2004 Bike Trip: Rain in Kentucky

Leif Johnson — 03 Jun 2004, 20:06

today i've stopped off in leitchfield, kentucky for a wee rest and some updateitude at the grayson county public library. the land, the weather, the time, the cars ... they've all been changing these past few days as i've pedaled my way through kentucky.


the mountains of eastern tennessee and kentucky have thankfully dwindled down to rolling hills, quite similar in many ways to the hills of the north carolina piedmont ... and unfortunately subject to the same fate, it seems : once again the landscape is a mixture of hay farms, horse pastures, and those depressing “for sale” signs of developments to come. it's a shame, too : these small two-lanes are a joy to bike on, sans suv drivers and late-afternoon rush hour traffic. the roads are frequently windy (or have been the last few days), but they are also joyously unused, surprisingly dog-free, and pretty flat.

troop support and trespassing

i've also noticed an astounding number of houses in this state that bear some combination of the following signs :

  • yellow ribbons
  • “god bless america”
  • “united we stand”
  • “no trespassing”
  • “beware of the dog”

i find it curious that the very people who claim to be united are also the ones who apparently don't want any visitors at their places of residence. though the people i've met here have been just as nice as anywhere else, there have also been a good number of “you must be crazy” looks from folks as i ride by.

natural formations

the land now holds lots of caves and forests, so i spent the last two nights at mammoth cave national park, which was really fun to visit again. it's a beautiful place, and the cave makes it that much more interesting. as part of a rest day there, i went on two cave tours and really enjoyed both. the making of mammoth tour explores some of the cave near the visitor's center, including a tour of the underground rivers in the cave—really cool. the frozen niagra tour is a bit shorter but descends an astounding stainless steel staircase through one of the most amazing underground canyons i've ever imagined ... and then you get to see the cave formations. if you ever get to visit and are short on time, i'd really recommend the niagra tour.

on the way out of the park this morning, i was amused by a sign just before the green river ferry that says, “road ends in water.” sure enough, it's too deep for a ford (especially today, since the river is really high from recent rainfall), so the pavement just ducks under the water, in the path of a little 2-car (or 30-bike) ferry that runs back and forth from 6am to 9:30pm.

more weather

the thunderstorms have been relentless ! since my encounter with the tempest near natural tunnel (virginia), i've run into storms again in cumberland gap, burnside state park, and mammoth cave.

the burnside storm caught me once again ill-prepared. i had had a nice short ride that day from cumberland falls, arriving at my campsite at a record-breaking 12:45pm. the forecast had been for severe thunderstorms all day, but the looming clouds on the horizon seemed to have nothing to contribute to the accuracy of the weather people. so i set up my hammock, ingeniously rigged up my tent fly over the top of it (heh heh, stupid weather), and passed out, but i woke around 4am in a puddle amid blustery winds and sideways rain—everything was soaked, so i shivered my way over to a picnic shelter and slept another couple of fitful hours. big shout out for my patagonia capilene, it always saves me from the cold and wet.

the next night i compensated myself with a hotel room in columbia. :) but ever since then my bike chain has been frustratingly squeaky, and my axles feel like they're filled with sand ... perhaps it's just my weak legs though ? my calves are killing me today !

time and cars

on ... um, some day there a couple days ago ... i rode past a signpost that bore two signs : the top one declared entrance to russell county, and the bottom (smaller) one alerted folks that they were entering the central time zone ! i've almost reached the 1000 mile marker for the trip so far (the 1000 km marker was passed some days ago), and boy do my calves and quads feel it !

actually, here's a nice recipe for those 5-hour days of cycling through hills : leif's power macaroni.

  • one box of macaroni and cheese (carbohydrates)
  • two cheeseburger patties (donated from friendly neighbor campers, lots of protein and iron)
  • two tablespoons of olive oil (extra calories)
  • one half cup powdered milk (calcium and more protein)

just make up the macaroni, add the other ingredients, and stir. estimated nutrition contents : 80 g protein and 2000 calories.

from aspiration to pickups

the tennessee mountains, for anyone who's been lucky enough to visit, have a special kind of car that seems, for whatever reason, to grow on trees in the area. the car is based on a mid-90s ford aspire, but has rust spots on 1.6 fenders and has 65 % of its hub caps. this car, based on my observations, is often painted green or blue and nearly touches the ground as it clambers up and down the hilly terrain, packed with the extended family on the way to town for something or other.

the kentucky road—a somewhat wilder and certainly more conservative ecology—seems to have eradicated this particular genus of vehicle, replacing it with the pickup. there are several species of pickup here, but the most common is probably the dodge ram or chevy full-size variety. these are commonly decorated with large 3, 44, and/or various other nascar stickers. they are often red, and, in my experience, driven by young men on their way to ... well, wherever it is they're going at twice the speed limit.

because the aspires probably weigh in at one-third of the pickups (even with the whole extended family packed in there), and because two pickups fit to within one centimeter side by side on a kentucky road, the cycling through here has been a bit more frustrating than it was in north carolina.

oh well, in a couple days i'll be out of here, glad to move on to a state with nicer drivers. in the next few days i hope to make it to santa claus, indiana (curiousity) ; new harmony, indiana (hedge maze) ; somewhere in illinois (necessity) ; and finally ... saint louis ! tonight i'm heading for rough river dam state park, where i'll hopefully find one or two other tourers (the transamerica route goes through kentucky at this point) ... and no rain. hope you all are doing well.