Cycle touring is all, and I repeat, all about the mind. We have had some back to back days of toil that have found new ways to play with your mind. We had the opportunity to throw the bags into a car and bike the final 10 miles unladen. Do you think the bike felt 40lbs lighter? Not a bit of it, not one once, gram or stone. Nothing.
Then there has been the wind. Wind from 7 o’clock right round to 5 o’clock feels like a headwind, right on the nose. You can look down and see grass being blown in the direction you are travelling and it still does not feel like a tailwind. It has to be a gale straight down the road the way you are going to feel like you are getting any benefit. We have had some bad headwind days that have left us scanning far horizons for the shelter of trees and respite up ahead.
Then there is the weight of your bags. I dread the time when we need new toothpaste or shampoo. Once I know they are in the bags and all full and heavy I focus on the additional weight in a way that doubles it. Sugar can only be bought in big heavy family bag quantities. I try to pour some away and con myself that I have half the weight. There is the balancing act of how much food to carry, and water too without risking dehydration and starvation. We had an evening meal of oats when we got this wrong. I have read a blog where the couple got it so badly wrong that they ended the day sucking the sugar coatings off ibuprofen tablets as their evening meal. “I think,” said Christopher Robin “that we ought to eat all our provisions now, so we won’t have so much to carry”. (A. A. Milne). That may be the plan.
Did I mention the days when it was just cold enough that we froze going downhill, yet so warm that we sweated and became near hypothermic going up hill. The last 7 days have been a bit of a challenge. We felt that we were behind schedule and yet fit enough now to do a bit of a push. So 7 days straight without a rest, and now we are weary beyond measure and slightly cranky.
In the USA you would imagine that you could throw a stone in the air quite at random and it would hit a Starbucks. Wrong, my friend. We have biked about 800 miles since I last saw one. Heavy rain overnight and it still looks dark out there. Morning is taking its sweet time to brighten as we leave Harrodsburg. There is still standing water on the SR152 and fast-moving but heavy showers making us pull on full water-proofs. This is tedious in the extreme as we will need to stop in under a mile to reverse the process. The world is almost painfully GREEN!!!!
It is just 51’f – yes, I can’t believe that either. A sharp left in Mackville and we are straight into a headwind that is catching the rain and bringing it horizontal. We have the best waterproofs that money can buy – from Showers Pass if you want to know. I am using every one of their 6 different ways to vent the garment including regular up and down with the ‘ Pit Zips ‘. It still leaves me on the very margins of comfortable. We pull in for a look at where Abe Lincoln’s parents came together at Homestead State Park. The gap between breakfasts was too long today. We pull into a dinner well after 1.00 in the afternoon. The grill has been turned off hours ago, so I look for something similar to breakfast.
A young couple are having an awkward date. ” Some times I get up in the morning and tie my laces way too tight”. She looks as if this is the most profound thing anyone has ever said. We end the day with a nice pitch on a campground in Bardstown. I love campgrounds so empty we get to use at least two tables. We are camped close enough and downwind of a Bourbon distillery. It has a malty tang closer to beer making than Whiskey. Not the worst smell to camp next to by a very long way, but it is hard to ignore.
Within the first stiff mile of morning biking, we pass the Heaven Hill Bourbon Distillery. Barrels by the thousand are stored in highrise structures that have more in common with a maximum security prison than craft distilling. On we ride through rolling country of small farms and woodlands. The USA is a remarkably rural country, with people leading remote rural lives of self-reliance. Things are so remote, we have to take a detour to find second breakfast. Before we get to Newhaven, we go through the 1,000 miles since Baltimore line. We are starting to make some progress West, which is encouraging when you have a continent to traverse.
Hodgenville, close enough to Lincoln’s birthplace to make it the very centre of all things Lincoln. We spend our time there in an ice cream and fudge shop. It is the local big treat go to for locals. Small girls in summer dresses of primary colours, sit next to farmers with big hands and overalls. The cones look fragile, too small, but are licked with precision. The small girls get most of it down their chin and clothes. A simple pleasure enjoyed by all.
We have a quiet pitch at the back of school baseball and softball grounds. In the morning we pick up the TransAm route and ride through cornfields and the flattest landscape of the route so far on the road to Sanora. The roads have the occasional Amish buggy. There are clear marks in the tarmac of hooves passing and horse shit to swerve around. We wave and get gentle waves from hands poking out of somber clothing. Big horses with working physiques stand in fields.
