Day 12 – Hatfield, McCoy, & Boone

Gilbert, West Virginia to Red River Gorge, Kentucky
191.4 miles
Warm & muggy when stopped, partly sunny to sunny

Motel last night, National Forest Campground tonight. A lot of miles today. The last 22 were an out and back effort to get some supplies and cash at an ATM. Last things first: I am in the Koomer Ridge Campground, in the Red River Gorge Geologic Area, of the Daniel Boone National Forest, in central Kentucky. I got the very last campsite completely by chance. I am so lucky. It is a lovely forested area with 54 sites. They are well distributed so you are not on top of one another, and well maintained. I will stay two nights.

I rose early as usual, but with wifi and a bathroom, there was no need to rush. I planned my route into Kentucky, packed my belongings, and got on the road at about 9:30. Gilbert is still in a steep and deep part of the Appalachians. It hosts group ATV tours and contains many miles of trails. The town & motel were filled with ATVers there for the Hatfield & McCoy tour.

Taking backroads through steep forests, I twisted and turned my way to Matewan on the state line. This coal town has a great history of coal miners fighting for their rights. The struggle became violent. This story is dramatically told in a movie by John Sayles, Matewan. This morning the oddly walled town with its pathetically small and isolated library was filled with runners. Hundreds of runners. All completely out of shape. Not a gazelle among them. Clearly, they were running for a cause. However, I saw no signs to say what it might be. They were a dedicated and happy lot. The miners in 1920 were dedicated, but they were massacred.
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I continued following back roads into the town of Pikeville. It is Hatfield-McCoy Central. This is where they lived, feuded, fought, killed, were tried, exonerated, and executed. I don’t know the whole story. But if I wanted to, this is the place to find out. A biker riding a big beautiful chrome Harley cornered me in a parking lot and asked if I was doing the whole tour or just part. “Just passin’ through,” I managed to say as he pointed to important places on a Chamber of Commerce promotional map. He and his friend were doing both. He was very enthusiastic. I can’t muster that much enthusiasm for anything. Okay, if Bob Dylan agreed to play a set in my living room, maybe.

There are two major highways from Pikesville to the Red River Gorge. They are not interstates, but in many places just as fine. Even the two lane parts of these roads are big. Plotting secondary roads, none of which run parallel to these major roads, is an interesting task. It is easy to go 200 miles out of your way. I plotted a course with no idea if I would make it to Daniel Boone National Forest and specifically Koomer Campground in one afternoon.

The best weather in a week blessed the day. I was down to jeans and shirt sleeves. I rolled through very small towns where the road and front porches touched. Where streams along the road encroached so much, they stopped painting a center line because the road was one little lane. Many roads were originally railroad access lanes created during the railroads construction. Often I was wedged between tracks and a stream. All roads were paved.

I came off a backroad into a town Salyersville, which intersected with the Mountain Parkway. I would have to figure out a new route or take the Parkway. I hoped this town would be big enough for a wifi spot. Just as I turned down main street, Ruby’s engine stopped. I coasted into a large empty parking lot between an apartment building with convoluted menacing signs and a pizza shop. I assumed I ran out of gas. It was on empty and I wasn’t paying strict attention.

Ruby’s gas gauge stays at the top of full for a long time and then begins a quick slide down until it reaches the bottom where it stays for the last 30 miles. Now, I thought it was truly empty. No worries, that’s why I am carrying two extra gallons, annoying high tech nozzle or not.

So off came the gear, out came the new gas, it certainly looked empty, I filled her up, and she wouldn’t start. Turning over, but not firing. It’s a delicate moment, you must re-prime the carburetor, but not flood the cylinder. I thought I smelled gas, so I now assumed I was flooding the spark plug. Okay, I’m a champ at pulling the plug now. It involves taking two side bolts out to get access. A minute later with only minor burning of my fingers, a hot dry plug stares back at me. I wipe it clean, turn the engine to pump out any excess moisture, and replace the plug. Still no start.

Phase three: (phase one is praying, phase two is pulling the plug) I remove the seat from the frame to access the engine. I’m getting good and quick at this too. I look at the fuel line. Both of them. I have no idea why there are two. One has the world’s smallest fuel filter, about the size of a hornet, a yellow jacket, and I wonder if the engine is getting gas. I disconnect the line near the carburetor. I turn the engine. There is fuel on my fingers. Okay, it’s getting gas.

Now I fiddle with every electrical line I can. This has worked before, but with no discernible pattern as to what is not making a connection. I try the engine. It starts. I turn it off. I try again. It starts. I dance little jig. Why not? I was successful and I’m in a parking lot of a town where no one knows me.

I reassemble the seat. I try the engine again. It does not start. No jig, but no scowling or cursing either. I take the seat back off. Again I trace some electrical lines. Specifically the one from the spark plug back to a rubber canister with two connectors in it. They are firm. Then on upward to a plastic connector which seems to be seated well. One end of this connector runs up to the safety on/off switch next to the seat.

Now here’s the thing. In Ruby, the interior lever for this safety switch is missing. Someone gerry-rigged it open with a plastic fastener. I know from experience that taking that lever off and putting it back on is a bothersome chore. However, if the lever is missing and the part it connects to is facing the wrong direction, the bike will never start. I turned the little connecting piece and tried the engine, It started right up. Was this the problem? The little missing lever was not there to hold the cable in place and over time it slipped enough to stop the engine. Sounds rational.

But then I thought about the wire I traced there in the first place. It was electrical, not mechanical. Did the lever do two tasks one mechanical and the other electrical, creating a connection that says to the engine, “It’s okay, go ahead and start”? The side kickstand has just such an electrical connection. It finally dawned on me that this switch did too. It was vibrating loose. I tightened it with my fingers. The engine started.

Here was a moment of learning. This is what adventures are about.

I drove the Parkway for the last leg of the day’s journey. I knew I would make the campground with time to spare. I did and as I said earlier, I got the very last space.

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