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  • Sophia Fang

Day 15, 16, 17: Relax, you're in the mountains

Wednesday, June 15th - First Day of Learning Festival in Hazard, KY!


Hello! Sophia here with three packed days of Spokes happenings :) After a restful night in our host’s Victorian bnb (called “Harmony House”, it has three guest bedrooms named after Mozart, Vivaldi, and Beethoven), we brunched at a wonderful spot called France’s Diner where I devoured a delicious Western omelet with biscuits and gravy. At breakfast, we met someone who owns multiple AirBnBs across Virginia and Kentucky, keeps bees, runs a yarn shop, received a grant to get rid of the invasive kudsu vine, used to organize the local farmer’s market, and also worked for the Department of Defense at some point. She concluded her stories by saying that that she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. Admittedly, it was comforting to hear this from an older person.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Challenger Center for our third learning festival since the start of the trip. Just for quick background, these learning centers were established in memory of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion. The Hazard Challenger Center is in fact the first one in a rural area!


It was wild and wonderful to see King (from Wayland!) and her grandkids come to the Hazard learning festival along with Franklin’s first cousins removed (the kids of his cousin’s sister). We met Mayor Jerry and King two days earlier, and we had dinner at Franklin’s cousin’s restaurant just the day before. With all the spontaneous happenings, every day on this trip has felt like a week and so seeing these two groups of dear people converge in one place at one time was somehow mind-boggling to us biking nomads.

I am leading a workshop on making solar cells from berry juice. Something I’ve been wondering is how to make the lesson more relevant and interesting to kids of this particular age group. I foolishly forgot that most middle schoolers don’t take an official chemistry class and so I jumped into conjugated bonds enabling absorption of light before the kids even knew what a chemical bond was (!). I think getting to the hands-on part quickly helps, but the activity itself is rather finicky since we are adding super thin layers of various materials and even the slightest fingerprint smudge can wreck the final device. One of kids said that his brain hurt from learning too much oops.

Learning festival ended around 3pm and after feasting on some Korean animal crackers and egg yolk snacks provided by Franklin’s cousin, we got rolled ice cream. This one has peaches yum :)

After a grocery stop at Food City, we decided to flex our cooking muscles and with Simone as head chef, created a delicious dinner of Thai curry, roasted cumin cauliflower, pan-seared chicken thighs, and minute rice.

Staring into people's eyes for even 10 seconds is hard, but we did it for this gem:


Thursday, June 16th - Second Day of Learning Festival & County Fair!


After piles of french toast for breakfast, we headed over to the Challenger Center for one last round of workshops. One of the kids who did the solar cell workshop twice left some sweet comments: “I want to tell the MIT how perfect they did for all of the students, and I love how they would come to a small town to show so much support!”

After a quick lunch and the fastest game of ping-pong I’ve ever played, Tom gave us a tour of the Challenger Center, including this super cool mission control room.



Back at home: While half our crew napped/watched anime/did laundry, Robert, Maxwell and I drove over to Hyden, KY to meet Dean, the director of the Kentucky School of Traditional and Bluegrass music (Robert was playing the piano at the community college where we taught workshops and serendipitously ran into Dean who invited him over!). Random but it would be so cool if we developed Southern accents on this trip! Dean even let us play around with his banjo and treated to us a couple of tunes. I love how both twangy and percussive the banjo is!


Did you know that bluegrass is a combination of blues and Scottish/Irish fiddle music? The traditional bluegrass band consists of five instruments: guitar, mandolin, bass, dobro and fiddle. Also Dean is a cousin of the Osborne Brothers!! We blasted their lively rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Road” on our drive back.

We also left our mark on the walls of the school in Sharpie:

We ended the day at the county fair and consumed one of the most unhealthiest and delicious dinners I’ve ever had: fried catfish, pulled pork, loaded nachos, and loaded ribbon fries. Followed by fried oreos and huge bowls of ice cream. Good thing we are biking an average of 60 miles/day.



Friday, June 16th - Hazard, KY --> Red River Gorge, KY


Our host at the bnb left us a ton of eggs and bacon, so Franklin made some amazing fried eggs (yolks were perfectly jammy!). We were all excited to get back on the road after two days of separation from our beloved bikes. After a pleasant slightly downhill 35 miles, the skies began to darken and we could hear thunder. Ever since Day 2, we have been very cautious with thunderstorm warnings. Mariela, Simone and I grabbed a couple of cans of our staple (sardines), pumpkin seeds and almonds and squeezed under a church awning while Franklin drove Maxwell and Robert to our campsite about 30min away. In just a few minutes, bucketfuls of rain crashed down along with thunder and lightning.

Armed with our all-purpose foam pads (used for sleeping, picnicking, and at one point a fashion statement skirt), we made a little fort under the awning and huddled together, anxiously munching on almonds. Franklin soon arrived and drove us to the campsite.

Since it was raining, the campground owners let us stay inside the building that houses bathrooms and surprise - 2 ping pong tables complete with paddles and a crunched up ball! About 4 different people along our way (including Simone's sister) recommended Miguel’s pizza, so we hit the road in our unloaded car and drank in the breezes of Daniel Boone National Forest on our way to dinner. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the gorge in Red River Gorge, but the make-your-own pizza at Miguel's absolutely slapped. From left to right: herbal-mozzarella-kielbasa-arugula, alfredo-mozzarella-artichoke-chicken, and tomato-ricotta-brisket-onion.

Until next time, here's a sign I totally vibe with from these past days of teaching, resting and eating lots of food:


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