Sweep Day

Every day that we ride, two designated people are assigned to the role of “sweep”. Sweep stays behind the rest of the group, making sure that everyone is accounted for. Today, Grace and I were sweep, so we packed extra snacks, tube, tires, and a med kit.

It was a relaxed 70 mile ride with plenty of stretch breaks and shaded naps. Grace and I had some great conversations on the road before rolling into our host site at around 3PM. Before dinner, several groups presented their topics on affordable housing. Most presentations discusssed government regulation of the US housing landscape.

To recap the last few days, we rode across the muddy river into Ohio two days ago. That night, we stayed in Marietta, before biking to Wellston, 90 miles away. Marietta was a very historical place, with red brick roads and colonial-looking houses lining the streets. Wellston was a smaller, more industrial-looking, oil and coal producing town of about 5000 people.

Tomorrow, we will be working at a build site here in Huntington, West Virginia. It will be our first day off the saddle in a week, and I can’t wait to wake up at 7:30 rather than 5:30 for once. I’m going to catch up on all the sleep I have been missing. Hope that you are all doing well!

 

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Mountain Momma

An update before we leave West Virginia (for now). The last week has been as up and down as the Appalachians we rode through. Some highs and lows:

-Seeing Confederate flags hanging from porches and on license plates continues to baffle me.

-The mountains and the woods are truly beautiful and make me miss hiking.

-Grace and I reached a peak and it felt like we were biking in the clouds. The fog around us paradoxically cleared my mind.

-Another member of our team crashed and will not be riding with us for a little while. This is always hard because we have become real close and know how much everyone wants to ride.

-The combination of hills and gravel continues to terrify me. But are these are great opportunities for short hikes with my bike.

-I was vanned for the last five miles on our century day in Appalachia.

-The kindness of all our hosts keeps on surprising me in the best possible way. I hope to never forget that conversation I had with Mary (who let a bunch of smelly cyclists shower in her home) about life and love.

-Buck and Marcy–a couple living at the top of a huge hill in the Appalachians. They were a true godsend, offering ice, water and a boost in morale when we needed it most.

Rough Riding

Yesterday, the route to Harrisburg only had 50 miles and two directions on the cue sheet. Somehow, I still managed to get lost. Marah and I went more than 20 miles in the wrong direction.

The moment of realization was quite heartbreaking, but we decided to re-route ourselves and stay on our bikes instead of taking the van back to the route. Around mid-day, things started getting rough. Marah’s chain got looped and stuck in the wrong place. We were both starving and stuck in the Pennsylvania countryside. I spotted some Confederate flags.

After a couple of hours navigating through PA, my spirits began to get really low. In the moment, it was so difficult to stay positive because of the physical and mental exhaustion. All I wanted was to be off the road, out of the blazing sun, and in a shower. Mentally, I was dramatizing every small pain and annoyance. The soreness in my legs felt like they were reverberating through my body. The countryside was no longer peaceful, but isolating. I began thinking about bad decisions, failed relationships, and recent disappointments.

Retracing my memories of yesterday with a larger perspective, the views were actually sensational. We had beautiful blue skies, lazy hills, and colorful farmlands that looked like something from a picture book. In the moment, though, every hill seemed like a mountain between me and where I wanted to be. I guess sometimes you are quite a ways from where you want or plan to be. Oftentimes, challenges we face are more psychological than physical. And that’s what makes life interesting.

Today, we biked in the rain for most of the day. This made the many train tracks in Pennsylvania extremely slick, and several riders slipped on them. One rider hurt her arm pretty seriously and will not be continuing the ride with us for the time being. If you’re reading this Rachel, our thoughts are with you and I wish you a speedy recovery!

For me, today was a largely uneventful day in terms of challenge and self reflection. I was given “navigation buddies” after my directional mishap yesterday, so I spent most of today following my awesome group of Emily, Cindy, and Sascha. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures from yesterday (thought it was a day I would rather forget) so I’ll post some from today’s ride. We are now in Hagerstown, MD. Tomorrow, we build!

