Today we woke up around 4:30 AM for an 83 mile ride from Berea, KY to Springfield, KY. Sean and I swept (meaning we left last with an extra tube and a med kit for cyclist safety) the group.
Not too far into the ride, our group was interrupted by 2 hours of thunder and lightning, which would later result in many of us latter groups being vanned. Luckily for eight of us, this stop included impromptu doughnuts and beverages from the sweet church we took cover in.
After it was all clear, we continued on our way. Most of us cyclists spotted a goat standing on a little house and turned it into a photo op.
Later in the day, Sean and I stumbled upon a cyclist rest stop. It was filled with cold drinks, tasty snacks, and emergency cycling gear. As we chomped on some coconut cookies and stashed some RX bars and homemade banana bread, the owner stopped by to refill. When we asked what motivated her and her husband to set up this little oasis, she said it was simply because they saw so many cyclists passing this way. She and her husband plan to convert the barn on the property into a hostel with a working bathroom and shower for cyclists!
So far, our route has been a reminder of all the kind-hearted people in communities across the country who open their doors to us and genuinely just want to help. Kentucky, we love you!
SHORTEST RIDE OF THE SUMMER. 23 Smiles of pure jubilance. This ride specifically had a little something extra behind it because we all knew it was going to be an easy day, and that we had a pool party to look forward to later in the (which I will get to). I rode with Alexis A. and Sam P. It was a chilly 50 degrees to start the morning and when we started riding it felt as though I was back in early spring, training in Michigan. Somewhat comforting I suppose. Once we got warmed up and shed our under armours, we were over half way done with the ride! Sam and I had some issues with our bikes, but nothing hindering on finishing the ride. The highlight of the ride was stopping at a gas station outside Berea, where there were over 24 flavors of ice cream to pick from, I personally went with espresso cheesecake, which was the right choice.
Once everyone returned from the ride and showered up, we had a town hall meeting to discuss the highs, lows, and issues we as a team had experienced up to that point.
After the work was finished, the fun began! Syd, an alum of the CUS route, and her parents hosted us for dinner and a pool party!!! Before we even got to the house, the van ride over set the tone of the night, singing classics such as The Foundation’s “Build Me Up Buttercup” and Neil Diamond’s timeless jam “Sweet Caroline”. I remember a specific point in time in the van when I was starting out the window looking at the landscape, feeling the breeze as we drove down the country roads, feeling nothing but content. A feeling rarely had, but one that is prevalent with me as I continue this journey across America.
Today we rode about 73 miles from Hazard, KY to McKee, KY. I rode with Henry and Andrea. The beginning of the ride had some nice climbs and descents (although not nearly as intense as the more mountainous sections of Virginia).
Kentucky is very beautiful. I noticed that there are above-ground power lines everywhere.
We stopped briefly at a little country store that had this sign in the front window. While we were stopped, I ate the gummi octopi my parents sent me (thanks Mom and Dad!).
After a long uphill climb, my group stopped at the top of the mountain for a pee break. I went behind a big dirt heap and found this daisy.
Henry, Andrea, and I had some great conversations on our ride ranging from voluntourism to first impressions of each other.
At lunch, we had not only the usual offerings, but also leftover KFC that was donated yestersay. I took a glorious nap on this playground bridge and am pretty sure I fell asleep in the middle of eating a biscuit.
After lunch, we continued our good conversations and watched the mountains turn into hills. About 20 miles from the host, I started to have significant shifting issues and was stuck in low gear. Riding the hills in low gear was exhausting, so I got a little grumpy. We stopped at this ice cream place and got some cones toward the end of the ride.
When we arrived in McKee, the host was very generous and provided us with delicious food including homemade French fries, rice and quinoa, corn, and spaghetti lasagna. The showers were a 20 minute walk away, so getting clean took a little bit longer than usual. When I got back from showering, Jude fixed my shifting problems and I degreased and lubed my chain and cassette.
In the evening, about 1/3 of the group went to do laundry (which was apparently quite the ordeal). Most of the rest of the group went to see a waterfall. I stayed in to write this blog post and go to sleep early. Altogether, it was a good day, but now I am tired and ready for sleep.
Today was quite the day! Woke up relatively early to make it to our Build Day on time, but the free coffee our host provided made it all worth it.
Our task for the day was to create an ADA-compliant ramp for the homeowner, install railings on a front deck, and paint the inside of the house. It was a lot of work but definitely achievable with the amount of enthusiasm our group, especially when it came to using the large torque wrench and the laying of concrete.
The volunteers at the worksite gave us the lowdown on the coal industry in and around Kentucky which was very informative and gave us perspectives that we haven’t thought of before.
Lastly, it was one of our group leaders birthdays so we celebrated with Cake at our Build Day debrief. Day was 10/10!
It’s 4:30 AM when the Elkhorn Community Center becomes filled
with the chimes of thirty-one alarms. We rise early to pedal eighty-four miles down
(or more like up, lots of up) the road to Hazard, Kentucky. Once we complete
our daily routine and quirky shake out at route meeting, we each hit the road
with our ride groups for the day. Myself, being a Kentucky native, warned my
fellow riders of the doggos, views, and mountains to come; promising that it
would all be worth it.
And worth it, it was. It’s safe to say that with each mile
became another thing to be grateful for. James and Eric were the last to leave
the community center, but after a snack stop, they busted out of their “granny
gears” and were somehow the first two to make it to the host. We don’t ever
race when we ride, so this just goes to say that James and Eric were truly a
dynamic duo that pushed themselves despite all the climbs.
The snacks seemed to be a trend among ride groups as
Melissa, Andrea, Victor, and Nitti all received FREE ice cream from one of the
many kind Kentuckian motorists! Nitti was inspired by more than the ice cream
today, that is for sure. Yesterday, she confessed, “It just seems like these
climbs are so much harder for me than for everyone else” and today she absolutely
rocked the hardest day yet!! She pushed way past the limits her mind had set
and literally worked her body until it had nothing left. Needless to say, her
motivation and ability to persevere even when the hills got long and steep was
truly inspiring. (WAY TO GO, GIRLFRIEND!)
The hills were indeed long and steep as we gained 6,000 feet
of elevation. Paige, Anna, Craig, Greg, Wolf, and Adam all shared how they felt
so overwhelmingly accomplished as they climbed the hills. Craig explained, “I surprised
myself” and also gives a huge shout out to Greg, who’s become known as the literal
best hill climbing partner you could ever have.
In the spirit of team work, Sean (who accidentally made a
wrong turn and rode a century) and Frieda shared a certain story of camelbak
malfunctions going down a hill (you should ask them about it for a good, belly
As we wrapped up the ride, Jude, Henry, Franny, Anna, and
Gilly B expressed extra and specific gratitude to all the friendly drivers of
Kentucky (thanks for helping keep us safe, y’all)!
Even after the ride, the gratitude continued to pour like the buckets of rain we’ve been experiencing lately. We finished up the day at our host, Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church. Here we met with MIT cyclists, community members, and the Mayor and principal of the high school, Happy. Happy’s name suits him well, as the smile on his face never diminished even as he shared stories of the recovery of the town in a post coal mining economy. After we enjoyed dinner with the community, we winded down the night with some conversation amongst our team. We organically gathered around a table where we shared everything from our deepest regrets to our greatest attributes and then chanted back at each individual “we love you!” as they finished sharing their stories. As our conversations came to a close, we snuggled into our sleeping bags as we each set our morning alarms to prepare for a day of service in Hazard, KY.
ALSO— A real big, special, fancy shout out to ANNA, who FINALLY read 3 pages of her book! It’s important, ask her about it if ya get the chance! BIG DEAL! SO PROUD!
For the last full day of riding in Virginia, I rode with Alexis and Sam, as we headed further west. The ride started out with some smooth rolling hills and beautiful views of fog covered mountains and hillsides spotted with cows. It rained most of the day, coming in waves. We stopped for lunch in Meadowview, VA joining the rest of our team, huddled under a small awning, eating leftovers from the day before. I had peanut butter and jelly on a biscuit. Just beyond the parking lot where we ate, a large sign said “ Switchbacks Steep Grades 10 Miles Ahead”. Ten miles after lunch, we discovered just how steep they were. We pushed each other to ascend the 3 miles up through beautiful mountain forests. We stopped on the side of the road to catch our breath and to look at a small waterfall when a local drove by and rolled down his window to tell us that we were stopping just shy of the top. We pushed ourselves up and around the corner to find a nice long descent into the next valley. The rain began to let up, and we rode the last ten miles or so to the campground we were staying that night
The site was on the edge of a river, and a group of us went swimming. Soon after members from a nearby church community brought us an amazing baked potato meal. After dinner many of us spread out to relax and enjoy the chance to relax in nature. I fell asleep laying in the back of one of our vans. Later we all had some evening snacks and retired to our tents, falling asleep to the sound of the river rushing by, making for a special last night in Virginia.
Saturday, June 8th Journal entry by Andrea Chang 5:30am. Pulaski, VA. Morale: High Ride length: 51 miles Stoke level: through the roof
Keeping track of the days of the week has been a chore I never expected to experience. I can sometimes think that the current day is Monday or Sunday, or everything in between, all within a couple hours. The lack of timekeeping was unsettling to me at first- but now is a refreshing experience I don’t think exists in very many places. Having responsibilities free of the conventional schedules of weekdays and weekends releases us from pressures we normally experience- college and the working life revolves around the promise of Saturdays and the dreaded Monday morning- but on Bike and Build, it can be any day of the week, any day we want it to be. Replacing a 7-day routine with the day-by-day, fly-by-the-seat-out-your-pants schedules of B&B make every day seem like the first day of school- I love the adventures that taking a bike through the Appalachian Mountains brings, the unexpected camaraderie 31 strangers creates, and the empathy for each town that riding a bike through for 8 hours pulls out of each of us.
I rode with Craig M. and Neeva Y., and we blasted down the steps of our cue sheet, thinking we were approaching the host quickly, as our odometers ticked closer and closer to 51. We rode on a secluded road for over 2 hours, searching for the final turn. Google Maps told us our destination was a 2 hour bike ride in the opposite direction we came from, and we stopped on the side of the road in disbelief. It was pouring rain, we had spotty signal, and we were so drained that riding back would have been impossible. Just as panic set in, the Bike and Build van came roaring up the road, just as lost as we were. Thankfully, we were able to put our bikes in and shuttle (in the correct direction) back, and returned with so much relief and a story to accompany it. The time on the bike is stuffed with unplanned turns and stops- conventional routines are largely irrelevant in the context of our daily lives, and instead are replaced with fond memories of individual experiences. It doesn’t matter to me that we got lost on a bike ride on a Saturday, or rode up some of the most beautiful climbs I’ve ever seen the day before. The disconnection gives us a greater connection to the purpose of our rides- to see the beauty of this country, its people, and garner the confidence for each of us to take these lessons along with us.