In the Appalachians Old King Coal still rules, although his reign is under threat. You only need to look in the valleys to see the impact a decline in mining brings.
But huge trains still rumble through local towns with trucks full of the black gold, while coal lorries thunder up the roads to more local destinations. The trucks don’t make good companions for cyclists, so Terry and I were surprised to find ourselves spending the morning on the hard shoulders of major roads alongside these monsters.
Turns out the Adventure Cycling Maps (our bible for this trip) have been updated since the 2011 version I bought, so here’s a Paul top tip: always check the addendum to the maps on the ACA website before you head off. The new route is on much quieter roads and although takes a little longer, is the one to go for if you’ve a choice.
The error meant we spent much of the day cycling alone. In Chavies, a simple operation to buy stamps to put on postcards turned into a major operation involving phone calls by the US postal service. Seems no one sends them anymore. We eventually met up with other cyclists in Buckhorn where we lunched. Vegetarian food is still proving tricky to find for Terry, but I enjoyed my fried catfish and hush puppies (fried corn bread balls).
Some interesting facts learnt today. Why do cyclists have to climb so many hills in Kentucky? To tenderise the meat for the dogs. Also learnt of Jerry’s special technique for climbing hills – “pie bombs”. Basically eat a cherry or fruit pie half an hour before needed and the sugar rush will send you coasting to the top. I wonder if Apple Crumble would work too?
As we rode I also chatted to Jerry about his time in the US Navy. Turns out he was a navigator on C130 Hercules transport aircraft, at one time spending 10 months in the Antarctic delivering supplies to various bases, in particular McMurdo on the southern tip of the Ross Island. The weather conditions were often horrendous and landings tricky, the aircraft were equipped with skis, which seems extraordinary for such a large aircraft. If they couldn’t find the landing strip there was a whiteout area free of crevasses just to get the plane down – and then they’d walk back to base. Incredible.
Jerry has spent a lot of time hiking and explained that every hiker has his own ‘Trail-Name’. Often this is the only name anyone knows them by. I expect Atlas we met in Damascus was a Trail Name. Jerry explained how he’d once been out hiking with friends and came face to face with a Grizzly bear which reared up on its hind legs. They ran as fast as the could and managed to escape. On the same hike they also encountered a mother with cubs – again a potentially dangerous situation.
As he tucked himself into his down sleeping bag in the woods that night, knowing there were Grizzlies all around, Jerry was heard to exclaim: “I feel like a Goose Burrito!” And that was it, Jerry’s trail name was and is ‘Goose Burrito’.
More climbing just after lunch and into the afternoon with temperatures up to the mid 80s. Terry and I starting singing to keep ourselves going – a rousing chorus on ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ was followed by a blast of “I’m going to find me a new way to light up an old flame”.
It’s all rather apt really as I’m sitting in the dark writing up the blog in a shelter behind the Presbyterian Church in Boonville and in the meadow behind me fireflies are blinking and pulsing in the moonlight – some are even dancing into the upper branches of the trees.
I’m surrounded by bikes and tents (we are again staying with the Adventure Cycling Group plus Jerry, Jonathan and John). Our dodgy route meant we got here in good time and were at the front of the queue for a cold shower (anything is welcome after a day in the saddle) and we then got on our bikes and cycled a few hundred yards into the middle of downtown Booneville. With the panniers off and stored in our tents the Surly and Kona felt as light as carbon!
We spent the evening eating at the Hometown Cafe (think Greasy Spoon) with cheap, but wholesome food and full of local people. With a population of only a few hundred it’s hardly a bustling metropolis, but this was election night and people were waiting to hear the latest news from the town hall, just across the street. Anyone coming in would have seen a strange collection of locals checking ballot sheets, alongside lycra-clad cyclists talking maps.
We were fortunate to sit next to Nicole, a local woman working with people with substance abuse problems. She told us of the effects unemployment had brought to many of the valleys we’d cycled through, particularly addiction to Crystal Meth and Anthetamines. We also discovered this area of Kentucky is one of the poorest in the State and indeed the entire US.
She also revealed moonshine production still went on in the Kentucky hillsides, perhaps this is the real reason for so many dogs?
Today’s Mileage: 62.77
Mileage since First Landing: 775.62
Here’s the full Garmin report: