TABR Day 16: The quiet, but hospitable side of Kentucky
I'm fairly confident drugs were being sold all night outside my motel room door. I was on the outskirts of Murphysboro, at a $50/night cheap motel on a Saturday night. It was either that or prostitution. I turned up the white noise to make sure I never knew
This was the first morning that I snoozed my alarm. I just couldn't get my self upright for a 2:30 am roll out, and proceeded to sleep for another hour. Fatigue was accumulating fast and the last few days of extreme heat were catching up with me. In reflection, I should have adopted more of a night riding strategy for this area of the country, much like Jason had.
When I finally got vertical, I could see Jason in very close proximity on Trackleaders, maybe only 10 miles out. I quickly geared up and opened the motel door. Luckily the hooligans outside my room had retired for the night, and it was a non-confrontational push out into the night. I knew that it would be another day of fighting to keep that small gap on Jason, and it would again require me to ride into the afternoon to try and extend it.
You know those days on the bike where your body is working in full sync, each pedal stroke smoothly turning power with ease? This was not one of those mornings. In fact, it was far from that. The ceasing of my upper quad had come back only a few miles into the day, after taking a two week hiatus before rejoining me this morning. It was a persistent sharp twinge, forcing me to stop, stretch quickly, and then try and get back to pedaling. I was now keeping Ibuprofen with me, and took a few this morning to see if that would help.
The roads were quiet, meandering through affluent neighborhoods that reassured me that any dogs were likely tucked away inside. Jason was easily closing the gap due to all this stopping for stretching, now within 5 miles or so. With this nagging pain, it was only a matter of time before I'd see him roll up.... and roll on. I remember the worst of it was around Devil's Kitchen Lake, which sucked because it was such a scenic area. There I was, in meandering quiet park roads, an amazing tree canopy surrounding me, early on a quiet Sunday Midwest summer morning. I should have been crushing miles, but instead was laying on my back in the middle of the road trying to stretch my IT band, piriformis and quad. I was reaching for solutions, willing to try anything to make the pain go away. I knew I had to keep moving, and hope that something would fix itself as the body loosened up and pills kicked in.
I was right with that bet as the stretch from Goreville to Elizabethtown was filled with good, strong miles, allowing me to add a few miles on to the gap to Jason. It's funny how volatile perspective can be in a race like this- one moment full of despair and the next having optimism for the day ahead. It had certainly already been a roller coaster of a morning, and I had hopes to keep it on the positive track for the rest of the day.
Elizabethtown was a good opportunity to catch some snacks at a convenience store. Pineapple chunks guzzled with chocolate milk. The taste combinations were starting to get really wild. It wasn't as if I was craving those two together, but more of a "what's available?" mentality as I quickly scouted store aisles. That, combined with an extreme lack of caring.
Out of Elizabethtown, the route turned on to Tower Rock Rd and then Cave In Rock Road, and would eventually lead to the ferry. This was such a strange stretch of road for me in that moment. I can't pinpoint why, but it felt very off. Sort of like I was riding through private property. Maybe someone with a better memory can pinpoint it for me.
I scored with timing of the ferry. There was a massive line of cars waiting, but a gentlemen managing traffic waived me up the side of the road and straight on to the boat- no wait! On the ferry, it was scorching hot, sitting right next to the exhaust pipe of a large diesel hill billy hauler who kept the car idling. Inside they were nice and comfortable, outside I was breathing their fumes and pouring sweat.
Jason was right in his blog- the next stretch of road after the ferry was amazing (after the cars passed). I had an eerily quiet road for the next 45 minutes.
Marion couldn't come quick enough. The heat was now raging and so was the need for a real meal. Marion is a small town, with a quaint main street. Not much appeared to be happening- it was Sunday in God's country. I spotted an Italian restaurant that looked far too fancy for my attire, and said "perfect!". Inside the air was dry and cool, and the cokes flowed like water. As I sat there and tried to figure out how much further I could make it today, a woman walked in the door, said "Hi Tim" and sat across the table from me. I don't think she introduced herself, and proceeded to chat like we were old pals. I was definitely caught off guard, but my remaining brain cells began to deduce that it was another dot watcher, and came to learn later during the conversation that it was Michelle Lanham Hodge. I wasn't up to date with all the prolific dot watchers, and was certainly caught off guard. I ordered a to-go sandwich (which was enormous!) and packed my things up. I knew Jason wasn't too far behind and I wanted to skirt town before he came through. I signed Michelle's shirt, and bid her farewell. Thanks for the company, Michelle!
