Every day a little magic happens, both on and off the bike. I’ve been experiencing some pretty high-highs, fueled by adrenaline rushes, strenuous exercise, and a steady stream of mother nature every day. On the flip-side, I have also become acquainted with moments of fear, uncertainty, and loneliness, more so than the start of my trip.
My journaling has stayed consistent which I am proud of. Almost every day I have a summary of what happened and how far I traveled and if I was not able to the day of I have recapped what happened on the next day. Also in the journal I keep to-do lists, poems, and thoughts. Before this trip I haven’t had a daily journal but I may need to make this a habit- it’s salubrious. Now I have an accurate account of the trip’s events. I’m also realizing that there’s a long list of things that I want to write piling up!
So, today I’m taking the day off in Waverly, TN, my first official day of complete rest (I’ve had two 12 mile days) in about 20 days of biking for a total of 900 miles. I think I’ve deserved it! My plan is to get some things written down at the public library, including this post, and then maybe catch a movie or treat myself to a sit-down dinner. By the way, public libraries are a legit good resource for using a computer in a pinch- whether you’re road tripping, hiking, or bike touring.
The Logistics 9/19–9/29
Total trip: Berea, KY -> Waverly, TN = 513 miles (by adventure cycling map)
- 9/19: Berea, KY -> Harrodsburg, KY = 45 miles
- Couchsurfed in Berea and stayed in public park in Harrodsburg
- 9/20: Harrodsburg, KY -> Mammoth Cave Campground, KY = 121 miles
- I’ll explain this below…
- 9/21: Mammoth Cave Campground -> First Creek Trailhead, KY = 11 miles?
- Not on the cycling map. There’s an option to walk 2 miles into the campsite, but I just pitched my tarp in the parking lot.
- 9/22: First Creek Trailhead -> Axtel Campground, Rough River Lake KY = 70 miles?
- Missed a turn and don’t know exactly how far I went, probably shorter than the adventure cycling map route
- 9/23: Axtel Campground -> Utica Fire Station = 46.5 miles
- 9/24: Utica, KY -> Marion Methodist Church, KY = 69 miles
- 9/25: Marion, KY -> Cave-In-Rock, IL = 12 miles
- 9/26: Cave-In-Rock -> Grand Rivers Canal Campground, KY = 60 miles
- Got new brake pads at Grand River’s bike shop
- 9/27: Grand Rivers, KY -> “Piney” Trail, Land Between the Lakes, TN = 50 miles?
- Took some side roads on the way. Camped across from the Piney Campground, off road 230
- 9/28: Piney Trail, TN -> Waverly, TN = 40 miles
- 9/29: Waverly gas station -> Waverly fire station = maybe 2 miles
Some days you just have to embrace the homelessness. Like in Harrodsburg…I tried Couchsurfing, Warm Showers, and asking the employees of the McDonalds that I charged my phone at until they had to close the lobby. I got nothing, and no advice on where to go camp in town. So I just went to the public playground and curled up in the corner of the fence, in the back, as out of sight as possible, and draped my tarp over my bike and curled up in a tarp and sleeping bag. It was kind of fun to go “stealth-mode” and act like a fugitive homeless biker in this harmless small town.
Two days of “Mammoth” proportions. I got up and out of camp like really really early, at 7:30am, from my homeless shelter in the park because I knew I had a big day planned. On the map that I’m using, there was not many options for camping before I got to Mammoth Cave, so I just decided it would be a long-ass day… literally. You tend to see a lot of things and think a lot of thoughts on an all day bike ride, so it really is hard to account for all of it. I had many moments of clarity and appreciation for the beautiful countryside around me, followed by esoteric thoughts about the secret lives of roadkill or caterpillars. It’s easy to descend into madness on long days. The trip was 121 miles total and at about mile 90 I was in a rough place, but I persevered. The highlight came in the last 11 miles of the trip, I arrived into Cave City when the sun was setting and went to a Mexican restaurant for a huge plate of nachos and a margarita. They tasted amazing. Then I left the restaurant and rode to Mammoth Cave in the dark, passing strange tourist attractions like the “dinosaur park” along the way while riding on an almost empty highway. Then the last 4 miles or so I was in the park, the stars were shining brightly and the Big Dipper was hanging over the road between tall stands of trees. I felt isolated, yet safe, the air was crisp and I felt victorious as pedaling became easy. I drifted into the campground at 9:30pm and found an empty spot, free of charge.
The next day I met my campground neighbors, Terry and Jeff? (sorry I forgot your name again) who are some of the most generous people I’ve met so far. They offered me anything they had, fed me a chili dog, and gave me snacks for the road. On my way to Mammoth Cave, I called in to reserve a tour for the next day. My tour started at 9:45am and was four miles long! Mammoth Cave is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it feels like an underground world. I found it laughably fitting that I rode my longest day to the longest cave system. They have discovered 405 miles of it…maybe one day I’ll be able to ride that far in a day.
