Nine: The Breaks (Rosedale to Lookout, KENTUCKY)

Miles: 64
Total: 639

You would have been a god among men this morning, had you known how to service a Braun drip-coffee machine. We had the incorrigible bastard laid out in the O.R., disassembled, cleaned, put back together — no dice. Walter, our Dutch aerospace engineer, was puzzled and/or indifferent. There’s a different vibe in the morning around five others — it’s probably good to keep me from losing all my manners.

I spent the vast majority of today on SR 80, a narrow two-lane ribbon of frequently serpentine pavement, and was glad to leave it behind shortly after crossing into KENTUCKY(!). Lots of coal and logging trucks up and down the mountains all day. Riffling Jake brakes and smell of asbestos kept me company through the turns. I stopped in Haysi, Virginia, population 498, for lunch at the Pizza Factory, which turned out only mediocre pie, but huge cups of ice water, for which I was thankful.

It took a series of three hill climbs to make it into Breaks Interstate Park, operated at the junction between Virginia and Kentucky. It’s billed as the Grand Canyon of the South (by Dickinson County, at least), and the the views made the cast-iron bitch of a mountain worth scaling. Just on the other side, I crossed into Kentucky’s Pike County. It took me 8.5 days to bag my first state, and it’s a good feeling. Already I see more evidence of coal mining, both in truck volume, and their roadside anthracite leavings. The ladies at Haysi’s library say the mines run seven days a week (it’s a huge business here, though fracking’s also on the rise), but that traffic’ll be lighter over the weekends, so I’m planning to cover more miles Saturday and Sunday to take advantage of calmer ground.

My overnight halt is Lookout’s Freeda Harris Baptist Center. We’re in the gym, and everyone except Tika, who had been hoofing the AT through Damascus, and’s just getting his bike legs, trickled in, even Petunia the poodle. This place’s great. Just like last night’s Methodist sanctuary, there’s a full kitchen, stocked pantry, a spot inside to sleep and just a whisper of cell service. But tonight, we also have use of hot showers (shared with a truly ancient arachnid), and an industrial ice machine. Walter and I talked a bit about making beer. He and a few engineer friends earned some money from an airline delay, and are building a brewhouse/fermentation cellar in a garage.