Day 4 mysteriously began at 4 AM, when someone’s alarm clock went off. I was sharing a room with seven other women, plus Tess, a five-year-old girl. Tess had spent much of the night complaining that she didn’t want to share a bed with her mother, who she rode behind with a stuffed horse named Pinky. However, sharing a room was still a heck of a lot better than camping outside. Alarm clocks are nothing compared to thunder. Fortunately, I went back to sleep until just past 6. Breakfast that morning concluded with another well-intentioned but semi-awkward prayer (“Father, I just pray that you just keep them safe…”) and a warning that most people in past years thought this was the hardest day.
But a few of my fellow riders were able to brighten up the morning. Josh Lasky, the UDC sustainability director who spoke the night before, had suggested before the ride that the Climate Riders celebrate Bike to Work Day early. After all, if we could ride 60+ miles in “work” clothes, then most people could ride just a few miles, right?
In response to this call, people wore ties, sweaters, suit jackets, dresses and even argyle socks.
Although not career related, this rider wore a tutu to fulfill a promise she had made to a donor. Why didn’t I think of embarrassing myself for money? After all, I clearly have no shame about looking like a ninny.
Once I finally pushed off, the first few miles were relatively easy, bringing us over a dam. As the resulting lake was quite scenic – especially with the lingering morning fog – a whole bunch of people stopped for photographs. I generally dislike stopping unless it’s at a designated stop or I really need to eat. I feel like if I stop, it will be much harder to convince myself to start again. But if a lot of other people are stopped, it seems more acceptable. So of course, I stopped and snapped some photos.
Not long after, we crossed over the mighty Susquehanna River on a massive bridge that led to a giant hill. The river was so beautiful that despite the “no stopping on the bridge” sign, I stopped again anyway.
The entire route was quite pretty, in fact. Unlike Amish country, which had surprisingly busy roads with fast-moving vehicles, these were serene and untrafficked. They often had gently winding turns and tree branches forming arches overhead.
But as the beauty increased, so did the accompanying hills. The morning of this day was brutal, with several hills that required kicking into my lowest gear and staying there. One of the earliest, shorter ones was a 20% grade and many more were steeper and longer. However, by this point, I had started to make my peace them. Hills force you to live in the moment – you can only conquer them by completing your motions that very second to the best of your ability. When you run out of these moments, you’ve either finished the hill or are forced to walk. I do this by setting my sights on something not too far ahead and not allowing myself to look at the top of the hill until I’ve reached that object. It’s pedaling up foot by foot or inch by inch if necessary. In addition, I also had two theme songs for the hills. The first was the Greatful Dead’s Truckin’, because there seemed something universal in the idea of moving along, no matter what comes. The second was the little song that Dorrie sings in Finding Nemo – “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Except that I changed it to “just keep spinning,” still in Dorrie’s voice. Although it could have been annoying, that encouragement helped me to push down each time I thought my body had been through enough.
Although I personally took pride in making it up all of the hills, all of the riders ensured that they never shamed anyone for not being fast or strong enough. Tim and Lill had self-admittedly undertrained and relied on the SAG wagon part of the time. Nonetheless, I was still very happy to see them climbing out of the support vehicle when I had finished climbing up a hill. Cycling with them through town to the water stop built camaraderie, as we zipped past each other on the hills, a sense of playfulness in our pace. At the lunch stop later on, there was no shame in admitting to not getting up all of the hills. Everyone would much rather someone walk or take the van than hurt themselves.
We had lunch at Corbett Farm, a horse farm in Baltimore County. As the cue sheet noted, “It looks like the picture on a bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch.” We had a spread of picnic foods to choose from, with the return of the sliced cheese (sadly, not vegan as I had thought), chips, more trail mix, good salads, and delicious homemade cranberry and white chocolate cookies. I sat in the shade of a roadside tree, relaxed, and took quite a long break. The morning had been brutal, and although the middle involved enjoyably rolling hills, the afternoon was rumored to be a repeat of the first third.
Fortunately, this prediction was mostly untrue. There was one massive, horrible hill that went up and up with no sign of stopping. I had an ongoing conversation with my legs. They would protest, “Thanks, but we’re most certainly done now,” and I would convince them to keep going for just a little while longer. But besides that stretch, it was a pleasant repeat of the afternoon – scenic and untrafficked.
However, there was one type of vehicle I was (almost) always happy to see – our Climate Ride support vehicles. These fell into three different categories. The first was the photographer, Kip, who drove a smallish tan SUV with a Bianchi on a rack on the back. On one hand, seeing him meant there was a hill coming up, as he liked to sit at the top of hills and take dramatic photos of people. On the other hand, watching him snapping away almost always inspired a smile. With his neon orange clogs and plaid shirts, he was good-natured and made you feel comfortable. As someone who considers themselves unphotogenic, that is a great accomplishment. I think some of it had to do with the fact that never being a super-star in high school, I never had “athletic” photos taken of me before. The idea that I would qualify to be featured in such photos was rather exciting.
