Thursday, 31 May 2012

Carbondale, IL

The Ohio River flows south-west to join the Mississippi. I am cycling across the wedge of land that separates the two rivers and forms the southern tip of Illinois. The 120 km to Carbondale today had plenty of stiff climbs and swooping downhills. The roads were generally smooth and all were free of rumble strips until Giant City Road in the outskirts of Carbondale. Traffic was light. The weather was good in the morning – not too hot, no wind – and showery in the afternoon. I roller-coastered through two dog chases to second breakfast at Eddyville and on to lunch at Goreville. In the afternoon, the route went through the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. The only large non-human animals I saw there were deer. It was a good day.

In rural areas I try to acknowledge oncoming motorists with a friendly gesture, hoping by doing so that when they next pass me, or another cyclist, they will be more likely to see us as human beings with whom it is possible to have a connection rather than nuisances to be sped past with minimal consideration. I'm not sure whether this is effective but I do it anyway.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Elizabethtown, IL

Amish around - I saw none

I used the floor pump at the church to inflate my front tyre fully for the first time since it punctured on my last day in Virginia. I can only get it semi-full with the small pump I carry with me. I had breakfast at the diner in Sebree and second breakfast in Clay, where I briefly saw Thomas and Abi. I carried on to Marion, KY and had an excellent lunch before rolling down to the Ohio River.

Farewell, Kentucky
As I approached, I saw vehicles coming towards me. I realised that meant the ferry had just docked and would soon be loading for the return journey. With a burst of speed, I made it on board and waved goodbye to Kentucky. The ferry runs all day with crossings every thirty minutes. There is no charge for passengers or vehicles. I disembarked at Cave in Rock, Illinois, my third state. I looked in vain for the welcome sign so I could take a photo. I was told later that it is on the road north past the junction where the TransAm Trail turns left. Before going that way myself, I turned right and went to investigate the state park. I had in mind to stay in the lodge there. I found it at the top of a very steep hill with an adjoining restaurant that is closed except at weekends. The setup wasn't quite what I wanted. I decided to keep cycling.

On Tower Rock Road, southern Illinois
I followed a quiet, scenic and hilly road west, parallel to the river, emerging eventually at Elizabethtown (pop. 350), my second stopping place of that name this week. Here I found the characterful and comfortable River Rose Inn. The co-owner, Bruce, is a great guy (I didn't meet his wife Sue as she is away for a few days). Although I took a room, he allows cyclists to camp at the back if they wish. If I hadn't had a rest day so recently, I would have taken one here. It is a picturesque spot with everything you need to relax completely and none of the distractions that kept me busy in Bardstown. A floating restaurant around the corner closes at 7pm.

Catfish a specialty
Today I cycled 107 km. My total so far, with three weeks out of twelve completed, is 1,629 km, approximately a thousand miles. That is satisfactory although the 502 km for the past week is on the low side. It is accounted for by my doing little or no cycling on the very hot days of Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Sebree, KY

Two hummingbirds out of frame

I woke to thunder, lightning and rain. When the storm cleared, I tried unsuccessfully to catch on camera the two hummingbirds that flitted around the feeder on the front porch. After a good breakfast, I thanked my hosts for their generous hospitality and set off down the lane back to the road. I'd been cycling for half an hour when a new storm struck. Thunder and lightning were all around me; heavy gusting rain lashed the bike. I had to get off the exposed road. There was no suitable shelter. For want of an alternative, I crouched by a clump of trees. It was less than ideal. I remained there for three quarters of an hour until it was safe to proceed.

Sheltering in the gas station
I rode on some way until, soon after I left Fordsville, a new electrical storm struck. There was a gas station ahead and I took refuge there, nursing a coffee for an hour and a half while the storm raged outside. For part of the time I talked to another customer, Loyle, who lived close by. He kindly invited me to camp in his yard if the weather stopped me going further today. When the sky lightened in the direction I was heading, I set off. By the time I reached Whitesville, the rain had dwindled to almost nothing. I still had most of the day's ride in front of me but this was the last place I could get a meal. I knew if I didn't eat now, I would regret it later. When I emerged from the diner, the clouds had gone and the sun shone.

