Monday June 26, 2017: Standard hotel morning start; ignore alarm at least twice, morning ablutions, adorn par dried lycra, pack up bike, demolish buffet breakfast, grab a couple of handfuls of breakfast pastries to store on the bike, check out and hit the road. On this particular morning, the later was achieved at 7 am although I proceeded to get lost trying to find the route and so only really started making proper forward progress about a half an hour later.
Last Week On The Road?
With the benefit of hindsight, the morning of Day 24 was the last Monday of my Trans Am, the start of my last week on the road, although at the time I had no idea. In fact, if someone had asked me on this day, or indeed most days, the distance to the finish or when I thought I would finish, I literally couldn’t have told them. It would have been a guess. I could provide more reliable information about where I aimed to be by the end of that particular day, but that would be the extent of any future planning.
Apart from some calculations I made back in Kansas to re-work my estimated finishing time and the couple of times I had to plan bike shop maintenance a day or 2 ahead, I had not been exerting any mental energy on the bigger picture. It was such a big bloody picture, ie riding a bike 6,800 kilometres across the US, that by default or by instinct I had settled into a rhythm of focusing on the here and now, on “the moment” as they say.
It was such a beautifully simple and free way of being; ride, eat, sleep, crap, repeat. Day after day after day, to the point that after 23 days it had literally become a way of life and my old modern life of hustle, bustle and juggling commitments, was becoming a more abstract memory.
Don’t get me wrong, I was missing my little family terribly. They were not out of sight out of mind but they were very much out of sight and on the periphery of my own little world of turning the pedals, eating when I was hungry, drinking when I was thirsty and resting when I was tired.
And then, not long out of Bardstown my wife rang and literally wrenched me out of this “little world”, by simply urging me for an actual finishing day. It was the first time she had asked for one. A more than fair request considering she had to organise her working week and daycare for our 2 boys around driving the 320 miles in 4th July weekend holiday traffic from Philly to Yorktown, to see me finish. Plus book accommodation etc.
All of a sudden I had responsibilities, not just to myself but to other people again. The end of my grand adventure and my new simple and free way of living was nigh. This fact pissed me off and made me a little sad in equal measure.
Suffice to say, I didn’t demonstrate either emotion on this phone call for obvious reasons and instead diplomatically informed my wife that I would be in a much better position in a couple of days, once I had hit the Appalachian Mountains and was able to ascertain my progress better. But for then I left her with an estimated finishing day of Thursday night to sometime Saturday……..mmmmm very helpful!
The Final Declutter
I’d arranged for superfluous to need stuff in my bike bags to be sent home on Day 3 in Prineville, Oregon and Day 16 in Newton, Kansas and my newly acquired focus on my remaining days in the race had me thinking about any further stuff I could send home.
As I rolled into Mackville I spied the local Post Office and headed on over to arrange for my final declutter. It wasn’t a lot of stuff, just unneeded toiletries, fasteners, a pen, a notebook, spare batteries and general crud I’d accumulated over the last 3 weeks.
Like any spring clean or declutter, it felt good once it was done. My bike set-up and indeed my body (I’d lost about 15 pounds / 7 kilograms) was the lightest and most streamlined it had been for the whole trip to date. I was now more than ready for the final 1,300 kilometre push to Yorktown.
A Brief Reunion
There was no gas station that I saw in Mackville so I had to continue on another 20 kilometres to Harrodsburg where I stopped at a gas station to top up on supplies. It must have been a slow old morning for the young female clerks that served me, and/or they were quite taken by the Aussie accent, as my presence in the store caused quite a stir.
The sweaty, dishevelled charm of the cross country MAMIL eh 😉 .
Not long out of Harrodsburg and still basking in the afterglow of the attention, I came across fellow racer Chris Owens, who apart from a fleeting glimpse of from afar 2 days ago in Sebree, I hadn’t seen properly since Day 10, 2 weeks before in Dubois, Wyoming. It was really good to see him and we stopped for a good old man hug by the side of the road with a couple of good solid back slaps thrown in for good measure.
He had convalesced in Dubois for a couple of days, resting his injured knee and kicking back in a hotel room watching the NBA finals and online shopping. His new bike bags were rather swanky.
Anyway, our reunion was brief and after riding along chatting for a little while, we unfortunately got separated in the town of Burgin.
I was feeling good and charged off through the summer holiday boaters paradise of Herrington Lake and into the lush, green and yes, rolling countryside of Central Kentucky.
Kentucky Hospitality Exhibit A: Bike Rest
About 40 kilometres out of Burgin on Buckeye Road I came across an unmanned Cycling Rest stop which had been set up by some incredibly generous local(s) on what seemed to be an abandoned property. I was powering along and didn’t really need a break but I just had to check this place out further.
It was incredible! A cool box full of soft drink (sodas) as well as a basket full of energy bars and biscuits.
I kicked back with a soft drink, signed the visitor’s log and breathed in the serenity of the scene. This would have been the perfect place to camp…..next time perhaps.
Kentucky Hospitality Exhibit B: Trail Angel Paul Wells
The Aussie touring cyclists that I had chatted with the day before had warned me of the wild dogs that would become an issue from the eastern side of Berea onwards and so I was on high alert as I pedalled into the outskirts of the large college town at around 2:30 pm.
Nothing to worry about however on the western side of town and in fact it was a downright pleasure to meet Trans Am “Trail Angel” Paul Wells who was parked up by the side of the road with a welcoming smile and a cold Gatorade for me.
