From: Joel Spolsky
Date: 9 May 1995 11:24:32 -0400
To: everyone
Subject: Kentucky: The Trampoline State

... the Trampoline State, because despite the fact that the Cumberland area (Eastern Kentucky) is almost supernaturally impoverished, almost everybody seems to own a large, industrial-strength, shiny-new trampoline. I guess there was a very good trampoline salesman following the TransAmerica bicycle route, or else the mountains keep them from getting any channel on TV except some kind of home shopping channel that specializes in absurd lawn toys.

Now I'm in Berea, Kentucky, home of Berea College. If you are following on a map, Berea is due South of Lexington in the center of Kentucky, about 60 miles South on I75. Berea College was established in 1865 to provide equal and unseparate education for white, blacks, and Indians, however, president Jackson forceably moved all the Indians to Arkansas and a state law around 1900 made it illegal to educate blacks, so the school wasn't mixed again until 1965. It is a liberal arts college with free tuition with 80% of the places reserved for "mountain folk" (appalachian students). Everyone must work 10-15 hours a week either doing work on campus, or practicing traditional mountain crafts (weaving, making tchatchkees, etc) for all the arts 'n' crafts shops in town.

Last you heard from me I was in Blacksburg, right? Well, since then I travelled through Christiansburg, then spent the night at the city park in Whytheville VA (I still don't know how to pronounce that.) Next stop was Damascus, VA, on the border with Tennessee. Damascus in right on the Appalachian Trail, which is a 2500-odd mile long hiking trail all the way from Georgia to Maine. There is a hostel there reserved for AT hikers and cross-country cyclists -- there were about 30 hikers pasing through, a very social and friendly bunch, ranging in age from 16 to 75. About half of them said "oh yeah I'm going to bike across the US next year."

The Place, in Damascus, Virginia

Being fed up with Virginia I pitched out to Breaks Interstate Park, on the border between VA and KY. It's like a big canyon with a river in it. They call themselves "The Grand Canyon of the South" which makes me wonder where they think the other one is! Fortunately there was a nice little mountain lodge there with a great view.

Breaks Interstate Park

Then, Eastern Kentucky, which, as I said, is a wreck. The coal mining companies came in, destroyed the land completely through strip mining, leaving no coal and the land unsuitable for any kind of farming, fired everyone when the coal ran out, and left a small-scale disaster behind. Not to mention black-lung disease, etc. The houses are mostly small and dilapidated and there are zillions of broken down rusty cars trashed by the side of the road. You can tell the county borders, because one side of the border inevitably has a huge pile of trash, broken washing machines from the 20s, etc, and the other side always has a "last chance liquor store".

The route until now is very mountainous, although towards Berea it finally flattened out. My average speed has only been 7-8 mph due to the mountains. There are two kinds of roads: twisty ones through mountains, which were originally paths that buffalo established on their way to salt licks (yum!), and twisty ones next to rivers, which Indians used for trading. By the way, the Cherokee, reported to be savages suitable for extermination by the European settlers, actually had a written language and a three-tiered government system (judicial/executive/legislative) long before Virginia did... which didn't much impress prez. Jackson who , as mentioned, forced them all to move to Arkansas in a forced march in which most of them died, and then charged them for the privilege. (makes you want to deface a $20 bill!)

Adventure Cycling Maps

Guess what the most common store in the Appalachian back-country is. No, it's not the gas station. Nope, not the general store. It's the flower/tanning/tuxedo store, where you can get corsages, lie on the tanning bed, and rent a tuxedo. Now it IS prom season so I think these may be temporary, but they are EVERYwhere.

Anyway yesterday just as I was getting close to Berea, in an incredibly bone-headed move, I managed to get my ankle caught between the back wheel and the seat post. I was fine but the back wheel became more of a back potato-chip. Since I knew from my handy-dandy maps that there were no bike shops in Berea, I diverted to Richmond in hope of finding something there. Richmond, KY, at least the part I saw, has the honor of being the ugliest strip of strip-mall-land you have ever seen in your life. So I hobbled along on my potato-chip almost 20 miles and found a "bicycle shop and gift shop" in Richmond which sold incredibly old, used bicycles and lots of stuff that looks like Franklin Mint collectables only not as nice. And a good collection of music for harmonica. Fortunately they had a nice truing stand and they fixed my wheel right away, and gave me directions to Berea, making it a 100 mile day! But the terrain is flat now, and i hit upon the genius idea of inflating my tires to the max, which makes the ride a little bit more bumpy but a lot faster. And Berea is a 3-star town in the Joel guide meaning (1) you can get Caffe Lattes (2) there is a college library with computers on the Internet (3) there is more than one restaurant.

Berea High School

Hopefully I will be able to go pretty fast now that I'm out of the mountains. If I had to predict I would say that you will next hear from me in a week or two from Carbondale IL which is supposed to have a big state University!


PS baby's name is Yonatan Zvi.

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