Four thirty is a great time of day. If it’s in the afternoon.
The light from my phone alarm beamed down on me from on high, piercing my woolly-headed dreams and slapping my consciousness on its baby-bare arse. I say on high because it was hanging there in the air. Suspended in the darkness. A result of me suddenly discovering that the mesh thing hanging from the roof of my tent was actually a shelf to put things on.
I love this tent.
Sighing, I slid out of my sleeping bag and trudged over through the darkness of the campground to wash my face. I looked a wreck. Hair askew. Eyes baggy. Freckles made more prominent from a few days full sun and ineffective sunscreen.
Back at my tent, I began the slow process of breaking down camp. I’d pitched the tent quite close to a well lit area, so didn’t need to wear my headlight. A nice way not to draw attention to myself, although I did shine it on smaller things to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Even after I’d folded and packed and stuffed and wrestled, it was still dark.
Dawn was clearing its throat on the horizon.
And now, time for the test.
Back in Charlottesville I had bought a new headlight to replace the one that had walked off to go find fame and fortune. Gone baby, gone. Unfortunately, the only one available to replace it had been for mounting on handlebars. A fine state of affairs if you don’t have an attention-seeking handlebar bag in the way.
But fine, I thought. I’ll make do. It takes more than an oversight by a light company to grind me down. So the previous night I got all MacGuver-y in my soul and rigged a setup so that it and the battery pack attached to my right pannier. The only problem I could see was that it might be shining too high and potentially be a bit of a blinder for oncoming traffic. Is it better to be seen and blind someone so that they might hit you, or not be seen so that someone might hit you anyway?
Think it’s better that I can see where I’m going.
Shame. It washes over me and soaks me to the underthings as I pull into that damn McDonalds again. It’s the only real option.
Holy crap, it’s bad. It’s really bad. It’s terribly bad. As I walk out, an employee says:
“Hey, you were here last night too!”
Yes, sir. Three meals in a row at your eatery. Color me shamey and roll me in the steamy juices of vinegary embarrassment. It’s enough to make me ride away at a speed above my pay grade at this time of the morning, and before long I’m out past the campground and to wheeling by a distillery. A tour I could have done yesterday afternoon if a) I was more organized and 2) I liked bourbon.
The sun is a no show. The light is creeping. I admire a low fog as the new day stretches and yawns its way over sleepy farmland. The purple hues come up, the fog takes on a glisten and on I go, spinning over dark roads and hidden potholes. I make a few awkward climbs.
Car light beams flick around corners and over me and I realize the jacket I’m wearing that was great ten minutes ago is now turning my human fur into a wet dog soak. I stop on a bridge and take it off. Steam is rising off the water. Birds are yelling at their kids. The humidity is rising. It’s already enough to turn the straightest hair curly.
The headlights are off now and trucks are cutting the still morning air with the anger of their engines.
The drama. Suddenly the sun is up. Orange and red stains the wispy clouds. It is finally morning proper and I have gone 10 miles.
An old local store comes into view and I pull in to stock up on water. The shop keep, an older lady with an apron, asks me if I’m alone. She begins telling me of a cyclist who stopped in yesterday, checking to see if he was on the right road.
“Was he German?” I ask, thinking it might be Sebastian.
“No. I know accents. Like I know you got one.”
She didn’t know where I was from, but figured it was somewhere not from here. When she found out I was Australian but lived in NY, she proceeded to tell me that I’d lost my accent. That normally she couldn’t understand Australians at all. Must only have met those cliche Australians with the sledgehammer to the ears accents.
So I can enunciate? Big deal. Doesn’t mean I don’t like the taste of Vegemite.
Watered up, I push off. It’s humid but still cool for the morning. The sun is not intimidating. The air my friend.
Horse ranches, white fences. Nostrils filled with the fine aroma of manure.
It’s mid-morning and I’m making good time. I make an effort to drink water regularly, particularly since it doesn’t take long for the bottles to get hot sitting on top of Mr. Zimmerman. Better to drink it while it’s still cool than try force it down at tea drinking temps.
