The Habitat Bicycle Challenge originated from one Yale student’s desire to make change in the world by hosting more than just a bake sale. In 1994, Antony Brydon and seven of his friends saddled up and biked across the country, raising enough money to build one house for a deserving New Haven family. Fourteen years later, the Challenge has grown to be the largest single fundraiser for any Habitat for Humanity affiliate in the country, collectively raising over $2.4 million and spreading awareness about Habitat’s mission to hundreds of communities across the country.
Although the Challenge expanded into a three-route, 90-person endeavor, it has remained grass-roots-based and entirely student-run. To organize the trip, 12 Yale student leaders begin planning in October, devoting the rest of the school year to planning safe routes, training riders, securing sponsorships, calling host churches and making all the other arrangements that go into a long-distance bicycle tour. They spend a significant amount of time together in the Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven office, where they become well acquainted with the organization for which they are raising money. The riders, likewise, begin their preparations in November when, after being accepted on the ride, they ask friends and family members for their financial support to reach the $4,000 minimum fundraising goal, and then they begin training on their bikes by March.
Last year, in an attempt to build more institutional memory within the organization and ensure that HBC was as safe as possible for all participants, several former leaders and riders joined together to form the first HBC Student Board of Directors. We developed a leader training program that included Wilderness First Aid certification, a two-day National Outdoor Leadership School course and a spring break simulation of the HBC experience. We trained prospective riders on routes in the New Haven area; instituted a fitness test for all participants; underwent a comprehensive review of every HBC route; and, most importantly, served as a critical source of support and guidance for the trip’s leaders.
Despite our best efforts, bicycling cross-country is a dangerous undertaking and accidents happen. The Habitat Bicycle Challenge family has been deeply affected by recent accidents leading up to and on our trips. While the decision to ride cross-country on a bicycle with HBC has always rested with the individual rider, we, the Habitat Bicycle Challenge Student Board of Directors, can no longer endorse and organize the trip in its current form for these riders. The Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven Board of Directors, the Habitat staff and the ride’s student organizers have concluded that the benefits of this bicycle ride are not worth the inherent risks that accompany placing 90 cyclists on American roads.
We know that this announcement will affect many people, and not just those on the Yale campus. In addition to funding the construction of dozens of homes in New Haven, HBC has empowered hundreds of college students to give up their summer for the greater good and has inspired countless communities across the country to believe that young people can make a difference. For these reasons, we believe that we have a responsibility to continue the mission and spirit of the Challenge. We cannot just walk away from our charity, our students and our nationwide network of supporters.
We propose a reincarnation of the Challenge: a new adventure that will allow Antony Brydon’s vision to live on for years to come. The next Habitat Challenge could take several forms; proposed ideas include long-distance backpacking and kayaking trips. We invite any interested members of the HBC and Yale communities to join us at a meeting on Monday, Oct. 1, at 8 p.m. in the Dwight Hall Common Room to lend us your ideas and energy and to help shape the future of fundraising for Habitat at Yale. We hope you will step up to the Challenge.
Jessica Bialecki is a senior in Silliman College. Eric Bloom is a senior in Morse College. Sophie Turrell is a senior in Berkeley College. They are members of the Habitat Bike Challenge Student Board of Directors.