Saturday May 8, Abingdon VA to Cumberland Falls KY
After the not so good day yesterday, I took a very slow morning and didn’t hit the road until well after 9. The first objective today was Cumberland Gap by way of US 58. Mary and were out this way a few years back, and looking at the maps, I can’t find any other way to get there. US 58 is a good ride, but the road is totally proved up and is wide and smooth having only wide sweepers. It’s almost I-State grade.
Wanting to bypass both Bristol and Kingsport, I headed North on US 19, another proved-up wide smooth road, after spotting a thin-line road, VA 802, that would get me back to US 58. Got to Holston and saw a local diner, the Holston Cafe. The owner’s name wasn’t part of the name, Road Cafe Rule Number 1, but the parking lot had lots of cars and trucks with local plates, Road Cafe Rule Number 2, so I pulled in. Hadn’t been on the road for much longer that 20 or 30 minutes. A real slow start today.
The owner was really nice and the food was great ( the Holston Cafe has grits ). The couple at a nearby table ride, but that Other Brand, so he struck up a conservation. A very nice and friendly couple. He’s a long-haul trucker and has cut back on his super-long trips. She rides with him on some hauling trips. And she has a cousin living in Saratoga Springs. Small world. He said he might take a little day putt-putt today. I chatted with them even tho my grits were constantly cooling whenever I was chatting and not eating. As I was putt-putting along later, I started to wonder if there shouldn’t be some kind of social protocol for this situation. Especially when it comes to ones grits getting cold.
Got back on the road. It’s a big-wind day and it’s also a little cool. Got to my thin-line road, VA 802, and was immediately surprised. The road is a disaster; very narrow, very rough, no markings, not even a center-line, and a deep gully for a shoulder. Not as bad as the worst parts of US 58 yesterday, but not good. Under these conditions, I always hug the far right side of my lane all the time. You never know when a local native is going to be barreling down the road and using all of it.
Luckily, after getting over the hills and into the first cove, the road became better. Then, when the road starts over the next hills to get into the next cove it gets bad again. I finally get into the valley that will lead to US 58 at Mendota and it’s smooth sailing, a real joy.
Make the run against the big headwind to the gap and into Middlesboro KY. Middlesboro is the hometown of somebody famous, but i’ve forgotten who ( or whom ). I pull into a service station to get some gas and a KY map. The only map available is one of those plastic-laminated jobbys and it’s $8.95 plus taxes and fees. Outrageous. I see the next twisty thin-line road that heads West, KY 74.
I notice that we’re in coal-mining country off on the right hand side. The road begins to deteriorate at about the same time. I start to have flashbacks from earlier today. I keep going and soon can spot one of those Mountain-Top-Removal coal mines up high. At about this time, the road is another disaster in the making. Soon, I notice ruts in the asphalt and the makings on the road disappear. I’m thinking this will be over as soon as I pass through this short mining section.
Well, it goes to hell in a hand-basket and continues for miles. No stones on the road, but the road almost becomes an un-improved mountain goat trail. And it goes up and over maybe three ridges and down into little coves under these conditions. Nasty. The road is so narrow that the trees block all the sunlight and I can’t sees any details about the road surface. It’s go slooooowww and be careful.
At the end of the nightmare, I cross the railroad three times and each time there are huge holes in the road and stones cover the tracks completely. Just as I cross the tracks for the last time I meet two crotch-rocket based road-runners. I think to myself that those boys are going to be very disappointed. Either that or I don’t know how to ride. The only other bikes I’ve met on this road.
But not 100 feet ( a few meters ) down the road I cross into Tennessee and the road becomes a marvel. Smooth and twisty and some wide sweepers. I have some fun to make up for the misery and do a little road running. And now I understand why the road-running crotch-rockets were on this road.
I’ve recently seen some additional Land of Small Houses. Tiny, square or rectangular houses. Many not in the best of condition. Lots of single-wides. And unlike on some of these roads deep in the boonies, I haven’t seen any normal-looking houses mixed in with these. These miners have a tough life, I think.
I get to the next road, US 25W heading North. I’ve got two other thin-line roads in mind that head West. But based on today’s experience I’m thinking I should take the shorter of the two. Soon, I see signs about this place where I stopped today. It’s another of the State of KY State Parks that have rooms and food. This one at Cumberland Falls State Park. Mary and I have stayed at a couple of these and some in WV, too, and have found them to be really nice. It so happens that the place is on the short road West. I get to the road, KY 90, and it’s a joy; smooth and twisty. And the place is nice, too.
I have my first sit-down at a table supper in three or four days. My usual veggies supplemented with high-value protein. In this case some of the protein is supplied by frog legs. I haven’t had frog legs since I stopped going to The Bay Area, as they call it. These aren’t prepared the same way as those out there. These are deep-fried in a big olde pan of oil, not gently sauté in butter and garlic and presented on a bed of rice or pasta.
Low temperature in the high 30s tonight. I’m thinking that it’ll be another slow morning tomorrow. I’ll have some extra coffee and take in the beauty here.
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