Day 17: The Deluge Day

August 13, 2010

Date: August 12, 2010
From: Hindman, KY
To: Booneville, KY
Distance: 64.33 miles
Time: 7:10:49
View Garmin Data >

Fork lightning, jabbing at the earth. Thunder belly rumbles across the sky and all around me. Again, I am pushing Precious up a climb. I’ve given up. No, no. This is supposed to be an easier day than yesterday, and yet here I am on the tips of my toes and flat out pushing. The air crackles and one minute I’m dry and suffering in beat-down-upper-cut full sun and the next, I’m soaked to the bone. To the calcium and marrow.

I look up ahead to where the curve disappears around the bend and into the trees. There is a little wooden shack, probably built by a loving dad to shelter his kids while they wait for the school bus in weather just like this.

Sudden. Severe. Extroverted

I push up. Not rushing exactly, but if the rain gets any heavier, I’m going to lose a few inches in height.

Precious comes to rest across the front of the structure, and I step over him and through the doorway. Under the shelter. Into the dry. I look out. Frown.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Hard rain

Hard rain

“Today will be easier than yesterday.”

That’s what David had said to me at breakfast. I’d walked up to give him some cash for the tent and the amazing food, and there was a spread of more food and treats. Coffee cake, fruit, cereal, fresh squeezed orange juice. Hot coffee. I stayed too long. Left too late. Listened too closely.

Later Linda, my host in Booneville, says:

“Well, he’s never ridden it. Hills all day, and this hill here right at the end is horrible. That’s why I offered to come pick you up.”

But you don’t know these things when you start out for the day. All you know is the forward direction. The arrow on the map. The feel of your legs when it’s time to change gear. The thirst. Where the next food stop is.

You don’t know the terrain of a state you’ve never been in. You also don’t know how your system of judgement differs from someone else’s.

What’s steep to me may be like sleep walking to you.

I burned through some easy miles early. Didn’t leave until 9:45 am, officially my latest start ever, but I wasn’t concerned. Not then.

Rivers fat with dirty water reminded me of the storm from the previous night. Occasional trails of gravel, leaves, and twigs across the roadway. After a few miles, I slowed to talk to Matt, a cyclist from Colorado coming the other way. We spoke so long that another showed up. Johnny. He advised me not to follow the TransAmerica through Missouri. To go the Katy trail, like Matt had. That he’d been abused and almost run off the road several times by following the map. That he’d been waiting for a shotgun to appear out a car window.

The Katy Trail, according to Matt, had been pleasant. I filed away this information. To look into later.

We drifted away from each other, they towards their ultimate soon-to-be-completed goal. Me to the uncertainty of the day. The early miles drifted into a few climbs of varying difficulty.

The day got hotter and hotter. Yet another heat advisory day. The climbs got angrier. Shade cover was sporadic. Ridiculous oppressiveness. A regime of heat. A dictatorship of humidity. A red-faced bitch and moan day. I spend a mile and a half climbing a tough and steady grade on a major highway with no shade anywhere and the detritus and fragments of road life, flayed rubber and wire and coal, plus the chicachica of rumble strip to keep me alert.

Coal trucks flying by, throwing the dust of Kentucky onto the sheen of my skin where it got thicker with grit. I burned. I crested the climb to see the road stretch on out in a straight arm run of down and then straight back up.

Another horn droned by. Appreciation or degradation. Who knows? More honks on this road than anywhere so far.

A gas station between hills dragged me off the road and to a bench to suck down an ice-cold coke and to buy several extra liters of water to strap on to Mr. Zimmerman. I don’t even drink soda, and yet. I can’t get enough Coke. Just. Can’t. Get. Enough.

Off the highway and we’re back on smaller, less car-laden roads. The hills are relentless, chipping away at my self-esteem. Precious remains ever silent. Just getting his job done.

I hit a particularly hard hill around 2.30pm and finally notice the sky has darkened. Wonder how long it’s been like that. In truth, I spend most of my day looking at the ground if I’m climbing. When I keep my head down and focused in front of me, I can’t see how far away the top of a climb is and for some reason, that keeps me going longer.

Must remember to look up. There is a flash of light and the grey clouds drop down a couple of shades for some flashing seconds. A dog barks as I walk past, pushing. They don’t bother chasing at this speed. I just look at it.

“Get back in your box,” I mutter.

Fork lightning, jabbing at the earth. Thunder belly rumbles across the sky and all around me.

I stand in the little shelter for almost 45 minutes. It’s a hard rain. Angry. Trees shake, water rushes over the road creating a muddy river. How long will it last?

Cars splash by. Rain ebbs and roars. I count the time between lightning and thunder. One onethousand. Just a mile away. A bit later, it’s out to three and the rain is getting bored of itself. It’s not so heavy. Rideable. I put on my Shower’s Pass jacket and step out. Turn on some lights on the trailer and the back of Precious.

A Rottweiler appears in the scrub above me. Growls and barks and growls again. Tone low and threatening. I am a little frozen with uncertainty until from off to the side I hear a woman with a Kentucky drawl shout from the shelter of her porch.

