20. Prestonburg: Encounters

Saturday night, from my tent

15 October 15, 2011

Beside Hwy 114, a little past Salyersville, headed towards Prestonburg. But I plan to turn off eastbound on 460 towards Pikeville, without going into Prestonburg.

I’m in a little campground right next to the noisy road. There are picnic tables, a couple of fire pits and trashcans, also a small stream. There’s a church across the way. The fellow who shouted at me a mile or so back, asking how far I was going, advised me this would be a good place to camp. He insisted I wouldn’t have any problems, but if anything made me uncomfortable, all I had to do was rouse the good pastor, who lives across the road by the church. So this is a fair enough place to bed down. As night settles in, the road is getting noticeably quieter.

It’s a bit chilly too. I can feel the seasons turning.

I had powerful encounters with two very different groups of people in the past 24 hours. Since I almost always seek out privacy at night, and since I avoid getting very deeply involved with people during the day, though I savor the brief exchanges, this has been a big change in my routine. It was definitely worth it.

I will work through my latest load of pictures quickly now, in the hope of posting from this unlikely spot before the battery on my laptop runs down.

  • #8569 – Easy Rider, yesterday morning. Dog stick at the ready. 
  • #8574 – This is typical of the countryside I passed through yesterday, along river bottomland with almost no serious climbing despite the rugged terrain. In some places, the flat ground next to the stream is broad, as it is here … 
  • #8576 – … while in other spots the road, river and steep hillside are packed closely together, as here. 
  • #8582 – I stumbled late yesterday on a rare, uninhabited patch of flat ground at a hillcrest on Hwy 30 about ten miles short of Salyersville. After ascending the hill on foot to scope the place out, I came across other two-legged creatures like myself. Normally I wouldn’t camp near people I didn’t know, in an out-of-the-way place, least of all a rough-and-ready crew of five – two nice, young blonds and three guys. But my first impression of these folks was good, and it was getting late, so I decided to join them.I spent a congenial evening in their company – thoroughly enjoying the magnificent mountaintop surroundings, a gibbeous moon, stars, the bonfire one of them built, conversations, plus abundant food and beer. One of the fellows turned in early, but here are four of these happenstance companions of an evening, posing for their spot on my travel blog. These folks were all from southern Illinois. One of them had relations nearby. They brought three ATVs with them (= All Terrain Vehicles) on a long flatbed hauled by a powerful truck. Both their conversation and their behavior attested to an impressive degree of practical competence and an exuberant, robust spirit. These are qualities I appreciate, and which I’ve sometimes felt I see too little of in my countrymen. 
  • #8585 – Tough Truck. Using the hood as a kitchen counter … I used to do this ages ago, when I’d take my little children car-camping with my ’69 Dodge Dart. 
  • #8590 – Coming into central Salyersville this morning. 
  • #8592 – These people treated me to breakfast today. They saw me walking in, started asking questions – remember, the bicycle often does that – and insisted I sit with them. Most are about to head back home to western Kentucky. Three would stay, and keep me with them as they went about their business of the day. 
  • #8594 – Bob poses outside of the Kosey Korner Restaurant in Salyersville, with Gene Stevens, President of East Kentucky Missions, one of several preachers I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with here this morning. As soon as I laid eyes on Gene’s well broken-in Confederate hat, something clicked. Perhaps also he feels as I do – that a prominent nose witnesses to character in a man. Another Vietnam vet – though a Marine (not Army, like me) and a couple years before my time – Gene is six years older than me. 
  • #8595 I was invited to observe the mission work these people do, coordinated through a number of local churches. Here is a delivery of food, shoes and a few toys bound for a church in one of the outlying towns. The cab up front seated four of us comfortably. 
  • #8596 – Martin, KY. 
  • #8598 – Truck poised to disgorge its load at a side door … but where was Brother Ellis? At the post office, his wife said. He sure took his time down there …  
  • #8600 – Front doors to the church. 
  • #8603 – Mission accomplished. There are hungry children in the hills of eastern Kentucky. I listened to accounts of the poverty in these parts, e.g., twelve-year-old children who had never received a present in their lives, families with no food at all in their pantry. Specially packed Christmas boxes that the Mission brings for the children here contain items like soap, toothbrushes and shampoo – which induce delight and gratitude. I was told these poor folk live out in the “hollers,” which I took to mean “hollows,” in the kind of English I normally run up against … i.e., the bottoms of the more remote ravines. When I was asked about my wife, it occurred to me that she would scarcely understand a word of the gracious drawl I listened to all day, generously infused with a good-natured, teasing humor. At the breakfast table, Gene had warned me about straying into outlying areas like the “hollers,” where locals don’t look too kindly on outsiders. “Especially Yankees,” one of the women piped up, whereon Gene allowed as to how that was what he’d been thinking, but he wasn’t actually going to say it. When I mentioned that I’d lived for many years in San Francisco – or maybe it was in connection with New York – the topic of “kwahrz” came up. Puzzled, I said, “Whores?” … causing listeners to choke with laughter on their food. “No, kwahrz,” I was corrected. Then I got it – “queers,” of course. Gene also advised the company, “This here is an educated man. I’ve been through college too – in one door and out the other.” 
  • #8605 – Gene takes a break on the tailgate of Lawson’s pickup, showing off a bottle of Vitamin Juice from Brother Ellis’s fridge. “It’s gooder than water,” he maintains. Lawson is Gene’s closest partner in the Ministry. Both of these men will preach out in these parts on Sunday, one in the morning and the other in the evening. They are warmly received and appear to know folks throughout the region. Gene was called to this work twenty years ago. They own their own base in Salyersville – a building bequested to them for their work, with a store on the street level, which is where I left my bike and gear while we drove down to Martin and out into the “hollers.” Lawson’s wife, Wanda, specializes in projecting their message through the medium of music. 
  •  #8607 – Note the “Missions Outreach” affiliation. 
  • #8612 – We took a load of groceries out to one of the families in a ravine off a normal-looking road, where people live in normal-looking houses. I was told those “normal” folk wouldn’t give the time of day to their neighbors out in the “holler.” I mean no disrespect to the goodhearted people I met, and in whose home I sat. I simply share the following surreptitiously gathered images as a way of bearing witness to the ingrained poverty in these counties of eastern Kentucky, and of sharing this – treasured – leg of my personal journey. Shabby house trailers and makeshift shacks are linked together, forming a small maze of open-air walkways and courtyards. 
  • #8613 – There is a sizeable cluster of homes like this in the ravine. Large, extended families appear to be the rule. A chubby one-year-old girl, much doted on by her elders, had been adopted into the family I visited. 
  • #8616. 
  • #8617 – Churches, mostly rather small, are everywhere. The prevailing style of Christianity – with keenly parsed biblical interpretations, some of which, e.g., I listened to at a large flea market where we strolled for a while – seems to be the glue that holds this back country society together, and infuses it with a healthy moral essence. I can’t remember who it was, but one of my guides mentioned that the purest Anglo-Saxon stock anyplace in the world is found in these Appalachian reaches. Again, I am struck by the rare circumstance of finding myself in a section of the USA where virtually everyone is white. 
  • #8619 – Makeshift plumbing. Crossing a courtyard, bound for an open sewer. Yes, it smells like gówno
  • # 8622 – View across the way at the bottom of the ravine. The narrow blacktop we drove in on had just been covered with asphalt the day before. 
  • #8621. 
  • #8623. 
  • #8625. 
  • #8626. 
  • #8627 – Fall colors grace the ridgeline on a beautiful afternoon. 
  • #8628. 
  • #8629. 

