Cyclist Melissa Panter to peddle affordable housing message

SET FOR A CROSS COUNTRY TREK — Melissa Panter of Casco will begin a cross-country bike ride as part of the Bike & Build trek, which will cover nearly 4,000 miles. During the ride, Melissa will help build affordable homes and spread the message that the country needs more affordable housing.

SET FOR A CROSS COUNTRY TREK — Melissa Panter of Casco will begin a cross-country bike ride as part of the Bike & Build trek, which will cover nearly 4,000 miles. During the ride, Melissa will help build affordable homes and spread the message that the country needs more affordable housing.

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

CASCO — Melissa Panter hopes to make the American dream a reality for some families as she pedals across the country this summer.

As a new college graduate, Melissa fully understands that owning a home is no longer guaranteed, especially when one faces student loan debt and an uncertain economy.

“While I was in school (at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst), I worked on some local projects and found that people are really struggling to find affordable housing,” the 22-year-old from Casco said.

An environmental design major, Melissa studied regional planning and developing sustainable agriculture. She discovered that affordable housing issues remain unanswered across the country.

So, she plans to create awareness about the problem and help others build their future homes.

Starting this Sunday, June 16, Melissa will join 29 other cyclists as part of a team of riders taking part in the “Bike & Build” trek.

Bike & Build was founded in 2002 by Marc Bush, a former leader of the Habitat Bicycle Challenge. In the summer of 2003, two treks were launched with the goal of raising money to assist affordable housing organizations to serve more constituents and to raise public awareness regarding housing issues. Each rider must apply for the trek, and if selected, must raise $4,500 or more. By 2009, Bike & Build expanded to eight treks (see map). To date, over 1,600 participants cycled across the country, raising over $3.3 million.

Melissa first caught wind of the Bike & Build effort when she was a freshman in college from a former Girl Scout friend. Logging onto the Bike & Build website, Melissa charted her friend’s excursion, reading her blog entries detailing various experiences, as well as gaining an appreciation of the sights across America.

“Having traveled to places like India and France, I came to realize that there is so much to see right here in my own country,” Melissa said.

So, Melissa applied to be a Bike & Build trekker.

“It was a competitive process. I had to write an essay and answer various questions. I think that my past experiences, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and studying in India and France about building sustainable cities helped me get in,” Melissa said.

She was worried, however, when she saw other applicants posting on Facebook that they either had been placed on the waiting list or rejected. Melissa was relieved and very excited when she was notified of her acceptance.

MAINE TO SANTA BARBARA, Calif. shown with the green line is the trip Casco's Melissa Panter will set out on this Sunday. It is one of eight treks sponsored by Bike & Build. The following is Melissa's itinerary: P1 w23 trip itinerary June 16: Portland June 17: Portland June 18: Build Day June 19: Kittery, 65 miles June 20: Andover, MA, 62 June 21: Fitchburg, MA, 41 June 22: Build Day June 23: Northampton, MA, 60 June 24: Pittsfield, MA, 41 June 25: Build Day June 26: Poughkeepsie, NY, 82 June 27: Port Jervis, NY, 59 June 28: Mt. Pocono, PA, 55 June 29: Berwick, PA, 54 June 30: State College, PA, 100 July 1: Johnstown, PA, 85 July 2: Pittsburgh, PA, 79 July 3: Day Off July 4: Cadiz, OH, 77 July 5: Coshocton, OH, 67 July 6: Columbus, OH, 77 July 7: Build Day July 8: Build Day July 9: Yellow Springs, OH, 55 July 10: Build Day July 11: Rushville, IN, 102 July 12: Bloomington, IN, 86 July 13: Lawrenceville, IL, 95 July 14: Salem, IL, 61 July 15: St. Louis, MO, 82 July 16: Build Day July 17: Owensville, MO, 100 July 18: Lake Ozark, MO, 87 July 19: Springfield, MO, 94 July 20: Build Day July 21: Joplin, MO, 80 July 22: Build Day July 23: Build Day July 24: Vinita, OK, 59 July 25: Tulsa, OK, 69 July 26: Build Day July 27: Chandler, OK, 69 July 28: Yukon, OK, 64 July 29: Cordell, OK, 89 July 30: Wheeler, TX, 78 July 31: Amarillo, TX, 97 Aug. 1: Build Day Aug. 2: Friona, TX, 71 Aug. 3: Portales, NM, 56 Aug. 4: Roswell, NM, 89 Aug. 5: Day Off Aug. 6: Carrizozo, NM, 89 Aug. 7: Socorro, NM, 76 Aug. 8: Pie Town, NM, 84 Aug. 9: Springerville, AZ, 71 Aug. 10: Heber-Overgaard, AZ, 56 Aug. 11: Payson, AZ, 54 Aug. 12: Build Day Aug. 13: Cottonwood, AZ, 68 Aug. 14: Build Day Aug. 15: Flagstaff, AZ, 50 Aug. 16: Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ, 78 Aug. 17: Day Off Aug. 18: Williams, AZ, 59 Aug. 19: Build Day Aug. 20: Seligman, AZ, 42 Aug. 21: Kingman, AZ, 86 Aug. 22: Needles, AZ, 53 Aug. 23: Parker, AZ, 70 Aug. 24: Twentynine Palms, CA, 110 Aug. 25: Apple Valley, CA, 81 Aug. 26: Wrightwood, CA, 42 Aug. 27: Palmdale, CA, 37 Aug. 28: Build Day Aug. 29: Santa Clarita, CA, 69 Aug. 30: Santa Paula, CA, 35 Aug. 31: Santa Barbara, CA, 40  Total Mileage: 3,937