After the rain
I reached Utica, my fallback destination for the day. Cyclists are allowed to stay in the fire station there. I telephoned my preferred destination, the First Baptist Church in Sebree, and left a message that I would like to stay in their cyclist hostel tonight. Then I set off again. When the sky in front darkened and the wind picked up, I wondered if perhaps I should have stayed in Utica. There was only a shower and then the sky cleared. After 118 km, I reached Sebree at 5pm and was welcomed at the church by Jason. He showed me around and said the pastor and his wife, Bob and Violet, would feed me at 7pm. I had struck lucky again.

Afternoon scene, western Kentucky
There were three dog chases today. My tactic was to yell, 'Stay!' and keep pedaling.

Cyclists Abi and Thomas; hosts Violet and Bob
Cyclists Thomas and Abi arrived from Rough River Dam an hour after I did. The three of us shared a mountain of food with Bob and Violet and their guest Glen. I asked if there was a way to make a donation to support their work. The answer was no but thank you.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Feltus Holler Farm, KY

Typical landscape today

As I left E-Town, two women, out for an early morning jog, flagged me down to ask about my ride. It was the first of several good encounters today. Later I made the first of four stops for refreshments. By chance, it was at the point where my route to the Feltus Holler Farm intersected the official TransAm route. I was delighted to find Miles there, joined soon after by Alan and Andy, the three British cyclists I last saw in Virginia. I had continued to read Andy's blog regularly, and also Ed's; he has been riding with them a lot. After we'd sat around chatting for a while, I was about to leave when Don and Dottie arrived. All five were on their way from Hodgenville to Rough River Dam.

At about 9:20am I crossed from the Eastern to the Central time zone, set my watch back an hour, then cycled the hour to 9:20am all over again. There was no sign announcing the transition, perhaps to avoid having motorists take their eyes off the road to fiddle with their watches. The change puts me 15 instead of 14 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard time. It's interesting that Kentucky is split between two time zones, something the Australian states have always refused to allow.

Live snake on the road
For most of the day, I cycled down US 62-W, the same road I was on yesterday. Traffic on this public holiday was light. It got progressively hotter to the point where I felt I was cycling in a furnace. Mid-morning, a breeze got up from the south. It didn't help me in my south-westward direction but had a cooling effect. Some clouds covered the sun for the last part of the ride, giving some relief.

Cyclist cabin
It was 86 km to the head of the farm driveway, then 660 m of hilly gravel lane to the house, where I was given a warm welcome by Beth and Garry. I have the air-conditioned cyclist cabin to myself, complete with bed and shower. In the main house, I was able to run my clothes through the washer and tap into the wifi.

The tornado-resistant main house
Beth is a former President of the Grayson County Clothesline of Quilts Project and has painted many of the quilt patterns on barns. She sells her work through the site linked here.

Caitlin, Beth and Garry

In the evening, Garry, Beth and niece Caitlin cooked a splendid dinner and we had some good conversation. They are friendly and hospitable people and I enjoyed a delightful evening in their beautiful home.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

A word to my readers

I hope that this blog is helping you to share some of the excitement and enjoyment of my American adventure. My journey is only partly about cycling through beautiful countryside and meeting wonderful people. It also has a serious purpose, raising funds for Operation Smile, the medical charity that treats children in developing countries suffering from cleft lip or cleft palate. I am very grateful to those of you who have already contributed generously to this cause. I would urge others of you to please consider doing the same. If you have been thinking that at some point you would make a donation, then there is no time like the present! Australians may want to support me through a charitable donation before the tax year ends in June. Americans and others may want to mark the start of the holiday season with a gift to a good cause. Secure links to make an online donation are available by clicking on the tab 'My fundraising' at the top of the window. Please help me to make a difference in the lives of children who have the misfortune to be born with this distressing condition.

