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  • Writer's pictureJD Hagood

Day 4: Parallel Universes on the Spokes Team

Updated: Jun 13

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Linden, VA -> Shenandoah National Park, VA

60.9 mi, 7,569 ft elevation


Hello everyone, JD and Amulya here! We have quite the story for you, so let’s get into it.


Following a tumultuous few days of rental car and bike repair struggles, we entered our fourth day of Spokes 2024 with equal doses of apprehension and excitement. We would be biking through Shenandoah National Park and spending the night in the park! Our day started with a phenomenal DIY oatmeal bowl creation served by our fantastic hosts, Jen and Tim. After eating, we packed up our gear and shuttled two cars down the mountain to start our bike ride (thank you Tim for helping drive)! Once reaching a less gravelly portion of the trail, we hopped on our bikes and began our 68 mile bike ride.


Eight miles in, Rebecca and Amulya fell off their bikes. While the fall was minor, it seemed like something was wrong with the bikes so they called our trusty driver, Jess, for assistance. 



Amulya and Rebecca post-bike fall and failed DIY repair.

The three of them drove with the bikes to meet the rest of the team for lunch at the Shenandoah National Park visitor center. After lunch, our paths diverged for the rest of the day. The rest of the blog will be told from two perspectives: Amulya (with Rebecca and Jess) and JD (with the rest of the team).


Amulya- “The Car Rental (Mis)adventures”

One team lunch later, Jess, Rebecca, and I drove back down Skyline Drive and returned to town to get our bikes checked. Luckily, mine was just a skill issue- I was cross chaining and didn’t know it. Rebecca, on the other hand, had a bent derailleur (our third of the trip). Thank you to Blue Ridge Bicycles for helping us out!


Excited to get back to biking, we started the drive to Shenandoah when our car’s gas pedal suddenly stopped working and the message below popped up on our dashboard.


Car dashboard error message that made us pull over :(

Unable to move forward, we pulled into the closest parking lot, which was coincidentally an auto repair shop. After some quick googling, we deduced that the issue was previously reported for the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid and likely electrical, but we still had no solution. We were quickly realizing that our third rental vehicle of the trip, which we had painstakingly obtained the day before, had failed us. Thankfully, someone from the auto repair shop came by and played with some buttons in our car to make it temporarily functional, allowing us to drive into the Taco Bell parking lot, which became our home for the next two hours and 137 calls.


We first contacted our friends on the mountain to inform them of the situation. With no functional car, we knew we couldn’t do anything if anyone on the team got injured or needed water. Moreover, they had no camping gear on them for the night ahead. While we were able to reach JD, Hank and Varsha, service issues made it difficult to reach Sophia and Cleo. So, I also called the Shenandoah park rangers to help us locate our friends on the mountain. Luckily, we later got a call that Sophia and Cleo were safe, so we called off the rangers, much to the relief of the team.


Meanwhile, Jess and Rebecca were contacting Avis to get our vehicle towed. However, Avis was refusing to tow us because the three of us were not primary drivers for the car and we were not listed as additional authorized drivers. Since the rental was through MIT and was a company car, we were unaware that we needed to add ourselves as additional drivers. But according to Avis, the only person who could call a tow truck and replace the rental car was the primary driver, JD… who was on a bike in the mountains.


So we called JD and our Edgerton Center advisors, Sandi and Chris, for help with the situation. It felt like we were playing 4D chess as we talked through all the options. We felt unsafe driving our current rental vehicle, so we needed a tow. We needed a new rental vehicle, so we had to get to an Avis, the nearest of which was 40 miles away, but closing soon. We also needed to ensure our friends were safe and had the camping gear they needed for the night. And all the while, we needed to make sure the mountain of stuff stored in the van was accounted for. 


Finally, we settled on a plan. We were going to get a one-day truck rental from a nearby Enterprise. We would transfer most of the stuff, including all the camping gear and people’s personal belongings, to the truck, which Rebecca would transport to the team in Shenandoah. Meanwhile, Jess and I would get a tow truck (thank you Chris for pulling the strings on this one) to… you guessed it: Dulles airport! Again! Because it would be the only place open by the time we figured everything out. After we got to Dulles, we would take out all the remaining belongings in the van so the tow truck driver could take the car to the maintenance facility in Springfield, VA. Then one person would watch the stuff while the other person would go to the help desk to get the new rental.



Rebecca and Jess posing with our broken rental vehicle and our new truck rental.

Phew! So we get the truck, load it up with most of the stuff (impressive how much fits in a Toyota Tundra) and send Rebecca off. Jess and I returned to the Taco Bell parking lot for a quick dinner and our expected tow. After some confusing calls trying to confirm that our tow was to Dulles Airport (and not Springfield, VA like the day before), we finally succeeded. We regaled the tales of the day to our amazing tow truck driver, Jason, who gave us some good advice. Along the hour-long drive aboard my first tow truck (and Jess’s second), we talked through replacement vehicle options and where we would stay for the night.


Our yummy crunch wrap supremes from Taco Bell. (Not pictured: the many cups of ice we took for our cooler)

Our rental vehicle was towed in front of the Front Royal, VA Taco Bell.

