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Biking Across America
By Mike Weingarten and Joan Thomas - (contact)

Day 28: The Breaks to Hindman, KY: Long & eventful day, and another good ending

Wednesday June 15, 2011, 70 miles (113 km) - Total so far: 647 miles (1,041 km)

Our goal for today is the town of Hindman, KY (pronounced with a long "i"). Not so much a goal as a necessity, as there is no other published place to stay (motel, hostel, church, anything) between The Breaks and there. The distance estimate is 68 miles, and there are no fewer than five signficant climbs in that stretch, so it is going to be a long one. Our plan is to be up and at breakfast when the lodge restaurant opens at 7 am, and to be on the road right after.

Great plan. But when we awake, the mountaintop that we are on is completely socked in by fog. Visibility: Maybe 50 feet. Gary, Joan and I go ahead and meet for breakfast at 7, but agree we need to stay off the road until the fog lifts a bit. We'll try again at 9. Dave chooses to sleep in. We miss Nicholas this morning, as he left directly from the campground. Gary, Dave and I eventually get on the road at around 9:30.

Leaving the park, we enjoy the benefits of the top-of-the-hill location we'd labored so hard to reach yesterday -- downhill riding to start the day. It is a very brisk ride, mostly downhills for the first 6 miles. Brisk enough that we all need our windbreakers. We stop a couple of times... once for a deer beside the road, and once for some photo ops at the "Welcome to Kentucky" sign -- we've officially hit our 2nd state!

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Deer in The Breaks park are obviously comfortable near people.

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Entering State #2. Dave, Gary, and Mike, still wearing jackets against the chilly morning downhill ride.

Then, near Elkhorn City, we stop again... I don't remember why now, but I sure remember the stop. I'd been riding in my highest, downhill gear, and had forgotten to shift down the way I usually do before stopping. When we start up again, I strain to get the bike back into a more appropriate lower gear, and then hear a "bang" as my chain jumps off the cogs of the gearwheels. A simple matter of placing the chain back on? Nope, it's a more serious problem, the front derailleur is bent out of shape, is scraping the chain, and will not shift. I am eventually able to get it repositioned to work again, but I have lost access to my 3rd chain ring, the one used for the faster speeds. Maybe I could experiment more and fix it, but given that the next couple of days are going to be hill-climbing intensive, I decide to leave well enough alone and not risk messing with the still-working lower gears. A check of the map resources shows no bike shop within days of access, so I am going to be on my own on this. Bottom line, from this point on, my bike is an 18-speed, vs. its usual 27-speed self.

Gary and Dave had moved on when they thought I only had a simple chain fix, and we agreed to meet just down the hill in Elkhorn City. When I am finally able to continue on and ride down into the town, I see them nowhere. I ask one older gentleman in a parking lot if he'd seen 2 cyclists go by, and he has not. Then I see two highway department men working on the side of the road, and ask them. They have not seen them either. But then, the most amazing thing happens... One of them says: "We're taking care of you guys right now." I don't understand at first. Then I realize that they are in the process of pulling a Bike Route 76 sign out of the back of their service vehicle and are about to place it on the roadway! The significance of this is enormous. Virginia has done a fantastic job of adopting the Trans Am route, giving it an official state bike route number (76, in honor of its 1976 inception), and placing road signs at almost every turn and key location in the state. But it is apparently one of the few, if not only state to do so. Now, before my eyes, Kentucky is coming on board! I snap a couple of photos of what to me seems like a pretty historic event. The guys tell me that today is the day that they are putting the signs up in their county. They can't speak for the rest of the state. And to be sure, we will see other Route 76 signs up only over the next hour or two, stopping further into Kentucky. But a start has been made!

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Elkhorn City: County highway department workman put up the first Bike Route 76 signs in Kentucky. Hooray!!!!!

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I am able to contact Gary via cell phone, and soon he, Dave and I find each other again. I point out the new 76 sign and show them the photos I took, and we all pause in appreciation. Then we continue riding. For maybe 15 minutes. Up ahead, we see two traveling cyclists coming our way, and stop to talk. John and Beth have traveled from the West Coast, apparently combining some Southern Tier and Trans Am routes. As we talk, Dave suddenly exclaims: "What's that??!" Poking out of John's front right pannier is the head of a puppy. They found her abandonned and ematiated near Pippa Passes, KY, and could not leave her behind. They had cleaned her and fed her, and she's doing better, but still showing signs of her rough experience. Their destination is their home in Roanoke, VA, and they hope the puppy, now named Pippa, will become their shop dog.

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We stop to meet Eastbound cyclists John and Beth from Roanoke.

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We greet Pippa the Puppy. John and Beth found and rescued him from Pippa Passes.

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This still-ematiated little dog is most likely going to end up being one very lucky puppy.

We start riding again. For what is supposed to be a super long day, we are not moving along very quickly. It is about 11 am, and we've only gone 9 miles so far. A short distance up, we find Joan, who started 8 miles ahead in the town of Lookout, and has already ridden over one of the 5 major peaks we will encounter today. She turns around now and rides with us, getting to ride that peak again, in the other direction.

In Lookout, Joan had found the Freida Harris Baptist Center, where they have facilities for cyclists -- providing showers and indoor accomodations. And, if one calls ahead, there is a Rita there who wants to become the "Cookie Lady" of Lookout, and will make cyclists dinner! Future Trans Am riders, note this!!!

