Touring on the ACA route is approaching a level of comedy. Perfect situations routinely materialize from nowhere. When I expect the least, I get handed the most. Sometimes I step right into a pile of the best.
I broke camp and rolled out solo. As I spun slowly through the lazy morning miles, I decided to change my approach. I'm going to wait for Oregon to come to me. All this thinking, riding, cruising, mashing, loafing... it's unnecessary. If I just keep existing, then Oregon will eventually make its way over to me. No use working too hard. I'll just ride a bicycle sometimes, and try not to blow $3,328 on scratch-off lottery tickets.
I rode solo, and expected it to stay that way. Some people in the camp last night seemed to think that going off-route to save a few miles was a good idea. I'm not interested. The route is nice and pretty and there's not much traffic. If I wanted to shave off miles, I'd hitchhike - or better yet, find an air-conditioned place to watch Law & Order. So it was unclear if or when I'd be seeing any other riders.
I stopped in Hodgenville, Kentucky where my guidebook listed some free camping. It was about 40 miles down the road, and that seemed like a nice lazy distance. I got there by 11am - a little early to end the day, but I was still considering it. But the hills are getting easier, and the temperature was comfortable.
I sat outside a store with shade and rocking chairs. I ate a bland turkey sandwich that looked like a box of meat. I fed some turkey to a small cat, and I pet the kitty's head. I considered taking her along in my pannier, but dismissed the idea as impractical. I drank an orange drink, read a book for hours and started to wear down the rails on the rocking chair. 2pm rolled around. It was time to hit the road.
I rode 25 more miles before I got an appetite for questionable fried chicken. Fifteen minutes down the road, the question was answered: get to a bathroom, or find some trees before something bad happens. I checked my notes and saw that a store was maybe ten minutes down the road. I would make it if I was careful.
I rode up to the store and saw a blue Long Haul Trucker. It was Matt from the day before! I thought he'd be staying in Hodgenville after his previous 95-mile day, but instead he was here. I was thinking about finding a stealth camp, and my plan was to put in some more distance before sneaking into some trees.
I asked Matt where he was planning to stay, and he said "here." I thought he meant at a spot nearby, but then realized that he meant "here" in the most literal sense. The store is listed on the official ACA map as a place that hosts touring cyclists! Matt said Hodgenville was too easy a destination for him also, so he pushed on as well. He told me that the owner of the store was a great guy, and they'd already been talking. I went in and introduced myself. I talked for about a minute, asked for the bathroom, went inside, sat down, and went crosseyed. I emerged ten minutes later with a whole new identity.
Showers were to be had! Dinner was to be prepared! I went from thinking about upset stomaches and hiding in trees to a comfortable luxury. This kind of change in fortune is almost becoming familiar. It's amazing. I had a big smile.
The store is owned by Arnold and his family. Arnold was the only one there when I arrived, and he had a practiced and dry sort of canned humor. Super friendly guy. He told me his wife was the meanest woman he ever married. He imparted this with a grin which assured me that after many years of marriage he was happy and in love. Very funny stuff, indeed. I don't usually know how to respond to this brand of humor, but damned if I don't give it a shot. I hit close enough to the target, and I'm given a pass.
"Do you cook?" he asked. Clearly he was going to joke about having me cook dinner.
"Noodles" was my response. "I can make pasta." I offered this knowing it would disqualify me from actually doing anything. One awkward round handled.
Arnold is one of the top genuinely good-hearted people I've met in Kentucky. Clearly. He's on the Adventure Cycling maps (which I now wish I owned), and you need to ask to be put on there. He and his family are going out of their way to provide free showers and dinner for random cyclists. I was reaping the benefits of this in the form of cheeseburgers, fries, corn on the cob, green beans, and pickled beets.
Arnold, his wife Lucy, his daughter, Matt and I held hands in a circle around the food sitting at a table in the store as customers still filtered in at intervals. Lucy said a prayer over the food, and we all started to fill out plates. Our actions were slow with a measure of reserve and deference. The daughter was great. "Don't be shy!" she urged. They were all great. It wasn't a Norman Rockwell painting, but it was a picture of an honest American reality that I don't see often. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of this painting.
I set my tent up behind the store, and I slept well.