After arriving at the airport around 11:30PM, Jess and I split up- I started calling the rest of our team (who were about to go to bed) while Jess went into the Avis office to get us a new vehicle. We spent two hours inspecting parked rental cars, debating what model to get, trying to find a place to stay for the night, and figuring out the finances of getting a new vehicle. Since our primary driver, JD, was not with us, Jess was unable to exchange the vehicle and had to bug Chris late at night to start a new, more expensive rental (thanks Chris!). Unfortunate, but alas, we needed a car. Finally, we obtained the same car we started out with, a white non-hybrid Chrysler Pacifica. Jason, who had stayed with us this whole time, helped us load up our new car with our bikes and boxes. Thank you, Jason, for your patience and help (he even called the next morning to check if everything worked out)!


Fourth rental vehicle in hand, Jess and I left the Dulles Avis at 1am and made our final drive of the night back to the house of our first host, Heather. Thank you, Heather, for letting us sleep at your place (again) with such short notice! We immediately fell asleep, excited to see our team again and exhausted from what were hopefully the last of our rental car struggles.


JD - "Oh Shenandoah"

Lunch at the top of the mountain was a much needed morale booster after the first climb. We had service so parents were called and BeReals were updated. Some people made fun of my cucumber sandwich, but I did not see what they were talking about.



Along the bike ride mother nature provided us with some sweet snacks keeping our energy up.




The hills were hard but between the thrill of fast downhill rides, my Olivia Rodrigo playlist, and the breathtaking views, I was doing fine for the first 30 miles.





So fine in fact that we had time for me to take a little nap on the edge of an overlook.



I woke up to my phone ringing. Caller ID: Amulya A. I picked up the phone and answered with a hardy “Yellow” expecting them to just be checking up on us. They explained the whole transmission error glitch situation to me. I’d like to say I handled the news well, but after the previous debacle with Budget Rentals lets just say I wasn’t too happy. We were now essentially stranded in the Blue Ridge mountains with only the snacks on our bikes and no camping gear. 


We all agreed that it would be best to keep biking and try to make it to the campground just in case Amulya, Rebecca, or Jess couldn't get to us. We were talking about begging for food and sleeping in the bath house, giving us the full experience of how we're going to live after our programming jobs are taken by AI. 


Continuing our journey along the skyline drive, the views did not stop, but neither did the hills. Eventually we came to a resupply point for the Appalachian Trail. We stocked up on some MREs (which some team members thought stood for Meal Replacement Experience. It stands for Meals Ready to Eat btw) and Cleo had her first ever soft serve ice cream.


Cleo's First Soft Serve

We then biked to an overlook to check up on the car situation, which had turned into the gordian knot of logistical nightmares. Apparently they could not exchange the vehicle without me there because I was the primary driver?! I thought this was a company car and we were employees. I only went to pick up the car, now my presence makes all the difference in how this transaction can go? We spent the next 2 hours at this overlook making frantic phone calls to Avis and Budget customer service begging for them to help with the situation. The TLDR outcome was I had to be there in person to exchange the car and we could not register other primary drivers over the phone. If I had any objections then I could go pound sand because there is nothing we could do. All this was for nothing as I rode the merry go round of help agents handing me off to other help agents.


After that infuriating interaction, we had another problem: the sun was getting low in the sky. Sophia and Cleo left halfway through the customer service call, but Hank and Varsha stayed back with me. It was now a race against time to bike over some of the most mountainous roads of our entire trip to make it to the campground. 


All that was going through my head biking to the campground.

The ride was hard, but we had no other options as our shadows got longer and the forest darker. My phone was dead so all I had to listen to was my bike chain trying its best on the hills and our labored breathing. 



Just as the sun was going down we saw the best sign of our lives: “Big Meadows Campground.” As soon as we got to the campground I collapsed at the welcome center and took the second nap of the day, but this time I was woken up by Rebecca pulling up in a pick up truck filled with our gear. We were saved!


We biked to our campsite and pitched camp for the night. The people camping next to us were kind enough to let us borrow their water boiler for the MREs. Overall, this was one of the most physically and mentally stressful days I’ve ever had, but after conquering skyline drive to get to the campsite in time I felt more determined than ever to make it to SF. If only we had a support vehicle…


We did in fact have a place to sleep at night


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5 Comments


Colette  Hagood
Colette Hagood
Jun 11

Wow, it almost seems impossible that you could have this much trouble from so many rental cars. So sorry. But the good news is you are now a car rental pro! You will be checking everything going forward. Hopefully, now everything will start falling into place and you can all get some routines going. So proud of all of you and stay safe!

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Mary Lizarde
Mary Lizarde
Jun 11

Oh Boy!! Glad you found the beauty in your mishap(s)!! You have many people pulling for you!!:)

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Guest
Jun 10

i'm so invested in the rental car saga -kelton

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Guest
Jun 10

Oh no not the rental car again. Enjoy the parks though! -Kat

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Guest
Jun 10

Omg you guys are having such a rough start but super impressed you made it up Shanendoah. Literally wasn’t me last year. Really hoping this is the last rental car you have to deal with 😭

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