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Day 17: Goodbye, Virginia!

For a while now, we've felt like we might be starring in a hill-country John Carpenter film called Escape From Virginia. Today, we finally made it. Big news, folks — we crossed our first state line!

But, more on that anon. We gave ourselves another pre-dawn start today and thought we might hit up a diner in Honaker for breakfast. (Seriously, we require So. Much. Food.) But it was shuttered and the whole place had a gloomy, early-morning-in-a-trailer-park vibe, so we rode on, towards some (surprise) big ass hills. The riding was real pretty, though...

Climbing through a cloud

Yesterday — as we were hightailing it away from Rural Retreat and had just stopped at a gas station where a Jeep full of chunky dudes blaring Metallica and stopping to buy handfuls of 2-foot-long Slim Jims screeched into the parking lot — Sara pondered thusly:

"I'm having this memory of a project we did in high school about decades in American history. I remember feeling like one thing I learned from that project is that eras actually bleed together... What feels like 'The 80s' in our heads lasted until, like, '95. The 90s lasted till the early 'oughts and so on... I feel like it's true of states, too. Anyway, what I mean to say is, Kentucky starts in Virginia."

Kentucky starts in Virginia, y'all.

One way this is true (other than the Metallica and Slim Jims): In eastern Kentucky, there are only two kinds of stores — Dollar Stores (preying on the food deserts of rural America) and gas stations that also, sometimes, serve as both small supermarkets and local post offices. That's it. And there are miles and miles between each one. This all starts before the state line, though. We knew we wouldn't see another non-gas-station place to eat after Haysi, VA, so we stopped there for lunch and took a much needed midday nap under a covered picnic shelter, where we made some excellent friends.

We knew we'd need the rest at Haysi because what comes next — the last push towards the VA border — is Breaks Interstate Park. It's apparently quite a big and gorgeous park for hiking, mountain biking etc., and/but (you guessed it) you gotta climb up into it. We stopped when we needed to on the long haul up ("It's called Breaks because you gotta take them"), then zoomed down towards a new state.

Before we bid a full farewell to VA, though, here are a couple more photos for the books, ones we didn't manage to squeeze in before...


Okay, let's go to Kentucky.

Kentucky is... It's unsettling. "Eastern Kentucky would be the perfect place to set a post-apocalyptic horror novel," said Beau. The vibe we started picking up at Rural Retreat remains, and starts to morph a bit, too. The roads are immediately and noticeably worse: smaller shoulders, gravelly/bumpy asphalt, cracks and small potholes. The vehicle of choice? The ATV. A few miles after the state line, we pulled into a pizza place in Elk City, KY to rest up before our last 12 or so miles, and after we'd been there 20 minutes or so, a whole fleet of ATVs came roaring into the parking lot: This is a family affair. Kids who look 8-years-old are driving their own mini-ATVs on the open road. It's like... Mad Max meets Deliverance. One of the two motorcyclists (a self-described "fat old dude") sitting outside the pizza place near us chuckled and said, "Kentucky. There're No Rules."

What "bike" means in Kentucky

We were headed for the Freeda Harris Baptist Center in Lookout, KY, which we'd read was a longstanding trail-stop for cyclists. But, TransAm-ers, be warned! It's changed hands and it no longer hosts riders. We found it shut up and the current caretaker gone. With evening closing in and a long day behind us, we had to find a way to stay where we were for the night — but Lookout is no Elk Garden. We called around to no less than 8 Baptists churches (4 Freewill Baptists, 1 Missionary Baptist, and 3 Regular Baptist churches…) in the vicinity, but no room at the inn. Finally, we left a note on the center's door and pitched our tent in the side yard. It was not a restful night. Lookout is aptly named. There's just... something creepy in the air. We grabbed a couple of hours of on-and-off (and mostly on-edge) sleep and broke camp at 4 AM to race towards more big ass climbs. We got this... One, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10...

Making do in Lookout.

Day 17: Elk Garden, VA to Lookout, KY. 64 miles, 5450 feet of climbing, 1 state line, 3 excellent cats, many ATVs.


Total miles in Virginia: 608.9

Total trip miles: 625.1

Virginia All-Stars:

  • Bob from outside Ashland (and again in Mineral!) on Day 3

  • Dirk and Chrissy in Lexington!

  • Laura and Tommy in Blacksburg!

  • Alvin Dalton

  • Bob with the Elk Garden United Methodist Church!

Best VA Eats:

Other VA Highlights:

  • The views from the Blue Ridge Mountains

  • The descent from the Blue Ridge Parkway down to Vesuvius

  • The all-day rainy ride out of Lexington

  • Conquering Hayter's Gap

  • The morning riding out of Elk Garden, where the pre-dawn fog collected so thick on Beau's glasses during a steep downhill that water drops formed along the bottoms of the frames, then were blown back up into his eyes. (Who's experienced this?!)


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