Jerked awake by the pitiful, alarmed cry of my phone in the living room, I stumble out of my baby bear bed and into the darkness of the B&B. Breakfasts are made, bags are packed, SPOT trackers are urged to wipe the crust from their eyes and make contact with a satellite. Or two.
I wander out on to the porch and peer out into the darkness. A pre-dawn light is there, refracting off the deep mist. This is gonna be a foglight escape.
Taking a contemplative chew of a peanut butter sandwich, I begin to track all the gear down to the lawn so I can attach the trailer and pack everything inside Zimmerman. Precious looks so mighty, resting up there on the high porch, and I can’t help taking a photo of him. Upon closer inspection, I see his might has been slightly molested in the chain area by some rust. All the rain I’ve been subjecting him to is starting to make itself known.
Gotta take better care of my boy.
One last check around for overlooked gear and I’m clipping in and tentatively maneuvering down the wet-grass driveway. Its steepness is directly proportionate to my hesitation and doddering. The grass turns to a loose gravel and I bite the bullet and walk the rest of the way to the road.
Into the mist. Into the void of the highway.
If my host had not told me to turn right, I might be back in Yorktown by now. But I listened. I followed directions even though they felt wrong. Cars snuck up on me in the fog and blew by in a sweep of dewy headlights. Even as the fog began to clear, I kept a constant eye on my little mirror. Ever vigilant. I don’t want to be run off the road.
Even though my legs are getting stronger – and it’s a feeling I am suddenly aware of as they churn along – they’re still beat up. A rich tapestry of bruises, scratches, and the most evil looking insect bites. Angry welts that don’t respond to any kind of cream. Beginning to think they might be spider bites, clustered as they are in specific areas, like an angry arachnid caught in a shirt, or a sleeping bag. Or perhaps an ant?
As the sun makes an appearance, the fog burns off and I begin to bake for the day.
A careful perusal of the elevation and map this morning has shown me that I will spend part of the day climbing a series of hills before descending down to spend the rest of the day noodling along lower elevation terrain. One with less steep climbs, albeit a slow and possibly long grind up one into Berea to finish the day. Still, it’s a good feeling know that once you get a series of climbs out of your hair, your legs can take charge and just gun it.
Even in a heat wave.
I climb. These ones have a bit of a roller mentality to them, but are way too steep to comfortably make it up the other side, even with a hard run, gun-it-downhill before. There are a couple I walk, but I’m quite cheery about it. It’s still early and the heat hasn’t stolen my enthusiasm yet.
You are not beating me, hills. You are not winning!
It might just be that the super fun happy slide downhills are winning me over. And the realization that these climbs are just nothing compared to what I’ve been doing. They are pee on a rug. A not very shady rug, but you know, it really holds the room together.
Or it might just be that I’ve had a breakthrough. That suddenly my wrist is able to take the weight of throwing the bike around on a standing climb, because all of a sudden I instinctively stand and climb to the top of a roller. Out of the saddle. A week ago, this very act would have been too painful. My nerves a little too frayed. But today, today I am a lion. I have worked out how to stand and grind, to snake my body with each pedal stroke to counterbalance the trailer.
My life just got SO MUCH EASIER!
My saddle sores, angry from constant sitting and climbing in the granny gear with no relief (and yes, I’m finally mentioning this taboo subject), are already planning their going away party. And there is much rejoicing.
Finally, I hit a very long descent and I can sense that it’s the last of the climbing for the day. Stopping in some shade near a river, I reach into my pannier and pull out a peach. Let the juice run down my chin. Savor the feeling. I drink a little more freely, knowing that the lack of services is coming to an end. That I’ll be able to restock and perhaps even eat a little in an hour or two.
Farms, tobacco. Green. Less forrest, more gaze-on-out views. The roads are getting a little less-well marked. In Kentucky, they don’t call out the 76 bicycle route at all, so when the map says ‘unmarked road’, it’s very decidedly unmarked.
I pull up at a little laneway and wonder if this is the turn the map is talking about. Across Murphy’s Ford. A face is pulled, a decision made, and I head on down a dank single lane road that’s had some rain love recently. It’s slightly overgrown and oozing with the smell of wet earth and deluge. But I’m committed to it. It must be the right road.
Until now, all my dog encounters have been simple chases by little mutts who are more enthusiastic than aggressive. While zooming by houses here, the mood changes and the dogs are less friendly. I hear them coming, loud and galloping, and before they have a chance to go nuts, I stop. They stop. I slowly pedal away and they see how boring I am.
