Hello there, trek followers! This is Katie writing from the living room of Dana Kuhnline, an environmental activist from Charleston, West Virginia who has been kind enough to let us stay in her home for a few nights. We’ve been enjoying our rest days (the first ones of the trip for the Michigan crew) by exploring the city of Charleston, learning about the environmental action that’s going on in the area, having some good meals, resting our muscles, and playing with Dana’s cats and guitars.
Picking up where the last blog left off: on our way from Lancaster to Athens, we found a paved bike trail from Hocking College to Ohio University (our final destination). We rode on the trail for the rest of the day, which made for a pleasant, shady, and relatively hill-free afternoon. In Athens, we camped on the hillside next to Ohio University’s eco house, which was a normal house that has been renovated to include solar panels, a vegetable and herb garden fertilized by compost, a super-efficient water heater, and insulated windows. The next morning we woke up early (even though some members of the group had seen a midnight showing of Harry Potter the night before!) for a thirty-five mile ride to Racine, Ohio. Thirty-five miles seemed short to us when we started in the morning, but the day proved to be a challenging one because we were getting into more and more hilly terrain. When we reached our destination, we were excited by the arrival of the “veggie bus,” a refurbished school bus that is equipped to run on used vegetable oil from restaurants. The bus and its two drivers, Joe and Christy, had provided support for the Seattle and Minnesota riders earlier in the tour, so those riders were happy to see some old friends and we were all interested to learn about the workings of the bus.
In Racine we were hosted by Elisa Young, who has spent years fighting the harmful effects of the many coal plants in the Racine area. Residents of this part of Ohio are faced with hazardous amounts of water and air pollution and many of them have cancer as a result. Elisa took us on a tour of some communities near her farm, and we visited a playground where a giant smokestack loomed in the background, spewing smog into the air (a sad but memorable sight for us).
In the morning, we rode over a bridge spanning the Ohio River and crossed into West Virginia! The day was a long one—sixty-four and a half miles on hilly terrain and often busy roads, but we made it to Charleston in time for a delicious potluck dinner that was put together by our hosts and other environmental organizers in the Charleston area. The next day we drove up Kayford Mountain to talk with Larry Gibson, an activist who focuses on fighting mountaintop removal, a big issue in West Virginia. We were captivated by Larry’s stories about growing up in the mountains and about his efforts to curb the coal mining industry. We then followed him from the beautiful leafy green park where he spoke with us up to “Hell’s Gate,” a ridge overlooking a mining area where a mountain had been shaved down to accommodate the demand for coal. The term “mountaintop removal” is an unbelievably accurate term for what happens to these mountains—unfortunately, it’s exactly what it sounds like. In the afternoon, we visited a community of environmentalists who use public demonstrations and civil disobedience to raise awareness about coal issues. While we were there, a few of us helped them make a giant banner that said “Coal Keeps WV Poor” which was to be dropped from a bridge as a counterstatement during a pro-coal rally in Charleston the next day.
After our visit to the mountains, the Michigan crew returned to Charleston to enjoy some more delicious food and another day of rest. Tomorrow we head out to our next destination—we will keep you updated!