Dec. 17, 2013
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Biker builds homes, friendships across the U.S.A.

Elaina Grott

Agriculture Communications photo/Tom Campbell

Elaina Grott, BS '13, and her bike are so close she gave it a name. And why not? Grott and "Black Beauty" completed a 4,265-mile journey across the United States this summer. Grott graduated last week with a degree in entomology and is headed to South Carolina in January to start her career with Bartlett Tree Service. She has generously offered to share blog entries and photographs of her epic ride that took her from South Carolina to California in 81 grueling and blissful days.  We think you will enjoy Grott's Bike and Bulid exploits almost as much as she did.


By Tom Campbell

Before riding a bicycle 4,265 miles across the United States this summer, Purdue senior Elaina Grott had never really known the pain of grinding up one side of mountain just to feel the reward of the absolute freedom and elation that awaited her on the effortless glide back to the bottom.

Sure, she had ridden the slight hills around her hometown of Mt. Prospect, Ill. And she had notched countless rides up and down the modest hills just south of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus as she trained for her Bike and Build journey, an 81-day, cross-country bike ride benefiting affordable housing organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

She even participated in Cover Indiana, a 360-mile ride traversing the state.

But those inclines were molehills compared with the mountains she would face on an endeavor that would devour her summer, just like it consumed her soul ever since she had committed to it a year earlier.

The route from Charleston, S.C., to Santa Cruz, Calif. — one of eight Bike and Build routes that operates each summer — is intermittently punctuated by stops along the way where biking gives way to building. On days when they weren’t biking, Grott and 27 like-minded individuals helped families who may otherwise be unable to build homes and dreams of their own.

Bike and Build Across America 2013

Bike and Build Interactive Route Map (View Full Screen)

Map Instructions

Click on a marker to read the journal entry for that day. You can move around the map by clicking and dragging with your mouse. Zoom in or out using your mouse scroll wheel. The route begins in South Carolina and ends in California.

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.

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