Sunday, July 2, 2006

Long, detailed, not too eventful....just like life.


Pippa Passes to Buckhorn State Park

The last couple of days have been seemingly uneventful. And yet, when I reflect, even within the last three hours I can think of pretty striking experiences that are utterly unique to Kentucky.

I started the morning from Edward and Charlotte Maddens youth hostel. As far as I can remember this is the first youth hostel I’ve ever visited, so I had to ask Charlotte the question that I have always wondered about youth hostels….what does the name hostel mean and where does it come from. Well I didn’t get an answer. I arrived at the Madden’s around 9 PM. I was bone tired and glad to get there before the last light of the day vanished.

Charlotte, who appeared to be in her 70’s more or less, said that there are a lot more hostels in Europe than there are here and that she assumes the name came from there. She and her husband had been putting up bikers ever since the original Transamerica tour in 76. There were close to 3000 people during that trip. Wow, I didn’t know it was that many. That’s crazy. How did that many people not leave a wake of devastation in their path?

Charlotte and Edward had purchased a school building of some kind at public auction, so they used it to stuff bicyclist into during the ’76 tour. Then the school building burned and they added on to the front of their house. When their granddaughters moved in with them, they moved the hostelers into the basement room. I went to check out the common room first as it had the shower and bathroom in it. It basically looked just like someone’s living room, with a sofa, side chairs, a television set, fireplace, coffee table, and framed paintings on the walls. There was a battery powered chiming clock that went off every 30 minutes. When I went to check out the basement room I became frightened. The room was a long, dark, dank tunnel, but equipped for large numbers, with probably 6 or more beds along the hallway. There was a long freezer, a storage fridge, and then an antique fridge with leftover twice baked potatoes, lots of salsa but no chips and some of that nasty Arizona tea. I say nasty now, because I poured myself a glass, took one sip, and discovered that I find it nasty. I’m not a big fan of bottled tea. Tea is a “made fresh” beverage.

So the highlight of the evening was going up to the common room, plopping down, and totally veging out into idiotic television. And that’s what television is, idiotic. I watched some of the world cup, Larry King live interviewing the father of Jonbenet Ramsey, then “Once upon a time in Mexico”, a fabulously stylized piece of crap movie, and then washed it all down with South Park. At the end I felt thoroughly stupefied and stupid, not to mention guilty for wasting the evening. The time was 12:30 and I needed to redeem myself before nodding off to sleep. I had already decided that I was going to sleep in the common room because I was scared to death of the hostel room.

So I broke out the laptop and read an interview with Wendell Berry that was published in Orion magazine. Berry’s genius and depth of vision blew me away. Every answer to every question cut like an arrow right into the heart of the questions I have been asking on this trip. Better than anyone I have ever read, Berry understands the concept and commitment of community. He discussed the necessity of generational oral understanding of the land, of people picking a place and spending their lives there, the importance of asking, “how will this decision affect of the community.”

It’s the most inspirational thing I’ve read thus far on the trip. I went to bed redeemed. I awoke late, around 8:30. I needed the sleep. Edward came through about 7:30. By the way, the great thing about my stay at the hostel was after I gotten comfortable and was watching t.v., Edward came down and gave me a slice of homemade apple pie (made by him) with a side of vanilla ice cream and a glass of milk. How’s that for graciousness.

I got moving fairly quickly. I had to write them a check for the 7.25 as all I had was a 20. Geesh.

After a quick banana and a final pet to all the kitties, I was off. About 2 miles up the road I ran into Peter and Amy, two bikers from Rhode Island that had started in Oregon and were almost done. Peter had just dropped a chain on an uphill climb. They were friendly, but not cheerful, especially Peter. I think they were pretty much ready to be done with the trip. Most of what they mentioned had a slightly negative spin. Although they said the dog chasing thing is a myth. They hadn’t had any problems with dogs. They mentioned a really neat town in Kansas where the local diner had the town mission statement on the wall and it had something to do with protecting agriculture, and you could kind of tell from the place that they took that seriously. They couldn’t remember the name of the place but said to look for a sign that reads “Home of the largest prairie chickens” or something like that.

The morning was cool. I stopped at Arby’s. There are an impressive number of fast food joints inside of gas stations now. When did that happen. I got two subs for $5 which pretty much fed me through the day. I’m ashamed to admit that I kind of stole some lemonade from the soda fountain. I wanted to spike up my water a bit. I’ve got to get out of that nasty habit of taking even small things.

I rode pretty solid for the next two hours. Nice riding, lots of small creeks. Kentucky has a very particular look to it. Everyone seems to be equally poor for miles and miles. Tons of litter along the roads. Lots of dogs chained up in the yard. Lots of home projects uncompleted. Sometime around one I came into a little town called willow fern or something. I was supposed to take 467 to the right, but went left instead. I was ready to get out of the heat. It was beating me down pretty good. I stopped at the bargain buys, which was basically a sad scary yard sale inside a building. They had a chair outside in the shade and that’s what’s important these days. I downed a Mountain Dew but wasn’t quite ready to get back in the sun. I walked by the soda shop, peeked in and decided to sit down inside for a while. I pulled my bike around and stuck my head in. It was obvious they weren’t exactly open, even though there was a guy behind the counter and two little girls eating ice cream. He explained that they hadn’t opened for business yet and the only thing they had was ice cream. I asked about the sodas and told him that I’d like to get one on one condition, I could drink it inside. He said come on.

When I saw that soft serve ice cream, I knew the soda wasn’t going to be enough. Especially considering that a cup of ice cream and the soda were only $1.50.