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Schuylkill!*

Now say that five times fast…

Today we had 80 miles in pleasant Pennsylvania with about 5700 ft elevation gain on our route. Marah and Jillian kept us going at a speedy pace and we finished at the front of the pack for the first time ever (hear that, mom?). It rained almost all day, but the scenery was beautiful nonetheless. A river (possibly the Delaware) rolled alongside us. Green, meadowy fields were dotted with trees and farms against a distant Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop. Even as rain drops lined my glasses, I could feel the tranquil beauty of landscape in front of me.

Today was our longest ride yet, but it was one of the easier days as well. I can’t tell if it is because I am more mentally and physically prepared, or if it’s because the miles have been more agreeable.

*pronounced sKOOk-uhl

Bear Mountain

Day four was a long day of riding, but long days are pretty much the norm now. I started the day with Cindy, Emily, and Kaitlyn. The climb up Bear Mountain was long and tiring, but also incredibly beautiful. During the climb, I separated from my group and bumped into Rachel and Sarah a couple of times as we passed and fell behind each other throughout the entire ascent. I must have clipped out at least ten times, but each time I saw Rachel or Sarah struggling with me, I clipped back in and kept pedaling. I was feeling pain in the side that I bruised two months ago, but the peak was so beautiful that I forgot all about it. At the top, we could see all the work we had accomplished in the last hour and a half, slowly inching up the mountain. At some points during the ride, we intersected with the Appalachian Trail, and I spotted some beastly hikers that I assumed were AT thru-hikers.

After lunch, we lost Cindy and Emily, and I began riding with Kaitlyn and Grace. The intensity of the heat in combination with the climb was affecting some more than others, and Kaitlyn decided to take the van after seeing black spots. Grace and I rode on. Then things started really going wrong. Between the two of us, we had 7 flats and a couple of fallen chains. After cursing and coaxing our bikes for an entire afternoon, we finally arrived at the host site at around 8 pm. Huge thanks to Adriel and Kelsey for being the most patient sweep ever.

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Cones and Carnivals in Connecticut

On day three of riding, we passed through several towns in Connecticut. I rode with Sascha, Trevor, Michael, and Racheal. Five miles out of the parking lot, I got my first flat tire. About ten miles down the road, we came across a turtle courageously trying to cross a busy road. Being the Good Samaritans that we are, we made a stop and Racheal helped it across the street.

Our first intentional stop was at a cute country store that had a sign advertising ice-cream. Once inside, we chatted with Kevin, the owner of the store, who graciously offered us freshly-made apple cider donuts. The “first batch of the season”, he said. They were melt-in-your-mouth good. We also managed to DM ice-cream cones. If you’re passing through the CT countryside near Plainville, be sure to keep an eye out for this quaint little place. And say a little hello to Kevin for us.

Our second break was in Cheshire. It was a busy city, nicely old-fashioned, with plenty of Saturday traffic. We saw one of those blow-up moonwalk things, and impulsively pulled over. The sidewalks near town center were full of vendors selling trinkets, wandering shoppers, and other townsfolk going about their business. One of the people in my riding group managed to get a donation of carnival tickets and the five of us piled into the moonwalk castle. Our joy was short-lived because the castle soon began to topple underneath our weight. On reflection, it probably wasn’t the best idea to allow five full-sized people with legs like ours to pound on flimsy plastic and air.

About a quarter of the way to our stop, we intersected with the Farmington Canal Trail. In that moment, I got a little tinge of nostalgia in my heart thinking about all the times I had ridden that trail in preparation for this trip across the country. We rode in to lunch soon after. After burgers, bananas, and peanut butter, eaten with our tired feet in the water, we pushed on. It was mostly downhill in the second half, as we passed Southbury and Sandy Hook. At about 3 PM, we spotted a lake and decided to take a swim, since we were only about 10 miles from our destination. The weather and the water seemed to welcome a dip, but almost as soon as I dove in the water, my face came in contact with a soft pillow of mud.

