Photo: Trans Am Race blog, Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer
Evan and I ride up the hill away from the ferry. We pass a big bellied man sitting on the porch drinking a Mountain Dew. I wave and he doesn’t wave back. We stop at the gas station in Marion. It has a full breakfast buffet in the hot case– biscuits, home fries and strips of bacon, breakfast sandwiches, fried eggs and fried apple pie– in the next two days I find this is the norm in Kentucky. I pack a couple of biscuits for later. Kentucky is rural and hilly. Trump signs are posted in lawns and home made Trump signs dangle out of trees and there’s no shortage of confederate flags. We pedal right through Whitesville. We’re headed for Bardstown– the bourbon capital of the world. The day passes like much of the rest of the days. Fifteen days in, it feels like this race might not ever end and the end definitely isn’t in sight. We pedal through the heat, past white Baptist churches. Above ground swimming pools, giant trampolines and rusted car bodies decorate yards. Evan drinks lots of sweet tea and I drink lots of chocolate milk and the sun sets. Still on the road after midnight, our headlights illuminate the towering bourbon storage structures on the outskirts of Bardstown. The night is quiet and the buildings are spooky with narrow windows stacked seven across and eight high– like some kind of prison apartment complex for ghosts. We ride into the lights of town, turn left at the McDonald’s and check into the Bardstown Parkview around 1AM.
We get moving after 6AM. It’s Sunday and most everything is closed. We find a Circle K at the edge of town to buy food. I’m not sure when we crossed into the Bluegrass region, but we’re there. I’m ready to finish and aim to stay on the bike. Evan says the climbs get longer and steeper after Berea. A couple waits for us in a church parking lot before town with juice and water. We fill our bottles. They watched Inpsired to Ride and are thrilled to see racers pass through their hometown.
The hills out of Berea are so green, and Evan was right, they’re monster climbs. I ride standing up for most of the afternoon, feeling really good. Evan is tired, trying his hardest to stay awake and hang on to the pace. He hasn’t been sleeping well, but he keeps a positive attitude and we’re going after it. The last time I see him is on a descent. I pass through a traffic light and the light changes colors and I figure he’ll catch me in a couple minutes, but he doesn’t. I call him from Booneville because I haven’t seen him for an hour. Reception is spotty and he doesn’t answer, so I leave a message. He calls me back an hour later and leaves a message that he was falling asleep descending next to 18 wheelers. He stopped at a gas station to slam a couple Mountain Dews and plans to make it to Hazard to get some solid sleep. I’m back on the bike and now I’m alone for the first time since Wyoming. And now I know that I’m on the hunt
I stop at a mountain shop near Buckhorn and buy a Monster Coffee. I want to stay up for a while. The shopkeep asks where I’m coming from. He says he remembers seeing the first bikes come through forty years ago when he was a teenager. I tell him about the race and that I’m chasing down the leader. He asks if I’m riding about forty miles a day and I say that I’m riding about 240 miles a day and he says I must really want the win. Yep, I do.
I ride back out into the evening past Chavies and past the Holiday Inn in Hazard. There’s an Arby’s across the street and hot food actually sounds good, but I feel the pressure of time and the need to stay on my bike. I’ll save my stopped time for sleep. I get off the main highway and ride into the sleeping communities of Dwarf, Fisty, Emmalena and Carrie. Into Hindman around 11PM, I don’t hesitate. I pull into the schoolyard, set my bivvy out next to the deserted building and go to sleep. I set my alarm for two and a half hours– I’m cutting sleep to the finish, counting down the nights to Yorktown. I dread sleepless nights, so I don’t force myself through them. A short sleep is better than none at all.
Riding by 2AM, I’m gaining miles. I stop out front of the Dollar General in Bypro to buy water out of a vending machine. Nothing will be open for hours. Around 6AM I pick up some hot case breakfast and then I’m pushing for Breaks Interstate Park. It’s greener and steeper than ever before. In the early morning hours, I ride into Virginia. Finally, the end is in sight.