The second type of support vehicles were the carriers. There was the “Rock Star van,” that had an advertisement for guitar strings on it and carried all of the mechanics tools, including bike stands. Apparently it was the only van of that size they could find on sale, but at least one person who thought it belonged to a famous band. The other was the giant Uhaul carrying all of our gear.
The last, and perhaps most important, type of vehicle were the Priuses. These were the ones that stopped if you had on-the-road mechanical problems or needed a ride. Even if you weren’t in desperate need, they were always encouraging. The support folks would honk lightly, yell “Go Climate Riders!” and even ring a cowbell! I would usually respond by fist pumping or saying “more cowbell!” The little sayings the support staff wrote in chalk up the worst hills, like “You’re almost there!” made me smile as well. When I began seeing these folks less and less on the third and fourth days, it was a little disappointing.
Just barely three miles from the end of the day, it started raining. Finding this incredibly motivating, I found myself pushing harder and faster than I thought I was be capable of. I still ended up getting pretty wet, but considering it started raining harder after I arrived, the extra speed was well worth it. I rewarded myself with a massage that night, which was also completely worth it.
That night, we stayed at a kosher Jewish retreat center that was absolutely beautiful. I expected it to be church camp style, but this was much closer to a resort. I shared a hotel-style room with two other women with huge beds and actual dressers. And to top it all off, the center was very sustainability-oriented. They have an organic farm with chickens that has a community supported agriculture program. They even run a fundraising bike ride for it, with shirts that say, “Pedal, Plant, Party” – a great summary of my personal philosophy!
At dinner, the director of the center welcomed us, although his introduction was not-surprisingly a lot less religious than the Mennonite director’s. But they both shared an obvious passion for the environment as part of their faith. Despite the almost-altar call nature of the first director, I’m glad that we stayed at religious centers. A lot of the people I rode with are stereotypical liberal, non-religious folks and I liked that we actively saw how people’s faith can and often does connect with an environmental consciousness. Our movement needs all of the allies we can get, and people with religious backgrounds have the capability to play a significant role.
Our speakers for this night actually focused substantially on the idea of climate change as a movement. The first speaker, Carolyn Szczepanski from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, talked about how bicycling played a large role in the first wave of the women’s liberation movement. Bicycling gave women freedom of transportation and in part inspired more practical women’s clothing, including the invention of bloomers. She had a wonderful quote from Susan B. Anthony about how she was never so happy as to see a woman on a bicycle because it was one of the best freedoms she knew. She also talked about how currently, despite the fact that cycling is becoming more popular, the number of female cyclists is actually dropping. For the record, Climate Ride was actually 60% female this year, bucking the trend in a good way.
The second speaker, Bracken Hendricks from the Center for American Progress, originally created the term“green jobs.” He talked about how we must build climate change as a movement from every angle – legal, cultural, nationally and locally. I particularly liked how he framed the idea of scarcity and modeling our economic systems after ecological ones. He said, “a forest floor does not lack for abundance,” pointing out that even if resources are a limiting factor, that doesn’t mean that society must suffer. As some people think “solving” climate change involves denying others benefits, I think that metaphor is a good response. Changing doesn’t mean we can’t still have the Good Life.
Despite the heavy talk, it was clear that everyone was enjoying the Good Life that night. Most of us were hanging out on the large porch before and after dinner, basking in the warm night. One guy bought pizza for someone else’s birthday and was running an “economic experiment” by asking people to give him the amount of money they thought they should owe. It turns out that Climate Riders are good people to be with in game theory, as he ended up with plenty of cash. One of the riders had an Xtracycle and had built two seats for his kids on the back of it. He lent it out to others, who were giving rides around the parking lot, everyone giggling. We even had a bonfire, although I was only there a few minutes before it began raining again.
The fourth day was both the last tough day and the last day that we got to hang out together. It was a relief to be done at the end, but sad knowing that it would be over the next day.
Hi, I saw your posts on Slacktiverse’s Blogaround, and checked out the rides closest to where I live, which is much nearer Baltimore City than DC. Turns out we’re 5 miles SW from Corbett Farm, where you had lunch.
I haven’t ridden a bike in probably 25 years, but I keep thinking I should try it again. I need the exercise, and it would be better for short trips than driving.
Your ride is very inspirational — thanks for sharing so many details.
Thanks for checking out my writing! I really enjoy your blog as well, by the way. That’s neat that you’re close to Corbett – it was one of the prettiest parts of our ride. I would definitely recommend getting back on the biking and cycling around there – it actually had a lot less traffic than Amish Country,. If you’d like to know our route, there are a couple of people who have gathered up Google maps of the different days. I can look them up and send it to you.