Today we left Lookout and headed into the valleys of the dogs. Kentucky has a reputation for mean ones with a taste for passing cyclists and we were all a little apprehensive, particularly after John took a call from a fellow TransAmerican further up the trail who had problems with them around Hindman, our destination.
So we did what the British usually do in a crisis – we called in the Americans for support. So today we rode out with Jonathan and Jerry from Oregon and John, from Chicago, who we met at Breaks yesterday. They’ve earned their stripes – both Jerry (US Navy) and Jonathan (Lebanon Police, Oregon) have faced down bears in the wild and John has ridden a wild moose as it swam across a lake. I once caught a squirrel and Terry stroked a cat a few days back, so we’re a top team.
More hills today (as expected) as we continued to ride through the Eastern Kentucky valleys. It’s a very different world from Virginia, tight lanes with barely room for two cars to pass and much less affluent. The large Virginian houses with verandas and immaculate lawns have largely been replaced with converted trailers and semi-permanent buildings. Some are well cared for, but many have been abandoned or are in poor repair, surrounded by old cars, trucks and even old school buses.
The properties mostly hug the streams and rivers and there’s a constant soundtrack of cockerels crowing and dogs barking as you cycle through the narrow valleys, walled in by tree-covered hillsides. Dogs are everywhere, either tied up on chains or leashes or in cages and the arrival of a group of cyclists prompts a cacophony of noise and straining at the leads.
Sometimes the dogs are loose and they’ll race to the boundaries of their property (many are surrounded by wire fences) basically just doing their job as guard dogs. But occasionally they’ll run into the road and take chase – and that’s when you’ve got a problem. The instinctive thing is to pedal faster, but riding with a dog weaving between the wheels is going to lead to an accident (as once happened to Jonathan) so the advised policy is to get off, stand behind your bike and take control of the situation with a Dog Dazer or Halt! Spray. That’s easier said than done though.
We rode tentatively through the valleys in formation (Jonathan up front with an airhorn which was effective) but fortunately the situation never got too serious – most of the barking is bluster and few of the dogs looked intent on causing harm.
More worrying were the hills – again tortuous and never-ending. Three large peaks to cross today, crawling along at 3.5mph, sweat stinging your eyes, legs aching. Climbing the mountain roads is not made any easier by sharing them with mammoth coal trucks, growling and roaring as they prepare to overtake. The sight of one of the drivers on his mobile phone as he rounded a switchback bend did little to inspire confidence. Terry is a much better climber than I and up until now I’ve only coped by stopping every now and then, regaining my breath and then setting off again. But with five of us riding together I had to keep going – and it did me good, gradually regulating my breathing so I could keep a steady pace.
We stopped at Big Daddy’s Diner in Bevinsville for lunch then, after the last peak of the day, pushed on to Hindman to find a hilltop oasis – The Knott County Historical Society – which also serves as as a cyclists hostel (although you stay in tents in the garden) The Adventure Cycling group were also staying there so we had a mass gathering of more than twenty TransAm cyclists.
David Smith, who founded the society and lives in his grandfathers house on top of the hill, greeted us with iced tea and nibbles, use of his shower – and even did our washing for us. He’s a font of knowledge and described all the different settlers that had come to this part of Kentucky, the effects of the civil war and the fate of the Cherokee who once lived in the area. Later, after we’d ordered in food, he brought round ice cream sundaes and brandy.
An idyllic spot, only spoilt by the fact that Terry and I shared a blow up mattress in a tent that night – something neither of us ever wants to experience again. It felt rather like trying to sleep on a bouncy castle while children are still jumping on it.
Today’s Mileage 50.88
Miles since First Landing: 712.85
Today’s Garmin report: