Day 51: Howardstown, KY to Cave City, KY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 2, 2011

Day 51: Howardstown, KY to Cave City, KY

One old-timer stands in front of the convenience store. Two others sit on the edge of the adjacent concrete walkway. They smoke, spit chewing tobacco, and talk about scratch tickets and what they'd do if they won the $200 million Powerball lottery. Boats and tractors are involved. Charities are not.

Another older man, somewhere in his 50s, with a cowboy hat and dark glasses, walks out through the front door. He's big. Not huge as far as Kentucky goes, but not small either.

"He called me fat boy!" he yells out with a laugh. "Can you believe that?"

No one says anything. They very much can believe that.

"Hey Val!" he yells at one of the store employees, who sweeps up cigarette butts with a red plastic broom. "I'm a fat boy! Can I get the fat boy special? What's the fat boy special?"

"Yeah, the fat boy special," she says with a hint of a smile. "That'll be 'bout a dozen eggs, half a peeg, buncha toast, yeah!"

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Death fills my mind as I walk through the uneven rows of graves that line the grounds of the South Fork Baptist Church cemetery. Some of the markers are beautiful, but most look much the same. A few date back farther than a century. I decide that when I die I don't want to buried in a casket with an ornate headstone carefully placed on the ground above. It seems painfully self-important. Instead I want my ashes spread from a bicycle as it moves along on a slow early morning ride in the country, over a place like Airline Road in LaRue County, Kentucky, where the path runs barely wider than a lane, crickets chirp, birds call, rabbits run from one side of the road to the other, and fields of green and gold glow brilliantly among old barns and grain silos.

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I leave the main TransAm route and head south on a completely empty stretch that doesn't meet any reasonable definition of a highway. I focus on the cracks that run along and through the faded yellow center line and pass an old tractor that coughs and sputters as it inches its rusted plow across a ten-acre plot. With the road all to myself I stop in the middle to take pictures. Soon clouds cover the sun enough to buy me an extra hour of cool. Not long after I cross into the Central time zone and gain an hour on the clock, too. I get a lot of one-finger waves from passing drivers, but it's always the index finger, never the middle, so it's all good.

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Munfordsville has everything: a library, a pool hall, a flower shop, three insurance agents, two funeral homes, a drug store, and a grand old courthouse that sits at the center of town. It's a place where I could hire a lawyer, talk to the editor of the county newspaper, buy a lawnmower or ATV, receive investment advice, and even rent a canoe. But after riding up and down every major street I can't find any place serving food that wasn't made two months ago and doesn't come wrapped in plastic.

I'm sitting in front of a gas station, destroying a honey bun, when a beat-up blue Chevy truck pulls up to the pumps. It's covered in dents and rust spots, the tires crack around the edges, and the rear bumper hangs loose at an odd angle. The man behind the wheel easily clocks in at 400 pounds. Two others fill the seats in the cab and four more take up most of the space in the truck's bed. They're a thoroughly unattractive bunch, their accents run thick, most wear worn-out and dirty clothes, and everyone looks vaguely related. They don't stop long, because the driver only wants ten dollars of gas pumped into a tank that holds much more. When he turns the key the engine screeches and sputters to a start, the doors slam hard soon after, and then the truck and its crew roar off to the south at high speed. The beautiful scenery and cleaner roadsides of Central Kentucky make it easy to forget that more than a quarter of the people in this county live on an amount of money that falls short of the federal poverty line.

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I reach the end of the quiet back road into Cave City and there, off to my left, sits something ridiculous and wonderful and uniquely American: teepees, a baker's dozen of them, some more faded than others, arranged in a semi-circle only a few hundred feet off to the east side of Highway 31. They're part of a motel called the Wigwam Village. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, seven other places just like this one were built around the country, including another in Kentucky, two in California, and one each in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arizona. Although the motels operated successfully for many years, the construction of the Interstate highway system and the rise of national motel chains slowly took away their business. Only three still exist today, and the teepees in front of me are the only ones found east of Arizona.

The place is kitschy and cheesy. It plays up ignorant stereotypes. It's a complete tourist trap.

I'm absolutely spending the night here.

I check in at the office, a large teepee located in the middle of the half-circle that sells Native American-themed knick-knacks to tourists with more money than a sense of historical accuracy. From there I pedal over to the south end of the property, where the structure I'm staying in stands at least 30 feet tall. A door barely wide enough for the loaded bike to pass through sits within an entryway painted to look like a pair of open tent flaps. A thin red zig-zagged stripe runs around the middle of the building, and metal pieces designed to look like sticks jut out in four directions from the top. The plastered walls show their age and the door needs to be replaced, but I have my heart set on staying in a cliched example of a teepee, and this thing fits the bill perfectly.

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Inside the walls don't run smooth, but instead piece together in a collection of polygons that meet at hard angles and tilt inward as they reach the ceiling. The rest of the room is painfully normal: linoleum floors, a tiny TV, white blinds covering one of the windows, and an air conditioner crammed into the space where the other used to be. In an attempt to make the space feel more Native, a single print of a dark-skinned girl hangs on the widest section of wall, and the bed frame is designed to look like it's built from logs. The same zig-zag pattern from the outside of the teepee runs along the edge of the tile in the bathroom. I have to tilt my head back to see the mirror, because it's attached to a wall that angles back toward me.

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An earlier ride through Cave City showed that it's mostly made up of a long string of run-down motels that advertise affordable weekly and monthly rates and go to great lengths to announce that they are under new management. I stick to the comfort of my teepee, which I absolutely love. I embrace my inner tourist and piss away the afternoon and evening with equal doses of writing, phone calls, route planning, and awful cable television. It turns out to be really satisfying.

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 2,603 miles (4,189 km)

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