We left Brian’s house in darkness. In the morning he had sat, freshly showered and hair combed to the side at the dining table conversing with Carla. The appearance was alien to me, a long forgotten memory of a routine that we no longer participated in. There were two toasted bagels waiting for us on the counter.
Scintillating orbs, dwindling across the lightening skies held a special magnificence after the dark storms that had escorted us from Louisville. Rasham’s tail light lit up the foliage behind us with dazzling brightness. The brisk temperature of the outside was in stark contrast to the uncomfortable moist heat of late September.
In the early afternoon we rode into a town called Paris and began cooking some wild rice on the steps of the Bourbon County Courthouse. Locals stopped and asked us questions. After lunch we lay on the green grass next to steps, feeding on the heat of the sun. I emptied the wild rice and chopped vegies soaking in hot sauce and lime juice into one of our food canisters before we left.
Backroads for the rest of the afternoon. Senescent mansions, glaring pleasantly with white pillared baleen faces. Black fences, and green pastures drawn over rolling hills. Mown grass as far as the eye could see, broken only by the occasional tree, fenced in its own little garden of more mown grass. Immaculate manipulation of the flora, demarcated as a sewn quilt, to the horizon, as flawless as an Asian garden.
We gathered ten pounds of hickory nuts from the side of the road. I mashed the harder ones with the heel of my boot until the nut popped out onto the asphalt, clicking and popping along the road.
As the sun swung low we pulled into a small town called Little Rock. An old man on the side of the road who looked like he had grown up with the trees around him asked us if we needed anything.
“Well we were just lookin for a place to pitch our tent.” I answered.
“You need lectricity?” He asked. I shook my head.
“Well I live right down there cross that concrete bridge you can pitch it in my yard if yah want to.” I thanked him and we cycled back a few hundred yards. The town, which was only a few houses opposing each other across a two-lane street, was down in a valley of deciduous trees. The man, who’s name was Jon, came walking across the lawn and pulled a barrel out of a creek with some gloves for us to make a fire in. We cleared the black walnuts from a flat space on the lawn and set up the tent. As Rasham warmed herself inside her sleeping bag I stood outside and built the fire with our host and tales of the local area began to pour out of him in a loose and steady stream like the water that meandered down the creek to our left.
Jon Hinkle, head bent slightly towards the earth, looked at me sideways from under his cap. His short white hair met the dry wrinkles of his forehead, but his eyes were soft and darted between me and the fire while his lips moved in a barely audible drawl. “The Indians didn’t live here in Kentucky, they just came here to hunt. Well the settlers, when the Indians came, they would get kinda scured, and so they would all collect in this building when they came.” There was a crease between the tip of his chin and his lower lip where years of smearing tobacco against his gums had caused a protrusion of the flesh under his mouth. “Daniel Boon’s brother,” he continued slowly and easily, “is buried down at the end of that road, or least he used to be buried there. Story goes he and his brother were crackin walnuts down on the stream down there and a bunch uh Indians came upon em, and well Daniel Boon started runnin and his brother got killed.” He chuckled with the light of the fire in his eyes. “I mean they were outnumbered so the right thing was to run,” he explained, “guess his brother just didn’t get out u thur fast enough.”
“This barrel makes a real good fire.” He segued, “you know what it is?” I shook my head. “It’s the inside of a washing machine.” He laughed. “It draws real good.” The black barrel was perforated with evenly spaced tiny holes and suddenly to my mind it was recognizable as the inside of a washing machine, the kind that opened from the top.
As the darkness began to swallow the heat of the sun, the silver horns of a new moon became visible on the pale horizon and a star appeared to its left. Rasham rose from the tent and began to warm her hands against the fire with straight elbows. Jon brought some hotdogs and buns from the house and handed them to us on a paper plate. There were several long metal forks. “The way you clean these is you just let em sit in the fire for a bit like this.”
Jon told us the small building we had met him in front of would open in the morning for breakfast. “I usually stop in and eat breakfast before I head to work. I work at Walmart down in Mount Sterling.” He chuckled and rubbed his chin with a weathered thumb. Jon continued to talk about the local history. Salt Lick, Black walnuts, Indian Trails, An uncle’s Model T, Service in Germany, Training in Texas, 23 cents to get marijuana in mexico: 1 cent to cross over, 20 cents for marijuana, 2 cents to get back into the US.
