Jan 14, 4:00. Missy’s ride to Blacksburg should be here anytime now, so here she is, for some parting words:
I really don’t know what to say. I am sad to my core but feeling pretty inspired by friends I have met along the way who want to end MTR. Now. Time is of essence. Thank you Sam Evans for the instigating this ride and for writing a kickass petition. Your voice will be heard and the voices you are ‘carrying’ with you along the way will too. Today is Day 6 and we visited Kayford Mtn, home of Larry Gibson. His mountain is the only one remaining b/c the surrounding mountains have been laid to wastelands. It was like taking pictures of corpses. We had to hike up the mountain due to the ice...so, even though today was a day off the bike...we hiked and hiked up steep icy slopes, background music of blasting and earth movers. Anyways....I have to say goodbye now to Sam and Matt because my friend, Matt Johnson, from Blacksburg is here to pick me up. I love you guys....almost as much as I love these mountains. Keep it real and keep the psi high so you can fly, Sam! Hugs....
4:30. And then there were two.
Today was a much needed rest day, even though we didn’t totally rest. We did sleep like babies last night. Matt Noerpel said that a mattress fell on us last night, and we didn’t even wake up. Matt N. had also fixed coffee when we woke up, so we have been well taken care of. I can’t recall if we mentioned yesterday that when we pulled in yesterday, we were greeted with hot pancakes? These guys are the best. They are doing some amazing work, too. Just up the road, there is a valley where everyone is getting sick from the water. Tons of people have had their gallbladders out, and there are like 6 diagnosed brain cancers in a 500 yard stretch of road. So these guys are delivering drinking water. Apparently, a coal company has been injecting coal slurry into old underground mines, and they’ve been blasting off the tops of the mountains at the same time. Of course, the blasting fractured the ground underneath so that the slurry has leaked into the aquifer. The coal companies don’t care, and neither does the Dept of Envt’l Protection. The coal company was injecting slurry before it was regulated, then they were doing it illegally after it was regulated, and now they have been granted permits for doing the same thing.
We were supposed to meet Larry Gibson at his homestead on Kayford Mountain today, so we took off from our basecamp and drove until the road was too icy to go any further up. We hiked another couple miles until we reached his house. Larry’s house is on the highest peak in the area, but it used to be the lowest peak in the ridge. All around, the mountains have been leveled. Larry wasn’t at home; we had a miscommunication. But we’ll see him in Charleston tomorrow. The devastation on Kayford Mountain was incredible. The pictures just can’t do it justice. If you look in one direction, you can see what the mountains used to look like, but everywhere else they are gone. Larry must be a remarkable guy. We can’t wait to meet him. It seems that there are millions of dollars worth of coal underneath his house, but he refused to sell—even after the rest of the mountains were gone.
Watch this remarkable video from the BBC
On the way down, less than a half mile from the car, Missy sprained her ankle and it swelled up as big as a grapefruit. She came 350 miles deep into the mountains, and she got hurt a half mile from the trip being over. Hope you feel better soon, Missy.
On the way back, we stopped at Marsh Fork Elementary School. This is a school sitting beneath a coal processing site, and a giant coal silo towers over the school. What you can’t see from the road is the giant sludge pond just upstream. In the aerial picture, you can see the sludge pond at the top right, and the school is below the silo at the bottom left. The toxins in this sludge pond are much like the stuff that recently ruined the Emory River in Kingston, TN. In addition, the Kingston spill destroyed several houses, in an area where the flooding had much more room to spread out. Here, the school wouldn’t stand a chance if the dam were to break. They’ve tried to raise the money to move the school, but the coal company won’t foot the bill—to do so would force them to admit that the arrangement isn’t safe. It’s not. MHSA says that it’s leaking.
All day today, we’ve heard blasting from the 3 active mine sites in the area. Coal River Mountain is the only ridgeline that hasn’t been raped... yet. If we lose that one, it would make 40 contiguous square miles of beautiful West Virginia Mountains where there are no more mountains—just strip mines separated by low valleys.
This is a place of juxtaposition: you look in one direction, where the mines are obscured by lower ridges, and it’s simply beautiful. The river cascades at the base of a narrow, wooded valley, with snowy banks and rocky rapids. Turn the other direction, however, and you see a moonscape. It’s a hard reminder of what this place used to be and what it could become. There is still so much to love, though, and so much worth saving.
I will be riding to Charleston solo tomorrow. There is a forecast for 1-3 inches of snow tonight, so it’s a good thing that I’ve got my snow tires. I had ordered them a long time ago, but they arrived the day after we left (of course). Thanks, Rebecca, for mailing them ahead of me! It’s an easy day on paper: 55 miles and only one big mountain. But, with the weather (high of 18 degrees) and the coal trucks, it may be a stressful day. I’ve been told (and from what I’ve seen, correctly) that the coal trucks drive way too fast on this road, and there are lots of blind corners. But Matt will be driving behind me with the flashers on, so it should be okay.
Tonight, we’re going to splurge and get a gas station pizza for dinner. It’s the only “restaurant” around, so there you go.
All in all, today has been pretty sad. I forced myself to start reading the draft MTR EIS today, and it notes that in 2003, over 724 miles of streams had been covered by valley fills. That number has since risen, and probably 2% of stream miles in Appalachia have been destroyed already. The real sadness, however, was from seeing the corpse of a mountain, and it really sucked the energy out of us all. It’s terrifying to see a mountaintop mine. It’s terrifying to know that man has the power to destroy the oldest mountains on the planet. Even more, it’s terrifying that anyone’s conscience would allow it. There’s a house at the base of Kayford with a sign in the yard: “Friends of Coal.” It was a fitting end to a grim afternoon.