May 16, 2011

Riding for a cause

Caitlin Skufca raising awareness about affordable housing


PLATTSBURGH — Caitlin Skufca wasn't sure what to do over the summer.

Compete in the grueling Ironman Lake Placid?

Did that last year.

Just relax?

Not a chance.

Then she came up with the idea of biking across the country.

"I wanted to do something new," the Wilmington native said. "I also wanted to see the country."

She just had to figure out how to make her idea happen.

Skufca entered the 2010 Ironman with her dad, Bill, but he nixed the idea of a father-daughter cross-country ride. Not to be discouraged, she turned to the Internet.

"I wanted to do it with anyone who would go," Skufca said.

What she found was a group of people who would go and also support a cause along the way.

Skufca and 33 others are set to ride 3,778 miles in a little over two months for Bike and Build, a nonprofit organization that raises money and awareness for affordable housing. They'll leave Portsmouth, N.H., June 22 and pedal across the northern U.S., finishing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Aug. 27.

Unlike in an Ironman, there will be breaks. But Skufca expects riding day after day to be even more challenging than pushing herself for 13 consecutive hours in the triathlon.

"I think it will be tougher to be on the bike every day," the Lake Placid High School graduate said. "I know last year, I'd go out for Ironman training and sometimes I'd think, 'Ugh, I don't want to ride today,' so I'd turn around and go home.

"But from what I hear, it's all about who you're with. Everybody keeps you motivated. And you're riding for a cause, so that helps."

Bike and Build organizes rides through different parts of the country for young adults ages 18-25. Every rider must raise $4,000 to participate. Throughout the trip, they learn about affordable housing and decide which projects to award grants to.

Skufca and her fellow riders are required to spend 12 hours working on a housing project before they leave — she's volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. And they're scheduled to put the bikes away and help build houses on 10 days along the way.

Skufca is a sophomore at the College of Idaho. The skier — she's on the school's alpine team — and outdoors enthusiast doesn't have any building experience and didn't know much about the housing issue before discovering Bike and Build.

But she's excited that she found a way to satisfy her thirst for a summer adventure and make a difference at the same time.

"It will be interesting to learn more about affordable housing and become an advocate," said Skufca, who was accepted by Bike and Build in December. She said she's been raising the money she needs by talking to friends, family and anyone she can think of.

Each rider receives a new road bike and a training guide, and Skufca said she's been riding every day to prepare. The trip will start out with shorter distances and then increase to as many as 115 miles a day. Skufca is used to being active, but she's never tackled a ride this long — or anything close.

"The most I've ever done is when I was training for Ironman, and that doesn't even compare," she said.

During the trip, riders will break into smaller groups each day and go at their own pace, while a support vehicle travels the route as well. Bike and Build will provide meals and accommodations — either at community centers, churches and schools, or, sometimes, camping out.

There are eight Bike and Build rides this summer.

"I chose this route because they're places I've never been," Skufca said. "And I'm really excited about going through Glacier National Park (in Montana) and through the Cascades in Washington.

"I was also trying to avoid the heat. But I guess this is the ride that gets the most rain, and last year it snowed on them in Glacier."

The route will pass through the North Country in the second week. Skufca and her fellow riders will pedal to Silver Bay on June 27 and stay in Indian Lake on June 28.

Then they'll have 3,472 miles to go.

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