Thursday, August 20, 1981

60. Breaks Interstate Park, Virginia

Day 60:  Thursday, August 20, 1981
Pippa Passes, Kentucky to Breaks Interstate Park, Virginia:  62 miles

This was our last day in Kentucky - and I'm glad.  Eastern Kentucky is the epitome of Appalachian poverty.  Nowadays, of course, poverty is different from 40 or 50 years ago.  Almost every family has at least one car and a television set.  But there is a very high percentage of people on the dole.  They have no incentive to work.  It's a vicious circle.  Unemployment is high, so they don't look for jobs, and they can't see the sense of an education, so they aren't qualified to do anything, so they wait for government handouts.  Hygiene is poor.  There apparently are no public garbage dumps.  It looks as if everyone chucks the trash out the door into the creek, or into the roadside ditches.  Most of the eastern Kentucky roadsides looked and smelled like garbage dumps.  Neither state nor local government picks up all this trash, either.

When we crossed the line into Virginia, the difference was like night and day.  Virginia's roads are as clean as Michigan's.  The poverty and squalor disappeared.  People took more pride in the homes and yards.  Some of this difference can be attributed to Virginia's greater affluence, but not all of it.  I'm not sure why the disparity is so great.

Huge coal trucks
When we hear one of these coming, we get out of the way!
We had our last taste of coal truck traffic today, and the only stretch of road in the whole trip which we could not ride.  After a stretch of deserted four-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, the road reverted to two narrow lanes.  As we approached a mining area, the truck traffic increased and the road worsened until the pavement disappeared completely.  What was left was sharp rocks and dust, and a steep uphill grade.  Trying to ride was insane, so the three of us pushed our bikes for several miles until we found some sort of pavement again, meanwhile dodging the coal trucks that raised huge clouds of choking dust.

Coal railroad
Several coal mines feed this rail terminus.
The Breaks Park is split between Kentucky and Virginia.  It's a nice park, large, loaded with facilities, and with plenty of hiking trails.  We met some construction workers who come south for the summer and stay in the park - tents are cheaper than motels, they said.

On the road today, we were given the chance to tour a coal mine.  It would have been fascinating.  A motorcyclist happened to own a small mine which employed six men and did about 250 ton/day, and he invited us over.  But we would have had to cross two mountains to get to it, and be there at seven in the morning!  We declined with regrets.

We also met a tobacco farmer who discussed with us some of the techniques and problems of raising and harvesting tobacco.

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