Before lunch, I wheel through Buffalo and turn right instead of left. It’s Abe hour. Lincoln time. Time to see where a president was baked.
Lincoln’s birthplace has bigger signs than Lincoln’s Homestead. Means it’s more important. Or a bigger tourist trap. A few cars litter the parking lot and I pull Precious into a space in the shade.
Down the steps and off to see a structure I could glimpse through the trees. Impressive. Giant. A columned monument skirted by strong trees. Spoiled only by the bright orange mesh fence and ladder hugging it. Closed for renovation or something, so I didn’t even bother climbing the many steps to the top. Snapped a shot, then noticed a little sign for a spring off to the left.
I peer over the stairs as a family trudges their way out. Then down I scamper, down into the mossy smell of earth and roots and wet rock.
There’s a hole. With water dripping into it. Did the tweenage Abe dip his hand in here to take a slug of earth water? The sign says not to do that yourself, but I don’t imagine that sign was here when Abe was. Nor that giant stone monument up there. No, when Abe was here, he was just some punk avoiding chores and thinking about gnatty beards.
It’s a quick visit, but there’s really not that much to see. Before long, I’m out on the main road and getting back on the route.
Time. There isn’t enough time. I’d like to take the Mammoth Cave Loop, but with lip stuck out and soppy face, I continue on and ignore the turn. Time. There just isn’t enough time.
Before long, I’m passing a gas station, crossing the 65 and into the small town of Sonora. The dumb jokes you make to yourself just to pass the time. Be a snorer in Sonora. Ha ha, blah blah! Stop it. You’re embarrassing yourself.
I stop in the shade across from a church and gnaw on some jerky. I should probably stop for lunch somewhere, I think, stuffing the leathery bits in. Next town. Next town.
Outside Sonora, on the flats and open land, see my first Amish coming towards me. A black carriage, a man holding the reigns. I try not to stare. A few miles down the road, I look across the heads of some crops and see the blue and white of Amish clothes flapping on a washing line.
Stopping to sip some water, I check my phone. Somehow, I have made 70 miles before 1.30pm. I have no idea how this is even possible, but I am stoked like a wintery fire with the thrill of it. Later, I realize that I’d passed through some time zone and my phone had flipped me back an hour. Technically, it had been 2:30pm. But never mind.
Riding up a slight incline and cresting the rise, I see two touring cyclists coming towards me. I slow to chat across the road. The first cyclist stops. The second pulls up behind him. They are both young. Down the road, four more are approaching. Talk can sometimes be small and this is one of those times. It’s funny how some people stop and you immediately fall into a rapport and laugh about stuff right off the bat. Not sure if it was the awkwardness of yelling across the road as cars cut the conversation in two or the heat of the day, but I could tell we weren’t going to have a long conversation.
The second group of four pulled up. One girl told me about the shop at the next intersection. Not a town exactly, but there’s a cyclist hostel there and a store where they give cyclists a free popsicle. That sounded right up my ice loving alley.
Before they wheeled off, I eyed their gear. Admired their faces. They packed pretty light and were riddled with the freshness of youth. A moment came and went – I felt old and overloaded. And then I remembered I’d already done 70 miles.
At the intersection a bit further down the road, I saw a lonely store standing in the gravel on a bend. Gas pumps, furniture out the front and and an ice box.
I’ll get a coke. And a chocolate milk.
The guy behind the counter started asking me about my trip. Told me 6 cyclists had just been in here and I mentioned I had seen them.
“Would you like a free popsicle? We like to give them to the cyclists.”
Would I? You betcha.
I choose a green one and go outside to sit on a wooden stool and it in the shade. Squinting into the glare of a mid-afternoon sun, I savor the green taste and imagine the color my tongue is turning. The crunch between my teeth is most satisfying.
About an hour later on a long straightway, I see a cyclist in the distance. We wave in recognition and I pull over into the gravel. He walks his bike over.
Elijah. He’s a friendly bloke we fall into a very easy chat. When I tell him where I’m going for the night, he says he was riding with a couple who stopped there too and that I would see them. He wanted to make it to Sonora so had left them there at the campground. He also gave me the number of some friends in Carbondale to stay with. Later I find out that I have somehow lost it, even though I typed it into my phone.
I watch him ride away into the heat. Confident. Tanned. 1000 miles from the end of his journey.
Not far now. To put a nice seal on the day, the road throws in a few climbs just to make me work for it. One sneaks up on me with a vengeance. I’d just crossed Rough River and bam, straight up snarl and nasty incline. I walked it. Just when I thought I’d gotten through the whole day without walking the bike once, I got hit with this one. The top was a welcome relief, but I didn’t dawdle long. No shade up there.
I carry on. Not far. Not far.
But more climbs appear. Not hard or back breaking, but there’s something psychological about almost being there and suddenly having a lung-heaver thrown at you.
But what can I do? There is no stop, only go, and before long I am cycling across the top of a dam. There are boats in a marina. Another hill and across more water. I look for the entrance of the Rough River Dam State Park. Clomping into the lobby of the Lodge, I find out I’ve ridden past the campground entry.
“Come back for dinner,” the clerk says. “We have an all-you-can-eat buffet.”
The campground was deserted. Empty. Not even an attendant to pay at the front gate. I spied one lonely tent down on the flats, but chose a site closer to the washroom for my overnight. Laundry room! Score!
After I had set up camp, I noticed that I’d accidentally chosen a powered site. Ugh. That would cost me in the morning. But at least I could charge some stuff.
Showered, laundered, packed up and charged, I rushed off to eat all I could eat.
Without Mr. Zimmerman attached, Precious was more like a bike and less like a boat. My front panniers held all my valuables – didn’t want to leave anything in the tent – and the weight was kind of off. With Precious tied to a lamppost, I sniffed my way towards dinner.
“Are you touring?”
The voice came from the right of the doorway. A guy sitting on a bench with a laptop on his knees and a woman beside him waved me over. This was the couple Elijah had mentioned – Jim and Kathy. Sitting there and sucking on the Lodge wifi. Something I planned to do later.
We had quite a good chat before the sound of my stomach interrupted my train of bullshit. As I went to excuse myself, I heard the following.
“We spoke to the campground guy as he was leaving. He told us that the morning guy usually walks around at 7.30am to collect money for sites. So, if you were gone…”
7.30am. I could probably manage that. Probably.
I went downstairs to the buffet and did my usual “all you can eat buffets are wasted on me” routine. I mean, they really are. My appetite hasn’t hit yet and I’m still not hungry. Nevertheless, I shovel in a stack of chicken and some pasta. Then I spy the soft serve dispenser. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s the power to dispense icecream! One big bowl later and I’m stuffed. On not much food really. But I was happy for it.
Riding back in the dark with my lights on. I pulled up above the site in the driveway and saw a man walking a dog down below in the half-darkness. As I clipped my left foot out of the pedal to stop and spy on him without being detected, the weight of the right pannier pulls my wheel. Still clipped in on the right. You guessed it, down on my arse like some kind of tipped cow. Crash. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Third time this trip I have Noobcrashed while standing completely still.
Third time on this trip I have not put out my right hand to stop myself and hurt my wrist. My still existing bruise on my hip/buttocks takes the brunt. Again. That bruise will never heal.
Since this occurred on asphalt this time, I scuffed up my elbow. More embarrassing than anything. I found myself apologizing to Precious. Poor bugger. His shifter gets a little more beat up every day.
Humbled and angry, I stomped to my tent. I planned to catch up on the blog, but like most nights, I was suddenly overcome with the need to slumber.
Longest day so far. Ninety seven miles. How annoying. What, I can’t find 3 miles anywhere to make it to 100? The ride up to the lodge and back was actually a two-mile round trip. But that’s still only 99 miles. Same as 97 in that it’s not 100. Didn’t bother even counting them.
Slipping my phone into the newly discovered ceiling shelf, I lie there in the heat of the tent. My muscles ache, but in a good way. My belly is silent.
Sleep is but a blink away.
Date: August 17, 2010
From: Bardstown, KY
To: Falls of Rough, KY
Distance: 97.19 miles
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