We were awoken at an ungodly hour to the sound of laughter and chatting … the keenos of the Adventure Cycling group were up and at it early.
Too early for us… for logistical reasons we were only doing about 45 miles today, so we were having a lazy day after yesterday’s miserable cold slog. Learning from the cold night in Damascus (2°C! … down from the mid 30s during the day) we wore virtually the entire contents of our panniers and slept like babes. The mist was still hanging in the valley keeping it cold and damp but the sun was trying hard … it won through eventually and we managed to dry the tents and air the sleeping bags before heading out to find breakfast.
And it was downhill along a steeply wooded valley in the cold morning sunshine, past a couple of closed stores at Davenport and Bee (where last night’s newlyweds come from) before we warmed up enough to stop in a disused car wash to discretely shed layers. Just round the corner was a mini-mart where the assistant felt so bad about not selling coffee she made us a cup especially out the back while we stocked up on rubbish rolls, ‘Sugared Ham’ and ‘Imitation Cheese Food’. Don’t ask.
But they did have rows of fresh fruit and veg too! Heaven. Amy told us that the other stores and businesses along the valley had shut down as people now chose to drive for an hour to a Walmart rather than shop in the valley. It can’t be as simplistic as that though … the area’s recent decline surely is in part due to the recession and the local coal mining industry cutting back too? These valleys are now some of the poorest areas in the US with big social problems, including a high incidence of substance abuse. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re cycling through the richest country in the world.
We ate our feast of artificial food and fruit overlooking Lick Creek and the new green of the forest trees. It was a glorious view. We then rolled on to Haysi where the fun stopped as the SR80 turned upwards for the last 10 miles of our ride through Virginia. And what a way to leave the ‘State for Lovers’ (their phrase not mine) … stunning views over Breaks, the ‘Grand Canyon of the South’.
Bumping into old friends Jerry, Jonathan and John at the top we belted down into Kentucky (1 state down, 9 to go) and the remnants of the Apple Blossom Festival in Elkhorn City. City? With a population of only 1050 it does seem to be bigging itself up a bit, especially as it looked more like a coal siding yard than an orchard. Perhaps we missed the best bits.
Cycling gently up the Elkhorn Creek gorge in the afternoon sun was probably the highlight of the day … well it prompted the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ … but it was all spoilt (for me anyway) by the dogs that Kentucky is famous for and that appeared as we hit the appropriately named Hellier. I’m really really really scared of dogs and see each one as a potential me-eater. Paul on the the other hand is much more reasonable and talks to them calmly and nicely as they run out of their yards barking (that’s snarling, drooling and with teeth bared from my perspective) towards us. Every time his softly, softly approach works and we don’t get mauled he tells me that’s the way to do it … until I told him later that every time he whispered sweet nothings in their ears I was blasting them with my high frequency Dog Dazer too!
Unusually, we had arranged tonight’s accommodation, so between dogs we were on the lookout for the Freeda Harris Baptist Center… in Lookout (with a bit of effort, I’m sure there was a joke in there somewhere) and minutes later we were welcomed in true American style by Alice and Rita and 8 year old Kelly. Their building was enormous with plenty of room for us and our American friends, Jonathan, Jerry and John. It housed a basketball court as well as a fully food-stocked kitchen and showers. The ladies had even prepared some food for us already as we’d booked ahead. The ‘welcome pack’ with socks, toothbrush, body lotion and razors just about capped it all. What Sweeties.
After Kelly thrashed us at basketball (I warned her I was no good) we then fuelled up with free pasta and collared greens cooked by Jonathan. Fully coiffed and smelling of roses after a much needed shower we eventually hunkered down in our bags on top of soft gym mats to dream of whatever (me of today’s, and tomorrow’s, dogs … and Paul of a recurring femme fatale, who he thinks is a professional killer, hoping she won’t poison him or anyone else tonight!).
Miles today: 43.70
Total miles since First Landing: 661.97
Here’s today’s Garmin report: