Leaving Vastwood Park
It’s hard to get up and out early when you camp. The high humidity here means everything gets covered in dew and I don’t like to pack up the tent wet. So I needed to move the tent over to somewhere the sun hits and let it dry out before packing. Still I think I was on the road by 8:30 which isn’t bad. It’s just that I really like those early hours the best, before the breezes and traffic kick up and the temps are cool. It’s just the best time to ride.
The morning was lovely and I passed through a lot of Ohio river bottomland – covered in corn, soybeans and tobacco. There are also a lot of power plants around – I saw 2 coal plants and I think a nuclear plant across the river in Illinois. I’ll spare you pictures of those.
I came as close to “bonking” as I’ve come. Bonking is when you let your body run too low on fuel and you hit a wall where you just can’t perform anymore (Coach Matt fill us in – I’m sure I’m over-simplifying). Anyway, I had a light breakfast at camp, and was just snacking on bars this morning which seemed fine until about noon. At that point I was trying to navigate between two courses, and off any prescribed route. I was feeling stupid and starting to think about food all the time but not finding any options. Way too late I hit a Circle K and I hit that place like a tornado. Problem was, they don’t actually have any food at a Circle K. They were even out of pre-made sandwiches, and pre-made burritos – not even a hot dog in sight. They did have “Kind” bars which do me well in the saddle, and Clif bars but I couldn’t resist a bag of salty corn chips (even after thinking all morning how we grow way too much corn, but I’ll save that rant for another day) and GORP. At that low blood sugar level, I lose my mind and can’t make good choices. So next time I need to not end up high and dry.
On the TransAm
Today I reached a route milestone too. I’ve patched together several routes from Adventure Cycling and around 12:30 I finished the “Underground Railroad” route that I’ve been following and drew my own course down to the tradaitional Trans America, or TransAm route. This matters because the touring cycling traffic on the TransAm is much heavier than just about any other route in the country, and sure enough I saw my first “Eastbound” brethren 15 minutes after joining the main route. It was energizing to meet some other cyclists, even if they were going the other direction. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen anybody else touring (Annika and Nico near Dayton) and it was surprising how much that mattered to me this afternoon. We all want to be part of a group who understands us, I guess. Or most of us do, anyway.
One of the first TransAm tourers I saw was Tara and her sons Grant and Grayson. I’ve been thinking I’m pretty studly doing all this pedaling and here these three come – one one bike. Not many folks take this on at all, let alone with two kids. And hats off to you two boys – maybe someone your age has finished this before but I haven’t heard of them. They were taking it in stride, and dad Darren was down for a visit today to support them.
You’ll never guess where I’m staying tonight – but the Sebree First Baptist Church. Sebree is the first town of any size (pop 1350) that I’ve come to on the TransAm route. And the FBC has a long tradition of hosting cyclists (they even call us cyclists, not bikers). I was met at the door by retired Pastor Bob who probably took 30 min out of his day to show me the facilities, where the cots are, where the laundry is (!), the kitchen (!), the shower (!!!) and what the Wifi pass is etc (btw – fastest internet I’ve had the whole trip 10MB down, 5MB up!). These folks really know how to host cyclists because they’ve been doing it for over 30 years. They don’t charge anything and don’t solicit donations (“God has been very good to this church”).
Pastor Bob knows a lot about his Parish too and he filled me in on some of the local info. He said that there are a lot of jobs around here but many are low paying. E.g. Tyson has a big processing plant here where they process about 2 million chickens a week. Yes you heard that right. 450 chicken “houses” x 25,000 chickens each x an 8 week lifespan = 2M. It’s truly enough to make you vegetarian or at least more selective about where your chicken comes from. And I know those jobs are pretty lousy. He said that about “half the county is Hispanic” now which I don’t doubt after my trip to the grocery store (not for chicken).
The high paying local jobs are coal mining. The local mines are all subterranean (unlike East Ky) and the coal is 600 to 900 feet down. Those are very good paying jobs but in decline. He was quick to point out that it wasn’t environmental regs that were slowing down coal, it’s cheap natural gas. He’s spot on there except he left out solar and wind.
So I find myself in an interesting position tonight. Here I am, a liberal energy geek, doing everything in my power to end the burning of coal in the U.S. , enjoying the hospitality, generosity, and kindness of Bob’s parishioners, many of whom are no doubt coal miners (or were). Is there a conflict there? Should I turn down their shelter for the night. I think not. Not just because it’s self-serving, and I like to be comfortable and have fast wifi. But because we are each, the good folks at the Babtist Church, and me, doing what we feel is right. Their hospitality came with no qualifiers or demands and for that I am grateful. But it doesn’t change what I believe – that ending our use of coal is better for all of us. We need to do what we can to find others good jobs for people but I do not believe those are “good” jobs. They may pay well, but they are high risk (acutely in terms of mine safety and chronically in terms of long term health impacts), and more importantly it’s not a “good” job if it depends on using coal that leads to a CO2 and particulate emissions that make the world worse off for everyone, miners and their families included.
The whole situation is much like another part of the conversation I had with Pastor Bob. We spoke about tobacco farming and I mentioned that I assumed that was in decline. He said “oh no not at all.” In fact he seemed a little put out that many tobacco farmers had accepted government buy outs that were supposed to ease their transition away from farming tobacco. According to him, many used those buy outs to just increase their acreage to grow more. Hmm. Brings up something that occurred to me as I pedaled past field after field of tobacco. How do those farmers sleep at night? How do they square that, knowing what we know now about tobacco. How is that morally any different than growing cocaine? What is a “good” job anyway?
The Amish are looking better and better all the time, funny bikes and all.
Tomorrow I should get up and out early cause I’ll have no tent to dray out. I should make it to Cave-In-Rock and into Illinois.