Every day on the bike is a school day. You learn so much. We could point at the flags of a lot more countries now and make a guess at which one was which. You also learn stuff that you never thought you needed to know, that today is the most important thing in the world. Our Warmshowers host Deborah was bringing us up to speed on Tornados. We are at the edge of that part of the USA that has lots of them. The TV weather map no longer has ocean-blue fringing the righthand side, which means we are making progress across the continent. The downside being, we are entering Tornado areas. There is a warning in place for Harrodsburg and we are sitting it out in a motel and watching rain hit the windows and thunder flash.
Our rest day near Hazard left us with lasting impressions. If you have antique collecting tinged associations with the words ‘ flea market ‘, think again. Sure there was the usual pickers stuff of guitars and house clearing trash, and yes there were flower baskets and cakes. The thing I had not associated with flea markets was guns and knives and rather a lot of Goth Culture stalls. There may have been a quilt.
We set out on Sunday-morning quiet roads. This is a blessing indeed, and we are grateful as we are on four-lane strips with little place to hide. At the R451 we pick up the TransAm route as it tries to find the line of least resistance through hilly country at the western edge of the Appalachians. After yesterdays rain, this is the first humid day of our trip. As the hills ramp up hard, I explode with sweat that cascades down onto my legs and the top tube of the bike.
Almost every home here has a dog and many have close to half a dozen. Most are content or wise enough to know not to waste the energy on a bike chase. But, there is always one that has something to prove. None is a serious threat to leg or panniers and we just stop and reason with them. The homes are often beat up cubes held together with weather seal. Many either have a towing hitch or look as if they have grown from something that did or arrived here on a semi trailer. We get the usual country waves and shouts of ” he won’t hurt you “. Streams are running full after the rain and the hot sun is in a hurry to dry out the land.
We take a left onto SR28, and ride by a wooden church at Buckhorn. It is dedicated to its founder H. Murdoch ‘ To Buckhorn and eastern Kentucky he bought a love for baseball, for education and for God ‘. I think he would recognise his old town still. We park the bikes outside the store and go in search of cool drinks and even cooler air-con.
The next section of our route starts the gradual transition to a flatter landscape. It still makes horrid lurches up and down, but a trend has been set. We start to see our first flat fields and cattle. There have been little but mowing of grass around the homes, here the art of the vegetable patch has a few followers. The art of the barn also starts to put in an appearance in the landscape. Things are changing.
Booneville, and of course there is a murderous last climb of the day. Daniel Boone camped here, and so did we. Our hosts are the Presbyterian Church, who offer a camping pitch to cyclists and a shower. After 3,400ft of climbing we are the most appreciative guests. Is 8.30 too early for bed? not at all. But the day has a last spectacle for us. Fire flies, and the greatest ballet of light we have ever seen. They dance around the tent close enough to be seen through the rain fly. We sit up in our sleeping liners and watch the spectacle.
On the road again and today we have a long ride dialled in. The terrain is smoothing out again, but still there are sections of grunting and pushing. Again it is hot, very hot. My shorts start to carry a crusting of white sweat marks that continues onto my jersey and up my back. A big black barn has the Ten Commandments in 6 inch high text posted to it. Esther makes 2 turtle rescues within the first 10 miles, we have done our good deeds and the day is still young.
The landscape has opened up more today. Neat cattle farms fringe the road, but there is still the homes of the unlucky and less prosperous majority. A good morning’s ride, spoiled by getting to McKee too late for breakfast. The road goes on. For a non climbing day, we are pushing up the total ascent figures. Often the road is cut through the hills, with shade under trees and a rest from the sun.
On a fast descent I catch a glimpse of a pickup truck graveyard and slam on the brakes. The squeal alerts the owner, and he is a gem. We talk about cars, trucks, cars again and then a shot from a neighbouring property. ” Must be a snake “. Then a second shot ” Groundhog, must be a Groundhog ” . Then we learn stuff. ” It’s great eating if you sprinkle a bit of ‘ shake and bake’ and give it 20 mins”. He is a gentle soul, we could be still standing there and talking.
The road is busy with traffic. For many it looks as though we are the first cyclists they have ever overtaken in their lives. There is a rumble strip making things tight and drivers are in a waspish mood. The day ends with a short stop in the very nice town of Berea and a trip through the back roads towards our warmshowers hosts farm.
The ride in the heat has halved my IQ and I am less of the raconteur, and more the smelly, salt encrusted touring cyclist who needs a shower, food and early bed. Luckily Esther is more fun to be with. We rise, and in more groundhog-day stuff, it is back on the hot roads of Blue Grass country. In Lancaster we run across the only shoe repair shop for hundreds of miles. All this pushing of bikes up hills has worn my Sidi shoes to ribbons ( they have done 22,000 miles so, no surprises ).
A bit of bike work in Danville, to get the brakes tweaked and Esther’s gears fettled. Then we pick up the gem that is the Bluegrass Pike. A great biking road that brings us back to the TransAm route. Picket fencing by the mile, cows poking their heads over fences in bovine curiosity as we pass, things could not get much better. Kentucky is looking good today.
It is a short ride, and we end it in Harrodsburg, with a pitch on the Anderson Dean Community Park. A good proportion of the community are out here throwing things, running and eating midweek picnics. There is a shelter but no obvious sign that camping is allowed. Conversely, there is nothing saying you can’t, so we do. There are storms brewing. The first, early in the night passes wide of us. At 3.00am a squad car pans us with searchlights.
By 6.30am we are up. As we are eating breakfast, the storm siren goes off and my heart pounds. A lightning bolt strikes behind the building we are sheltering in. Three blasts from the siren and the storm is over. Workmen ride over to us and tell us of a warning for a bad storm this afternoon. We can not make the next safe place and take a motel in the town. There is enough time to explore the old down town before we have to time-trial our way to the hotel. The storm breaks and the roads are awash. A Tornado warning is in operation. We will have to get used to this, our route ahead goes right through Tornado Alley.