Weeks 10 + 11: Ohio to oh hi East Coast!
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Weeks 10 + 11

Ohio to oh hi East Coast!

Hi everybody! It’s been a couple weeks now since we spewed Altantic salt water all over our front tires, and more since we sent out an update. We arrived to New York City on Tuesday, July 14, 2015, concluding our three month adventure across the United States. Here are some quick stats:

89 days on the road: 63 riding days, 26 teaching/resting days
~3,500 miles of riding
15 states (with DC included, why not?) — CA, OR, ID, WY, SD, IA, IL, IN, OH, PA, MD, DC, DE, NJ, NY
10 teaching visits: 5 schools, 5 summer camps
∞ good times

First taste of the Atlantic!
And then we collapsed in New York for about a week to celebrate, devour bagels, see some music, and attempt to catch up on sleep. Here’s the map of our final route:

Liz flew home, and is off on yet another adventure, this time to Alaska, before she starts graduate school at Cornell in less than a month! I am on the Amtrak inching my way back to California amidst some incredible scenary, and I’m returning to work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in a few weeks. Yes, changes are happenin. We still have teacher profiles left to edit, lesson plans to share, blog posts/reflections to write, and perks left to send out to you, our lovely Indiegogo supporters (no, we didn’t forget about you!).

But before we do this, here is a little weekend dose of Cycle for Science, some memories from the last three weeks of our trip. We're going to divide it into two updates, one today and one tomorrow, cuz the last three weeks were pretty powerful. Here's número uno:

Aaaaappalachians (Ohio and PA)

We left you last at the Ohio border. Since La Porte, IN, we’d ridden about 75 miles a day, and continued to do so until we got to Pittsburgh. Our first stop in Ohio was Napoleon, and we zipped in after a hot 90 mile day. Obviously, we ended up at an ice cream shop (they had dairy free so Liz was a happy camper). The owners of the ice cream shop took a liking to us and let us camp on their lawn! It was next to a graveyard, spooky scary. It was also the FIRST night of the entire trip (so far) where we camped and it DIDN’T RAIN ALL NIGHT. It was glorious. We slept without a rainfly. What a concept. But the glory was short lived, and we were chased by thunderstorms for the rest of the state.

Hey thunderstorms: please stop! Can't you read the sign!?

When we got to Lake Erie, the Northern Lights were supposed to be visible, but, alas, we could only see the brilliant performance of what we called the “northern lightening storm.” Continuing the theme of light -- the next day we rode through Thomas Edison’s birthplace, and took a pit stop at the museum to eat a "light lunch" (yep, we nerded out).

We invaded the lawn at Edison's birth house
Edison's lightbulb

Then — roll roll roll your rolling hills, not so gently into Akron! We stayed right next to a national forest, and then we biked through the city (most memorable moment: the minor league team name is the “Rubber Ducks”) towards Beaver Creek State Park. We were getting our first taste of the Appalachians. We’d been warned by Liz’s dad and others that this was the toughest mountain range to cycle through, but sort of poopoo-ed the idea after we made it over the Sierras and the Tetons. Ok. We get it now. 13% rolling hills are no joke.

13% grade? What the hill!!? (but it's purdy)
When I finally made it to Beaver Creek campground, I spotted a loaded bicycle leaning against the check-in sign, and curiously (and maybe kind of creepily) awaited its owner.

Enter: Sandra
Sandra is an art teacher from Alaska, and was touring solo. We immediately hit it off, and soon found out she came from Chicago and was on her way to New York too. And was following basically the exact same route as us!! We shared a campsite and feast with her that night, and we ended up spending the last two weeks of our trip together! Sandra is hilarious and fun, and was the perfect addition to our Cycle for Science crew.
First of many meals with Sandra (on the right)! Ok, yeah, it looks like mud ...
but I swear it was thai curry and it was delicious!


The next morning we were supposed to teach at a camp north of Pittsburg, and left five hours to go 40 miles. Enter: Appalachians again. This time, FIFTEEN PERCENT GRADES. Liz and I had seen nothing like this the entire trip. After four grueling hours of pushing ourselves to our physical limits, we were only halfway to our destination (Beaver, PA… where we met the amazing Mark of lewisandclarkandmark, who we road with later on).

