Fourth Annual West Kentucky Bike Tour
You have no such accurate remembrance of a country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle. Ernest Hemingway
After three years of well-established routine for the West Kentucky Bike Tour (WKBT) we certainly have gained a warm remembrance of the laid-back byways of the Jackson Purchase region. For this fourth edition of the WKBT, Rick Holeman shook things up by changing the route for the tour, opting to stay out of the Jackson Purchase altogether. Instead, Rick took us on a counterclockwise tour amongst the hills of the Pennyrile region while managed to make plans for civilized lodgings at the end of each day so we didnt have to lug our camping equipment around as in years past.
Absent from this ride were some stalwarts of WKBTs past: recumbent riders Donnie Mayton and Dan Sufferin Man Clark, and the loquacious Dickie Swift (who wasnt allowed out to play). But in their places, Joe Argabrite and Rod Tompkins joined in to take up the torch. (I have been trying to talk Joe into coming down to the western part of the state to experience cycling nirvana ever since the first WKBT, and he finally managed the time to do so.) The rest of the riders were long-time veterans: Steve Big Ring Agent, Earl Crowe, Duc Do, and the organizing force behind the WKBT, Rick The Trailboss Holeman.
With the early morning fog slowly thinning, we pushed off from the traditional WKBT starting place, Ricks driveway, into a bright morning in late September heading west out of Madisonville. While the other guys commenced the tour on their bikes, I assumed the SAG truck-driving duty right off the bat and made a quick stop at the local spirit shop to add to our stash of beer, as well be staying in dry territory the entire trip.
The last of the fog burned off and the sun was shining bright when my driving shift ended at the little crossroad near Coiltown in northwest Hopkins County, and I rode with some of the guys for a short distance to north of Nebo. Crossing into Webster County, I continued north on Balls Hill Road toward Dixon while the rest of the group stayed on the prescribed route to Providence. I visited the little county seat of Dixon, crossed Webster County and went as far north as Boxville in Union County before turning back to try to catch up with the group.
Alas, a little map-reading snafu near the Webster-Union county line near Moffit Lake had me confounded for a while and added a few miles to my already extended mileage. By the time I got properly re-oriented and headed toward the southern tip of Union County, I was ready for a lunch stop. And just as luck would have it, I spied the Trackside BBQ place in Sullivan, where I enjoyed a hearty pulled pork sandwich and a slab of a coconut cream pie.
Continuing south out of Sullivan, I cruised through Blackford (all of these little burgs are familiar territory as I rode through this area during the 2003 Labor Day weekend) and crossed the Tradewater River on KY 132. Pushing first south then east, I was aiming to rejoin the route near Shady Grove in the southeastern corner of Crittenden County. My fellow cyclists, meanwhile, continued on through Providence and arrived at Marion, the overnight stay, long before I even made it to the Crittenden county line.
After making an extra loop on the beautifully desolated Copperas Spring Road east of town, I eventually made it to Marion and had no problem finding Myers Bed & Breakfast where we were to spend the night. The room AC units were working overtime against the unseasonally hot weather for late September, but theres one advantage to the heat wave: the cold beer tasted and went down even better than usual.
The happy hour ended only when we assembled for a short walk through downtown Marion to the Mexican restaurant housed in the former Magnolia House Restaurant. A full meal of excellent and authentic Mexican fare, including desserts, later we waddled back to our rooms for more socializing before turning out the lights.
I dont know whether it was the strange bed (a stately four-poster), the drone of the window AC unit, or excitement and anticipation of more great riding in the days ahead, I could not sleep very soundly that first night. I was somewhat envious of my roommate, Rod, who went out like a light (on his much less comfortable rollaway bed) and woke up much more refreshed than I.
The proprietors of Myers B&B (124 East Depot St, Marion, KY 42064, 270-965-3731) raised the bar on breakfast. We collectively put away heaping servings of pancakes with locally-produced sorghum syrup, sausage, bacon, and fresh-squeezed orange juice prepared by Merle Myers while Jim, her husband, provided us with information heavily colored with local insights.
And then things got even better than the sumptuous breakfast: we hopped on our bikes and rode into another beautiful morning.
