Berea, KY to Chester, IL – the hard parts & the places in between

21 Jun

 

If you can spare it, please donate to the Seattle Chapter of Engineers without Borders here

https://www.ewb-usa.org/chapters.php?ID=6

Miles: 1,337
I’ve heard the first 100 hours of mediation are the easy part, it’s the next 1000 that becomes hard. After Troutdale, KY the bicycling became hard and remained so. The hills are steep and numerous, but this isn’t the hard part. The days are hot and headwind abounds, but this isn’t the hard part. Overusing a cliched literary devices in emails, but this isn’t the hard part.

The hard part isn’t the first 100 cornfields, it’s the next thousand. They are fucking boring and Ray Liotta hasn’t emerged from one of them. Western KY looks like Eastern VA which looks like all of Idaho. It’s expanses of corn with houses and trees half-floating, submerged in the green waves. It’s rows of soy stretching far enough to have a vanishing point. Grains, grass, pasture, farm machines. Tractors drag balers behind them, rolling the hay into 6 foot wheels and leaving them behind like diesel powered dung beetles. White homes with red tin stars in front like they’ve been deputized. I spook horses, make cows wary, startle deer and enrage dogs. I’ve seen it before, am seeing it again, and will keep seeing it. Wake, Meditate, Stretch, Pedal, Eat, Pedal, Eat, Pedal, Sleep. That’s right Wood-chuck-chuckers…it’s Groudhogs Day!

But it’s not, I keep reminding myself. The majority of the hours in my day and in this trip is pedaling past a rural Hannah-Barbarra background, this is true, however these are the moments I will forget quickest. It’s the small places in between the bordeum that remain with me. Visiting the Barton booze factory (Bourbon Distillery) in Bardstown, KY. Seeing the rough machinery from the 40’s alongside sleeker 1960’s replacements. The 5 story tall still, the warehouse of oak barrels streching far away. Stifling a giggle as our guide tells us to “Sniff the bung hole” as she uncorks a cask. I inhale a sweet, smooth aroma with a hint of pepper and briefly wonder if I can smuggle a cask out under the guise of “a barrel shaped shoulder tumor.” I see the site of Lincoln’s birthplace later that day, see their family bible, speak to a park ranger about his 3 tours of Iraq before he retired. I spend two hours walking through Mammoth cave, through the moist limestone, carved by an underground river millions of years ago, up to the dry sandstone where rocks have fallen from the ceiling in jumbled blocks, and deep into the stalagtites and stalagmites, where the rock seems to have melted like a wax waterfall into the face of Chtulu.

In Sebree I stay in the basement of a baptist church and have dinner with the Pastor and his wife. I see they’re showing the Sarah Palin documentary “Courageous” as a church activity and am given a pamphlet on Jesus to stay there. I swallow my political opinions during dinner, as I can’t really condemn someone who says “Bless your heart” as punctuation and also I have no moral high ground as I’m currently homeless. I chat with Christian Motorcyclists association as I wait for my ferry to cross the Ohio river to Illinois, there as a part of a huge motorcycle convention that has harleys roaring past me daily. I detour to the Garden of the Gods, standing atop the bulbous, twisted, carved sandstone sculptures that are all that remain of an ancient riverbank, leading to an ocean that covered the verdant topography stretching below me 320 years ago. I meet a few people a day, but the conversations are short. A retired Air Force vet in Clay who tells me this shrinking town of trailers and shops once had a pool hall, a theater, and tall buildings when he was growing up. A bartendress in Carbondale who’s looking to move west with her forestry degree. A South Korean, the only other cyclist I’ve met, as we chat in a bike shop before he sleeps in the home of a Korean pastor and I spend my night searching my tent for any more ticks. I see amish girls climb into a car and remain confused. A morning watching deer bounding across the soy fields and a night I set up my tent in the forest and stare out at dusk as the vines wrap around the trunks that stretch into the darkness while fireflies light the night like ashes falling toward the sky.

And through both these memorable moments and the long stretches in between, I’ve pedaled 1,337 miles total, a quarter of the way complete. The Ozarks, the Rockies, The Tetons, Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Glacier, The Cascades and Home stand ahead of me. I’m ready for more and continue to learn valuable lessons, like gravy isn’t good bicycling fuel, and still learning some, like don’t chug slushies, no matter how hot it gets
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