Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today in My Eyes


GlenDale to Yorktown, VA

Didn't sleep a wink. Like a kid on Christmas Eve. Stared at the wall in the "quiet room" until light saturated and I could make out the sharpie drawing on the face of a Cabbage Patch doll. Slammed some Poptarts, signed the church's guestbook and busted out of there. Rode through the dew-wet forest. Flat, straight road. So unusual.

I have been excited since we first changed the final destination to Virginia rather than Maine to see Williamburg. I visited when I was 11 or 12 with my family and remembered the awesome magic of historical reenactments and candle making. Now, as an adult, it appeals to me in a slightly different way. Shopping, dudes in tights with three pointed hats, mugs of meade.

Crept around town at four miles per hour checking out the Market Square, Colonial Village and William and Mary College. I was transported to another time. Not so much the late 1700's. More like the early 90's.

"Lauren! Isn't this nice? Wouldn't you like to go to college here?" One of my mom's favorite daydreams. I go to a fancy college and she can visit me, and shop. I am sure that I am donning at the time some kind of peasant bonnet, and loving the hell out of it. Perhaps holding some kind of beeswax treat my mother has allowed me. I'm looking at the elaborate Colonial brick buildings and thinking that this is what all colleges look like.

Not surprisingly, my college experience bore no resemblance to that of a William and Mary student. Though, I have a feeling that no 18 year old can truly appreciate the romance of the campus. They probably assume, like me, that this is just what college looks like and drag their feet, desperately hungover from all that local meade, to Philosophy 101 without ever even looking up.

As for me, I'm enjoying it so much I haven't closed my mouth in three blocks. I'm just freaking out over the little soap stores, quilt shops, wine and cheese cafes. We pick a spot for lunch. It has been so long since we have spent any time in a city with a population exceeding 400 that the bustle inside a wine and sandwich shop is making me feel like Encino Man. I am overwhelmed by the noise and girls in Ralph Lauren belts talking about what kind of Chardonnay is best. I just want to yell, "HULK SMASH", grab sandwiches and a bottle of beer and run from the building, arms dangling like a great ape. Instead, I wait, grimacing at five year old twins with blond bowl cuts.

We sit outside and drink four dollar champagne and eat another person's sandwich order. We are 13 miles away from our final destination and neither of us want to finish lunch. We don't want to get on the bikes. We are almost nervous.

When a big exhausted family asks us if we are leaving soon, we know this is our cue. A final champion chug of champagne and we are off. The route requires us to ride through a vehicle prohibited area of Historical Williamsburg. A father and his two young sons are listening as a woman in a homely frock tell a dramatic story. One of his sons tugged his pant. "That man has a solar panel on his bike". Without looking down at his son, or the bike, the man responded, "Shhh. That's impossible."
We giggled.

For the remaining miles, we dance, we cheer, we swerve through traffic. A glorious 13 miles. Felt like 2. We didn't mean to, but we ride so fast we are out of breath. Here it is, the last mile. We are making our final turn, and as we do, we see Brigit's silver car. It makes a fast U-turn and follows behind us. Brigit and Charles are shouting and honking. Congratulatory balloons fly from windows. Brigit pulls up along side us and hands us plastic crowns. She is holding badges with WINNER printed across the middle. She has fake gold medals and all kinds of other victory goodies.

When we arrive at the water, there is much merriment. I am so astounded, I cannot even cry. We walk the bikes to the water's edge. Brigit blasts bottles of champagne and dumps them on our heads. We are elated. Stunned.

After all of the hullabaloo, we got in the car and head for the campsite, which is an hour away. I call my father, wanting to share the news. I hear a big laugh, which I realize shortly after, is a sob. Darn it, Dad. I was doing so well up until now.

"I am so extremely proud of you." We are both crying now, as hard as we can. I did not anticipate this moment, not in the least. Between the desperation of missing my father and the triumph of completing this journey, it was all I could do not to hiccup like a small child.

"Thanks, Dad." Brigit is in the back seat with me and she is wiping off my tears. I feel silly, but also great. I am holding a bouquet of flowers, wearing a plastic crown and my clothes are wet from jumping in the ocean. I'm having one of those moments.