The fella explained to me that they were testing everything out and were about to open soon. He was a cheerful, friendly guy, with great energy. His last name was Grub, and he explained that everybody’s always saying “Let’s go get some grub,” when they go to get food, so they decided to name the place Grubby’s, which I guess sounds a lot better than Grub’s. It had an old fashioned soda fountain feel to it, with the front counter and round spinny chairs. I took my soda and ice cream and sat at the mini booth close to the front door while Grub tried to figure out how to open the cash register to get my change.

I hung around, enjoying my ice cream and soda, and telling Grub, the two little girls, a local fella, and then two ten year olds, a white one and a black one, all about my trip. They two boys had tons of questions. How far was I going, was I going straight, was I getting paid (I’ve gotten this question several times which is kind of strange to me).

I told him that I thought there would be a Grubby’s franchise one day and he told me to keep my eyes peeled on the stock market and that when Grubby’s hit it big I could say I was there second customer.

The only other interesting part of early afternoon was my stop at Smitty’s market in Hazard, which I wasn’t even supposed to be at, considering that I had taken a wrong turn at Willow Fern. I pulled into gas station got some water and was facing Smitty’s which was a good size little produce market. Things were hopping over there so I decided to go take a gander. I hadn’t eaten my produce that I purchased the day before when I crossed the KY state line and ran across my very first road side market of the trip, so I didn’t really need anything but I thought I would take a look all the same.

The fellas were asking me questions, and its true, riding your bike across the country is the best and easiest conversation starter on the planet. So one of the fellas working there told me that a lot of this stuff came from his farm, so I told him that I was visiting farms. Apparently Kentucky, like Virginia, was big in tobacco, but the Federal Government bought them out. I need to learn more about the details of this buyout. When I asked him what a lot of people were doing now, his primary answer was growing hay. Hay can’t sell too good compared to a real crop.

This was a good ole boy farmer and if I’d been thinking I would have gotten his number and maybe even planned on heading to his farm that evening, but you know, quick thinking has never been my strong suit. Seriously.

Before I left I had to get one of those good looking ripe peaches to snack on. When I took it to the counter, the young fella told me I could have it. Life is good. It was a good peach too, especially after I washed it off with ice cold water.

So, that about wraps up the day. I rode through some hot weather and climbed some monster hills. My last hill of the day was right after I passed the main entrance to Buckhorn State Park. I cleared that hill, came down fast and then it was right back up another one. I had ambitiously decided that I was going to make it to Boonseville that evening, which was ridiculous because rather than the 18 miles I thought it would take I was actually 24 miles and I was already plumb worn out, but I didn’t know it yet. On my way up that second hill, I saw a strange looking building and heard some singing coming out of it that sounded real good and I kind of knew right off that it wasn’t just a stereo, it was real live music. I kept going up the hill when I saw a sign that said Gay’s Creek Full Gospel Church, services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That kind of got my attention so I spun around and listened in a little and the music was good, real good.

You know, it’s funny because I had been thinking for several minutes about the church I would be attending the next day in Boonesville. I was planning on staying at the Methodist hostel and going to their church, and I had been pondering when, where and how I might address a church at some point on this trip, because I have felt that somewhere along the road I’ll be called to tell my story.

Right as I’m thinking about church, one pops up out of nowhere and it’s open and active at 6:30 on a Saturday night. I park my bike and start rummaging around for my recording equipment because I know that I want to keep a memory of this. Right then a kid I noticed sitting on a porch right down the road kind of starts meandering around and I call to him asking him if he thinks its all right to go in the church. He says yes, I ask his name and he utters Jordan.

When I walk in, the place looks pretty good. It’s a pretty full house, the building is long, straight and windowless, filled with pews which are in turn filled with people, some standing, some sitting, but all straight out of Kentucky. And I’m a pretty odd sight to them, but I get a few smiles and welcoming looks so I scoot down into a side pew and turn on my recorder. The first song, that I only got a portion of, was the best song of the evening.

It’s difficult to describe the music, but it was unmistakably mountain music. The band at the front of the room had a ton of people. There was a dobro player, about 5 guitars, base guitar, and organist. The night’s program was straight up praise songs until 9 PM. Everyone in the church could sing at least one song, so one by one they came up and sang, with the band carrying them along, and two or three people singing support. It was fantastic and strange, just the way life ought to be.

This entry was posted on 7/2/2006 12:35 PM

  • 7/3/2006 12:18 PM michelle blackwood wrote:
    Hi Justin,
    I have been reading your blog as you go - it is great! It is a great lunch hour escape from work and brings back lots of good memories from our trip in 1976. Your decision to take a laptop was a good one and I hope your trailer is doing well. I remember Pippa Passes well. We stopped at the school (it has burned down?) and spent the night there. A family (possibly the same family you met?) cooked us this incredible breakfast the next morning with eggs, biscuits, and I don't even remember everything else and charged something like a dollar for it! And they were wonderful people to meet and visit with. Like you say, riding a bike is one of the best conversation ice-breakers.

    Your description of eastern Kentucky sounds like how I would have descibed it in 1976 - poor, lots of steep ups and downs and I remember narrow roads with coal trucks. When Ken and I rode through, we were getting stronger every day, but were still glad to see the country open up and get flatter just east of Berea.

    Happy 4th of July (tomorrow) and keep enjoying the trip. I am thinking about you every day and wondering how things are going. Also, love your website - really a neat and organized piece of work.

    Michelle Blackwood

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