Day 52: Cave City, KY to near Richardsville, KY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 3, 2011

Day 52: Cave City, KY to near Richardsville, KY

I pull out of the gas station a mile down the road and find that the back tire won't track straight. It's going flat, for the first time in 2,600 miles. I turn off in front of a Mexican tienda two blocks up, unload everything, flip the bike over, and pull off the tire and rim. Nothing's stuck in the tread and I see no holes where a nail or piece of glass slipped through. The wavy pink line of the wear strip runs all the way around, but that isn't surprising. It isn't until I lean on the tire that I find the problem: a hair-thin slice in the sidewall that's probably been there for awhile. When the pressure in the tube stayed high it wasn't an issue. But as the tire sagged lower under the weight of me and all of my gear, the sidewall pinched very slightly against the tube and eventually created a tiny hole.

I throw in a new tube, place a duct tape patch over the tear in the sidewall, and pump the tire up to 90 psi. I know that I have a new tire arriving in Carbondale, Illinois next week. As long as I keep the pressure in the tube up, my old one should hold out until then.

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I pick up where I left off yesterday and enjoy another amazing morning ride in the country. I travel a route I pieced together months ago on Google Maps and it's exactly as I pictured it back then as I sat slouched in the creaking old office chair at my desk, wanting so badly to be out crossing America by bike.

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Rolling up an easy hill I pass a beat-up mobile home and see a tough-looking old man with a Harley-Davidson shirt, a scraggly beard, tattoos on his arms, and a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth trying to herd his wife's pretty, yapping, anxious Pomeranian back into the house after letting it out to take a crap in the overgrown front yard. He goes from intimidating to hilarious in a split second. Just beyond the top of the hill a horse-drawn carriage passes in the opposite direction, so slowly it's almost not moving. It's the first time on this trip I've seen one not packed with bored-looking tourists. Instead, a small, older Amish woman sits at the reins, her eyes peeking out from behind thick glasses, and the top of her head covered by a black shawl. We both wave as we pass, me bound for Bowling Green, she headed home, or to the market, or to a workshop that can re-shoe her tired-looking horse. Less than a mile up the road, a couple of small birds dive-bomb a vulture ten times their size after he tries to upset their nest. The countryside probably seems boring at car speed, but from the comfort of a bike seat it tells a fascinating story.

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I stand in front of the National Corvette Museum, wipe my forehead, neck, and arms, and try to let my body cool down. As I wait, a middle-aged guy walks over and starts asking about my trip. His name is Steve and his questions are very precise because he's a bike rider who's done some loaded touring. When I tell him where I'm headed he mentions that he lives not far from the southern end of Illinois in the city of Paducah, Kentucky. He hands me his business card and says that if I make it out his way on my trip he'd be happy to host me for a night, offer me a meal, and hit me with some more questions. I've known him for all of five minutes and he's already willing to open his home to me. Bicycle tourists are such great people.

In the introduction to this journal I mention buying a sports car in 2007, and how that helped push my bike touring ambitions back by a year. That car was a metallic silver Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a completely ridiculous machine with a 5.7-liter engine that churns out 405 horsepower, a six-speed transmission, titanium exhaust components, electronic traction control and active handling systems, massive tires rated for speeds above 200 miles per hour, and front and rear brake rotors that stretch more than a foot in diameter. There wasn't a greater car for a 24-year-old guy at that time. I absolutely loved it. It's the appreciation for that car, and for the history and beauty of Corvettes in general, that brings me to this museum.

I walk inside and see four brand new Corvettes, fresh from the factory across the street. They sit in a row, surrounded by velvet ropes. Cameras hang down from the ceiling, with one pointed at each car. They're web cams, which let owners keep an eye on their new vehicle over the Internet before they come to Bowling Green to take delivery and drive it home. It's an obsessive setup, but that's the word that best describes the people who visit this place. They know what colors were available during the 2003 model year. They understand why that handlebar-looking thing sits above the glove box. When they walk past the museum's life-size statue of Zora Arkus-Duntov, their reaction is "Awesome!" and not "Who the hell is that guy?"

