“It's six-thirty on another cold WKYXZee morning!”
Wha-at is that? My hearing was assailed by Britney Spears wailing about something, I pulled the pillow over my head but although it deadened the impact, Ms Spears still permeated my eardrums.
“Come on Gaby, we'll be late” Jules voice joined the assault on my hearing, “god, don't they have any decent music on this station!”
“Woz th' hurry?” I mumbled from under the pillow.
I could almost see her roll her eyes. “Because brother mine, we have a bus to catch in like an hour?”
The shower door thumped shut and I was left with Britney's wailing. Bus. Shite! The power station! No lessons but a trip out, Miss Cowlishaw said today comes under ‘educational', so our hosts are coming too. A power station doesn't sound that great but this Angela place is supposed to be quite cool, heaven knows why.
I chucked the pillow off and opened my eyes. Dark outside. I could hear Jules singing away in the shower, why do people do that? I tentatively released the blanket, yup its cold! I shivered despite my pj's and started to try and itch my nipples with little success. Them lumps glued to my chest might look and feel real but the real me is still underneath. I scratched all around the forms but it actually made it worse rather than giving relief to my itchy nipples.
“You look like a chimp doing that, so ladylike.”
“It itches.” I advised.
“Whatever. The shower's free.”
“Gee, thanks”, I made a dive for the steamy closet.
“Settle down!” Miss C almost shouted ninety minutes later in the school car park. “When George gets here, I want you all on the bus as quickly as possible please, we have a fair drive and we don't have all day.”
Right on cue the lumbering form of George's yellow school bus hove into view; just as well it was freezing! Which of course wouldn't be such a problem if I hadn't fallen for Jules ‘wear this' when I emerged running late from the shower. So okay it could have been worse but I'm sure jeans would have been better than even this skirt! So okay it was heavy and long but the cold still got to my tight clad legs in a way jeans just don't allow. I know, I fall for it every time but when it's a choice between a skirt and breakfast, breakfast wins every time!
We piled onto the bus and I joined Mad on a seat about halfway down the bus. I was surprised to see that Sandy was coming; I hadn't seen her until she got on the bus. We may have only been twenty strong but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in noise.
“So you coming then?” Em's voice boomed in my ear.
“Rh-Em!” I complained as he/she hung over the seat back between Mad and I.
“So did you ask?”
Did I ask? Well I did mention it to Jules last night who completely dissed the idea and well, there never seemed to be a right time.
“Never got a chance, we went to a family thing in Lexington straight from Cheering.”
“Well don't forget tonight, its gonna be Saturday.”
“What is?” Brit turned round from her seat alongside Darla.
“Something Em's organizing.” Mad allowed.
“What're you organizing Em?” Darla enquired.
“A sleepover.” Hapless Mfanwy beamed.
You idiot Em, I thought it was just the gang and now you've told the others.
“You guys wanna come?” Em continued.
“You kidding? No way am I missing a sleepy!” Darla beamed
“kewelle!” Brit agreed.
Geez, no escape now, thanks Rhod.
The trip to the power station eventually ended at a pretty lake called Lake Anna. This was no Trent power station though, the high security and pair of concrete domes were the first indications I had that this might not be quite so boring!
“Welcome to North Anna Nuclear Power Facility.” The guy at the front of the room beamed. I couldn't help but think of Homer Simpson when I looked at him, although Homer doesn't have a silly beard like ‘Charles'. When we first arrived, we came through an exhibit that explained all about nuclear energy.
The static tube kept everyone happy for several minutes before Charles, our leader for the day, greeted us. Some of the people who work at the power station helped explain what it is they do. This was quite interesting so I made a few notes that I'll share here.
The first thing you need to make electricity is heat. In a nuclear plant, they use Uranium/235 as a fuel. They don't burn it they use a process called fission to produce heat. Fission is when you take an atom and split it into two. The two smaller atoms don't need all the energy that held the large atom together, so that energy is let out in heat and radiation.
In a power station, they split the Uranium in a reactor. The heat is used to turn water into steam. The reactor puts pressure on the water so that it can be very, very hot and turn to steam without boiling. This hot water is used to make a different system of water boil. The steam from this second system is used to turn a generator.
Important for the heat and radiation to stay inside of the dome. The steel reactor vessel is up to 30cm thick. A metre of concrete and a layer of steel that is over 6mm thick surround that. Then another 1.5 to 2m of concrete goes around the steel.
The steam turns the blades on a turbine, which then turns a generator. After the steam is done turning the turbine, it is cooled down and turned back into water. This cooling process takes place when water from Lake Anna passes through a condenser to cool the steam. The condensed water is then returned to the steam generator to be reheated into steam to turn the turbine.