Elizabethtown, KY

Dicing with death

Today I had the chance to perform one of the traditional duties of the TransAm touring cyclist: helping a tortoise cross the road. I came across this little fellow early on in its perilous journey to the other side of the highway. I picked it up and deposited it in the grass on the far side of the road.

Safely across
I set off from Bardstown straight after breakfast at about 7:20am. Within two hours, despite a stop for Gatorade, I was wilting. The day's stage would typically be to Hodgenville, a ride of about 70 km, where with police permission I would put up my tent in the county park. The temperature today is, however, predicted to hit 35C (down from an earlier forecast of 36C). To keep heat stress within bounds, I thought it better to ride a shorter stage and find somewhere air-conditioned to stay. That meant coming off-route to Elizabethtown (39 km). It is south-west of Bardstown and reasonably positioned to enable me to continue tomorrow, in weather which may be a couple of degrees cooler, on a longer ride to the home of Beth and Garry Feltus, north of Caneyville. Their kind offer to put me up was made as a comment to my post from Harrodsburg. I know from reading other cyclist journals (for example, here) that I am fortunate to have received this invitation and that I can look forward to a great stay with them on Memorial Day.

Better than my cramped tent
Mostly on this trip, I have been staying in motels. One of the good things about doing that in America is that I am rarely asked for identification. Usually, on checking in, I am asked to declare my name and home address and sign a form and that is all. Today for the first time I was asked for photo ID, though not for my address. I don't know the reason for the difference. Many motels offer a discount to guests over 60 years old (occasionally 55). I am invariably given the benefit of this without having to prove my eligibility. That may say something about how elderly and decrepit I look!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Rest day in Bardstown

N 3rd Street, Bardstown's main street

Bardstown (pop. 11,000) is an attractive small town, supposedly one of the hundred best in America. It was founded in 1780 and is the second-oldest city in Kentucky. Many early buildings survive and are still in use in the historic centre. I had dinner last night (white bean soup and pot roast) in one that has been a restaurant continuously for more than two hundred years. There is a genuine shopping street, with cafes and an interesting bookshop, such as one rarely sees in American towns. Infrastructure has been provided to help pedestrians cross roads. There are some beautiful old homes close to the centre. Bardstown boasts that it is the bourbon capital of the world, with several distilleries in the neighbourhood. 

There are five small museums, located close to one another in the town centre. Ten dollars buys a combined ticket giving entry to them all. Three have a military theme, with one being devoted to the Civil War west of the Appalachians, one to women in the Civil War, and one to the involvement of people from 'mid-America' in all the country's wars up to 1991. There is a small natural history museum with stuffed animals of North America and cases of fossils and minerals. The fifth museum is an open-air re-creation of a pioneer village of the 1790s with original or restored log cabins and a water mill.

Basilica of St Joseph Proto-Cathedral
Bardstown has the first Catholic cathedral to be built west of the Allegheny Mountains, the Basilica of St. Joseph, consecrated in 1819. It is now a parish church but in honour of its past retains the title of Proto-Cathedral. The interior photo below shows part of the timber beam making up one of the columns. It stands on a stone foundation.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Bardstown, KY

Please add a comment if you can identify these

At 6am I presented myself at the Olde Bus Station restaurant in Harrodsburg for a sustaining breakfast of blueberry pancakes with bacon and coffee. Thus fortified I was able to make an early start on the 73 km ride to Bardstown. There were no service stops on the way. The route was less hilly than for some days past and I made good progress.

Kentucky is known for its horses
Dog incidents were few and minor. At Mackville, a lone black dog slowly took up position facing me at the other end of the main street. I thought I was in for a showdown from a 50s Western, where hero and villain fight it out in front of the saloon. But the dog didn't have energy even to bark and I went unmolested on my way.

Typical landscape today
I came to the Lincoln Homestead State Park, associated with the family of the President's father, and spent a few minutes walking around. It was early in the day and no-one else was about.

