HAZLETON, Pa. (AP) — On any given weekday you'll find them pedaling cross-country on a two-month bicycle trip, gripping the handlebars as they push through sometimes unpleasant weather.
At week's end, though, they give their bikes a break and pick up hammers.
The members of this mobile construction crew of over one dozen come from across the United States and Canada. They range in age from 20-somethings to their 70s.
They took off June 2 from Ocean Beach, California, trekking eastward to their destination in Ocean City, New Jersey. Along the way there are rest stops and work stops where they repair homes for low-income families under The Fuller Center for Housing, a Christian non-profit group with a chapter in Hazleton that formerly went under the Habitat for Humanity name.
The cyclists are on a course blazed by The Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure. They arrived in Hazleton on Friday to help remodel a home on South Vine Street. From here they will head to Phoenixville, Chester County, and continue eastward until they reach their destination Aug. 10.
Joel Derksen, 26, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, said the group is raising money for home projects, spreading word about their work and helping out at seven different building sites on their journey.
In Hazleton they were adding siding to a half of a double home at 108 S. Vine St.
Some of the volunteer bicyclists are familiar with construction projects and others are learning as they go, Derksen said. Some have been on past trips; for others, it's their inaugural mission trip. Of the team, 14 will ride the entire length from the west to the east coast, while others join in along the way due to other obligations.
Derksen found out about the mission work through a friend and joined the crew in 2016. This year he was asked to come back as a trip leader.
They found oppressive heat along this year's route and a lot of rain in Pennsylvania that made pedaling a little more challenging, he said.
The rewards, though, and the people they meet on the voyage keep them going. For instance, they built a deck and ramp for a wheelchair-bound 11-year-old in Kansas City so the boy could get around a little easier, Derksen said.
As they travel, churches and church members offer them a place to rest and the comforts of food and a shower.
Among them was a church member in Indiana who said the group could stay at his home, instead of the church, for the night. They gratefully accepted his invitation.
In a way the traveling team gets to experience a taste of what some of the families they help are going through. They learn what it is like to find help from strangers and what it means to live in transition without a permanent home to safely shelter them, Derksen said.
For two months the volunteers don't have a home.
"Everyone on these rides leaves a changed person," Derksen said.
Courtney Fields, a media intern from Georgia, follows the group in a support vehicle that carries their supplies and offers respite for those who have pushed themselves to their limits. She has built homes in Peru but never went on a journey quite like this one and didn't know what to expect.
They'll travel about 100 miles each day with a rest every 20 miles, Fields said.
Each group member comes from different backgrounds. There's an accountant, Fields said as she pointed to a team member working on the Hazleton home. There's a science teacher, a builder, a retiree, a full-time volunteer, a college student and an engineer.
Karl Trimmer of Georgia stood on a porch roof of the South Vine Street home adding trim to the second-floor windows. He was close to his roots Saturday as he grew up in Harrisburg.
Rick Nowlin of Washington state spent his career building. The semi-retired contractor was at church one day in 2014 when a fleet of Fuller Center bicyclists rode through. He was impressed but he also felt compelled.
"I can bike, not great but I can. I can build, too," he said.
He felt that God was calling him to ride with them and in 2015, he did.
At home he can let his bicycle sit on unfavorable weather days and navigate around tough terrain like hilly landscapes without a second thought. However, during these mission trips, there's only one route to take and obstacles to overcome.
Each team member has their own skill that helps in travel or on the job site, he said as his fellow volunteers took his lead and connected the interlocking pieces of vinyl siding as they worked to cover the home's facade. Meanwhile, other members sliced into sheets of vinyl siding with shears after measuring pieces to cover the home.
In a few months, the local Fuller Center chapter hopes to have the two-bedroom home ready for a family. The house was donated to Habitat for Humanity in the 1990s and will be sold with a low mortgage to a low-income family.
The cyclists were hosted at Victory Bible Church in Junedale. A community picnic will be held at the church following today's 10 a.m. service for Fuller House administration, the cyclists and anyone in greater Hazleton who wants to learn about the Fuller Center.
For more information on the cyclists visit, www.fullercenterbikeadventure.org.
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