Woke up in the morning three instead of two and no rainfly at all - no rainfall at all. I made myself coffee in my makeshift Maxwell can: grounds boiled straight in the pot. With leftover coconut milk and brown sugar, it was a pretty good brew for month-old beans.
I packed up and headed out early. The Appalachians don't care at all for best laid plans. I started recording the grades of the big and little hills, mean slopes graded for Ford pickups: 9%, 12%, 11%. Maybe twenty minutes in, another two dogs broke the morning's humid calm, teeth bared in gleeful aggression. I am not a fighter. I ran.
Eventually, the rollers led to one big downhill right into Fredericktown and a silver sedan pulls up right next to me and this older guy leans his head out the window and warns that the road after the bridge right in front leads straight to the heavens. I tried to slalom up but hitting that hill was like paddling a canoe through mud, like trying to mold play doh that sat out for too long. Make that two days now where I've had to walk my bike, grunting and sweating, triceps and calves strung out against the strain. By the time Rachel caught up (basically right away, walking is stable but slow like paint drying), I'd reached a breaking point. We'd climbed a thousand feet in five miles and had at least 2000 to go. We weren't going to make the camp we were supposed to teach at, thunderstorms were rolling in, and all I had left to eat was granola.
On the bright side, we reached Ohio.
We decided to ride at least to Beaver, grab some food, and see if the Richard from the Materials Research Society (MRS), who had helped connect us with the camp, could give us a ride. The 15 miles there were tough but less demoralizing than the first five. We watched berets golf; they stopped midswing to figure out what (ie, us) was going by. We ended up at Cafe Kolache, where Rachel met Mark, a retired ballet dancer who's making a second career as a permanent cycle tourer (check out his blog here: lewisandclarkandmark.com).
I ran across the street to the bike shop to pick up some gu's and be advised on routes to Philly. When Rachel showed up, she figured out one of the mechanics was a good friend of a good friend in Penn's dental program. On this trip, the world has seemed very large, and very small. We bought the shop's growler, then Richard showed up, packed us up, and we headed to camp. We were expecting ~20 middle school-aged kids, but since it was pouring, the entire camp was packed into a single awning, the only dry spot on the grounds. So we presented to 200 4-14 year olds, fighting to be heard over the weather. Trying to keep that many cooped-up kids engaged, when they want to be running and chatting, made this afternoon our most difficult lesson. And in the middle of the lesson, a kid fell off the table he was sitting on and had to go to the hospital.
After it was all over though, a couple of girls came up to us and asked all kinds of questions about 3D printing and solar power. And the the wheels started turning right there, and they were throwing out ideas for a solar-paneled, kinetic soccer ball, for other kinds of solar-powered transportation.
Richard took us out to first dinner after we bundled back to MRS headquarters. We ate salads and fried things (balance is key in all things). Then he drove us to Pittsburgh - there wasn't any way we could've made it in daylight, with more and more Appalachians between us and our hosts for the night.
For second dinner, we made custom pizza with Emilie and Daniel, Ellis' friends. Sun-dried tomato pesto with goat cheese and caramelized onions totally stole the show.
Plenty of wine, second helpings, and conversations later, we retired, Rachel to a bed, I to the hammock room, because the brilliant E+D have one dedicated as such in their classy, hip Pittsburgh home.
I stayed up late listening to the hum of the city, the sirens, the banter, the clanging and whooshing and all the bits of collective living you forget when you're on the road and out of it this long.