Day 50: Mackville, KY to Howardstown, KY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 1, 2011

Day 50: Mackville, KY to Howardstown, KY

I wake up at 3:00 in the morning with something stabbing through the top third of my right calf. It pulls tighter and tighter and within a few seconds I realize it's a cramp. But instead of stretching my leg out in the sleeping bag I try to climb out, which means bending my leg inward, compressing my calf even more, and helping the cramp work itself in deeper. I hobble to the kitchen, try not to wake anyone else up, and make a mental note to replace the honey buns in my diet with bananas.

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The touring bike corral.
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I sleep late and my body feels great when I finally head out into the sun and heat. But my mind's off. I pedal and think and let my thoughts wander, trying to figure out why. At a crossroads just a few miles on I stop, pull out my list of directions, study it carefully, and that's when it hits me: I've gone too many days in a row with a plan. When I set out with a specific destination in mind, it creeps into every part of my day. I worry about mileage and spend more time with my head down, ignoring the world around me. I ride longer stretches without stopping, which means less rest, fewer pictures, and not as much time to reflect on the journey. It takes away the uncertainty that leads to a lot of rewarding riding and unique experiences. I need to break my rhythm.

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I feel better immediately after I figure it out. I turn down a peaceful one-lane road and head west, where a cool breeze blows, the green countryside shines brilliantly, and dogs seek shade in the shadows of lifted pickup trucks. I pass through Lincoln Homestead State Park, which includes the land on which the home of Abraham Lincoln's mother and uncle one stood. A golf course is now its defining feature. It's great riding and I'm finally back in the state of mind where I can enjoy all of it.

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The afternoon passes indoors in Bardstown, because it's too hot to do anything else. Just after 6:00 I pack up and say goodbye to Chris, who's been hanging out with me at the library for hours. He's staying in town tonight and I head off on a different route tomorrow. It's unlikely we'll see each other again along the way. We didn't have grand philosophical conversations or discover a profound connection. We won't attend each other's wedding, have long talks on the phone, or even meet up after our trips end. But we shared a fun week and a half of bike riding, bullshitting, and laughing at the ridiculous world around us. Sometimes that's enough. When a father walks through a library, smacks his teenage daughter on the head with a book, and then immediately tells her to shut up when she starts to complain, it's great to have someone to share that moment with. Chris is a legitimately good good guy, a fierce rider, and the rest of my trip across the country will feel noticeably different without him.

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I leave town without a plan, and that's the way I like it. It's hot but beautiful riding past bourbon distilleries and country homes as the sun casts long shadows and causes the colors to shine in shades distinctly different from only a few hours before. Every fourth house has at least a couple of people sitting on the covered porch out front, all of whom stop talking and stare when I ride past. I could pedal by naked on a pink unicycle and see the same reaction.

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The later it gets, the more animals scurry off into the brush when I ride past. I see almost as many fake deer in front yards as I do American flags. Tractors motor by going the opposite direction and the driver in the glassed-in cab always waves. The blinking light attached to the bike's rear rack flashes red, but it doesn't matter because I have the road all to myself. The heat fades within a couple of hours, the hills stop bothering me, and I lose track of the number of miles I'm riding. It's everything I wanted this morning. I feel re-energized.

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Darkness starts to fall as I reach the edge of Howardstown. I scan for a school or a church and within only a few hundred feet I see it: a giant picnic shelter located directly between a white two-room schoolhouse and a couple of brick-faced Catholic church buildings. I hesitate for exactly two seconds and then tear across the grass and lean the bike up against one of the 26 picnic tables. (I count them.) The pavilion sits next to a concrete basketball court and a grass baseball field with a modest wood and chicken wire backstop. Dogs bark and cows moo on the farms located directly to the east. All the bugs that flew into my face and up my nose over the last ten miles disappear. It's exactly what I hoped for when I pushed out of Bardstown. It's perfect.

I set up the tent on the hard floor and head to sleep feeling confident that I've rediscovered my bike touring groove.

Today's ride: 59 miles (95 km)
Total: 2,551 miles (4,105 km)

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