Enter: thunderstorms (why do I keep doing this enter thing?). There was no way we could make it on time. Enter: Richard from MRS (the Materials Research Society, which I am a member of for work). He had set up the teaching visit, and heroically came and rescued us from Beaver to drive us to the camp.

This was only about 1/4 of the kids we taught that day ... help!

Enter: madness. This was our most hectic teaching stop … We were only supposed to teach ~40 of the older kids, which is already a lot for our number of Sol Cycles. However, because it was raining, all 200 (literally 200, we counted) of the kids at the camp, ages 4 - 14, were crammed under the one tiny awning, and they were stir crazy. We attempted to project to all of the kids, but it was difficult to reach more than just the front few rows especially over the sound of the pouring rain. Plus, because of the rain, the Sol Cycles didn’t even work! We got a stinging bite of some of the challenges teachers face in controlling large groups of kids and teaching effectively at the same time. Ouch. (speaking of stinging and ouch — in the middle of the lesson, a kid fell off of his bench, chipped his front teeth, and emerged from the crowd with blood dripping down his face. The counselors had to call an ambulance in the middle of the lesson!)

When we finally got to Pittsburgh, we were drained from riding 400 miles in the past week with no rest days and from the insanity of the lesson. Luckily, Daniel and Emilee (who just got married, congrats!!!) were hosting us in their beautiful house, so we had somewhere to relax. We took a rest day to dilly and dally and lie in the grass and eat. And eat and eat. Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, and Daniel gave us a bicycle tour to see many of them! We felt accomplished by the end of our visit because we’d learned to pronounce the name of one of their rivers: the MONONGAHELA! (no, it’s not the Ménage à Trois or the Manamana, Daniel kindly corrected us).

Into the Woods: Great Allegheny Passage + C&O Trail

Up to this point we’d basically been riding on highways, with bits of bike paths sprinkled here and there. But, enter: the GAP and C&O (Great Allegheny Passage and the Cheseapeak and Ohio towpath, which I renamed the C&O toebath because we got pretty wet and muddy, surprise surprise). These are two rails-to-trails paths that together connect Pittsburgh to Washington DC, creating over 300 miles of bike path completely uninterrupted by cars!!! This was such a magical part of our journey. We left Pittsburgh with Sandra to embark on this leg. Immediately the hubbub of Pittsburgh disappeared, and we felt like we’d entered a snake’s belly. Here are some highlights:

First, we passed by hundreds of other touring cyclists, for the first time on our entire trip (Sandra was number six, I think). It was so much fun to exchange stories with other people who had a quest for adventure, bicycling, and pushing their limits. The trails had hiker/biker campsites every five miles or so, and we ended up creating little communities every night. We met some people who’d been traveling for years, including a guy who rode the entire Appalachian trail on a razor scooter. We met others who were in the midst of their careers, who’d learned how to fit time for adventure into their busy schedules. Some were retired and were finally tackling this goal they’d had for years. And we met people who were going through big life transitions, and were going on this adventure to launch the next phase of their lives. Everyone had a unique, fascinating story. Everyone had got off their tush to make this adventure a priority in their lives. Everyone was going at a pace they felt comfortable for themselves. And everyone was making it work.

Also, it was just ridiculously beautiful. We road along rivers (mostly the Potomac), along canals, through massive tunnels (the “Paw Paw Tunnel” and the "Big Savage Tunnel"). We crossed the Eastern Continental Divide, crossed the Mason Dixon line, and crossed the border into West Virginia a few times to check out the adorable riverside towns of Paw Paw and Harpers Ferry. We slept in hammocks overlooking the Potomac. We picked water bottles full of black raspberries and wineberries, and attempted to make pancakes with them one morning with our campsite of eight. We dunked ourselves into waterfalls and swam in streams. It was so liberating.

And some photo highlights:

And we wiggled along the Potomac until we hit THE EAST COAST!

....then what happened!?? Where were the last two lessons? Did we survive the Jersey Shore? We're on the east coast, so did we keep riding straight east off a cliff into the ocean? CLIFFHANGER (ok no, not that kind). Check your inboxes tomorrow for the shenanigans of our last week on the road!

Rachel and Elizabeth
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