I’m writing from a stage in a pavilion in the middle of small town called Berlin in Pennsylvania. I am surrounded by the only dozen who didn’t hitch a ride yesterday. The sounds of morning fill the air: birds chirping and getting ready for their day, just as most everyone else is getting ready for theirs. The clatter of plates, spoons, and mugs filling hungry stomachs with oatmeal and coffee. Laughter and music to bring goodness to the day from the start. Josh is running off to plant a kale garden. Adam scored us this pavilion that has water, electricity, and bathrooms after making friends with the locals at a bar. Since being the first one to arrive at all stops, he has the time to make everything come together, and he does it. I’m very grateful considering yesterday was by far the hardest yet. After leaving later than I would have liked, I caught two flats in both tires at the same exact time… What are the odds? I only had one spare tube, but luckily fellow riders Josh Worley, Brad Wade, and Tyler Zender came to my rescue with a patch kit and a whole lot of patience. Took three tries for the patch to take, but Josh is a master.
That wasn’t the end of the testing of our patience. It was 1pm and we had only ridden under 15 miles. Coming from days where we crush 10 miles by 10am, we knew we needed to book it for the next 20-30 miles. We didn’t get very far until we saw others from our group at a grocery store and my large metal water bottle fell off of my bike because I didn’t properly secure it. It was raining and cold, so all of these mishaps are compounding at this point. Our fellow riders were at the grocery store trying to hitch a ride, which was hard to swallow. No one was hurt and all bikes were in working condition. To be fair, we probably crossed the hardest part of the east (I obviously did not know yet about the hill that awaited), but I knew that nothing was going to stop me from pedaling my way to our nightly destination, and it was hard for me to understand how others couldn’t have that mentality.
It was easy to shake off at first and simply focus on the giant, seemingly endless climbs that lay before us, but then we passed three others who were obviously done riding for the day. And then two more. It was sunny at this point. Why is everyone giving up? I sped past and allowed my emotions to pump through me and I kept a substantially high pace for the next ten miles. I saw a large stream down a ravine and I needed to get in water. It worked because my pace may have been a bit too much for another in my group, and he needed a break. I didn’t want to get out of the water. There is nothing more cleansing and healing than soaking in near freezing fresh water to me.
To save you from a very long rant I’ll say that the rest of the ten miles lasted a VERY long time. Worley and I were crushin’ hills, but we had to take several breaks at the tops to wait for our comrades to walk up. I was navigating and not in the business of leaving anyone behind. A few in our group had just hopped onto the ride and therefore were not as conditioned as we were (50+ miles a day for a week straight really gives one an advantage). We stopped in New Baltimore where a lovely couple carried good conversation and gave us grapes and cherries.
Adam gave me a call with word that there was a bar waiting for us in Berlin, and even better our accommodations for the night. That is was got me to the top of the most gigantic hill I think I have ever climbed. If I didn’t know it already, I now have a vast understanding of how therapeutic biking up a hill can be. The only thing in your way is you. Of course, the downhill was just as much of a beast. Always worth it. We met up with the group at the bar and it felt very victorious, especially knowing we all were the only ones who pushed ourselves through the whole day.
I can’t believe it’s only been a week. The lessons we’ve all learned, good deeds we have done, bonds we have formed, and growth we have individually and collectively made is just a fraction of what is to come.