Mammoth Cave Trip Day 2 – The German Connection

I know that I said I would focus on the story of my trip and not discuss equipment, but one piece of equipment must be discussed to tell the story.  So with my first day complete I had ate and made phone calls to Shauna and my Dad.  I spent some time adjusting my bike and fixing a couple of creaking bolts, I was finally ready to rest.  I had strung up my hammock from two of the 4×4 posts, I didn’t bring a tent on this trip so I’d be sleeping in the hammock.  With no rain coming I didn’t bother with my tarp so I laid in my super comfortable hammock and watched the sun set.   At exactly 8:36 the relative peace and quiet was pierced by howling coyotee.  It seemed as if every animal around me began to call out.  I could hear the cattle, birds, and all kinds of different calls.

I tried to read for awhile but before long I was out cold only to wake up freezing cold.  Well technically only the parts of me touching the hammock were freezing cold.  This is a well known effect of sleeping in hammocks called cold butt syndrome.  I had read about it, but I hadn’t thought it would be an issue.  I’ve camped comfortably with temperatures in the 30s and tonight the low was like 49.  It was a very uncomfortable situation, my backside was freezing cold and my top side was very warm.  It was 2AM and I wanted to sleep but eventually I got up and did some stretches and jogged in place trying to get the blood flowing, I put on another shirt and got back in the hammock which by now and slid down so that my but occasionally hit the concrete below.  The rest of the night would be filled with tossing and turning and I eventually gave up at 5:30.

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With a hot ramen noodle breakfast in me and everything packed back up I was on the road at 7 AM.  Today’s ride would be far less exciting then yesterday’s in that I wouldn’t be riding near any gunfights, but it would be more exciting in that I had no idea where I was, having never been in this part of Kentucky before.  The Adventure Cycling map was rubber banded to my aerobars and I spent most of the day enjoying the scenery and trying to place my location on the map.  Having the paper map to look at while riding was awesome. Each individual map covers about 30 miles so crossing a section and stopping to refold the map was a major milestone of the day.  Something I would end up doing 3 times.

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The Scenery here wasn’t breathtaking, but nice, rolling farmland, fields and forests, broken up by small towns every 1o or so miles.  Much like home, though more consistently hilly, just small hills.  The riding was going well, but I was definitely sore and my rear end wasn’t happy with me.  I tried to take a short break every 10 or so miles to stretch and rest, or sometimes when I saw an interesting landmark like a tiny town with a hugely impressive courthouse, or a Mason lodge named the same as one of my local riding friends.  A light rain would sprinkle on and off but it was never enough to get me actually wet and the temperature was in the mid 50s which made for some comfortable riding.

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Roads in Kentucky are different from roads in Illinois.  They are in good condition, at least the ones I rode were.  Every road and junction clearly signed and I rarely noticed a gravel or oil and chip road. Newly installed signage marked every turn on the TransAmerica trail but I was still glad I had my map.  The biggest difference in the roads is their width, roads in Kentucky are narrow and as a general rule they don’t have shoulders, besides that they were much more twisty and hilly then many of the flatter roads I often ride.  This had me nervous at first but I quickly got over that.  Traffic on the roads I was on was so sparse I rarely saw cars, and when I did they were very courteous, waiting sometimes several minutes for me to climb a hill before safely passing.  I was never yelled at or honked at.

The two Germans riding the Trans America Trail

The two Germans riding the Trans America Trail

I encountered a cyclist heading my way early in the morning but I was climbing a steep hill and he was going down I think we both agreed stopping wouldn’t be a good idea so instead waved.  Later I encountered two guys riding cross country from Germany, but I didn’t get their names, lets call them Stuttgart and Munich, their eyes lit up as they saw me and they flagged me down, though I was already stopping.  “Are you riding the TransAM?” they asked in perfect accented English.  I gave my spiel about only riding a short part to Mammoth Cave and they explained that they were from Germany and spending the next 4 months riding across America.

“You are only the 3rd cyclist we’ve seen in 3 weeks,” they said.  I was surprised by this but when I thought about it I realized it would nearly impossible for them to see someone riding across the TransAM to the East this time of year, that would mean crossing the Northern mountains in March or April.

