Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 10: to Hindsman, KY

Is it day ten?  Is that it?  I feel like I’ve been at this forever.  I bike all day and then I sit down every night and “do my homework,” which is updating this blog.  I posted last night before I went down to see the sunset.  I took a million pictures of it; you probably get the idea.   It was beautiful and a perfect way to end the day.

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Other people’s alarms woke me up at 6am as usual, and to add insult to injury it was raining.  I could hear the pitter patter of raindrops on my tent fly and the last thing I wanted to do was crawl out of my nice warm sleeping bag and take my tent down.  Good thing I had slept with my wet cycling clothes in my sleeping bag with me so they would dry.  Sigh.  Anyways, I got up to find it wasn’t really raining, I guess we were just so high up that everything was covered in a mist/fog and the leaves were dropping water everywhere.  That was good news.

We headed down to the Lodge to get breakfast and a lot of coffee.  It was good, I got so much food I had a leftover sausage biscuit that I wrapped up and stashed in my handlebar  bag for later like a hobo would do.

Day 10 025 We flew down a few miles down the mountain to the Kentucky border.  We were nervous about Kentucky.  Bikers tell stories of being chased by dogs 20 times a day, almost getting run over by coal trucks, getting flats from riding on the crappy roads, and getting harassed by the locals.  Cycling hell? 

Day 10 028 One thing I immediately liked about Kentucky: they blast right through mountains to build roads instead of curving the road up and over them.  Less elevation climbing!


I think now is a good time for my first installment of a new blog segment I’ve invented entitled “Coal: What’s up with that?”  In my first day in Kentucky I was able to witness several steps in the whole coal process.  Let’s go through them together.

Step 1:  Get the coal out of the mountain

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Here is a classic eastern Kentucky landscape.  Notice how the top and sides have been lobbed off that mountain.  This is called mountaintop removal and it makes it safer and more cost effective for companies to obtain the coal.  Why dig mine shafts down into the mountain when you can simply blow the whole thing up instead?  And it adds so much beauty to the scenery.  At least they left 15 trees up there on top.

Step 2: Put the goal in trucks

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This is the best part for us cyclists.  The coal is put into trucks after its blasted out of the mountains.  The trucks then whip down small, winding roads at breakneck speeds as dust and bits of coal fly out the top.   The drivers are generally courteous to us but it is still scary as hell to be 1 foot away from a giant Mack truck travelling 60mph.  There’s only 12 inches between you and certain death.  I think about that every time a coal truck passes me.  The wind they create as they pass poses a whole new challenge as you have to quickly correct your steering so you don’t blow right off the road.  And, of course, there is nothing more enjoyable than getting hit in the face by a rock of coal.

Step 3:  Something is going on here

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There are a lot these interesting looking factories in eastern Kentucky.  From what I can tell the coal gets to go on a conveyer belt ride around the complex before being dumped into a giant pile. 

Step 4: Put it on a train.

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The giant piles of coal are funneled into train cars.  From here, the trains travel west with us, ensuring us all a good nights sleep.

Step 5: Pretend it didn’t happen

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Remember those tops of mountains that were lobbed off?  How about we just throw some grass on them and call it a day.  That should make everything a-okay.

Step 6:  ?

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I don’t really know what to call step 6.  It’s sort of sad.  Everywhere we go, we see memorials to men that have died working in the coal industry and mountains that will never be the same because of it.  At same time, these people are so poor that it doesn’t matter to them; they rely on mining for good jobs.  Everyone I talked to had a family member that works with coal somehow.  You see “Friends of Coal” stickers EVERYWHERE.  The people are proud but you can’t help wanting them to have better lives.  I wish them all the best.

Eastern Kentuckians don’t have it all bad, look at the diverse menu items local restaurants have to offer.

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I wonder what the difference is between a “pineapple” and a “Hawaiin” flurry?

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I saw these folks at the flurry place.  They are riding a fully loaded tandem across the country.  They are doing the same mileage a day as I do and I literally have no idea how they can climb up some of those hills.  Mad props to you, tandem riders.

Day 10 066 After a long, hot day we made it to the tiny town of Hindman, Kentucky.  There are no grocery stores, restaurants, bars (dry town), or anything to do in Hindman but the ladies at the gas station gave us some free BBQ boneless wings because they were about to throw them out.  Free food!  We are staying at a church’s youth center which is actually pretty cool because they have a Wii, ping pong, and a pool table.  And roaring AC.  We are so lucky that there are such accommodating places in rural America.

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So the good news is that I’ll be sleeping indoors tonight on the soft carpet of another church floor.  No setting up or taking down of the tent.  The other good news is I totally owned these kids at Mario Kart Wii.  Hey kids!  You were born in the 1990’s! Get off my lawn!

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  1. Well just a couple things from a Kentuckian and fellow bike rider. 1. It has to make you feel better you are on a steely in the mountains when the mack trucks pass you more sturdy from the fake wind. 2. fully loaded tandem means twin horsepower there cheaters haha. 3. At least we in kentucky give back to nature we plant trees and grass to hide our destruction of the mountain side. 4. Your doing great keep up the good work and be careful in the rain.

  2. Well done, Tara. I enjoyed your bike's-eye view of the tragedy of strip mining on steroids -- otherwise known as mountaintop removal coal mining. Kentucky (and West Virginia) have been blown to hell, as you note, to fuel America's voracious appetite for energy. Yet another reason to break our fossil fuel addiction. But once you get out of eastern KY, the landscape will open up with the bluegrass and you'll see horses instead of dogs -- and horses won't chase you. Keep up the great updates -- pedal power!