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.
"BIKER! MAN! HEY BIKER MAN!"
"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.