2021 Trans Am Bike Race Day 22 Report
Sunday June 27, 2021: Out the door just before 5am trying my best not to wake one of the touring cyclists who was sprawled out on one of the couches. The pre dawn morning had a slight coolness to it but I knew that would be short lived. The weather forecast had indicated it was going to be another hot n’ humid one, north of 30 degrees Celsius accompanied by the oh so bloody uncomfortable and energy sapping 80%+ humidity.
First port of call was the 24hr Kangaroo Express gas station on the far side of town to resupply and for a liquid breakfast.
And then out into the first day of the fourth week on the road pedaling through rolling green fields of tobacco and corn.
3 hours of rolling farmland, past many a Baptist church and then the first pitstop of the days play at the Shell gas station in the little town of Whitesville, where the owner, a lovely Indian lady (as in from the subcontinent) fussed over me for being too sunburned. My snout was looking a tad on the crimson side to be fair to her observations and so I placated her by purchasing some sunscreen. She also suggested it was going to be too hot to be out riding bikes but I assured her that I would be ok.
I hung out at a table inside the gas station for 45 minutes before forcing the inevitable action.
It was still well before 10am but the heat was already kicking in. Not so much an issue when the terrain was rolling but about an hour past Whitesville, a series of a half dozen or so 1-3k steepish lumps commenced a flirtation with the red zone. The sharper topography a possible indicator that I was getting close to the Knobs region of Kentucky, a narrow, arc-shaped region that wraps around the well known Bluegrass Region to the west, south and east. The area consists of hundreds of isolated hills, many of them conical in shape and up to several hundred feet high.
By the time I reached Falls of Rough at around 11:30am I was struggling. I pulled into the Speedy Mart which has a restaurant attached to it and headed straight in for some relief, the refrigerator-like air con providing it in spades. I bought Gatorade, ice-cream, fruit and ordered a plateful of Potato wedges from the restaurant and plonked myself down at one of the tables. As I was waiting for the wedges I could tell that the cook and the waitress, both late teens / early twenties were talking about me. After a while they both summoned up the courage to approach the sweaty, scowling, hairy, lycra clad chap (I mean shit, who knows what is liable to happen if you do that), and said that they had just been watching a documentary about Australian wildlife and they had plenty of questions about spiders and snakes, which I indulged. I gave my standard “female funnel webs will jump on ya”, redbacks will hide under the toilet seat and bite ya on the bum”, “brown snakes will chase ya”, “box jellyfish will sting ya”, crocs will eat ya in ya tent” and “there’ll all kill ya dead in an hour” spiel. I didn’t quite have the energy to unleash tales of the scariest of them all though, the ferocious Drop Bear (Google it)……maybe next time.
“Are y’all serious?”
It was more than enough cultural attaché’-ing for one day though. I explained my over-exaggerations, stocked up on supplies and hit the road.
From Falls of Rough, the route heads across the Rough River Lake, past marinas, boat shops and campgrounds and then up and out into an area of small farm plots, each no more than a few acres in size. This section heralded the beginning of my weird obsession with red pickup trucks. Pretty much every truck that I saw either passing me on the road or parked up in driveways seemed to be red and I became transfixed with the phenomenon, to the point that I started stopping to take photos of them where I could.
There’ll be plenty of examples over the next couple of days.
Astute obsession, mind trick to help pass time or a sign of mental fatigue and degradation? Who bloody well knows, but I certainly did hit some kind of physical and emotional wall not long later, during a 30k stretch on Hardin Springs Road which took 3.5 hours of pure struggle.
I never thought I’d get off that damn road.
Everything seemed to hit me at once; the fatigue that had been building over the last few days, the heat and humidity which was getting ridiculous and the physical exertion from the steeply rolling hills. I needed 3 naps to get through it…
The first 20 minutes.
The second another 20 minutes.
And the 3rd, and most satisfying, 80 minutes in the shade of a tree out the front of a church and opposite a Cemetery.
Out of supplies and a shadow of my former self I finally rolled up to the Eastview Food Mart at White Mills Junction, bringing my time on Hardin Springs Road to an unsatisfactory yet desperately needed conclusion. I stumbled inside and lacking any kind of decision making capabilities settled on a Coke and an Ice Cream, of the strawberry and vanilla with biscuit chunks on the outside type, a variety that was quite common in these parts and which I had recently developed quite the taste for.
I took my bounty and with head down, shuffled to a seat and table, avoiding eye contact with a couple of blokes who were also sitting in the area. I was in no mood for any kind of chit chat.
I was feeling really sorry for myself. I was cooked. I had wasted a shitload of time on the last section and furthermore I just found out that I had lost another hour as I had recently passed from Central Time to Eastern Time. It was now pushing 6:30pm Eastern Time and I’d only banked 170ks. Bardstown, my earlier anointed destination for the days riding was still 100 damn kilometres away.
Getting to Bardstown that night now was a pipe dream but where the bloody hell was I going to stay? There were no accommodation options noted in my route notes.
Sharp exhale of breath.
Avoiding conversation was no longer an option.
“Yeah man. The heat hit me hard today.”
The conversation started with a well dressed young man in a baseball cap and finished over an hour later with a group of farmers who had come in to meet up after a day out haying (cutting and rolling up grass for fodder). Turns out the young man (I’m kicking myself for not taking note of his name) who had just been to Church was one of 6 brothers who along with the proceeding 6 generations of the family worked the same plot of nearby land.
One of the farmers was a Vietnam vet, another had worked for the Department of Agriculture in Brussels.
A lovely conversation with these humble, very obviously extremely hardworking men sorted me right out and put my woes in a more real world context. Yeah I may be sun burned, dehydrated and tired but these lads had been out in the same conditions actually working for a living, making a difference. I was on a lark, just riding my damn bike.
Time to take yourself a little less seriously there big fella!
At around 7:15pm after I bid my farewells to these absolute legends the young man followed me out and opened his wallet to unveil a thick wad of cash. He nodded, indicating that I should take some. I thanked him profusely but of course declined the incredibly kind offer.
Such selfless generosity.
I’ll never forget those blokes!
From the Food Mart I headed towards my hastily arranged accommodation (I got a tip), a guest house in the little town of Sonora 18ks down the road. Determined to make my day even harder though I took a wrong turn at the intersection and it took me 5ks of pedaling up hill to realize my error.
All I could do was giggle at my stupidity.
15 minutes later I was back at the intersection for take 2.
The heat was definitely draining from the day as the sun started setting behind me. The scenery was quite pretty and the dusk light set it off perfectly and dare I say it I sort of enjoyed the 50 minute ride to Sonora. The part where a turtle, which I had stopped to save from certain death pissed all over my hand, not so much.
At the guest house I was met by Charlie, a lovely bloke in his 60s I would assume who had made his fortune in Oil and Gas and had returned to the area of his birth to buy up and restore half the town of Sonora. He treated me to a couple of beers, leftover food from a recent function and a wide array of stories and family history. After the meal all I wanted to do was to crash but felt obliged to listen to more stories and go on a car tour of the town to check out all his properties which included an amazing wedding venue. Upon our return I made the stupid admission that I had recently got into Whiskey and was developing a taste for Bourbon, at which I was frog marched to the Whiskey Cabinet. A more impressive collection I have never seen.
I had to draw on every ounce of assertiveness I could muster and with a stern “No thankyou. Not this time but definitely next!”, I was able to excuse myself and finally hit the sack.
A tough day but plenty of Kentucky nice.