“You guys are the 5th and 6th cyclists I’ve seen in two days going West,” I told them. They looked at each other in surprise.  “The first rider I saw was a guy named Tyler,” I said.

“Oh you met Tyler, that is cool, did he take your picture?” they asked.

“Um no, we just talked a minute,” I answered.

“Oh, he took our picture, you knew he was doing the TransAm for National Geographic?” they asked.

“Umm no,” I said.

“Yeah he’s taking photos and doing interviews to make a story about people who ride the TransAm,” they explained.  Now it made sense why he seemed kind of bummed that I wasn’t riding the TransAM.

“So how is your ride going?” they asked me.

“Oh not bad, but my rear hurts, well everything hurts,” I answered back.  They looked at each other in surprise like they had never heard of a cyclist whose rear end was tired of sitting on a bike seat.

“How far are you riding?” they asked.

“Well I’ve got 67 miles in now and about 25 or so to go, I’m hoping to stay at Falls of Rough State Park,” I said.

“Oh, they looked at each other in surprise,  we started there this morning.   You have already ridden 67 miles?” they asked.

“Yeap,” I replied and it dawned an me that they had only ridden about 30 miles so far today and it was nearly two o’clock.  Their bikes didn’t look too fast though, in fact they looked incredibly heavy and slow, with huge tires, fenders, and upright bars.

“What time did you start?” they asked.

“Around six o’clock,” I said.  Which was actually wrong, I started at 7.

“Oh that explains it, you started 3 hours before us,” they said laughing.  “We are doing 100 today,” they said.

“100 miles?,” I asked, knowing that unless they planned to ride untill midnight htey wouldn’t be getting 100 miles.

“No 100 kilometers,” they said with a laugh.  “We think in kilometers, but everything here is in miles and it has us very confused.”

“Oh yeah, kilometers make far too much sense for Americans, its just way to easy to know that 1000 meters makes 1 kilometer,” I said deadpanned.  They looked at me confused not sure if I was kidding or not.

We talked a bit longer I told them about the wonder of Southern Illinois, and that the hills in Missouri would be difficult.  I should have asked them more questions though, like whats the State Park like and exactly how far is it?  After a few minutes I was worried I was detaining them and we parted ways.  I was really impressed with these guys, if someone dropped me off in Germany I’d be so lost, unable to speak the language and searching endlessly for a convenience store that takes my debit card so I could get a 44 ounce Big Gulp!

Shortly thereafter my Garmin announced it’s battery was low and shut its self off. I had expected this to happen, and plugged it up to my portable charger.  I discovered that the Garmin 500 couldn’t be used plugged up to a power source, or at least if it could it would be awhile.  I let it charge for about half an hour then plugged it back in.  This lost 5-6 miles would haunt me.

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So my destination was Falls of Rough State Park, which I thought was a cool name and according to my map I was getting close.  The closer I got the hillier the road became.  I settled into a pattern, shift into lowest gear, sit straight up, pedal up hill using as little energy as possible making sure to stand every few minutes, switch to aerobars over the top and coast as long as possible, repeat.

On my map Falls of Rough was listed in large letters and had a population of 1600 making it one of the larger towns I would visit.  I knew I was getting close but apart from an occasional mailbox there was nothing out there.  Eventually I came to the intersection of route 79 meaning I had passed the town aways back, and yet I never saw it.  As far as I can tell on Google the town consists of a couple B&Bs a bridge over a waterfall and a couple houses and it was aboout a mile off the road I was traveling on.  So I’m still not sure what was up with that.

I arrived at the Falls of Rough State Park which I figured out was actually the Rough River Dam State Resort Park.  I’ve stayed in State Resort Parks in Tennesse, Kentucky and Alabama, they all seem to have a lake, a campground, cabins, and a nice lodge.  Rough River had all but the campground.  Well to be clear they had a campground but it had been closed for repairs for 2 years.  I could stay at the room for 65 dollars or ride about ten miles down the road to a campground.  I was exhausted and incredibly sore.

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The weather report wasn’t too promising, heavy rain all night with temps in the mid 40s.  I ponied up the cash for the room and it was so worth it.  I even went to lodge’s restaurant and had a rather delicious hamburger.  I felt bad about staying in a swanky lodge without Shauna, but when it started pouring outside I felt warm and dry.

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About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
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