Coffee and oats. I woke up in the gymnasium, and my day started right. Coffee, oats, and I feel good. My bags are a little lighter, and my gear-pile is less bulky and more refined. I sent some stuff, swapped some stuff, and ate some stuff. I'm more streamlined. I feel great on the rolling hills, and okay on the long steep ones. After a long steep ascent, when I get to the crest, my breathing and heart-rate are back to baseline in thirty seconds. It sounds like bragging, but it feels like humble relief. The alternative would be unfortunate difficulty.
My guidebook warns about two things in Kentucky: trucks and dogs. Kentucky's best dogs introduced themselves to me this morning. I rolled out into a long steep climb. Halfway up a mountain, I was chased by a small band of skeletal dogs. Five runty to medium-sized ones, baring teeth and showing many rows of ribs through ratty matted fur. The little one clamped onto my right pannier, but was unsuccessful at pulling me backwards. It was a steep climb, so I wasn't exactly going fast enough to outrun anything. I swerved pointlessly and spun the pedals faster. They gave up a little higher up the mountain. Then I picked up a big stick. It was all day with screaming, dirty, starving dogs. Some tied up; some keeping their own schedule. I tell you, I can get enough.
Steep long hills cut narrow swaths through the mountains. These passes are light on traffic, but tough on legs. The route also includes wider roads with rolling hills: this is where the coal trucks roam. Sometimes a convoy, sometimes a lone bullet. They growl toward you in the oncoming lane, and it looks like a scene from Maximum Overdrive. They come jerkily around sharp bends belching smoke and spitting a fine mist of coal dust. If I wasn't already used to sharing the road, I'd be shitting parakeets right now.
Eastern Kentucky is the jake-braking capital of the USA. The dirt and din of this region inspire awe.
Today was a summary of long distance bicycle shenanigans: sometimes it rains, sometimes not. Sometimes it's hot, sometimes it's cold. My mood changes on a constant basis. I vacillate between jubilation and an obscenely translated despair many times daily.
I got an ice cream, and the sun was past its zenith. I soon arrived in the un-impressive town of Hindman. I took a left onto the main street, where I saw some yellow bags attached to a bicycle. Jeff! We compared notes. We were looking around and we had the same lead on a friendly place to camp. We poked around a bit, and then I called a guy about a tent.
I was told that passers-through were allowed to pitch a tent at the historical society. In reality, however, passers-through are made to call an old man for a jawing from a jackass. The real story is that there is a big tent set up M*A*S*H*-style. It has three rooms, and you can rent one for $25 per night. Then a creepy guy will bring you a potato, and later - apparently - some brandy. I wondered if he would stroke your hair gently as you drift off to sleep. I told him the price was out of my range, and the molly-coddle sales pitch evaporated. Dire warnings rained down! Hindman has a vagrancy law! (I pictured him dialing the sheriff on a second line). You can't camp at the park! You can go to the town of Hazard down the road, but that might not be safe! Then he told me a girl was killed in the park in Hazard. They cut off her head and put it on the picnic table, he explained. They threw her body in the river. I thanked him for this information and terminated the call. Jeff and I exchanged a number of chuckles, but we still needed to camp. There was plenty of sunlight, so getting the fuck past Hindman was the clear choice.
I wanted to split from Jeff to find a secret spot outside of town. Strength doesn't come in numbers when you're making hidden camps. As it turned out, we kept finding the same pace, and soon just started riding together through the beautiful landscape and ideal outdoor conditions. I told Jeff that my plan was to find beer, or ride until 7pm, whichever came first - then find a secret spot.
Let me tell you about "dry counties." Apparently Kentucky - the whiskey capital of being drunk - has counties where you can't buy alcohol anywhere. That floors me. That flips me upside-down.
"Awww, hell yeah! Are you kidding me?" Not more than ten minutes later, I was being offered Bud Light from the driver of a MacGyver jeep. He flagged us down, and I agreed to take a couple cold ones. Take them for the team. Team me.
This literally happened no more than a mile from the proud town of Fisty, KY.
Jeff and I split ways down the road a piece, and agreed to meet at the same legitimate camping location the next day. Within a mile, I found my secret spot.
There are plenty of trees in this part of Kentucky, but the steep grades make stealth camping somewhat of a challenge. The sides of the road are lined with vertical rock face and inclines too steep to roll a bicycle. I found an opening where it was steep, but manageable. I wrestled, lifted, and forced my bicycle up and out of view. My feet slipped in the leafy soil, and the climbing was a major challenge. I left the bicycle and continued up the hill to scout. I quickly found a thin stream tricking down the hill, about the width of my shoe at its current capacity. The stream soon led to a flat area that looked like it might enjoy a tent. It was a slight process, but I knew this was my camp.
I climbed down, grabbing thin trees as I stepped and slid through the rich loose soil. I removed my luggage from my Hoopty ATB and carried it to the stream. I returned to the bicycle, and forced it up with me to the stream - fighting branches and sometimes dragging with measured violence. I leapfrogged my gear to the flat spot, and I was set up by 7:21pm.
It's 7:21pm. In my left hand I am holding a still-cold bottle of Bud Light. I am sipping at a pace of 24oz per three hours. In my right hand I am holding a Kindle. I'm reading the hilarious antidotes of prison librarian in Boston. I am sitting on my new air mattress inside a globe of mosquito netting. I have a tub of hummus and a bag with two bagels. These are waiting until 8pm, because sometimes a man needs to keep a schedule. I have half a Clif Bar and a bottle of water. All of this needs only one word: content.