We're still in the Appalachians and it's still very hilly. In fact it's fairly difficult to find any flat land around here. The terrain opens up occasionally though from tree covered roads into those surrounded by open fields with cattle and the blue mountains in the distance. We also followed the Laurel River for some of the day as it wound itself along the road. It's a slim and clear river which is shallow with lots of small waterfalls and pretty rock formations scattered in it.
We thought the hills for this section were going to be bigger versions of the Ozarks, in Missouri, ie tall rollercoasters, one after the other in quick succession, but they're more like a steeper version of some of the terrain we covered in the Rockies – long, slow climbs that go on and on, round each bend, round some more, you can't see the top, and then when you finally reach it, a buzzing downhill – our reward.
There really is not much better than whooshing down a winding, curvy road, which has no traffic on it, really fast! We started the day with a two mile climb through Hayters Gap, a hill we'd heard about from a lot of Westbounders, but we found it fairly ok, and realised from the four mile downhill that that's the reason the Westbounders talk about it so much!
We had our scariest dog incident today, which was a surprise as we are way out of the 'Eastern Kentucky dog zone'. We had just come past the village of Konnarock and were on a slight upwards incline around a bend, when we both saw an orange pit bull standing in the road outside a house. It started to bark at us but we confidently continued cycling past it. It barked harder and began coming in our direction. Matt slowed down (he's been watching too much Caesar Milan – a celebrity dog whisperer) and thinks he can show the dog who is the alpha male, but I just cycled as hard as I could to get away. At this point other dogs appeared from the driveway, plus some more from the opposite house. All are barking and encircling us. Pitbulls can run pretty fast so I have the orange one on my left side keeping up with me, and then a white alsatian coming at me from the other side. They are baring their teeth ferociously and I'm fairly sure one of them is going to go for me, so I just scream at the top of my voice, so hard that I feel winded in my chest afterwards! It worked though, Matt was behind me and says the dogs looked very confused when I did that! Meantime Matt was pepper spraying some of the others as he cycled past them. So ultimately no bitings, thank goodness, but I was terrified at the time.
Still no bear sightings which is probably just as good because bears and humans just don't mix. We have been seeing a lot of great birdlife though, and today we saw more blue herons, vultures, red cardinals and some bright all yellow birds which we have yet to identify. A lot of eagles and hawks fly overhead too. Plus we saw five large elk in the forest as we cycled past.
We pass a lot of ramshackle looking houses and barns too. They are really characterful. Some of them are surprisingly inhabited.
We stopped in the small town of Damascus about halfway through the day and ate at a little 'Mom n Pop' diner for lunch. We are near the Appalachian hiking trail here and many hikers appear from the trail, possibly their first sighting of civilisation for many days. If transamerica cyclists are slightly barmy for wanting to cycle all this way, then the Appalachian trailhikers are certifiable. The trail starts in Maine and finishes 2,300 miles later in Georgia. It takes the 'through hikers' as they are known (ie they are doing the whole lot, not just a section) at least 6 months. Most start in the south where the weather is warmer earlier in the year and head northwards. They literally spend most of this time on a footpath in the woods, not seeing anyone apart from other hikers, almost like a walking fraternity of hermits. They average about 10-20 miles a day and disappear in the wood for 6-8 days at a time, carrying enough food for that duration, sleeping in dugouts and drinking water from streams. And to top it all off, they give each other trail names. We met two hikers today separately and both introduced themselves with their trail names, not their real names. One was 'Lights-out' and the other was 'Bojangles'. Bojangles was relaxing by the side of the road, where the trail intersects, in a hammock he had just put up. He told us that two years previously he had helped build the church hostel that we were heading to for tonight.
So we carried on, found the church, then the bunkhouse up on the hill behind it where we can sleep on some homemade wooden bunkbeds. We've chatted to 'Lights-out' who is from Cinncinnati, Ohio, and probably a retired geography teacher. He's staying in the room next door and seems to be relishing the chance to speak to someone other than himself. We've also signed the book for hiker/bikers to record their stay. Most are hikers – 'Juice', 'Rowmin Goat', 'One Step', 'Tree Frog', 'Apple Sauce', 'Tink', and ''Poppa November' have all stayed here this summer. I think it's fair to say that walking the Appalachian Trail is more about the journey inside your own mind for many people.
Miss Spokerdoodle & Stinkglove