Day 0: How many scientists does it take to turn on a lightbulb in a Home Depot Bathroom at 10pm?

by Rachel

Q: What are we doing on the bathroom floor of a Home Depot at 10pm on a Thursday?

Oh, we’ll get there. But first you’ll have to read through our first newsletter/blogpost/update (we have morphed it all into one) about our pre-cycling adventures, mwahahah. Cliffhanger.

After a series of classic Cycle for Science delays, here we are holed up in Johanna’s apartment at 3am in Davis, California, adding last minute tune-ups to our fleet of twelve Sol Cycles and to our fleet of three human-sized bicycles.

Davis holds a particularly nostalgic place in the Cycle for Science history books — flash back to almost exactly two years ago also at 3am, and Elizabeth and I were holed up in Elizabeth’s apartment in Davis, frantically jamming together shoddy 3D print jobs, to prepare for our first ever Cycle for Science lesson in Sacramento the following morning (during which NBC stalked us, and I apparently wrote "I got so nervous I started eating my own words for lunch, which don't taste as good as the brisket sandwiches we had gobbled down the day before.") Now, here we are again (Davis-ja vu?) and our first lesson of our first revival trip since 2015, dubbed “Cycle for Science Central Valley,” is tomorrow morning!!!

Let’s backpedal a bit (not two years … you can read about that trip in our oldschool blogs) to a few months ago when I randomly met Kelly at the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative Resources Roundtable. I blabbed about Cycle for Science, as I usually do, but this time was different. Her face lit up. She asked if there was a spring break trip and if she could join, and basically told me (paraphrased) to get off mi bum and back on the road. Even though she had never bike-toured and did not own a bike, she was determined to join the crew.

Then, after a full moon rain hike (in which the rain ate the full moon), some late night frozen yogurt runs, a quick blab session with Johanna at a coffee shop in SF, late night explosive group text messages, and acknowledging that spring break is basically our only chance to escape the shackles of the UC system, we absurdly last-minutely decided to go on this trip! We decided to go to the Central Valley because we were interested in interacting and learning from the rural, agricultural, and conservative communities of California, and it was close enough that we didn't have to plan much (so we thought, hah).

So, zoom zoom, fast-forward to March 17 and we launched our mini crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of lesson materials. Fast-forward three days later and we were fully funded!!! We had amazing, generous contributions from people all over the US (and in Switzerland!), and all our fabulous funders are now highlighted on our website. Thank you all so, so much. You made this trip possible.

What all this meant was ohhhhh shoot we're actually committed to doing this thing and leaving in three days. Here's a superlightningspeed and paraphrased version of what happened next:

  • Kelly: "uh I should probz buy a bike now, right?" So she hit up Free & For Sale, and snagged a Bianchi.
  • Johanna: "uh I have to find some time to pack for this thing between my two finals, final paper (in Spanish), two final presentations, and listening to and grading twelve student presentations and papers." So she pulled a couple all-nighters to stretch the fabric of spacetime (as us scientists have the power to do) and somehow was functional enough to pick us up Thursday and haul us to Davis to start the trip.
  • Me: "uh I have to print and build 12 Sol Cycles in a couple days, as well as plan the trip, and tis the season for midterms." So I threw together a Sol Cycle prep party (w/ wine and cheese as bait) and my fantastically generous friends — Jeremy, Erin, Clarissa, Mario, and Lauralyn — came over and for SIX HOURS helped me and Kelly put together all of the bitty bicycles!!! Cannot express how badass you all are for your help.
Sol Cycle setup partay at my apartment. Read more about Sol Cycles  u nder the "Sol Cycle" tab on our website.

Sol Cycle setup partay at my apartment. Read more about Sol Cycles under the "Sol Cycle" tab on our website.

"Our army of clay soldiers"  —  Elizabeth Case

"Our army of clay soldiers" Elizabeth Case

.... which brings us to this evening, our only night together to prep for the trip, when we realized that of course we had been drizzled with the same luck as Cycle for Science 1.0: our first lesson about solar energy would take place during a supposed torrential downpour. Woo. So, we had to somehow make our own suns. Fusion? But as always, fusion was still 50 years away (physics jokez).

So, halogen bulbs were the cheapest option with emission that best fit the absorption spectrum for the Sol Cycle's silicon solar cells. Liz and I had used halogen lamps once during a rainy day in Casper, WY, so we knew they'd work. We hit up El Cerrito's Home Depot a half hour before closing to clean out their remaining stock of halogen bulbs and lamps (which the employees were shocked that we actually wanted). All we needed was an outlet to test out which power output bulb we'd need to spin the Sol Cycles, and then we'd be set.

Like power-hungry UCLA students in Kerckhoff coffee shop (UCLA jokez), we began the hunt for outlets through the expansive isles of Home Depot. Sprinted around the store. Peered up and down the massive piles of electronics. Aaaand. Nothing.

We asked an employee. "Yeah, um, good luck with that. We have none." None? You're a 100,000 square foot hardware store... We asked another employee. "Oh, yeah, we don't have many, but there's one that way to the left and to the right and then behind that big pallet." The big pallet turned out to be a ten foot tall plywood stand piled high with boxes and pushed against a wall, with about five inches of clearance between it and an outlet. So maybe Kelly could fit but the rest of us were doomed.

After another couple sprints around the store over the sound of "HOME DEPOT WILL BE CLOSING IN TEN MINUTES," we finally checked the bathroom to find one glorious outlet perched on its royal throne above a sink!!! Yippeee. We spread out our lesson materials on the floor and sink, and got to work. And after a series of skeptical and judgmental gawks from employees taking leaks, we found the optimal size and bought materials for three DIY suns. And that's how we ended up on the floor of a Home Depot bathroom. The end. But actually, the beginning.

Johanna then drove us and our trusty steeds to Davis.

A vagabond we found on da streetz posing with our stash of bicycles and Sol Cycle box.

A vagabond we found on da streetz posing with our stash of bicycles and Sol Cycle box.


When we finally arrived at midnight and gobbled down Thai food (at the same Thai restaurant Liz and I ate at during Cycle for Science 1.0! Parallel unicycleverses!), we had a bunch of work to do to prep for the next day/week: contact teachers, figure out where we're staying, patch up and tweak some of the janky Sol Cycles, get our bikes ready, and make sure we had all our gear (foreshadowing to the next day.... I CERTAINLY DID NOT. Made a $350 mistake. But was unaware at the time). Oh, and side-note, Johanna and Kelly had never met before tonight, so they took care of catching up on the past two ish decades of each others lives.

Thrilling times at 3am.

Thrilling times at 3am.

Our official *mascat* feline out the situation. Cielo for Science!! (also allergies for science)

Our official *mascat* feline out the situation. Cielo for Science!! (also allergies for science)

Now, it's 4am. We're finally done prepping and we're getting up in three hours to head to our first lesson and then start pushin' some pedals. So catch you on the road!