MAINE TO SANTA BARBARA, Calif. shown with the green line is the trip Casco's Melissa Panter will set out on this Sunday. It is one of eight treks sponsored by Bike & Build. The following is Melissa's itinerary:
P1 w23 trip itinerary
June 16: Portland
June 17: Portland
June 18: Build Day
June 19: Kittery, 65 miles
June 20: Andover, MA, 62
June 21: Fitchburg, MA, 41
June 22: Build Day
June 23: Northampton, MA, 60
June 24: Pittsfield, MA, 41
June 25: Build Day
June 26: Poughkeepsie, NY, 82
June 27: Port Jervis, NY, 59
June 28: Mt. Pocono, PA, 55
June 29: Berwick, PA, 54
June 30: State College, PA, 100
July 1: Johnstown, PA, 85
July 2: Pittsburgh, PA, 79
July 3: Day Off
July 4: Cadiz, OH, 77
July 5: Coshocton, OH, 67
July 6: Columbus, OH, 77
July 7: Build Day
July 8: Build Day
July 9: Yellow Springs, OH, 55
July 10: Build Day
July 11: Rushville, IN, 102
July 12: Bloomington, IN, 86
July 13: Lawrenceville, IL, 95
July 14: Salem, IL, 61
July 15: St. Louis, MO, 82
July 16: Build Day
July 17: Owensville, MO, 100
July 18: Lake Ozark, MO, 87
July 19: Springfield, MO, 94
July 20: Build Day
July 21: Joplin, MO, 80
July 22: Build Day
July 23: Build Day
July 24: Vinita, OK, 59
July 25: Tulsa, OK, 69
July 26: Build Day
July 27: Chandler, OK, 69
July 28: Yukon, OK, 64
July 29: Cordell, OK, 89
July 30: Wheeler, TX, 78
July 31: Amarillo, TX, 97
Aug. 1: Build Day
Aug. 2: Friona, TX, 71
Aug. 3: Portales, NM, 56
Aug. 4: Roswell, NM, 89
Aug. 5: Day Off
Aug. 6: Carrizozo, NM, 89
Aug. 7: Socorro, NM, 76
Aug. 8: Pie Town, NM, 84
Aug. 9: Springerville, AZ, 71
Aug. 10: Heber-Overgaard, AZ, 56
Aug. 11: Payson, AZ, 54
Aug. 12: Build Day
Aug. 13: Cottonwood, AZ, 68
Aug. 14: Build Day
Aug. 15: Flagstaff, AZ, 50
Aug. 16: Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ, 78
Aug. 17: Day Off
Aug. 18: Williams, AZ, 59
Aug. 19: Build Day
Aug. 20: Seligman, AZ, 42
Aug. 21: Kingman, AZ, 86
Aug. 22: Needles, AZ, 53
Aug. 23: Parker, AZ, 70
Aug. 24: Twentynine Palms, CA, 110
Aug. 25: Apple Valley, CA, 81
Aug. 26: Wrightwood, CA, 42
Aug. 27: Palmdale, CA, 37
Aug. 28: Build Day
Aug. 29: Santa Clarita, CA, 69
Aug. 30: Santa Paula, CA, 35
Aug. 31: Santa Barbara, CA, 40
Total Mileage: 3,937

On the Bike & Build website, each trek member has their profile posted, along with a link that people can click and donate to her effort. As part of the profile, Melissa wrote, “I have changed into the brave person I am today and I am ready to take on this journey myself! My education has been changing and morphing into what it is today through my college experiences working on farms, traveling abroad, and working with communities. 