We rode north out of Marion on the now-familiar Old Fords Ferry Road, which I rode three times last summer. Technically, I didnt get to ride it on this day since I was driving the SAG truck on the first leg, as usual. Just short of the Ohio River at the Cave-in-Rock ferry, we turned west toward Tolu and Carrsville to enjoy the quiet roads among the rolling hills of Crittenden and Livingston counties.
I veered off from the prescribed route at Tolu to explore a swath of western Crittenden County, turning back at the Livingston County line just outside Salem and passing through Tolu for the second time. The area around Tolu was rich in iron ore and the remnants of a couple of mid-19th-century pig iron furnaces were noted with roadside historical markers.
I stopped at the (closed) firehouse in Tolu for a quick break and guzzled down a couple of soft drinks out of the vending machine, knowing that stores will be few and far in between in the sparsely populated Livingston County.
Knowing that we are within a stone throw of the river, I turned down River Road outside Tolu to take a look. In a little more than a third of a mile, the road turns to gravel but quickly leads down to the river bank near where Hurricane Creek empties into the Ohio. I stumbled onto the idled Adolphs Dream, a river ferry that used to ply these waters between Tolu and Elizabethtown on the Illinois side. The river town of Elizabethtown is blocked from view by the four-mile-long Hurricane Island, but I can visualize the courthouse, perched high on the hillside in the little town, where we had our first stop on last years ILMO Tour.
Continuing west toward Carrsville past russet fields of ripening sorghum, I passed KY 137 where Rick had put down the left-turn Dan Henry for the route and went straight into Carrsville instead. I was hoping to find a store, but a cursory look through the little town found none so I went on (which nearly precipitated a full-blown bonk down the road).
The rest of the group turned south at Carrsville toward Salem, where they reported having a surprisingly good lunch to complement the sumptuous breakfast, before passing through Dycusburg in Lyon County on the way to Eddyville.
I left town on Cave Spring Church Road, which climbs straight up the ridge that Carrsville backs up against, and enjoyed the rewarding vista once I reached the ridgetop. The Ohio River courses around the ridge and turns straight south, along which I found myself riding on the most desolate of roads going into Bayou. For miles, there was nothing but corn and soybean fields in the alluvial bottomland. The river is mostly out of sight from the road, but here and there an occasional backwater slough dotted with cypresses confirms its proximity. I mostly hugged the left edge of the asphalt road for the meager shade as there was no other traffic for miles.
Passing through Bayou, which is not much more than a wide spot of the road, I was in dire need of some food and drinks, but there was no store in sight. Stopping in the shade at the turn-off toward Burna, I gulped down the last two mouthfuls of my water and ate a couple of small cookies before climbing the sharp ridge that lines the river valley. I had just enough energy left to drag into Burna, a little crossroad on the busy US 60, which thankfully has a store.
After a break and fortifying myself with a turkey sandwich and a couple of Gatorades, I was ready to conclude the days ride, but I was still some 30 miles out with the ominously-named Seven Ridge Road between me and the motel in Eddyville. After a quick call to let Rick know my whereabout and to confirm that everybody was in and currently enjoying the cold beer, I put my head down and hammered the rest of the way in, arriving in time to enjoy some of the cold libations that weve been hauling around these dry counties.
For dinner we walked a short distance over to the always-reliable Willow Pond with its all-you-can-eat bean soup and hush puppies, just down the street from our motel.
As the crow flies, it is a mere 10 miles between Eddyville and Grand Rivers. The most direct route between the two towns (along US 62) stretches that distance to 13˝ miles. Yet Rick The Trailboss Holeman managed to compile a meandering route of 60-something miles for us to enjoy on this sunny late-summer day. And in doing so, he inadvertently accomplished a first in the short history of the WKBT: he used up all of the roads and left none for me to explore. Its been my habit to wander off the route that Rick has mapped out, seduced, as I always am, by the possibilities laid out by the detailed county maps and intrigued by the unknowns beyond the next turn in the road, to see as much of the countryside as my legs could reasonably carry me.
