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Days 52 and 53: The Kentucky Experience

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Having had a full day to rest, I was ready to hit the road and eat some chocolate gravy. Pig, KY is actually quite close to Mammoth Cave, which is famous for being the largest cave system known on earth I think. Claudia said she was able to check out the cave when she passed through Kentucky (she was now in Virginia), so if time allowed, it seemed like a cool thing to check out!

Today, my goal was a little past the cave where I would be staying with my host, Neal. While he wasn't a cycle tourist, because he lived to close to the Transamerica route, he would often see cyclists and invite them to stay at his house until one cyclist mentioned Warmshowers and he signed up as a host there.

I got an early start, and I was off before 7 AM. I had over 130 miles to ride and maybe a cave to see, so I wanted to give myself the extra time.

Between where I was and Pig, KY was a large swath of rural Kentucky. The entire time I had been riding across the US, you'd see at least a few Trump banners or "Fuck Biden" banners or "Don't blame me, I voted for Trump." But now there started to be more confederate flag sightings and "don't tread on me" flags. And the obligatory thin blue line flags. But still, those were somewhat normal. This house, however, did take it to an extreme...

As the day progressed, I realized I wouldn't have the energy or time to check out the cave, so I decided to make my fun event for the day be the chocolate gravy in Pig! It was very hot and humid out here, and despite the riding not being that hard, I found myself getting tired significantly faster than normal.

I was very happy to be taking a break at a donut shop when a woman approached me and talked to me about my trip. She thought it was super cool and asked if I had got a vaccine. When I said I had, she said that they didn't work and the government was up to something. She said that they wouldn't tell her what variant of COVID her son had gotten at the hospital and that there was something else going on. I couldn't quite follow, but she gave me $15 and some water, so I couldn't complain too much. Maybe it was the government hijacking my thoughts momentarily so I didn't catch on. Who knows!

The closer I got to Pig, the more signs I could see for all kinds of different caves, unrelated to Mammoth. There were some spots of the road where there was just a rope hanging down into a pit about 4 feet off to the side. I only saw it right as I rode by, but in retrospect, I wish I had gone back to take a better look at it and maybe go down for a few minutes. Having to leave my bike on the surface is a little concerning, but I hadn't had any issues with leaving my bike and gear out front of any store I visited and had grown pretty used to leaving it unlocked. It would probably have been fine. But in the interest of time, I pressed on.

The riding in Kentucky was honestly not the most interesting. I don't have a ton of photos from this ride, unfortunately, and it's mostly just baked goods photos... So this blog will contain and even higher percentage than normal of baked goods!

I stopped in Bowling Green for some pie and walked into a restaurant that was absolutely packed with people. I basically hadn't seen a mask since leaving California, but this was particularly extreme with how crowded everyone was. Back in 2021, that was a pretty weird sight for me. I sat outside... Good pie and cheese cake though!

Not too long after that, I made it to Pig, where Jeff had been able to find this chocolate gravy specialty. I had asked about it at the other restaurant back in Bowling Green and the locals had heard of it, and one even gave me a verbal recipe, but they didn't serve it at the previous restaurant, so I had to bank on Pig to have it. I found the exact place Jeff had gone to (it wasn't hard as it was the only restaurant in town), and asked about the chocolate gravy. It turns out, they only have the gravy on Sundays... I arrived on Monday... Instead I ordered the fried catfish, which was a great substitute, but I would have preferred chocolate gravy as my dip...

Having missed out on that experience, I pressed on. I was now going around Mammoth Park, but the main entrance to the cave was on the other side of where I was. although there were still tons of signs everywhere for different cave tours. One day I will have to go back as I have really enjoyed caving in Santa Cruz. I'm sure Mammoth would be on a whole other level.

But as I went around the park, I found another bakery! This one a Dutch bakery and being half Dutch, I was obligated to go (not that I would have skipped it anyways). It was a Dutch-Amish combo in which there was a surprising amount of electricity utilization from the fridges, to the lights, and so forth. It was also a super popular place with lots of people in it.

Similar to the Amish restaurant in Kansas, the portions were huge!

So huge that I actually couldn't finish everything and unfortunately had to throw some things out. I never throw things out, but I had so many donuts previously in the day, even I was starting to get sick of them... Believe it or not, I only post about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the baked goods I ate. I don't want it to get too repetitive, but like it or not, a large part of each day was taken up by what I ate, so I have to share at least a few!

