Day 54: Caneyville, KY to Utica, KY - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

June 5, 2011

Day 54: Caneyville, KY to Utica, KY

I wake up to the smell of cooking bacon and the sound of a Golden Retriever sniffing the gap between the bottom of the bedroom door and the tile floor, neither of which I've yet been able to find on mornings spent camped in a tent behind the storage shed of a church. Over breakfast, Beth and Gary and I watch the men's final of the French Open. We cheer on Roger Federer and laugh at Rafael Nadal for constantly picking his underwear out of his butt crack.

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"Clouds! I love you so much!" I shout out as I pedal north. It's only 9:00 but the sun already shines hot and the humidity instantly turns me into a sweaty mess. When the clouds cover the sun they give me reason to be optimistic about the miles ahead. I'm less excited about the bike's untrue front wheel, which wobbles a little worse every day. I'll feel much better about the bike once I reach Carbondale in Illinois.

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Within ten miles I rejoin the TransAm, which throws me lots of flat and only a few gently rising hills. It's Sunday morning, which means big trucks towing boats to some nearby lake, including one huge, orange, lifted truck with a front license plate cover that reads "Suckin' gas and haulin' ass!" I pass at least a dozen signs promoting the Ohio County Meth Watch Program. I try to figure out if the meth problem is more serious here than other places in Kentucky, or if this is the first county I've passed through where anyone actually cares about trying to solve it.

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I know exactly what's coming when I round a corner and see darkness stretching all across the sky. Within minutes the wind picks up enough to shake the road signs and thunder starts to rumble quietly in the distance. A quick check of the weather forecast convinces me to stay put, so I take shelter beneath the awning of the tiny post office that seems to be the only business in the town of Reynolds Station. A couple of old guys sit on a porch swing at the front of a house across the street, because storms are big-time entertainment around here. Soon the sky turns dark enough that an overhead light comes on automatically. The temperature drops almost 20 degrees in less than half an hour and the humidity soars to 95 percent. The forecast warns of "dangerous lightning and torrential rain" and encourages me to "seek shelter inside, away from windows, and avoid using land line phones and electrical appliances." Holy hell.

Flashes of light start to pop all around and the thunder moves closer, but I don't start to feel worried until the two guys across the street hustle back inside the house. They've seen this kind of thing before and they aren't sticking around to take their chances.

I wait and wait and wait, but the torrent never comes. The lightning isn't dramatic. The thunder stays quiet. It's the weakest thunderstorm of the trip and I feel cheated. After an hour under cover I ride away with blue skies ahead and a mass of murky grayness behind.

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I pedal through a town called Whitesville, where 98 percent of the residents are, in fact, white. A few miles to the west, the view of the countryside opens up before me. Soon I realize that I'm looking at the Midwest. It catches me off-guard. Since the first mile out of Key West, everywhere I've traveled has felt southern or eastern or some combination of the two. Now the accents are fading and the hills flattening. I won't see another Huddle House or find Cheerwine soda in convenience stores or vending machines. The thank-you-sirs will become fewer and farther between. I suddenly feel very central, even though I'm not really sure what that means.

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Wondering when the hillbillies across the street will decide to either stop staring at me or come over and say hello.
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The fire station in Utica has been hosting touring bikers for years. The front door is unlocked when I pull up, so I let myself in. I walk around the inside to see if someone's working in the back, but nobody's there. I check the other doors and find every one of them unlocked as well. One of the huge garage doors in the back sits wide open, too. In Seattle I always lock my apartment, even when I'm in it, even though anyone who wanted to get in would have to make it past two more locked doors and a few sets of security cameras to reach it. Here it's exactly the opposite. Even with all of the station's computers, radios, trucks, and equipment sitting inside unwatched and unprotected, these guys can still literally leave the doors wide open. It's a completely different mindset and way of life. I love it.

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The place looks brand new. The inside is lightly decorated and shines with clean, while the parking lot is freshly paved and striped. In the huge garage I find three sparkling, bright red fire trucks, an ambulance, and a command vehicle. Racks with helmets, jackets, gloves, pants, and boots stand ready for guys named Tim, Wes, Eric, and Allen. At least 30 sets of hoses wait for action near the far wall, all neatly coiled and stacked in rows. With the skies overcast and the heat less awful I could easily push on, but I can't find any other good reasons to leave. The air conditioning wraps me in cool. The sight of the shower makes me realize I stink. If I want to do laundry or watch cable TV I can. I only have to walk a few hundred feet to grab a pizza. Most of all, five-year-old Jeff is really excited about spending the night in a fire station.

In a fire house, eating an entire pizza, with a giant scab tan. Normal.
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The radio crackles a few times with the voice of the dispatcher, but none of the calls come from close by. Just before dark a big guy named Jeff walks in. He's one of the volunteer firefighters. He's training for his motorcycle license and spends the better part of an hour practicing his riding in the parking lot, stopping and starting, turning tightly, shifting up and down. I ask him about the the fire station before he leaves. Last year on Memorial Day they had six calls in one day, and that set a new record. Most of the situations they respond to are standard: broken bones, heart attacks, minor car accidents. Sometimes they go more than a week without the ambulance or one of the fire engines leaving the garage.

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I spend the rest of the evening by myself, listening to the sounds of indie rock on my laptop, cars and motorcycles passing on the two adjacent highways, and the loud whooshing of the air conditioner. Shortly after I lay my head down on my towel pillow, a twangy female voice comes on the radio and dispatches an ambulance in the northern part of the county to a home where a woman overdoses on drugs.

Today's ride: 47 miles (76 km)
Total: 2,740 miles (4,410 km)

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