Snickering like a madwoman, I am flying down a hill and can’t quite believe it. What all signs are pointing to. I feel like I’ve gotten away with the crime of the century. That my little hand has reached up onto Nan’s cooling rack, swiped a scone, and safely made it to my hidy-hole out the back shed to eat it without her catching me.
The open farmland and rolling hills hold their hands to mouths and whisper:
“They’re behind you. They’re behind you.”
Berea, as it turns out, is considered the gateway to the Appalachians. Gateway. Gate through which I just passed in a reverse direction. Gate right outta there!
As a cycle further through the day, my disbelief slowly starts to fade and I accept it. Absorb it into my spirit.
Yes, oh rolling land that speaks to me. The mountains are behind me.
Well, those particular mountains.
The morning has been a disaster in terms of getting out in a timely manner, but I’m readily accepting my fate and just moving on. It’s all you can do. After setting my brain to leave at SIX O’CLOCK ON THE DOT, I had everything down in the lobby of the hotel in Berea by 5:55am and then bumped into a group of cyclists. In the hotel. Getting ready to hit to road but shoveling in a free breakfast before they pushed off.
Breakfast. Probably not a bad idea.
For some reason, I came over all bashful and didn’t want to be seen packing Mr. Zimmerman in front of a group of cyclists. Lest I be judged for my gear. “Did you see how much stuff she had! Wowee, no wonder she’s dying.”
So I decided that rather than grab food from the free breakfast and run with it, I’d take some time and sit down. Savor the taste of cheap cereal and overly sugared pastries. Watch the weather report on the tele.
While sitting there, one of the cyclists fired up a conversation. He told me they were from ‘mouth full of marbles’. Well, that’s obviously what his answer was obscured by because my dumb-arse ears couldn’t parse the information or sound coming out of his mouth.
“I’m sorry, where?”
I realized suddenly that he was saying Louisville.
He went on to explain that every year a bunch of cyclists from the Louisville cycling club do a 4 day route around the area with a support vehicle.
Support vehicle. Oh, how I wish…
I hung around a little after he left making a real breakfast out of it. Eating this and that. Having a little coffee (which is always a mistake at the start of a ride), trying to figure out the waffle batter dispenser. By the time I made it outside, the group were about ready to push off. I sprung one cyclist looking closely at Precious.
“Just trying to figure out if it’s carbon,” he explained.
After settling curiosities about Precious and his glistening haunches, I listened to their leader give some instructions to the group. Gave a longing look to their un-loaded bikes. Imagined what it must be like to tackle their days with support and all those people around them.
Eh, enough of this sappy shit. Get packing. You’re way behind.
As I loaded up the trailer, the support driver, a lovely woman whose name has completely flown out of my brain and into the ‘never to be found again’ gutter, chatted to me about where I was going and doing. I enjoyed the chin-wag immensely (sometimes just getting to have a chat is the tonic you need to bouy you up for the day), but now I was really late. It was, brace yourself, 8.30am before I hit the road.
I say disaster start because I had planned to, I dunno, maybe, perhaps, if things were going well, who knows, feeling great, why stop now, you never know your luck, let’s see if we can do it, go 100 miles all the way to Bardstown today.
That plan was viscously in jeopardy.
And probably a dumb idea anyway as today was, yet again, a high heat advisory day.
With complaining quads and a belly full of lead toast, I toddled off through Berea and was spat out the other side onto a wide-open road of possibility.
A few nice downhills. A few slow uphills. Not too steep. And that’s when the joyful giddiness begins.
Holy buckets, the mountains. I am through the mountains. I have survived.
The glee permeates my body through sinew and nerve. From deep in my toes to the top of my head and radiating down through to my fingers. Can you feel it, Precious? Can you?
It’s not all sunshine and daisies though. Every time I hit a climb my brain panics.
“It’s a trick! There are more! You are a fool to believe it!”
But a long hot climb and a nice chill-out descent brings me back. This pattern is repeated throughout the day as I roll through open farmland. Miles tick by. I am feeling quite chipper.
But then there are dogs to worry about. Real dogs, not the chase-and-give-up dogs of Virginia.
People have an uncanny knack for laying concrete beds of fear in my heart and leaving footprints set there for all time. Everyone had done a fantastic job when it came to talking about the unleashed Kujos of Kentucky. Color me terrified.
I’d thought about it a lot. The possibilities for my dog downfall were many. Limbs torn off, ankles gnawed on. Perhaps a yappy dog would run into my front spokes as I flew by and get flung out the other side while I would be launched into the air like a missile of “whoopsie!” and into one of those ditches that I seem so fond of. Or perhaps I’d be set upon by a full pack of mutts and eaten in one gulp. ‘Ah, it was a good life,’ I’d think as the saliva-ladden maw of a fiery-eyed canine closed over my jugular and my vision faded to a ‘oh, crap’ black.
If I had a wrist that wasn’t such a big girl’s blouse, I might have more confidence. Be all gung-ho about outrunning dogs. But I’m scared, really scared, of falling off my bike and re-breaking my wrist.
That would really suck.
