On Wednesday, we set out for another ride in the 90° heat and humidity after leaving Booneville, again climbing steep and rolling hills until we stopped at the little hometown diner and market in small town of McKee. I must’ve looked a fright because when I clacked over to the register in my bike shoes, the owner looked at me with concern and said the cold ginger ale in my hand was on the house.
He asked about my travels and sadly told me that “one of mine” had just been killed not far away over the past weekend, as he urged me to ride carefully and to watch out for “maniac drivers.” I later read that 24 year old Jamie Rogers from Maryland, riding with a group that was raising money to fight cancer, had been struck and killed by a pickup truck while changing a flat tire on the shoulder of the road. It was a depressing piece of news and made the rest of the ride harder on our nerves.
I don’t bring it up to scare anyone about our safety or discourage anyone from bike touring, but it’s worth discussing some of the danger involved with modern cycling. We have tried to manage much of the risk by takibg precautions such as wearing rearview mirrors on our glasses so we can see whether approaching cars are giving us space or if we should pull off the road altogether for oncoming coal or logging trucks. We have high visibility triangles, bright colored panniers and jerseys, rear and front blinking lights, and a super loud air horn (dog deterrent and alarm). We ride defensively and try to pull off into a driveway or away from the road if we need to stop for anything. We also have bike bells and use a simple code system: one ring is to call attention to something, two rings means a car is approaching, and four rings means we need to stop. We try not to ride when visibility is poor and alert each other in case of road debris or dogs. Still, accidents happen, and we were saddened to hear about the tragic loss of the young woman.
Once we got closer to Berea, our heavy hearts were lightened somewhat by wider shoulders and roads and less stressful riding. There was a gorgeous descent into the bluegrass area and we cruised through petty farmland until we arrived at our hosts’ place for the night- Home Grown Hide Aways tree farm, where the lovely Jessa and Nathan welcomed us to stay on their festival grounds.
They were just wrapping up after a big music and movement festival called PlayThink, and they shared their stories of hitchhiking, meeting the Pedouin family of 5 cross country cyclists, and told us about their sweet dogs living on their farm. They also were extremely skilled and knowledgeable in the areas of eco-friendly and sustsainable natural building and lovingly showed us and explained the process behind their cob house construction in progress–a structure made of clay, sand and straw. Really cool folks doing awesome interesting work, the couple will also host an event soon called Whippoorwill, with over 75 workshops teaching earth friendly and sustainable living skills. Their dog Emmy was also the sweetest girl on campus.
We had another leisurely morning, enjoying the peace at the farm before heading into Berea to do laundry and eat awesome Thai food at a restaurant that Jessa recommended when we ran into her again near Berea College. The restaurant was great- they gave Petunia the VIP treatment- and we even carried her into a big box store to reprovision and were not hassled at all. She loved the air conditioning after working hard all morning.
Since we didn’t leave Berea until quite late in the afternoon, we thought we’d ride until we found a park to sleep in, but we realized we missed our turn and ended up in the small town of Paint Lick.
A gentleman in a straw hat called to us to ask if we were riding across country and we stopped to talk with him and his two friends. Having seen several bike tourists lost in his town, he gave us some advice on our route and then offered to let us camp at his place.
Mark, principal biologist and CEO of Copperhead Consulting, an environmental consulting firm, and local entrepreneur, welcomed us into his stately 1830’s southern style mansion, let us have warm showers, and fed us the-absolute-best brisket BBQ, potato salad and cole slaw we’ve ever had. We laughed and exchanged stories along with his business partners Brice and Marcos over decadent beer ice cream floats until midnight.
Maybe we were initially too harsh on Kentucky. Over the last few days, between meeting such inspiring and interesting folks with such passion for the environment and making the jump from rural Kentucky into the hip college town of Berea (which Marcos aptly described as going from “backwater to Berkley”), the commonwealth has redeemed itself. Okay, so there was that one day when we pulled over on the shoulderless side of the road uphill to drink water only to be greeted by three loud barking dogs and their owner, who stepped onto his front porch making a big show of the shotgun he brought brought out with him to scare us away. But it has been worthwhile to learn lots more about a state we haven’t given much thought to beyond horse racing and fried chicken. Did you know that Kentucky has the longest known cave system in the world at Mammoth Cave National Park? We didn’t either until we made a great wrong turn and ended up in Paint Lick. Life is amazing like that.