• Robert Henning

Day 20: 90 miles and a visit with an old friend


This is Robert with a post about our longest ride yet on June 20th as we rode from Liberty to our campsite in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky.

We awoke; the guys were staying with some friends of Tom Cravens, so we packed up our things and left for breakfast with his close friend and distant relative, Don Cravens. Our stay was probably the most comfortable one I have had yet for this trip; my body felt rejuvenated by the plush foam mattress.

The guys met up with the others and arrived as breakfast was being prepared. We heard stories about how Don worked to improve the circumstances of under-resourced schools in rural areas. He told us about his time moving out to Northwest Wyoming as part of his time as a superintendent.

We had a delicious American breakfast of eggs, sausage, fresh fruit, and bagels. We also had biscuits with chocolate gravy, a dish that reminded me of chocolate pudding. All of these carbohydrate-heavy foods were necessary for the day ahead of us.

June 20th was a 90-mile day, so we put on a thick coat of sunscreen and ate well. Franklin played some ping-pong with Mariela while we prepared to leave, then we said our heartfelt goodbyes and hit the road.

We broke up the day into three separate sections, each roughly 30 miles in length.

Our first section was the most pleasant, as it was still cold in the morning. Between the moderate hill climbs were rows upon rows of corn and soy. The miles of farmland, thankfully, meant that few cars needed to pass us. We stopped at a school for snacks, then continued on our way.

We had some challenging hills during the second section, but we attacked them enthusiastically. We made sure to take plenty of breaks as the day was getting into the 90s. We stopped at gas stations to refill our water, which, together with the wind, protected us from the heat.

A few podcasts later, we arrived at our park for lunch at the end of a steep hill. We had some of the leftover breakfast sandwiches our hosts had prepared that morning in addition to sardines and snacks.

We rested, recuperated, then started the third portion of our 90-mile trek. We kept an ambitious pace, though long lines of cars that struggled to pass us made us pull over from time to time.

As we rode, I reflected on a text that an old friend sent me, which reminded me that one should savor every moment that Spokes offers. Spokes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and several of us joined the team for the personal growth that comes with a challenge. We do not necessarily need to prove ourselves to anyone; past challenges like succeeding at MIT have scratched that itch. Yet we remain ambitious. Three of us are youngest siblings, and two of us are oldest siblings; the roles we fill and the group dynamics among us are distinctive. Our childhood experiences and sibling rivalries have shaped us as team members. Spokes demonstrates strength and determination as an apparent rite of passage for one's development, an opportunity to mature like no other.

We pass by abandoned businesses and declining towns, and I admire their efforts to persevere. Small businesses we ride by take on giants like Walmart and hope to challenge the status quo. Kentucky has countless success stories, though escapism is rampant here.

Along the way, we saw some Amish people, a group of girls in traditional dresses working in a field of blueberries. With our diverse members and vulnerable clothing, the encounter felt like a distortion in the space-time continuum. As we were riding, Maxwell had a bicycle tire repaired by an Amish family. “Hold on a moment. My son is out picking pickles,” the father said, puzzlingly. Moments later, Jethro, a boy who barely looked fourteen years introduced himself and got to work. Some other Amish kids stopped by to visit on their own bicycles. Soon, the wheel was fixed, and Maxwell was on his way.

The cyclists finished the ride a few miles in the shade as they closed in on the campsite for the night; the 95° heat was no more.

After arriving, I met up with one of my best friends since preschool, Riley, who drove down from Louisville. The two of us had dinner at a Mexican restaurant fittingly called Mis Amigos while the rest had Greek-inspired wraps and salad. It looks like we missed out.

At the restaurant, Riley exercised his Spanish speaking skills; he is studying to be an English teacher and has built off of his experience with teaching Spanish. He will be in the Louisville area for the next two years while working on his Master’s in Education.

We never expected to see each other next in Kentucky. As our plans began to unfold, it felt like we were calling each others’ bluffs, me with my trip and him with his move to start a program in Kentucky.

We returned from the restaurant and talked for a while, then I fell asleep soundly, exhausted after the 90-mile day.

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