Riding from Damascus to Berea has been a bit of an odyssey. My sense of joviality surrounding my return to the Appalachian Trail took a deep shock as the TransAm navigated into Kentucky. The eastern part of this state is the most wretched place I’ve ever been. It’s eye opening that this exists in America.
The steep, abrupt hills make this one of the most challenging sections of the ride, but that is a trivial concern to me. What makes this area so awful is the abject poverty. The natural beauty of the land is marred with trash everywhere, abundant with abandoned or dilapidated homes, and very sparse with amenities. In a way, it’s very familiar to visiting NYC’s worst neighborhoods and housing projects, but spread thinly across miles and miles. I wish I photographed more of it, but I never wanted to let my guard down out here.
I have had difficulty letting go and enjoying the ride going through any community along this stretch. I have to keep wary constantly as many locals keep mean dogs, unrestrained. They are constantly chasing me on to the street, one of which even met its demise under an oncoming ATV. I didn’t imagine I’d need pepper spray setting out on this journey, but I’ve used it daily on aggressive dogs from my first hour into the state.
Despite my misgivings about this stretch of Kentucky, I do need to note that I’ve still found some islands of respite. Multiple churches around the area offer a safe place for cyclists to camp. David, the eccentric Southern gentleman who runs the historical society for Knott County in Hindman, also takes in cyclists and his sharp wit was fuel for an amusing night in strange surroundings. This trip wouldn’t be possible without such benefactors.
I’m writing now from Berea, which is a huge breath of fresh air. The fire department here lets cyclists camp for free, the hills are fading and my surroundings are a touch more agricultural. I feel a sense of optimism that the rest of Kentucky will be more redeeming. I’m keeping my pepper spray ready though, and am thankful to be traveling around some good people. On to Illinois!