They had a ton of other products for sale, and if I could have carried more on my bike I would have bought some more unique treats, but I didn't have room...

With that last bit of fuel, I powered on to meet Neal. I arrived and biked down Neal's long driveway to meet him on his porch. He was playing with his blue heeler on his big field. Neal welcomed me into his house and I wiped my feet on a Trump doormat. Neal was a pretty interesting guy. He collected whiskey as a hobby and had a shelf of whiskey worth thousands of dollars. I know nothing about the whiskey scene, so it was interesting for me to learn about how much some bottles were theoretically worth.

As was likely, he was a staunch republican and he railed about how much liberals hate America and want to ruin the country and how CNN was incredibly biased as a news source. Now, I am being invited and allowed to stay somewhere for free, and he bought us pizza, so I don't want to be super confrontational, but I had to ask where he got his less biased news from (I had a sneaking suspicion) and sure enough, "Fox." He then said that Fox might be a "little right leaning, but they always present both sides." But the pizza was good!

When I decided to travel across the country, what I wanted was an authentic experience, and Neal definitely gave me that. Most everyone else I stayed with were people from somewhere else who ended up in the middle of the US for work or something, but Neal was truly a local. He had also been in and out of prison when he was younger for selling weed, so I guess there's some things that are somewhat universally on both sides.

After my long day, I was ready to sleep. Neal said he was a late riser and that I should just make myself breakfast and take off if I was up before him. I had a room to myself upstairs and went to sleep.

I was up fairly early the next morning and did as Neal had suggested the previous night. Soon, I was on the road again towards Lexington, which was about 100 miles away. The previous day, one of the people I contacted with hopes of staying with had gotten back in touch with me and said while he was unavailable, a friend of his said she would be happy to host me! So that was great news for me and I was excited to meet her in Lexington. It was far more than I expected on such short notice from someone who wasn't expecting any guests and wasn't even in the cycling community. This was just a friend who had some extra space. Her name was Anna. Despite the short notice, she said she would love to host me, and I was pretty relieved to have a place to stay.

It was only about 100 miles to Lexington, but because of the humidity, I felt like I had a lot of trouble breathing. It seemed like I was having more trouble breathing than when I was climbing the highest road in the US. So much so, I started to wonder if I had COVID, but I was showing zero signs of any other symptoms, so I felt I was being a little silly about it. That being said, it was a tough 100 miles of riding, despite the terrain not being that difficult all things considered.

Other than the humidity, the ride was uneventful. I ended up biking right past the college, which apparently has a fantastic basketball program, and wound up at another bakery. It was exceptional! And I bought a little treat for my host since my arrival was such short notice. When I showed up, she was waiting out front and gave me a warm welcome!

Anna wanted to make sure I got a good tour of the place while I was in Lexington, so after I showered she offered to take me on a driving tour of the local area and look at the thoroughbred horse breeding. My sister is absolutely obsessed with horses while I still know virtually nothing, so it was a super fun and educational experience for me! The other cool thing about the surrounding area is all of the incredibly old buildings. You can really tell they were built much earlier than the buildings out west and Anna pointed out that many of the buildings still had the old slave quarters that had been repurposed. But that's just not something I would have ever thought about being from California. It was a super fun tour.

Afterwards, she got us dinner from a Hawaiian BBQ place and I think it is the first and only time I've had Hawaiian BBQ. I don't know why though, because it was delicious and great after a long day of riding.

Recounting my stories of the confederate flags I passed, Anna was not surprised, but apologetic that Kentucky is the way it is. Anna was on the far on other side of the political spectrum. More so than probably everyone else I encountered in Kentucky, and during the pandemic had created a no questions asked fund for people who were impacted by the pandemic. It sounded like it had been a fairly successful project. It was so interesting to me so find someone like Anna after passing all the signs I had been for the last week, but she was awesome and made me super comfortable while I stayed there.

She is also an experienced backpacker. I must have mentioned something about how I was happy to be through bear country or something because she informed me that I was actually not out of the woods yet... It turns out there are bears in the Appalachians too... I was unaware of that and I had left all my rope behind since I thought I wouldn't need it after Colorado... Anna was kind enough to give me some spare rope of hers for the coming week! Soon after, we both went to bed. If I remember correctly, she may have given me her bed while she stayed on the couch, but I'm not sure... In any case, she was incredibly hospitable, and trusting as you can see from this note she left me!

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