Day 128-133 • July 7-12, 2012 • Berea to Big Hill, KY • 14 miles
In the world of hang gliding, turbulence is both a friend and an enemy. I think Zoe would call it a frienemy. It’s what keeps you aloft all day for that epic cross country flight but it can also break your glider. Part of being a good pilot is knowing when the severity of atmospheric conditions has exceeded your ability to deal with them, and acting accordingly: some days it’s best to just tear down your glider and try again another day. But there are no absolutes or easy guidelines. The same conditions you mastered yesterday might be too much for you today. Maybe you’re tired or distracted. Maybe the cumulative effect of multiple days of turbulence has worn you down. Maybe you’re just in a bad mood. Or maybe conditions really are over the top today. It’s a nebulous, sliding scale unique to every pilot but something you get good at assessing for yourself. We like to call it our bump tolerance. I think the equivalent to turbulence for the touring cyclist is the roads on which we ride. Today my bump tolerance was exceeded.
Back on the TransAmerica route, we continued east from Berea on Highway 21. This was the same highway we were on yesterday and it was just as gnarly—narrow, curvy, hilly, no shoulders. The only real difference was that traffic was heavy today. Maybe I could argue that the additional traffic was a good thing because it slowed everyone down, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. We made it to Big Hill without incident and met Mark Dobbins, who was 800 miles or so into his ride going the opposite direction. He documented his ride by interviewing people he met and publishing the videos on his blog. Zoe stars as a Road Angel in ours, check it out. Mark made it maybe another 400 miles before getting fed up with the heat and calling it quits. I know this because he managed to keep his blog up-to-date. As for us, we’d had continuous 100+ degree days since the last time I complained about the heat back in Bardstown. And many more before that. It was crazy.
To a touring cyclist, a name like Big Hill might cause a certain amount of trepidation, and this town was indeed at the bottom of a Big Hill. But as we began our ascent out of Big Hill in the heat of a 100 degree day, I realized I could do this all day long. So what if we only managed 2 MPH—we were on a good road with a truck lane plus a huge shoulder. I could spin forever. But I knew that once we reached the top, the truck lane would end and our shoulder would wither. We’d be back to the signature Kentucky county road—no shoulder, curvy, hilly, and narrow. And the same class of crazy driver that passed us so quickly in the extra lane would now be in ours. And this time there would be no alternative. Even the Adventure Cycling maps warned of these conditions up ahead. How much worse could it get for AC to suddenly be weighing in?
As you may have already figured out, I’m not a superstitious guy. So I won’t ascribe anything supernatural to what happened next. It just happened like so many things happen all the time, quite randomly, but the last few days had armed me with a singular response. As we were about to crest the top of the hill, we stopped for a pee break where I noticed that Zoe’s flag was gone. I don’t really know how effective our flags are but I do know that if there is any place we want to stack the odds as much in our favor as possible, this was it. I was done. We crawled back down to Big Hill looking for the flag—Zoe was very upset that her post-ride scrap book might lack the tattered pirate flag—but didn’t find it. We’d been planning to have Zoe’s grandfather, aka Poppy, aka Bill, pick us up in a few days anyway for some time with Lisa’s family back in Nitro, WV. When we got to Big Hill I called Bill and asked if he could pick us up sooner. Now. He said he’d be there in a few hours. While we waited we backtracked maybe a quarter mile toward Berea and found the flag. A few hours and one emergency tire repair later, we were loading the trikes into Poppy’s truck.
And so we spent almost a week relaxing in Nitro with Lisa’s family. Zoe got some quality time with Nana and Poppy. She swam with her cousins Turner and Courtney every day. We saw movies (don’t walk, run to see Moonrise Kingdom). Turner tried to bounce me off of the trampoline. We ate real food. We played out at Poppy’s farm. We got to hang out with Kellie who is still undergoing treatments for breast cancer. We even conducted an experiment—what would happen if we left a half-eaten sandwich in the Stone Cold cooler bag in the hot garage for an entire week? You don’t want to know, but the bag didn’t survive. Except for that last bit, it was a fun, relaxing time that Zoe and I really needed.