WCU senior bikes across country, builds homes

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
James Vadas, a senior at West Chester University, spent 77 days over the summer traveling across the country on a bicycle. (James Vadas)

James Vadas, a senior at West Chester University, spent 77 days over the summer traveling across the country on a bicycle. (James Vadas)

Instead of taking the typical beach vacation during the summer, West Chester University senior James Vadas instead decided he was going to see the United States with a cross-country trip — on a bicycle.

“It’s something I have always wanted to do since I was a young kid,” he said. “I started to formulate some way of doing it this past summer.”

A friend informed Vadas, a York County native, of Bike & Build, an nonprofit organization which creates cross-country bike trips to benefit affordable housing groups.

“I looked into the organization and learned a little more about their cause,” Vadas said.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

He filled out an application and was accepted to take part in the Providence to Seattle ride.

“My group was 30 people,” Vadas said. “We worked with organizations like Habitat for Humanity along the way and were building houses in towns and cities across the country.”

The group stopped in 14 different locations along the 3,932-mile journey. They would ride in during the evening, spend the next day building and then head out the following day.

Those stops included Ithaca, New York; Youngstown, Ohio; Ames, Iowa; Casper, Wyoming; and Helena, Montana.

“It was amazing to be able to work with people and learn different stories about different communities and families across the country,” Vadas said. “Everywhere we went, we heard pretty similar stories about how people have had hard times trying to make it, but the organizations like Habitat for Humanity and others can really make a difference and provide a lot for a family.

“We learned if you can give a family an actual home to live in — an actual home they can call their own — it can really do a lot for them. It was an amazing opportunity.”

The group set out June 2 from Providence, Rhode Island, for it’s 77-day trip across the country, staying in the northern part of the United States.

The route and stops were all pre-planned through Bike & Build, including the overnight accommodations.

“We had a schedule we were following every day,” Vadas said. “Because the organization is nonprofit, we had a limited budget, so we were staying in churches, community centers and high schools and occasionally we would camp out. We would stay wherever anybody would be willing to put us up, so it could have been pretty much anywhere.”

Most of the time, the places which hosted the bikers were repeats from trips over the years.

“Most of our hosts had hosted groups before us in previous years, so they were all very excited everywhere we went,” Vadas said. “They would usually make us dinner and we would sit with the people of the congregation or community and talk to them. Sometimes we’d give little presentations about our trip if we were staying somewhere new.”

The group would average roughly 70 miles per day as they biked along every type of path — from highways and scenic routes to back roads and bike paths.

Along the way, they also experienced almost every type of weather possible.

“For the first month of the trip, it rained almost every day in the east,” Vadas said. “Eventually, we got a little more west and it got really nice and sunny. We did run into some wild weather out west. There are some pretty big storms that roll through. We got caught in some hailstorms and caught in freezing rain in the mountains. It snowed on us a little bit in Montana. It was just all over the place.”

The 21-year-old, nor anyone else in the group, had any trouble once they reached the Rocky Mountains.

“It was really a good experience climbing those mountains,” Vadas said. “We had been talking about it for a month and a half by the time we finally got out there. Luckily, we had enough miles under our legs to be able to do it without too much trouble. We climbed up the Rockies and had some pretty spectacular views.”

Once the group reached Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 15, they immediately headed for the beach to celebrate and finish something they had started two months before.

“We all took our bikes and dipped the front wheel of our bikes into the Pacific Ocean,” Vadas said. “When we left Rhode Island, we dipped the back wheels of our bikes in the Atlantic. That was a nice thing to get to do.”

The Providence to Seattle group raised an whopping $144,201 for their trip to help families in need of a home.

The next day, Vadas boarded a flight back home to make it in time for the start of cross country season at West Chester University.

Though it hasn’t even been a month since the trip ended, Vadas already knows it’s something he would like to do again.

“I think it was the perfect way to see the country,” he said. “I would absolutely like to do it again. I would like to take a longer trip and spend more time seeing different parts of the country and kind of have my own route that I follow.”

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