The lake water– which does not mix with the water used to make steam – flows into a “discharge canal” where it eventually passes through a series of cooling lagoons before it is returned to Lake Anna! The water is a bit warmer when it leaves the plant, but many fish and plants like to live in warm water.
A lot of the stuff they told us I sort of already knew but it was stuff like the fact of one tiny pellet that is 1cm long is equivalent to the energy provided by 500kg of coal, nearly 500 litres of oil, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas! Pretty kewl but a bit scary.
The plant is super safe though and can withstand earthquakes, lightning storms, hurricanes, bombs, and tornados! The people who work there go to special classes all the time to learn more about nuclear energy and how to be safe. They also take a lot of tests using a fake control room that looks just like the real thing. Our tour guide said it is like being in school your entire life! Now that sucks, maybe no one told Homer.
One of the best things about nuclear energy is that it doesn't pollute the air, when coal, oil, and natural gas are burned; they release carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air. Because nuclear energy doesn't need to burn anything to get heat, it doesn't release any chemicals into the air or have any leftover ash either.
“Okay kids, we'll get some lunch now and then this afternoon we'll split you up into smaller groups for a tour of the plant so you can see what the guys have been talking about” Charles beamed. Kewl!
“Jessie told me about Sunday.” Mad whispered as we queued in the North Anna canteen.
“Thanks for covering, when I saw Sam yesterday he never said anything so you must've been convincing.”
“You want salad?”
“Come on Gab, I know something's up.”
Could I ask her? Should I?
“Oh come on, you can't fool me. No beetroot!”
You asked for it Maddy Peters.
“Sam seemed to think we, I mean you and him are an item.”
“I don't know where he got that idea.” Came from her lips but the little smile and pink blush told another story that even stupid here could read.
“Well that's what he thinks.” I affirmed.
“Move it Gab!” Brit urged from behind.
I hadn't even realised that I'd stopped. With the close proximity of curious ears I didn't pursue the matter and my thoughts were held in check as we joined the other excitable teenage girls to eat.
Of course now that Em had invited the ‘Mericans to the ‘sleepy' that became the centre of conversation over lunch. Wunderbar. So I sat through tales of past girly gatherings, compared to my own experience they were pretty tame, film watching and playing with makeup and stuff. I guess the impromptu affair we had the other week was quite typical after all.
After eating we assembled in what Charles called the clean room.
“Okay guys, in a minute we'll split you up and let your guides take over.” Charles started. “First I need to give you a bit of safety and security spiel. Now you won't be going into any dangerous areas so we don't need to suit you up but for your safety you will have to wear a hard hat and one of these indicator tags.” He indicated his own. “Please stay close to your guides, no running or playing about please.”
“Can we take pictures?” Sandy asked.
“Well the security guys aren't keen but yes in some areas. Your tour guides will advise you if you can or can't, please follow their instructions, things can get a bit messy otherwise.”
I really enjoyed the plant tour. We rode around in these little electric cart things just like in James Bond which at least meant we didn't actually walk that much. Even then Brit complained every time we stopped. We got to see virtually everything from the control room through to the turbines, which were huge! Some stuff we only got to see on camera as it was too dangerous but I managed to get some pics.
We left North Anna just after three for the long drive back to Grottoes. Of course you can guess what the conversation was about, yup, you got it Sandy's sleepover.
The rest of the week was dominated by the sleepover, who was going, what we were going to do – I had to bow to pressure eventually, it was like planning a military campaign. I hope Sandy and her Mom know what they are letting themselves in for, I guess they do, Sandy must've had loads before, I bet her friends stay over regularly.
Still I did eventually get some bike time in, I escaped for a long overdue ride Wednesday after school. It was a horrible afternoon though so my time around ‘my' circuit was a bit slower than last week which meant Derek and Diane were already in the diner when I arrived, damp and cold. This week there seemed to be more kids in so my hoped for bike talk was restricted to arranging to go on Saturdays run with Erin and a discussion of the crappy weather!
School continued to be, well school. Our cheer practice seems to have stepped up a level, in fact I was glad to get out on the bike for a rest! Although we weren't really changing our routine for the competition next week we have been learning some new stuff which, according to Miss B will make things easier later. I'm sure she knows what she means.
And then there's the news from Warsop. Gran is still staying; she'll probably stay for at least another week. Actual Mum news is a bit mixed though, most of the week she has been quite poorly, not bad enough for a return to hospital but bad enough that she missed the transatlantic call twice. Dad said they were expecting it; something to do with the medication but it's still scary. At least she doesn't have to have that chemo stuff, at least for now. I can't imagine what Mum would look like without hair, your hair falls out with that doesn't it?
