Abingdon, Council, Cycle touring Kentucky, Cycle touring virginia, Elkhorn City, Hayters Gap, Hazard, Hindman, Lookout, Pippa Passes, TransAm, TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, TransAmerica Bicycle Trail 2014
It is estimated that the annual budget for mowing the lawns of the USA comes in at 40 billion dollars. 150 hours will be spent on average mowing the lawn, and 7,500 people will be injured doing the job. We have been riding through areas for which I think this may be an underestimate, and by quite a wide margin. We had time in Abingdon for me to get a haircut – ” As smooth as a field onion “, it was declared, and certainly I had to draw in the straps on my helmet by quite a way to get it snug again.
Outside our motel room in Abingdon it was hot already and not yet 8.00am. For the first time on the trip it was obvious from the contrast and intensity of the light, the dark, dark shadows and piercing sun, we were in a hot place. We knew that this ride had the potential to cook us and here was day one in the oven. We have our ‘ Race Faces ‘ on for a big hill ahead, and turn left after 6 miles of back-tracking to pick up the TransAm and the start of the climb.
There are blocks of broadleaf woodland and pasture, it looks perfect. The farms look prosperous, there homesteads and barns neatly painted and turned out. Esther does a final sketch and we start up the climb. The day starts surprisingly well, we have our legs back and have regained some of our touring strength – hurrah. We get back to over 2,100ft which is good, and then dive back down to start a series of switchbacks that take us up an equally brutal second climb, which is less good. This early in the day, the shadows still offer an oasis of coolness from the heat of the sun.
2,200ft a stream to our left is falling over rocks as it chases its way down the climb we have just ascended. We stand astride our bikes, dripping with sweat and pulling long gulps of water from our bottles. A woodpecker sounds his hunt for grubs. It is 81’f by the time we get to 3,100ft and we have made the summit. That was a great climb, one of the best and it told us that our legs are good for climbing again. It kicked to 7%, but never played dirty and there were flatter sections to get the lactic acid back under control.
There is a blast of cool air that you get as you near the top of the climbs here. There is always a cool wind blowing, and on the climb you are sheltered from it. As the summits near, you can feel it curling over the top of the ridges. Hayters Gap climbed, and now on we go trying to shake life back into our legs.
We pick up the SR80 towards Honaker. Flamingos outside of homes have been a constant theme of our time on the TransAm. Not real ones of course, but metal or plastic and universally bright pink and always in pride of place. We are riding through a neighbourhood that has embraced all things Flamingo. It is a little less well to do than earlier in the day. Here people have a little less lawn to mow and a lot more time to sit and watch from the porch.
The second climb of the day gets no star billing. Almost unannounced and yet every bit as brutal it comes on with a steady 7% incline. Now we are getting some close attention from locals in their pickup trucks on the narrow road. Perhaps our legs are not as good as we thought, and now the sun is overhead and the shade is no longer cool. This is brutal on a touring bike.
The day ends with 3,860ft on the clock. The biggest climbing day on this leg of our journey so far and we turn into the municipal campground at 4.21pm. The showers go off at 4.30pm, which is the sort of thing you might know if you had bothered to check. Not too bad a day though, and it is certainly good to feel like a cyclist again and not wince when someone takes a photo of you in profile.
The next day begins by throwing away 1,000ft of the height gained yesterday. We drop through the little town of Sandlick and then through Haysi. All of the time we are sticking to the SR80 with its wide shoulder and forest. It is a beautiful climb up to Breaks State park and the town of West Breaks beyond. Around us, in the trees are great canyons and gulleys of tumbling white water. It is billed as ‘ The Grand Canyon of The South ‘, presumably by someone who has only seen the Grand Canyon in books or had it described to them over the phone. It is rather stunning, but on a much smaller scale.
