On the Road: Days 20 through 23

The days have become longer an cell phone service a bit more limited. I traveled from Wytheville, Virginia to Knoxville, Tennessee, roughly 198 miles in three days. As I write on my friend’s computer in Nashville, I am now at 939 miles into my trek, maybe a quarter done of total mileage. Now for the week’s exploits.

Day 20: Wytheville to Bristol (76 miles)

Wanting to get into Tennessee and make progress towards Nashville, I plan on a 70 mile day. Last night’s sleep wasn’t very restful, the tent’s sides flapping in considerable wind and regular wafts of my gently used clothes is enough to keep me awake.  I get up and begin packing as Scott loads his bike. At that time, Roy stirs. We say our goodbyes as Scott takes off, I follow about 30 minutes later. Always hungry, I head down the main street for some form of breakfast. Nothing is open, but I do find a giant number 2 pencil.

The day starts off hot, overcast and humid. I make my way towards Route 11 which will take me all the way to Bristol. I figure I may find food closer to the edge of town. Being Memorial Day, many stores are  closed. I settle on a Dollar General, consuming donuts, pop tarts and a chocolate milk. Knowing this is too much sugar, I go for it anyway, needing to curb the hunger pangs. On 11 I find more of the same wind that I have been facing during my journey. As expected this slows me considerably as I weave over Interstate 81.

Making various stops in shade to get water, I realize I never really leave the bike during my breaks, rather continue to straddle it to keep the time off the road limited. On a longer break, I call my friend Garland in Nashville to let him to know of my expected arrival to Nashville . He will be hosting me for a few days and I am a bit concerned as to how fast I will be able to cross Tennessee given the progress being made in southwest Virginia. I also text my hosts for the evening in Bristol, letting them know I am just over half way with consistent wind in my face.

I push on another 20 miles, my legs and mind tiring with each passing mile. The infrequent mileage markers are a constant reminder of the distance yet to be covered. The approach to Abingdon uncovers a Wendy’s on a hilltop in the distance. Craving food other than snacks, I pull in. I lock my bike, pull all the various devices needing to be charged and order two meals (one is a salad, so I feel better about myself). Sitting and bending the knees feels fantastic, something that hadn’t happened all day. This stop lasts for just over an hour.

Back on the bike, my legs are refreshed, the mind follows the legs and the wind appears to have died down. I climb a long hill with lots of traffic. On the other side of the hill is the old part of Abingdon. If only my legs could have taken me further, this would have been a much nicer place to stop than fast food. I find that this is often an issue as the desire to be fed, replenish water or rest often over takes the potential to explore a new town for its charm.

As the last leg of the day continues, I find there are considerable downhills. Without wind in my face, progress comes quickly. Maybe I’ll be able to make it with plenty of daylight left. As I enter Bristol I change to Google maps and their directions. Still 6 miles out, this produces a lot of turns and a route through a not so nice neighborhood or two. I re-enter a beautiful neighborhood and arrive at Ben and Ann’s place, my Warm Shower’s host for the evening. Both come out to greet me on the driveway. Before I know it, I have a tour of the house, shower, have a load of laundry in, am eating snacks and drinking a home brewed beer.

The hospitality does not slow as we introduce ourselves, discuss our plans for touring, outdoor adventuring and eating. My hosts have a large flank steak about to come off the grill. This is accompanied, by dinner rolls, salad, potatoes, home made honey and probably a few other items I am forgetting, not due to lack of flavor, but rather the abundance of foods. Next is the cherry cobbler, whipped up as dinner was being served, is plated. A generous portion of vanilla ice cream is served over the fruits of the cherry tree in the front yard.

After dinner, Ben helps me adjust my brakes and derailleurs. Ann brings me a map of Tennessee to take with me and the route to Nashville is quickly solidified. We retire for the evening.

Day 21: Bristol to Bean Station (73 miles)

I sleep about an hour later than I had initially planned. Sleeping in an actual bed brings a more restorative sleep than the 3 previous nights of camping combined. I catch Ann just before she leaves to spend her morning volunteering. Ben serves me a wonderful egg, bacon and toast breakfast with coffee that he roasted himself. Perfect meal to start my day. We say our goodbyes, snap a quick photo and I take off into town. I notice that my gears aren’t shifting quite as well as they were on Ben’s bike stand, as this is often the case. I quickly find a local bike shop that is open.

