Matt and I agreed that Utica, Kentucky seemed like a good goal. It was about 75 miles of rolling hills punctuated by flatter sections, and there was free camping available in a school yard at the end of the day. I breakfasted on a sausage biscuit with gravy at the shop. I put a box of spaghetti and a honey bun on the counter. I paid a paltry sum, and got on my bicycle.
My iPod on shuffle mode is the best radio station in America. I spun over hills, and raced down descents that were long and slight. I powered over short steep hills, standing up on the pedals and keeping momentum. I felt good, life was an oyster, and I was loving oysters all day.
I'm still not a fan of pace-matching. When you're riding together for a long distance, then somebody probably wants to go faster or slower, and maybe they don't want to announce it. I rolled ahead early, rode for a good distance, and stopped for food. Before entering the humble restaurant with frog legs on the special board, I talked to some locals. I love it. They were two old guys. Good folk. The guy in the fishing cap was punctuating his statements with a stream of tobacco spit that was shot and dribbled close to the wheels of the 70-something man's full Dura Ace antique Trek OCLV bicycle. There was a banter and a back-and-forth. Predictions and assumptions were tossed on the table like playing cards. I took leave to get some eggs, bacon, toast and three hot coffees.
On the third mug-fill, Matt walked in. Great! I watched as he ordered my identical breakfast (right down to "over medium"), and I sat there and watched him eat it. We talked shop and compared notes. I enjoyed the surreal surroundings a far cry from any place I might call home.
I set out first and punched into some hills. 95 degrees was predicted, but it was still early. It was muggy, and you could feel the heat coming. I knew if I punched hard enough - which my brain and body instructed me to - then I might miss most of the blast furnace of the early afternoon.
We were in dry fucking counties all day except for one brief corner of sanity. In the corner of one wet county that I passed through, there was a store called "Black Cat." I marched in with a grin to see a man about a beer.
"Do you carry the Blast cans?" I asked. He wasn't sure what I meant by that. As I said Blast I held my hands the exact distance apart that would be taken up by an standard-issue 24oz can. (Pull out the micrometer - my gesture was pointless, but the measurement nearly exact.) "They're made by Colt 45," I explained "There's a bunch of'em now. They come in different flavors..."
He stopped me there. "I don't carry the flavored stuff." (We were getting closer though...) "I have a 32oz Bud Light" he offered.
"Do you carry 40's?" I asked. I was ready to give a long list of potential candidates, but he told me that he only had up to 32oz bottles, and my options were Bud or Bud Light. We discussed the 24oz can options, but that was another dead-end. Not even a goofy Clamato. "How about a six'a Bud?"
A crossroads. We had a winner. What beer place in 'Merca can't provide a simple six of the (formerly) 'Mercan beer? It was a deal. As he rung it up, I added a "cheap small whiskey" to the bill. Like a librarian locating some James Patterson, he tossed in a bottle of Kentucky Tavern.
"Be safe," he advised as I made a satisfied exit. I don't know what the fuck he was talking about. Don't I look safe?
Utica, Kentucky was the destination, and the school yard looked less like a cyclist's oasis, and more like a bunch of hot shit. It would be campable after a guy finished with endless rounds of seated mowing - but it wasn't exactly Dorney Park. I went to the gas station to esacpe the sun's hottest hours, and mentally regroup.
A touring cyclist was talking a lot and beating at flies with a battered rolled-up newspaper. I'm usually the talker, but this guy stole my seat. He talked quickly and a lot. He was 52, had an incredibly-loaded old Fuji, was in AA, and had a pack of Mediums resting on the table. His plans seemed haphazard, and his demeanor and financial status were incredibly confusing. I tried to put the pieces together, but was left with questions that I didn't feel like asking. Eventually, I looked down at listings of local trucks for sale, and only looked up for short calculated responses to sporadic random input. I left just in time to see Matt arriving on the scene.
"School yard looks like shit," I offered. He had just been there, and agreed. He mentioned that the local volunteer firehouse is listed on the official maps. He made a call, and within ten minutes we were sitting in airconditioning in a place that offers showers and the use of laundry facilities to traveling cyclists.
It's just the two of us here. I'm drinking secret beers from a cup (gotta be respectful), and I'm about to cook up some dinner. I'm clean, and so are 100% of my clothes. It's nice and cool in here. Like I said yesterday, it's a joke. I'm almost chuckling that anything could be this good. I'll run into adversity in good time - the earth has its balance issues - but I will never forget the fire station in Utica, Kentucky.