Some people will regret not doing the things they have always dreamed of. I have the incredible fortune of having accomplished one of my biggest dreams. Often I have felt like I have been afraid of doing anything adventurous. I sense my own mortality in a way I don't think many people do. Somehow, the closure of this trip has made me less afraid of death. I am so grateful and so happy. I could leave with today in my eyes.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Love is Implicit

8/10/11 Mineral to Glen Dale, VA

Took our sweet time on our 80 mile ride today. Met two ridiculous dudes who had already done east to west and are now headed to DC. Archetypal stoners. Like extras from Dogtown and Z Boys. One American and one Englishman, strangers before they met on the road. They could not be better suited for each other. They smoked a victory blunt when they got to the coast. We cannot relate to these guys.

We told them where we had stayed the previous night. "Oh, sweet. Yeah, Mineral. They didn't let you shower or stay inside?"

"No! They made us camp without showers. They said some skinny dirty dudes tore through the place and now no one is allowed to stay there anymore."

Insert foot directly into mouth. It was clearly these guys who "tore through the place". Sounds like their m.o.

We took pics, high fived, finished our iced coffe and carried on down the road. Todays stretch of land covers the Seven Days Battle and if you're interested in history, you should look that up.

We savored every minute of today. We are sucking the marrow out of these finals days. And we are doing so by buying forties and sleeping in a church.

Listened to white people butcher Baptist songs at choir practice while we chatted up a Dutch touring rider. Leave it to the Methodists to take a soulful gospel song and make it a dry waltz.

Ate fresh picked tomatoes and cookies. Slept in the church "quiet room" where kids go when they can't stop screaming through the homily. It's pretty cozy.

Here I am. Last sleep. I am sad. I stacked up all the business cards and return address stamps we have been given by people who have helped us along the way, thinking of the thank you cards I will write. I hold the stack tightly. A collection of people, a fat little treasure in my hand. I want a bigger stack. I want an endless collection, rooms full.

Just yesterday I finished reading "You Shall Know our Velocity". (A one point two pound book and the only luxury item in my bag.) Eggars says something squarely in the middle of the story that made me shut my fingers into the crease and clutch it to my chest, gasping. He says, "Love is implicit in every connection. It should be".

I am often keenly aware of my ability to become overly intimate with people too soon. I cannot help myself. I want to know everyone. Some people are uncomfortable or skeptical of this trait; worried that I want something from them. But I promise it is an ernest attempt to know you. And I know that I tend to smother or talk too much. But I want to listen. I want to know you, very honestly. I am excited for anything new. And though it appears I am consuming everything in my path at a fierce rate, I promise, I am loving you.

I have every intention of continuing on in this manner. I want to see it all. And if it seems gluttonous, perhaps you should cultivate a similar hunger in yourself. If a desire to know people isn't in your blood, well then, maybe it should be.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hill hard. Peanut Butter gone.

8/8/11 Lexington to Charlottesville

August eighth, The day of the beast. Ten miles of slow climb to begin the day and then... Vesuvius. A gnarly switchback riddled monster in the dense woods of Virginia. I had been dreading this stupid thing for weeks. The old guy, you know with the dog invention, he gave me an alternate route around. Eric and Chris said hell no. They want to tackle the thing.

So here I am. Thanks to some machismo bullshit. I didn't know my sweat could sweat. I soaked through my socks. I huffed and puffed so hard I thought my lungs would collapse. My calves pinched and threatened to seize. But I never let Chris get more than six feet in front of me. Pride and new muscles carried me up that thing.

Coming around the last corner, the sky revealed itself. Like Monty Pyhon paper cut outs of sun, clouds and streaks of fog heavy sunlight. I did it. I am happy with the work. My reward is The Blue Ridge Parkway, a magnificient stretch of road lined with slow-driving vacationers. Praise Allah.

Stopped in for one more five dollar wine tasting. Man, that makes for a good lunch. Baguette, farm cheese, local wine. Superb.

I'm sure Eric had time to make friends with all of Charlottesville as we were, once again, five hours behind him. Charlottesville is another lovely historical university town. It was all a bustle at 5 pm when we arrived. Professors wheeling breifcases, tattooed students and parents of freshman marching wildly into the streets without looking. It was an obstacle course.

Stayed at the Alexander House. A strange combination of crunchy and fancy. A dorm style hostel and a bed and breakfast. Free local bread, butter and jam in the fridge.

Stayed up for a bit, enjoying our last night with Eric as he will ride a hundred miler tomorrow. We just won't do that. We're dragging our feet now.

