AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kentucky Fried Cyclist

Kentucky Fried Cyclist

After three days in Kentucky, I was fried. 
Used up and burnt out. 
Put a fork in me, I'm done. 

It seemed like it took forever to cross out of Virginia, but we finally entered Kentucky after a beautiful and restful night in a hotel at Breaks Interstate Park.

State lines are somewhat arbitrary assignments on a map, sometimes established by some river or notable geographic feature. The border between VA and KY was not this. So I had no real expectation that anything significant was going to change just because the license plates were different. 

That was not an accurate assumption.

Virginia had been hilly. We crossed the Blue Ridge Mountain section of the Appalachians, and that was tough. There had been consistent rolling hills and some real challenges. And yet, somehow Kentucky seems worse. The hills in KY are steeper, the terrain seems more... course. 

The ride into Breaks Interstate Park on Sunday was relatively easy. It was about 30 miles, and although the hills were challenging, they weren't back breaking. We got in early due to the short day and took full advantage of having hotel rooms and the spectacular view out the back patio. I sat on the patio, ate an orange, and just looked out at the view and tried to take it all in, let it flow through me. 

We needed a short riding day because the following day was a beast; 70 miles with multiple significant climbs. So we relaxed, had a good dinner and went to sleep in huge, infinitely comfy beds and slept like the dead. 

The hotel restaurant was closed Monday morning, so we got on the bikes early and headed out to find breakfast. 

The day started off fairly relaxed. We all knew we had a long, hard day ahead, but there was no urgency in the air. We made our way to some food, and grouped up and rode together for a while. 

The Friday before (the rainy day in 'The Road to Damascus') we had had a very long climb up a not-too-steep hill that took over an hour of just spinning our gears to get up. At the end of the day, we all congratulated ourselves for being noticeably stronger since the start of the trip, in order to get up that hill with relative ease. 
Well, we celebrated too soon. Yeah, we're stronger, but the hills are literally rising to the challenge. 

As the day drew on, the back country roads and long uphills started to wear on us. We spent an hour, at least, spinning up this one steep climb. I stopped once or twice to give my legs and my heart a rest and take in some fluids. The group was fairly spread out at this point. 
Then we bombed down the other side and rolled out a long road that ended at a beautiful little lunch spot that served ice cream and an assortment of foods. They didn't seem open when we first rolled up at 12:05, but then as a few of us gave up on the place and rolled out, they opened a window and started taking orders. Most of us got some ice cream, I got a 'slaw burger', which is pretty much what it sounds like. 

We took our time at lunch, and an hour later got back in the saddle. At 1pm, we were less than halfway to the campground for the night. 

Taking a moment to appreciate the wildflowers
The rest of the day blurred together. There were more brutal climbs, and more miles under my wheels. The day ticked away, and still I pedaled. 

The group got fairly separated by this time, and even the 2 other people I had been riding with had ditched me and gone ahead. I rolled into the little town of Hindman by myself around 8pm, a full 12 hours after I left in the morning (aprox 9-10 hours in the saddle). We were staying at a cyclist hostel in a guy's back yard. And it turned out this place was at the top of the steepest damn hill that has ever existed. I could barely push my bike up this hill on a good day, which was made all the more difficult by the day's long ride. 

It may not look steep, but I'm holding the camera level!
Finally at the top, exhausted, frustrated and hungry, the gracious host greeted me with a flurry of questions; what's my name, who am I with, and a few others that I just ignored. I asked for a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself, and after being briefly taken aback, he gave me my space. 

There was cold pizza and cold water waiting for me there. I scarfed down several slices and started to feel vaguely human again. I set up my tent in the yard, and finally went into the house to take a shower. 

I slept well that night, and David, the host, had put out a fantastic breakfast spread for us in the morning.

Tuesday was another brutal day. Rumor was that it was less harsh and slightly shorter than the day before, but as rumors often tend to be, it was untrue. It was another 70 mile day, with nearly 7 peaks to climb. These were steep uphills with downhills so sharp that I had to use my brakes to descend  (as opposed to just running them out and enjoying the ride.) We counted the peaks as we rode, but that only reminded us how many more we had to go. 

