of courage, climbs, and confederate flags

It’s day 24 now and we finally crossed our first state border into Kentucky! I was beginning to think we were going to be in Virginia for the next month. We planned on going about 50 miles a day in order to complete the ride in 3 months but we have been going a bit slower than anticipated. Luckily, we don’t have anything to hurry back to and adventures like these are worth investing time in… even if it prolongs unemployment. Anyway, we’re in Kentucky! I’ve officially toured an entire state and more than 700 miles. We crossed over into Kentucky on July 1st, on our second anniversary. I certainly did not expect to be in rural Kentucky for an anniversary but I guess going on this trip is our gift to ourselves and each other. It’s been about 12 days since I last posted so forgive my lack of chronology, I’m just writing things as I remember them.

Troutdale: we stopped here after spending the night at 4 Pines Hostel with all the thru-hikers. We spent the night at a church “hostel” which had two bedrooms with 4 bunks in each. Troutdale was barely a town, it just had the church and a post office. The town essentially disappeared as the logging industry did. But either way, we had showers and shelter offered to us. There we met two more hikers, “Even Flow” and “Beast” (these are their trail names). Even Flow is a community college art instructor in North Carolina and Beast is a chef. We got to talking about a ton of things, including politics which I, of course enjoyed. We noticed that as we headed west in Virginia, the more we saw Trump signs. We only saw Bernie signs in Damascus (a mecca for thru-hikers) and Charlottesville (college town). There was this one home with a Hillary sticker on the door and a Trump yard sign though so… talk about ambivalent. Anyway, getting to talk to them was great and makes me wonder if I’ll ever do a section of the AT. Hiking is definitely its own beast but to be out in the woods for an extended period sounds amazing. But based on how this current tour is going, I’m thinking I’d like to plan another shorter bike tour next.

After Troutdale, we had a short, mostly downhill ride into Damascus. Damascus is a small town with about 1,000 people. I was expecting it to be much larger with everything I had heard about it from the thru-hikers. We stopped there and were able to stay with Austin’s friend Alex, which was great. Alex was a part of Austin’s grad school cohort and was happy to put us up. It’s interesting that I’m still getting used to Denver because it’s tiny but Kelly, Alex’s wife, thought it to be way too big since she grew up in a small town similar in size to Damascus. Needless to say they were ready to be back/closer to home after Alex finished his grad program. It’s great that they can do a lot of kayaking and can go for a trail run from right outside their home. Again, I couldn’t do it myself, but there’s just something so special about small town life. We had some beer, Alex and Kelly made dinner for us, we were able to shower, do laundry and sleep on a bed! They earned the trail angel tag and we were definitely thankful for being able to stay with folks we knew (at least Austin knew) while on the trail since it’s not likely to happen again.

Since Damascus we’ve stopped in Rosedale and Breaks in Virginia, and then Lookout, Dema, Hazard and now Buckhorn in Kentucky. Before getting to Rosedale, we had to climb up the unrelenting hill up Hayter’s Gap Road. The moment I saw that uphill on the map’s elevation profile, I held out hope that there would be some sort of detour or divine intervention that would help us somehow evade having to climb up the damn thing. But as usual, that was too much for me to ask. We climbed 1,400 feet over 4.5 miles. The climb was all switchbacks that seemed never ending. I remembered to think optimistically as I was climbing and it made it a bit easier. Eventually, as I started getting more fatigued and frustrated that I wasn’t seeing the peak, I yelled, “when is this shit gonna end?!” Right when I said that, I made the last right turn to find Austin cheering for me as I made the last push to the top where we planned to stop for a break before the most welcome downhill. I felt amazing getting up that thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t stop to take a break, even for water, and that I would just push to the top and I was able to. For the first time, I was actually proud of myself. I burst into tears when I saw the top. Austin was so visibly proud of me, too.

We stopped in Rosedale, at yet another Methodist Church that provided lodging for cyclists. They kept their doors unlocked and taped instructions letting us know we could sleep wherever we’d like and that we could have anything from the kitchen. They’ve been allowing cyclists to use their space for 40 years, since the bikecentennial ride in 1976. What’s even more amazing is that they have never had any incidents and therefore continue to open their doors and welcome cyclotourists. They kept a map inside for folks to indicate where their homes were and it was pretty impressive to see that cyclists from all over the US and other countries have stayed at the church while on tour as well. We also got to meet a father-son duo riding the TransAm westbound from New York City. Marion (father) actually lives in Denver less than 3 miles from us and David (son) lived just as close for 8 years but now lives in Brooklyn. It’s funny that it took so long to meet fellow westbound riders only to find out we could’ve met them at the grocery store at home. We learned a good deal about them and what’s most notable is that David rode his motorcycle from Denver to Argentina. It was a 10 month trip and the photos he shared were incredible. He said he saw many cyclists during that trip and never expected to be doing a bike tour of his own. I thought it was wonderful that now that his dad’s retired, that they are able to do something like this together. The next day, we rode to Breaks Interstate Park which is right on the border between Virginia and Kentucky, and we shared a campsite with them.

