Department of Energy

Mountains, and Teachers, and a Bear, Oh My!

June 2, 2015

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Rachel Woods-Robinson and Elizabeth Case of Cycle for Science in front of the world's first nuclear power plant at Idaho National Lab. | Photo courtesy of Cycle for Science.

Rachel Woods-Robinson and Elizabeth Case of Cycle for Science in front of the world's first nuclear power plant at Idaho National Lab. | Photo courtesy of Cycle for Science.

Cycle for Science -- the brainchild of Rachel Woods-Robinson and Elizabeth Case -- is a 4,000-mile bike ride from San Francisco to New York. Along the way, Case and Woods-Robinson will make stops at classrooms and summer programs to teach science, talk with teachers and encourage girls to continue studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This is the second in a series of guest blog posts by Rachel and Elizabeth. Follow their journey on Energy.gov and their website, www.cycleforscience.org

Hello from the middle of the country! The last time we wrote, we had only just left California. Now? We’ve made it to Rapid City, South Dakota, and just spent the weekend touring Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and Wind Cave National Park -- all in the Black Hills.

After Lakeview, Oregon, we rolled on up through the Oregon outback and into Idaho, where we taught two more classes. For our first stop, we joined Rachel’s friend Becca Rolon at her school in Cambridge, a 315-person town in a rural part of the state. It was our first full day of teaching: from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., we worked with science students in grades 7 through 10. All of the classes were tiny -- five to 10 kids total. Read our interview with Becca about her experience as a first-year science teacher.

Editors Note: To learn more about the lesson Case & Woods-Robinson are teaching check out their first guest blog.

Next, we headed to Boise, where we taught at a much larger public school. The science classroom was decked out with live butterflies, drones, a smart board and all kinds of colorful projects and posters. We taught two fifth-grade classes -- both super bright and engaged even though the weather limited the abilities of the solar-powered bicycles.

Watch the GoPro video STEM lab teacher Brian Whitney made during our lesson!

One memorable moment: after the last class, a fifth-grade girl told us, "I want to do this when I grow up." We asked what the "this" was, and she responded, "Both things! Bike across the country AND be a scientist!"

We rode our bicycles for a few days straight after that and -- despite losing a tent and getting a new one -- made it to Idaho National Laboratory. A communications staffer arranged a tour of the lab, and we saw where the first-ever electricity from nuclear power was produced way back in 1951.

From there, we rode up into the Rockies, passing over Teton Pass into Jackson, Wyoming, and then to the Grand Tetons themselves. After that, we encountered a grizzly bear for the first (and only) time.

Rachel met a driver who told her to wait before a bend in the road because there was a bear on the other side. Elizabeth caught up, and the grizzly ambled around the hill and turned to look straight at us.

We booked it -- we’ve never pedaled so fast.

That adrenaline rush powered us through the Great Divide and down into Dubois, where -- legend has it -- you can find the largest mythical jackalope in the world.

Riding a tailwind, we made great time into Casper, Wyoming's second-largest city. We participated in CY Middle School’s career day and then taught five classes of seventh-graders. We couldn’t go outside (again, foiled by the weather), but the teacher had a halogen lamp in the back room, which worked fantastically to mimic the solar spectrum and zip the Sol Cycles along.

From here in Rapid City to New York City, we have 2,000 miles left to go, with a quick stop in Washington, D.C., along the way!