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The worst clinchable road in the US

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I have been on bad roads before. Kentucky, known to post state highways on pretty much anything, has more than its share of narrow, rough, and/or dangerous roads. But yesterday I discovered the worst clinchable road in the country: KY 199.

It should not be this way. With a relatively low number, KY 199 must have been around for a while, and should be a fairly important highway, like nearby KY 194 and KY 197, which are fine roads. Indeed, part of 199 is unremarkable. From the community of McVeigh north to US 119, it's a fairly typical minor road, and sometimes even wide enough for a centerline. But south of McVeigh, down to KY 632, this road is cursed.

I approached from 632. The first indication that this road was a wretched nightmare was a sign like the one in this video screenshot, which are typical around the state on narrow, curvy roads where turning around is inadvisable. I'd already driven several roads thus posted that day and, other than having to back up once or twice to a driveway or wide spot to let another vehicle pass, they caused no trouble. So when I pulled onto KY 199 and saw a narrow, barely paved, potholed possum track, my first thought was "meh, one of those again". I progressed up the hill and the potholes ended, because the pavement ended. Bumpy untended gravel came next, which, again, wasn't all that unusual. I rounded the first hairpin slowly and then the gravel ended. The next five miles was a mixture of bare rock and dirt, built into the contours of a series of steep, eroded hills.

"Built" really isn't the correct word here. Building a road suggests that engineers were involved, that there was some sort of design process, and that professionals used equipment to complete the task.

In contrast, this road was simply declared to exist by some people with pickaxes and saws who clearly hated motor vehicles.

Some of the rock is simply original bedrock left in place. The rest was reduced from boulders to units the size of small appliances. Rocks sometimes appeared to be arranged intelligently, as if to create some semblance of a cobblestone path, but no one ever bothered to cement them together. As a result, they now lay strewn about randomly, jagged edges pointing up or to the side, to form a pathway that was at times level and at other times pitched in the general angle of the hillside.

Gaps among the rocks were filled with dirt, except for places where the dirt had eroded away, which was most places. Occasionally, the gravel fairy had left a pile of small stones for someone, or for nature, to top up a larger gap more permanently. In most cases it did not appear that work had been completed. That was the extent of improvements since, I imagine, the 1920s.

Occasional stretches where breaks in the trees allowed sunlight to pass through featured grass and other vegetation roughly 10 inches high, which was high enough to make discerning the placement of rocks impossible.

At first, I determined that the road was not particularly fit for my Accord, but as the sign had warned, the narrow path between rock wall and valley did not offer any places to turn around. Well, there was one, an equally decrepit path to an iron gate with a large "NO TRESPASSING" sign. By the time I reached that point, I was already more than halfway through, and still optimistically believing that the worst must be behind me. As it turned out, any attempt to make it through with a more suitable vehicle would have been thwarted by the fallen trees. They either hung too low over the road, or those on the ground had a section cut through that would be too narrow for a truck to clear.

Ultimately, I got through, although at around 5-10 mph the 5 miles took over 45 minutes. I learned that my Accord is a beast. I haven't examined what got dented or scraped up underneath, but evidently nothing important was left behind. About an hour after the ordeal, I passed the road again on the way to clinching something else, and pulled over for a moment to shout more curses at it.

It is not clear to me why this road exists. Other than possibly one meth lab, it doesn't connect any parts of Kentucky more efficiently than any other road would. It isn't especially scenic. There aren't any body shops or tire stores at either end profiting from it.

Oddly, this happened even though I wasn't going for a full clinch of the area. I discovered another highway in the area prior to the trip (KY 1758) that I decided in advance to skip until I could borrow a 4WD vehicle, since it appeared to be relatively primitive from the KYTC imagery. I generally check out imagery for any roads that seem possibly difficult before I drive them. But KYTC imagery was absent for most of 199, which I misattributed to technical issues rather than KYTC employees wisely refusing to traverse this road with a camera. You can see a view of what turned out to be the most cared-for segment of the road below, where the KYTC camera-car driver gave up.

So is this the worst road in our database? What clinchable routes have you discovered that you never want to drive again?

Seems like cases of that would be a good use for either a mountain bike or a decent hiking stick.

KY 199 makes NJ 324 and the gravel section of VA 91 the best roads to clinch ever.   ;D

I don't know of any TM-mapped roads worse than KY 199. But a thorough look for one could start in Puerto Rico, which has some really awful rural roads that may have route numbers.

Hawaii has some in that category, but Hawaii DOT made a point of fobbing them all off on the counties (whose routes we don't map) when it split a combined state/county route system into separate state and county systems ca. 1968.

I'd hazard worse roads will be in the Nepalese or Indian sets as they snake through the Himalayas.
But KY 199 looks pretty damn bad.

Might have to clinch it now!


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