“It’s okaay. He won’t bite.”

I wave to her, squint at the dog, then push off into the rain. I am climbing immediately, but the break has put a spring back in my legs.

Before long I am on the descent. The rain is manageable. Until it’s not. Until once again, it is sudden, and the storm has turned back on itself. One onethousand two onethou… I stop under a bit of a rocky overhang as the rain pounds. What to do? Nowhere to hide. Is it ebbing? I fly down the road a bit further and see a shuttered building. Pull over through a giant puddle and stand on the step.

There is no shelter here, but better to be standing next to a building than out in the open.

What a miserable predicament. Pouring here, yet when I look behind me and back up the mountain, I see a clear patch of blue sky.

Finally, it subsides, and I decide to continue on. Ten minutes later, the sun has joined me, and steam is rising off the road and making a spookfest of it all.

Nearing the top of what I’m hoping is the final arsehole climb of the day and BAM, a second thunderstorm hits. My jacket is still out, so I put it on, but I notice my feet are squelching in my shoes from the last downpour and my fingers are getting extremely wrinkly.

It’s a sun shower. Severe but cheery in a way. It stops as I crest the hill, just in time for me to see a rider coming the other way. He tells me his wife and kids are driving a support vehicle, which explains why he has no gear. I ask about climbs and he says there’s still some to come. I audibly groan, even though I would have preferred to keep my discouragement to myself. We exchange cards and I wish him well.

Miserable is a just a word. I know that. And it’s fleeting. I know that too. But I feel kind of low. I’d tried to call the lodging in Booneville earlier that day, but the connection had been incredibly bad, so I’m just hoping Linda was aware I was coming.

Things flatten out. I roll down into the valley and farmland opens up. The light is strange as the storm coexists with the afternoon sun, but I start to get back in the groove and feel like I’m actually going to make it in a reasonable time.

Ten miles out. Seven miles out. Five miles out and there before me, a slow steady climb. Any other day it would have been reasonable, but I felt like that hill was wearing on my last nerve. Made me angry. Helpful actually, as it made me grit my way up in.

And then I’m in Booneville. I pull up in front of a diner and call Linda.

“I’ll come and get you. I’m up a steep hill and I figure the last thing you want to do is climb!”

“No, no. I’m soaked and I’m sure I can make it.”

I set off. Make it halfway up the hill out towards her place and look to my right. Oh, crap. Here comes another storm. I pull into the parking lot of the Post Office and call her.

“I’ve changed my mind. Can you come and get me? I think it’s going to rain!”

She arrives pretty quickly in her pickup and wow, it was actually a long way to her place. But what a place. Although it no longer operates as a B&B, she rents it out to cyclists. Four were there the night before, but tonight just me. Just little old me in a five bedroom, cute as a button cottage on the side of a mountain.

“Sleep in whatever room you want. There’s a little food there and you’re welcome to eat it.”

Peeling off my socks later, I allow myself to accept the agony. My feet are the most pruny things I have ever seen. Alien to look at. I can barely walk on them either. And the palms of my hands are just as bad from being stuck in the wet gloves for so long.

After my shower (just what my feet needed, more water!), I sit on the couch and periodically raise a peanut butter sandwich to my mouth to take another sapped-energy bite. I swear it’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. My eyes droop, but still I eat. Three sandwiches and a bowl of cereal later, I do a Goldilocks and try out all the beds before settling on a soft single bed with a comfy pillow.

The sound of rain on the roof, flashes of light far away breaking through the darkness in the room, I give in and drift off towards a much-deserved sleep. Content and snug. Strangely happy despite it all.

Go to the next day > Day 18: The Stand & Deliver Day

  1. Reply

    Rickie Rainwater

    August 14, 2010

    I bet that cozy bed felt good. Keep going, those steep climbs won’t last forever.

  2. Reply


    August 14, 2010

    *Now* you’ve found the journey. I simultaneously envy you and am glad I’m not there.


  3. Reply


    August 14, 2010

    Sleeping in a bed is amazing to me now. Still. I love sleeping. I’m proud to be your follow vehicle.

  4. Reply


    August 14, 2010

    You are a warrior!

  5. Reply


    August 14, 2010

    Every time I read one of your blog posts, I dream about being out there, doing what you’re doing.

    Then I realize I have nowhere near your fortitude.

  6. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    No! Don’t take the Katy unless you’re going to be going through the east end of it over Labor Day weekend!

    (as I will be up there then, and my only chances to ride a day with you are if you go through on the Katy during that weekend, or if you take the TransAmerica route some other time)

    If you do decide to take the ACA route, email me when you get near Marshfield, and you can crash at my place and eat a hot meal if you’d like… I live in Springfield, which is real close to there.

  7. Reply

    Greg Fisher

    August 15, 2010

    Chin up, McCrae. The hardest part of the TransAmerica is where you are right now. Virginia’s tough, but one has the starter’s glimmer from Yorktown. Kentucky’s every bit as hard, but you’ve been out long enough to miss home and hurt a bit. The humidity, the grades, the dogs, the rednecks, they do mount.