At Maud, I had the good fortune to meet cyclist John, whose home is in Bardstown. He was training for the next leg of his westward cross-country ride, which he is doing a couple of weeks at a time. That will be across Utah and Nevada on the ACA Western Express route. As a local who has already cycle-toured through Kentucky, John's advice was invaluable. We discussed the options for the next few days given the expected extreme weather, with temperatures likely to reach near record levels.

John from Bardstown, training for the Western Express
In the end, I decided to stay two nights in Bardstown, doing no cycling on Saturday. I don't really need another rest day so soon after the last one but I have time in hand. I definitely don't want to come down with sunstroke or the ozone poisoning that John was concerned about.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Harrodsburg, KY

Signage is usually clear
The Appalachians may be behind me but there was still plenty of climbing today. It was a beautiful ride of 77 km, a few more than it should have been, thanks to faulty navigation in Bryantsville. The road was smooth, the traffic light, the sky blue and the foliage green. Perfect cycling! There were only two dog chases and the second was half-hearted.

This single-lane road was a delight to ride
I'm staying in a rundown motel in the centre of Harrodsburg (pop. 8,000). The ACA group are elsewhere in town. I've already run into a couple of them, Franklin and Nick.

I want to use some time this afternoon or evening to plan my stops for the next few days. The weather forecast is for a scorching weekend with temperatures of 34C. Ideally I would like to ride shorter distances, finish by midday, and hole up in an air-conditioned motel room for the rest of the day. That may not be possible. Monday 28th is the Memorial Day holiday and many Americans will make a long weekend of it, driving to scenic spots and booking all the accommodation.
Decorated barns are a feature of this area

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Berea, KY

Today was our last in these mountains and a shorter one (79 km). The three of us lingered over our morning coffee, slow to get going. Don and Dottie have allotted more time to their cross-country trip than I have and are likely to take a rest day in Berea, so I may not see them again. They have been excellent company in the three days we have spent together and I will miss them.

The hills were not so long today but some short pitches were very steep. In my lowest gear, I pumped furiously at the pedals trying to reach the top before my heart and lungs exploded. The last one came too soon after its predecessor, before I had fully recovered my breath. I had to dismount and walk up part of it. There was little traffic until quite close to Berea (pop. 14,000), no coal trucks, and no dog chases – just barking. Rumble strips, where they occurred, were mainly narrow and deep, impossible to cycle on, and without the gap every 10 m to allow safe crossing by cyclists that we are used to in Australia.

The descent to Big Hill
I stopped in McKee for second breakfast of biscuit and gravy, a common dish here though exotic to non-Americans, and again in Sand Gap for a drink. I had good conversations with the staff in both places. That was more or less the end of the climbing. A tremendous 3 km, 6 percent descent on a good wide shoulder took me to the village of Big Hill and the turnoff to Berea.

No front plates in Kentucky
There has been a steady reduction in the average level of affluence as I have moved from the coast into the interior. The narrow mountain valleys of the Appalachians are obviously poor. There are some attractive houses but many people live in trailers or poorly-maintained shacks. I was told that unemployment is high and drug misuse common. The economy here is not flourishing.

My route is covered by 11 map sections and I have 12 weeks to ride it. At the end of my second week, I have completed the second map section and cycled 1,127 km. I am making very satisfactory progress.

Booneville, KY

Don and Dottie
It rained a little overnight. Tuesday started cool and cloudy and remained that way. After an early breakfast, we set off at 7:10am, sad to say goodbye to David, our generous host at Hindman. The Bike Route 76 signs, which had continued into Kentucky, ended at the exit from town. Today's ride was 103 km. The worst section was supposed to be the 11 km stretch on the busy SR 80. (See, for example, Mike Weingarten's graphic description from 2011 in the middle of the post linked here.) Perhaps because it was early in the day – I reached the shopping plaza near the end of this section at a few minutes past nine o'clock – perhaps because the cleaning crew I saw later on the verges of SR 15 had passed that way, I found the conditions quite tolerable. The shoulder was wide and mostly free of debris, the traffic no worse than on the Federal Highway outside Canberra. Even the rumble strips, which I never came across in Virginia, were not too bad. They varied in design, most often being wide and shallow, sometimes occupying the whole of the shoulder or the central third where the shoulder was wide.

Log cathedral in Buckhorn, built of white oak in 1928
I felt quite safe on SR 80 and SR 15, less so when the route was on shoulderless rural roads. I glanced frequently in my rear view mirror, watching for coal trucks. As it turned out, none came my way on those roads, although a handful passed in the opposite direction. The real hazard, again, was dogs. I had five or six traumatic chases, where the dog was loose on the road, running at me. My tactic today was to keep pedalling and to shout, 'Go home' repeatedly in my loudest voice. Twice, when a large dog bounded out from my right, catching me by surprise, I reacted instinctively by yanking the handlebars to the left, moving from the edge of the road to the centre of the lane. Fortunately, no cars were coming past. If they had been, they would probably have been in the other lane, Kentucky drivers being as respectful towards cyclists as those in Virginia. For the first time on this trip, however, a front-seat passenger yelled abuse as she passed. Against that, several drivers gave friendly toots and waves.

Linda's Victorian Rose, west of Booneville
I reached the Shopwise supermarket, the agreed rendezvous in Booneville, at 2:15pm after two meal stops along the way. Don and Dottie arrived a couple of hours later. We bought some food to cook this evening then Linda drove us to her Victorian Rose lodging house on the other side of town. It used to be a B&B but no meals are provided nowadays. There is no wifi. We enjoyed a pleasant evening there.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Rest day in Hindman

I'm staying at a marvellous place, the Knott County Historical Society cyclist hostel. As the first to arrive yesterday, I got my pick of the three spacious tent rooms provided. When they are taken, guests must pitch their own tents on the 43 acres. There are many cats outside the house. The owner, David, who has been running the hostel for 17 years, says only the one inside belongs to him; the others are just visiting. David welcomed me at the top of the precipitous access road with a glass of iced tea. After I had showered and changed, he took all my dirty clothes away and laundered them. I used the wifi, snacked, drank, and talked to the other cyclists.

ACA group at breakfast
This morning, I had breakfast at 7am with the ACA group, who set off for Booneville in ones and twos, as they were ready, at about 8am. Don and Dottie are staying a second night here too. I patched my tube, had lunch with them, and strolled down for a look at the town (pop. 800). Generally a lazy and satisfying day.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Hindman, KY

Entering my second state

I dropped down the mountain from Breaks, out of the morning fog and across the state line, into Kentucky. I would have stayed a second night in Breaks but today is Sunday, when the coal trucks in Kentucky are off the road, and it was too good an opportunity to let go by. The day was another long one, 114 km with four big climbs. Either they were steeper than yesterday's or I was more tired, because I used my bottom gear quite a lot. My destination was Hindman. The ACA group were also headed there and I came together with some of the them on the road from time to time.

Approaching Elkhorn City
There were numerous dog incidents, none serious. Nearly always, the dogs were chained, or trained not to cross a boundary, or the owner was present to call them back. Every time, I stopped and dismounted. This seemed to make them less aggressive, although they still made a lot of noise. When I caught cyclists Don and Dottie at Lookout, they said they knew from the barking that someone was coming along behind. On one occasion a chase looked like developing. I didn't see the dogs till I was level with them. I was going at 30 km/h on a downhill and just sped past. During the day I saw a place offering Pit Bull puppies for sale and another selling Dobermanns.

Top of a long climb: Nick, Dottie, Don
When I decided on my starting date for this trip, it was with an eye on the dates of the ACA groups. I didn't want to be in sync with them because I didn't want to compete for resources in the smaller towns. Unexpectedly, I have caught up with the self-contained group. It is a pleasure to meet the riders individually and to spend time with them. Their leader, Steve, has kindly invited me to eat with them this evening. I think it's better though to get out of sync with the group again. I have decided to stay two nights in Hindman. However, they will be staying two nights in Berea, two days' ride from here, so I will catch up with them again. I hope I will continue to see them fairly often as I cross the country. A rest day tomorrow is a good idea for me anyway, after two demanding days' cycling. From here there are two more hard days to go until the end of the Appalachians.

