At 2pm after our final round of workshops in Hazard, we sat around the table at Harmony House Bed and Breakfast debating what to do. We had been teaching for two days and were exhausted. Jamie from the Challenger Learning Center wanted to take us to the pool and the community event “Thursday on the Triangle”. Our friends from Hazard we had met last night wanted to play board games. Our plan was to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in Hazard, and then set out the next day for East Bernstadt, KY. But there were eighty miles in between Hazard and there, six thousand feet of elevation gain, and a tropical storm coming in. It was already pouring.
For context, we had just biked over the Appalachian ridge, known to be the steepest and hilliest part of the ride cross country. Our 60-mile days then typically meant 2,000 feet of elevation gain, 3,000 at best. Six-thousand was going to be a challenge. There was no way we would make it in one day, especially if we had to stop for frequent lightning storms.
So we bid our Hazard friends goodbye, found ourselves an Airbnb 30 miles on the route to East Bernstadt, and set out off biking in the rain. For those of you wondering what that first huge lump on the elevation profile felt like, it was a roughly 800-foot hill which took us between 15 and 45 minutes to conquer, depending on whether you braved it on anything higher than your lowest gear, or admitted defeat to the Kentucky “foothills” (I prefer “foot-mountains”) and walked your bike. I did my usual slow but steady 1-1 gear up the hill.
You’ll also notice that on that elevation profile above, there are no flat sections. Unfortunately, when the rain is spitting at 20mph into your eyes, and the roads are full of tight turns, it’s hard enjoy the downhills like we usually do. But it was a good ride nonetheless.
Over the next few days riding through Kentucky, something magical happened. The hills got shorter and shorter until all of a sudden they completely disappeared into the flattest corn fields I have ever seen in my life. Check out this elevation profile from last Wednesday, our last full day in Kentucky. Spoiler: it gets way flatter in Illinois, but then Missouri gets bad again.
It turns our biking on flat ground is a challenge too, when you are confronted with 10-15 mph headwinds. To combat this, many of us have started drafting each other, a tactic that blocks much of the wind for the riders in the back (like me). Shoutout to Thi for being a mule and leading most of the time. We have also started playing lots of fun games on the ride, like “Contact” or word association games that distract us from the endless miles of corn and soybeans.
We’re looking forward to getting back on the bikes after our two Learning Festivals in the St. Louis area. Stay posted. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the elevation profile in Kansas.