Seven dog encounters on this lane alone. Each one sudden, though not particularly frightening, with the last including me outrunning a dog and seeing it fade to a tiny speck in my rear view mirror.
It’s hot. I’m running out of cold water. The bottle on top of the trailer is hot enough to make tea.
Now the real rollers begin, but I am reborn with my new ability to crest the tops standing on my big gears. While I haven’t quite put granny in a home, she’s rarely used and I feel strong and healthy. It’s only the heat that’s setting me back, and every few miles I stop in shade to sip on some water and cool down a little.
The sun is beating on me like a jungle drum, but ‘round a long bend and up on slight rise, I see a service stop.
I’m gonna have a coke, and a chocolate milk, and get me some gatorade and some water and something to eat and maybe some beef jerky and and…
The locals sitting out front comment on the heat and how it’s a fine day to be riding a bicycle. I nod and laugh, park Precious and go in.
The conversation I have inside is enlightening, half unintelligible, and fun.
While drinking my coke and eating a tiny little cheeseburger, I am engaged in a discussion about the best way for me to get to Berea by one of the five local gentleman at the table next to me. Four are older gents, with one shirtless young man.
“Oh, I wouldn’t go the way your maps tell ya. Now I would go back 12 miles the way you came, then take a little road called…” This went on for a while, and I can’t possibly remember all his directions, but he was having a lend of me. I know this because he kept looking at his chums to see if they were laughing and he himself would snicker a little.
When he finally finished, I said, “Yeeeahhhh. I’m not gonna do that,” and they all fell about with laughter.
The conversation moved on to how many miles I do a day, followed by them ribbing each other about how they couldn’t even ride a mile if being pushed.
It was a strange and lovely half hour, although I knew they were making fun of me the whole time. When I stepped outside, the whole sky had changed. My heart sank. Another storm coming.
One of the locals from inside stepped out to give his dog some bologna and asked me what I did when it rained.
“Just put on my jacket and ride on.”
And then I rode on.
Big Hill had a gas station and was only four miles away. I looked at the sky, at the lightning stabbing at the earth and the rain sheeting down over to my left on a hill. And me, out in the open. On with the jacket and turn up the butter churn on the legs. Zoom down the road, right into the path of the storm.
I can make it. I can make it. I can make it.
A few spits and splutters of rain, the wind picks up a little. And still I crank on.
Turning onto the road leading into Big Hill, I see the storm has moved a little to my right. And maybe a bit closer. There is more traffic on this road and they don’t know of my flight. Of my dash to make it so that I am not caught in any more damn rain! It’s a rush. A thrill. Then right in the middle a woman, sensing my race and excitement, slows down to yell encouraging words out her window.
“Why don’t ye just kill yerself!” she snarls, before zooming off at speed in her silver chariot of douchbaggery.
I wonder for a second if she’s talking about the fact that there’s lightning about, but I erase the thought in an instant because I CAN SEE THE GAS STATION!
Just as the rain starts, just as it splutters to life with over-enthusiastic gusto, I pull in under an awning next to a table and get off. Settle in at the table.
Even Precious is covered.
We sit for about an hour as the rain tears down in sheets. Puddles on top of puddles. Locals rushing in just to get cigarettes. I call a hotel in Berea to see if they have a room, and book an overpriced one because I can’t be arsed looking around. Tomorrow is my rest day. I’m going to rest that arse off, youbetcha!
The rain stops, but I know what it’s up to. What game it’s playing. I walk to the end of the overhang and check out the sky behind the gas station. The clouds are whipping out their grey color chart and selecting a darker swatch.
It starts again and I sit.
When it drops to a dull pitter patter, I set off for the last climb into Berea. It’s damp and busy, and a logging truck showers me with love as I grind up the hill. Granny is back on deck – the hill is long but not steep and I just want to make it. So close to the end. So close to the rest day.
In town, the sun comes back and I bake in my jacket. It becomes too much to bear and I finally remove it before tackling a few final rollers.
My hotel is next to Walmart. And McDonalds. And Wendys. And Taco Bell. And Radioshack. This could be an interesting rest day. Or maybe I’ll stay in bed until 2, only getting up to oil Precious’s chain before watching some crap TV.
After all, that’s what rest days are for.
Date: August 13, 2010
From: Booneville, KY
To: Berea, KY
Distance: 56.34 miles
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