Friday, June 1, 1984
Rough River Dam to Sebree, Ky.
I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984 More about the 1984 TransAmerica Bike Tour
We’re at the Sebree City Park tonight, camping downwind from preparations for the St. Michaels annual cook-out. They’re preparing 1,500 pounds of mutton and pork for tomorrow, and this evening they’re stirring a huge cast iron pot of homemade barbecue sauce.
While Bruce and I were talking with them, a couple of the old hands asked one of the younger guys to sample the hot sauce. He lifted up the wooden ladle, sipped it, squinted his eyes and choked out the words, “Hmmm. Just about right!” Then he gasped for breath.
“Just about right” describes our ride today. We caught a headwind in the morning and faced it most of the afternoon. The terrain was mostly level as we pedaled past large farms and over the Green River, turned brown by rains. We got an early start and passed what was left of the town of Falls of Rough (below) after crossing an old wooden bridge. The town business district — consisting mostly of the vacant “Cheap Cash Store” — overlooking the river reminded me of an abandoned movie set.
We also cycled past quite a few churches and a small farm with homemade signs that either warned us about the devil — “Satin lives!” — or made a fashion statement considering the spelling (at top).
Sebree was hot and dusty and noisy with coal trucks when we arrived. My front tire flatted when we stopped at a minimart for a snack, and when I set about to fix it, I noticed my rear tire had flatted also. A swarm of ‘skeeters found me as I repaired the tires, which didn’t help matters.
So we’re camping for free at the Sebree park. You get what you pay for. Our shower was a water spigot at a picnic shelter, where we tried to wash where it counts without exposing ourselves. The restrooms are blocked up, and three freight trains have passed through the past couple of hours.
We’ve spent most of the evening up the hill, though, talking to the five guys working in the smokey barbecue. The meat is smoking on an iron grate in the L-shaped barbecue pit made of cement blocks. It’s going to cook all night. They say it’s a tradition that goes back 90 years.
Kentucky’s unofficial state drink — moonshine — ruined the feast one year, they told us. Apparently some of the boys back in the old days used to make “golden pond water” and the cooks would sip at it through the night. One year, while they weren’t paying attention, the grease flared up and burned down the whole pavillion. The corrugated roof fell onto the meat, which burned to a crisp. They took it out to a farm, buried it, and served hot dogs to the angry picnickers the next day.
Headline, June 1, 1984 —
“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” is in the theaters….
We made 70 miles by 3 p.m. today, landing at Sebree. It got hot in the afternoon, but the stiff headwind kept us relatively cool–it still wasn’t worth it. Wind is so aggravating.
I rigged my front brake so I can use it for emergencies and I think it will hold until we hit Carbondale in Illinois. We should make it this Sunday afternoon and then take care of business Monday morning.
We are camped at the Sebree Park, just outside of town on Route 41. There are big doings out here tonight. Don and his three buddies are cooking the 1,500 pounds of ham, sheep and chicken for the annual June barbecue tomorrow. It’s been going on the first saturday in June for more than 90 years. They quartered the hams and mutton and will be cooking them slow all night.
A fellow named Bobby was stirring a 30-gallon vat of sauce over an open fire [with a boat oar] and Don’s son was basting everything. They turn the meat every three hours [and use a garden hose to keep the flame down].
Bis and I were in the middle of taking a cold spigot shower when the train went by. The tracks are 50 yards from our tent, which is right next to the park gazebo [and the swing sets]. With the trains and the smell of all that barbecue, it might be hard to sleep tonight.
Don has promised us sandwiches in the morning before we leave and he has been telling us about the local lore. The place south of here called Kentucky Lake, where they make “Golden Pond,” a 110-proof moonshine smooth as Jack Daniels Black label. He also said there were so many bootleggers in Sebree at one time that they had to issue them badges to keep them straight.
He also told us about the guys who were doing the cooking about 15 years ago for the 4th of July barbecue and they got drunk on shine, burned up all the meat and the barbecue pit, which was framed with wood. The next morning, when everyone started showing up for the barbecue, all they had was hot dogs.
“You talk about some angry folks,” he said.
[The new barbecue pit, an L-shaped affair about maybe 30 feet long altogether, was built in concrete block and tin roof to make sure alcohol didn’t foul up the works again. As it turns out, alcohol was the primary reason most of these guys had volunteered to stay up all night cooking. Sebree was dry, but one of the barbecue boys would drive to the nearest wet country and buy a bunch of beer, which the volunteers would drink all night while they watched the fires and stirred the sauce. One of the long-time volunteers–I believe he was a car salesman or mechanic for a dealer–brought his son out. The son was perhaps 30 years old, and at one point was asked to taste the sauce from the huge cauldron. When he tasted it, he must have swallowed down the wrong pipe, or the sauce was too hot, because he started coughing and spewing and having a generally painful time of it. After about a minute or so of this, he composed himself to remark of the sauce: “Just about right.”]
You can get 1 pound of sheep or ham for $5 or a full chicken for $3.75.
There’s a softball game across from us, actually quite a distance, but we can still here the announcer calling balls and strikes. We are preparing an old standard tonight for dinner–spaghetti. Don and company brought us down a 5-pound bag of ice, so our Wiler’s lemonade will be served cold tonight. [The simple pleasures.]
Photos: Top — Bruce checks out homemade roadside Bible Belt billboards; middle –Rough River town; bottom — cold water shower
Day 21 — “Pirates, bandits and skeeters”