A short 30 mile beeline to Springfield today so we can head off to Bardstown tomorrow for a few days, a very cute tourist town filled with civil war history, distilleries, and very old Catholic churches.
Our road was straight with wide shoulders and not much to see,
so we just rode fast. Springfield is just a small town with a dollar store and subway, we will get up early to find interesting things.
One thing I really learned today though (again). I wasn’t hungry at breakfast and thinking it was just 30 miles I thought I would find something up the road and there was nothing! If you want to learn how food fuels your body go for a long bike ride and experiment! I bonked and should have known better.
What a great day for riding a bike again! We went off route, Danville looked like a cute town to visit, and we found ourselves on the most deserted country roads with rolling hills, and beautiful landscapes with friendly dogs even!
We stopped for lunch in the small town of Lancaster and just as we rolled in church bells were playing “Great is thy Faithfulness” and it filled the whole downtown square.
After lunch we turned onto a very busy road.
For fifteen miles we had to pull over and let trucks pass, that on top of black skies kept us moving.
We are so enjoying the gentle hills, what a pleasure. We found our hotel and once again watched a huge storm roll in.
We headed out today for our last day in the Appalachian Mountains. There was still a lot of climbing, but 1000 feet less than yesterday. Dogs were a huge problem today, perhaps ten dogs chased us in all. Really amazing, I find yelling at them still is the best deterrent, but one dog would not give up. I pulled out the mace and he seemed to know what that was!
The roads were unusually narrow and busy so we were on high alert all day for that as well, but it was a satisfying ride and we were looking forward to visiting Berea and the unusual college there.
We arrived in Berea about 4pm and checked into the historic Boone Tavern and Hotel (really just a hotel).
After cooling off and cleaning up we had a light dinner and our first beer in a week, as most of eastern Kentucky is dry. Eager to explore the college the next day.
Berea is named after a town in the Bible whose residents were said to have open minds, as the founder of this college was a great crusader against slavery. He wanted a college that would include people, regardless of creed or color. (imagine, that was “openminded”) The college does not charge tuition, the students are required to take part in a work program. Traditional crafts are taught at this college, weaving, pottery, quilting, and basketry.
We spent the next day visiting the workshops of the students and the shops which sell their wares. We rode around the campus, hit the local bookstore and yarn shop and broke out the next map for our adventure into bluegrass country.
We started the morning going through road construction which was actually pretty amazing to observe.
Heavy blasting shook the area for miles around.
Mike and I love that stuff. We were forced to walk our bicycles as traffic weaved around us, not so fun, but before long we had wide shoulders to ride on for a few miles! We have had no shoulders to speak of so far in Kentucky and in fact the rumble strips force us into the road most often, we don’t like it, and neither do the drivers!
We had a good day, it was hot and hilly again, but it is part of the adventure. We passed through Daniel Boone National Forest,
At one point in the afternoon I heard a cow moo and I shed a tear (of joy).
This meant we were leaving coal country and the mining economy and were headed to the farming-oriented economy again.
We arrived in Booneville around 4pm and found a church which allows cyclists to camp behind it. They provide an outdoor cold shower and outhouse as well, pretty good after a long ride. The rain started just as we got off our bikes.
We were all alone back there when a man rode up on an old bike and just sat down at on the picnic table without speaking. We tried to make conversation but he was pretty silent. He finally asked what our bikes were worth. “not much” said Mike. “maybe a few hundred” .
After an uncomfortable half hour watching us, he said goodbye, Mike and I looked at each other and…locked our bikes.
We were just settled in for sleep when the youth pastor let us know two more cyclists were going to join us. It was dark outside and my heart bled for Aspen and Masherra as they rolled their Surlys into the basement of the church. These women are animals on their bicycles! They are both teachers keeping a tight schedule so they can finish before their school year begins again. Big miles and camping…they are heroes in my book! Next thing I knew they were heading out again in the early morning.
As I mentioned before, we have to be strategic now when it comes to lodging. We could work hard in the mountains to go 70 miles, or do a short 20, then 50 the next day…you know what we picked! It was a very hot day and we had two big climbs, but we made it to Hazard early and found wonderful hotel. Yay! Laundry, airconditioning, pizza delivered and books. It feels wonderful! It was a short ride, but a good one.
Hazard is the center of coal mining activity in the area and most of the land in the around Hazard is owned by coal companies. We learned that in the early 20th century land agents took advantage of the mountain people in the area and purchased the rights to the minerals under the ground, taking the money out of the area and leaving little money in the local coffers. It still is a very poor area.
Mike and I both slept great and left early the next morning to beat the heat.
Ok, I am going to get brutally honest here. This is really hard riding through the central appalachian region. The poverty is just difficult to fathom, we take few pictures out of respect for those who can’t find a way out.
Not only is the poverty hard to comprehend, the obvious meth problem is unbelievable. We see needles on the side of the road and every small village has a florist, even if they don’t have a stoplight or gas station, i read so many are lost to addictions.
We ride through “Hollows” that are just shacks on the side of the mountains. Guard dogs loose make bicycling very scary and we are on high alert all the time..
Physically we are still climbing, going over four very hike peaks today on old narrow roads, drivers very unhappy to share the road.
