I had three goals today – to pedal up all of the hills (my goal every day), to see an Amish buggy, and to do the zip-line at the camp where we stayed. Thanks to a combination of grit and luck, I accomplished all three! Despite the difficulty of the day, there were a lot of great moments.
Unfortunately, it didn’t start out so positively. Just after riding over railroad tracks and the support staff helping someone change a flat tire, I heard my own bike go “sshhhhhh….,” the universal sound for a deflating tire. Thankfully, the bike mechanic was only a few feet away. In his nimble hands, my tube was replaced and I was back on the road in less than five minutes. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one afflicted. At dinner that night, one of the mechanics asked everyone to raise their hands who had a flat tire (or multiple ones). More than 25 hands went up! Several people actually had three flats in one day. It might have been the wet pavement or a bunch of us might have run over a patch of something.
The weather was the other main cause of frustration in the beginning of the day. For the first few hours, there was a light mist. Normally, this would be hardly noticeable, but as I biked, the mist accumulated on my glasses. I could see okay, but the fog and raindrops muted the bright greens of the foliage that the rain brought out. It looked like the color had been turned down on the computer screen of the world. I tried taking them off, but the rain kept dripping in my eyes, and squinting gave me a headache. Instead I resorted to wiping them off occasionally with a handkerchief.
Of course, the hills put in another significant appearance. When I wrote a few weeks ago that I didn’t think you could cram more hills into a route than the one in Poolesville, I had no idea such a route as we did existed. Every time I started going down, I thought about what steep incline would be coming up soon. Eventually, I just came to accept the fact that there could and probably would be a hill around every corner.
Just before the first rest stop, we went through the town of Westin, which had two particularly interesting advertisements. The first was a sign for “Westin Firearms,” which was in the shape of a fancy crest and boasted, “Fulfilling your Second Amendment Rights.” It was an odd mix of Renaissance Faire and redneck. The second was a sign for a “Trout Rodeo,” for which the best case scenario would clearly involve roping a giant fish with a lasso. Once we were at the rest stop, we also saw a poster for a 2nd annual goat race, which sounded like it would fit in perfectly with the pig races at the County Fair.
The rest stop was at St. Peter’s bakery, in the teeny town of St. Peters. I felt particularly grateful arriving there, because the road turned just before a mega-hill that I doubted I was physically able to go up without falling over. And of course, because it was a bakery. I ended up getting a Linzer bite and a Russian tea cookie. The Linzer Bite was merely okay, but the Russian tea cookie brought back fond memories of my mom making them at Christmas. The stop itself was particularly long because there were long lines for both the bakery and the single restroom. But I actually wish I had longer to linger – their back porch overlooked a beautiful waterfall.
From there, we entered into Amish Country, in Lancaster County. I got really excited the first time I saw a buggy, and tried to get my camera out in time. I missed most of that first one, but did eventually snap a photo.
Fortunately, that was far from the last buggy I saw. In fact, I saw at least 10 to 12 during the course of the day! I even saw one house with 5 different buggies in front of it. Although I thought perhaps it was a buggy repair shop, I found out later (via a postcard, of all things) that the Amish meet for church services in a member’s home and then have lunch together. I also realized why I saw so many out on the roads – many of the families were probably out for a Sunday drive. After all, they certainly wouldn’t be watching TV or playing videogames, and work was forbidden. In addition to driving, sports seemed to be popular. In one of the towns, I saw a group of Amish playing baseball, with both men and women running around barefoot. We also passed a group of girls playing volleyball. It was refreshing to see the mix of old and relatively new, and the joy on their faces of being outside and with each other. I also saw a few people on bicycles, although I think they were conservative Mennonites rather than Amish. I believe regular bicycles are considered machines and therefore not allowed in Amish culture. Although their culture of isolation has its problems, many of us could learn from some of their priorities. In fact, the “Ride News” that night had the headline “Climate Riders Marvel at Amish Low-Carbon Lifestyle.”
However, the naivety of some historical religious folks also made me laugh. One of the towns we went through was named Intercourse. Seriously. There’s really only a few meanings to that word; it’s like naming your town Sex. I felt rather silly for having the thought process of a 12-year-old, but as one of the other riders took a photo of the sign “Intercourse Methodist Church,” I was slightly reassured that I wasn’t the only one who thought that was hilarious.
Another point of interest in Amish country was all of their beautiful vegetable gardens. Many people had large, orderly gardens with a variety of fresh produce already growing. Considering my ongoing issues with my garden, I was quite jealous. Of course, they have the advantages of personally learning from many generations before and having much more time to spend on it. Looking out over the rolling hills and valleys, dotted with these gardens, horse pastures, cultivated fields, and barns made up for having to climb so many of those hills.