David and Marion

Before heading out of Rosedale, Austin started feeling a bit lightheaded and fatigued–more so than usual. Despite this, we rode to Breaks anyway only to find that we underestimated the hell out of the 3 uphills right before getting into the park. And to add insult to injury, we get into the park just to climb some more and the campground was tucked another mile and a half from the entrance. It was a nice park but we didn’t enjoy much of it. We took a layover day so Austin could rest but he unfortunately was getting chills and woke up drenched in sweat–clear symptoms of a fever. Since the weekend was coming up, most of the camp was full and only overflow sites were available on a first come, first serve basis. So we decided to leave and biked about 15-20 miles into Lookout, Kentucky (crossed the border, yay!). We made it to a Baptist Center where we didn’t find anyone and weren’t getting a hold of anyone on the phone. We set up the hammock and waited a couple hours. I was getting antsy but eventually Greg and Alice (more trail angels) came and let us in to their center/gym. Greg and Alice have opened their doors to cyclists for 34 years. Their home is adjacent to the gym, which they built with cyclists in mind and made sure to incorporate a bedroom and showers for that purpose. We got to sleep on a bed again! And they offered us their kitchen space and their pantry which was just loaded with food, it looked like a grocery aisle. The generosity and hospitality we’ve experienced so far is just unimaginable.

Austin was unfortunately still feeling crappy and when we finally got a hold of a thermometer, his temperature was at 102! As he predicted, we had another layover day at the baptist center. Since the fever was likely caused by dehydration, he spent the day drinking Gatorade, Pedialyte, and a water, salt and sugar home remedy he concocted. We are so thankful for Alice, who had a nurse come see Austin as soon as she learned of his high temperature. Austin was also able to phone a family friend, Dr. Maria, and she gave him some tips on what to do to help him recover (women to the rescue as usual). Eventually, his temp dipped to 97 and he began feeling much better. I was so relieved to see him feeling like himself again. We’re both rarely sick, and he especially never admits that he’s sick even if he’s visibly ill so it was tough to see him struggle a bit. While we stayed in the baptist center, we got to meet two more westbound cyclists. They started in Maryland and told us they were cheating a bit by evading some hills and cruising on route 11 that runs parallel to the highway. I later told Austin that we should be doing that as well :p. I just realize now that we didn’t get their names but the woman was Swiss and the male was from upstate New York. We got to talking about different things including politics which again, made me really happy. He was a New Yorker, a teacher, and very much a progressive. He compared many of the issues we discussed to how they’re dealt with in Europe (I presume he meant mostly western European countries). We conspired a bit about Trump and how the US could allow Trump to happen and we noted that the increase we saw in Trump signs in western Virginia were complimented by an increase in confederate flags as well.

Heads up, I sociopoliticize everything. I may not be your cup of tea if you’re not down with strongly opinionated young leftists. Anyway, seeing all of these confederate flags (rebel/dixie, whatever) just makes me see red every time (see what I did there?). The clear disconnect between the flag’s significance and what folks believe to be an innocuous staple of southern pride/heritage is bewildering. It’s very difficult trying to navigate these spaces as a woman/person of color. It’s a real shame because regardless of the large confederate flags on cars and t-shirts, most folks I encounter are very friendly. Some have even welcomed me into their home, meanwhile their needlessly large confederate flag hangs proudly in the front yard. So it’s difficult for me to position myself. I know that people waving this flag proudly aren’t all necessarily malicious, so am I supposed to ignore it and move on? A part of me also finds the persistence of this flag kinda fascinating. I mean, the declaration of secession from southern states all explicitly mention the threat of ending slavery as a reason for seceding but somehow, we are still having to convince folks of the flag’s rancid history. A part of me wishes to ask these folks what they understand the flag to mean and if they have considered or are interested in how it could be interpreted by other groups. I haven’t mustered the courage to and until I do, I’ll keep questioning why it is we insist on regression.

I think of the many threats of this trip and often wonder if I’m really that courageous or if any of these threats are significant enough to really worry about. Austin recently mentioned that I have a lot of moxie when it comes to trying out new things. But from my perspective, I don’t feel that courageous at all. There are very many things I am too afraid of doing. But I try my best not to let reservations impede on my ability to try new things and push past my comfort zone (I kinda hate that expression). I would say that camping, biking and especially rock climbing have all pushed me in positive ways and at this point, I would hate to not be able to do these things regularly. All of these activities are likely ordinary to some, but to others they’re either inaccessible, frightening/off the beaten path, or not intended for people like them. I hope this blog inspires at least one person to do something they consider too scary for them to even try. You’ll find that most of your worries are artificial. You actually can quit that retail job and travel to East Asia for 6 months by yourself. You can sell your car and live out of an old van near a beach instead and spend time learning how to surf. You can bike across the country. And you can do it if you’re a White male from a middle-class background or an AfroLatina from Miami. We’re so often caged by our myopic view of what our lives are supposed to be like or what achievements we should have checked off by a certain deadline. None of that shit actually matters. If you are fortunate enough to have the resources and/or opportunities, take advantage of it. Especially before you have a mortgage.

As for us, we are now in Buckhorn. We had the worst luck coming from Hazard which is a bummer because we had a delightful stay with Izzy via Warm Showers. Izzy is an AmeriCorps VISTA like I was and they’re working on some fascinating community building efforts in the area. Unfortunately, the great conversation and general stay was clouded by a long day that included heavy rains, awful humidity, big climbs, and eventually a ripped seam on Austin’s rear tire. It was such an exhausting day. Thankfully, we were able to hitch a couple miles into Buckhorn and camp. We’re having a tire overnighted and hopefully we’ll receive it by tomorrow, Thursday. These are one of the best tires for touring, it’s really a shame that this happened after only 700 miles. But, we’re learning how to deal with issues as they arise and try to problem-solve as best as we can with limited resources. Some more zero days are in store for us but let’s hope the forecasted rain holds up and we get to enjoy Buckhorn Lake a bit. See you all next time!

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