A high-energy buzz of youthful zeal permeates the room, and the fact that the gathering is in a church is merely coincidence.
One by one, the 31 blue-T-shirt-clad Bike & Build members introduce themselves. They razz each other for various reasons - for stepping over their tongue, for their collegiate affiliation or for something that's happened along their route. Five stand at the front, telling the gathered locals what they're all about.
It's Wednesday evening at the First Presbyterian Church in Durango. Their bikes line an adjacent hallway next to the Westminster room, where they've just been treated to a spaghetti dinner by church members. It's also the room where the women will spend the night on sleeping pads on the floor.
They'll stay two nights here on a 3,500-mile-plus bicycle ride from North Carolina to San Diego, during which they stop along the way nine times to help build houses for Habitat for Humanity or other affordable-housing groups.
So when they're not pedaling an average of 75 miles per day, they're laboring. The two-month trip is physically, mentally and even socially challenging. Still, it's nearly unanimous: They're having the time of their lives.
And, as the recent college grads among them say, it's a way to delay the real world. Ask if they have a job waiting, and they'll likely say, "We don't like to think about that while we're on the trip."
Whether they're biking or building, each day is punctuated by fun. There are scavenger hunts, dance parties atop mountain passes and the ongoing roadkill count (614 to date, with squashed possums topping the list and armadillos a strong second). And, of course, there's the ever-popular make-believe radio show, brought to you by Dylan Kelly and Greg Sloan from Rolling Studio 1A. While whizzing along, Kelly and Sloan give the news and weather, interview guests and, as Sloan admits, sometimes draw an unsafe crowd of fellow cyclists on narrow highways.
On riding days, they wake at 5 a.m., pack, discuss the day's route and set off. Wednesday's ride has taken them from Ouray to Durango, 75 miles with a combination of climbing and high altitude that almost none of them have yet experienced. They're tired, but that doesn't mean they won't push the 1 a.m. curfew.
It's a build day, which means they can sleep until 7 a.m.
By a little after 9, they're in Bayfield to work on a Habitat for Humanity of La Plata County duplex being built south of downtown at an area known as Fox Farm Ranch.
Each home in the duplex is about 1,000 square feet, with three bedrooms and 1ÃÂ½ baths, explains Jen Nail, Habitat's development and volunteer coordinator, on a tour. Habitat built two other duplexes last summer, and there's land for 24 total duplexes in the neighborhood.
Most riders attend East Coast colleges - Virginians and North Carolinians seem to dominate the group - but Gabe Ofiesh is a 2006 University of Colorado graduate. He delayed entry into the "real world" for a couple years, most recently by working at a bike shop in his hometown of Charlottesville, Va.
Ofiesh, a route leader on his second Bike and Build tour, is impressed by support from each town.
"We feed off the energy of our hosts," he says. "We've had some amazing hosts, and this is definitely up in the top three. ... What we do is easy."
Work on this duplex is moving quickly, in great part because of a nine-member AmeriCorps group working five days a week. On this day, AmeriCorps (gray T-shirts) and Bike and Build (blue T-shirts) work in unison. Some are standing on a ladder, supported horizontally, to finish the siding. One student is on the roof, leaning out to paint an eave. Others are cutting, nailing or resting in the shade. A truck is scheduled to arrive soon with insulation.
Nhan Vuong, a recent Rutgers University grad with an eye on medical school, wanted to challenge himself. He has done so, plus earned fellow recognition for the best tan line between shoulder and arm.
"It's just really extreme, mentally and physically," says Vuong, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam during the war. "I didn't think too much about how much biking it would be."
It's lunchtime, and group members are edging toward the food provided by Mountainview Community Church of Durango. Most have lost weight, unable to consume the calories they expend.
Steven Mills is in charge of the megaphone: "Step away from the strawberry, Michelle," he chides.
"The social group dynamics are very interesting," says Amy Saunders, a recent North Carolina-Asheville graduate who plans to attend law school in a year or so. She is one of four route leaders, who are in charge of coordinating logistics.
"It's neat to see how everyone progresses - physically and internally," she says during a quick lunch. "You can really see people grow."
Thirty-one strangers have come together, bonded, matured and given each community they've touched a lift. Their work is part of a big effort that will benefit families nationwide, including the two local recipient families, who could move in as early as this fall.
As Saunders talks, the truck with insulation arrives, and the call goes out: Time to go back to work. Although the real world can wait, the insulation, it appears, cannot.
John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.