In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that I attended an alternative middle school with a unique dress code and a different style of learning. What I didn’t tell you was that this middle school was what they call an “expeditionary learning” school. That meant that you didn’t just learn the content in class, take notes and do homework over it–you also had a real, sensory, hands-on experience with the content to help you absorb it better. At least, that was the goal.
I can’t remember the reason behind us taking this particular field trip, but I remember that we took a bicycling trip on a popular trail in my state. It was the longest bike trail we had, if I remember correctly, with a long tunnel that went on for miles. There was no way to avoid the tunnel, you had to go through it in order to complete the trail. Our school had told us in advance to purchase a lamp for our bikes that could be mounted to the handle bars, as the tunnel was dark. What they didn’t tell us was just how dark it truly was.
The light from outside the tunnel was visible for about 100 feet after entering the tunnel, and then about 100 feet before the end of the tunnel. But the rest of it was pitch darkness. As I mentioned, this tunnel went on for miles. My bike lamp didn’t do anything to help me see at all, I couldn’t even see a foot in front of me with that lamp. Not to mention, it kept spinning around and around on my handle bars and wouldn’t even stay mounted in its proper place. So for me, there was no light at all for the duration of the trip. It would have been better to have a floodlight mounted to my bike, but I don’t think that was really an option. In fact, I probably would have gotten in trouble if I did that.
In addition to the pitch darkness (I literally couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face), the tunnel had trenches on either side of the road. If you weren’t careful, you could fall into them and either harm your bike or potentially injure yourself. So that was a terrifying thought to keep in mind as I was trying to blindly navigate through this tunnel. Then, of course, you had riders trying to pass you on either side as well. I would be riding along, and someone would come up behind me and say, “on your left,” so I’d move over to the right, only to then hear someone say, “on your right!” This pattern continued so frequently that I finally gave up on riding the bike and just started scooting along with my feet, or walking the bike through the tunnel. I had determined that this was ultimately the easiest option, and the one that wouldn’t get me taken out by some unforeseen enemy in the depths of the darkness.
Finally, I reached the end of the tunnel. Let me tell you, there is no feeling so glorious as when you see the literal light at the end of the tunnel. Because of how I was used to riding bikes, I usually would scoot along a few feet on the bike by pushing my feet along the ground, then when I felt balanced enough, I would put my feet on the pedals and ride away. That’s what I was trying to do when I exited the tunnel. A few students were clustered outside the tunnel, waiting for their friends, but we had the option of riding all the way to the other side of the trail if we wanted to, which is what I opted to do. One girl, (whom I did not get along with very well) saw what I was doing and said, “Pedal, Bythnia!” as I was leaving the tunnel. I finally did pedal, but not to satisfy her, and then went about my way.
That was probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and definitely NOT something that I would ever do again. Blind cycling, friends. What a great idea for a group of seventh and eight graders (I was in 8th grade). Huzzah! Fortunately, we all made it through the tunnel and lived to tell about it, but I’m still not sure what the point of that trip was. I don’t even think it related to anything we were learning about in class, to be honest.