These posts are LONG overdue. This small stint of the journey thus far was a unique experience. Both in terms of mileage and hosts, unbeknownst of them.
I write this after two weeks off, where I learned the following:
1. A diet comprised of foods from gas stations, fast food restaurants & diners is still slightly healthier than that of most 5-9 year olds. This generalization is based solely on observations of my nieces, nephew and a family friend during the past week
2. In two weeks, you can undo the health benefits of daily riding and burning 5500 to 7500 calories a day. I gained roughly three pounds, but have faith that the 600 miles to Kansas City over the next two weeks will get me back into fighting shape.
A highlight of the day one in the race to Nashville.
June 2 – Knoxville to Nashville (79 miles)
Having gone to bed late and been afforded the comfort of a bed, I rise an hour later than planned, but am on the road by 7:45 am. The idea was to avoid the traffic of 70 West out of Knoxville. This works well for the first 10 miles or so. The heat picks up, so does the volume of cars, as I look for a post office. A FedEx finally appears to send some unused, heavier clothes back to NYC, this will be the first of such returns. Having lost 1.8 pounds and the early start to the day, I find the morning’s mileage to be pretty impressive having reached 40 miles before noon.
I take a break in Kingston, TN to stretch the legs, grab a proper snack and charge my phone. I give my oldest brother a call to catch up and hear about his recent trip to Italy. The descriptions of large pasta meals peak my interest, as do the stories of swimming. I decide that I will grab lunch in Rockwood, the next town over, another ten miles ahead. Back on my bike I find that I do not have ten miles in me, maybe three. My stomach growls as my legs fade. There are not many options after leaving Kingston. Fortunately the mirage in the distance is real and I pull into the oasis named “The Meat House“.
After locking up my bike, I walk in to find a table. The place is busy, but a couple booths are open with a clear site to the rig. Before I can even sit, two separate tables begin chatting me up with the usual, “where ya headed?” and “how far do you go each day?”, etc. Loving the attention, but starved for calories, I answer as best I can without collapsing into the booth. The server brings me a water and a Coke (I constantly forget I am in the South and should be ordering sweet teas at lunch). The conversations continue as I slowly sit down and browse the extensive menu. With too many options, I decide on jalapeno poppers to start. One woman recommends the burgers and I go with her suggestion.
As my food comes out, the two groups have wrapped up their meals and settled their tabs. Impressed with the trip and inspired by the cause I am backing the one gentleman, a grandfather of 3 boys and 1 girl at the table, hands me a $20. This charitable act is not only my daily reminder of people’s kindness, but puts my fundraising efforts over the $4,000 mark! I thank the man and say goodbyes to all the new friends. The massive burger is devoured. A strawberry milkshake is ordered and subsequently inhaled. My server fills up my water bottles as I settle the tab.
OUtside, I place the bottles on the bike and decide that the legs feel refreshed. My mind is not quite there, so I decide to sit for a few in the shade, beating the midday heat. A few turns into a 40 minute cat nap, attempting to catch up on last night’s limited sleep. A motorcyclist stirs me as he gets onto his bike. He is headed up to Ontario on a road trip, but knows the area well. He describes my ascent into the plateau which brings up similar fears I had on the Blue Ridge Parkway. These are fears of huge climbs and limited water coupled with lack of services. I stop in Rockwood, just before the climb to refill water.
The ascent is only a few miles long and fairly gradual. The tree lined road provides adequate shade to ease the heat. The wide shoulders provide enough space for me to ride comfortably while cars pass with sometimes limited visibility as they navigate the switchbacks common in the Eastern US. Before I know it the climb is over! An hour or so of climbing wasn’t so bad. Were Virginia a teacher, it would know that its stern lessons in elevations left this student prepared for traversing the rest of the country, perhaps even eager for future climbs.
The plateau offers the same rolling hills as the eastern part of the State. Passing the sign into Cumberland County at nearly 40 MPH, I enter the Central Time zone! Sadly, not everything can be recorded in pictures, and I press on towards Crossville. I come upon Ozone Falls and stop to check out a waterfall. Dipping my feet in the small river leading into the falls, I determine that is as far as I will go, as I still have another 20 miles to go and much longer of a break would put me into Crossville after dark without a place to stay. The swimming hole at the bottom of the falls will have to wait for another time. The remainder of the ride is pleasant, as the sun dips and the air cools.
Entering Crossville, I find a block party going on. Loads of people, music and most importantely, food trucks line the street. I dismount and walk my bike down the main drag. A man named Mark pulls me aside and asks the usual questions. He is new to town and cannot offer camping suggestions. He had lived in Nashville for most of his life, but is originally from Pittsburgh, where my alma mater is located. He points me towards to the local Fire Department posted up down the block. I stroll up to a few of Crossville’s finest and introduce myself then asking for camping suggestions. Casey tells me that Crossville does not have any city park camping and all the budget motel options are a distance away. Before I can even make the request, he tells me he is going to call his chief and ask if I can set up on a small patch of land behind the fire house. No answer from the chief, Casey makes a judgement call and says I can stay there and he’ll take any heat that may come from his superior. Awesome!
I thank Casey and head into the block party to get some food. I eat some BBQ and sausage & peppers as I walk around town taking in the scene. As light wanes, I decide its time to head towards the fire house a ways away from the main street. A McFlurry is calling my name and a McDonald’s is perfectly situated before the final turn towards the fire house. With an ice cream in my handlebar bag, I am ready to settle down for the evening. As I pull in, the boys had just returned to the station. With a warm welcome, a tour of the fire department is provided and essentially offered to me as my home for the evening. Outlets are pointed out for charging, the full use of their kitchen, a towel for the shower, use of the washer, the list goes on. Before I know it, I am showered, plied with ice cream, with a load in the washer, a new Crossville Fire baseball cap on my head, watching TV on leather couches, getting to know my new hosts for the evening. A call comes in and the gents spring into action.
In moments, three of the four jump into a truck and are off, leaving Brian and myself at the fire house. Brian is a long time veteran, given his age (older than me, though I would have guessed I had him by a year or two) and we continued various conversations. I eventually peppered him with various questions regarding his profession. Brian enthusiastically provided responses with a walk around the ladder truck. By the time we had finished the tour, the fellows returned and gave us an update of their emergency response. They then left abruptly only to come back with a Frosty delivery, one with my name on it. Unwilling to reject the offer, I polish off my second ice cream treat of the evening. Before I know it, its nearly midnight and I need to go to bed. I set up my tent in limited light out back and lay down. I realize it is actually now 1 AM given the Eastern Time Zone I woke up in this morning.