8/9/11 Charlottesville to Mineral

A short little jaunt over to Mineral today. After wine lunch, we were chased by enormous turkeys. I am embarassed to say that I was more terrified by this animal than I was when I saw a black bear. I threw crackers at him, hoping he would eat them or at least be distracted enough to leave us alone. Instead he bravely stamped towards us until I screamed like my mother. Chris thought this was so funny his legs were rendered useless. He stood, gripping his saddle, eyes closed, turkey on the opposite side of his wheel. I am screaming and dragging my bike long ways, the manner in which it does not roll, away from them. Good news. We got away.

In Mineral, we camped behind the local fire department with two other cyclists headed west. Sounds worse than it is. First, we sprayed each other with the hose, playing a little game we like to call "Shut up and Train". (This time with soap) We found a garage with folding chairs and dragged them to a nice grassy spot. Popped open a bottle of Cab Franc from Cooper Vineyard in Virginia and poured it into the glasses we got for free from the tasting room. Man, we must look freaking preposterous. There is no way we look like touring cyclists other than our tan stripes. We look like confused suburbanite yuppies who got lost and happily set up shop behind a building. Resolving never to go home. And really, that's not too far from the truth. We are starting to loathe the idea of.going back to normal life. Two states ago we would have said, 'Home? Hell, yes I'll go home".

But now we are thinking something more like, 'F%#. I have to pay my car insurance. I have to go back to work. I have to think about rent money. I have to dress like a human again.

As of late, our only worries have been, 'Hill hard. Peanut butter gone. Rooster loud'. Simple life is good life.

We are torn about this coming to an end. We are used to a very different life now. And though we miss you desperately, this is something anyone couls get used to.

They call 'em Ole Ammonia Ankles

8/7/10 Catawba to Lexington

Rode with Eric towards Lexington today. Ran into an organized century called the Arty 11, which is spectacular because it means free Gatorade and peanut butter jelly sandwiches. It also means old as dirt couples on bicycles that want to talk turkey about Brooks saddles and long distance touring. This guy you see below cusses more in ten minutes than I have in my entire life.

"Listen, these @#$holes with their big stupid $-%9ing trucks, blowing their exhaust all over the damn place. I could kill em. I really could."

I loved every minute with this guy. He told me of an invention he was working on that would spray amonia from your ankles as dogs chased you. As far as I'm concerned, all that would do would do is make me more stinky.

His wife looked on, arms folded, with her Ronald McDonald perm peaking from under her helmet. "Sinister. Absolutely sinister".

Went to an authentic German joint for pretzels and beer at lunch time. Eric did crosswords outside until they opened the place. It was worth waiting for summer sausage and lemon beer. Yeah buddy.

With slow, beer filled legs, I watched Eric disappear on the horizon. There is no keeping up with a kid who takes the hills at 11 mph.

We were poured on once again. Our shoes and clothes have not recovered from the last few rains so funkyness has reached an all time high. I smell like some mixture of cat pee and the manager at a food co-op. Without our bodies in them, our clothes could get up and walk away.

Eric arrived at the hostel long before us, worried we would get lost he pulled a recon mission and came looking for us. We are so lucky that he did because google would have taken us ten miles in the wrong direction. Ten wrong miles after seventy soaking wet miles would be disasterous.

Another creepy crawly hostel. Completely unattended. Peanut butter that expired two years ago on the microwave. Bugs in the sheets. At least there were showers. Microwaved ham and cheeses, read my book and listened to Eric's terrible story of how his riding partner left him high and dry a week into the trip. He called his mom and went home. Lil Beasty was not deterred. He pressed on alone like the 16 year old blaze of fury he is.

I was tired enough to sleep through the maddening sticky heat. The morning brings Mount Vesuvius, the last mountain of the trip and a formidable oponent.

Make it Pretty

8/6/11 Wytheville to Catawba, VA

Got poured on today. It was pretty marvelous. All of our gear is water proof, including phone cover. So I basically just giggled at the rain and googled how to find the hostel. We got lost, which is no fault of Eric's as he is always telling us specifically how to find our destination. He is such a thoughtful guy.

We have named him L.B. for "Lil Beasty". I know we are not allowed to give one another trail names as we are not hiking the AT. But we are not worried about appearing as poseurs. We are nerds. Chris I have dubbed "Molasses Pants". Which one hiker remarked, "could have many unintended meanings other than slow." I am Coil. As in the Kentucky pronunciation of a bird that makes a whistling sound, is tasty to eat and is low to the ground.