I think this ended up being one of the hottest days of the entire race. Combine that with extreme exhaustion and far too large of a lunch, and I was close to falling asleep at the wheel for the next hour or so. Hell, I didn't even make it to Tribune and I was searching for a place to take a ditch nap. Anywhere with a tree and some shade. Most of the ditches along the side of the road were occupied by masses of cows, trying to do the same thing and beat this retched oppressive heat. I finally found a tree that was casting a shadow, about 5 yards off the road and with enough tall grass to conceal my presence. I was certainly in a farmers front yard, but if someone had spotted me, hopefully they wouldn't care.
I had shipped back my bivy and pillow in Kansas, only keeping the sleeping bag for emergencies. I laid it out in a grassy area and made a small pillow with my vest. The shade was thin, forcing me to align myself with the casting shadow of the trunk. I set an alarm for 45 mins and closed my eyes. Sweat beads dripping down my legs and the occasional buzzing fly would bring me back awake, until a light breeze would come by and cool it down enough to doze back off. I couldn't image camping through this section of the country and getting much quality sleep.
I'm glad I stopped for that nap- it was just enough to re-energize me for some continued tough miles ahead. This part of Kentucky is pretty sleepy- lots of farms, not much traffic or towns, and plenty of heat.
Every small town I passed through was so quiet, most businesses closed. In Clay I spotted a small ice cream shop. A few cars strung about the parking lot and lights on inside gave me hope that it might be open. I parked my bike and walked up to the door, to find a handwritten sign noting "We will be closing early today at 2:30 pm". I looked at my phone- 2:40! Damn! Before I could walk away, a woman from inside came to the double doors to see if she could help me. I must have looked more desperate than their normal customer, and casually mentioned that I was just looking for a quick cone and a cool-off. She appreciated how miserable it was outside, and said they were still cleaning up and that she would be willing to make me an ice cream cone. I thanked her and she escorted me in to hang out at a table while the staff continued to tidy up. She handed me a large cone of chocolate chip cookie dough, and also filled up my water bladder. In that moment, I was extremely thankful for Kentucky hospitality!
It was easily a 40 degree swing from inside that restaurant to back outside. It was the high heat of the afternoon, and I had to convince myself only another hour or two before the temps would start to drop. It was that period of the day when Jason was stopped, and I must continue working on the gap.
Small town after small town. It was great to be out of traffic, but it was also a bit stressful to meander through these towns with very little services. I was wishing I had come through this part on a weekday for sure. In Sebree, a large sign in front of the church beckoned cyclists with a place to sleep, which was very tempting but way too early in the day to be stopping. I needed to push on, battle for a bit longer before giving in today's epic fight to stay upright.
The day continued on with a slur of sleepy miles, energy being zapped by the stifling heat. In the late afternoon, I started climbing yet another small roller out in the country side, and noticed a man on a bicycle at the top of the road. In fact, this man was riding in slow circles at the top of the hill, which gave me the understanding that he was waiting for me? I got to the top, and he immediately asked "what took you so long?". I was a little floored, my energy was so low that a simple joke couldn't be processed. I also had no idea who this man was in the moment. He quickly linked up next to me as if we were going to ride some miles together. It took me a minute to process that it was a local cyclist/shop owner/dot watcher Larry Myles. It was good to have a little company, and the conversation kept me awake in this tough patch.
We chatted about various topics, one of them being where I was going to stop for the night. Honestly I hadn't a clue. Part of me was planning on finding a ditch. I had scoured maps back in Marion and wasn't really seeing anything good in the area. Maybe hoping for a small post office at some point? Larry mentioned the Utica volunteer firehouse, which wasn't far away, and was open to touring cyclists. Inside would be hot showers, laundry and some sleeping pads. While it did mean an early stop for the day, it was hard to say no to this in the moment. I didn't have another good option and man, could I use some rest.
We rolled into Utica, and hit the Dollar General quickly before heading over to the firehouse. I was expecting to walk in the front door to a bustling station. This was a volunteer station however, and the only other soul inside was another cyclist, a tourer named Bob (I think). Larry and his wife (who met us there by car) showed me around to the showers and laundry. They said their goodbyes and left me and Bob to it. We sat in the living room on some old loungers, trading war stories about the Ozarks. It was easy to find common ground and conversation with other cyclists who could appreciate the challenge that mid-June in this area provided. There was a mutual respect for the need for sleep, and soon both of us were sound asleep on small mattresses on the floor. I couldn't be more thankful for Larry that evening!
With an early stop, I was shooting for an early start tomorrow...