Hello from a suburban Denver coffee shop on a wonderfully humid-free Sunday afternoon. YAY! I am finally back in the state of Rocky Mountains and the place I fondly call home.
Primarily, I must apologize for my severe case of procrastination I've had, albeit a lack of time is equally blame worthy. :) Rest assured proper chastisement was received from multiple familial ends. I hope that I can provide a little bit of a recollection of the final weeks of the trek. Ideally not to many mental images have shifted their way around since Kentucky. But with the accompaniment of my handy chicken scratch coated walmart "receipt of events" (as I have proudly dubbed it) I will hopefully be able to write something quasi-cohesive.
Okay.... for simplicity purposes, I am going to break this up into three sections: 1. West Virginia 2. The Appalachians and 3. The finale.
1. West Virginia:
After being housed in a volunteer firehouse our last night in Kentucky (which included layers of meaty pasta, free showers, a big screen T.V. and carpeted floors to sleep on), we set off to ride across the West Virginia boarder. Just about 2 miles into the ride, once again, Kelly's not-tour-specific-tires decided it would be a splendid idea to pop repeatedly, diminishing my remaining 3 bike tubes. Stranded once again on the side of a road, hot, sweaty, and hopeless, we broke out the harmonica, ate some food, and laughed in response to the what some people might consider a problematic situation. Time and time again, this tactic has proven effective, because we soon found ourselves being jetted off in a truck and van by our lovely hosts in Huntington, WV. After going to the nearest bike shop, fixing my tire, and eating an incredible Bolivian dinner of beans, vegetables, and chicken, we were able to get in some riding for the day. We were lucky enough to try out the the critical mass route commencing later that week with a bunch of guys who were friends with our host Andrew. This kind of riding was MUCH different than any riding I had experienced before. Weaving in and out of side streets, slick cement sidewalks, river sides, and to the top of parking garages and back, we got an awesome tour the city and its night life. I say this timidly, but it made me drool a bit over one day doing some alley cat racing and the likes. SO MUCH FUN!
The next day, after a small crash/wheel smashing/Lucy's arm basically falling off due to crappy pavement, we were on our way to Charleston WV, where we were to meet the 30 something other riders of the Trek. Unfortunately 4 miles before we rode in, Remy's spoke decided to snap in two, stranding us yet again, but this time tactfully just in time for the rain gods to open the faucet. Luckily enough we were able to crouch under an overpass and the rain subsided right when our hosts picked Remy up and led us the way in to Charleston. It was awesome, yet I must VERY intimidating, to meet up with all of the other bikers from every corner of the U.S. I was a little bit worried about what it would be like to ride with an entirely new crew, especially considering how tight knit the Colorado crew had become. But as soon as we got talking to everyone/trying our best to quickly pick up 30 some names, I knew that we had found our niche. I can honestly say I loved every single person riding. It is amazing how such an organization could attract such like minded, inspirational, ambitious people. I was humbled by how much I could learn from every individual.
In Charleston we stayed with the most marvelous family in the entire world. Herbs hanging on the wall, an organic garden out back, and a general sense of goodness surrounding the house. Jodi, a massage therapist by trade, took me over to the community garden at the Unitarian Universalist church down the street and we picked fresh greens to feed the 30 something bikers milling in and out of her house. They were actively involved with an incredibly controversial movement against mountain top removal in the area (something that if you are not familiar with PLEASE look it up. It is huge). My experience in Charleston augmented the swiftly developing assertion that there are good people in every corner of this planet.
2. The Appalachians:
Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. As we pulled out of Charleston with about 10 times more bikers than I had ever rode with, I was simultaneously humbled and struck with a dash of terror as a crisp outline of a mountain loomed in the distance. Ouch. Whoever said the Appalachian were "just hills" obviously did not ride up them with 50 pounds of gear. But with that said, being able to wake up every morning and drink up thick layers of mist and be immersed in the most astonishing amount of green hues certainly made up for the daily leg pain. I often found myself sitting creek side basking in the sheer elegance of the places we pitched our tents. One night in particular, after a good amount of cheese consumption for dinner and a bit of blackberry wine, a slight crackle across the stream came to my attention. We then realized that we were not the only ones soaking up the views and savoring the smells, as a black bear cub came bounding across the stream. Although slightly unnerving for a few seconds, it made me appreciate that wildlife is still truly wild. Something that suburban soaked streets makes me forget.
There is too much to say about the Appalachians, but I think the general theme should be: take the predicted mileage for the day and add about 30 more miles and 2 more mountain passes than anticipated. Haha. But seriously. Very frequently what was supposed to be a 50 mile day, turned in to a 60 mile day, and then in to a mid 70 mile day. Or so it seemed. One day, however, what was initially a 63 mile day, turned into a 100 mile day (also marking my very first century!...something that I was super proud of, but had not envisioned would be in a mountain pass speckled terrain. haha). Due to a few wrong turns, and the decision to visit Polyface Farm (the one talked about in Omnivore's Dilemma by Michel Pollen) we rode for a total of 12 hours. I mused at the fact that my bum had been virtually sitting on the same bike seat since the pink hues of dawn, until the orange and blue tones of nightfall. After an entire bag of donut holes and being able to change out of my seriously sweaty bike shorts, it was overall exhaustion worthwhile. The farm was incredible. PLUS! I got to hold a baby chick, learn about biodynamic farming, observe rabbits suspended from the ceiling pooping on chickens to make compost, and get educated about the intricacies of the egg industry. Neat.
Soon there after we started to ride out of the actual peaks and in to rolling foothills. We crossed in to Virginia, the last state before D.C., which was an incredibly exciting step! After a near death experience in Culpeper due to Harry Potter addictions, resulting in riding 10 miles back to our campsite in the dark/rain, sitting upon historic buildings listening to free gypsy jazz, celebrating Remy's birthday, roaming farmer's markets, and hitting up thrift stores to find appropriate lobbying attire (resulting in the most grandmother-esque combination imaginable smelling of mothballs) we were just a hop skip and a jump from the nation's capital.
3. The end (AHHHHH!)
The idea that something so dangerously addicting, a lifestyle of such uncompromised freedom, could come to an end was a sad realization to make. The people, places, food, laughs, hardships and all of the sticky cliche things associated with change culminated in Manassas, about 30 miles away from D.C. That night the entire Trek sat down in attempt to reflect and rejoice in our experiences. What turned in to a 3 hour memory session from all sectors of the Trek made me realize how truly awesome the experience was. Out of many of the choices I've made in life, joining this trip was most definitely in the top 3, if not peaking the top of the list. I could write a book about why riding a bike is a serious experiment in Zen Buddhism. Maybe one day.... :)
The next morning I woke up to a heavy case of total bliss, knowing that in a few hours we'd be standing at the place we'd been peddling towards for 6 weeks. We met a representative from the Rails to Trails headquarters in D.C. who showed up how to navigate through the city. Its funny, because out of all of the hills we'd traversed in the previous weeks, the few right before we came in to the city felt like the longest. But after huffing up one nondescript hill in particular, I was awoken from my biking trance by a choir of gasping and hooting. What seemed at first to be a massive, industrial looking building soon metamorphed into a 5 sided complex: the pentagon. I turned my head and saw the legendary (admittedly phallic looking) Washington Monument peering out through the city smog. It is funny how you can have seen something so many times, but never truly have seen it. That day they finally came to life.
Our stay in D.C. proved to be another extension of the unrelenting insanity that comprised the rest of the trip. Late night metro rides, creative bike box transportation, getting lost, walking miles looking for the alleged rally, and finding ourselves dining with slickly clad Congressmen in our rugged bike gear were added zest to an already flavourful trip. Being part of the 3rd congressional district of Colorado, Lucy and I met with John Salazaar (a gentleman whose policies and political assertions I had regularly agreed with). As a typically Kelly/Lucy move, we arrived at our lobby time in thrift store bought granny gear, 6 over stuffed pannier bags, and all of our necessities for the trip across the country. Basically everything we owned minus a bicycle, since they had already been jetted off in boxes. We timidly asked if we could store them in the corner.
I was surprisingly disheartened with our meeting with Congressman Salazaar. What was a discussion rooted very deeply within me and so important after biking across the U.S., turned out to be an unheard call. I can understand that congressman must have many busy, pushy people pulling them every which way on a daily basis....but I found the family photos, sliver pen autographed picture, and bag of cracker jacks we recieved slightly inappropriate. After our stance on creating more bike friendly streets and environmental sustainability, all he said was "Welp, I agree with you!" And we were sent off. This to me proves two very distinct things:
1. Meet your politicians in person. Their political campaign may speak to you intellectually, but the actual person representing them is far from ideal.
2. The overall purpose of the Trek was not convening in Washington D.C.; rather, it was the incomprehensible knowledge extracted from the people we met along the way. It was the backward farmers, the lonely truck drivers, the kind church goers, and the random strangers that gave this trip purpose. The change that was created was not at the doors of our government, but on the streets, in the homes and on the sidewalks of the country it represents.
I can honestly say after this trip: I am proud to be an American. Although not a flawless place, the U.S. (or at least the bulk of it I was lucky enough to witness) is full of people who want to do the right thing. If I learned anything at all, it was how vital "passing on the kindness" is. If you really think about it, it is this kernel of thought that has more power to change the way our country functions than any piece of legislation bantered about in Congress. If we really want to create lasting change and the way we think about the environment:
Start with the people.