Since we did not have the lead time to take advantage of this, we get sandwiches at the store nearby. And that is where I witness what might be the most peculiar sandwich-ordering interaction of my life.

Let me start by saying that the people in this store all seem very nice, and very friendly to cyclists. I would not hesitate to go there again. But as Dave is ordering his sandwich, the woman (apparently less-experienced) is interrupted by the more experienced woman as she is taking Dave's order. The order-taker's brow furrows, she pulls out a box cutter, opens the blade, and says something to her counterpart about slitting her throat. Jokingly, I'm sure. Then she turns back to Dave, who she'd seen for the first time maybe 45 seconds ago, and says: "And I'll slit YOUR throat too! Now what did you want?" Jokingly, I'm sure. As Dave is ordering, the box cutter and the threat to slit his throat comes out several other times in the conversation, especially when he cannot answer her questions fast enough. The woman's face is hard and deadpan serious one moment, then softens into a smile with a sparkle in her eye the next. She could be a fun-loving joker, or a maniac. In discussing the episode afterwards, we all decide it is probably the former, but we are not 100% sure.

Lookout is at the base of the 2nd of the five major peaks that we need to cross today. Each is steep, and a grind. As has worked best before, each of the riders goes his own pace, so we don't actually bike together, but tend to see each other at key stops. And Joan's role now shifts to one of 100% support, and as it turns out today, it is very appreciated. Near the top of one of these peaks, it begins to rain, and rain very hard. Fortunately, there is no lightning, but it is a cold, drenching, miserable rain.

Rain jackets come on. Then I stop to put on all my rain attire ... rain pants, rain socks, and an extra long sleeve layer under the jacket for warmth. It's my first test of this full set of equipment, and it works great! I feel like I could ride all day in the rain like this. Unfortunately for Gary, his rain jacket failed, and he starts to get very cold. I find him and Dave stopped at a convenience store, Gary having hot coffee and considering his options. Joan arrives with the car, and suggests Gary try wearing her rain jacket for the day. It fits, and it works, and probably makes the difference in Gary continuing the ride today. Gary gives his old jacket to the surprised convenience store cashier, who is already enjoying hearing about our trip, and who is glad to get a nice jacket, even if it's not waterproof anymore.

The rest of the day passes slowly. The route is long and draining, with three more very steep climbs to make. Joan somehow always seems to be waiting in the car at the top of one of the mammoth peaks, or along the road, to refill our gatorade, offer encouragement, and just provide a welcomed, friendly break. Our team of riders will vote her Most Valuable Player for the day.

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Many signs in this area speak to the political and economic support for coal. All sides of this thorny energy/environmental question notwithstanding, one cannot deny that coal is an economic lifeblood today for this part of the country.

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Kudzu vines cover entire hillsides, growing up trees, poles and anything else in its path. Once advocated for erosion control, it has now taken over vast areas in the Southeast.

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Coal operation.

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A coal truck gets filled. Soon it will be out sharing the highway with us.

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Coal trucks are massive and move fast. Fortunately, the drivers do their best to give cyclists a wide berth, but at times that is not possible, and we've learned to be defensive and get off the road when there is not much room.

After a day and a ride that seemed like it would not end, I finally reach Hindman at 8:30 pm. Pre-dark duskiness has set in, and I am riding with my bike lights flashing as I reach town. Then, it's simply a matter of getting to the Knott County Historical Society, where we are to spend the night. I'm not sure why all our daily destinations seem to be at the top of big hills, making for final, end-of-day challenges, but they do. And the hill here today is the champion of all such hills. It is so steep that it is simply not ridable by mortals. (I understand that there are a few who actual succeed in riding this thing, but there are none in our group like that.) I spend as much energy pushing my bike up the long steep driveway as I think I did on the last mountain climb. But as I reach the top of the hill, there is Dave Smith, the man who runs the Historical Society and the cycling hostel, waiting for me with a glass of his famed mint sweet iced tea!

Dave has been running the combined historical society / bikers' hostel for years now, and has a distinctive operation. He charges $25 per person. What do you get for this? Accomodations are tent camping, with bathroom and shower facilities in his house. In addition to the iced tea greeting, he provides each rider a loaded, and I mean loaded, baked potato. You must arrange dinner on your own, but he has menus from several places in town that deliver reasonably-priced food, a no-brainer given the hill. After dinner, Dave provides huge ice cream sundaes for his guests, and a goodnight glass of brandy. Overnight, he will do your laundry. And in the morning he provides a breakfast spread of fresh fruits, cereals, pastries, etc. that is quite amazing. Dave is an excellent and well-organized host, managing all of this smoothly, and engaging in friendly conversation with his guests as he goes. Nine of us are there this night: Gary, Dave, Nicholas, Bryan, Stephen, another David & Brad (a father-son biking duo from upstate New York), and Joan and myself. It proved to be an interesting and relaxing night, with much good conversation, calm music playing softly in the house from a local public radio station, all in comfortable environs. A good place to enjoy and to unwind after a very long, hard travel day.


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"Biking Across America" Copyright © 2011-2014 By Mike Weingarten and Joan Thomas - (contact). All rights reserved.
Page was created on June 17, 2011 10:52 PDT, last updated on October 21, 2011 20:50 PDT
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