18. Mount Sterling: Edge of the Boonies

Tuesday night, 11 Oct, from my tent.

South of North Middleton, KY, along Hwy 460. The countryside through this whole area is gorgeous. It reminds me of Duchess County in Upstate New York – these immense estates, with locked gates and palatial homes set so far back from the road that you almost can’t see them. Vast patches of land here are fenced in – some of it for cattle, but mostly for horses. You wonder how so much prime, and beautifully maintained real estate can be dedicated to grazing horses on. Some of these folks out here must have tons of money.

The drawback, from my point of view, is that it’s hard to find a campsite. Everything is fenced in, and most of the countryside is open. I require easy access and privacy. Whenever possible, I also favor attractive surroundings. Over the years, much more often than not, I’ve camped in beautiful places.

I usually start looking an hour before sunset. But today, as I’ve done at other times on this trip, I started looking earlier. I’d already noted this area didn’t offer many possibilities, so I needed to be sure I’d find a place before dark, and I wanted to enjoy a leisurely dinner in camp – peanut butter, crackers, an apple and a splash of Southern Comfort from one of my plastic Platypus bladders. Also, rain is in the cards again now. The sky has been overcast all day. So I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get well set up for an inclement night and a wet start in the morning, if it comes to that.

Here is my picture journal, beginning yesterday morning.

  • #8432 – Parking lot at the McDonalds on the west side of Lawrenceburg. Thirteen hundred and forty-some miles without a flat tire. Must be some kind of a record. The rear tire was flat when I came outside after using the wifi here. 
  • #8436 – The highway north to Frankfort was as easy as anything I’d seen since southwest Missouri. Gentle ups and downs, 10-foot shoulder, fine weather. While online at the McDonalds, I changed my itinerary. I didn’t want to go into Lexington, nor did I want to wait in Lawrenceburg for the only bicycle shop there to open up. So I emailed Capital City Cycles – the only alternative, up in Frankfort – and told them I needed a new rear tire for my Surly Long Haul Trucker and that I’d be there about the time they were opening up. 
  • #8438 – More pretty countryside, heading north. 
  • #8442 – Just as I was approaching Frankfort, I had another flat on my rear tire. You get this sickening feeling as the bike starts to slosh around on a no-longer-firm tire. Time to stop – patiently – and set things right. For occasions like this, I keep my tire patch kit and a little pump in that small black bag you see just above the rear wheel. I’m not particularly fast, but with luck, I can be rolling again in fifteen or twenty minutes. Notice the little white streaks on the bottom of this tire. It’s colored this way so you’ll know when the tread has worn through. This tire was definitely shot – paper thin. 

The wind is coming up. My guess is I’ll get some rain tonight. I just stepped outside to secure that new, green rain fly I picked up in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Maybe I’ll find out tonight if it works as well as the old one used to. Better to get it ready now – and pegged down securely – than to wake up in a few hours and do it then, with the rain already falling.

  • #8444 – This is the owner, Troy, of the only cycle shop in Frankfort, KY … working on my Surly. Because of the two flat tires, also because I stopped to lay in provisions and have some lunch at a grocery deli on the outskirts of town, I didn’t arrive until early afternoon. On second thought, rather than just changing tires and going on my way, I asked the mechanic to have a look at my bike and make sure everything was in good working order. Out of deference to my necessity as a touring cyclist, he put aside his other work and gave me priority. As soon as he set to work, I quickly took advantage of the tidy bathroom in his shop to wash my hair, shave, give myself a sponge bath, change my underwear and shirt. Whew. Then I joined Troy in his utility shed out back. It was a good thing I had him go over my bike. The headset needed tightening. I got new brake pads – and better quality – on both wheels. My old ones on the back were completely worn down, and the ones on the front were mostly gone. He cleaned my chain and made a couple other small adjustments. He also informed me about road conditions up ahead and convinced me to remove the heavy chain from my front rack and put it in one of my rear panniers. He said I was carrying too much of my weight up front. Troy is in his forties, with three children of widely spaced ages. His wife has a “real” job, as a social worker, which, he says, allows him to do this. He grew up right across the street from where he rents the small building that he runs his business out of. He’s an ex-Marine. He started college as a photography student, then switched to a business major after realizing it would be tough to make a living taking pictures. After he turns 50, he plans to do his own serious, long-distance touring around the USA. Troy says people come from quite a ways to go mountain biking nearby. There are prime trails in the area. I had to memorize all the state capitals as a kid, but I must have either forgotten this one or gotten it wrong. Maybe a natural mistake, as Frankfort is one of the smallest state capitals in the country. Troy also informed me that Kentucky is the horse capital of the world. 
  • #8446 – Bob & Troy. In front of Capital City Cycles: bike in perfect trim, saddled up and ready to move out. I was here several hours, and (again) I parted with more money than I’d planned. What I put into the bike was definitely well spent. About 40% of the total, however, went on a gamble – some pricey, rainproof footwear that will fit underneath my sandals. I am anticipating there will be cold and wet weather at some point farther up the road, and that in late October, at higher elevations, going barefoot in sandals will be too extreme. Time will tell if I wasted my money on this item or made a smart investment. 
  • #8450 – This photo doesn’t do justice. I camped in a wooded ravine, offering seclusion, on another of those beautifully tended, wide-open, horse-farm estates. Except here there was no gate, nor was there a “No Trespassing” sign. 

Sure enough, it’s started to rain. Little droplets are tapping on the rain fly a few inches above my head. All my gear – and vital groceries – are packed securely for the night. The wind is rustling insistently in the treetops. Maybe I should just turn off the alarm and sleep in …. What the heck.

  • #8451 – Another view, looking out of yesterday’s campsite. 
  • #8452 – Looking back out towards 460, from the edge of my wooded ravine. It’s good to be this far back from the road. It’s quiet here, and no one can see you. 
  • #8454 – Yet another view from my ravine, into the characteristically well fenced, neatly clipped grassland all around it. 
  • #8457 – Miles and miles of this exquisite horse country. The long, autumnal tree line across the horizon traces a private road from somebody’s estate back out to the highway. Some of the old homes, stone walls and gates date back to the late 1780s, and bear historical markers. 
  • #8458 – On the western outskirts of Georgetown this morning, I stopped at one of those Marathon gasoline and convenience store pit stops you see throughout this part of the country. I was looking for a simple map of Virginia. There weren’t any. But the owner – with his less-than-perfect English – pulled out a personal atlas of the USA to help me, and one of his customers went back out to retrieve a fistful of maps from his truck, offering to give me any of them that I wanted. None of this was what I needed, though. My bicycle, ever the conversation piece, intrigued the owner of this establishment. As I was leaving, he followed me outside and practically begged me to take a bottle of juice with me – “Have something to drink,” he insisted. My bags were already bulging, and at that hour, coffee was all I wanted, so I lingered and enjoyed a cup of his machine-dispensed French vanilla brew as we chatted. Ashok has been in the US six years, but he has family members who have been here four times that long. He is from Gujarat, India, and he used to live in New Jersey. In fact, one of his sons is finishing high school there, and he has a girlfriend in Clifton! (Small world … haven’t I said that before?) Ashok had been a court recorder in India. He’d had several businesses too – clothing and ice cream among them, if I remember correctly. When I asked him if he likes living in Kentucky, he said he loves it everywhere. He enjoys meeting people, and he’s passionate about learning “everything,” though he mentioned philosophy specifically.I gave him my blog address – as I do several times a day anymore with people along the way. In fact, I wrote up a whole bunch of slips in my tent the other night (behind the school) so I could just pass them out like business cards. I wrote down the location of another Marathon station in eastern Kentucky, which is run by Ashok’s daughter, but I don’t expect to be going through that particular town. Note the handlebar bag that goes with me whenever I leave my bike, and the graciously offered cup of French vanilla coffee on the counter. 
  • #8471 – A typical stretch of autumn highway from today. 
  • #8479 – Yes, I really visited Paris this afternoon. In Bourbon County, no less. (Make of that what you will. Someone told me this morning I should do the Bourbon Trail, and that when it comes to Kentucky whiskey, nothing beats Woodford Reserve.) I loaded up here on info, drinking water to pack off into the “Boone” Docks, and two pounds of local honey for Elizabeth. She loves natural honey, and says it’s good for whatever ails you. 
  • #8484 – To my rear is the tallest three-story building in the world. In Paris. No shit. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.
  • #8486 – The main drag in central Paris. 
  • #8482 – Main crossroads. 
  • #8491 – Kentucky’s finest, coming over to investigate. Is that another horse there … or what? 
  • #8498 – Every time I came across the prettiest piece of road I’d seen, and stopped to photograph it, a little bit later I’d come upon another view that looked even prettier. 
  • #8502 – One of those locked gates, leading to a home and grounds whose opulence I could only imagine. 
  • #8504 – Way back in the distance here, you can see what looks like a house … if that’s the proper term. 
  • #8511 – This is a rare shot when I paused, steadied my camera on a fence, and used the telephoto zoom. It testifies again to how vast and elegant these Kentucky horse farms are. 
  • #8512 – More affluence, under lock and key. 
  • #8513 – The historic quarter of North Middleton. 
  • #8515 – My present campsite, facing out towards the road, which lies beyond a creek, across a dilapidated stone and concrete bridge. 
  • #8517 – There was time for supper, standing beside the sturdy bench against which my bike is propped … before it got dark, and a soft but steady rain began to fall. 

It did rain pretty hard for pretty long last night, but my tent, with its new rain fly, kept me snug just the way I remember it always used to.

I’d set the alarm for eight but woke up comfortably a little before that. The rain had stopped.

I’m in a major gas station, convenience store and Krystal fast food place with Internet wifi. Right on the north edge of Mount Sterling, where 460 crosses I-64. A little ways farther south, just past a burg called Jeffersonville, I plan to drop off into more remote territory, starting on the local road designated 213. I’ll go through one more fairly good-sized town called Stanton, where 213 crosses I-15.

After that, I expect to meander around out in the sticks until I get to Pikeville. I doubt that I’ll find another Internet hook-up, or much of anything in the way of civilized amenities over the next few days.

I generally dislike and avoid fast food, but this has been a good place to take my first break today. The breakfast plate – grits, eggs, sausage and toast – was not bad. Plus I get all the French vanilla coffee I want. The young black woman who took my order was very sweet. She kept calling me “honey.”

It’s still heavily overcast, so I’m expecting to get more rain. But yahoo weather says the sun will come out in Stanton this afternoon, that the temperature is in the fifties there right now, and that they’ll have thunderstorms tomorrow.

  1. braindew says:

    by the way about flat tires.
    some time ago, I heard by a product for injecting in tires through valve protecting by sealing the hole as it appears. it sounds a great idea.

    do you ever used something like this?

    or what about full tires? when I was a kid I used bicycles in summers, and patched them a lot. but there was no alternative solution. (for my little brother I used though one, filling the tires with rags because the inner tube was hopeless wasted, and in that remote village was no replacement for that type) I wonder why some type of sponge rubber, same weight as regular tires cannot replace what we use now.

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