A long day brought us to Hindman, the county seat and home to the dulcimer.
We found a generous church again who opens their doors to cyclists. So tired we were asleep early, but honestly eager to ride out of this area that really doesn’t care to have us here.
Down the mountain first thing this morning, that’s how to start the day! Four miles in and we crossed the state line.
It is hard to express the change in feeling, scenery, food, culture..(everything) we have found when crossing state lines sometimes. We felt that when we rode into Montana from Idaho, and this was one of those times. All of a sudden we were riding between a river and a huge wall of granite.
Instead of towns with more or less boundaries we are finding random gatherings of modest homes, mostly trailers, scattered along the way. Rooster fighting seems to be not uncommon in this area and loose dogs waiting to give chase are a real headache, we carry mace and an airhorn. Baptist churches, angry drivers, dry counties, beer cans littering the ditches. 30 seconds after a pickup showed his displeasure at our presence a man in a parking lot prayed over us for our safety, and i quietly prayed he would’t hit us while driving.
We stopped for breakfast at an older diner with amazing food. We tried biscuits served with home canned apples and an order of cornbread salad, just because it seems so popular here..delicious. Bologna, porkchops, gravy, biscuits, okra we find on all the menus.
After riding this afternoon on a ribbon of narrow unmarked asphalt, through some very poor areas, we came to Lookout Ky and the Freeda Harris Baptist Center where we are spending the night.
This center serves not only as a hostel with clean beds and showers, but more importantly as a resource center for those in need.
Clothing and food is handed out twice a week to those who come, donations come from Baptist churches in the area. Tonight we have clean sheets and hot showers with nothing asked of us. What a ministry!
Great weather as we headed out of Damascus today. More narrow curvy roads going up up up. We had planned on breakfast at the first town we came to. Meadowview, but it was closed on Monday so on we went.
We found the oldest grocery store I have ever seen (open since 1933, same family, same spam and spices on the shelves). The 80 something year old woman told Mike to wash his hands before filling his water bottle and he nodded like a little boy.
We soon started a very steep climb. Hayters Gap. Notoriously difficult, it tooks us well over two hours to climb it, just exhausting. Although it was only 3.5 miles the incline was insane and the cars would back up behind us making it even more nervewracking as I get all wobbly when working on an incline. Oh my goodness, by the time we got to the top I was just shaking.
A way too quick descent brought us to this amazing church open to cyclists.
The door was open with a note to use the kitchen, eat the food, sleep wherever. They keep a bike guest register that dated back to 1976, the first year this route had been traveled. We sat outside and ate our favorite dinner, salami and cheese with crackers before passing out in the church nursery. Thank you kind church!
We are riding in more desolate areas now, fewer convenience stores and restaurants and fewer hotels.
More Appalachia country as we are in Southeast VA and will be in eastern Kentucky tomorrow. The landscape is definitely changing but still hardwood forests and mountains to climb. The houses and towns we do come across seem more depressed economically. This means we have to think ahead a bit more, carry more food and plan our lodging or camping more strategically.
We seemed to climb all day today, the first big pass over Big A mountain. Did the Indians name it that? Thats the name, and it was a big A mountain. Just climbing and hot. Very tough riding on narrow roads.
We planned on staying at Breaks Interstate Park on the border of Kentucky and Virginia, they claim it is the Grand Canyon of the east. After a series of climbs we came around a switchback and wow, the view.
So so beautiful. The park was quite empty so we were able to get a cheap lodge room overlooking the gorge. We spent the night watching the hawks below us riding the thermals. Why hadn’t we heard of this area before?
I also wonder what other things we haven’t seen that are so unbelievable, can’t wait to find them.
-As a side note, when I am working hard on the hills I often listen to podcasts in one ear to distract me from the effort. I have been listening to Embedded by NPR which just finished a six part series called Coal Stories based on this exact county we are riding in. We pass many many signs in yards and stores that say “friends of coal”. Truck pass us all day hauling coal, these people waiting for coal to make the comeback the President has promised. The podcast interviewed a young man who had grown up in a hollow on a mountain in a trailer with a large family, hoping to work in the mines like his dad. So interesting to hear the stories while riding through this area.
Our B & B was full of hikers and cyclists and we had such fun talking on the front porch, sharing experiences and laughing, most of us decided to spend another day visiting. Mike ran a few errands, we visited the coffee shop and took a short bike ride on the virginia creeper trail, a long mountain biking trail that attracts visitors from all over the country.
At night we all met for dinner and laughs at the local restaurant. Shannon and Melissa, owners of the Dancing Bear B & B were hilarious, she the long suffering wife and he the house entertainment. Tom, the financial whiz making money on his phone while hiking the AT picking up the tab. Thanks Tom!
We met the most amazing couple staying the room next to us at the B & B. Bob and Susan were cycling across the US in sections, this was the last of four. 13 years ago Bob had a stroke while on a bike tour ending his engineering career and severely disabling him for life.
On top of that he has fought cancer for years. After years of therapy they purchased and modified a recumbent trike and are now able to tour. Both are just a blessing and inspiration to know.
They tour to support stroke and bladder cancer. wow. Another few days we will never forget.