This post is part of a series of travel journals for the #AdlerGalaxyRide, a biking science roadshow over the 300+ miles between Chicago and St Louis. You can follow our ride by checking the website, following @AdlerPlanet on Twitter and Instagram, or searching for the #AdlerGalaxyRide hashtag.
“What’s this about?” He seemed to come from nowhere: a man in his 70s, wearing a Death Valley Velo Club cycling kit, rounding the towering grain silos near Elkhart IL to come to a stop by the Galaxy Ride van. It had been a bit of a drag, getting to Elkhart– construction near the railroad tracks blocked our way to the county road we were supposed to be riding down, forcing us out of the way and down a road covered in large, deep gravel. We had to haggle with the construction worker blocking our way over the tracks, who was as happy as your average bridge troll to let us pass, but did so anyway.
“I love gravel! Once you get into it, it’s addicting.” Our new friend lived in the area, and was out on a 60 mile loop ride that he mentioned with the nonchalance of someone who rides that far on the reg. Indeed, he said he was retired, and that gave him a lot of time to ride– he wished us well, and rolled on.
The road into Springfield was hot and busy, the last several miles along the wide shoulder of a highway. David and I briefly considered stopped along the ride– we’d been looking for a moving river for him to drop bread into for Yom Kippur– but our only option was a broken-glass-encrusted overpass spanning the Sangamon River, and we decided not to risk a truck sweeping us both off the planet. We wound our way past a diner with a large shrine to the Virgin Mary in their outdoor patio, through the state fairgrounds, and on to downtown Springfield.
We soon found ourselves in the shadow of the beautiful capitol building, setting up our demo materials outside the Illinois State Library. Before long, our visitors began to trickle in– the owner of a nearby bike shop and his two teenage daughters, both of whom insisted on getting inside the Hoberman sphere to reenact hydrostatic equilibrium. We had some very enthusiastic space fans at today’s event; one little boy, probably around 4 years old, informed me that his favorite dwarf planet is Eris. His mom asked if Eris has any moons, to which he replied “Dysnomia!”, which makes him hands-down the smallest person I have ever heard utter that word. Both the sun and the moon were visible through the telescope during the event, so I snapped some space paparazzi shots:
I spent a long time talking with a young man who was thinking about his college options, with the goal of eventually going to space– specifically Mars (“I figure my generation is the generation,” he said). We discussed majoring in engineering versus physics or astronomy specifically, and that if you go to grad school in the sciences you don’t pay to attend (in fact, the school pays you to work as a teaching or research assistant). I’m always happy to share that particular fact, because I remember what a relief it was for me to find that out– there was no way I would have been able to afford to pay for grad school, so I was thrilled to discover that I would actually be earning a living while pursuing my studies. I gave him my card and encouraged him to be in touch.
We finished up the night showing people the spectra of different elements and letting the kids play “rainbow detective”– seeing if they can figure out what air is made of by looking at glowing emission tubes and matching the spectrum that they see.
Tomorrow, we’re on to the second-to-last leg of the trip, the road to Litchfield! Sadly this stop also means that we bid goodbye to Galaxy Riders Christina and Kyle, both of whom have obligations at home taking them away– but we welcome two new Galaxy Riders for this last bit of the journey: Leila Makdisi, Facilitation Lead at the Adler, and Colleen Incandela, Senior Educator at the Adler! Here they are, posing with the pre-Halloween wares at our Walgreen’s pit stop tonight. See you in space!