Day 15: To Middlesboro, Kentucky - Steel City to Cow Town 2014 - CycleBlaze

September 23, 2014

Day 15: To Middlesboro, Kentucky

On the road at 8:45, kind of late. Today, day 15, is the first sunny morning of the tour.

I pedaled west out of Duffield on US 58 for a couple miles, then turned left on highway 604, a no-traffic back road. But my back road is much hillier than the main highway. Highway 604 climbs 700 feet, then descends 800 feet to a T intersection with highway 70.

Excellent place for a rest stop on a chilly morning.
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Fortunately my back road has the usual spectacular farm and mountain views. And blue sky for the first time.

Highway 604 in a remote mountain valley.
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Powell river.
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Nearly every side road leads to a church.
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I turned right on highway 70. Shading on the map indicates that highway 70 crosses a mountain. In 10 miles it climbs 700, 300, and 200 feet before descending to Jonesville. No shoulder, but amazingly little traffic.

After lunch in Jonesville I continued west on busy US 58, a divided highway. It's well graded and most of it has a paved shoulder. Some parts have no shoulder, but with two westbound lanes the traffic has no trouble getting around me.

Cumberland mountains ahead.
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Looking back, Cumberland mountains on the left.
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I got a short respite from noisy US 58 by exiting onto Business 58, the old road that goes through two small towns.

The neighbors probably have silo envy. Most barns have one silo and brick silos are rare.
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US 58 trends uphill all afternoon, but the climbing is very gentle until the last two miles to Cumberland Gap.

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The road crosses into the state of Tennessee just before Cumberland Gap. I was only in Tennessee for about an hour, and pedaled maybe 2 miles in Tennessee.

East side of Cumberland Gap. State #5 on this tour.
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I looked around the village of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee for a few minutes. There is a motel, but the closest thing to a restaurant is a coffee shop that doesn't really serve meals. So I decided to press on across the Cumberland Gap to much larger town of Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Village of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.
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US 58 crosses Cumberland Gap in a tunnel that prohibits bicycles. It would probably be easy to pedal to the tunnel entrance and get a ride through the tunnel in the back of a pickup truck. But I want to pedal across the gap. I inquired at the coffee shop/visitor center about pedaling the trail that follows the original road route. The woman told me how to find the trail.

The trailhead had a no bicycles sign, but I continued anyway. The trail was pretty much deserted. I saw only one other party on the trail, when I was pushing the bike up a steep section near the top. I had to push the bike a couple hundred yards up a terraced section that was probably 25% grade.

Wilderness Road trail to Cumberland Gap.
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Not much excitement at the summit. No view, only a small sign. No sign announcing that I'm leaving Tennessee and entering Kentucky.

Cumberland Gap has been a crossroad for centuries. In 1775 Daniel Boone was commissioned to improve the foot path into a wagon road, making it the primary route for settlers going west until 1810. An estimated 200,000-300,000 settlers crossed the Cumberland Gap between 1780 and 1810. Kentucky became the first "Western" (interior) state when it gained statehood in 1792.

This trail was a busy 2-lane highway from the 1920's until 1997, when the 4-lane Cumberland Gap tunnel opened. The National Park Service removed the old road and restored the gap to about how it was in 1800.

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The descent to Middlesboro, Kentucky is very easy, first on the "Wilderness Road" trail, then on paved park roads. Total distance on the Wilderness Road trail was 2.5 miles.

Kentucky side of the new road to the Cumberland Gap tunnel.
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There was no "Welcome to Kentucky" sign on the trail, but this was the first sign I encountered in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
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I arrived in Middlesboro at 6 PM and pedaled back and forth on the extremely busy main road to look for motels. The cheap motel had no rooms available. Instead I got a $95 room at Holiday Inn Express. At least it comes with a hot breakfast buffet.

Middlesboro, Kentucky appears to be more prosperous than any of the big towns I passed through in Virginia. No beer tonight because Middlesboro is in a dry county. Apparently MOST rural Kentucky counties are dry. Now I know why a shop in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee made such a big deal about having beer. And now I know why tourists generally prefer to recreate in Tennessee instead of Kentucky.

In the evening I went to several stores looking for a Kentucky road map. Nobody sold it. Tomorrow I will have to backtrack to the Cumberland Gap visitor center to get a Kentucky map.

Today I started seeing broken glass for the first time during the tour. More importantly, today was the first sunny day of the tour. High of 76F. Perfect weather, but today I pedaled a long distance through challenging terrain.

Distance: 69.8 mi. (112 km)
Climbing: 4551 ft. (1379 m)
Average Speed: 9.5 mph (15.2 km/h)

Today's ride: 70 miles (113 km)
Total: 734 miles (1,181 km)

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