NEW PALESTINE — Eleven states. Eleven weeks on the bike. And more than 4,000 miles of cycling across the United States.
This is the challenge New Pal native Zachary Nagel has elected to embark on this summer. But his journey isn’t just for the sake of adventure; during the cross-country trip from Jacksonville, Florida, to Santa Cruz, California, Nagel and a group of around 30 cyclists will stop in several U.S. cities along the way to help build affordable housing for low-income families.
Nagel’s adventure will be through “Bike and Build,” a nonprofit that organizes cross-country and regional cycling trips for young adults while raising money and awareness for affordable housing across the United States. Bike and Build partners with other groups like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together; so when they’re not on the road, riders take a break to work on a construction project to help out low-income families.
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Nagel, who graduated from New Palestine High School in 2012, is an IUPUI graduate, an Eagle Scout and a member of the Marine Corps reserves. Nagel was a cross-country runner and diver in high school, which eventually led him to push himself toward other athletics endeavors like triathlons and long-distance cycling, he said.
Over the past six years, he has participated in a few century rides (100-mile races), but this kind of challenge is a new one, Nagel said.
The 23-year-old has been riding about 200 miles a week to keep himself in shape for the upcoming road trip. As for the house-building aspect, construction is brand new to Nagel, but he’s eager to step out of his comfort zone to serve those who need it, he said.
Churches, schools and other organizations help out the riders with food and lodging, sustaining them during their adventure, Nagel said. The trek will consist of 56 days of cycling, 16 days of building and two rest days.
Nagel said he wants to extend the values he learned as a Boy Scout as a young adult. One of the biggest lessons was to “leave no trace,” he said. He wants to take it a step further, leaving everywhere he goes better than when he found it.
“I wanted to one-up myself,” Nagel said. “I wanted to leave that lasting impact not just locally but across the nation.”
“Basically, I get to use my passion for biking and use it for good, to benefit people,” he added.
Evan Axthelm, Nagel’s fellow cyclist and childhood friend, encouraged Nagel to get on his bike and ride with the organization after participating on a cross-country adventure with Bike and Build in 2015. Axthelm said the summer changed his life, and he immediately knew that it was something Nagel should try out as well, he said.
With about 75 miles of biking a day, there will be several challenges along the way for Nagel, Axthelm said. But his friend is a skilled rider, a strong athlete and a natural leader. Those traits will help him immensely when the going gets rough, and his group needs someone to look to, Axthelm said.
“Through scouting, through the Marines, he has a lot of leadership experience,” Axthelm said. “People just gravitate toward following Zach. When he speaks, people listen.”
Bike and Build rides are a trip of a lifetime, and participants often return from their journey with leadership experience and a new perspective on the world, said Lily Goldberg, the organization’s director of outreach. Nagel’s journey will take him to Tallahassee to New Orleans, from Dallas to Reno; he’ll be exposed to new people and cultures every day, she said.
There is a big draw to Bike and Build for the adventure component of it, Goldberg said. But people end up experiencing life-altering personal growth, she said. They gain a new understanding of affordable housing and the impact they can make on the world when they devote themselves to helping others.
“Part of our mission is empowering young adults, and I think that’s one of the things we do best,” Goldberg said.
Nagel said he jumped at the opportunity after hearing of how it changed his friend’s life. He wanted to reach out everywhere he could, acknowledging that there are people in the world that need help everywhere you go, he said.
“This is an issue across the nation and across economic boundaries,” Nagel said. “It affects everybody. It really does.”
Nagel is collecting donations for his cross-country trip, with a goal to raise $5,000 before this summer. None of the funds will go to him personally but to affordable housing projects and all the groups that make Bike and Build possible, Nagel said.
More information on how to support Nagel can be found at www.classy.org/fundraiser/1224690.
New Palestine native Zachary Nagel hopes to raise $5,000 for affordable housing projects before he takes off on a cross-country trip this summer coordinated by nonprofit Bike and Build. Support his journey at classy.org/fundraiser/1224690.