‘Did you hear the ‘yip-yip’ of that coyote last night?’ was the question being asked over loaded hash browns, egg biscuits and coffee at the Hometown Cafe this morning. That, and who got elected as what in the town’s elections.
I think that once us cyclists had gone and the excitement of the results had subsided, the place would settle back down into its normal state of quiet rural deprivation. The county is apparently the second poorest in the whole of the United States. It used to produce coal and grow tobacco as well as support subsistence farming families but its decline can be traced back to the arrival of the railways, when big business took over and all the money was shipped out with the produce.
The day’s cyling didn’t start too well, as before the first mile was out and not even a sniff of a hill, Paul announced that he’d got ‘jelly-legs’. Not one to miss an opportunity, I went past him smiling, dancing on my pedals like Chippolini, although in reality my cold legs felt like chipolatas, and I got my well earned come-upance a couple of seconds later as my body gave out and I slumped back down onto my saddle no more than a metre in front of Paul … and he hadn’t even bothered to notice.
When the inevitable hills did arrive they where gentle on us thank god … and there was a lot of ‘god’ around to thank … us being smack in the middle of the Bible Belt an’ all. (And no matter how small or poor the place is, the church (or churches!) will always be in pristine, tip-top condition with their white wooden spires competing to be closest to god.) The valley bottoms were now wider too, allowing some agriculture with ploughed areas and pastures of hay. As there were very few cattle around we assume the hay is sold to the big ranches out west. It was all small scale stuff but the area did seem to be getting less poor, with fewer deserted farmsteads and houses and more signs of growth. There were still many community care centres though … needed for the locals to cope with their lot?
Twenty odd miles and a couple of counties later we hit McKee which is on the junction of several roads and it seemed positively affluent … new stores and businesses, library, town hall … and some rather large tasteless houses (subjective). There were some bikes that we recognised outside a store but we decided not to stop and press on to Sandgap. A mistake. We ended up with a choice of RT’s Kuntry Charm Restaurant or a gas station where you couldn’t go in but just point to stuff behind the assistant. A muffin, some nondescript sugar solution and two minutes later we were heading down towards Bighill (yes, down) through what looked like a vast man-made Grand Canyon and into Madison county (no, not that one) where the day’s ride ended a few miles later in Berea … but not before a completely unnecessary 1 in 4 hill!
Berea was a delight … a pleasant college town spread over a large area bigging up its associations with pioneer frontiersman Daniel Boone (he who opened up the west of the Appalachians via the Cumberland Gap. People of a certain age will now be singing that Lonnie Donnegan song no doubt?). The college is unusual as it doesn’t charge tuition fees but students have to work 10 hours a week on campus or in the community, doing good things. Its remit is basically to help people who wouldn’t normally be able to afford to go to college.
The ‘old town’ area was not much more than a few arts and craft or ‘collectables’ shops, so we mosied on up to a small cafe and sat in the late afternoon sun luxuriating over lattes and paninis. It turns out that if you sit there the whole of Berea life will go by … within minutes three students, somehow guessing we were not locals, asked ever so politely to interview us about our trip for their adventure tourism course. Half an hour later we knew so much more about Borea and its college ….. not sure if they learnt much from us though. The young couple on the next table who had been earwigging our grilling turned out to be English and cycling across America the other way. We spent time swapping good and bad stories and do’s and don’ts with Jo and Andy before one of the college professors strolled by and joined in to explain more about the students’ courses and their community commitment. And then the local bike shop owner stopped by to give us his view of life. And then …. and so it went on until us four Brits needed food.
More stories, thigh measurements and pasta later, then the sirens started … the town’s tornado sirens. Rain, thunder and sheet lightning was soon followed by flash flooding. That one mile bike ride back to the motel room was going to be fun. Wearing borrowed bin bags like ponchos (Tel’s Top Tip number 37) we were about to swim home when the restaurant owners said they would drive us there … and then come back to get our bikes! So thanks to Greg and his wife at Papa Leno’s. What absolute stars. And we’d only spent $15 there. Felt a bit guilty really. Safely back in our even-cheaper-than-advertised-because-I-found-a-discount-voucher room our bedtime spirits were lifted by knowing that tomorrow we would be on map 3 … actually 10, as we’re doing it the other way. Whatever. Nighty night, I’m tired.
Today’s Miles: 49.81
Miles since First Landing: 825.43
Here’s today’s full Garmin report: