Day 45: Lookout, KY to Bonnyman, KY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 27, 2011

Day 45: Lookout, KY to Bonnyman, KY

"Alright dude, have a good ride. Maybe I'll see ya tonight," I say to Chris as he heads out the heavy metal gym door a few minutes before me.

He likes to ride steady, arrive early, check out the place he's staying, and then hang out for the rest of the afternoon and evening. I'm usually on the road all day—partly because I ride slower, but mostly because I stop and take pictures, or write notes, or eat something that's terrible for me while I talk with the locals. But at the end of the day we always seem to end up at the same spot. It's a good setup.

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The road up and out of Lookout isn't wide enough for two cars to pass in most places. The surface runs rough and gives my shoulder a short zap of pain over every bump. Four out of every five houses I pass arrived here on wheels. Unleashed dogs bark and give chase every quarter of a mile, but mostly I handle them without a problem. If they're small I just keep riding. If they're big enough to knock me off balance in a collision I slow down or stop, let them yell at me for a minute or two, and then push on.

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A cemetery, built into the side of a steep hill. I picture a hilarious incident involving a pallbearer losing his grip on a casket during a hot, sweaty summer funeral.
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Halfway up the four-mile climb I round a corner and see six dogs hanging out in the middle of the street, not close to any house or front yard or driveway. That's never a good sign. As soon as the first one spots me he starts running down the hill. Four others follow quickly. The last one can't walk normally because his hind legs don't work, but that doesn't stop him. His front half motors along while everything else drags on the ground, his right thigh scraping along the pavement and limp legs pointing out to the left. It sounds like someone dragging a sack of clothes across a stretch of blacktop. It's one of the saddest things I've ever seen.

They all bark constantly. Two of the dogs yank on the straps of my bag and get within a few feet of my leg. I try to kick them in the face. I also use the dog spray the Kiwi gave me yesterday but miss three times in a row. Cars pass close by and almost run them over, and then as soon as the danger's gone they focus on me again, growling and snarling and raising a ruckus that causes every other dog within a half mile to start barking right along with them. My heart races and my dislike of Eastern Kentucky grows. It goes on like this for five tense minutes until a line of three cars slowly heads down the hill, creating a wedge between the dogs and me. I hop up on the seat, clip into the pedals, and ride away as quickly as I can.

I learned a lot about the dog problems in this area before I left home. It turns out all of the awful things I read are completely true.

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I pictured this area of Kentucky as one roller coaster hill after another, but so far it isn't. River valleys mean long stretches of easy miles between the killer ups. With the overcast skies and cooler temperatures it's great riding, although I pay close attention to oncoming traffic, because in these parts the road's center line is only a suggestion. Most cars and trucks fly through the middle of the corners and drive with a tire or two hanging over the line the rest of the time.

I don't want to work anywhere with an entrance for ambulances.
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This might be the dirtiest state in the country. I push up another long hill and pass hundreds of pieces of garbage in the ditches that line the roads. It's an endless string of fast food wrappers from Wendy's, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Arby's, and McDonalds, and bottles of beer with Bud Light, Natural Ice, and Budweiser labels on the side. Trash literally sits everywhere.

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Rain falls harder as I reach the top of the hill. I take shelter beneath the awning of a closed and beat-up old convenience store. It was called Last Chance when it was open, because the county I just rode through is a dry county where alcohol isn't sold. A few minutes later, two guys scrounging around the outside of the place for scrap metal walk up and join me under the cover to escape the downpour. Michael's in his mid-30s with a round face, freckles, and a reddish goatee and hair. Danny's no older than 15. He's skinny, with dark hair gelled flat, and wears a black t-shirt with a green energy drink logo on the front.

"Aw man, looks like yew dun wrecked on that thing," Michael says after he takes a look at the nastiness on my shoulder.

I tell him the story and explain where I'm going.

"Yeah, I see y'all ride past on bikes ever' few days now it seems lahk."

I talk about how the TransAm runs through Kentucky on its way between Virginia and Oregon. I hand him the map I'm using to try and show the route I'm taking.

"See, we're at the county line here," I say. "Then I'm riding onto Hindman and—'

"Hyndman. S'pronounced Hyndman."

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I tell him a little more about where I'm headed and how the trip's gone. Unlike a lot of the people I've met so far, he's genuinely interested. He lives in the area, but up until the last ten minutes had no idea why all of the loaded bikes he's seen over the past few years chose to come through here.

"Well I'll be," he says, still amazed by all of it. "They sure sendin' ya over some steep hills. I never be able ta do that. Won't see no one else 'round here doin' it neither. We all's too fat!"

The three of us stand there laughing, and then for a few moments no one says anything. We stand and stare and watch the rain pound the pavement.

"Look a that over there," Michael says to Danny as he points to an old satellite dish perched high on a hill about a hundred feet away. "Aluminum!" And then he starts to laugh again.

I ask both of them what people do around here for fun.

"Nothin'," Danny says.

"Yeah, pretty much," Michael agrees. "Hang out, drink, fish, shoot. Sometimes we shoot from one hill ovah to the side of the next one. Ya know, redneck stuff."

