We woke up with the whole day empty ahead of us, a sleepy, luxurious freedom. Our last day out of the saddle, without a class, followed the bout of food poisoning that (literally) floored me in Cedar Falls. I swung in my hammock for an hour in the filtered morning light, back and forth, drifting off and half waking, before heading downstairs for coffee and a banana.
Rachel and I ran a load of laundry, idled, read, dozed. We finally headed out around 12:30 to the Conflict Kitchen in Schenley Park - they serve food from countries the US is at odds with. This round it was Cuba's turn, an interesting turn given the recent moves toward opening borders. I ate meat, beans, rice, a cabbage-like salad; Rachel went for the fried plantains. And then we sat, idled, read, in the afternoon sun under the austere watch of the Cathedral of Learning, and the city's loving it, girls lying out in sports bras, men asleep on backpacks, everyone lingering in the warmth, indulging the Friday afternoon.
Eventually we split up; Rachel was headed to a yoga class, I biked to the Phipps Conservatory. It's expensive ($15 for standard admission) but so well worth the cost. I spent most of three hours in the desert room among spiny and spindly - five barrel cacti bigger than a beach ball, the lumpy tortoise shell plant; also, with the orchids, giant water lilies, and bonsais, which have been trimmed and tended for thirty and forty years. It's so easy to breathe inside: the air rich and whole, full of moisture, dirt, growth.
I stopped for a while at a stone bench among the weird and bright orchids, at peace in the muted, white light filtering through the steel and glass domes. I watched people run through the exhibits - in such a hurry to see all the roses, they missed them entirely. The calm was shattered when I watched an attendant run up to a father being wheeled in by his son. She said the butterfly room couldn't accommodate his wheelchair, the path through the exhibit too steep and narrow. His family helped him through, but he collapsed on his way out, an embarrassing and dangerous incident that could have been so easily avoided with just a little more forethought.
I spent a while more wandering around, just thinking. I crossed paths, back and forth, with an older, trim man taking iPad photos of the flora. He clearly felt the same way about the place I did, as a place to revere, and to savor.
Eventually, I wound my way through all 14 rooms and pedaled back to Schenley to meet Daniel and Rachel for dinner. We met Margaret, Ellis' rad, insanely smart, firecracker girlfriend, for burgers and brews at the OTB Bicycle Cafe. Go go go! It's dark and loud and the beers are great, the meat better. We convinced our server of Rachel's drinking-age legitimacy with every bit of cross-country story and photocopied ID she had on hand. Afterwards, we took a ride up the Incline (steep, short cable car ride) for a view of Pittsburgh at night, and ran into Bob, who we'd met at MRS the day before, and his family.
Coming out of the Incline station, we realized that the fence we had parked our bikes on was actually a gate. And Daniel's front wheel took the brunt of the beating. He was able to ride it home, but was definitely going to have to get it replaced. A bummer of an ending to a pretty phenomenal day (future-forward note: check for hinges before u-locking in unfamiliar territory).