By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — Kristin Anderson will bicycle from Maine to California this summer, building houses along the way.
The 29-year-old Salem resident is riding with Bike and Build, a nonprofit that sends groups of cyclists across the country each summer to volunteer at affordable housing building sites.
Anderson’s employer, the North Shore Community Development Coalition, has granted her a leave of absence for the 11-week trek. Her Bike and Build group — one of eight traversing the U.S. this summer — leaves from Portland, Maine, June 18 and plans to finish in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Aug. 31.
Affordable housing is a cause near and dear to Anderson’s heart — she’s worked at North Shore CDC, overseeing programming for youth and families, for close to four years.
“The why is because I can throw myself behind this wholeheartedly,” she said. “The other why is ‘why not?’ What would Kristin look back on her life in 10 years and be proud of? ... It’s the right thing to do.”
Anderson will be one of four leaders in a 30-person Bike and Build group. They’ll stop to help at 10 building sites along their route, including Fitchburg and Pittsfield.
Over the 77-day trek, the group will have just three days off: at the Grand Canyon; Roswell, N.M.; and Pittsburgh.
“I can’t describe how excited I am,” she said. “It’s going to be one of those experiences where you walk away and you just can’t explain it to anyone else.”
Among Anderson’s group is another rider with North Shore ties, Vermonter Samantha Mae Long, who just graduated from Endicott College in Beverly. Long and Anderson have done some training rides together this spring.
In a way, Anderson’s volunteer work this summer is connected to her hometown of Salem.
In addition to spreading awareness of the need for affordable housing, Bike and Build gives grants to affordable housing agencies across the U.S. Some of the fundraising done by their cross-country riders goes to Bike and Build’s grants.
North Shore CDC has been awarded two Bike and Build grants over the past two years, totaling $10,000.
“We’re thrilled that Kristin will be able to use her experience at the North Shore CDC to teach young riders the impact of affordable housing across the country,” said Leonette Strout, North Shore CDC board president.
Although she’s ridden a bicycle since she was young, Anderson has minimal experience with long-trek cycling or building houses. But that’s not an issue, she says — Bike and Build’s model is designed for volunteers with little experience, but a lot of passion.
In the meantime, she’s been cycling training runs, roughly 100 miles per week. The program requires riders to log 500 miles of practice before the trip.
As a group leader, Anderson has been responsible for finding build sites to stop at — in-progress housing projects through Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits — as well as places for her group to stay overnight along the route, such as churches, schools, community centers and the occasional campsite.
“The idea is to really embed ourselves in the community,” she said, to be able to spread the word about their affordable housing mission.
A van and trailer full of supplies follows each group across the country; riders take turns driving the van. Most of the food they eat throughout the trip is donated, from markets and community groups who host them overnight.
“There will be a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she said.
While each rider is required to raise $4,500 to participate, Bike and Build provides a bicycle, which they’re able to keep after the ride. Anderson hosted a fundraiser at Tavern in the Square earlier this spring and is 95 percent of the way to her fundraising goal.
Growing up with two parents in the Navy, she says travel is built into her DNA. She went to college at the University of Toronto and has lived or done volunteer work in Indonesia, Amsterdam, Morocco and Belize.
As a child in California, the Anderson family would ride bikes up and down the beach. While living in Amsterdam, she traveled everywhere by bicycle, because “that’s just how you got around,” she said.
Anderson said the Bike and Build trek dovetails with her passion for affordable housing, travel and community service.
This summer’s ride was simply “an opportunity I was not willing to pass up,” she said.
For more information on Bike and Build or Anderson’s ride route, visit www.bikeandbuild.org.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.