We found the hostel. Which is a house and garage on a gravel hill. Inside the garage, a veritable mess of meat hooks and weapons, army cots with a snow dusting of dead bugs, a busted tv, two farm cats, and my favorite: two shelves, the first marked, "Hiker stuff up for grabs", the next marked, "Less popular items".

Ah, well. When you are on the road in the middle of nowhere, you can't be choosy. And we are glad for the company. Joe, a divorced ex-hiker and bow hunter has worked for the railroad most of his life. He is tall, salt and peppered, crass and totally made of sweetness and love. He also talks nonsense when it is his turn in chess which I love. His son, Josh, is 12, and just about the most industrious little dude I have ever met. He is afraid of no one. I am sure this ease with people is the result of living in a house that is also a hostel for smelly-weirdo Appalchian Trail hikers. However he came about it, it suits him.

He and I chatted about how a derailleur works. I started to explain it to the best of my limited ability. He finished my sentence. He got it. Ok, Lauren, shut up. Now on to hunting. "I shot an 11 point buck".

I am sure that this is impressive in the world of hunting, but all I can picture are big plastic deer bounding through the forest with numbers on their bellies. "Want to see my dirt bike?" Yes.

We looked at animal parts on the tool wall that were to be made into gun racks. You know this is a stretch for me.
"We're gonna flip the hooves upsidown. I'm gonna make it real.pretty."

"Mmm. Nice."

I spotted a tiny pair of deer antlers. Josh and I shared a look. The lightbulb went on simultaneously.

"Dude. We should put these on your bike." I actually jumped in the air. All through Utah and Nevada I had been trying to find ways to affix bones to my handlebars or rack. I don't know why. I think it's a Kraft thing.

Josh went to work, sanding the ends, fixing them together with a screw. The ease with which he worked with power tools was alarming. He went to attach it to the bike. His father watched, skeptically. Joe crossed his arms.

"Make it pretty, now."

"I am!" Josh stepped away.

"Well," Joe raised his eyebrows high, "that looks alright, now doesn't it." He smiled and sat down to play chess with a hiker named Blister.

Joe drove Chris, Eric and myself to an amazing century home turned restaurant. An enormous plantation style house with wrap around porch and rocking chairs on every side. We disembarked from his bossy Ford truck. "If you keep eating it, they'll keep bringin' it." Woah. Really? We were pumped.

You choose the meats, they bring the food. More food than a medieval faire. Ridiculous. And we do eat it all. It is, a bit like nursing home food. But, the bisquits are real and so is the cobbler. So I eat two pounds of it.

The hostess calls Joe and he comes back to pick us up. Did I mention this is free, what Joe does? You drink his beer, sleep in his garage and he drives you to and from dinner. All the while not proclaiming the act a "ministry".

I didn't sleep. After fighting with the hiker about drilling for oil in Canada, the existence of god and why Libertarians are just pot smoking Republicans, I was just too jazzed. Add that to bugs the size of my thumb, cats rubbing against me, roosters screaming and the sillouette of meat hooks swinging from the ceiling. It was no good.

Blister slept like a rock. No surprise there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spark in the Park

Damascus to Wytheville, VA

Reluctant to leave the adventure party house. Sat at the big table in the dining room for a final meal with the hikers. They burn so many calories, I simply cannot conceive. One of them said he burns up to 11,000 a day. He was also about 6 foot 6. We thought we were ballers burning 5,000 to 6,000. They scarfed giant honey buns, Poptarts covered in peanut butter, Clif bars. Seeing them eat gives me perspective. I should not be eating like them. I'm not carrying forty pounds on my back ang lugging it nineteen miles a day. I am sitting on my butt. I am practically in a lazy boy chair.

Went for coffee with Jason and Eric. This is the last day with Jason. He is going to cool his heels here in lovely Damascus for a day and soon he turns south to return home to the lowcountry. He will be missed.

Chris, Eric and I rode through what looked like rainforest for about twenty miles. Winding and mostly downhill. Wet and beautiful and following the river. This part of Virginia is a mecca for adventure junkies. There are horse camps for trail rides, a million hiking trails, mountain biking trails and a surprising amount of road bikers. The route we follow now is very clearly marked with 76 signs. We are following the famous Bikecentennial route of 1976. Most of the Adventure Cycling TransAm Route follows this path.

