Days 54, 55, and 56: Another Police Encounter...
Updated: Sep 1, 2022
The next morning, I would get a late start to the day. With a host as nice as Anna, it's hard to tear yourself away and go back on the road, especially when she said I was welcome to stay a second night. But I had a deadline that was rapidly approaching, and I really wanted to keep making progress. The closer I got to the East Coast, the more real my trip felt, and I just wanted to keep on making miles. It's kind of how on previous long trips, I would have a blast until there was like a week left, and at that point I wanted to go home because my departure was so close. If I was instead leaving in another month, I'm sure I wouldn't feel that way, but being so close always makes me want to make it all the way.
So at around 11:00 Anna and I said goodbye, and I was back on my way towards West Virginia. There were no Warmshowers or Couchsurfing hosts I could make it to today, so my options for the night were to find a hotel or somewhere I could camp. Being cheap, I was really hoping I could find a park or something in a town where I could set up after dark and leave before it became too light, so no one would be bothered by it. With that goal in mind, my plan for the day was just to ride as far as I could and find somewhere to sleep once evening came.
Despite similar humidity, this ride didn't seem as bad as the previous day. Maybe the later start helped me feel more rested, but in any case, I felt like I was making good progress on the quiet and winding roads of Kentucky. I would be chased by dogs several times throughout the day, but I lucked out for most of them and they would come after me on downhills. However, there were a few exceptions. One in particular was pretty scary. I was just cresting a hill, but it was flat on the other side instead of a downhill and some dogs started coming after me. There was a barbed fence between me and them, so I thought I would be fine and they'd stop at the fence, but they came right through the fence at a near sprint. I really started pedaling hard and I thought with that they would leave me alone. Instead, one of the dogs shoots past me and started barking while running in front of the bike. I had to have been going over 20 mph, but luckily I think that particular dog wanted to play more than anything or else I would have been in trouble as it easily outpaced me and was much faster than any of the other dogs I had encountered on the trip so far...
Hopefully the owners of the animals know whether their dog is prone to bite or not and all the ones off leash, and unwatched, were the friendly dogs, but hearing stories form other cyclists, that seemed to not always be the case. Isaac had a hard time with the dogs while he was biking too, and he took a route where they saw many more cyclists. I was in an area where the owners probably never thought to put their dogs on a leash because no one would ever bike through the area.
Even though these roads weren't as straight, the rarity of traffic still made me comfortable with having my earbuds in and listen to music while I rode. I also have a mirror on my glasses, which I would use to regularly check for cars behind me. That was how I would ride for most of these longer days days. The scenery would largely blend together and almost everywhere looked like what is pictured above. It was enjoyable riding, but similar to the cornfields in Kansas, I was looking forwards to a change. I was hoping that the rapidly approaching Appalachians would give me just that.
After riding for 110 miles, it was becoming dark and fast. I arrived in Grayson, which has a Christian college in it. It also had hotels, but I decided I would risk it and try and stay on the college campus, but out of sight. I could see the campus security as I rolled onto the property, so I tried to look as much like a passerby as possible while I scouted potential locations to sleep.
Setting up my tent would be hard since it would make me much more visible, so I decided I would forgo the tent, but I would still use my sleeping bag and pad after my not so great experience in Kansas... Eventually, I found a small wall that was sitting level, but if I tipped my bike on the ground and laid down, I would be entirely hidden from the road where the security was driving. I sat down and unpacked my stuff. There, I also made the discovery that the campus had free WIFI! I spent the remaining time before dark, and even after it was dark, catching up on some TV shows on my phone and reaching out to Warmshowers hosts in West Virginia, as this would be my last day in Kentucky.
Then, in the middle of my show, I hear footsteps coming over and someone suddenly shines a light in my face and over all my stuff. It's a cop. At this point, I'm pretty sure I'm screwed. I'm not supposed to be here, it's after dark, I'm exhausted and already in my sleeping bag, but I am sure he's going to tell me to move on. However, he seems as startled to see me as I am to see him. He asks me what I'm doing there, and I explain my trip briefly. He says he's only there to try and find a girl that was just reported missing and asks me to keep any eye out and to call 911 if I see anything. With that, he leaves.
I think that since he wasn't campus security, he didn't really care that I was hiding behind a wall on the campus. If it were the actual campus security that found me, I'm sure that interaction would have been different. After another 30 minutes, I see him again heading back this way and as he goes by he said they found the girl and tells me to be safe before leaving in his car. I count myself very fortunate as it would have absolutely ruined my day to have to pack everything up again in the dark had he forced to find a hotel or somewhere else to sleep.
While I didn't sleep great because I had such little padding, it was definitely much better than in Kansas. In the morning, I woke up to a thick fog and dew covering everything. Again, nothing dries out here. I packed all my wet gear up and got ready to resume riding while the mist still hid me.
Today's ride would be somewhat shorter as I was riding to Charleston, which is where I would be meeting my Warmshowers host, Mary and her parents. Charleston is the capital and most populated city of West Virginia. It has 48,000 people...
