With two weeks off and less than two weeks to knock out a Tennessee to Kansas City (here I come) trip, I will need to get back into fighting shape. Recreating what I did in my last two days of riding will be a feat unto itself.
Here is a taste of the last day’s ride before break and a small snippet of the R&R that followed.
Day 25: Crosseville to Murfreesboro (91 miles)
I wake up in a tizzy, it’s 6:30 AM. I rub my eyes a few more times and check the watch to make sure what I read the first time was correct. The firemen are up at 6 and out by 7 with the next shift starting at the top of the hour. Clarity comes and the realization that my watch is still an hour ahead dawns on me. I have an extra half hour to relax and gain my bearings before packing up.
As I gather my belongings from the tent and rear of the firehouse, each new friend comes by to check to see if I have all that I need. I say my thank yous and goodbyes. A breakfast recommendation is also obtained. With the bike packed and another round of thank yous, I head off for another ‘big breakfast” at the closest diner. Fortified with eggs, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, a pancake and coffee, I take off for the last leg of Route 70. The sun is heating the air, even at 7:30 AM. I have high hopes that with the early start, I can somehow manage to make it to Murfreesboro, where a dear friend’s parents, the Reids, live.
This part of the trip is lacking in shade. I stop often for water breaks and to refill bottles. One stop is at a Harley shop to use the restroom. Chatting up a patron out front, I decide to sit on a bench and eat a banana. The employees do not seem to take kindly to my form of touring. I pop back on the bike as to not offend further. Making great time, I find some gentle climbs followed by tremendous stretches of curving descents. Headed towards Sparta, it seems like there are two or three miles of very welcome downhill. A huge park with baseball fields greets me as I enter Sparta. I pull into the pavilion, charge various devices and make some snacks. Two guys from the parks department show up to deal with a reported leak. Given the heat of the day and the lake sitting about twenty miles down the road, I ask for potential swimming opportunities. Turns out that the area’s best catfish basket is on the opposite site of the lake from the swimming hole. Lucky me!
Ragland Bottom Recreation area is recommended for swimming. I wrap up snack time quickly for the potential to break the heat swimming. Before that can happen, the heat beats on me for the next two hours. Still without shade, I finish most of my water before the ever-distant lake nears. Ten miles out, I start back towards the road from a gravel lot and feel a sharp pain in my afflicted knee. The sensation cuts like a knife below my knee cap for the next few pedal strokes. The pain lessens, but I must be careful to pull up, not push the pedal down. Eventually I pull off the road towards Ragland Bottom. The surrounding hills limit my ability to determine where the lake physically sits. I soon find that the lake is below me. As the road turns and descent steepens, I assume the worst, that the swimming area is FAR below me. With questionable knee strength and an unknown climb out of Ragland Bottom, the chance to swim does not seem so appealing. I turn around and hit granny gear to climb back out the relatively short distance.
Back on Route 70 towards the lake, my assumption is verified as another steep downhill appears. Steering the bike into the lane, I reach top speeds of 38 MPH or so, which cannot be sustained in the shoulder. Given the lack of space to the left and right and significant amount of debris on the shoulder, the lane affords me the ability to fire downhill safely. Once at the bridge, I cross with little effort and pull off into the Sligo Marina. The lake sits about 100 feet below the bridge. I would venture a guess that the eastern descent to the bridge was probably about 700 to 800 feet. A climb I happily avoided.
I quickly lock the bike and head into the Wheelhouse Restaurant taking in the Center Hill Lake views as my tired legs try to remain steady on the floating walk way. Taking reprieve in air conditioning, I find friendly servers with hearty servings of catfish available. I order a water, Coke, bag of ice for my knee and a catfish dinner platter. The server informs me there is 14 catfish strips, plus hush puppies, baked beans and coleslaw. This amount of food sounds adequate. I prop the knee, ice it and stare at the houseboats, jet skis and pontoon boats, wishing I could go out on one and jump in the water for a few minutes. This feeling remains as I slowly and steadily consume fried foods and liquids. The server offers to wrap up the remaining half of the meal. She is politely informed that will not be necessary.
I text Andy and let him know that my knee is tweaked yet again and another 40 miles to his parents is unlikely. A few photos are snapped on the docks outside the restaurant before I head back to the bike. The break was not long enough as when I began my ascent from the marina, I found that the temps had peaked. A long and slow climb had my forearms, legs and head drenched in no time. The “summit” came at the perfect moment and the flat grade that followed had me in Smithville in little time. I grabbed an ice coffee and more water at a McDonald’s and took a break from the heat. While the heat left me thirsty, it also left my seemingly weak knee feeling loose. It was at this time, I realized that Murfreesboro was not out of reach. I had about 30+ miles and four hours of daylight.