Today, that's Friday; we went back to Lexington, where Brit's Gran lives? We had more of that Civil War stuff; I think even Dad would get tired of the amount we've looked at. Today we've been to Jackson's Tomb, his house, Stonewall that is, and a bunch of other stuff about the war. Boring!
Rhod is starting to do my head in. well not Rhod, Em. It's sickening, she makes the rest of us girls look like gorillas! What am I saying? Well you know what I mean, she's acting really, I think Brit called it prissy, something like that anyway, you know really girly. And she's been wearing these really stupid big hoop earrings and that daft hair slide! I mean its not like she looks remotely boyish these days, I dunno what'll happen when she has to be Rhod again when we go home. I'm sort of dreading tomorrow at Sandy's; at least I get to go out with the guys for a few hours in the morning.
“Turn that light out Gaby!”
“Okay already!” bloody sisters.
Oh I forgot to tell you, the fifth years are having their own party tomorrow at the place Justine is staying which is over in Timber Ridge.
It's flippin' cold this morning!
“You look frozen”
“I've been warmer,” I allowed.
“Hang on, I've got a spare jacket you can use.”
I used the couple of minutes while I waited by checking out Erin's stock. Again! I guess most bike shops have similar stuff, a load of mountain bikes and a variety of assorted Bmx, kids and road bikes. Erin's shop has a more road slant than most shops I've been in but from what I've seen there are only a few Bmxers in town and one or two off road enthusiasts.
“Here you go” Erin passed me a garment, “sorry about the colour.” It was a bit um pink! Well not quite all pink I released as I opened it out, it was a Lampre jersey so at least it was a proper race team top. By the time I had shrugged it on over my other stuff most of the others had assembled.
“You've had your tablets this week?” Aidan asked as I joined them out in the cold.
“Yeah, sorry for all the fuss last week.”
“We needed some excitement” Frank put in.
Diane and her constant shadow rolled up and we were all set to go.
“Where're we going?” I asked Diane as we kicked off into the cold morning.
“We went there the other week, some horse place”
“Yeah they are into their horseflesh up there.”
We went via the I-81 on the bus but today we joined the 340 north out of Grottoes, Diane advised that our northbound ride is pretty flat as we will follow the South River across Rockingham County and into Page County where we turn to climb through the George Washington National Forest before we drop into New Market. Sounds like an okay ride and I settled into a steady cadence watching Aidan's back tyre as we headed past the Port Republic turn.
To be honest I was feeling a bit tired, exercise tired that is. We've been working damned hard at the cheer stuff all week and Wednesdays bike ride was pretty intense too. Of my companions no one else looked particularly lively either, maybe it's the weather.
We kept up a steady eighteen to twenty mph as we rolled through Elkton; I noticed a couple of twitchy looks amongst my companions, sprint coming up! What did Diane say earlier, ‘ through Elkton and into Page County' , that'll be it, the county sign. I surreptitiously checked my state of readiness, hmmm; unless they leave it to the last minute I can break out and do the biz. I gave myself a silent smile.
“What's so funny Gaby?” Diane asked.
“Oh nothing, just something my sis said last night.”
“Must've been good,” she hinted.
You ain't putting me off that easily Diane Biggs!
“Just something about Mad's boyfriend, you had to be there.”
Up in front Aidan was looking a bit nervous and I could see Erin's hand poised to change gear.
“Not much traffic on here.” I noted looking around nonchalantly.
“They all use the Interstate, just a few locals use this rowt.”
There it was, the check behind from Erin.
Pretty much all in one go I told Diane, “see ya in a mo!” before I did my own glance behind before snicking up a sprocket and launching myself out of Aidan's slipstream.
“$%*&$!” Someone mentioned as I cleared the front of the group where Diane was just about to make her own gear change. I didn't hang about to hear anymore, I finished stage one and sat back down to gather myself. I spotted the sign about four hundred metres in front on a slight rise after a swooshy dip.
I decided to go for maximum effort on the down slope that hopefully would let me take the up side at a better pace. A rattle of gears and heavy breathing announced I had companions, I guessed on Erin, Aidan and Diane – no probs. I think with me sitting down they thought I was stretched despite previous experience; let the girl dangle out front! I upped the revs a bit and waited as first one, then a second changed gear, wait for it, wait for it. Kerchunk! Yep three, time to go.