In the morning I awoke before dawn and walked to the small building. Inside, a withered woman with bleached blond hair and faded blue jeans made all kinds of breakfast and tramped about the room with cigarette in one hand as if it was a permanent extension of her fingers. “What can I get you honey?” She asked? True to Jon’s words you could get a good breakfast for $2-3 dollars. I had a sausage and egg sandwich ($1.80) and some coffee ($0.75) Jon sat smiling over his own finished plate. She sat down next to him.
We dried our stuff out in the morning on some rusting objects in Jon’s yard
And fed an egg to cat that was very hungry.
Later that day as we stopped at a gas station, a large man in red plad and beard surveyed us while open a pack of black and milds. His friend came out, a young healthier version of himself. They asked about our trip. As they left in a large red truck the younger one reached out the window.
“I’m gonna give yall a present.” he said. and opening his palm dropped an arrowhead into each of our own. I went lookin’ this morning and found all these. I collect all this stuff. “
“Its beautiful here”
“I lived a lot of places and its pretty nice here”
More cool sunshine. Dipping and weaving through oak trees blushing in the early autumn. Just before Owingsville we have our first big hill since New Mexico and make it up to 1,000 feet.
We make lunch. A local brew called Ale81 cost 60 cents outisde the grocery.
That evening we pull into Morehead. There is a state college here and we camp off the main road next to a stream.
The next morning we went to a McDonalds in Morehead to dry out and connect to wifi. A man named Ed Smith took an interest in our journey and bought us breakfast and then gave us $20 on his way out. Later that day we had our picture taken and received two Sprites and five postcards from a shop owner in Olive Hill. That evening it was growing dark when we came upon a church that appeared to be holding an evening service. A man named Bret gave us a spot outside to pitch out tent.
Having satisfied our ethical and legal requirements in procuring a bed for the night we settled in for peaceful night of slumber. Unfortunately at around midnight three dogs from a nearby farmhouse discovered our location. Apparently we were infringing upon their territory for they circled our tent barking wildly for about an hour before for some reason they finally left.
A little disheveled we continued on our routine in the morning of going to a McDonalds to dry out and use the wifi. The combination of high humidity and cold nightly temperatures meant every night the atmosphere would squeeze all its moisture all over us during the night. Its almost worse than precipitation as the effect can appear as if it rained INSIDE the tent.
Undulating roads, dark walks of oak and walnut, sharp climbs. Pitched trailers in fertile valleys. Blushing leaves over blackened wood sheds, deer horns and old cars. As Rasham writes….
The scenery is a canvas of thick forests with slender trees, their frail fronds a complexion of October’s flagship hues; honey mustard yellow, burgundy wine red, and grizzly bear brown. In anticipation of autumn’s approach the undulating slopes dress in sweaters of fallen leaves. So fragile and frail are these landscape garments I am, while riding in the infinite calm of these regions, alarmed by the resounding crash of footsteps belonging to a giant, a monster, some native mystical beast from whose wrath we have failed to rehearse a plausible escape. The shattering sound so loud it rings in my ears! I’m alert and daydreaming the most horrific cause, still pedaling but slower now. My widened eyes search sideways for the source of the sound; a squirrel scurries from carpet to tree, and I smile, relaxing my heart and deflating my imagination from where it soars in the bloody skies of horror film fantasies. I return my gaze to the road, the simple sweeping road, carrying me as a witch on a broom through space and time, passed the old limp houses, rooftops collapsing, brick chimneys heroically erect, and the rounded fields of lush green grass, whereupon horses graze, elegant creatures adorned with varying patterns of fur and fuzz, all lifting their noses to inhale a whiff of us, unexpected strangers, animal eyes tracing the invisible line we draw with every inch of our evolving migration. The white one, the tallest one, the more graceful one, thick mane blown as if by a whisper of a breeze, alerts my fancy. I halt my progress and study its majestic, impressive presence, a king amongst lesser nobles and even lesser serfs. I snap a photo, no justice to its magnanimity, and continue on, understanding fully why all the horses of Hollywood with wings were white.
Just before crossing into West Virginia we stop at a farm with a rainbow of gourds and purchase two acorn squash and receive two more as gifts which we bestow upon our warmshowers host that evening.
Kentucky was by far the most giving state we have cycled through, having received gifts every day of our ride, sometimes multiple times a day, from complete strangers.