Day 43, July 16: Lookout, KY to Damascus, VA

We got off early today.  We were on the road by 6:20 am, just after sunrise.  We wanted to make up our mileage deficit  from yesterday.  We ended up pushing to Damascus, VA at 95 miles.  

All through this trip we have been overwhelmed by the poor rural areas that we have traveled through.  The lack of infrastructure, poor cell and internet service, food deserts, poor education system, terrible healthcare, the crisis in  methamphetamines and synthetic opioids and the overall poverty level and inadequate housing are just a start.  

Kentucky Blues

The last six days in Kentucky have made this even more apparent.  As you travel east in Kentucky conditions worsen. There is an almost continuous line of rotten and broken down mobile homes that you think nobody is in, but many are occupied – you can tell as the grass is usually cut somewhat or if you are lucky the air conditioning is on.  In the last few days we’ve been a bit glum.  The oppressive and pervasive poverty we’ve ridden through really gets under your skin. Combined with the muddy rivers and streams devoid of life that seem like running cess pools and the never ending barrage of barking dogs that you are constantly scouting out, it just tires you out. 

In Coombs at the Hampton Inn & Suites, our breakfast hostess, Kayla, 22, commuted over 60 miles everyday as that was the only job she could get.  She is a single parent and  has a 2 and 4 year old.  Her parents look after the children. The 4 year old is loosing his teeth and rotting away because he constantly uses his bottle filled with juice (and I’m sure is under nourished) and she is concerned that her 2 year old is not doing well because some days he doesn’t eat much pizza.  She wonders how he’ll survive. She wants to go to college, but can’t afford to go and has to watch the children.  

Just finished the trip and back home and my brother-in-law, Dennis Carroll, sent me the following articles from the Washington Post on Sunday, July 23rd:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/classic-apps/in-former-coal-country-the-working-poor-show-open-contempt-for-neighbors-who-seek-handouts/2017/07/20/b84f8420-4a11-11e7-9669-250d0b15f83b_story.html?utm_term=.4e1885d57c38

Check out this one with startling statistics:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/in-rural-america-disability-benefit-rates-are-twice-as-high-as-in-urban-areas/2017/07/22/3e600722-575c-11e7-a204-ad706461fa4f_story.html?utm_term=.66fc47c4737c

Anyway, this morning when we entered Virginia, conditions started improving almost immediately.  At first I couldn’t pin point why we both felt a bit better and soon realized that it was due to the improved conditions we were biking through. One of the first things I noticed was that all of the streams were clear and had fish in them.  The houses and mobile homes all had roofs on them.  

At lunch in Honaker, VA at the Farmers Table we happened to sit next to a women who was a school district administrator for the county abutting Kentucky and she told us that the they loose over a 100 students every year as the parents either move away do to no jobs, the parent(s) go to jail or become opioids addicts.  Very sad.  There are simply no jobs in the area and the synthetic opioids are destroying the fabric of life here.  She said the problem is much worse in Eastern Kentucky.  The school district was able to give its first raise to teachers  in 10 years — 2%!  She said that they hire new teachers every year by the beginning of the summer.  By the end of the summer, they have to start the hiring process over again, as no one wants to teach in this area and they get higher paying teaching jobs elsewhere.  The school district is the largest employer in the county.  

Also in the restaurant were several coal miners who told us quite a lot about coal. Most mining operations are now almost completely automatic and they have robots and mining machines controlled by a few operators at the top of the mine.  What tens of men could do in the past can be done by 1 person now.  Even if coal were to become king again, it wouldn’t create many jobs.  

Maybe our current administration should take a tour through this area. 

Enough for now as we have a big day tomorrow — hoping for 114 miles.  

Bill Coleman called me and told me that he is so inspired by our trip that he and his girl friend, Leigh, will be joining us in Charlottesville and plan on biking with us for the last two days!  

A clean Virginia River with fish in it. 


Mark’s post ride routine at Bobo McFarland’s while we ate.  He’s as good as new each night. 

No times to upload pictures today.  Hopefully tomorrow

8 thoughts on “Day 43, July 16: Lookout, KY to Damascus, VA”

  1. A most sobering report…. As I read it, I though those tight fisted Senators and Representatives should tour such places. It is shocking that in the US, there is such discrepancy between he haves and the have nots. That waitress with her 60 mile commute and two unhealthy little ones is heartbreaking. I can understand why you were glum.

  2. This level of poverty exists in every state. I’ve seen it here in Maine. If only everyone could see it perhaps the political conversation would be quite different.

  3. Mark, I have been checking in erratically and must have missed a few weeks because you have advanced so far! Incredible progress. Are you tired or just super manly now? You are certainly getting a granular view of America most of us never get. Impressive ride. I’ll have to join you next time.

    1. We are both! Yes, granular in many ways… look forward to meeting you at some point. Sorry to have missed you in San Francisco. Much to do before we left.
      Cheers,
      Mike Hill

  4. Sounds like everyone should do this kind of tour through the country. You hear about these things in the news and in speeches but sounds like seeing in person really brings it home. Thanks for sharing.

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