Tandem, An American Love Story
Chapter 5. Appalachia, A Sentimental Journey
Deer Meat, Hot Jam, and Yellow Tomato Sandwiches
This morning in Augusta, Mr. Dewers, owner of the Bed and Breakfast, took our picture and asked lots of questions. We got a late start for a long day to Greenup, but didn’t mind. People in Kentucky are loosing that Midwestern reserve as we near the Appalachians.
East of Maysville, a newspaper photographer caught us sweating up another steep hill. “What possessed you to do this?” he asked.
We prefer inspired to possessed, but I we’ve decided the words are used interchangeably. There are friendly people everywhere now, lots of waves.
It was hot again, releasing the pungent and wonderful scent of tobacco from roadside fields. Queen Ann’s lace, ragweed and chicory, black eyed Susan’s and daises line the ditches. Vines climb everything in sight. I think it is the ragweed which is so strong, a sharp and yet slightly sweet smell with medicinal overtones.
I saw a beautiful vine blossom at the peak of a barn roof. It has small leaves and an orange trumpet flower about two inches across and four inches long. There are clusters of long thick beans hanging down, very outsized for the flowers. I wonder if it’s the infamous kudzu?
The air is heavy with moisture as well as scents. When the temperature is in the 70’s, it is quite pleasant, but becomes miserable above that. When we are moving air on the bike it isn’t bad, particularly when it is cloudy. Light rain and the heavy air feels wonderful.
Most days have been in the 80’s and 90’s though, and when we stop moving we break out into a heavy sweat that runs off us in rivulets, tickling as it goes. The feeling of oppression can be compelling.
When we stop and go into air conditioning, we feel very cold at first, but then quickly refreshed. Within 10 minutes we are ready to attack the humidity again and feel fine for awhile, unless we hit one of the horribly steep hills, and then, as our speed slows, the sweat flows.
The humidity makes the smells stronger. Roadkill too, skunk of course, is strong, opossum is not so strong, but makes it’s presence known. Sometimes I take breathe deep just to get it all in, savor it and make it part of my memories of this trip. Sometimes I’m sorry.
We stopped to talk to some men and boys putting up tobacco to dry in a barn. I’ve done it. It’s hot miserable work; tobacco chaff sticking and itching on every inch of skin, the barns are ovens, and sweat-bees and wasps a constant bother. The head man offered us jobs. No thanks. We waved and rode away, thankful to be riding Zippy, and not in that barn.
As we neared Greenup, late in the afternoon, thunderheads built and we hurried, but the storm soon caught us. We rode through the beating rain for several miles, until the lightning strikes and pounding thunder enveloped us and we became concerned.
We abandoned Zippy against the guardrail and ran across the road where we crouched low a good distance away from each other. We figured it would be good to have one of us left to tell this story. The lightning strikes were that close.
We stayed like that, lightning and thunder stunned, in a downpour, for 20 minutes. Water poured down my face, into my nose and mouth when I breathed. I wondered if it was possible to drown in a crouch. The storm finally passed on and we were able to continue, shaken and soaked.
We had been told there was camping at Greenup Locks and Dam, but as we rode up to the small park, there was a prominent No Camping sign. It looked and sounded like another storm system was closing in and it was almost dark. We found a mud service road outside and pushed toward the Jesse Stuart Memorial Bridge. We sat up our tent in near darkness, just as the storm hit.