The day was much the same as the one prior, brutal, long and difficult. The weather was slightly more accommodating, with a lower temp, some cloud cover and more of a breeze. Because we didn't ride as a group, we took it at a better pace and didn't stop as often. I managed to make it to camp just before 6p, which was a nice change. I wasn't as exhausted, and was in good spirits despite the fatigue, but the day was definitely difficult. 
We ate at a diner that night, and stayed in a grassy field behind a church. The church had set up a shower stall for cyclists that consisted of a shower-head attached to a hose. It was bone chillingly cold, but still nice to actually have a shower and our own little space in a pretty, peaceful fiel
Despite the 2 hard days in a row, I was feeling pretty good, upbeat and happy to have completed them. It wasn't easy, but at no point did I ever think I couldn't do it. Still, my body told me that it was well used and certainly tired. 

Sunrise over our campground
Breakfast the next day was at the same diner, and the staff there treated us very well. It was odd though, to be in a restaurant that allowed smoking inside. I'm pretty sure I haven't smelled a cigarette in 3 weeks. 

Wednesday was an easy day compared to the two before. only 52 miles, and without the hellacious climbs of the last few days. 

Yet, even with an easy day, the long mileage was starting to wear on me. There were small hills where I had to get off my bike and push it up. It was hard to tell if these were just very steep hills, or if my legs simple weren't up to the task anymore. (I think it was a mixture.) It was slightly reassuring to see others also pushing their bikes up the hills. Maybe it was a necessity, or maybe it was contagious, like a yawn. 

New definition of 'going green.'
52 miles should have felt like a reprieve, but it was not. I could feel that I was noticeably weaker, and without shame about it either. The body can only do so much. It wasn't only muscle fatigue, but also that I had used up all the glycogen in my muscles and pretty much every available calorie in my body. The prior 2 days I'd burned somewhere in the order of 7-8000 calories each, and didn't take in anywhere near that 

By the end of the day, I was riding alone, tired and ready to be done. And even so, I did a mental assessment and decided that I was still glad to be doing this trip and still enjoyed being on the bike. 

I got to camp relatively early, compared to the last 2 days, and just took a little while to sit and recover. There were good showers, a nice field to set up camp and dinner was at 6. We made breakfast burritos for dinner, I ate two! (about a half-dozen eggs total.) And I finally felt satiated, at least for a little while. 

We had finally earned a rest day, much needed. We camped at an RV park in Berea, KY, on the outskirts of town. We did some laundry and relaxed. The hardest days behind us. 

Around 10p, massive thunderstorms rolled in. I ran for my tent and got in just before the deluge came down, and then weathered the storm as my tent shook and the wind threatened to topple my humble abode. I'd never been in a tent in a storm like that and wasn't sure if it would hold up! It did, and I slept well. 
The next morning another round of storms rolled through and I was woken up to my tent being blown at a 45 deg angle and the wind howled viciously. Then, around 8 am the storm broke and I poked my head out of my tent to find a beautiful day with clear blue skies. 

We took the day to relax, did some bike maintenance, resupplied some necessities from a nearby walmart, and just chilled and put the last few days behind us. This was a great day off, and maybe even more appreciated for the extreme effort it took to get here. 
And despite the hard days prior, I was in a good mood, feeling energetic and ready to conquer the world... as long as there are no more hills involved. 

Thank you for reading!
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  1. When I read your last entry, "Two Week Touch Point" and you said that it was harder than you expected, I thought, "Actually, so far, the trip a lot easier than I expected." Then I read this entry. Now it sounds about as hard as I expected it to sound.

    1. Amy, I wrote the two week checkpoint after doing a day or two in Kentucky, that's why I was saying it was so hard!

  2. I'm feeling a bit like I'm watching 24. Not once has Jack Bauer had a bathroom break!

    1. I'll have a whole post about pooping, coming up shortly.