The last two weeks have been hopping and rarely with Wi-Fi for my blogging purposes, so this post is a bit of a mammoth (ha!) in effort to cover it all.
Mrs. Lawrence (the mother of Old Man’s friend mentioned in the previous post) picked us up in French Lick and took us to her small town along the Ohio River while Old Man toured Bloomington in search of bike parts. She took our chaos in stride and went out of her way to be an amazing hostess. Her dogs endured being over-loved by four kids who really want a dog. Thoughtfully, she took us to a neighbor who breeds and trains coonhounds. What are the odds that Where the Red Fern Grows -loving Otter would get such an opportunity??? The breeder also gave him two copies of Coonhound Bloodlines for his continued self-education. She took the kids to explore an old barn and tractors and visit kittens while I borrowed her car to assist Old Man’s return of the U-Haul truck. We even went on a lunch date!
To top it all off, she coordinated transportation for us across the Ohio River. Two local pontoon boat owners met us at the boat launch and ferried us and our bikes across the river, for a simplified route into Kentucky. Not only was the water crossing by pontoon another first for our treasure trove of memories, but it was yet another kind and generous act by great Americans to complete strangers.
Mrs. Lawrence ferried our gear to our campground later that day, which was another great gift to us. The rain that fell while we were in Spring Mill was followed by a stifling humid heat wave. Three days off from riding softened us a bit, but then add in unseasonable heat and humidity, and a gentler transition back to riding was very much appreciated!
Sissy and Otter entered Kentucky eagerly anticipating its equestrian legacy. Deer and wild turkeys have been abundant in the Kentucky woods to the delight of us all as we ride. As we made our way to Mammoth Caves the green rolling hill landscape largely remained the same as southern Indiana, but we noticed an agricultural change. Corn and soybeans were the predominant crops in Indiana. Along our route in Kentucky we have seen just as many soybeans, but now tobacco is in the lineup, with a lot of it already harvested and hanging to dry in barns. Osage oranges were new to us, so we had to google ‘green brain fruit’ to identify them. Tango is also now a proud turtle rescuer with his released charge now safely across the treacherous road. Shortly after entering Mammoth Caves National Park we came upon the Green River Ferry. Having lived in Seattle, we really thought ourselves to be somewhat authoritative on ferries, but this little ferry was definitely something different for us. It fits at most two cars and just goes back and forth across the river.
The joyous and drying descent to the ferry was undone as we had to climb up the other side, but we made it. The heat wave continued, so we were thankful to have ceiling fans and screened windows in our cabin to helped us cool off at the end of the day.
We had to make a 22-mile round trip to the grocery store to stock up on food and Sissy’s birthday treats our first morning there. While the girls and I were picking out groceries, Old Man and the boys hung out by the cart receptacle. Otter somehow slipped and cut open the back of his head and it was a gusher. The entire back side of his shirt was covered in blood and it even pooled on the concrete. Old Man told me Otter cut his head, but I did not understand the severity or spectacle of it until strangers began approaching me in the store asking if I was with the bikers, and if so, they were offering to take us to the emergency room. That prompted me to investigate the injury further to find it not particularly deep or big, so no ER visit was necessary; it was just exceptionally bloody. We were touched by the concern and transportation offers from complete strangers. Old Man finished cleaning up Otter, we stuck a feminine hygiene product to the back of his helmet to serve as a bandage, and headed back to the park. While we were at Mrs. Lawrence’s house, it was discovered that despite living so close to Mammoth Caves, she had never been; we invited her to join us and she accepted. She arrived shortly after we returned from the store. After nearly smothering her dogs upon her arrival, the kids inundated her with stories of Otter’s harrowing ordeal at the grocery store. Conveniently, she had additional first aid supplies with her that assisted with dressing his wound on his thick pelt of hair (the source of his blog nickname). With the day’s drama behind us, we headed to the caves to seek out Mother Nature’s air-conditioned wonders, and boy was that coolness refreshing! The cave crickets were the highlight of the underworld for the kids.
Mrs. Lawrence stayed the night in our cabin and helped us celebrate Sissy’s birthday the following day. We celebrated with funfetti pancakes, eggs, and bacon, ate out for lunch, and did another cave tour.
Mrs. Lawrence did not stay for the second tour to better ensure her timely return home, but possibly hastened her departure to avoid the boys’ endless rounds of show-and-tell with the many grasshoppers, frogs, and snakes they captured….
We left Mammoth Caves the following morning and followed through with our birthday gift to Sissy: a manicure and pedicure. Lil’ Mo got to join in the fun as well. The girls were tickled to add some fancy to their otherwise rough and pragmatic fashion, and Old Man and I patted our own backs for the brilliance of a gift that added no weight or bulk to our already heavy loads.
Our Martinsville, Indiana Warm Showers hosts suggested we make use of local libraries for homeschooling. What a facepalm moment. It had never occurred to us! We are so glad she mentioned the idea, because the heat was crushing us, and the bug-free, air-conditioned work spaces were a great source of respite. It was nearing two weeks of the humid heatwave and some of us were getting a bit edgy. The lack of showers and excess of biting bugs were not helping our cause either. It was a bit of a flashback to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We distracted our stinky and sticky selves by visiting Abraham Lincoln landmarks. In case you did not know, he was born here, and anything connected to his relations or the years of his childhood spent here are marked and preserved. We passed by the homestead of his best childhood friend, his Uncle Mordecai’s house near Springfield, the Memorial where the Lincoln cabin originally stood at the time of the President’s birth, the homestead site of the President’s father’s family after the senior Abraham was killed by Indians. It is always interesting to get historical perspective. Historians say that the Lincolns were a middle-class family of their time, but from our cushy, modern lifestyles we view their simple life as one of poverty.
On the topic of historical perspective, we are revising our route. Our maps warn us of the incredibly steep, winding terrain ahead with often crumbling shoulders, if shoulders exist at all. We initially dismissed this to excessive caution (like warnings of coffee being hot—who knew?), but after talking with a fellow cyclist who just came through those very mountain roads we are now heeding the warnings. (*sidenote: we bunked with that same cyclist at the Springfield United Methodist Church where we shared stories and he spoiled us with a top notch omelet bar breakfast!)
The current hills are taxing on our bikes because of how heavy we are traveling. The ensuing wear and tear on them is showing and requiring a lot more of our diligence and energy as we continue on this terrain. The mountain climbs ahead on the planned route were far steeper and longer than the current terrain (seriously, one of the climbs is called Vesuvius), and will likely tax our bikes beyond their (and our) capabilities. I have tried to figure out what weight we can drop, but the risk of winter weather events and temperatures prevents us from dropping our cold weather bulk. We all like to eat, so I cannot really drop our kitchen supplies. Old Man and I have already lost 10-15 lbs. a piece since the onset of the tour and the kids are holding steady, so no additional streamlining to be had there. The cache of bike tools and parts are heavy, but proving more and more essential with each passing day. This line of troubleshooting leads us to wonder, how did previous non-motorized travelers get through the Appalachians? The Cumberland Gap is one of the original gateways, but from where we are still entails a lot of extreme up and down to get to it. Instead, we are looking north, back to the Ohio River where Meriwether Lewis began his journey. We tracked the Lewis and Clark Expedition for the first third of our sojourn, so why not look to them for inspiration for this chapter? Add on a more recent track that has been converted to a rail trail, The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), and we will find ourselves through these troublesome mountains. The GAP is a rail trail starting in Pittsburgh that later joins the C & O rail trail to Washington D.C. MD told us about this route while we were with her in Montana, and it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Recently, I’ve been voicing my intent to do that tour with the kids after we are settled somewhere, but in uncharacteristic fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pantsiness, why not just do it now? It extends the total mileage, but cuts our total climbing elevation change by more than half, spares Frank and Eleanor severe wear and tear, and adds further historical sights and destinations to our never-ending field trip line-up. Kill three birds with one stone! So here we are, veering off our prescribed route and heading north again to the Ohio River. (Prayers for punctual or a late onset of winter are welcome!)
The first day of our rogue mission was a bit sketchy and gave us pause as to the feasibility of our plan. Water crossings are always limiters. Bridges are expensive and therefore few and far between, which makes for heavier traffic on them than is ideal for cyclists. The bridge across the Kentucky River was no different. The river lies in a deep gorge, which makes for a high-speed, cooling descent along the winding roads. As always, the climb back up is much slower, and on winding roads, much more dangerous. Old Man and I unwittingly hosted mini-driver’s education classes to the stokers on our respective bikes simultaneously. Specifically, pointing out that drivers cannot see us on right turns as we wind our way up the gorge. Each of us slowed down before such turns to give motorists more opportunity to see us and then boogied around the bends to greater visibility. I voiced my disapproval of how fast the drivers were going in light of their limited sight distance, the posted speed limit they were well exceeding, the ‘Share the Road’ bike signs posted, and the risk such behavior poses. Minutes after my little soapbox speech, as we were rounding another right turn, we heard the screech of brakes and the sound of metal crushing. We looked back to see a sedan smashed into the rear corner of a full-size truck mere feet behind us. The truck driver got out to check on the welfare of the car driver and loudly informed him, “I didn’t see them [pointing to us].” Thankfully, nobody was injured, but that driver training lesson was firmly cemented in the minds of our daredevil boys. They talked about it the rest of the day.
Later, Sissy and Otter were finally gratified with long-anticipated Kentucky horses. As we approached Lexington, our route was peppered with stable after stable. Occasionally, curious horses would run to the fence to check us out and a few even trotted along the fence line with us. It was a great source of distraction from the earlier events in the day and the oppressive heat that made time pass slower as we continued our slog into town.
Up until this point, we found Kentucky drivers to be very considerate and reminisced fondly of our times in Montana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and their exceptionally courteous drivers. Sadly, the closer we got to Lexington, the ruder and more reckless the drivers became. We had never been cut off and/or separated by cars until yesterday. There were a few horn toots of support, but other honks of impatience, and even yelled jeers. Old Man and I were emotionally spent after trying to navigate the path to our hotel (in the blazing heat) amidst such hostility. As the kids and I walked to a grocery store today, one sight of yesterday’s impatient honking where we struggled to cross a seemingly impassable side road, was occupied by a fresh car wreck. The rear bumper was completely off the car. Old Man said, “Whether Lexington knows it or not, it’s off the list [of places for us to land].” Is this bike unfriendliness unique to Lexington, or a taste of what lies ahead for us later as we trek through the Southeast? We don’t know, but the heat wave has blessedly passed and we now have hundreds of miles of rural or car-free, low-grade roads and trails ahead of us before we have to find out.
I will close with a dose of cuteness. Tango and Lil’ Mo have been assigned dish drying duties as a daily chore. This is their masterpiece that they call Liberty Bell 7.