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Day 18: High & Dry & Ready to Rumble

More big hills in the land of Bourbon, where Bourbon ain't sold and the street's got no shoulders.

Because Kentucky.

Days 13 & 14, we started to talk about looking. Or we meant to. We titled the entry "Looking, Learning, & Growing Lighter," then managed to not dwell on the looking… Though, a dear friend and mentor of Sara's passed along this wonderful David Hockney quotation, and we're trying to live by it: "There's a lot to see. There's a lot to look at... If you show the world better, it's more beautiful. The process of looking is the beauty."

It's been amazing to watch the landscape, the homes, the culture change — it really feels like each time we cross an Appalachian ridgeline, we've entered into a new way for people to be. The stores and the churches are different, the homes are closer or further apart. You go from breathing fresh hay to breezing between colossal corn fields to huffing up tree-shaded hillsides.

For a long time in Virginia, though, it was like different shades of the same color: sky blue to baby blue to cornflower. But as we approached Kentucky something else started creeping in. The cycling-famous Loose Dogs of Eastern Kentucky began chasing us down streets. In Haysi, VA, you start seeing signs that ATVs will be on the roads with the cars (in KY it's understood). The gas station-adjacent convenience stores begin taking on outsized roles in the lives of the citizenry.

Resting outside a grocery store/post office/gas station/etc.

But when you cross the border there's a distinct shift. Roads, though paved, are occasionally one lane and almost ubiquitously lined with rumble strips, those ridges designed to make your car shake when you get close to the edge so you don't get distracted and drift into an on-coming oak. This half-foot along the road's edge is essentially where biking takes place, so it takes some adjustment (reinforced by some taint-rattling). And the roads seem no longer to bend and roll with the landscape, but to've been carved and blasted and forced (mining shaped this land). Small mountains loom over you, often draped in kudzu vines that give an overall effect of decay, like you're visiting Angkor Wat but without any ancient grandeur.

I don't wanna rag on Eastern KY, but it's an affecting and strange place to be. You're suddenly passing through and near places called Fisty, Flat Lick, Spider, Wolfpit, Mouthcard, Mousie, Scuddy, Krypton, Thousandsticks, Sizerock, Stab, Scalf, Gunlock, Wheel Rim, Bimble, and Dwarf. . .

It's perverse poetry, and perverse is the word that keeps coming to mind as we bike past dairy bars (b/c dry counties?) and ditches strewn with domestic light cans (b/c dry counties) and small collections of mostly-abandoned buildings — towns that seem to have been in decline for a good half-century.

So. Day 18, we wake up at 4am in Lookout, KY, and get quickly to moving. This is our third straight early morning, and at this point the pre-dawn is beginning to feel good. You cover much more distance when you start early, and it's cooler (cool enough that we need to layer), and there's something truly next-level about biking up a mountain or two before the sun even rises. We feel like we're finally hitting a groove.

Ready to ride.

Even the mountains seem more doable these days — we've been going up and down mountains now for what feels like forever, and there's a sense that it's no longer a big deal. We take breaks, we move as slowly as we need to, and we get it done. My knee is only occasionally acting up (it's more or less good now, though that's partially the product of constant stretching and vigilance).

And today is another big day of climbing, but that's like saying it's another day that ends in Y. We think. And then we set out — the early departure was dually strategic because we hoped not only to slip quietly out of Lookout, but to slip past the dogs we'd read about just west of there. But the doggies would not be denied. We got through a few long stretches of houses (the houses here occupy almost all the land in the small valleys between sheer mountains, so that your entire purview for a stretch is: mountainside, small house or collection of houses or church, a short yard, a ditch containing a stream which many of the driveways have to bridge to get to the road, the road, another mountainside), but before long we hear barking, and soon that barking is out on the road with us, chasing us up the long incline. We hustle for a while, only eventually resting when the road becomes too steep for any nearby houses.

The KY Yellowpages, up near the top of Fuck-Off Rock.

We haven't even hit the first hard incline, and already I feel like there's nothing in the tank. Sara pushes on, but I'm riding the struggle bus — somewhere between the lack of sleep, the previous long days, and the push to get past the dogs, I've run out of go. It's not 5:30am before I'm muttering, "This sucks. This sucks. This fucking sucks," between each gasped inhale. But finally we top the first mountain. We descend for a while, ride a few miles along an empty and dark Highway 23, which seems like it might've been somewhat picturesque in daylight, then we start climbing again. This is an equally strenuous rise, complete with more muttering. Finally we hit the crest, just as daylight cuts through the fog. We descend again. There's a third mountain awaiting us soon after.

We named these three peaks: Satan's Hemorrhoid, The Hot Snakes, and Fuck-Off Rock. They fucking suck. But we'd covered them all by 8am. From there, it was a relatively easy ride.

Day 18 stats: Lookout to Hindman, KY, 50.9 miles, 3925' of climbing, a sufficient amount of cursing.

Guitar Hero II: the very lap of luxury.

We cruised the last 25 miles (pro-tip: cut through Alice Lloyd College to avoid the climb near Pippa Passes) and landed at the First Baptist Student Ministries of Hindman, KY, where the youth minister's wife let us into the large (currently unused b/c of Covid) building, complete with couches, kitchen, shower, washer & dryer, A/C, video games… Thank you, Hindman First Baptist. (Also, thank you, David R. Smith, who put us in touch with the church folks — in regular times, David runs a cycling hostel out of the Knott County Historical Society, and is known as a consummate host. He's out of commission now, but still directing weary riders in the right direction. Cheers, David!)

It was one o'clock, and we were beat. But we were done for the day. We showered, we stretched, we made carbonara and did laundry and worked on our backlog of blog entries. Mostly we rested and marveled at how quickly a few simple things like clean clothes and being indoors get to feeling gloriously extravagant.

All for now.

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