My education with building sustainable cities connects me to my drive to raise money for affordable housing. As I study regional planning and learn about affordable housing issues that are not being addressed, my future plans start to change toward helping and working for this cause and this starts with my Bike & Build summer. I hope to use Bike and Build as a part of my education toward this foundation and to work hands-on with communities trying to change through raising awareness and making a difference with affordable housing.”

Melissa’s team (18 females and 12 males) will begin their journey in Portland, dipping their bike wheels in Casco Bay and then pedal 3,950 miles to California, where they will end the journey dipping their tires in the Pacific Ocean in late August. The travel schedule includes a few days off, but is packed with several jaunts of over 70 to 80 miles in a day, as well as “build days,” on which the group will assist Habitat for Humanity teams and other organizations to construct new affordable homes.

“I’ve been training all semester. Once you raise $1,000, you can order your bike. At first, my order was wrong, but by the beginning of May, I got the bike. I can pick it up with one hand, it’s that light,” Melissa said. “I’ve become more knowledgeable about cycling and all the gear by talking with bike shop owners.”

When she tells them that she will pedal nearly 4,000 miles this summer, they all initially reply, “You’re doing what?”

“I ride as much as possible,” she said. “My legs are going to be jacked.”

Rides start at 7 a.m. Cyclists are given “cue cards,” which outline roads they will travel upon. Riders will ultimately form groups of four based on “how fast or slow you ride,” Melissa said. The schedule allows time to “stop and look around,” or “jump in the water” and “explore.” Rides usually conclude at 4 or 5 p.m. A support van accompanies each trek. If bad weather rolls in or if a rider is injured, cyclists are transported via the van to the next destination point.

“My parents are concerned about every trip I take. Today, my mom freaked out because there was a chance of a thunderstorm, so she wouldn’t let me ride my bike to Bridgton (to The News office). They’ll be fine. I’ll be fine,” Melissa said.

Having never been west of Oklahoma, Melissa looks forward to visiting states she considers “key places in my life.” They include passing close by to U-Mass, where “I know I will have a bunch of people cheering me on as I go by” and Oklahoma, the state where Melissa was born!

“It will be a huge feat to bike what my family has driven so many times,” Melissa said.

Different life path

How does one discover a passion for making the world a more “sustainable” place to live?

Melissa’s interest was first piqued as a member of the Lake Region National Honor Society.

“Our advisor, Ms. Chagrasulis, had us selling fluorescent light bulbs and trees as a fundraiser. That got me started,” said Melissa, who moved to the area after her freshman year in high school in 2006. “It had a snowball effect on me.”

Her interest in “sustainable” practices, such as solar power and gardening, after taking part in a leadership program off the Maine coast.

“I became a vegetarian after giving up meat for Lent. My competitive side pushed me to see how long I could do it. It kept going. It also changed my lifestyle. I research more about what I eat and what I buy,” she said.

While in college, Melissa went to France. Wanting to try the various cuisines, she gave up being a vegetarian. However, she follows a couple of rules — one, if she buys meat, it must be organic and cage-free. “If someone else buys it, I’ll eat it because I don’t want to be rude.”

She has kept her “eyes wide open” to learn new things and sample what the world has to offer.

“I live my life way differently than before,” she said. “For me, there’s been a lot of trial and error. It’s great to find out what your true passion is.”

Trips abroad, including a stay in India (where she studied how to create a more sustainable lifestyle in a place with a large number of people), forced Melissa to ride a bicycle as her primary means of transportation.

“I biked everywhere,” she said. “My passion about affordable housing and my experience biking became aligned with Bike & Build,” she said.

Once she completes the cross-country trek, Melissa will fly back to Maine and quickly put together applications for two major scholarships. She is contemplating returning to college to earn a master’s degree.

Right now, Melissa’s focus is the 3,950 miles ahead of her — a journey she is “so looking forward to.”

To make a donation to Melissa’s trek, go to www.bikeandbuild.org/rider/6556. Donors will receive postcards and e-mails during her ride.

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