In the mountains of Palm Springs, Rachel ’15 pedals furiously on her bike. Straining against the downward force of gravity, she pushes herself uphill. Although she is fit and tanned from weeks of nonstop cycling, this particular climb taxes her to the fullest extent. She grips the handlebars, gnashes her teeth, and forces her way through the peaks on a bicycle loaded with gear and supplies. In front of and behind her, her fellow bikers face the same feat. Yanover heaves a sigh upon making her way out of the mountains. It is the penultimate day of her 3,000-mile ride across the United States, and a bittersweet feeling wells up inside her; the end is near.
This summer, students Rachel, Hannah ’15, Emma ’15, and Parker ’14 participated in bike trips with Overland and Apogee, two companies that offer bike trips throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Rachel and Hannah biked through different regions of the South, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, while Parker and Emma both rode through Washington, Oregon and California.
Parker and Emma had been looking for summer plans to do together when they came across Apogee.
“Parker and I were looking for something to do…something that was not too far away from home, and we were like, ‘Let’s do something with exercise!’” Bernstein explained.
None of the girls had any particular experience with biking, save for the occasional leisure ride.
“The night before Emma and I left, we were both sobbing and crying and throwing a tantrum,” Parker said. “We thought, ‘We’ve never biked before in our lives!’ We didn’t know what we were in for.”
Though they initially experienced the same fears that tormented Parker and Emma, Rachel and Hannah had their uncertainties assuaged when they contacted alumna Alexa ’11, who had done a similar trip with Overland. Alexa’s enthusiasm solidified their desires to push their boundaries and take part in the journeys.
Unlike Parker and Emma, Rachel and Hannah decided not to go on the same trip. Ultimately, Rachel opted to ride through the southernmost part of the South, while Hannah took the northernmost part.
“We both knew that [Hannah and I] wanted to do [a bike trip],” Rachel said. “[But] we had an agreement to do it separately. We wanted to go somewhere where we knew nobody.”
After minimal training, the girls found the amount of biking arduous; Rachel and Hannah averaged around 80 to 85 miles per day, while Parker and Emma averaged 40.
“We [got] to the airport, [rode] 11 miles to this campsite, and then the next day [was] 70 miles,” Rachel recounted. “So they didn’t really ease you into it. It was hard at the beginning, but then I just got used to it every day.”
Beyond the sheer distances, the terrain and the elements also proved challenging.
“Everyone tells you Kansas is so flat, but when you’re on a bike, nothing is flat,” Hannah said. “So there were hills in Kansas [and] really strong winds. Wind was probably the hardest thing to battle.”
Hannah also took the occasional spill. “Every day my group would wait for me to fall
off my bike. I’d have my ‘daily tumble.’”
While Hannah’s falls were never too serious, Emma suffered a fall that cut her trip short by a week and a half. While in Oregon, she lost her grip on the handlebars and careened down a hill before crashing, concussing and receiving multiple bruises all over her body, as well as a gashed forehead.
Though she could not, after several attempts, complete the entire trip, her father drove her back to San Francisco after recuperation to finish the last 37 miles with the group.
While the intensity of the trips did wear them out, most of the girls could not resist hopping back on their bicycles.
Initially, Hannah felt reluctant to bike after her trip.
“When I got back, I told myself [that] I’m taking a year off, [and] I’m not getting on my bike. But a week later I had to ride my bike.”
Rachel felt the same way. “My dad got me a road bike so I could ride with him. With this bike, I felt like I was flying.”