I blew my nose under my arm, sorry guys, and pushed my own up shift lever, clunk and for a second time I was out of the saddle. The distance was closing rapidly and then with the speedo showing forty the road reared up, the sign out of site over a false summit. Keep it going, bit further, down a sprocket, my hill climbing experience stopping me from changing down too soon. The false summit was steeper than it looked but I kept out of the saddle and danced on the pedals all the way to the border a further twenty metres on.
I sat up and let a wry smile come to my face; Bond does it again! I heard my companions variously gasping and cursing as they made the summit and I was another couple of hundred metres down the road before Erin came alongside.
“How, urgh, did, urgh, you, urgh, know?”
“That'd be telling” I made an effort not to gasp myself.
“Gaby Bond.” She shook her head.
“Well Diane said we were crossing into the next county earlier and you lot told me when.”
“How?” Aidan asked coming up behind us.
“Well you were all checking your gears and the traffic, I was just watching you lot.”
“I told you” Diane stated as she too joined the reforming peleton, “there's no flies on Miss Bond here.”
“What do you reckon Erin?” Frank joined in, “she up to it?”
“Up to what?” my curiosity was piqued and the few wisps of snow barely registered.
“Oh nothing.” Diane mimicked my earlier excuse.
I stuck my tongue out at her.
“Erin?” I asked the only sane member of this lot.
“Looks a bit nasty over the pass” Rob voiced.
For the first time since Grottoes I took note of the weather. It was still pretty grey but over to the left it looked really grotty, well the clouds had that faintly bruised look that usually means snow. Not again.
“Best get a move on” Frank suggested, “Hopefully we can beat it.”
The atmosphere in our little group changed subtly, a more serious feel and instead of idle chatter a workman like intensity. The miles rolled away at a gladdening pace as we crossed and recrossed the South River. There was a turning signposted for those caves we went to at Luray and our route edged towards the trees to our left and the apparent weather front. A few snowflakes really were blowing about but other than a few small pockets they weren't settling.
The next junction put us on the 211 and Derek grunted, “only five miles” as we headed into the gathering wind and started the climb through George Washington. I'm sure another sprint was usually in order at the top, especially as I noted the Shenandoah County sign there too but the weather continued to close in with more determined flurries. I reached back and clicked my taillight on, it wasn't much but the other traffic was driving fully lit and frank suggested everyone else do the same. As we dropped off the ‘mountain' and out of the trees the snow eased back to flurries and then out of the greyness the rooves of New Market appeared.
It was a cold and damp group who almost fell through the door of ‘Laras Pantry'.
“Heya” Derek mentioned to the woman who looked up from the counter as we made our cold entry.
“Geez, you guys look frozen.”
“It certainly ain't summer!” Aidan wisecracked.
“I got you the back parlour reserved” the woman was already making the coffee machine shush and gurgle, “coffee for everyone?”
“Nine coffees and a tea for young Gaby, thanks Lara.” Frank replied.
I followed the others through what appeared to be a cross between a bakery and coffee shop. An elderly couple gave us a dirty look as we trooped through into the ‘back parlour', in reality just a second room with tables. The main feature however was a hearty open fire burning in the fireplace. I guess it's the same everywhere, we peeled off hats, gloves and wet jackets and vied to get them placed in a good drying position.
By the time we were seated Lara was bringing in the drinks.
“You folks sure picked a day to come out.”
“You know us Lara” Erin grinned.
“That I do. I told Hank to get yer vitals started, we got bacon and potato soup, that okay for y'all?”
Well at least I was prepared with some money today and if what I could smell was the soup, it was making my stomach rumble. We were all too busy warming ourselves inside and out to carry much of a conversation before the food arrived.
The bowls were huge and a plate of still warm fresh rolls had everyone engrossed for a while. We were onto a second round of drinks before I remembered Franks earlier question.
“What am I up to?” I asked Erin who was seated opposite.
“Frank asked if I was up to something.”
“Go on, ask her Er” Aidan urged.
“Okay already. How would you fancy joining our team for the Atlanta Winter Classic.”
The name rang a bell but I couldn't place why.
“Yeah, its in two weeks, we go down overnight Friday and come back Sunday.” Frank mentioned.
Sounds like a good trip, get away from stuff and see the Classic. I remember now, there was an article in the comic last year about it, its one of those mass participation events like they have with the big Euro tours.
“I'd love to but I'd need to okay it with school and everything.” I sighed. They'll never let me go.
“Sorted!” Diane declared.
“Sorted?” I queried.
“I already talked to Jessica Bell and done the ground work, she said she'd okay it if you wanted to take part.”
“In that case yes please” I enthused.