I was reunited with my bicycle at the store in downtown Salyersville, with a couple hours remaining of the afternoon, time enough to scamper down the road a ways ere nightfall. Before parting, we joined hands in the truck, and Gene led us in a moving prayer. I left amidst repeated, and warmly expressed wishes for a safe trip home, blessings, and insistence that I send word as soon as my journey is done.

  • #8631 – My roadside campsite … last night. I ran out of juice on my laptop, stopped writing, and got as far as Prestonburg today before indulging the urge to finish this journal entry and recharge my computer. 

I would still like to get beyond Pikeville this afternoon. My DeLorme atlas indicates that I’ll do some climbing again, on Hwy 119, as I make my way to Williamson, West Virginia.

p.s. Pikeville Script. The wifi at my rest stop up the road this morning kept disconnecting. So I am making this post now, with the sun behind the hill, from the McDonalds in a big shopping mall right where tomorrow’s road — 119 to Williamson — leaves the route I came in on. I’ve already scoped out a suitable campsite amidst some trees and brush near the river, well behind the big shopping mall. Maybe I can still get out there and set up before night sets in.

Comments
  1. marshall crick says:

    It was truly a pleasure to meet you and we hope tht your life will never be the same. We hope that you have had the greatest trip ever. We also hope that if you are ever agin in Western Ky . to look us up . it will be a plearsure to have you at our table anytime.Marshall and Connie Crick Mortons Gap Ky.

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