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  • Robert Henning

Day 79: There Is So Much To Look Forward To, and You Have No Idea What It Is

Updated: Sep 5

Sacramento, CA to Vacaville, CA 56 miles 243 ft elevation gain, 256 ft elevation lost

Hello! It still surprises me that the trip is over. No more snack bags, routes, or group water breaks. I still miss our shared laughs and late-night conversations and all of the other sides to the people who I’ve had the chance to grow close with this trip.


The spirit of adventure continues! After the Spokes trip, I’ve been visiting people and sights on a road trip across California. These conversations have sparked more ideas for talking about the trip from an outsider’s perspective, but words can only give a glimpse of the full experience of the trip. I'm sorry that it took me so long to put these feelings in words. For this final blog post of mine for Spokes, I will talk about August 18th as well as some of my antics and lessons learned.


We awoke at our Hyatt Place in Sacramento and had breakfast at our hotel, which saves us loads of time and broke from the monotony of our travel-friendly dishes.



As we left our hotel and made a beeline towards Vacaville, we hunted down water at a gas station along our way. Surprisingly, in the progressive sprawl of California, we had a difficult time finding free water and ice. Even the smallest towns in the Midwest, albeit with questionable water, gave us free water without hesitation. When we visit these gas stations and fill up, we usually buy something as a token of goodwill. Three gas stations later, our water break took too much time.


As we left Sacramento, we appreciated the extensive bicycle infrastructure connecting the two cities. Between the dedicated river route and the cycling path alongside a freeway, we avoided cars for most of the morning. As we snaked along the river path, we tested our top speed as a group. We went 21 miles per hour at our fastest!


We indulged with lunch at an In N Out in Davis and cooled down as the day’s heat began to hit. Amira met us for lunch, and we refueled with the finest sponge-bread buns, hand-leafed lettuce, and fresh - never frozen - meat that the West Coast has to offer (In N Out, if you’re looking for teams to sponsor in the future, you know who to contact!)



As we left town, we passed by UC Davis, which has an epic arboretum and even a raptor (the bird) rehabilitation center. The nature surrounding the campus was a treat to take in as we passed by. We rode on a grid of rural roads between Davis and Vacaville, and it felt like Kansas in some ways, though at a smaller scale and with mountains in the distance.


After we arrived at our hotel in Vacaville, we went through our usual routine of showers, laundry, and getting dinner. We finished watching the movie Sing, which has epic covers of songs that we’ve listened to in our rides. As our trip neared its end, we could begin to feel the cool breeze from San Francisco.

 

We came across so many musical instruments this trip, and a few of us made music together. I would ask people about their own experiences with music and for opportunities to practice music along the way, which often became an opportunity to connect with others. From family instruments and church pianos to magnificent instruments tucked away at colleges, we regularly had access to musical instruments. I counted at least 30 pianos from my notes! There has been a running joke with the team this trip that I would eventually post about all of the musical experiences I had along the way. That sounds like a long and repetitive blog post, though, so here are some highlights!


When we taught our workshops in Hazard, Kentucky, I had the opportunity to play on the college’s concert grand piano, which was one of the nicest pianos during the entire trip. As I played some songs, I met a few musicians and administrators who worked at the school who came to listen and invited others to come by. One of the administrators was the director at the affiliated music school, KSBTM, and he offered our team a trip to tour his campus! Some of us visited it the next day, and we learned about the traditional music in Appalachia and saw the recording studio, stage, library, and other facilities. The director of the school even performed for us and let us play on the traditional instruments! The piano you see below is in Mahogany, so the natural wood tones are showing, and the shorter length along with the tuning make the sound warmer to stand out in music that already has a bright sound. It’s the recording studio piano and had a storied history before it was donated to the school.



When we taught at Johnson Wabash School in Ferguson, Missouri, I asked if the school had a piano I could borrow to help demonstrate parts of my presentation. They had two! We wheeled this one, which was in tune and had a smooth action, into my classroom, which the students really enjoyed. During my breaks, I had conversations with the band and orchestra teachers, who shared stories from their time at the school. Having the teachers with a background in music nearby during my workshops really helped to reinforce some of the ideas we explored. The instrument on top is a melodica, which uses air and reeds like a harmonica.



At one of our stays in Utah, our hosts and I were talking about music and they mentioned that their music teacher Denine, who lived next door, would love to visit with us. A few of us went over and met her family, and we talked about her experiences with teaching voice and the piano. Denine’s conversation style and experiences with advanced students reminded me a lot of one of my own piano teachers, though she also had a background in vocal technique. This piano is the one she uses for her lessons, and it was in great shape.



 

As we cycled and taught our workshops, we learned so many valuable lessons along the way

  • How to live in a group, from communication and organizing chores to finding fun activities to do together.

  • Cycling in an area is a great way to learn about it, from seeing wildlife and feeling the contours of the land to stopping and interacting with people more often.

  • What your basic essentials are for day-to-day living and just how many places in the United States could meet your needs.

If you’re an MIT student who’s considering applying to Spokes in the future, apply! Spokes has been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to remember and grow from. Please reach out, too, if you have any questions about the experience!


Thank you, all, for joining me on this adventure! The next chapter is just starting to unfold.


Your loyal Spokesperson,

Robert Henning


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