WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Wanderlust 2000.11 - Marmet, West Virginia
Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2000 19:00:35 -0700

    Eight solid hours and 400 miles of Southern Kentucky has been a Deliverance from flat land fever. If 'cabin fever' is what you get when you are stuck inside too long, 'flat land fever' is what you get when there are no curves ... when you have been going straight for so long that you can get off the bike without putting down the sidestand and the bike will remain upright because the tires are worn level. There are plenty of farms in northern Kentucky, but south and east toward the Cumberland Valley the land is as wrinkled as a dog's snout after ground pepper is spilled on the floor. And goodness, that dog can hunt. I have learned all over again the cornering skills I already have. Ain't no chicken strips left on my tires.
    Paris (Tennessee) served anything but delicate cuisine in its local eateries. After living with a heart condition patient I became used to eating food prepared with zero salt. It raises the question of what, if anything, do people taste who add salt to meals of prepared salt sprinkled with food. (No I didn't get the word order wrong in that sentence.) The restaurant next to the motel could have been named Morton's Iodized Cafe. Ah, but the treasure of new experiences is why we mine the ore of travel, right?
    As Arkansas was the Redbud Dogwood Line, so it seems the Kentucky border is the cross pollination zone. What happens when you combine the two trees? I saw a lot of what I am told are pink dogwood, but what I will choose to call Red Dog Bud, though I could be barking up the wrong ... nevermind. Whatever they are, they are still about the only thing in bloom.
    There are hidden stories everywhere you look - if you can see them. I passed several hundred Tennessee route signs before it occurred to me the numbers are painted on the sign in an down-pointed triangle with rounded corners. What significance does a triangle have in Tennessee history? Then I thought of other states with symbols on their state route signs. Missouri and Texas have the outline of the state. Utah has the shape of a beehive (the beehive state). California has the shape of one petal of the state flower, a golden poppy. It would be interesting to research how these came to be chosen.

    While musing on such distractions, I missed an unsigned turn on a county route to Keysburg. The GPS soon told me what appeared to be the main fork was heading in the wrong direction. Though I was pretty sure the other fork now a couple miles behind me was the correct choice, I stopped to ask an old black man who was fishing from the middle of a small bridge over a muddy creek. He had on denim overalls with shoulder straps a little too long for his short but stocky frame. One strap was buttoned and tied in a knot to shorten it, the other was untied but pinned above the button hole with the rest flapping in the breeze. His shirt was out in back as though he just finished scratching and hadn't bothered to rearrange. A crumpled straw hat sighed in repose above his brow. He looked the perfect image of contentment.
    "Good day, Sir. Is this the road to Keysburg?"
    "How do boy. You can get to Keysburg this way, but it gonna take you all day. Best you go back 'bout 2 mile and turn left."
    "Thought so. Thanks. How's the fishing?"
    "Oh, I ain't fishin. I just come down here when the woman start hollering 'do dis, do dat'. There ain't no fish in this creek, but she don't know that."
    He was the image of contentment.

    Not long after, I stopped for gas and a snack in Franklin, Kentucky. The young woman behind the counter asked if it was fun riding a motorcycle. That's a question like "why is there air", but I said "It must be. I rode it all the way from San Francisco." She looked at the bike, then looked at me. "California?" "Yep."
    She looked at the bike again and without looking at me said "Do you know where you ARE?"
    "Wait, I'll check." For dramatic effect I walked to the window. "Yes, I am right here."
    "No, I mean this is Kentucky!" After a bit of discussion of geography and the nearly 5,000 miles to the west coast (by my route), none of which has she seen, she asked in a polite way "Are you crazy?"
    I said "Remember you first asked me if motorcycles are fun. The answer is the same. That much fun makes you crazy for more."
    Some people get it. They understand even if they are not afflicted. She waved goodbye and said "You probably don't want directions to the Interstate, do you?" Her smile was as big as that man's on the bridge.

408 miles
Paris US79 US41A TN76 US41 cr1884 KY102 KY96 KY591 KY383
KY100 KY1366 KY100 KY90 KY92  US25E US119 Whitesburg

    Running ahead of a storm, I got an early start and whipped the horses toward the barn. Deep in the hollows, where every other vehicle was a 60 ton, 22-wheel coal truck, I was running in top form and loving every minute of it. Fanciful names like Gas Kill, Bimer, and Belfry flew by (in the bat of an eye :).
    Crossing the Tug River at nearly the very spot where Devil Anse's brother was shot, and thus started the 'real McCoy' of family feuds, I entered West Virginia at Matewan and took a photo of the street sign at the intersection of Hatfield Street and McCoy Alley. The other big story of Matewan was told in an excellent movie produced by PBS and distributed as an art film. It retells the battles of the coal miners against the company for union recognition. If you'd like to rent some entertaining educational history ... it is eponymously named: Matewan.
    Red Jacket, Slabtown, Pie, Dog Patch, Freeze Fork ... streaked by, all similar in their cluster of houses close upon the road with an impossibly steep precipice on one side and a swift creek on the other. It surprised me when I first learned the famed West Virginia Mountaineers do not live on the mountains, but on the flats of the hollows. Seeing the hollows in person explains it. Only a swallow could nest there.
    Too soon these incredible roads (kept in excellent repair for the heavy trucks) come to a quick end of a short day. If you ever get the chance to ride WV, do. Marmet is where the outlaws live - we are not married, so I can't call them 'inlaws'. :) I will be off for a week tending to family matters. See you soon ... the trip is far from over.

175 miles
Whitesburg US119 KY319 KY1056 WV49 cr9 US52
WV44 WV10 WV17 WV85 US119 WV3 WV94 Marmet
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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