Trail Angels are like dotwatchers in that they keep an eye out for the Trans Am racers and come out to say hi but then they take the hospitality to the next level by providing additional support in the form of food, drink and replacement bike parts like spare inner tunes for example. I borrowed Paul’s bike pump and pumped up my tyres whilst chatting away. A lovely bloke who was a bike mechanic, an avid cyclist and proud ambassador of his hometown of Berea to the steady stream of Trans Am racers and tourers. Given the recent and well publicised dog attacks of some of the leading racers, he was really quite worried that the Trans Am route would be adjusted to divert around this part of Kentucky.
He was my final sanity check on the veracity of “the dog problem” and quite obviously from his comments I was soon in for some fun n’ games.
A Couple Of “Attacks” And Then Up Into The Appalachians
Just past my meeting with Paul I stopped at a gas station to replenish my stocks of water and snacks and then pedalled through Berea proper, a really nice looking old town which is apparently best known for its art festivals, historic buildings and liberal arts college.
The far side of town was decidedly less pleasant on the eye and true to script I had my first 2 dog run ins. Nothing too hardcore and I was easily able to outsprint the mangy mutts whilst working on my pepper spray quick draw and aim technique.
God help the next ones that got too close!
Not long out of Berea the route turned right onto US Route 421 and up into the Appalachians.
The next 30 kilometres on US Route 421 was a hard, almost 2 hour slog up a series of 1 to 4 kilometre long hills and then a left turn onto Soaptown Road signalled the start of my journey into the “land that America forgot”. Call it Hillbilly country, call it whatever but it is an area of extreme poverty that has never recovered from the decline of the local coal industry from the mid 1990’s. In fact the next county that I cycled through, Owsley County, is the 3rd poorest county in the US by median household income. (Source).
Decay and sadness everywhere. Burnt out cars and falling down buildings mixed in with the humblest of dwellings for people that had it very tough.
I took minimal photos / gopro footage as it just didn’t feel right to do so, as if I was being disrespectful. And besides, I needed all hands on deck to deal with the dogs. Over the next 30 odd kilometres to Booneville, I would have been chased by at least 6 dogs on 4 separate occasions. On all but one occasion, I was either able to outrun or discourage any further advancement by brandishing my pepper spray. However, on that one occasion, I had no other option but to give one particularly persistent mongrel both barrels of the spray, resulting in it skidding off the road with a whimper. I was exultant to escape unscathed, and I just may have screamed out a rather unhinged “F”*k You!!”, but I was not proud of my means of doing so. But hey, what are you going to do?
I was riding strongly if a tad frenetically due in no small part to the elevated levels of adrenaline from outrunning the bloody dogs and the resultant desire to get the hell out of Dodge. I daren’t stop as I didn’t want to waste any time in achieving that goal but simply had to once I got to Booneville where I just sat in a park for about 20 minutes to catch my breath and cool down a bit.
Then it was onwards into the hills on State Route 28.
Kentucky Hospitality Exhibit C: Buckhorn, Kentucky
The next 28 kilometres to Buckhorn took just under 90 minutes by which time I had a strong hankering for icy cold Coke and ice cream. As I rolled into the neat little town I noticed a convenience store on my right and headed on over to it, leant my bike up and headed in to get what I needed.
I then headed outside to watch the comings and goings of the town whilst slamming Coke and ice cream. This place was an oasis of civility compared to the wretchedness that I had just ridden through.
I was on my second ice cream and Coke when who should roll up but JJ Simon. I’d seen him oh so briefly 2 days before on the main street of Sebree but we hadnt spoken on that occasion. The previous time to that was a couple of brief run ins on Day 19 in Missouri.
It was great to see him and he soon had me in hysterics regaling me of his dog battles and demonstrating his weapon of choice. He had fashioned a crude club of sorts from a long stick and electrical tape and had collected some rusty old nails that he was going to affix to it somehow. In the next breath he was going on about how much of a dog lover he is and how he has taken in many a shelter dog. I found the 2 concepts rather incongruous but it didnt take away from the entertainment value of the conversation. Both of us were very obviously starved of proper human interaction.
My original plan had been to stop, eat/drink and go but as our conversation progressed and the night beckoned I decided to join JJ who had already called it for the day. Besides I could well do with some company. We went back inside the convenience store to inquire about places to camp and the clerk offered to call the local priest to open the church which was customarily offered to travelling cyclists as accommodation.
It took the lovely old guy about 5 to 10 minutes to find the right phone number in an ancient, dusty old roller deck and then call the priest and explain the situation. Meanwhile, a queue was forming of locals who just patiently waited for the whole operation to end, without even a rolling of the eyes. They couldn’t have cared less that they were being delayed by these out of towners.
The hospitality didn’t end there. Once we had “checked in” to our digs in the Sunday school part of the huge wooden Church, the local cafe which was closing reopened the kitchen to knock us up some deep fried goodness.
Wow, this must be the Southern Hospitality that I had heard so much about!
Day 24 Territory Covered and Stats
3D overview from Relive:
2D overview from Strava:
- Distance = 260 km
- Cycling (ie moving) Time = 10 hours and 59 minutes
- Stopped Time = 3 hour and 44 minutes
- Elevation = 2,872 m
- Money Spent = $54 ($54 on food/drink, $0 on accommodation, $0 on bike maintenance/stuff)
Keep reading…..Day 25.