Into Kentucky

The ride out of Madison is an endless winding hill, but otherwise the road to Louisville is unremarkable but for two things:

#1. Maybe I’m somebody
In Hanover, Indiana just outside Hanover College—a parallel universe away from my alma mater Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire—I am pulling up to a T-intersection. A Chevy Suburban to my right reaches the intersection at the same time. He’s slowing down for the stop sign, but I am not. I power straight through and he turns to follow. The vehicle draws even and the passenger side window lowers.

I’m bracing for a rebuke, but get blown away by something else.

“Hey I read about you in the New York Post! You’re that guy riding cross country on a Citi Bike. That’s awesome, man!”

Apparently The Post online has a national audience. The guy asks if I need anything, and motors off. His name is Ryan and that night he emails me:

I couldn’t believe that I saw you riding basically in front on my house the other day. After reading your story I had actually given your adventure some thought and decided that it would be one hell of a trip, especially on the “Countri-bike”…. Take care during your travels and let me know if you need assistance at any point. I run a trucking and logistics company and at any given time we have trucks in almost every state, so I’m sure I could get someone to give you a hand if need be.

Trucking and logistics? Nationwide? Oh yes, Ryan, I’m keeping your number close at hand. Sometimes I run into the right people at the right time. Remember the lawyer I met the moment I undocked the Citi Bike that would become Countri Bike?

#2. Indiana, I love you
Garden State drivers motor around NYC like lunatics, so before setting out I fretted about reckless driving habits of the rest of the nation. But it turns out that central and south Jersey drivers are great in their own state. I had no complaints.
Drivers elsewhere also have been patient with Countri Bike, but southern Indiana drivers take respectful to a new level. Entering Clarke County, I’m dismayed that not only does the shoulder narrow, but also wide rumble strips pit the white edge line. A bike can squeeze between the rumble strip and the grass, but my trailer cannot.

>Dilemma: ride in the road and risk pissing off drivers who must cross the center line rumble strip -or- rattle the trailer over the side rumble strip and risk damaging the trailer.

>Decision: do a little of both.

>Methodology: if there’s no car in the oncoming lane, I hold my ground in the roadway. The driver must go around to pass. However, if traffic is coming up behind me as well as towards me, I rattle onto the rumble strip shoulder so traffic behind me doesn’t have to wait to pass.

>Caveat: if a semi or box truck is coming up behind me, regardless of what’s in the opposite lane, I ride in the shoulder. I’m not testing their generosity.

>Result: when I ride in the road I’m stunned by pickup drivers who pass so far left that all four wheels are in the opposite lane. Thank you! Pick ups are some of the most dangerous vehicles for bikers in NYC, but out here they are lovely. It sounds strange, but I feel positive energy radiating from southern Indiana roadways. I’m respecting the drivers and they’re respecting me. Nobody honks or passes too close for comfort. My system works.

The weather is mostly cloudy with a 40% chance of rain, but it doesn’t get worse than a fine mist. By late afternoon I hit Jeffersonville, directly across the Ohio River from Louisville. The sun is shining bright. I’m so happy to be in America and on a Citi Bike a stone’s throw from Kentucky. How improbable is that?

The Big Four Bridge
A beautiful repurposed hiker/biker bridge makes it easy to cross between states. The Big Four Bridge, finished in 1895, is named after the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway Companies. I thought it had something to do with the Louisville Cardinals men's basketball team being perennial Final Four favorites. (KFC Yum! Center is a short distance from the bridge, which has a cool name whereas the stadium definitely does not.)

The bridge, built for steam-powered trains, could not handle the weight of modern diesel locomotive trains and was shut down in 1923. A new, stronger bridge opened inside the original frame but with only one track. By the late 1960s the bridge was abandoned, and in 1974 approaches from each state were removed. Fast forward to 2013 and the bridge is reborn for pedestrians and cyclists. Yay!

Crossing into Kentucky
My professional stilt-walking host Beth plans to meet me on the Kentucky side, which is a short ride from her Butchertown house that she shares with her boyfriend.

Wanting to relish every last moment in Indiana, I prop the kickstand and sprawl out on the pavement to rest and review Instagram.

Seth makes a wide turn coming off the bridge and circles back to me when he realizes who I am.

“You’re that guy from New York,” he says. He’s read about me on a popular bike blog based out of NYC.

I ask him about Bike Louisville, the local advocacy organization, that is printed on his t-shirt and helmet. I learn that bike share hasn’t arrived in Louisville except for a few stations for exclusive use of Humana employees. Boo.

Seth is on his way to a bike, beer and art party at a brewery in Jeffersonville. That sounds really cool. I fish for an invitation but it doesn’t come. Instead, I bike over the bridge into Kentucky where Beth is waiting (on a bike, not stilts). She turns out to be one of my most hospitable hosts yet, and her story is next.