“If nothing else, Bike & Build showed me that the realm of possibilities for myself are often wider than I think,” she says.
Have you had an experience that completely shifted your mindset, your focus, your direction? What was it? Share in the comments below, or join our free “Faith and Sweat” Facebook group so we can have a conversation.
Welcome! If you’re new here and don’t want to miss a thing, be sure to CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE to the Faith & Sweat blog updates. Know a friend who would like this? Please share. Thanks for visiting!