US 76 cuts east-west across the USA, a vetted trail for long distance bicycle travel. The route and the name both originated during 1976, the USA’s bicentennial year. It was also the year that a dedicated group of cyclists, many of them gravitating around Missoula, Montana, set the goal of celebrating the bicentennial by the not-so-simple expedient of riding across it. It was decades before the internet. But even without its networking and research capabilities, these originators mapped the route and motivated thousands of willing cross-country cyclists to join in the adventure and to a coordinated start on the west coast.
US 76 ran, and continues to run, through Buckhorn, Kentucky. That’s where I met author and playwright, Jerry Buck Deaton in the Summer of 2018. Jerry was camping at a nearby lake for an extended weekend with a friend, visiting from England. They invited me to pitch my tent nearby, swap stories, and share a meal or two. Jerry was born and raised right there in Breathitt County.
He is part of this story because he lived in Buckhorn in 1976 when the BikeCentennial was born. Only thirteen-years old he remembers a steady string of cyclists riding through town, three or four every hour for several days. And he says that he never got tired of waiting for the next rider to appear, daydreaming about what his own future might hold.
Information about Jerry’s books, plays, and PBS television productions can be found at: http://jerrydeaton.com/.
My time in Buckhorn, Kentucky was another demonstration, that “just saying yes” on a solo bicycle adventure is as important as carrying drinking water, or a tire pump and inner tube. You never know when a trail angel like Jerry might appear by the side of the road and ask, “Where ya headed”. But it happens with enough regularity to have a response in mind. Saying yes to these offers can become the most memorable part of a long distance ride.
US 76 has evolved into a well traveled cross-country bicycle route. The core group of cyclists who established the Bikecentennial went on the create a nonprofit that has maintained the integrity of the route to ordinary cyclists like me; someone with the time and willing to commit to the challenge. Their detailed maps and more about their mission can be found at: https://www.adventurecycling.org