“Guys, get up, you’ve got to come see this”.
I squinted up at my teammate groggily, a little irritated. I had just started to drift off and tomorrow was going to be a long day. Nevertheless, I stumbled out of bed and shuffled over to the front porch to join the rest of the group. Looking up, I gasped. I had never seen so many fireflies at once. They lit up the forest illuminating and dimming, so that the trees sparkled with bright yellow light. We all sat and enjoyed the sight for a while before reluctantly heading back inside for much-needed rest. I tried to capture a photo, but… well, some things are better just enjoyed in the moment. This was one of them.
The landscapes aren’t the only thing around here that’s beautiful. More than anything, it’s the people. Everyone — especially total strangers — have been so extraordinarily kind and welcoming that frankly I’m starting to realize why Jersey has such a bad rap as a state full of impatient jerks. On our first night in a homestay, our host came out to bike the last ten miles of our route with us. His wife was waiting for us with a scrumptious baked Brie and a huge dinner, and for hours they helped fix our bikes and do battle with a load of the most disgusting laundry I’ve ever seen. And for that matter, smelled. In the morning there were fresh pancakes, eggs, and coffee to fuel us up, and they came out to watch us leave.
The next night we found ourselves in MiddleOfNowheresVille Pennsylvania. Mile after mile of soybeans and corn led us to our next homestay, this time a pastor’s family. They let us hop in their pool and take over their kitchen to cook obscene amounts of pasta and oatmeal, and shared an already limited water heater with eleven athletes’ worth of showers.
And finally, tonight’s dinner. My god. You’d think that coming from a Jewish family I’d be used to people feeding me overzealously, but this was really something else. Not only did Traditions Restaurant (a delightful old fashioned eatery with waitresses in full Amish dresses and bonnets) graciously reschedule the time and day of our stop twice, they also fed us entirely for free. We weren’t so sure and didn’t want to overstay our welcome, so when we ask our very cheerful host if we should stick to a certain price range she replied “Nope, they told us you were coming. It’s covered. Get anything you want.” The meal was enormous and delicious. She offered us dessert and when we bashfully squeaked out requests for a scoop of ice cream and a whoopie pie, she emerged from the kitchen moments later with full chocolate fudge sundaes and cakes the size of an adult hand. Other patrons struck up conversations with us and wished us well as we left.
Finally, as we pulled up to the church we’re staying in tonight, the man who had welcomed us when we first dropped our things off had come back with his family to chat and ask about our trip. This area also happens to have a cycling club, and he offered more than once to tune up our bikes and asked if we needed any help fixing them up and if he could be of assistance.
This is so much of what The Dream Project is about. At its core, this is a fundraising mission to support our home community. On the trip itself however, we’re having a wonderful time meeting the locals and seeing firsthand the vastly different lives people in different pockets all over the country are leading, in the homes they’ve been so kind to open to us.