cycling to White Sulfur SpringsI have never been so happy to see wind turbine after wind turbine standing still. Not a single breeze. Zilch wind. Nada. That fact became my mantra during our first long, I mean longggg (60 miles with full gear) bike ride.

Nerves of anticipation noticeably brewed around the camp as we packed up our bikes at the crack of dawn to leave. The idea was to get out as early as possible and avoid the heat, but the thermometer rose to the the upper 90s in a blink of the eye. It was the hottest day yet for the trip, and would become the longest ride of my life, but I had the lack of a headwind whispering me encouragement to meet the challenge.

I took a breath and the first twenty miles were done. It was easy…blistering hot, but biking twenty miles was now a breeze (especially without one). Several wind turbines met our gaze as we pulled up to a farm and houses. It marked the break in the day to tour the Hutterite Colony—an experience that became as eye opening and as big of a plunge into the unfamiliar as the day’s sixty mile journey.

It was obvious within seconds of arrival that I entered a place with vastly different customs from my own. My bare knees and spandex bike shorts left me feeling suddenly exposed next to the beautifully adorned, modest dress of those who warmly greeted us. Our lack of wardrobe conformity was put aside without a moment of hesitation as welcoming hands offered us freshly baked bread and a tour of the colony’s innovative strides of self-sustainability.

I was interested by the pristine heat exchange system that lay below the colony’s ground. A member explained with pride the simple and effective, yet highly under-implemented in the U.S., process that the colony heavily relied on. Groundwater is pumped through their refrigeration system, cooling the refrigeration units to the appropriate temperature; the water is then naturally warmed and is able to heat other water for the rest of the colony’s hot water needs. No water is wasted, and it’s all able to be used again in a cyclic motion. Although the Hutterite’s turbines were not turning due to low windspeeds, our tour finished with an impressive tour of their sustainable gardening practices.

I left with the important experiential feeling of culture shock accompanied with an enlightened understanding of the possibilities to sustain a community, a belly full of the world’s best bread, and mild dehydration.

As we continued on for the day, the next forty miles became a blur of pain turned to euphoria. My outlook on hills transformed during the next five hours of biking. I learned to embrace the never ending, steep inclines. It’s cliché, yet resoundingly true, how increasingly moving the sight of valleys, trees, and mountains became as I coasted down the other side after the mental and physical challenge of a hill.

I finished the day collapsing on the ground, smiling with a fascination from the days events. But my thoughts continued racing on. I couldn’t help but think of the practicality behind the Hutterite’s energy and consumption, and the possibility of one day translating those practices into the society I know. But most of all I was inspired by the pure beauty of the ride and the ability of my friends, the group of eight others I met only a week before, to motivate me to keep peddling even when I was sure my legs would break.