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Sixties music pumps from the speakers above, mixed in with the recorded sounds of Corvettes revving their engines and accelerating. Cars from 1953 to today shine brilliantly within a long string of exhibit rooms. Some are one-of-a-kind machines worth more than a million dollars. Concept cars sit next to race cars, which share space with engines and transmissions, frame and suspension pieces, and even a test version of the car that was smashed to bits in a head-on crash test. Most museums disappoint me because they don't make me feel anything, or connect to my life in any meaningful way. This place does both. When I look at the new Z06 sitting in front of me, I get lost in the curves of the hood, the gleaming brake rotors, and the way the rear fenders drop down over the massive tires. It resonates more strongly than any sculpture or painted canvas ever will. I remember how it felt to mash down on the gas pedal of my Corvette and feel the G-forces of hard acceleration push me firmly back into the perfectly shaped leather driver's seat. I can hear the howling and cracking and popping of the world's best-sounding exhaust note. I think back to the roads that rise and fall and twist and turn all along the eastern side of Mt. St. Helens in Southwest Washington State, and how happy and alive I felt driving those stretches on a hot summer day.

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I dodge the afternoon heat at a coffee shop located across from Bowling Green's central square. It's a beautiful, urban-feeling place, with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, dark wood paneling, and inexpensive but modern-looking chairs and tables. I grab a spot next to the huge windows, where I write and relax and watch the city slowly pass by in front of me.

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Growing up, my parents often listened to the oldies station in Seattle, which played songs by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys. Sometimes I wonder what that station will sound like when I'm in my 50s, assuming that radio is still around 25 years from now. Today I get a taste of that future. The coffee shop's sound system streams the 1990s channel from a satellite radio network, flashing me back to middle and high school with songs from artists like Sugar Ray, Shawn Mullins, Cypress Hill, Nsync, Dishwalla, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Everyone's into it. The baristas behind the counter sing along. The girl sitting a few chairs down quietly repeats the words to Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise." There's something endlessly funny about watching a 25-year-old white girl drop lines like, "I'm an educated fool with money on my mind / Got a ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye / I'm a loc'd out gangsta, set-tripping banger / And my homies is down, so don't arouse my anger, fool!"

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"Is that your bike out front, with all the stuff on it?"

The question comes from a young girl, maybe 22 or 23 years old.

"I'm getting some of those soon," she says, pointing at the bright yellow panniers. "I keep going back and forth between those Ortlieb bags and another kind. I've got a trip to California coming up soon and I need to buy them this week."

"When are you leaving?" I ask.

"A few weeks from now."

"Wait, are you one of those three photojournalist students riding across the country this summer?"

"Yep, that's me!"

Just last night I saw the Warm Showers listing for one of the guys she's traveling with, so I checked out their website and learned all about their trip. And now, less than 24 hours later, we're having a face-to-face conversation about bike gear.

As I pack up around 7:00, the door swings open and I hear that familiar question:

"Are you Jeff?"

It's Beth and Gary, who contacted me through this journal and offered to host me tomorrow night at their farm about 50 miles north of Bowling Green. Tonight they're in town to check out a bunch of art galleries, and when they see my loaded bike leaned against the rack out front they drop in to introduce themselves.

That's three connections in one afternoon, in Bowling Green, Kentucky of all places. Bike touring really does shrink the world.

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I check out a park on the north edge of town, but it feels sketchy and unsafe, even when measured against my low camp site standards. From there I head north on Highway 185, a busy road with no shoulder, where most cars drive with their headlights on as daylight goes away. It's an anxious few miles until I reach a side road that leads to Richardsville.

I have no destination in mind, but as always something soon reveals itself. This time it's a Methodist church, which comes into view off to my right within half a mile. I push across the gravel parking lot, through the grass that runs along the south side of the building, past the temping covered pavilion, and then behind the storage shed that sits at the back of the property. I can still hear the traffic on the highway, and half a dozen dogs at the place next door try to see who can bark the most and the loudest, but the spot works. With no wind to disrupt the sound waves, I fall asleep to the occasional roar of high-revving engines echoing from the drag racing strip a few miles away.

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 2,649 miles (4,263 km)

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