With Paducah in the rear-view, Kéa and I made for the eastern time zone. The ride into Lexington was easy and the Holiday Inn Express University-Lexington parking lot was empty. We checked in, threw our bags and a bike into the room, and set out on foot to explore the city. Lexington is a college town. The University of Kentucky takes up well over a quarter of the city center and we wandered our way into the heart of downtown.
I expected the 4th of July to be a bit more festive in this bourbon-soaked southern stronghold. I was wrong. Most restaurants were closed, the streets were empty, no fireworks extravaganza advertised, and we had the city to ourselves. If we hadn’t come directly from Paducah, I would have thought the scenario to be rather eerie. We strolled down South Limestone, University of Kentucky’s main drag harboring college pubs and hooka bars. We found life at a place called the “Tin Roof” and took a seat inside.
A brief respite from oppressive heat and humidity provided the kick we needed. After downing a lemonade and an IPA, we were ready to push deeper into the heart of Lexington. We made it about four blocks. It was hot. My knee was doubling in size. I looked at my Alaskan daughter giving it her best effort, but wilting in the wet sun. Directly across the street was a row of four orange electric scooters. I had seen people using these things in a former life, and wondered what the deal was.
The deal was that you can take a photo of the QR code, download the SPIN app, and rent an electric scooter. No brainer. We made the necessary transactions and minutes later were electric scooter terrorists throughout greater abandoned Lexington. The SPIN legal counsel suggest that you wear a helmet, only ride on the street, and obey all traffic laws. With a top speed of 15.2 mph we didn’t violate any speed limits, but broke every other possible rule in the book. We spent over an hour exploring the historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown…at 15.2 miles per hour. Turns out you don’t have to slow down to corner if you pull the apex and keep your weight over the stand platform.
Dinner was at the Columbia Steak House. These guys first started serving filet in 1907, and have been in continuous food service since 1948. If I wanted to make a discrete under the table illegal agreement, this dining room would be just the place. I could barely see who was sitting across the table. The standing special is a carefully selected tenderloin of beef broiled to your order in garlic butter. What? I had to try. The steak literally came in a bowl of melted butter. I’ve yet to eat anything since, but it wasn’t bad. Kéa had the house salad and some chicken. We lingered for a while, but decided to find two more scooters for the trip back down South Limestone and call it a night.
We both wanted to get a good night’s sleep. The Holiday Inn Express has a gym. My fantastic plan was to get up a bit early and burn off the bowl of butter in the morning. We would leave Lexington at 11 and pull into Charleston, WV around 2 pm. Plenty of time to walk the riverfront, have a late lunch, and see what the capitol of West Virginia had to offer. I stayed up a little later for your reading pleasure, but Kéa shut the light off about 10:30 and fell fast asleep.
I heard the panicked call for help about 6:30 am. Something was crawling in her bed. I was still groggy from being yanked out of a bizarre dream and this wasn’t fitting with my speech to Barney Fife. Yes…I was dreaming about Don Knotts. Like I said. It was bizarre. I collected myself and climbed out of bed. Sure enough, there were several small pin-head sized bugs slowly crawling across a pillow. A few more were under the sheets.
I’ve been the victim of bed-bugs before and these didn’t look like what I had succumbed to back in the massacre of 2017. We collected a few and put them into a cup. Just when we thought they were Kentucky Clover Mites, I saw the monster trying to climb back though a crease in the headboard over my bed. I grabbed her with a key-card and scraped her into the cup. Easily five times larger than the tiny baby bed bugs, this piece of evidence left no doubt. We had a problem.
Kéa was very calm. We bagged up all of our items in the room and both took vigorous showers. I delivered the cup of bugs from both of our beds to the front desk, the desk clerk reversed the charges for the room, and I googled a “laundromat near me.” Time to wash and dry absolutely everything that touched a surface in the hotel room. From 8 to 10 am we disinfected and wiped down anything that couldn’t be laundered. When the clothes were washed and put through the dryer, we folded them back into our bags that had also spent an hour in the dryer on high. If we had any hitchhikers, they were dead.
On the way to Charleston, neither one of us wanted to spend another night in a hotel. We scrapped our plan to visit the capitol of West Virginia and instead agreed to find a proper Bed & Breakfast. A hot lap through Charleston confirmed that we had made the right choice. Not only did the place look closed, it looked bad. We passed the hotel we had booked without slowing down, found a place to eat lunch, and came up with draft B and draft C.
Over dinner in Lexington, we decided to head to Snowshoe, West Virginia for two nights. This is before we woke up in Lexington having been dinner. Snowshoe is an Appalachian ski resort, but boasts downhill mountain biking and horseback riding all summer long. We found an AirBnB and made arrangements. It’s three hours from Charleston, but the towns of Buckhannon and Elkins would get us even closer. I had read about each place and they sounded great. We would make the push for Buckhannon and see what was up.
Nothing was up in Buckhannon. The place was empty. No Bed & Breakfasts to speak of and the only open restaurants were Burger King, Taco Bell, and a Wendy’s. We kept driving. Twenty-four miles farther up the road was Elkins. We had read about a quaint inn called the Warfield just off the main square. It sounded perfect and looked great from the website. We weren’t able to book on-line, and decided to just drive by when we pulled into town.
The historic Warfield Inn looked like Mickey Mouse’s haunted mansion. It was clear from its appearance that it hadn’t seen any guests since before the Pandemic. Maybe long before. A hot lap of Elkins revealed a mirror image of Buckhannon, only grittier. Homeless shelters, a medium sized hospital, and various big box drug stores surrounded a small “historic” downtown. Two choices presented themselves for lodging. A Holiday Inn Express…no fucking way…or a privately owned Wyndam hotel calling itself the Isaak Jackson Hotel.
We pulled into the Wyndam and didn’t have any trouble securing a room. Only two cars occupied the main parking lot. It’s sad. The inn itself, perched on a hill overlooking the town surrounded by mountains is stunning. You could imagine this view in any other part of the country drawing tourists from every corner of the world. Tonight, as Kéa and I played cards on the veranda, our only interaction was with a young couple that had stepped outside to chain smoke while their baby cried several feet away. Second hand smoke is real.
Transiting this cross-section of America has been enlightening. While not a destination I would have sought for a break from my own reality, it’s certainly been a window into others. As I sit here and itch my bug bites, I can’t help but think that a large number of people don’t have the option to seek out a plan B, let alone a plan C. With any luck we’ll be bug free tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll keep driving.