    Then one day, you cross the Ohio and hit the other side a few inches taller. By the time you get to Kansas, you’re a great rock surrounded by a rushing river.

    All I can say is that there is no day I’ve read about here that I wouldn’t love to experience for myself.

    That said, Missouri was a lawless place, reinforced by the year I spent living there. Your friend’s advice isn’t way off the mark, at least from my experience. The Katy Trail could be a great opportunity.

    Best to you–see you in October.

    PS-Caught Precious on Fast Company’s site. Way to hit the big time. Probably inevitable after a piece in Bike Monkey, though…

  8. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    Great blog, great riding; it’s gonna snowball. I saw it on a friends Facebook page. I bet you’ll need to reset the $ goal x 10 as it goes viral. Great cause too; I losy both my parents to cancer. I’ll donate. Good luck.

  9. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    “Oh how long the road is…..
    And how you have needed every second,every mile of it ….. to learn what it pass’s by.

    Dag Hammarskjold

  10. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    You are doing great Noodle! Lesser people would have thrown the towel long time a go!

    Tip for the hills set your self mini goals IE signpost lamp standard, rock etc and before you know it you will be at your final destination.

    LiveStong Noodle!

  11. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    Keep going Janeen… Your really out there doing it everyday!!! I love reading the post and love too see the others saying your going viral…

    Keep it up, we’ll be here reading about it for you!


  12. Reply


    August 15, 2010

    I do the exact same thing when climbing hills – I focus on the road just in front of my front wheel rather than the crest of the hill. It’s much less stressful and discouraging that way and it makes me keep plodding along. Don’t get discouraged, Janeen. You’re doing great and, despite the trials of the past couple days, you’ve made it past day 10 (where you said most people quit). Hang in there and think how great you’ll feel when you’ve made it to the end.

  13. Reply

    Sandra Dion

    August 15, 2010

    YOU ARE MY HERO!!! Be Strong..LiveStrong.

  14. Reply

    Mike K.

    August 16, 2010

    Hey Jeneen,
    It was a pleasure talking to you at the Berea, KY Comfort Inn during breakfast. We finished our little 400-mile journey without any problems. We met two other riders later that day in Perryville, KY that were heading to Baltimore. They left Seattle on May 30th. Watch out for all the dogs!

  15. Reply

    Chris C

    August 16, 2010

    Another great writeup. You need a face book “Like” button on your site. I think Precious and your blog could go viral if your webmaster makes it easier for people to share.

  16. Reply

    Justin G

    August 16, 2010

    Found your site on Engadget, GO YOU!

    I’ll be following daily from here on out. I’m an avid cyclist and dream of doing a tour. Reading your posts in such detail feels like I’m sharing the road with you.

    I even donated to livestrong because of your earlier post. Thanks for sharing your tour with us!

  17. Reply


    August 16, 2010

    Go Janeen go! You are doing it girl!

  18. Reply

    Rev Johannes Myors

    August 17, 2010

    From personal experience, the Katy Trail would be a big mistake. I was on a recumbent at the time but it would be still hard if you are not riding a mountain bike.

    The trail is mostly unpacked dirt or stone. There were patches of dirt that might have been quicksand because the tires sunk into the dirt maybe five inches. The farther west that you get, the trail gets more primitive and you will not find much trail maintenance.

    In a couple of places, the trail was completely washed out after some hard rains. I checked out the main Katy Trail website and there are several washouts now.

    Finding water along the trail would be really hard also. In my opinion, pulling a trailer would be incredibly hard. My advice would be stay on the ACA route.

    I’m really happy that your ride hadn’t been stopped. Take care of that wrist.

    In HIS Draft,

    the Cycling Rev

  19. Reply

    Matt B

    August 25, 2010

    Hey Janeen! I’m the Matt that you met on this particular day, Day 12. Last Saturday I crossed the finish line at the Yorktown Victory Monument. Stepping off the bike at the tower was a glorious feeling, one filled with great emotion knowing what a significant accomplishment it was to ride solo across the U.S. on a bicycle. It will now be fun to follow you, via this blog, as you continue your own journey. As I mentioned earlier, the Katy Trail was a great experience for me when I hit Missouri. The crushed limestone trail gave my bike no problems, except for making it and me dusty. And like you, I was pulling a BOB trailer. There were also plenty of places to refill water bottles along the trail. If you choose to go that route, you will want to head north towards St. Louis from Chester, IL via the Mississippi River Trail ( From St. Louis, it is less than a day’s ride to reach the eastern most trailhead of the Katy at St. Charles.

    The company I work with, SparkFun Electronics, is stoked about the electronics geekery that your friend helped embed on Precious! We love that sort of thing here. You should consider passing through Boulder while in CO and stopping by our office. Our resident geek tinkerers would love to see your tweeting bike in person! Give me a shout if you think you’d like to take a Boulder pit stop.

    Take care of yourself out there on the open road, Janeen. And may the wind be at your back every day!



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