Down here, they get the Sunday paper on Tuesday, one of my buddies joked. “Claysville Kentucky hello.” Personally, I pictured Larry King greeting the next caller from Tobacco Basket, USA not realizing earlier the caller just finished hanging Tobacco to dry in the barn and now settled in for a little T-V. I rode there yesterday. Tobacco harvesting season is in full swing in Kentucky. While some fields were still full of the giant yellowing leaves, others lie bare adjacent to a big black barn packed from floor to ceiling with hanging drying leaves. While I’m not a fan of smoking, I am a fan of tobacco farming. With the small black barns and plants with leaves as big as your face, it’s romantic in a way. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but someone once told me the tobacco barns are black to draw more sunlit heat to the leaves. While I didn’t smell any yesterday, in just the right conditions late in the summer you can smell the tobacco aroma from the fields and get a tish of a buzz. Harry, my teammate and longtime Tobacco Basket resident, wrestled unwrapping a Clif Bar outside the Claysville General Store. “It’s a dying breed,” he said in his soft drawl referring to the store’s genuine dusty boot-carved wooden floorboards which were perfectly unlevel. Even having to hike around a warshed out bridge (pictured), it was a perfect end of summer ride.
“You know what’s wrong with this ride?” All together now in staccato, "Not…A…Goddamned…Thing!” I hate to say it, but the waning daylight doesn’t lie. It was officially the last ride of the summer. This blog post is my way of storing a ride nut away for winter. I’m trying to remember the little details: Grimes Road- pure Kentucky chip and seal no wider than a bridge of a dozen computer screens, tobacco hanging in little black barns so close to the side of the road you could practically reach inside and rip off a plug, the remarkably friendly farm dogs that just wanted to run with us for a while and drought baked dry creek beds revealing the flat stone underneath. I like to think of the topography of Kentucky as God’s second draft. Like he took a map of a flat tree lined beautiful forest, crumpled it up, uncrumpled it, and said, “There…that’s better.” Then there was that kid on the Huffy.
My friend Tony, who scouted this route south of Kincaid Lake State Park near Falmouth, said the kid, now a young man, was involved in an ATV accident. As they’d say in rural Kentucky, he’s a little slow. In a voice that I’ll recall as heartbreaking, he slurred in a drawl, “y’all wanna race?” My buddy replied, “Naw man, we’re just out for a ride.” We turned past a house littered with aging old bikes in the front yard. One of them, a rusted singlespeed with a Schwinn-like curving top tube and an orange panel decal caught our eye, but we didn’t stop and headed down another single lane road toward Claysville.
I don’t know how many hills we climbed, but everyone paid off with a panoramic vista of a creek carved valley. The ride was a lumpy loop of what seemed like 90% single lane roads which sort of paralleled the Licking River Valley from Kincaid Lake State Park to Claysville touching Pendleton, Harrison and Bracken counties. Tony brought up his recent trip to North Carolina and Virginia. While the mountains are nice with their brutally long climbs, heavenly high views and hair raising descents, he reasoned that this was better. Just off a recent trip to Park City, Utah I knew what he meant. They payoffs are more frequent in Kentucky, and the price isn’t as high. In the mountains you might climb up over one or two or three ridges in a long ride, here I literally lost count of the ridgelines, vistas and how many times I said wow.
Before we had left I mentioned the ride to a few friends on FB. One replied asking, “how far and how fast?” I had no idea. Looking back, I seemingly clipped into the ride blind. Maybe that made it even more enjoyable. I didn’t care how fast or slow we rode, how much my legs hurt, how long it’d really take, how many miles, or how many climbs there’d be. I really didn’t know where we were. Sure I was somewhere around Falmouth, but I didn’t know where the next turn, or climb or sketchy chip and seal descent would be. I really didn’t care. I put my trust in two of my Kentucky buddies and like a movie, the ride just played out before my eyes.