On this day, after the first 17 or so miles and once we crossed the Cumberland River and turned north, we were effectively landlocked in the southern half of Livingston County by the rivers: the swift-flowing Cumberland to the north and east, the vast Ohio to the west, and the Tennessee to the south. And the route Rick chose essentially cobbled together the extent of roads in this landlocked area. So I followed the planned route and got to enjoy the company of all my fellow cyclists all day for a change.
Northwest of Eddyville, the concatenation of Glenn Chapel Road, Jack Thompson Road, and KY 819 altogether offered a veritable cycling nirvana with the swooping curves and short rolling hills. And a fresh coat of asphalt on most of its length added to the enjoyment. With Rod starting out driving the SAG truck, I get to ride this segment with Rick and Steve (and watch in amazement at how Steve pushes the big ring the entire way). The other two members of our little band, Earl and Joe, had taken off a few minutes before we did and it would be miles before we could catch up to them.
North of Iuka, Joe took a direct route into Grand Rivers to cut short the ride, end his tour and return home early to tend to prior engagements. But dont think that he was cheated of two days of riding. Joe did, in fact, start this tour two days early from Grand Rivers and rode the last part of the tour first before all of us started out from Madisonville. The WKBT is now down to a five-some.
Iuka, Tiline, Smithland we rolled through them all in the building heat of a late summer day. Well, we did stop in Smithland for lunch at the newly-open burger stand on US 60, but the gruff service left something to be desired.
Smithland is an old river town, situated at the confluence of the Cumberland River and the mile-wide Ohio River. Its possibly the tiniest of all county seats in Kentucky, with a population of a mere 400. We went down to the riverfront to gawk at the old Smith mansion, and in the process, got some local information from an old man passing the time at the riverfront pavilion.
By the time we reached Grand Rivers after a pleasant 60-mile ride, the afternoon sun was doing its bit to make it feel like a late-July day instead of late September, and the cold beer took on the forbidden-fruit-delicious quality in the dry county. Some of the guys took full advantage of the pool at the Grand Rivers Inn before we drove off in search of dinner at the Oasis almost back near Eddyville.
After a pleasant breakfast at the café in Grand Rivers where one can find unexpected delights such as mango waffles we rode south on the Trace on the Land Between the Lakes to head to Cadiz, the days destination, southeast of here in Trigg County.
The ride down the commercial traffic-free Trace was glorious in itself, made even more so this morning in the bright sunshine of a beautiful early-fall day. Wildflowers blanketed the right-of-ways along the rolling Trace. One can find all the common late-summer flowers such as sunflowers, goldenrods and asters, along with some less-common blazing stars and Blue Sage, all giving the bees and butterflies a veritable buffet of nectars.
Halfway down the Trace I veered off into the Elk & Bison Prairie just north of the Golden Pond Visitor Center. At the gate, upon seeing the sign stating that the entry fee is waived for that weekend in honor of Public Lands Day, I rode right in and completely missed seeing the other sign, the permanent one that states, among other things, No motorcycles, bicycles, or horseback riding allowed in the prairie. Ooops!
The Elk & Bison Prairie is a fenced-in area of 700 acres housing free-ranging herds of bison and elks (yeah, I know, it is oxymoronic to have free-ranging animals in a fenced-in area, but thats what nature sometimes is reduced to these days an oxymoron). I didnt get to see a single elk on this day, but halfway through the one-way loop in the prairie and over a low hill, I came face to face with the herd of bison. They were lounging in the grass along the road, but upon seeing the cyclist, they came to their feet and approached me, more out of curiosity than anything. Perhaps theyre used to being fed by humans. At any rate, with the road completely blockaded by these large beasts, I stopped to contemplate my next move.
Just then, Earl rounded the corner and, from a safe distance, laughed at my predicament.
So that was the sight when several vehicles eventually came onto the scene: two cyclists in a stare-down contest with scores of buffaloes. After some good-natured ribbings from the motorists, we followed the lead pickup truck as it parted the herd and made a quick dash for daylight when the lumbering beasts finally cleared the road.
Thats my story and Im sticking to it.