With new found conviction, I cruised up and over the hills of Route 70, enjoying the brief climbs and long descents. With Route 96 around the bend, I began to think how great the time in Tennessee had been. Met some interesting and sweet people, ate fantastic food, made tremendous progress and did not have any flats. My luck soon changed as my bike slowed half way to Murfreesboro on 96. The rear tire was the culprit yet again. On the side of the road, not a quarter mile from a gas station, I begin the familiar process. Pull of the bags, loosen the wheel, remove the tire and tube, replace tube, pump, etc. With the wheel back on, I flip the bike over. The tire seems softer than it did a minute before. I popped the new tube somehow. That or it was faulty. I repeat the process. In the 30 minutes it took to switch out two tubes, four people offered assistance. While I had all faculties to correct the issue, it kept spirits high in these frustrating times. I stop at the gas station for the restroom and a drink.
Starting back out again, the sun lowers in the sky and provides beautiful light along the countryside. Adding mileage and minutes, I realize my arrival time is now about 8:40 PM at average speeds, 40 minutes after sunset. The repairs and beverage now had me riding in the dark for the end of the trip. I texted Mrs. Reid, letting her know of my arrival time. I sped as fast as I could with the remaining light. The urge to stop to take a photo was present, but few locations offered inspiring enough views to extend the marathon day a minute longer, and certainly not enough to negate speeds obtained during downhills. A mile into the flat an opportunity arose and I snapped a few photos. The below photo is about 10 minutes before visibility all but disappeared. It captures the race against darkness in which darkness won.
My speeds slowed in the dark. Heavier traffic was oddly welcome as the passing headlights revealed shoulder conditions ahead of me. I did my best to avoid glass and rocks. With no remaining spare tubes, I prayed that the remaining ten miles would leave my wheels unmolested. Otherwise patching a tube in darkness would have been the next feat of the day. The tubes held and I entered civilization again. Upon entering the South on this trip, I believed that a functioning stop light was a true sign of a large town. Now engulfed in darkness, I realized that the true sign of civilization is street lights. With vast improvements in visibility, speeds picked up and I make my last turn into the Reid’s neighborhood. I find the familiar corner on which their home is situated and pull into the drive. Leaning my bike on the garage I head to the front door and ring the bell.
Mrs. Reid answers the door with a puzzled look on her face. It is apparent that she did not get the text from the seemingly homeless person standing before her. I bring her up to speed, grab a hug and she helps me bring my gear into the garage. Mr. Reid appears and we all catch up from our last meeting, their son and my friend’s wedding. As many times before, I am shown my bedroom, shower and have laundry in, in no time. Two frozen lasagnas are being heated and cold beers await. We chat as I methodically eat. It appears the Reids are inn keepers as another house guest appears and we introduce ourselves. The following days time frames are discussed as my hosts slowly retire for the evening. I watch TV and wind down. I am asleep on the couch within minutes. Luckily I awake and have enough strength left to get me to bed.
Day 26: Murfreesboro to Nashville (zero day)
I wake up LATE. The bed was comfortable, the house quiet and room cold. Fortunately these hosts didn’t have any major commitments until 2 PM that day. I get up around 11 AM and go downstairs. Mrs. Reid prepares a belated breakfast for me as she makes lunch for everyone else. I finish my waffles then move to the main table for a hot dog, potato and baked bean lunch. Severe storms bring massive amounts of thunder and water down. Lightening is off in the distance with no real sign of letting up. The Reid’s graciously offered a ride into the city and I accepted after completing 170 miles in two days.
I got dropped off in front of my good friend, Garland’s place where I would be staying for a few days. I say goodbye to Mr. Reid, extremely appreciative of the southern hospitality.
Nashville went a little something like this: Beer, BBQ, darts, music, sleep, dogs, beer, hot chicken, hockey, bike rides, dancing, Johnny Cash, repeat. Food cravings did not subside for the first three days or so until my body realized I would not be expending so much energy.
The week up North went something like this: family, friends, beer, weddings, birthday celebrations, seafood, beaches, music, Slightly Stoopid concert. Even though I left the insurance industry in April, I was invited to a bowling event in Philly. One host had read my blog and we got to chat a decent amount during the event. Another friend informed me that she met someone that had heard of my efforts this spring and summer.
It’s amazing to meet people and hear that my story is circulating. Always nice coming home! Though I will admit there was a fair amount of anxiety when landing in Philly. The feeling that I was being brought back to the beginning was somewhat unsettling. Fortunately I landed in Nashville yesterday.