Thursday, May 27, 2010

Well, it's five days 'post-Buck'. The ride away from Rosedale, VA was straight up a steep mountain for about 4-5 miles and, given the fact that I was already overly emotional and pissed off, the onset of a heavy rainfall while climbing didn't help my mood at all. I had to pull over and put on my waterproof gear (which I hate to have to use because it's HOT, and using it while climbing a mountain is much worse). At least I was able to use that negative energy for good and I powered up the hill with much more force than I normally do.

Fortunately, not long after reaching the top of the hill, I saw a laundromat...something I hadn't seen in 4 days. I needed to do all my washing so it was a great excuse to get out of the rain. The rain stopped during the hour and a half I was there, but as I was sitting there watching loud, jacked-up, hillbilly trucks go by, a half-mile long funeral procession passed (with a real hearse and everything) which kind of seemed like a bad omen. The really nice woman cleaning the laundromat engaged in some mildly awkward but nice conversation with me for a while, and then, because she learned I was riding cross-country, she gave me my drying time for free. I kind of felt bad taking the free dry time because she had just finished telling me about how the laundromat had recently closed after a theft of the change machine and the $60 in it, and then had nearly not reopened because it really makes no money and because the $2,000 cost for a new change machine was quite prohibitive. But her gesture was very much appreciated and I just smiled and thanked her nicely. It was nice to have someone be nice to me when I was in such a foul mood.

I still have very mixed feelings about giving Buck away, but ultimately I still feel that he's got to be much more comfortable where he is. The weather for the last five days has been generally really hot and humid (it kind of freaks me out because it's been decent in the mornings but moderately miserable in the afternoons and this isn't even truly HOT like it soon will get). If I'm that hot, sticky, thirsty, and pissy now, I can only imagine how little Buck would have felt, given that he's BLACK and would be trapped inside some kind of carrying container! And, with all the hills I have to climb, the bike is constantly swaying side-to-side and the little guy would be getting jostled around repeatedly.

After leaving Buck, I entered eastern Kentucky that same day; what a depressing place that turned out to be! That is deep Appalachia, my friends, replete with poverty like none I've seen in the U.S. before. The local folks vary from apathetic to suspicious to openly hostile and they don't generally take too kindly to outsiders. The countryside is very rugged, dominated by canyon after steep canyon (called 'hollows' and pronounced 'hollers'). These hollows are very hard to ride through not only because they're very steep but because of the dangers from cars and dogs as well. There are no leash laws (in fact, as I think about it, I'm not sure there are ANY laws) in eastern Kentucky; therefore, around literally almost every bend there's a snarling, vicious dog waiting in the yard or street to chase (and quite likely bite) you, while thoughtless owners who couldn't care less about their dogs' behavior sit on their porches or inside their trailers and do absolutely nothing about it. Combine this with the big trucks and clearly non-street-legal four-wheelers zooming far too closely by, as well as the generally poor state of roads with broken up asphalt, random holes, and no guardrails as you ride over creek drainages, and it becomes quite a scary place to be on a bike.

I have befriended a couple named Tara and Stefaan who are riding from Durham, NC to Portland, OR, where they are going to live. One day as Tara and Stefaan were riding through one of these areas, Stefaan passed through first and startled two dogs. One dog chased him but didn't have the right angle to attack; however, the second dog had the time to get the perfect chase angle on Tara and the snarling bastard bit her on the calf. She had to stop her bike trip, find a community health clinic (where they refused to treat the wound, and said she needed to go to an E.R.), and ultimately deal with this huge hassle of getting cared for so her leg didn't get infected. The dog's owner was a real jerk, didn't return phone calls or accept any responsibility, and only recently has begrudgingly agreed to pay for Tara's medical bills as long as Tara and Stefaan don't sue. (Wonder if THAT check will ever arrive in the mail...)

So, I am carring "Halt", which is a pepper spray specifically for fending off attacking dogs and doesn't hurt them but irritates their eyes for 5-10 minutes. I really do hate the thought of using it, though, because deep down I just don't want to hurt a dog. I'd rather spray the dog's OWNER in the eyes. I've only sprayed it once, and kind of half-heartedly. So far my approaches of either screaming at the dog or talking sweetly to it ("good boy, that's a good puppy, hi puppy dog, good boy") seem to be working well enough. I also take one foot out of the pedals and am ready to kick the little effer in the face if it comes to that. Fortunately I haven't been flanked by multiple dogs yet, though I hear stories from other cyclists who have.

One night, I was put up in a church's gymnasium (a regular cyclists' sleep spot on this route). The place was filthy (I wiped the sleeping mat down with a bleach solution before putting my sleeping bag on it), but the generosity of the owners was wonderful. They provided a safe place to stay for cyclist and cycle, and had available a lot of free food, towels, soap, showers, toothbrushes, etc. It did kind of creep me out when they locked me in, though, and said not to open the door for anyone for any reason, and to make sure to bring my bike inside because it would surely get stolen if left out overnight. It creeped me out even more when the guy running the place said not to go out at night because the local boys would probably attack and rob a cyclist if given an opportunity (even though his wife disagreed). It was also kind of creepy being locked in that big, dirty gym all alone for a night, with birds chirping in the walls and some kind of animals (mice?) scurrying around amongst the 15-foot-deep clutter pushed against the back wall, though at least I had a safe, dry place to be overnight. (Sure makes me appreciate home!)

One funny thing about eastern KY is the local signs for election candidates. While in every other place, you see "John Smith for Treasurer", or "Sally Jackson for Sheriff", here you literally see "Fuzzy (Buddy Boy) Johnson for Jailer" and Wendell (Bubba) Martin for Coroner". It was hilarious to see all these people using their down-home nicknames as they try to get elected for public office. I guess if they've been "Buddy Boy" or "Bubba" their entire lives in the local community, that's how they'd have to have their names on signs and ballots.

It was about three days worth of riding in eastern Kentucky (also known as Kensucky or Kenbodia) and I couldn't wait to leave. I have now reached a more central part of Kentucky, and it's completely different. It is almost like I crossed a line and it was just a different country. The people are nicer, they drive more respectfully, there are fewer dogs, the land is more rolling hills than tight hollows, and there's less trash. I'm starting to see signs of nicer homes, some beautiful horses, some beautiful lawns and gardens - the things I was anticipating seeing in Kentucky.

I've been with Tara and Stefaan for 3 days now, but we may part soon. Tara is having some back problems and may take a week off and take a bus somewhere for some treatment and a professional bike fitting. I do know I'll see them back in Portland, however, if not again later in the trip.

Don't get me wrong...I've had a few nice conversations with people in eastern KY. I learned from one guy that the ways locals make their money in Bevinsville are "coal, drugs, and welfare". I learned that the Eighty Motel I was seeking was closed due to "alotta drug stuff goin' on and they was makin' pornos in there too".

One generous soul did stop me and have a chat...and said that had he known I was camping a few miles away the night before, he'd have had me over for a barbecue. Thanks, Lee!!