We have also noticed that Virginia is considerably more progressive than Kentucky even in it's most rural areas. There are co-ops, local farmers markets, and collectives of local artisans. It is refreshing.

Had a salad at a local winery. The place was wall to wall with homemade soap and other crafty goodies. Not shopping makes me want to explode. But a bar of soap is just about the most impractical, heavy object I could stick in a pannier. I know what you're thinking, "But, Lauren, isn't soap good for cleaning your body and clothes?" Yeah, probably. But, it's not coming with me.

Upon our arrival on Wytheville, we were reminded of an important lesson we have learned out here: Do not trust a local to tell you where anything is. They don't know how to get to their own home and they have lived here fifty years. They are also liable to start talking and never stop.

"Excuse me, ma'am, can you tell me how to get to the Memorial Park?"

"Well, you see there's this pole. It's painted red and white. Like a barber."

Other woman standing behind this woman, "Just like a barber".

"There used to be this old car wash there. Then it was a gas station then it closed down."

The woman behind her is nodding emphatically. "Closed down ages ago. Used to be owned by..."

"I think it's on first street. First street? Hahah. Actually, I have no idea what street that is. Haha.".

Chris and I check in with one another in a brief glance. This is not working. Next person indicates that we should turn right at the IGA. Only to find out later that there is no IGA in this town.

Found the park our damn selves. Eric was there, waiting on a picnic table. "You guys get lost?"

We proceeded with the usual chores, laundromat, five dollar pizza, dollar store, pitch tent in local park. You know, hobo stuff.

Caught some couples "sparking" in the park late at night, as they call it here in Virginia. Thought they were a little suspicious but realizes they were 70. Slept well.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

8/4/11 Trail Swagger

8/4/11 Elkhorn City to Damascus, VA

Rode 84 miles today. Sprayed two dogs with one shot. They were at the top of the steepest hill. There was no escaping them. As soon I see teeth, it is over for you, dog. I give two warning no's and then it's pepper in yo eye.

Some really beautiful country today. Though I'm sure the ivy is actually some kind of parasitic infestation, it is glorious to look at and resembles the tree people from Lord of the Rings. They are so fun to look at, I actually laugh out loud when I put together where their arms, legs and face are.

Landed in Damascus. Suprise! It rules here. Bike shops, camping shops, local vegetables, the Creeper Bike trail (real), pizza and karaoke! We figure out that the reason for awesome is it's position in relation to the Appalachian Trail. Hikers come through here to wolf down carbohydrates like papa lions and buy more Dr. Bronners.

We capitalized on all the local goodies. Heirloom tomatoes, homemade muscle salve, pizza and, of course, karaoke. After I passed the mic on, we headed for the hostel. Called "The Place". Shockingly not remotely as creepy as the House on Hill. A sanctuary for hikers and distance cyclists. No air conditioning. No matresses. No fridge. But plenty of incredible conversation.

Met four dudes hiking the Appalachian. All with hysterical "trail names" like Barefoot Bastard, Kiwi and Trail Swagger. I know, right? I'm jealous.

Jason made it into town maybe an hour after us. It was a hard day for everyone. Also at the hostel, we met a couple on bikes doing the west to east route. Both teachers. Lastly, a father of an sixteen year old girl who was hiking the trail with friends. He was hiking it too, just a little ways behind so she could maintain both coolness level and safety. The big group of us convened on the platation style porch. Some of the guys had lashed their hammocks to the porch pillars. The rest of us sat back in plastic chairs. What a scene. This is what I absolutely live for and anyone who knows me can attest to it. Feels like the first night at Camp Christopher. I am elated.

After much chatting, mapping and planning, I marched up the big wooden steps to the second floor, where there are rooms upon rooms of empty bunks. I perched myself on a top bunk adjacent to the window. Cool summer breeze came in. I could see the outline of the mountains through the big open window. For the first time in a long time, they brought me peace instead of panick and worry.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Your man took care of it

Hindman to Elkhorn City, KY

The steepest hills I have ever encountered in my entire life. Four major climbs upwards of 18%. They are just silly. If you stop pedaling for even a moment, your bike will sail back down the hill. The third major climb of the day, it rained. My rain jacket has magically stopped repelling rain. The worst. We get to the top of the beast. A pick up truck is pulled over, most likely to avoid the danger of descending a winding, one lane road covered with trees while the road is slick.

