We’ve been riding the roads east of Louisville, Kentucky for a couple days now. This has been a treat in terms of terrain. The hills are both beautiful and challenging.
But the stunning aspect of cycling the roads here is the manner in which we’re treated by motorists. Without fail, every driver here has treated us with incredible deference and respect. They wait behind our small group when we’re climbing. Even when I broke off on my own, the cars held back until the road ahead was entirely visible and clear.
This has been a strange experience. Back in Illinois, the drivers are much more impatient. We hear gunning engines when they pass, often too close. Some are noticeably aggressive.
There is none of that here. Even when the hill requires a couple minutes to climb, the cars wait patiently behind.
What’s the cause of all this kind deference? Is Kentucky just the most hospitable place on earth?
The kindness was evident among people from the moment we arrived. It was pouring rain when we pulled in. Yet a neighbor living in the condo next to our AirB&B rental came out to tell us how to use the keypad and let ourselves in. Then he kept up the conversation after the rain stopped, inviting us over for beers if the weather cleared.
So it has been a pleasure traveling around meeting people. Even downtown Louisville seemed positive. There was a literal pole vault competition taking place on 4th Street. There was an elevated runway and a full vault pit set up on the city street. We watched vaulters scale heights over 16 feet as we dined at Guy Fieri’s restaurant.
The one exception to the cool groove of Louisville was a moment that took place on the concourse between restaurants. As we sat there dining, a man started running away from the crowd. Suddenly a strong-looking dude burst from the crowd and tackled the runaway, who fell to the ground as one other person grasped his hands and extricated something from his grip. The tackler shoved the man’s shoulder’s into the ground for a moment, gave him a stern shake, and then got up and left. He was noticeably limping for having conducted such a rough recovery of whatever was stolen.
The strange thing about that moment is that no one else seemed to pay much attention. “Did anyone else see that?” I asked. But everyone was busy eating.
So it felt like a dream. That can happen with things both good and bad in this world. Because this morning while heading back on my own on the bike, I was climbing a long, steep hill when my brain shifted into that weird zone where it feels like it is on the outside looking in. As I glanced at the top bar of my bike, a large drop of sweat fell from my forehead. When it struck the black matte surface of the bike, it made the sharp little shape of a skull. Talk about an obtuse encounter with mortality.
I’d already made multiple decisions over the last two days to keep things under mortal control. Having once been tumbled into a grassy ditch by the horrid phenomenon called Bike Wobble, I trust no road over 40 mph. The fastest I’ve ever ridden is 55 mph in a similarly hilly section of southwest Pennsylvania. In fact, the two regions are so similar in appearance and smell and roads they are nearly inseparable. But in Pennsylvania, the cars and trucks were so aggressive and rude, it put the fright of God into you just riding around normally.
It is experiences like these that make me so appreciate the nature of a place like Kentucky, where people “get it” for whatever reason.
That extended even to the parking lot of a Methodist church where we left our cars while out riding. The parking lot is known to triathletes because the church members welcome people into their stone building to use the bathroom. And this morning the woman walking into the church with an instrument under her arm invited us to come back after the ride to attend a picnic later on.
That is true Christian hospitality. But like all good faiths, there was another element of commitment on display during our ride on Saturday. As we passed through a small Kentucky town, there was a line of people outside another small church. They all held up signs criticizing the acts and demeanor of Donald Trump. They were calling out rhymes in protest.
I shouted as we rode past. “Thank you! I agree!” And then we disappeared own the next hill. And climbed another and another. And vehicles waited for us on every turn and up every hill. It was all proof that civility is still alive, either by tradition or by sensibility, and it’s not confined to one margin of the country or another.
Perhaps at a local eatery where angry locals gather to complain about liberals in America, there is a side to Kentucky that we did not see. But even at the gas station where I stopped to buy a small Coke in the wrong sized cup, the wizened little gray-haired lady with her locks in tight braids chirped when she saw me. “My cousins do the Ironman,” she said enthusiastically. “But aren’t you supposed to be drinking water, not coke?”
She got me on the guilt trip there. And perhaps they’re so used to seeing triathletes on the Ironman loop this was all a perversion of reality, an out-of-mind-and-body experience under the Kentucky sun.
Then I rolled past the two giant correctional facilities built on top of a Kentucky hill. One was for adults, and one for juveniles. And I thought about the fact that privatized prisons are a profit-maker designed to twist the law into money for the discompassionate.
Then I thought of that guy tackling the thief in the 4th street mall, and how they both walked away after a cruel little encounter. Evil seemed so close and yet so far at the same time. But civility bridges the gap.