Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teenage Mutant Ninja Roadkill

Total distance:  1448.9km

By Yana (mostly):

So, our first couch surfing experience has turned out to be a very positive one indeed.  Our host, Mike, turned out to be most excellent, and we did our best to repay him by feeding him with our hopefully equally excellent cooking.  This was no mean feat in some ways, as it turned out that the local grocery joint, affectionately called "Ghetto Kroger" (the neighbourhood had some sketchy elements, but was really quite charming), stocks only a limited supply of healthy foods.  Still, we made do, and apart from some very nice poached eggs also managed to produce a stir fry that had the dinner party raving, despite having been made with el cheapo ramen noodles.  Go us!  It was wonderful meeting several of Mike's friends, they have turned out to be a very cool crowd.  Once again, that's what this trip is all about, really, meeting cool people and seeing cool stuff.  We also got to check out the nearby markets, which included a very good spice merchant and a shop which on that day happened to stock oranges imported from Australia.  Ah, the bits of home you get to see.  On our last night in Cincinnati, we decided to have dinner at a Thai place with several other members of the local Couch Surfer community, which was a merry affair.  One of them named Doug proceeded to drag us to Wal-Mart, so that we could stock up on things like a spare head torch and replacement pants, as one pair had worn through from all the pedalling.

We actually ended up staying three nights in Cincinatti, but eventually packed our bikes once more and headed across the river into Kentucky.  Getting out of Cincinnati turned out to be a whole lot easier than it had been getting in - we zoomed downhill through a few cobble stoned back alleys, reached the bridge without further ado, and then headed west along the Ohio River.  The weather was definitely on our side, although our route turned out to be a little loopy for a bit.  We did stop at a random little place selling all sorts of nifty pumpkins, as well as other veggies and apple cider.  All-round charming and full of photo opportunities.  We alternated between a cup of hot apple cider and a cup of the cold stuff, bought some apples, and then had to do a bit of a back tracking loop over some nasty hills to find our way onto the road we wanted.  We rapidly discovered that in Kentucky, main roads are the only way to travel long distances, and there really aren't very many minor roads to skirt through. It took some asking the locals for advice, but we eventually found our way, although it was getting dark by then.  We had a few moments of quite low gumption, though we pushed through it.  A quick feed at a petrol station helped.  We decided to push on to the suspiciously-named Big Bone Lick State Park, which was basically the first state park within reach.  We pedalled on through the night okay, and stopped at a little pub/restaurant called "Helen's Place" to get directions.  We found out very quickly that folks in Kentucky could easily give those in Ohio a run for their money in the friendliness stakes.  We were very quickly offered some space in the backyard to put up our tent, which we accepted, as it was getting late.  We also came into the place for a little bit, as our hosts kept inviting us inside.  In fact, they insisted on feeding us for free, which made us feel a little bit bad, though it was very nice of them.  As it was karaoke night, I figured we may as well sing for our supper, so I made a point of grabbing the mike a few times, which was a big hit.  Kind of nice, really.

We ended up turning in at almost 2am.  Needless to say, our start the next morning wasn't that early, though at least it hadn't been as late as the previous day.  We were still there when one of our two hosts, Helen, came and opened the place for the day again.  She actually wanted to feed us breakfast as well, but we declined.  It didn't seem fair, even though they were obviously enthusiastic about helping us out, and apparently take great pride in their friendliness.  We did end up leaving a couple of dollars in their tip jar, though Helen kind of tried to stop us.  I suspect that it's the kind of place where you need to be pushy about being nice, because people will try to not accept it out of politeness.

We headed into Big Bone Lick State Park, up and down some ridiculous hills.  Turned out to be pretty cool, apparently the reason for the name stems from the bones of mammoths, mastodons, and other large mammals having been found there.  The soil there has a high mineral content, and the salt would bubble up out of the ground at springs and attract the animals, which would gleefully lick away at it.  Many of them then got bogged down in the salty mud and their bones were left behind for tens of thousands of years, making it "The birthplace of American paleontology". There are also live animals in the park, and we actually got to see some bison in the distance, which admittedly would have been much more satisfying if they hadn't just been indistinct blobs at the far side of their enclosure.  There was also a little gift shop with a museum display of various mammoth bones, and an outdoor diorama type thing of various prehistoric giants sinking into the boggy ground.

It was late afternoon by the time we left the park, but we still pushed on a reasonable distance to Carrollton, where we found the state park it was practically sitting on top of.  Once again, some fun hills to scale, but at least we found the camp site without too much trouble, and pitched our tent in the dark.

We woke up to a foggy morning, although it cleared up quickly as we got ourselves packed up and ready to leave.  We ended up staying in Carrollton a bit late for breakfast, mainly because of the Mexican restaurant on their main drag, which turned out to be excellent.  We actually practiced a few salsa moves to the sizzling tunes playing on their radio before we headed onwards.

The next stretch of road showed us that we were moving into slightly different geographical territory, mostly recognisable by the kinds of road kill we came across.  We have not yet mentioned this unsavoury fact, but the truth is, we have probably come across more road kill in the last month than we have in our entire lives before.  It's been interesting to note though that as the miles have gone by, the species have changed.  We started out with almost exclusively raccoons, with the very occasional skunk or deer, and, sad to say, a few cats and dogs.  That day, we actually encountered our first few squirrels and rabbits, if I remember correctly, not to mention quite a few snakes and at least four crushed tortoises.  This description may seem very clinical, and I'm sure it is very crass of me to say this, but it made it seem like Super Mario had been doing the rounds.  Honestly though, it was actually a pretty saddening sight.  It's kind of disturbing to think that we've seen hundreds of maimed critters by now.

Now, off this topic.  We reached the bridge to Indiana relatively promptly, and crossed into the very charming town of Madison.  There we did a few loops in search of the Visitor's Centre, which gave us a sound appreciation of how pretty the place is.  Lots of gorgeous autumn foliage, some very pretty buildings, lots of quaint little shops, and the weather was just glorious.  The day was actually hot, which we were just stunned by.  Utterly wonderful.  In fact, we ducked into the local ice creamery, and were served some very nice ice cream by an equally delightful girl who was working behind the counter.

Once again, by the time we left, it was getting a bit late, but we still left Madison and powered up several high hills as the dusk fell around us.  At one point, when we stopped, I had a close and painful encounter with a very large insect - once again, proof of a warmer climate, which is something to be grateful for, despite the really quite startlingly ouchy bite that the insect bestowed.  We headed for one of the towns just before the cluster that is level with Louisville, Kentucky: Charlestown, another one of those places with its own little state park, which goes by the same name.  It was actually 4km from the park entrance to the camp ground, with plenty more fun hills (do we notice a trend here?), and we actually ran into an elderly park ranger who assigned a camp site to us.  We pitched our tent, listened to the wolves howling in the distance, packed our food away somewhere safely remote from our tent, and got to sleep at around midnight.

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