Ugh: to Buckhorn Dam

Wednesday May 27, 2009, 50 miles (80 km) – Total so far: 729 miles (1,173 km)

A bad day fishing is better that a good day at the office.  Well, this isn’t fishing, and by the end of the day I was ready to dial into a telecon.

The day started off pleasantly enough – an easy ride to downtown Hindman, the pleasant town that’s the county seat (with less than 800 residents!).  I saw some nicely made furniture in display windows, but didn’t want to carry them on a bike.  The weather was overcast, as usual for the last few days.  Outside town it started to sprinkle, which was fine, as we followed a quiet creek down to Dwarf.  Hardly any gradient in the creek – I expected it to be more of a plunge-pool creek, but it just lazed on.  Turned up a hill, and the rain picked up.  We took shelter briefly under the SR 80 underpass.

From there we were on 80 into Hazard.  Four lane road with a shoulder.  I’m sure car and truck drivers think the shoulder’s fine for cyclists, but that’s because they haven’t ridden it.  Sometimes the shoulder had full-width rumble strips every 10-15 yards; very uncomfortable.  Sometimes it was a continuous, one-foot-wide rumble strip, but there was gravel or debris from the recent rains in large swaths, and then again sometimes the shoulder disappeared, forcing us to merge into the right lane!  We had seven miles of this, with 5% grade sawteeth the whole time; up, down, up, down.


Road cut at the top of a sawtooth

Wet riding up the next hill

Turned off toward Chavies with three lanes of the same, then turned again.  Here’s where I made a navigational mistake.  There were hotels close by, just over the top from where we turned, but the ACA information had them listed in Chavies, 6 miles away.

It started to rain, so we took shelter at a gas station for 45 minutes, and watched the coal trucks rumble through.  The smaller trucks were loaded going up, but the bigger, 22-wheel, 120,000 pound behemoths were loaded coming down.  Never did figure that one out.

Waiting out the rain

As the rain tapered off, we headed to Chavies.  Most of the coal truck traffic was tapering off by this time.  When we got there, I was corrected. “Only hotels are six miles back the way you came!”  We decided to push on 13 more miles to the campground at Buckhorn Dam.

I’d love to know why the road was routed this way.  Up to a crest for a coal mine, I can understand.  Down, then up again, then down again, then up again – 800′ drops and climbs, when we were paralleling the Kentucky River and Buckhorn Lake – I just don’t understand.  To make things worse, the sun came out on each climb, heating us up and making the humidity even worse.  And no wind to cool yourself off.

But the icing on the cake was the rain on each and every descent.  Rain is OK in my book while climbing, but going downhill at 20 mph plus, it covers your glasses, hits your body hard, and makes road traction uncertain.  I couldn’t see, didn’t have anything to dry my glasses with, and when I got them reasonably clear, a coal truck would come by.  They must have dust dispensers on their wheels to make sure that even after a 15-20 mile round trip from the coal mine, they can get grit on your glasses, your body, and your bike.  To top it off, if there were any views from the ridge top, they were obscured by clouds and mist.

It wasn’t all bad, just mostly.  We met up with the Blacksburg bikers through the day, and at the campground.  And at the end of the last climb, a Kentucky Power crew was finishing up for the day, and one of them offered me two bottles of ice cold water.


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