Maybe it's dietary. Maybe it's the heat. Maybe I'm just not strong sometimes.
I set out from Ben's house in Berea, and my legs weren't exactly the powerful pistons I'd expected after a day of non-cycling. Maybe it's the heat. I was dripping sweat everywhere by 9am, and the sun enveloped me with a brutal omnipresence. The only fun I had was on the few shaded descents. The good news for me is that Berea is a separating point between the steep hills and coal trucks of eastern Kentucky, and the rolling open hills of western Kentucky. When you're talking turkey about Kentucky, you need to differentiate between east and west. They're completely different places.
I made it to a restaurant in Burgin, KY, and had a cheeseburger and fries. Maybe it's dietary. I should probably be eating better food and more of it. My meal was free because the cook dropped my ticket behind a counter, and my burger didn't come out until people who came in after me were already eating. I drank a pitcher of Coke. Jeff walked in looking like he was coming off the slide at a water park. I was happy to sit in the air conditioning and watch him eat.
On to Harrodsburg. There was another six mile stretch before a big air conditioned public library. Sounds great. I was revived enough to be ready.
I rode off into the heat feeling like a funny kind of great. I zipped to the library feeling like a beat up donkey on a spit - countenance mitigated by an asymmetrical smile. Half of an authentic grin. I was getting away with something - like when the police ask questions and you don't leak a syllable. Justice. I felt like a confident piece of toast in a toaster. Alive and well in western Kentucky. Tell your mom I'm doin' fine! I asked for directions to the public library as I stood almost inside of its book return. I entered the air conditioning smiling like the elected king of the dirty-prom.
I sat in the library catching up on business. Jeff was there soon. Then, out the window, I saw loaded bicycles and yellow jerseys. They walked in and went between the stacks of books. I didn't have my glasses on, and had to confirm with Jeff - Yes! It was Adam and Megan! I went over to catch up and see if there were any notes to compare.
A few minutes into hushed conversation, a young and proper looking woman with straight red hair and glasses walked over. "Is one of you Chris?" she asked. Feeling famous as hell, I beamed "that's me!" just within an acceptable library volume. She introduced herself as Alicia, the person who had invited me to stay in her home about 15 miles away in the next town. She was dropping off a book, and saw touring bicycles peppering all of the entrances. She's great. She invited everyone! This was quite good.
In the spirit of being a social ambassador, I packed up my junk, filled my water bottles, and raced to Mackville. When there's a friendly destination at the day's end, I'm like a moth to a light bulb. Suddenly motivated and erratic. I did what I do when I feel good late in the day. I tied my shirt onto the handlebars and mashed the pedals. I wove my way down the rural road, and shifted just right to scientifically maximize efficiency on the hills. I was chased by yet more dogs, but I have a new approach: "Come on, buddy! You can do it!" I cheer for them as soon as they bolt from the porch. There's usually no malice in the chase, but sometimes they're more intimidating and determined. Now I go faster and root on their ambitions. Then they get a boo hoo when they can't make it. Poor little slow dog! I felt light and strong, and I crossed the distance between towns in an hour flat.
The first thing I did was take a shower. I was pouring sweat like a bucket of it had been dumped over my head. I showered and felt great. I talked to Alicia for an hour or so while she prepared dinner. She has a nice tidy house. Her husband is the pastor of one of Mackville's five or so churches. It seems like there's a church for every two houses. Though this seems implausible, there actually is a Methodist church with a congregation averaging eight attendees.
Alicia asked if I have a blog. "Jeff has a great blog!" I offered in a somewhat verbally evasive manner - sheepish about my content in such innocent and pristine surroundings. Her husband and kids are away at their grandparents. It would just be her and the group of cyclists. She hosts a lot of people. She admits that she will approach people with loaded touring bicycles and try to see if they need food or shelter. Of course they do: all of them. Growing up with a father who was an Army chaplain, she moved about every three years. She's relatively open minded for the small town, and many people are aghast that she would invite strangers into her home. But she seems to love it.
Food was on the table, and Jeff was showered. Alicia said a nice grace, and we began eating a delicious and welcome meal. There were cookies, too. I also had some orange juice. I could eat everything in the world.
Adam and Megan made it a little bit later. They showered and ate before we gathered clothing for a group laundry load. We were invited to sleep inside, and not asked to leave in the morning when Alicia woke up for work. This is it. This is a real twist on the American dream. People like this should be the ones we aspire to be. Not because she's a Christian, but because she is a wonderful person who loves to help others.
It hasn't escaped my notice, however, that some of the people most ready to host traveling cyclists are also Christians first. From Matt in Manassas to Will in Charlottesville, to the string of churches offering hospitality along the route. You don't have to pray or get baptized - they just seem to smile and offer lodging. No catch, nothing to fear. I don't know what to call myself, but I think "incredibly ambiguously spiritual" comes close. I have a personal code that keeps me in my own good graces. I'm skeptical and alienated by most organized religion I see. But I know what it's like to feel blessed.