As I enter Boyd’s Bike Shop, I find what appears to be more of a hardware store than a bike shop. Quite a few older men are hanging in the shop. One man, who looks like Wilford Brimley, is fixing a flat. He asks me to take all my bags off before he can look at my issue. With a turn or two of a barrel adjuster, the shifting is smooth as can be. With Wilford and Ben’s help, my bike is a well oiled machine once again. 

I notice a poster for a memorial day celebration at a local park. The gents give me directions and I shoot over. The park is fascinating, many statues dedicated to service men and women seemingly from WWI through the Korean War. Two women, nina and Helen ask me why im walking my bike instead of riding. I try to explain to the sisters that I didn’t want to ride through the beautiful little park. 

Already hungry, I loop back to the Blackbird Bakery I passed on the way to the park. I decide on an ice coffee, donut and quiche to provide fuel. Back on Route 11 towards Knoxville, the roads seems more agreeable with no wind and the gentle hills of eastern Tennessee, I make some great time considering how late I leave. 

A giant billboard for Pratt’s BBQ greats me as I enter Kingsport. An officer also greats me after a slow roll through a strip mall red light. A stern, but friendly reminder was provided that I am to follow the rules of the road. With the message received loud and clear, I ask for a BBQ recommendation, Pratt’s comes up again and lunch plans are solidified. Today is great food day, if you cannot tell…

Pulled pork powered and back on the bike the miles melt away, a drastic difference from the previous days ride. What I noticed this day and in days to come, is that Tennessee uphills seem to be an optical illusion, as I maintained speeds conducive to riding on flats or slight downhills. 

After reviewing maps, judging the amount of light left and leg strength, I decide that Bean Station is my resting stop for the evening. I stop at a Subway for my evening meal. A methodist church with nice pavilion appears as I enter town. I attempt to call the Reverend to see if camping on the property would be acceptable. With no answer I decide to move on to the next church. A Budget Inn appears and I decide a shower and bed are worth the minimal rate. I eat, rinse the day’s clothing and hit the hay. 

Day 22: Bean Station to Knoxville (49 miles)

I leave a bit later than I had hoped as rain poured outside my window. I stop at Ben’s Place around the corner for breakfast before heading out on my light day of 40 miles or so. A ‘big breakfast’ is ordered, which becomes a morning ritual where available, consisting of eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy and a pancake. The other patrons are all long time locals and make polite conversation about church leaders and CIA drug conspiracies. 

As breakfast comes to and end, I have my water bottles filled and get into discussions with a few tables. Everyone is interested in my story and tells me to have a safe trip. Almost all told me they would pray for my safety. While different than what I am used to, the god fearing people of Bean Station are charming and set a tone for the day. About to take off, Linda asks to take a photo with me and hopes I return one day.

Today’s ride is a bit slower with rain showers in the distance along my route. I ride to them and pull over as cover allows. The shoulder of route 11 in Tennessee is nice and wide. Unfortunately the closer to Knoxville I get, the more gravel, rocks and debris appear. I get to my Airbnb in town, shower and head out to meet a warm showers contact for a few beers, fried chicken and hockey. I explore more of town, Market Square, finding live music and a smokey bar. After a few hours I decide it’s time for bed and walk back. 

Day 23: Rest Day (5 miles)

Pretty low-key and hot day  I sleep in, hit Wal-Mart, eat everything ever, have bottom bracket tightened, get harassed by teenager, relax, walk a ton and treat myself to Calhoun’s BBQ for dinner. 

I ask the hostess for a food recommendation, indicating my desire for a significant portion of food given my trip and she advises of a sampler platter. She offers a banana pudding on the house for dessert and of course I oblige. Rarely will I ever pass up sweets. The equally sweet server is interested in the excursion as well. We chat as she makes regular stops to fill my water glass and bring my many courses. Completely stuffed, I waddle home, finish laundry and pack before bed. 

With just under 200 miles under my belt in the past 3 days, I am ready to get to Nashville and spend some time with my friend, Garland. I expect the trip to take three or four days of hard riding. The rest day was helpful and was looking forward to making me way through central Tennessee. 

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