Kingsport TN to Pikeville KY - 100 miles with lots of climbing

Resting on my way up to the Kentucky border

This was another day of riding through very pretty country in almost perfect riding weather. Well, it was a bit chilly - 50 F - and foggy at the start of the day - I delayed my leaving a bit to let the fog thin out - but it warmed up nicely by noon. It was great fall weather and, in the mountains of southwest Virgina, the air was crisp and the colors were good. The shoulders, usually, were not good and the four lanes of US 23 often had a lot of traffic including lots of big trucks.

Start of US 23, just south of the Virginia border

Entering Virginia in fog

I had a strange experience in Kingsport, about ten minutes from my motel on Hwy 36. 36 was a four lane expressway with a wide shoulder at that point and I had pulled over on the shoulder to adjust my knee warmers. Just as I was getting ready to ride on, a car pulled over onto the shoulder in front of me. The driver stretched back between the front seats and, with his hand near the foggy rear window, shot me a bird. In Tennessee the folks seem to come in two groups, the very polite ones and the red necked idiots. I smiled at this particular idiot and moved towards him on my bike and he quickly got back into the drivers seat and pulled away. Kingsport is pretty town, and I enjoyed the rest of my ride through it.

Riding through Kingsport

At the other end of Kingsport, 36 is joined by US 23, the highway I am riding the rest of the way to Columbus. In Virginia, it climbs over three main ridges that are part of the Appalachian Mountain range. Between these ridges, it mostly runs along river valleys, e.g. the Clinch River Valley is between the first and second ridges, with smaller hills. The climb over the first ridge starts not long after 23 enters VA. As I rode up the early part of that climb, there was little rideable shoulder and a several foot wide gravel shoulder. Looking in my rear view mirror, I saw two semis coming, one in each lane, so I bailed out onto the gravel and stopped. My bags were about two feet outside the white line. The semi in the outside lane pulled in a little bit, but the UPS delivery truck right behind him came by with his tires on the white line and the body of his truck where my bags had been. I was very happy to be out of his way!

The first climb in Virginia with typical 'good' shoulder

Although I spent most of the rest of this day riding on roads with little or no shoulder, I didn't have to bail out again. There were good shoulders on the remaining big climbs - Benges's Gap and the, even bigger, ridge at VA/KY border - but there were some bad sections. Climbing into Wise VA was the worst riding of the day. There was no shoulder and the edge of the road had a steep dropoff into dugout / washed out gravel. Traffic was very heavy and trucks were passing me while being passed by other trucks. Not fun!

Cruising in the Clinch River Valley

Climbing towards Benges Gap

Coal trucks south of Norton VA

Just before the last big climb to Kentucky

Most of the days riding, although tense at times, was great fun because of the scenery and the challenging climbs. The climb up to Benge's Gap is about 6% max and the views on the way up are nice. The climb up to the ridge on the KY border, is about 8% max and quite a bit harder.

Once I got to Kentucky - after about 75 miles of riding in Virginia, there was a wide, if often dirty, shoulder and the general trend was down to Pikeville some 20 miles away.

Entering Kentucky

Climbing the last hill before Pikeville

US 23 in Kentucky starts with two mile of 8% downhill - 43 mph - followed by four miles of on and off 6% downhills and uphills. Since there was more downhill than uphill on the way to Pikeville, I was able to average over 14 mph on this section. Pikeville claims to be the cleanest city in eastern Kentucky, but the shoulders on 23 are really dirty in and around that 'clean' city. Most of the debris on the shoulders is gravel and chunks of coal, but there are bit of truck tire carcasses mixed in with the less harmful stuff, and it is hard to see and avoid them. Bouncing along in that mess, I was really glad I brought my touring bike with wide Conti touring tires. I had considered riding my commuter bike with narrower Panaracer Pasela tires, and, if I had, I think I would have had tire problems on this stretch. As it was, the beating taken by my tires started a slow leak at a patch on my rear tube.