A toothless skinny dude flicks his cigarette into the rain. "Y'all want a ride down it? Met a couple yesterday, girl road down with me. She was rull skeerd."

"And the guy? He rode it down himself?"


Damnit. Now it's on. I used those disc brakes so hard I got a blister. If it wasn't enough, there were loose dogs at nearly every turn. Chris had descended faster than me, so they were poised by the road and ready to strike.

Loose farm dogs have caused me so much strife and near death peril that I now have no qualms about spraying them in the face like a postal worker at the end of his rope. Don't worry. It doesn't hurt long.

Got to Elkhorn in race pace time. We were trying to get there before the post office closed. Expecting crucial mail from one, Dr. J Hibler. Got the mail. Saw myself in the reflection of the post office door. Have mercy. Mud flecked cheeks, helmet hair, tar covered shins with streaks of sweat, perhaps a bug or two in the teeth and eyeballs. Look at what I have become. A warrior. I barely recognize myself.

Standing in the parking lot, trying to puzzle out our next move, I spotted a loaded biker with red bandana and matching shirt. He was weaving slow like he was looking for something.


"Jesus, Lauren, he probably doesn't see us." Which is fine for you, maybe. But, me, I am not going to let a biker go by without getting the full story. I jogged. Full tilt at the man.

"I have been chasing you guys for weeks. I heard from everyone I met there was a couple just a few days ahead of me. I have been trying to catch up with you ever since.

Eric. Eric is 16. He is riding across the country alone, San Fransisco to Yorktown. He is a wall of muscle. A high school athelete. He tells us he has seen almost no one on the road all summer. He is bored and lonely and filled with energy.

We invite him to stay at the same dirty motel. He had planned to push ahead to the Breaks but said ok. I was voted ambassador and went in to the motel office. An enormous man watching Mexican soap operas with a blooming onion of cigarette butts laid before him.

"Who is yer man?" He asked. Not in a threatening way.

"What? Chris. What?"

"He's a veteran?"

I'm lost. We remained in silence. I stared at him. He was in no hurry to explain himself. Ok. Got it. Jason is in the Navy. He's a man. Not my man, but probably the man that called.


"Yeah, yeah, yep. He called before. He took care of it." He handed me the key. Mystified. But, in the end, not surprised. Jason is the kind of guy that would silently wrap you in his jacket while you slept and stand in the snow for the rest of the night. Just how he is.

The three of us sat in rusted lawn chairs, eating raisins in peanut butter until Jason arrived. We hooted and cheered and clapped. It is fun to be with a group again.

We all showered. I electricuted myself turning the light on in the bathroom. We headed out in street clothes for the Rusty Fork. Sounds good, right? It was exactly as good as the name indicates.

Booths with apolstry split open, spitting out its brown foam guts, bad service and deep fried fish. Despite the food and grumpy waitresses, we had good fun. We practiced our Kentucky accents and exchanged superlatives. Best motel. Nicest people. Scariest dog.

The four of us would, under no other circumstances, be eating dinner together. The tie that binds us is 85% of a trip across the United States. It makes us easy friends.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Temporary ecstacy

8/2/11 Booneville to Hindman

Oh, the temporary ecstatic clarity that comes with soaring down a mountain. For about four minutes, my brain allows me to think, "This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I know the meaning of life. I am pure of heart and spirit. I am weightless. I love being on a bike. I know why I do this." However, much like the way memory of pain dissapates without scar, the ecstacy of descent and all the transcendence it brings is just as fleeting.

I told Chris today how I feel like I experience the entire wheel of emotion in one mountain. I must look like an actor, practicing character by mimicking the smile to frown pain chart at the ER. At the bottom I think, "You are tough sonofagun. You are going to tackle this with no problem". Somehow things rapidly spiral once I reach anything steeper than 14%. "F this. Why am I here? Why does Chris have to go so damn fast? Why are my eyeballs covered in gnats? Knee caps can sweat? Why do people ride bikes? This is not natural. I want to go home. Blargh".

I know. I am scary. At least no one has to hear this out loud. Instead, just a pneumatic wheezing.