When I stayed with Barry, I was just a stone's throw from Tennessee and today's ride would take me even closer to the border of Ohio. However, after my difficult river crossing experience crossing into Kentucky, I decided to forgo crossing the river to enter the state itself. Instead, I would bike right next to it, along the river. It would only be about 75 miles of riding today and after my early start, I was going to have a good amount of time that afternoon once I reached Mary's house. Mary's father owns a bike shop and she was helping him for the day, so as I got closer to Charleston, I kept an eye out for the shop so I could say hello to them. Instead, I found more baked goods... Lots of them....
I never did end up seeing the shop, and later it would turn out they never saw me either even though, in theory, I needed to bike past the shop to reach their house. When I arrived at their house, I was greeted my Mary's mother. She helped me get settled, and a few minutes later Mary was able to come back to the house. We hung out my tent and everything else that was wet from this morning and planned for what to do that evening.
We ended up going to downtown Charleston for some delicious ice cream and on the way back we saw a Krispy Kreme. Having heard about my baked goods addiction, and also that I had never had hot and fresh Krispy Kreme, we stopped and got some donuts, which I would be able to have for breakfast.
When we got back, I got to watch the Tokyo Olympics! For a couple weeks the Olympics had been in progress and I was sad to have been missing them. This was my first chance to watch any of the sports on TV. I missed the previous summer Olympics due to backpacking on the John Muir Trail and had been looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics since then and even more so since I was in Japan in 2019.
In a state that overwhelming voted for Trump, Mary and her family were the odd ones out. But as Mary's father explained to me, they were very much like most other West Virginians in many ways, Christian and otherwise, but they couldn't stand having Trump as a president. For me, it was a ton of fun to meet so many cool people everywhere I went and in every state. He also said it was ironic that the state was so heavily right-wing as it's the only state to have been created from one larger one. Originally, it succeeded from Virginia because it didn't want to be a slave owning state and had more liberal ideology.
West Virginia, despite its reputation, was very nice to ride through so far. A lot of the schools had nicer fields than I did at UC Santa Cruz. Some of the buildings also looked newly built, which is interesting as West Virginia is the only state whose population has decreased relative to its 1950's numbers. This was due to many of the mining jobs coming to a halt and people looking for work in other states.
Mary's mother said they had two other cyclists come through before me, and she was very thankful that I was the "most normal." It sounded like the previous people who had come through might have put her on edge about Warmshowers, and if there had been a third less than stellar experience, she might not have wanted to host anymore. Just about a week ago, I saw a post from Mary on Instagram of her and another cyclist they hosted, so I am very glad to see they continued to host after I left! Although, I think to bike across the USA you do have to be a little crazy...
We spent the evening going over the best routes I should take through West Virginia. We decided that I should retrace a route that Mary's father had done a long time ago, which winds up a creek up towards the Smokey Mountains. It looked like a lot of fun on paper, and you learn quickly that the people who know the best routes will always be your hosts and locals to the area. So I was game to follow his idea.
The next morning I got all ready to go. They made sure I had everything I needed to keep going. After hearing about my flat tire incident, they offered me some supplies from their bike shop in case of flats. So far, the new tire had been great and I had no issues.
Here's Mary and her father before I left the next morning.
And here's a photo of what I looked like while biking... It makes sense why so few people would talk to me on my trip while Claudia said people would pull over and offer her water all the time!
Before leaving town, I came across Pirate Donuts, and they were shockingly good! They were going to help me make it the rest of the way today as I had nearly 140 miles to ride.
While the climbing through the canyon was all fairly gradual, it was a sign of things to come. Today I was mostly heading north, but tomorrow I would turn directly east and ride through the Appalachians. While other cyclists complained about how steep they are, my bike setup was designed to be lightweight and maneuverable due to all the off road riding I was doing early in my trip. That meant my bike should in theory make the Appalachians much easier for me than many others. But that was tomorrow.
Today, I had some fantastic, and low traffic, riding all along a small river. My goal was to make it to a hotel for the night so I could have a nice place to sleep before the Appalachian mountains.
It was also walled in by trees, which was nice for me as it was still very hot...
I still had some dogs to contend with, but it wasn't nearly as bad as Kentucky. I think that was mostly due to the less dense population in West Virginia.
The more I rode through West Virginia, the more I liked it. While it got a bad reputation back home, the low population made for some great riding and the people were all curious and friendly since they didn't get a lot of cyclists coming through the area. Cars could pass me easily, despite the curves, and would also wait if it was potentially dangerous. It was a big day of riding, but I had a great time with it.
That evening I made it to Buckhannon and found a nice hotel. I was allowed to take my bike up to my room despite it being on the second floor. I wish I had some pictures of the hotel because it was an old dance hall that had been converted into the hotel, and it looked pretty cool! I found a picture of the outside online.
With that, I got ready for bed. I hung out all my clothes again since they were wet and nothing seemed to dry out here. I could put them my the A/C unit though, and in the morning they would generally be good to go. We'd see...