At a sharp left, in a diversion that a bit of bridge building has forced upon us. Quite unexpectedly, we enter Kentucky. At least we feel like we are making a bit of progress now in our journey west. ‘ Americas Energy Capital ‘, and we will have days riding next to coal trucks and the legendary mad dogs. We take a minor road to the nights camping. ” He won’t hurt you, he’s on a rope “. He was, but the rope only restricted him to half way across the road. The first Kentucky dog. A cheerful wave and a shout – ” Where are you from? ”
It is 99’f as we end the day with 5 miles of narrow road. If there had been 1% more uphill we would have been walking. That was a hard day in the saddle. We are guests of the Freeda Harris Baptist Center, a place built on a calling and passion. For a donation, we have showers and food. We pitch the tent and have an uneasy night rather too close to the road. For a road that goes nowhere, there is a lot of nighttime traffic.
We have been getting up earlier and earlier to avoid the worst of the days heat. It has suddenly turned to full on summer in the south. ” 55’f last week “, we are cheerfully told. Today it will be 100’f and off we go just after 8.00am. Again there are alarming noises from my bike. This happened a few days ago as well. I had it stripped of bags at the roadside and multi tool in hand before I realised that it was the ice in my Aloy bottles. At every pedal stroke they made the sound of a touring bike in distress and possible death throes. This time I stay onboard.
We have a short time amongst the traffic of the 611 then HWY23 and then we line up for the 1469 and a 10% brute. Today the legs leave early, they are gone after days of climbing. It is a blur of cursing and sun as Team Sportswool watch the handlebar metre rather too much and wish the day away.
We tumble across a place to camp at the end of the day. By virtue of standing in the way we find that the usual bike hostel is having a problem and we are standing in front of accommodation plan B. Charlie welcomes us with a big southern smile. There is a strong smell of petrol from the porch and Charlie. I think he has never known a day without the smell of petrol.
Charlie claims to be the worlds first pro-tractor puller, and I am not going to dispute anything he says on the subject. He has managed the tractor puller’s dream run, the triumvirate of crowd pleasing – to wreck, to blow up and to win all in one and the same run. ” You can not entertain a crowd any more than that “. Sure he has had bad days when he blew on the line, but the good have never been far off.
We pitch the tent – ” I killed a Copper Head just where your bikes are leaning “, and then sit down with mugs of lemonade for more country wisdom. ” You know a poisonous snake is near if you smell raw cucumber “. Of course we ask just how near you would have to be ” Oh, you are in trouble “. The evening talk is very much a time for Charlie to show off his barbecue skills and his thoughts on life. I think he must be well known amongst the door to door religions. ” I love to invite them in for a chat about the bible ” . I would love to be a fly on the wall ” I once kept a Mormon girl who had phoned me talking for 40 minutes after she said that she had to go now and have a pee “. I missed my opportunity to ask the lifelong trucker what a Wichita Lineman actually did. I think Charlie may even have met one.
The day begins on the 550, on a road running next to the creek. Chipmunks are dashing for tree or rock cover every time we stop. The first dog encounter of the day, they are all bark and spit this time and are given away by wagging tails. In the river to our right, a turtle dives as we pass. It is as big as a family sized apple pie and surprisingly agile. If you watched tv in the late 70’s and into the 80’s, and you were a boy, the highlight of your week along with Saturday fish supper from the Greek chip shop, was Dukes Of Hazzard. Which is partly why we go to Hazard.
It has gone through poor times since it’s brush with fame ( They changed the name – inserting a second ‘ Z ‘ to avoid litigation and placed it nominally in Georgia ). We get lots of shouted HELLO’s as we roll into town. Within the first ten minutes we are bought up to speed on the small random doors that you can find around Hazard – The Magical Creatures Union of Hazard. All totally mad, and of course Daisy Duke and the stars once came here to say thanks. We take the nearest Motel, which is a five mile climb back out of the old town. So far Kentucky has been most kind to us and we have not been close to being bit by neither snake nor dog.