After the buffalo encounter, not even the heavy traffic on US 68/KY 80 that bisects the Land Between the Lakes could deter us, nor the narrow bridge spanning Lake Barkley. We joined the rest the crew at the store in Canton, the little burg that hugs the eastern shore of Lake Barkley.
It was a superbly pleasant day, with some clouds to counter the unseasonal heat for late September, and just before the rain from the remnants of Hurricane Rita would sweep in the next day. Bidding goodbye to the guys after the break in Canton, I took advantage of the plethora of deserted country roads in southern Trigg County to do some exploring of new territory. I wound up in desolate Linton in far southwestern Trigg County along the lake far behind everybody, and was already resigned to some more riding before coming across another store, perhaps in Bumpus Mills, Tenn. But four miles out of town along the deserted KY 164 I stumbled across the SAG truck and the rest of the guys just as they prepared to ride off after a break. How fortunate was that?
Properly fortified with the provisions from the SAG truck, I continue with a side trip to cross into Tennessee to the little village of Bumpus Mills. Bouncing along on the gravel of Old Dover Road on the way to the state line, I was struck simultaneously by the serenity of the woods along the isolated road, the welcoming warmth of an early fall day, and the special elation of being able to enjoy it on my bike as I rode slowly, silently, alone.
Turning around at Bumpus Mills and retracing my steps back into Kentucky, I rejoined the route on KY 164 to circle around the sprawling Ft. Campbell military base and picked my way along the eastern edge of Trigg County to arrive at the overnight stay at the motel along I-24 east of Cadiz in the late afternoon.
The other guys have arrived long before I did and have been enjoying happy hour while glued to the Weather Channel for the progress of the remnants of Hurricane Rita, due to impact our weather as soon as the next day. But thats for another day.
We wandered through Cadiz looking for a pizza place for dinner and stumbled onto a nondescript place in a strip mall on the outskirt of town, but the food was surprisingly good, and abundant, as its a buffet dinner. We put away more than our fair share of some delicious chicken wings, along with heaping helpings of pizzas. Its another typical dinner on WKBT: enjoyable, sumptuous, and in the company of great friends.
The fast-moving remnants of Hurricane Rita raced up the Lower Mississippi Valley and descended upon our part of the country with some drizzling rain on the last morning of the tour, but it was not enough to keep us from pedaling away from Cadiz to head back to Madisonville.
After a filling breakfast at the Cracker Barrel next door, we set out under a slate-gray sky full of promises of rain. We meandered east near Cerulean and crossed into Christian County northwest of Hopkinsville via a series of deserted country roads. The occasional church-going traffic stared at the slightly sodden cyclists with bemused curiosity. The spitting drizzle never became the impediment that we feared, instead it kept us refreshingly cool.
North of Hopkinsville, we turned north on Old Madisonville Road, the delightfully deserted old road that US 41 abandoned for the newer, straighter route that parallels it to the west. Rick told me about this road once before, but I havent had a chance to ride it until now. The old road takes us north through Crofton and to Empire, near the Hopkins County line, where it finally runs out. We veered west onto KY 407 and 1687 to stay off of US 41 until Nortonville. Zigzagging across US 41 and the Pennyrile Parkway, we continued north through Mortons Gap and Earlington, skirting the edge of the swampy area along the Pond River bottoms.
The luck of the WKBT weather held out once again. The intermittent drizzle never developed into the promised full-on rain until we reached Earlington, just a few miles short of the rides end, so we managed to stay dry most of the day. Spurred on by the building rainstorm, I raced the last four miles in to keep from getting soaking wet, overcoming the urge to slow down to savor the last of another fabulous WKBT.
A special thank-you must be extended to Rick, who not only organized the tour, mapped out the route and made all the lodging arrangements, he also marked every turn of the 300-plus-mile route with directional Dan Henrys, a monumental task, indeed. Thanks, pal!
Another PerspectiveFirst-timer Rod Tompkins was much more timely. He sent us his recollections of the 2005 WKBT just a couple of weeks after the end of the tour. Thanks, Rod!
Rick Holemans collection of pictures on Webshots
5 days, 300 miles as mapped out by Rick, 410 miles as ridden by Duc, across 9 counties in Western Kentuckys Pennyrile Region.
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