Arrived in Hindman with plans to call the historical society and find some kind of lodging. Our plans were foiled, however, when we found out at the local artisan cafe, that the historical society has no employees. No camping. No lodging. Ack. Ate a turkey sandwich and wandered around the town like zombies.

"Chris. Where we go? No place sleep. Want lay down. Want food" Coming back from the gas station with dinner of poptarts and gardettos, we discovered Jason. (Our 4,000 miles of hope friend, or as I call him, Beardyguy.) The three of us sat on a bench on the tiny main street looking pityful. A sweet man in his early forties with blonde hair and a tucked in tshirt said we could come wash our faces in his woodworking studio. He is the master artist in residence at a strangely placed studio in the middle of nowhere. Mild mannered Christian man and father. Jason chatted him up while we were in the bathroom. Jason has an awesome Matty-like way of getting people to do his bidding. It's in the eyes. Maybe it's in the beard, I don't know. Whatever magic he used, we ended up crashing in Richard's cozy apartment upstairs.

We sat and read and blogged while Richard unpacked and smoked a pipe. More snuggly moments that make things feel like home.

In the morning Jason cooked a breakfasy so good make youwannasmackyermamma. Bisquits and jam. Eggs and mushrooms. Bacon and cold milk. Like Christmas morning.

Jason left the woodhsop with a free dog-beating stick. (Believe me, it is necessary.) And we left with happy bellies and good spirits, having rested in a stranger's bed once more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

House on the Hill

7/31/11 Bardstown to Berea, KY

Farm dogs. Heat. Inevtiable climbs. Met two guys who were just now coming from the east. One of them had gotten two flats on the way down Mt. Vesuvius and had ripped his nipple off. I know this sounds horrendously gruesome, but we cannot stop laughing. Maybe we are cursing ourselves but we are convinced there is nothing better than "nipple rip". We exchanged tips with one another, where to stay, what to avoid, etc. While we road away Chris shouted the most valuable information he knew, "DON'T FORGET, IT'S SHARK WEEK."
They shook their heads, knowingly and pedaled off.

I don't remember anything else about this day as we have done back to back centuries. New levels of exhaustion.

Berea is beautiful. Small historical town with a college. It is surprising find after winding backroads of nothingness. We noted on one of their signs that they offer "broomcraft" as an area of study. I can only hope this has something to do with magic.

Slept in a not so bad motel. Got some shark week in. In the morning we went to a coffee shop. Cute, crunchy little joint filled with fashionable young folks. Saw some art quilts and hit the road.

Berea to Booneville, KY

Rode 65 miles towards the Boonville boonies. Three miles before the town we came upon a sign at the bottom of a hill

LINDAS VICTORIAN ROSE B&B. Just like that. We got about a half mile past it before I shouted up, "Hey, wanna go to a creepy bed and breakfast?"

We turned around and stopped at the bottom of a steep gravel driveway. We called the number on the sign. It must come across in my tone that I am sick of explaining myself after eight states. "Hi. We're broke. Uhhh. We are cycling across the country...", I trailed off.

"Cyclists huh? Ok. Forty." This is my favorite deal and it usually follows my tired damsel in distress schpeil. "Where are you, I'll come pick you up".

"Um. I think I'm at the end of your driveway."

"Well, come on up." The lawn and all the land leading up to her home and the "house on the hill"- a menagerie of weird. A manequin wearing a tshirt and a baseball hat, an old van turned plant potter, brass children's beds wrapped in ivy. Stephen King novel. Hold on, it gets creepier.

She greets us warmly. She has a tank top on with arm holes big enough to see her bra, died red old broad hair, the kind that looks pink. She is smiley but obvious tough. An ex-smoker. She gives us a tour of the yard. "This is where I buried my six cats." I look away, not knowing what to say to this. I'm sorry? Oh, cool? How many cats do you have now?

"And this is where my husband is buried." Say what. No headstone. Just a little faded American flag stuck in the dirt, a miniature angel statue, fake flowers. Ok. Let's see this bed and breakfast, lady.

Years of wallpaper layers. Dusty chotchkes. Everything is topped with a horse figurine and or tea cozy. Three bed rooms and a kitchen. All one floor. Don't get me wrong, we are grateful. But when she hands us a gold key with a plastic tab marked "house on hill" in cursive, we are pretty sure we're going to be killed in the style of a paperback murder mystery novel.