Danbury is a good-sized town. Passing through the outskirts, it looked a little bit like New Haven’s west side, which is more run down. The stores were small, and the grimy street we passed on was loaded with potholes. However, also like New Haven, it is not without its finer points. The police station looked like a castle made of red brick: intimidating, but also comforting. The last mile of the ride was all uphill (a 10% gradient, someone mentioned). We rode in huffing and puffing, greeted by some small, enthusiastic cheerleaders on the side lawn of Danbury United Methodist Church.

This was the first time we had seen mattresses in about a week, and everyone whooped and hollered at the sight of them. I decided not to claim one, because there weren’t enough mattresses for all of us, and because I generally sleep like a rock under all conditions. Once again, the church community showed us their kindness, offering their time on a Saturday to make us all a delicious pasta dinner.

So, basically, I had ice-cream and donuts, played at a carnival, and took a mud bath. I also got the chance to really see the state that I have been living in for the last four years.20140618-160642-58002334.jpg

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Hello Again, CT

Day One
31 of us dipped our tires into the Atlantic Ocean in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a bright, beautiful, and auspicious, first day. We took advantage of the favorable weather conditions and the low mileage to make plenty of stops and play along the way. Riding through our country’s smallest state, we made sure to take breaks when we spotted playgrounds, cows, McDonald’s (where Katelyn successfully DM’ed* soft serve cones for all of us), and cool tractors. Lunch was in front of a breathtaking waterfall, which I later disappointingly discovered was man-made.

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After lunch, dark clouds came out, showered us with rain, and cooled us down until we arrived at our first stop. The 40-mile ride took us across Rhode Island to Plainfield, Connecticut. The town seemed like a snug, pleasant place, with a population of around 15,000. We enjoyed showers at the City Hall, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church generously provided us with shelter, food, and MASSAGES. I think we all felt quite pampered.

Day Two
This morning, the day began cold, wet, and grey. The hills we rode through were casually described as “rolling” by Rob, one of our four fearless leaders. It was a challenging day; one, because of the weather; and two, because my group took a wrong turn, which added 15 additional miles to our ride. Luckily, it happened on a day when we only had about 50 miles of riding. Luckily, it happened on a day I rode with two amazing women: Ashley and Cindy. Luckily, Cindy had beef jerky in her Camelbak. Luckily, it’s laundry day and the prospect of nice-smelling spandex kept me pedaling on.

After our extended ride, we were once again greeted with warmth and hospitality, this time by Faith Lutheran Church in Middletown, CT. Dinner was spectacular, especially after a long and wet day on the road. Middletown seems to be a modestly sized college town, home to Wesleyan University. It is amazing how much, and how many times, the landscape has changed in just 100 miles. Already, we have gone from the ocean to cities large and small, through woods on dirt paths, where we find ourselves surrounded by nothing but tall trees and the smell of nature. We have sped through neighborhoods and cute towns, past farmlands and fields, and over bridges made of wood and steel. In all these places, we have been met with intrigued smiles and generosity. Today, a Kit-Kat bar and a Hershey’s purchased by a random man we met at a gas station served as much needed fuel, lifting our spirits when we were 15 miles off-route.

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To give you all an idea of what downtime looks like, let me paint you a picture of my current surroundings. I see a circle of people stretching out on those excruciatingly painful foam rollers. Some are playing board and card games while others are passed out on thermarests or journaling.

One last thing–I have been told that parents other than my own (Hi Mom and Dad!) have been reading this blog. Just want to say hello and welcome! Thank you for reading. I am trying to post as often as possible, but I am currently looking for that happy spot in the tradeoff between quality and quantity. Comment and say hello! In return, I may write an update on your kid. 😉


*Donation Magic, a term utilized as both noun and verb. Basically, spread word of how we are trying to change the affordable housing landscape, turn heads with our matching spandex, and get awesome free stuff in return.