Without knowing it, we pass through our first time zone. This reminds me of our ride in China last year. How many time zones does China have? Just 1 is the answer. Brutally efficient, but you may need to get up in the dark for half the year. Makes the schedules for television so much easier though. We end the day with Garry and Beth, warmshowers hosts who live just off the TransAm. I spend much of the evening doing repairs to my bike shoes. The poor things have done about 23,000 miles now and require some amateur patching by me.
We eat well and drink enough alcohol to go straight to our heads. It would be easy to stay and rest, but there is a nagging feeling of being slightly behind where we need to be. Next morning there are signs that today’s ride will be hot. It is early as we ride out and still the breeze is cooling enough to keep the ride comfortable for the time being. We meet the 110 and are back on the TransAm for some challenging lumpy riding.
Fordsville for a Sunday brunch. It looks like quite the destination post church. People are in their fine clothes and observing best manners over the grits and gravy. We bike on through farmland and picket fenced homes. Ups are steep and short but still brutal compared to the flat ride we had been promised. After 73 miles, we have climbed well over 3,000ft and turn up at the First Baptist Church Sebree. It should be easy to find something as large as a church in a small town. We turn left as instructed and there are four churches. Just a question of getting the denomination right with what brains we have left after a hard day.
We feel a bit cheated by this flat day of riding. It is our longest day so far of this trip. We boil mug after mug of tea and walk around the church rooms in socked feet. It is a cycling hot-spot, but there are also many photos of camping and games and picnics through the years. Not one of the photos features anything less than 10% of children wearing something with a John Deere logo no matter how cool they are trying to look.
One advantage of getting up and away early is that second breakfast and even lunch can be taken early, confident that miles have already been done. Again at the dinner a guy confidently tells us “It is flat up ahead after you drop down from this hill we are on “. He points, and to give him credit, he is actually pointing West. We ride on, passing what may be the hundredth Possum roadkill of our time in Kentucky. These are quite roads that would require a bit of a death wish to get hit by passing traffic, and yet the Possum corpses are frequent. So many in fact that Possum Roadkill is considered to be a candidate for State Animal.
We catch the ferry across the Ohio River and swap Kentucky for Illinois on the far bank. The river runs fast, brown and full of tree branches and debrise. The little town of Cave-In-Rock has a delightful campground. Lewis and Clark stayed in the area, and we follow their example after a final diner for Peach Cobbler. A good day on the bike.
We deviate from the TransAm to pick up The Trail of Tears, which follows the route of the expulsion of the Cherokee Indians from the area. It begins in brutal fashion but stunningly beautiful. Esther rescues 3 Turtles within the first 8 miles, a new record. The heat and hills combine to make this a hard route. Some how days are conspiring to make things difficult in our quest to get a bit of distance done. Up ahead we have a motel booked, without that incentive we would quit early today. Then, of course, the wind starts up and is right in our faces, oh joy.
I know people have hard unpleasant jobs and this is a ‘ holiday ‘. But it is hard. It may not be 8 hours a day sexing chickens, but it can be tough. By 1.30 it is 94’f and we pass through Shawnee National Forest. It is swamp and trees, and at our arrival we hear the sound of Turtles diving into the water. These guys are huge. Ahead is the big M sign for McDonald’s and a promise for multiple servings of sweet tea. The town of Vienna ( pronounced by locals – VI as in Violet – E_NA ), has no campground, motel or city park listed. This is what happens without researching stuff. Across the car park is the most brutalist designed motel. It is the only game in town and turns out to be cheap and surprisingly good and possibly one of the best places to be if a tornado hits.
First thing in the morning I fold back the rooms curtains just enough to check the wind. Trees are still, leaves almost unmoving. This is good as today I am riding on legs that do not want to turn. At 20 miles we have a McDonald’s second breakfast and take a right turn to run north. We now have a tailwind to help us to Carbondale and a motel. We have a rest day planned and time to think a bit. You know I was looking for the first Starbucks. There are 3 here, 1,000 miles from the last one. Carbondale is a college town. People ride bikes and like good coffee. That is a good reason to stay for a day and to be honest I am not sure my legs would turn at all in the morning – let’s kick back and chill.