All that is required to participate in Bike and Build is a bike, a high tolerance of saddle sores, and $4,500. The entry fee helps pay for trip support personnel and helps fund several building projects along the way.
Grott started her fundraising campaign in January with a letter-writing effort targeted at a large network of friends and family.
“I think I wrote over 100 letters in January,” Grott said. “When you tell people what you are doing, they think it is pretty cool. The thing about fundraising is you can’t be afraid to ask,” Grott said. “The worst they can say is no.”
Few did. Grott raised $5,300, or about 118 percent of her goal. In return, supporters earned Grott’s undying gratitude and a postcard from somewhere along the route.
She left for South Carolina with her father, Jack, on May 20, early enough for one final training ride before the grueling summer tour officially kicked off from Charleston on May 25.
They selected a section of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway for its beauty and varied topography.
“The highs and lows on this trip are incredible. Some days, it is a struggle to wake up and get on the bike. Your body is sore, your mind is weary, and all you want to do is sleep in past 5:30 a.m. But some days, there is nothing more that I would want to do than ride my bike and experience the landscape and the people of the United States firsthand and with no filter. I am still blown away that I have the opportunity to serve my country while exploring the hills and valleys by bicycle.” Elaina Grott
“The one-mile incline along the Blue Ridge Parkway was already a record for me,” Jack Grott said, who was unsure about how much more climbing he could handle.
Feeding off each other’s energy, Elaina and Jack continued up the hill, setting personal climbing records with each rotation of their pedals.
The mile climb stretched into two miles, then three, eventually marking 14 miles by the time they reached the summit of Mount Pisgah.
They had climbed their way through terrain just beautiful enough to take the Grotts’ minds off the painful screams of their legs and lungs.
“We climbed 4,000 feet in 15 miles,” Elaina said in her blog. “It took over an hour and a half. The descent was mind-blowing. We averaged over 30 mph and reached the bottom in less than a half hour. The road was so smooth. Coming down that mountain was one of those moments where I felt so happy and so at peace that if I happened to die at that very moment, I would probably wake up in the same exact place I was in.”
For Elaina, describing her first long descent was like trying to describe a sunrise to the sightless.
“It felt like doing cartwheels and eating ice cream and going 40 mph and falling in love and snuggling with puppies and world peace all rolled into one emotion.”
Even if her dad wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye, Elaina was ready for her summer of a lifetime to begin.
Jack and Elaina hugged when they parted ways in Charleston. He wished her safety and luck and said, “Wish I could go with you.”
“What a great way to start off the cross-country tour,” she said. But this was her adventure. Her dream was about to become a cross-country reality.