Coal trucks at rest

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Breaks, VA

Summit of Clinch Mountain, elevation 954 m
I cycled a hilly double stage of 122 km to the edge of Virginia, climbing Clinch Mountain and Big A Mountain. Experienced my first dog chase and first puncture. Met the ACA group.

I had breakfast in this diner in Meadowview

It was an hour's pleasant ride from Chilhowie to Meadowview, where I rejoined the TransAm Trail and stopped for second breakfast. 'Are you Australian too?' was the first thing the woman behind the counter said when I entered her diner. She explained that a week ago, also on Saturday, two Australian cyclists had stopped by. She assumed that only Australians were daft enough to engage in bicycle touring. Neither she nor her other customers had heard of the TransAm Trail despite the Bike Route 76 road signs all over. I had coffee and a stack of pancakes with a side of bacon to fuel me for the climb ahead.

I was heading for Clinch Mountain. Before I reached it, there was a lovely wooded descent to the North Fork Holston River and a flattish section past Hayters Gap. The climb itself turned out to be not too bad: long but steady. I went up it in my second lowest gear. Halfway, I stopped to take a photograph and was caught by my newest biking buddy of the day, Heath. He is on his way from Baltimore to Indiana, stayed last night in Marion, and would be staying in Breaks tonight. We continued together to the summit, then he sped away as he likes fast descents and I don't.

Heath, cycling from Baltimore to Indiana
Towards the foot of the hill, I had my first dog chase. Two of them came at me from a property on the left. One danced around my front wheel, trying to head me off, the other gripped something on the back of my bike and tried to slow me down. All my plans to stop, dismount, stand on the far side of the bike, speak soothingly, avoid eye contact, use my ultrasonic zapper, vanished in the panic of the moment. I was on a downhill run and so was able to get away from the dogs. These chases will become more frequent as I enter Kentucky and I need to handle them better than this one.

Elk Garden UM Church, 5 km before Rosedale
Soon afterwards, I came to Elk Garden United Methodist Church, which, like the Willis Church I stayed at in Glendale on my first night, offers free lodging to cyclists only. I had planned to stay there tonight but it was only 11 o'clock in the morning and too early to stop. The weather was fine and I felt strong. I decided to do tomorrow's ride today. First, I checked the cyclist logbook inside the church in search of a record of the two Australians, who I have been told about several times now. I didn't see a plausible entry dating to a week ago.

At Rosedale, I found Heath. He had missed the dogs and the church. We bought drinks and energy bars, then continued together over a hill to Honaker, where we had lunch. Then we set off up Big A Mountain. Heath was faster and disappeared over the top. Big A was shorter than Clinch and mostly a gentler gradient but the descent on the other side was steeper. I had to ride the brakes more, the new pads squealing on the ceramic rims.

View descending Big A Mountain
The road was mostly downhill now for a long way, as far as Haysi. As I left that small town, my front tyre punctured. Conveniently, there was a building there with a bench outside where I could sit and change the tube safely and comfortably. I was engaged in this task when Heath appeared. He had been out of sight in Haysi when I came through. He found a possible hole in the tyre through which something sharp might have pierced the tube. Neither of us could find the hole in the tube.

Nearly there
Heath went on while I finished the job. I was quicker at it than I usually am. It helped that it was the front tyre. The last hour to Breaks was hilly. Heath was booked in to the second motel but I wanted to stay at the one with a restaurant so turned off there. I had to pay a $2 park entry fee and climb a last hill before I got there. After a shower, I went for a meal and immediately spotted the ACA self-contained TransAm group, which started on 5 May. I chatted to several of them and expect to see them again in the days ahead.