Making a wrong turn can lead to good things. Leaving Mammoth Cave, I came up to a gas station and refilled my water then continued down an unsigned road that I thought was right. I was so sure that I didn’t ask anyone or check my phone (which I do often). About a mile, mile and half, down-hill I run into a T intersection on an unmarked road that was not supposed to be there. Needless to say I was pretty bummed. There was a county sign about 50 yards to my left above a bridge and I went and checked it out. It didn’t take much critical thinking to know that I had to go North and into ____ County, so I was hopeful that the roads would connect and phone service would return near the next town. But, the real point of this story is this…below the bridge was an epic little swimming hole and it was about 90 degrees that day. So I went swimming in a cool creek, and then found my way back afterwards…it turns out I shaved about 12 miles off my route. Life sometimes man.
The Best Three Nights. After a 70 miles day I got to the Axtel campground. Right in front of my campsite was the lake; I went swimming, drank beer, and then had a morning swim as well. There was a shower and bathroom at the campground too. The next night I stayed at the Utica Fire Station, which is Legit. They hooked me up with a shower, laundry, a kitchen, couches, and a TV with movies. I watched Men in Black and O’ Brother Where Art Thou and ate a bunch of food and drank soda. I also found out that at gas station that serve hot food, you can get a discount late at night, or for free when they close. The next day I was in Marion United Methodist Church. I got my own room and a shower. They also had a sign-in sheet with mug shots of all the other riders which was pretty sweet. I got breakfast at a nice southern restaurant in town, sat with the Pastor David Combs and his friend Larry, who paid for my meal! I have eaten so much biscuits and gravy in the past couple of days.
Interesting times at Cave-In-Rock. I spent the majority of the day there, only riding 12 miles to get there after a slow morning in Marion. It was a beautiful and hot day. My first stop was the State Park, I went into the cool cave and looked at old carvings from the 1800s. Cave in Rock has an interesting history in the pioneering times and apparently was the most dangerous place in America for a while, where gangs would rob or kill people in the cave. Luckily that cut that out. I met a kid who was building an “island” on a rock out of driftwood and trash, he showed me some cool spots to climb rocks and I happily showed him my epic skills. We were about to go to the “secret beach spot” before his grandma told him they were leaving. Darn. Well then I grabbed a beer at the restaurant near the rental cabins, then bought a root beer float, then some mozzarella sticks. I also ate almost all my snacks before realizing there wasn’t a convenience store in town. I also realized there wasn’t any store on my route for the next 40 miles…and all I had was some peanut butter, small bag of peanuts, and crispy garbanzo beans, not exactly my favorite biking food. I figured I would buy biscuits and jelly to go at the restaurant in the morning, which is exactly what I did.
Camping at night was what really made my stay at Cave in Rock interesting. I set up my tarp in the “campground” which was a pretty strange place on the river. It’s hard to explain but whoever made this campground was probably on drugs. The “tree outlets,” literally outlets built into the trees, didn’t work, but the campground was thankfully lit up by street lamps and had one working spigot. I pitched my tarp the best I could on what must of been a thin layer of dirt on top of rocks and concrete and went to sleep. The wind picked up at 2am-ish and started to blow hard enough to pull two stakes out of the ground and make my tarp start pressing against my face. So I got out and found some cinder blocks to hold it down, which worked for about an hour before the wind really started to howl. Everything was coming loose because I didn’t set up the top-rope properly so I just bailed and went to the visitor station to sleep on a couch. Luckily I got a solid two hours in there while it started pouring outside. I came back after breakfast to a nearly completely flattened tarp and I don’t think my sleeping pad has completely dried yet.
It’s not always pleasant SWH (sleeping while homeless). I got to Waverly on 9/28 at about 3:30pm. Immediately I went to the Chinese Buffet and spent about 2.5 hours there eating plates of Chinese food, desserts, and surfing facebook and instagram. I don’t think this trip is doing anything to help cure my addiction of these social media sites- it may be making it worse. Next, I headed over to the Laundromat and washed everything possible while I hung out in my windbreaker and bathing suit like a boss. I had a tip from a Couchsurfing host to sleep at a guy’s property on the edge of town that is an abandoned gas station, they gave me his name and number. Sounds really great! Not. Without any luck on Warmshowers either, I tried using Tinder for the first time to find places to stay, stating that in my profile… I was a hit with the guys at Austin Peay College, getting like 5 matches, and struck out with the couple of local ladies. So, I go over to the gas station and set up camp under the roof of what used to be a bathroom. At first, I was really content, listening to Pandora with the last 20% of phone battery, eating cookies, and watching cars go by on the interstate right in front of me. But it turned out to be a pretty shit night to be honest. I was visited by cops who drove by shining the light in my face twice before stopping and talking to me, they approached me with the flashlight drawn and told me to put my hands where they can see them and everything before I explained I had permission, because of that was restless and couldn’t sleep, it got cold, pretty sure there was rats in the bathroom scurrying around all night, plus I was on the side of the damn interstate. I would have camped in the back but I was afraid it would rain again and I had little places to set up my tarp in the woods or on the concrete pad behind the bathrooms. It was just one night though and I slept enough to not be tired, got up at 6am and went to a local diner called “Hole in the Wall,” drank two cups of coffee and ate a dank chorizo breakfast sandwich. All is well.
Thanks for Reading,