So I decide to continue my plan of attack that has worked amazingly well through Virginia. When dogs run out, barking their little barks, I will simply stop. I will summon my Dad’s tone of voice when he yells at his dogs. I will speak in an authoritive manner. Then I will get the hell out of there.
The morning heat is cranked past comfortable and I roll on. Past farms and tobacco. Past corn and cows. The smell is very rural. I’m not being a dick when I say that. I’m a farm girl. This smells like life. Like things are growing and dying and getting on with it.
I hear music. Death knell perhaps? Dogs ahead that I’m not aware of? Violins rise up into the still air. A mandolin cuts through. As I roll into Kirksville, I try locate the origin. For a second, I think there are speakers above the intersection I’m approaching, but as I get there I see that the things hanging there are just traffic lights. I stop at the intersection and simply listen. It’s quite beautiful and calm in the stillness of the mid-morning.
Amazing Grace. Coming from somewhere further on in the little town. Serene and kinda eerie.
Today’s route has me turning down little lanes and away from chaos. Away from chaos until I crest a small rise and move quietly past a barn. Three dogs at my heel in an instant, one white and giant and pink gummed. Barking. Yelling at me in his outside voice.
I stop, heart beating fast, but not as frightened as I thought I might be in this situation.
“Go home!” I say in my most authoritative voice, which to many is laughable. A tone more akin to ‘please pass the salt’ at a strangers dinner table.
Two dogs back off. Boss dog is all, “no way.”
I yell some more. He does too. We yell at each other. It’s a regular yell-fest.
“Don’t make me use this,” I say, pointing to the can of HALT! I have hanging from Precious’s stem.
I take it out.
Having never used the product, all I know is that I need to pay attention to wind direction. It would be just hilarious to spray it on myself. Which is exactly the sort of thing I’d do. Because I am incompetent.
With brave intention, I point it at the dog. The dog shows no recognition.
My weak index finger is unable to depress the button. True, I haven’t done any broken-wrist finger strengthening exercises for a while – bad girl! – but I thought I should be able to do something as simple as this. Press a damn button. Perhaps the button is stuck? Perhaps it is a defective can?
As the dog continues to berate me, I puzzle over it. Half turn the can and stick my thumb down on it.
Fffffffttttt! Off a stream of red liquid goes. To my left and streets away from the dog. That straw over there sure got what was coming to it! I may have missed the dog, but he was frightened enough by it to back off several meters. This gave me a chance to slowly move away.
My first HALT! usage is a rousing success. I’m just surprised I didn’t shoot it into my own face.
I float down the joy that is Jack Turner road. A single lane cut across road, flanked by trees and shade, but narrow and slick with humidity. I’m going fast and enjoying the thrill as I pop out the other side and back onto a busier road. In seconds, more dogs. More yelling. More, “He won’t bites” yelled from back porches.
The road closed sign ahead is worrisome, but I ignore it. Not much choice really. I’ve noticed a bike is a lot narrower than a car and quite often able to squeeze by road maladies. A lot narrower. Just an observation I’ve made. You should make a note of that.
Climb. A long hot hill. It does not faze me, only makes me sweat heavily and be more grateful for the downhill on the other side.
Heat dial goes up. I start to cook. There is very little shade but pleasant enough riding. As I get closer to Harrodsburg, I start to calculate things. Like how unbelievably hot it is and how it’s only noon. That I know the stifling humidity only gets worse as the afternoon stretches out. That once I get to Harrodsburg, I’ll still have 47 or so miles to Bardstown. In this heat.
Decision is made. Hotel. Harrodsburg. Air con. Done. Sorry Bardstown, KY. Tomorrow is your day. It will be all about you and only you. Be patient.
I’m getting close now, and feeling happy to have settled on this decision. The rollers are getting bigger, the traffic heavier. At one point, I’m chugging up a hill and am aware of the line of traffic behind me. Cranking it just a little harder, I make it to the top and pull off to let them pass.
One guy slows down as he passes by and yells out his window. I’m pretty sure he says “Dickwad!”
Puzzling. Perhaps I misheard? Perhaps the sound of what he said was taken by the wind, mangled, and shoved in my ears as Dickwad? I think on it.
Ah, I know what he said. He said Go with God. Thankyou, Sir! You go with God too! Peace, brother!
It’s quite a tense few miles, those last few into town. Sunday traffic. People trying to get to their yard sales and church and kin visits. And me, snailing my way up these hills and trying to stay as far right as I possibly can so as not to piss people off.
Finally, I am in town. The heat rising off the road is intense. I feel drained and spent. I’ve drank all my water, even the hot stuff, and so I pull over at a coke machine in front of a closed store. Up the road, I can sniff air-con.
You get what you pay for in a place called the Economy Hotel. But when you’re cooking from the inside, the lure of cold air and shade is overwhelming. You will endure the smell of the room, the dankness of the curtains, the stained walls and roughness of the sheets.
You will simply sit there with your face in front of the wall air conditioner and thank your lucky stars it only cost $40. Later, after a shower is had and humanity returns, you will look at the place and think:
When I have committed some sinful crime and I am on the lam, this is where I shall come.
Date: August 15, 2010
From: Berea, KY
To: Harrodsburg, KY
Distance: 52.88 miles
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