The only problem I had with Amish country was the smell. Between the horse poop and the manure used for organic farming, everything had an unfortunately strong scent to it. Normally, it wouldn’t be too bad, but while I was huffing and puffing, inhaling a lot of air, it was very distinctive.
In addition, I felt vaguely nauseous after lunch, and the smell didn’t help. Lunch was bagged PB&J, trail mix, and chips, and I think I may have eaten too fast. By the time I arrived at the pavilion, I was starving and may have overwhelmed my stomach. In-between the lunch and second water break, I also fought off cramps. I’d barely begin to feel one coming on, slow down, and have it go away. I’d feel better, speed up, and repeat the entire process.
Fortunately, I was pedaling my way towards another major highlight – ice cream. Our second water stop was at the Strasburg Country Store and Creamery. Walking in, it immediately reminded me of Lakeside Farms, a beloved biking destination when I was a kid. It was only 3.5 miles away from our house, but it seemed like forever when I was 8 and desperately wanting apple cider donuts. Like Lakeside, this place had bins of penny candy, vaguely tacky gift items, and ice cream. I chose a single scoop of the wonderful ET Special, which was vanilla with Reese’s Pieces. They also had a “Climate Ride Strawberry Sundae,” but I knew even I couldn’t handle that much ice cream with 18 more miles to go.
Although I was worried the ice cream would bother my stomach, I actually felt a lot better afterwards. Sadly, the hills didn’t offer any relief. I spent the last few miles biking with a rider who had participated two years earlier. She said when she did it the first time, she was in the very back, with the support folks asking if she would like to be picked up. This time, she was much further ahead, but her memory wasn’t always reliable. She kept saying, “I remember this part – this is the last hill” and of course, it wasn’t. I think she was blocking out traumatic memories, because some of those hills were causing me serious anguish. The worse hill of all actually caused a lot of physical injuries. It was on a road with a lot of loose, freshly laid gravel. There was a very steep downhill, which we had to come down very slowly to avoid skidding. Several people actually fell and suffered serious road rash. Then immediately, there was a huge uphill. But we also avoided one very, very large hill. I saw it and my heart sunk – then raised again when I realized we were turning into our overnight site. As soon as I pedaled into camp, I asked Geraldine (the founder), “Do we have to climb that hill tomorrow?” Much to my relief, she said that although riders did in the past, they had actually rerouted to avoid it.
The second thing I did was rush over to the zip line. The overnight site that night was Camp Andrews, a Mennonite summer church camp. As my fondest memories of camps involved hanging high above the ground, the zip line was a high priority. After a day of hauling myself up hills, the thought of flying down without having to bike back up was quite appealing. Still in my spandex, I ran off the platform just a few moments later, seeing the world rush up to meet me, then zooming along. After brushing plants at the end with my hand, I slowed and descended down the ladder waiting for me.
Dinner was soon after, and the most interesting part of it was definitely the camp director’s welcome. Knowing that the camp was Mennonite, it didn’t surprise me when he started talking about Jesus and our Lord and Savior’s love, but it was clearly a bit of a shock for some of my fellow riders. This guy was playing evangelical Bingo (“Lord, we just thank you”) with a generally non-religious crowd. But the most bizarre thing was one particular person’s reaction. Someone kept saying, “Amen” really loudly and then responded with something about “Jesus was my invisible friend growing up” when the director asked her if she was Pentecostal. I couldn’t figure out if she was making fun of him or what.
Our actual speakers that night weren’t nearly as controversial. In fact, all of them were riders themselves. One guy from Pennsylvania spoke about the wind power development company he works for, the sustainability directors from Dartmouth and University of DC spoke, and two of the women from Eileen Fischer spoke. Shona, who I had ridden with earlier, said, “I’m not a cyclist, but Amy (her boss) convinced me to do this.” To which we responded, “You are now!”
After the speakers, Jason from 350.org led a training session for those of us lobbying our Congressional representatives. During the practice, I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to monopolize the conversation. Listening to others helped me realize something really cool about the trip – how diverse the riders are. I knew there were a lot of us professionally involved in green efforts – renewable energy, non-profits, sustainability directors. It was very encouraging to see all the people who are so passionate that they do this in their spare time in addition to work. But at the training, I also saw the other side of the coin. Several people in my group were completely non-political and had no previous connection to the climate change movement. They just see it as a huge problem and participating in the ride as great way to make a difference. It was so inspiring to hear them talk about why they came and how their local communities supported them. One woman had a pile of letters from a fourth grade class writing to President Obama about why he should care about climate change. Another had a huge number of people from their relatively conservative town attend their fundraiser at the local dive bar.
Today encompassed the best and the worst of the trip, from ice cream, real bathrooms, zip lines, and good conversation to hills and more hills. Thankfully, the best very much outweighed the worst. When I declared the day before, “This is going to be the best day!” I was right.