I assumed the two were buddies. It turns out that not only are they related, but they're father and son, even though they look nothing alike and Michael seems way too young to be a dad. Then I remember that this isn't Seattle. Most people don't go to college and wait until they're in their late 20s with a solid job and mortgage to start pumping out kids.

The rain lets up within 20 minutes.

"Have a good trip," Michael tells me as I put on my helmet. "And y'all travel safe."

I shake their hands and speed off down the other side of the soaked mountain.

I see more rain coming, so I hang out in the next town, a place named Bypro. In Seattle, if it's raining now it could easily pour for the next eight days without stopping. Here it's just a thunderstorm, so all I have to do is flex a little patience and wait for it to pass. In the hour I sit under the aluminum awning of a tiny fast food place, five stray dogs walk by, all on their own, headed nowhere in particular. I thought that sort of thing only happened in third-world countries. I also realize that I haven't seen a single non-white person since leaving Christiansburg in Virginia.

I wanted to experience something different on this trip, something far removed from what I'm used to at home. That's exactly what I'm getting.

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My favorite sign of the trip.
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"Whoooo doggy!" I hear a voice scream out.

I snap my head to the left and see a 40-something drunk woman hanging halfway out the passenger-side window of a red Chevy Cavalier parked on the opposite side of the road.

"Pump those legs!" she yells out. "Yeeeeeeah!"

At least the people are great.

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I run into Chris riding through Hindman. My map says that the county's Historical Society offers some kind of camping, so he calls to find out more. When Chris tells the man on the other end of the phone that their rate is out of his price range, the guy very quickly explains that Hindman has a vagrancy law.

"I guess you could ride on to Hazard and try settin' up at the city park," he tells Chris. "Though a few years ago a girl got killed there. They chopped her head off and all that."

He's a natural-born salesman.

We ride over to a big grassy area near a river and the town's library. As we look for possible places to set up, a man in a blue pickup truck drives into the parking lot and stops alongside of us.

"I saw y'all standin' here and wanted to let ya know that this town has a vagrancy law," he says. Every person living here knows about it, apparently.

"It ain't that we unfriendly, mos' the people 'round here. But ya know, we got these laws on the books and they gotta enforce 'em."

Chris asks if he knows of any places we can set up for the night.

"The Histor-cal Societah's the best ya gonna find, I'm afraid," he says.

We stand there in silence for a few seconds.

"Y'all do the stealth campin'? Yeah, yew been on the road long enough, yew do. Yew could try that. Just make sure ya outta the city limits. And be careful where ya set up. People 'round here get reeeeal skittish."

Welcome to Hindman, Kentucky, stranger.

Later on Chris mentions that the out-of-his-range price for camping was $25. A few weeks ago I would have paid that without hesitating; now it seems barely worth it. Maybe his influence is wearing off on me. Or maybe I'm turning into a cheap bastard. In any event, skipping out on Hindman works well, because the ride to the west is amazing. I cruise in the shade of rock walls that drip with water draining from the dark green hillsides above. The road runs mostly flat, fewer dogs give chase, and I see slightly less garbage than before. It helps me feel better about Kentucky and I'm happy to ride in the cool air of the evening.

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First we pass through the town of Fisty. It sits next to a place called Dwarf, and not far from Rowdy. This part of Kentucky is filled with towns given completely ridiculous names. Talcum, Tina, Vest, and Bearville aren't far to the north and east. Dice, Hardburly, Busy, Typo, Napfor, and Krypton sit within a couple hours of riding to the west. In a line to the south one can find Sassafras, Vicco, Happy, Kodak, Viper, and a even little place called Jeff. City planning and heavy drinking go hand in hand in around here.

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A light-blue Jeep heads our way, slows, and then comes to a full stop. The driver-side window comes down.

"Y'all want any cold beers?" the guy inside asks.

Chris can't say yes fast enough. The driver leans over, grabs two bottles of Miller Lite, hands them through the open window, and then speeds off just as quickly as he came.

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Chris turns off-route to find a stealth camping spot in the woods. I head onto busy Highway 80. It's a terrible stretch with loud traffic and it forces me to dodge rumble strips, chunks of coal, pieces of wood, shredded tires, and even a couple of pairs of shoes. Yet I'm happy to be riding at that moment, banging out hilly and unpleasant miles as the sun fades away and I feel strong.

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Soon I drop into the outskirts of a place called Hazard. It's a legitimate city, not just a tiny town, and it's actually called Hazard. Ridiculous. I stop at one motel—it's full. I ride up the hill to another and find it closed. I call a third and it's booked. That's the moment I realize it's Friday night on Memorial Day weekend and I won't find any place to stay. I get back on the bike and head west with the sun past the horizon and no plan.

Fifteen minutes later I see a church and pull off the highway. A meeting hall sits separate from the sanctuary. It's built into the side of a hill, which leaves a large covered section below. It isn't much, but I'm not in a position to look for better. I'm so tired and lazy that I dive into the tent without setting up the poles, content to let the mesh fall down over my face and body. Crickets chirp and dogs bark in the distance. Cars and semis roar past a few hundred feet away.

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Bicycle touring—it's the life of kings.

Today's ride: 78 miles (126 km)
Total: 2,327 miles (3,745 km)

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