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Day 20: Independence Day in Owensboro

7/4/15: 87 miles, Mauckport, Ind., to Owensboro, Ky.

Barely slept with the bar bumping until 2 a.m. across the lawn. Though, waking up to the  Ohio River, sweeping by just yards away with a swollen, quiet stillness, was worth it.

We got out of camp shortly after sunrise, not expecting to see anyone from the night before — hell, it’d only been a few hours since the last of ’em went home. There were a few runners, astonishingly, congregating at the far end of Mauckport. They must’ve known that half the town was sleeping off their raucous night, all but eliminating traffic from their route.
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We crossed the Ohio back into Kentucky over the Welsh Bridge, which slanted uphill against our favor. It was two lanes without any sidewalk or bike lane. So John and I waited for a long gap in traffic and tried to blast across.

In Brandenberg, we found a McDonald’s for breakfast and got our WiFi fix. We eavesdropped as a manager interviewed a woman for a job there. The ride throughout the day was warm and humid, which intensified as we made it over Kentucky’s rolling hills. Most of the small towns we rode through were dead, and the day’s ride was mostly uneventful as we stopped here and there for a cold drink. In Cloverport, we talked to a couple of dudes on a corner drinking Yoohoo, which they said they bought from the liquor store across the street. John and I proceeded to buy some wine and whiskey from there. There was no shortage of this stuff, which we marveled at all the bottles we’d never seen before.

Further west, in Hawesville, John and I had a 30 mph descent into downtown. At the bottom of it, we had a hairpin left turn. But after Hawesville, Kentucky’s barrage of Ohio River Valley hills abated. We’d done about 3,000 feet of climbing in four hour or so.

We set our sights for Owensboro, 35 miles or so.

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But just as John and I settled into a rhythm on the flat, straight stretch of pavement, we were interrupted by a BBQ.

Yes, a BBQ. As we rolled by, a entire party of folks yelled at us from a big farmhouse’s front yard. It had a big party tent, tables of food and people playing cornhole.

“Hey! Y’all want some food?” someone yelled. John and I waved, and initially hesitated — we looked at each other, and kept rolling. But a few pulses after, we turned to each other again, two abreast, sharing an expression of incredulity mixed with hunger. “Yeah, let’s go back.”

We did. A big Fourth of July BBQ. Duh. They had grilled chicken, smoked ribs, bean casserole, pork chops, venison, delicious Grippos chips (a Cincinnati brand known for its brown sugar/BBQ combo flavor), red velvet cupcakes, ice cream sandwiches made with Ranger cookies, Gatorades, beer, and bowls of snacks. Best of all were the “creek fries,” which is a Kentucky/Indiana recipe made of sliced potatoes, bacon, onion and seasoning. I redlined my blood sugar with a flood of carbs in a matter of minutes. Bryan, who lived at the big farmhouse on six acres, showed us their custom smoker-trailer, where most of the food was cooked:

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Turns out that Mary, who invited us over, and her family originated in Chicago. Half the family lived in Kentucky; the other half across the river in Indiana.

Her dad, Aldulfo, was in his 70s. He said he grew up on W. 18th St. and Desplaines in Chicago, and talked about the neighborhood romps and fisticuffs he’d get into growing up. “But now, everyone got guns. They just shoot each other,” he remarked at one point, seemingly nostalgic for the days when people could get away with beating each other up to solve disputes on the block.

After an hour of stuffing our guts, John and I grunted back onto our bikes. It took a few miles for our bodies to figure out what to do with all the food. Our metabolisms must’ve synced up (which, if you think about it, makes sense since we did the same exercise all day), because the rocket fuel-like burst of energy kicked in and we averaged about 17 mph all the way to Owensboro. We rolled by Century Aluminum’s huge smelting plant, a place and company that I’d become familiar with while writing for Modern Metals.

In Owensboro, we rode by grain silos and distilleries to our Warmshowers host, Bryan Blount.

Bryan had a spacious, hardwood floor home. A former Army guy, Bryan writes for textbook publishers remotely and does some coding. During his time in the Army, he worked in Central America, which he and John talked about for a hour, exchanging tales. His two sons, Will, 18, and Josh, 19, drove us downtown Owensboro to catch fireworks over the Ohio River. Will is studying to be a nurse anesthetist at Georgia Southern University, and he’s really into “flipping”:

The big Fourth of July fireworks show in Owensboro was the big social event of the summer for high schoolers and teenagers, they said. In spite of this, Will lamented that his shyness kept him from talking to ladies, so John and I, in our infinite wisdom on the matter, encouraged Will to do some flips on the street. He’d ask them to Instagram or SnapChat him, then he’d tag himself in the hopes of inspiring one of the girls to contact him later. Did it work? Who knows. His confidence definitely perked up as girls videoed him. At least we, and plenty of Owensboroans, got to see some rad flips.

Will and Josh and told his they’d never been to a concert.

Josh, Will’s brother, worked at Lowe’s and attended community college nearby. Bryan’s wife, Amanda, is a flight attendant. But we never ended up meeting her because she was tending to her father who has Alzheimer’s.

Back at the house, Bryan, John and I had a few beers before I passed out in my tent, pitched in Bryan’s backyard. John set up his hammock inside the garage.

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Bryan mentioned he hadn’t toured much, but planned to one day. He showed us schematics for a homemade recumbent from Atomic Zombie. Never heard of it. If it gets him out touring, that’s all that matters.

 

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