Thankfully, we are not killed. We make eggs in the kitchen forgetting we have no butter. (The dinner Chris now refers to as the "eggtastrophe") We read in dim light and sleep heavy in crocheted blankets smelling of old lady parade. Get up in the early morning and ride hills in dense fog.

Every day is an adventure.

Don't tread on me

Falls of Rough to Bardstown 7/30/11

We've entered a new part of the nation, one filled with rich history. Where the landscape holds such strange visual paradoxes as a Hummer and a horse and buggy. People on the road drive with special care on the winding roads. Everyone waves. The hospitality is unusual. Today at the bottom of a hill stood an unshaved man in a stained gray shirt, holding two bottles of ice cold water.

"Saw you comin' up the hill a while back. Thought I ought head home and catch you." We had heard tell of this mysterious kindness but never really believed that people are waiting at the ends of their driveways to help us. It is real.

Later today a beat up cream colored truck from the seventies cruised slowly in front of us. Three kids under twenty were stuffed in the bench seat with the windows down. The truck pulled in two driveways ahead of us. A tall, tan boy, maybe 19 threw himself out, reached in the bed and pulled out his BMX bike.

"Tell me you're coming to ride with us." He nodded and grinned. His gear ratio was so ridiculous it was a struggle for him to keep up. His rear cog was the size of a spool of thread. He asked us where we were going and where we were coming from.

"Woah. Sick."

When he was satisfied with his answers he veered off without a goodbye, hurling his bike and himself into the truck in the same effortless fashion he had disembarked. This interaction made me grin for about an hour.

Coming up into Bardstown we began to see rows of enormous gray buildings with tiny windows and black stained streaks down every side. Something akin to a jail, a concentration camp or really, really bad dorms. Don't fret. It's nothing so sinister. Whiskey is sleeping. And slowly maturing to delicious bourbon.

We rounded a big bend and the trees opened to reveal the Heaven Hill Distilleries gate. After 95 hard miles, a nice shot of bourbon sounded like good medicine for sore asses and low morale.

Closed. Five pm. Chris looked like he might throw a tantrum or cry. He laid down in front of the door in protest. It's like Uncle Denny driving all the children to the water park, coming to a stop in the parking lot, and proclaiming "Well, there it is" and then turning around and leaving. Poor Chris.

Went to McDonalds for a consolation milkshake. Scooted our sad and tired bodies to yet another dumpy motel. Chris and I resolved to eat the remainder of all the camping food that has been sitting at the bottom of our panniers since Utah. I microwaved water and filled all the bags. We sat on the beds, with wet heads, trying to choke down dehydrated food.

"Bleck. I'm going to the grocery store. You stay here." I put on street clothes and moved to leave. I got half way through the parking lot before a group of 15 motorcycle people stopped me. A million questions about the bike trip followed with, "Well, where ya goin' now?".


"Nope. You're not." They poured me a big cup of something homemade that tasted like high test Boone's Farm. "Where is yer man?"

I jogged back over to the motel room. Chris was on the bed looking pityful.

"Free. Beer. Sandwiches. Come now." His eyes lit up. We walked back to the party. It had rained on us earlier that day, just a refreshing drizzle. But now the sky opened up. So happy we were not stuck out on a ride. We huddled under the awning, drank beer, ate jerkey, talked bikes and laughed until we nearly peed our pants. We compared silly tans, bike seats. They tried to sell us their old motorcycles. One of the bigger fellows was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and big black leather boots stood up whilst we conversed. He took off his boots, walked to the pool in the pouring rain and stepped in as though he was not expecting it yo drop off. Funny guy.

Politics divided us but we managed not to strangle one another. It often surprises us to find that Harley flags are almost always coupled with tea party flags. These people aren't rich. They're blue collar. But they hate the idea of paying into social programs. Oh that apple wine allowed me to speak my peace on welfare.

They patted my little head like I was some naive little child. "I've seen these people. They've figured out the system. They are driving Cadillacs."

I tried my best to get across that even a man who squeezes the system to the last drop is a not a rich man. It didn't go so well. Eventually we went back to drinking and telling jokes. I was too tired to fight. One of the ladies of the pack gave me a turkey sandwich. We shared stories about teaching.

We were dead tired and I was unable to drink more while thinking about the 90 mile ride ahead of me. In the end, I was glad I went to bed. But I certainly could have stayed up all night, singing and carrying on.