“Gaby's gonna ride the Atlanta.”
“We'll have a chance then” he grinned back
“I'll get you measured up when we get back to town.” Derek added to the conversation.
“I can't today, I'm going to Sandy's when I get home.”
“I'll call her, she'll be okay with it.”
My brain started to catch up a bit. Join the team. Take part. Ride the Atlanta. Measure me up.
“You mean you want me to ride this Atlanta thingy?”
“If you want.”
“I thought you meant go to watch.”
“Well you are just as welcome to come watch but I thought you might like to take part.”
Just wait till I tell Mum. Mum! I'll miss her call tonight coz I'll be at Sandy's! The second half of the Virginia trip now has a focus for me !
“Erm Derek, what did you mean, measure me up, I can give you my jersey size now.”
“Jersey? You thought – Diane tell her will ya?”
“We need to measure you Gaby so we can build you that bike.”
“Build me a bike, I thought I'd be using Erin's GT?”
“No way Gabay! Our top rider gets a top bike, no disrespect Erin.”
“This ones fine, really” I protested. My heart ached for the chance just to try one of Diane's frames and here she was proposing to build one for me! I know what Mum and Dad would say and despite my lust I found myself going on. “It's a waste Diane, all that trouble for one race and the expense, there's no way I could afford to buy it after even.” I finished sadly. Its not everyday you turn down the chance to ride and call your own, even for a short time, a $5000 bike. I sighed deeply.
“Don't be so ridiculous girl. I'm offering you the bike, I never mentioned paying for it did I?”
“Listen to her Gaby ” Erin added.
“But it'll be wasted, just for one race.”
“Definitely not wasted.” Derek put in.
“Please Gab” Diane looked gooey at me.
Who would have thought I needed to be convinced to ride a well pukka bike? Oh what the heck.
We left ‘Laras Pantry' and New Market after our lengthened stop with a few flakes of snow still falling from the bruised clouds covering northern Virginia. The thirty miles back across Rockingham County were hard work but even the cold couldn't dampen my spirits. We were south of Harrisonburg before we broke clear of the snow, which at times coated the blacktop, and swirled about in almost total white out and others was merely a few flakes. But as we headed back towards Port Republic the skies cleared to wintry sunshine and the only signs of the white weather were a few stray flakes and a wet road.
By mutual agreement we decided to forego the end of ride sprint and instead we dispersed to our final destinations still having a modicum of breath left. I rode back with Erin who was going to drive me out to the Biggs place. And it was also Erin on whose shoulders it fell to get final permission from Mrs W.
“So you're gonna drop her at the Jones' after this measure up thing Erin?” Mrs W queried.
“No problem Jocelyn. You got everything Gaby?”
“I think so”
“Come on then, Don's gonna lock up the Cyclery so I don't have to rush back to town.”
Erin's pickup has a heater that is either on or off, off wasn't really an option but on meant we had to have a window open! Instead of going up to the house we pulled straight into the factory yard where Diane greeted us.
“Lets get inside, Derek has his amazing box of tricks set up already, you bring your cycling shoes Gaby?” looking at me somewhat bemused.
“Er yeah, in my bag” I proffered my big shoulder bag. The rest of my attire wasn't exactly bike wear tho, skirt, t-shirt and jumper.
“Come on then”
We followed her through to Derek's computer room where he was already fiddling with stuff.
“heya Gab, Erin”
“Hiya“ I nervously added.
“Right lets get started!” Derek enthused.
I've never been measured for a bike before, Mum and Dad have sorted all that stuff, the saddle gets moved, the handlebars changed – it's a sort of organic thing with the bike developing all the time. But Diane and Derek were starting from scratch pretty much. Derek jabbered on about biometrics and stuff and after changing into my cycling shoes, well the ones I've borrowed off Erin, I was sat on a jig thing. The whole thing was connected to the computers and we played about with different positions before settling on what felt to be just perfect.
“Okay Gaby, that's it, you can go on to your sleepy now” Diane grinned.
Thanks for reminding me!
“See you on Wednesday?” I asked.
“Weather permitting” Diane agreed.
“Come on Miss Bond, you're late enough for this sleepover as it is” Erin cajoled.
It was nearly five by the time we got to the Jones' place.
“You okay Drew?” Erin asked as I gathered my stuff.
“I'll survive and thanks for inviting me to the race and everything”
“It's alright kiddo, it was actually Aidan's idea, I think he fancies Gaby!”
A pool of light suddenly appeared in front of the pickup.
“Hey its Gaby – Gabeeee!”
Maddy Bell 10.01.06 © 2006
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