September 2001: Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky
The Ozarks of Missouri had been reported to be some of the toughest cycling terrain on the transamerica trail, and it turned out to be true, for the most part. Although the big passes of the Rocky Mountains out west were harder, they are usually graded at less than 8%. In the Ozarks (and in the Appalachians, as we've found out), the roads just go up over the hills without a thought to adding switchbacks or trying to level the land. We also found that the deeper we got into the sticks, the higher the concentration of mobile homes, old cars rusting in the front yard, and Dale Ernhardt "3" stickers in the back of pickup trucks. (An inverse relationship also seems to exist relating to the number of teeth per person). Along with the American flags flying in yards, we were just as often likely to see a confederate flag. Missouri was not one of our favorite places, although poor weather may have contributed to that feeling.
Illinois was a relatively quick leg of a couple of days, although we did enjoy the trip, especially crossing the Mississippi and riding along a levee on the east side for a day. It was also nice to get out of the Ozarks, and the general level of housekeeping seems to have improved as we have gone east out of Missouri.
Crossing over into Kentucky brought us to a nice B&B one night, where Rosalind (the owner) fed us dinner (homemade chicken soup that was more like stew, homemade bread) and breakfast for a very reasonable rate. If only we could find a place and a person like this every night! (We are reminded of one lady in Missouri who didn't want us to bring our bikes into her ugly motel room - our bikes were cleaner than her carpet.)
Kentucky started with great promise. The western part was absolutely beautiful, and we both agree it was some of the best cycling we have done to date. Even the dogs, long reported to be the most vicious mongrels on the trail, weren't too bad. Homes were made of brick, set nicely back from the road, and well kept. In Utica, Kentucky, we were able to stay at the Volunteer Fire Department - complete with shower, bunk beds, and a pizza place across the street. Shelley's dream come true - she's a sucker for a fireman. This was a very nice thing for the town to do, as there were no places to camp or stay in the small town. Many cyclists have stayed there on the transamerica trail, and the word is passed along as we pass other cyclists on the road.
As we got further into eastern Kentucky (and deeper into the Appalachian Mountains), the level of affluence seemed to drop, and we saw many more abandoned cars and old mobile homes rusting away in the thick woods, the hills beginning to get steeper as we go east. (Think: Banjo music and Deliverance). The people are usually very friendly, and want to know about our trip. The dogs got a little bolder, and Steve has hit a couple of them with glancing blows from the front tire, but so far there's no teeth marks on our ankles. Most of them just want to run along with us until the end of the property.
One of the neatest things we experienced in Kentucky happened because of a flat tire - our first in perhaps 2000 miles. Pulling over to fix a flat on Steve's bike, we met Mr. H.C. Jacobs, who came out from his home to say hello. Mr. Jacobs quickly offered to take us on a little tour in his truck up to his property on top of the mountain (we were cycling in the valley). We were treated to beautiful views from the top of the ridge, views of coal strip-mining in operation, as well as the reclaimed land after the mining was completed. Mr. Jacobs had lived in the area for his entire life, and the land was split between him and his 10 other siblings. Family and history are very important in the Appalachians, it seems. After about an hour we were back on the bikes and headed down the road.
We just crossed over into Virginia today, finishing the day's ride at the Elk Garden Methodist Church about 2 miles out of the tiny town of Rosedale (i.e., in the middle of nowhere). They open their doors to cyclists on the trail, allowing us to stay inside the church for the night. They even have a kitchen for our use! We even had evening entertainment of choir practice. It is a wonderful way to offer hospitality to the cyclists coming through the area, and they've been doing it since the trail was first blazed in 1976. The soft carpeting is very inviting tonight!
Ferry crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky
Shelley riding in Kentucky
Tobacco drying in a barn in Kentucky,
a very common sight in the area
(click photo to see leaves in the larger picture)
Shelley playing Firefighter in Utica, KY
The original log cabin where
Abraham Lincoln was born
H.C. Jacobs shows us around
his old Kentucky home
Coal strip mining operations in Kentucky
September 2001: Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky