TransAm Bike Tour Recap: Kentucky

So that's what a flat straight road looks like. Near Hopkinsville, KY

Leading up to the launch of my memoir Hangry: A Startup Journey, each month I’m releasing a state-by-state recap.

For the original post, click on any Day number heading.

Day 13: Cumberland Gap National Park to Corbin

As I rolled into the campground last night, I saw a warning sign for the Cumberland Gap Tunnel. I didn’t realize I had to go through a tunnel. The path around would add about 70 miles and 4-5,000 feet of vertical climb. After a brief Google search, I realized I could neither ride my bike through the tunnel nor on the old road over the mountain. My panic increased from mild to moderate.

I walked around the campsite asking random folks with pickup trucks if they would give me a ride through the tunnel the next morning—lots of sympathy but no offers of help. Fortunately, I called the tunnel control booth, and they said giving me a lift would be no problem. At the beginning of the trip, breaking my “no cars” plan would have bothered me, but there was a certain pragmatism that started to set in.

The Cumberland Gap Tunnel from inside the HazMat escort truck. (The bike's in the back)
The Cumberland Gap Tunnel from inside the HazMat escort truck. (The bike’s in the back)

As I loaded my bike into the truck, I hoped she wouldn’t get damaged in any way…I hadn’t even named her yet. To remedy that, I promptly named her Persephone.

Hello Kentucky!
Hello Kentucky!

Now in Kentucky, I came to a junction where I switched to an alternate route directly to the northwest. This gets me out of the mountains and gives me a better setup for the next few days. Initially, I was avoiding this “Northwest Passage” since it was along a US highway, but traffic was incredibly light. So I went for it. Easy Peasy. So far, Kentucky has been beautiful.

Day 14: Corbin to Russell Springs

Last night, I performed a minor bike tune-up in the hotel room. Here’s a checklist of what I did:

  • Checked and replaced the rear disc brake pads
  • Deep cleaned the rear cassette
  • Cleaned the derailleurs
  • Adjust the steering bias
  • Top off both tires
  • Wipe down the frame
  • Tighten the rear derailleur cable
Is this a hotel room or bike shop?
Is this a hotel room or bike shop?

I woke early and was ready to go for a long 70+ mile day, starting with hills. Within the first 10 miles, I questioned if I would make the distance today between the steep climbs, traffic, and dogs chasing me. Fortunately, the ride calmed down as I entered Daniel Boone National Forest.

On the other side of the forest at mile 30, I was concerned I would meet the same traffic and dogs along my ride, but I was pleasantly surprised at their absence. There was a noticeable change in the demeanor of Kentucky on this side of the forest. I entered the town of Somerset, which had a delightful town square. If you are ever there, visit Downtown Diva, a delightful shop with a veritable knickknackery and some local flair.

The muffled drums sad roll has beat The soldiers last tattoo; No more on life’s parade shall meet The brave and fallen few On Fame’s eternal camping-ground Their silent tents are spread And Glory guards, with solemn round The biouvac of the dead --at Mill Springs National Cemetery near Nancy, KY
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
The brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.–at Mill Springs National Cemetery near Nancy, KY

Just outside of Somerset, I found a farmer selling strawberries. Now we’re talking! This is the first farmer stand I’ve seen. I ate about a pint and a half of strawberries for lunch. Outrageously good. Fresh. Sweet. Succulent little bits of joy.

I heard of a battlefield and national cemetery down the road. I made my way to Mill Springs National Cemetary, the final resting place for hundreds of WWII servicemen. Many of the tombs are unmarked aside from a number. They are honored with this poem from The Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.

Day 15: Russell Springs to Mammoth Cave National Park

Goal today is to arrive at Mammoth Cave & do a tour in the afternoon. This puts me in back-to-back 70+ mile days. I crank out a good 20 miles before being tempted off my bike. It was a store named Best Donuts which beckoned to me. Simple message. Effective. Right to the point. I was not disappointed. Best donuts in Kentucky, as far as I know. Which, admittedly, is not very far.

Presumably the donuts are the best.
Presumably the donuts are the best.

Sadly, donuts may not be the optimal riding fuel. Not 30 minutes later, my energy was flagging. It might be more that I’ve cranked out 315 miles and 17,000 ft of vertical in the last five days. Or perhaps it was the late-night movie Godzilla at the local theatre. Regardless, I slowed down some and increased my food and water intake. Pedaling the next 20 miles of grueling winds 2 points off my port bow continue to make pedaling a chore. So what got me out of my funk?

Well, let’s just say farming yellow takes a lot of fertilizer. The method for applying this is to take some manure…liquify it…then pump it up into the air about 5 feet into a spinning fan, shooting it up into the air to spread it in every direction…

…Fortunately, I didn’t get it. But for the love of all that is holy, it STANK!!!

Back in my groove, the next 40-60 miles flew by, and I found myself in the town of Cave City. After the tastiest ice water with a BLT sandwich at a cute little cafe, I hit up my final ten miles to Mammoth Cave National Park.

National Parks are always a pleasure to end the day of riding.
National Parks are always a pleasure to end the day of riding.

After securing my campsite, I scrambled to get to the start of the day’s final tour. It turns out that I gawked at the same caverns that tourists have been gawking at for almost 150 years. Graffiti from the mid-1800s covered the walls. I felt a strong connection with those who had the same stupid impulses we all share today.

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Day 16: Mammoth Cave National Park to Auburn

Riding out of the Mammoth Cave National Park was wonderfully pleasant, contrasting sharply with the stretches of US highway ahead of me. With the day’s short mileage, I feared I wouldn’t encounter much interesting stuff today. But again, I learned that my expectations and experiences diverge significantly.

At 8:30 am, I got a call that my B&B was ready. That was only 20 miles left to go. A quick search on Yelp revealed that Bowling Green doesn’t do brunch as I hoped, so I started towards the Waffle House. On route, I came across Red’s Restaurant. Local vibe and unassuming. I had the best breakfast thus far at Red’s.

Hopping back on Persephone, my route plan took me to an ominous ‘bridge out’ sign. The bridge seemed perfectly intact to me, so I sauntered over and arrived in Bowling Green, where I got a much needed haircut at Classic Cuts and Shaves.

I made my way down the highway to a better-suited country road. Up the way, I came across the Shaker Museum, dedicated to the memory of a Shaker colony/village established in 1807. They were dedicated to a set of beliefs, including communal care, hard work, gender equality, and the abolition of slavery – all of which are still very much in demand today.

The Shaker Museum in Auburn, KY
The Shaker Museum in Auburn, KY
Note the dog on the porch not currently trying to attack me. --Auburn,KY
Note the dog on the porch not currently trying to attack me. –Auburn,KY

At 2:00 pm, I arrived at Federal Grove Bed and Breakfast. The main building is beautiful in a way only Southern buildings can be. More importantly, on the deck of the attached cottage was an incredibly cute puppy who had no interest in chasing me down.

Day 17: Auburn to Hopkinsville

Terry, my host at the B&B, cooked me up a fantastic farmhouse skillet, along with fresh biscuits, fruit salad, local tomatoes, and maple glazed crispy bacon. Fresh orange juice and coffee helped get my day started right too.

After lingering a little later than normal, I pushed off.

Terry from Federal Grove B&B in Albany, KY. Great hospitality and world class breakfast! It's like staying at Grandma's house.
Terry from Federal Grove B&B in Albany, KY. Great hospitality and world class breakfast! It’s like staying at Grandma’s house.

Most of the ride passed without any exceptional events, until out of nowhere, BLAMO! Three dogs in full pursuit. The pooches caught me, and at the critical moment, one of them raced ahead rather than biting me. I don’t know if this playful spirit is the exception or the rule. I don’t hope to gather enough data to answer that question.

This fella cycled with me for a spell.
This fella cycled with me for a spell.

A kid of about 12 rolled out a few miles down as I approached his driveway. He settled beside me for a ride and started asking me all sorts of questions about where I was from and what I was doing. He was blown away by the idea that someone could ride all the way from the ocean. He was even more amazed I would try to get all the way to the Pacific.

After about a half mile, he wished me luck and turned back to his farm to get back to work.

Day 21: Eddyville to Paducah

After a 3-day rest with friends and family, I started the day in Eddyville, KY. Good breakfasts are becoming a regular thing. I was fortunate to have held out past a couple of gas stations to find myself at Phat Mama’s place. The folks here were gracious and hospitable and very interested in my trip.

"Mama" herself, along with some friends -- Ledbetter, Ky
“Mama” herself, along with some friends — Ledbetter, Ky
The new bridge. --East of Paducah, Ky
The new bridge. –East of Paducah, Ky

US Highway 60 & 62 are pretty calm East of Paducah. Seeing another “Bridge Out” sign and a “Detour” sign, I spent a few moments eyeing the bridge in the distance, which looked fine to me. A few minutes on Google maps revealed the detour was maybe 10 minutes max.

Paducah is home to the National Quilt Museum, which boasts several of the most recent national quilting competitions’ best-in-show awards. The intricacy of design, quality of construction, and fineness of stitching detail on these quilts beggars the imagination.

The National Quilt Museum. --Paducah, Ky
The National Quilt Museum. –Paducah, Ky
Lewis & Clark along with their guide.... and maybe that's Pollyanna -- in Paducah, Ky
Lewis & Clark along with their guide…. and maybe that’s Pollyanna — in Paducah, Ky

Having read Undaunted Courage recently, I get excited whenever I see a sign commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Just outside the museum is one such tribute. It features both Lewis and Clark but also a helpful Native American guide and, for some reason, a 1950’s idealized little girl complete with an American flag. I found myself very confused by what this monument was trying to convey. I just don’t get it.

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Published by Mike Evans

Founder of Founded GrubHub in 2004. Rode my bike across the US. Wrote a sci-fi novel.

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