Day 53 – north of Waverly TN to Paris TN

Knowing the condition of the roads leaving the housing development, we were eager to get moving. We mostly pushed our bikes over the loose, rocky gravel, up and down the steep hills, back the way we’d come. It took a long time.

crappy TN gravel road hannah pushing bike up hill in TN

Our host had suggested that the roads in the area often don’t match up with google directions, but was unable to elaborate. We weren’t interested in following the route from the previous evening back to a main road (too far out of our way, adding miles that simply weren’t easy), so we decided to take our chances. For the most part, we were content enough. There were still some steep roads, but the downhills often worked in our favor. Unfortunately, though, many of the roads were not paved, and that slowed us down. We got turned around a few times when directions didn’t quite work out, but with the river to the west, we didn’t get terribly lost.

rest stop near TN river tributary

switcing from gravel to paved in TN

hannah pushing bike up hill in TN gravel

hannah pedling in TN

Surly LHT in TN

The back roads dumped us out into a barely-there little town called Danville. Since we didn’t have much of a breakfast, we were eager for food. Though there wasn’t much in town, we did happen upon the Southernaire Motel and Restaurant along the road to the ferry. The restaurant was fairly special, catering to locals and travelers, including a group of Harley riders sporting hand guns who arrived shortly after we did. You may get an idea from the decor.

southernaire resort sign

liz with motorcycles

Refreshed from the nourishment, we rode back to the river at the ferry landing, where we waited in line. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the passengers included local traffic, a couple who’d driven up in their car from Memphis, and a group of teens/young adults on a varied collection of ATVs.

waiting for the Houston ferry in TN

riding the ferry in TN

One of the reasons we’d picked the route we’d picked leaving Nashville is that on google, it appeared as if a rail trail called the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Trail / Seaboard System Railroad Trail ran from the ferry landing on the far side of the river all the way into Paris, TN, in a direct (and flat) line. However, our warmshowers host in Paris had made sure to mention that the trail “wasn’t really useable” and had suggested we be prepared with alternate routes. We decided to explore the trail anyway. Though it appears to start quite near the ferry landing, google suggested we get on the trail where it crossed Bass Bay Road. Sure enough, when we got there and used the odometer to measure the distance we needed to go, the trail did exist. It crossed the road near there, though it was not obvious and wasn’t marked either. As we were crossing an inlet of the river–the trail did have a bridge with no guard rails–we were passed by the group of ATV riders from the ferry, who must have been locals and aware of how to access the trail nearer the ferry. The trail was also not in good shape. Within yards of riding, we had started hitting puddles, some of which covered the trail all the way across.

off roading trail short cut

liz riding off road trail

Worse, they were filled with stagnant, muddy water. This might have been fun on an ATV or even a mountain bike (not loaded with all your possessions), but it wasn’t fun for us.

hannah pushing bike around muddy puddle

dirty legs

Worse, if we dismounted to walk our bikes (trying to keep our feet from getting wet by stepping along grassy areas at the edge of the trail), great clouds of mosquitoes gathered, and pursued us relentlessly, trying to get in as many bites as possible. After doing this a handful of times, we decided to get back on the main road, even though there were no shoulders. While traffic was fairly slow because of the holiday, there was still an outsized number of pickup trucks hauling boats, which made rode sharing more complicated and less comfortable. We stopped for a snack in Big Sandy, where Elizabeth ate a great snack combo of beef jerky and Oreos.

afternoon snacks

muddy pake c'mute

liz riding in TN

We did talk to someone who was surprised to see us there, since they had also seen us riding earlier on the other side of the river. We also tried to sort out what if any differences there might be between taking 69A N (actual road) and 69 S (which is how google labeled it), which was slightly confusing. I don’t remember much else about the ride being eventful. Lots of trucks pulling boats. Hills. Signs marking “bike routes” that had small shoulders which were devoted to rumble strips. Oh yeah, it was also hot and humid. We made it to Paris and found our host, who was about our age and had been WWOOFing and is very into organic farming. His mom was also great–friendly and generous, and they had a small terrier. We really enjoyed them. With the heat, small dinner the previous night, small breakfast, and several days of hard riding (with no rest days since our day off in Jefferson City), Elizabeth seemed to be exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion. She drank her last PediaLyte over ice, and consequently was able to eat some of the dinner that our hosts had prepared for us. Our host was impressed that we’d found the railroad trail, and seemed interested in exploring it in the future. If anyone from the area around Paris, Springville, or Big Sandy, or anyone from Tennessee parks and recreation or a national rails-to-trail conservancy is interested in working on a public improvement project, revitalizing, marking, and maintaining the trail would be a great asset to the area, and it could definitely turn into something great for locals who like to run, walk their dogs, or take a nice bike ride. And with the ferry, it probably could also be a draw for cycle tourists. The grading is done, so it would need just a little more work to make the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Trail / Seaboard System Railroad Trail / Southern Railroad Trail to be the resource it could be.

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Day 52 – West Nashville, TN to Tennesse River Area

Since the weather promised to play  nice all day we felt capable of doing a longer mileage day. We had connected with a warm showers host near the Tennessee River who had a yard we could camp in and even though the ride there would be about 60 miles, and at least 40 of those miles would be on Route 70, we decided to do it.

Liz in TN

We ate breakfast with Bill and Sametta and then took a stroll around their beautiful gardens and finally set off a bit later than we expected.

route 70 in TN

Route 70 is not the worst road to pedal on. In fact, huge sections of it in Eastern TN were quite nice but the western portion was not quite up to par with the sections we’d already ridden. A couple of folks at a local farmer’s market warmed us of this. I think the comment they made was “Oh yeah, now you get to go up and down, and up an down and up and down.” They actually made is sound like driving it in a car would be tiresome, let alone on a bicycle. Well, they were not exaggerating.

Route 70 did go up and down for miles and miles and miles! Every time we’d crest the top of a hill and I’d look out to see what was next I’d see another hill. That wasn’t even the hard part. The rough part was that the view of the next hill looked EXACTLY like the last one. So after about 10 miles I started to to say things to myself like “Didn’t we just ride this hill? I think we just went up this hill.” It was monotonous to say the least and after two shots I stopped taking pictures because they would all look exactly like this one.

riding route 70 in TN near dickson

On the plus side, the grades were not that difficult and you could get up a lot of speed on the downhills that helped you up the next hill….but it might have been the first day I was bored on this trip. Actually, there was some action to mix the ride up a little bit. It looked like this.rumble stip in shoulder in TN

A 3 foot wide shoulder encumbered by high grasses hanging over it or crumbling pavement and a rumble strip inside of the shoulder that left about 6 inches of space to ride in was frequent.

There was plenty of heavy traffic as well and since it was the middle of Memorial Day weekend most of the traffic consisted of huge trucks hauling boats, campers and trailers full of off-road vehicles. It was scary at times and really started to take a toll on me after twenty miles. It was just too much to try and focus on staying in that six inch space while steering a weighted bike with trucks whizzing by at 55 mpr while trying to pedal uphill in the hot sun. We took stops often and kept trying to figure out another route but there was a lack of side roads in this part of TN. At least we were making good time.

We passed through Dickson, TN and made a stop for cold drinks and some Allegra cream for bee stings. Hannah got a wasp caught in her jersey on the way down one of the hills and got quite a sting out of it.

dickson TN wall art

As we sat on the concrete in the shade outside Walgreen’s I was feeling pretty mentally low. I just didn’t want to ride in the heat anymore. I didn’t want to ride on a busy road that wasn’t bicycle friendly that felt like an endless battle with traffic. I think Tennessee was starting to take it’s toll on me and I found myself wishing we had not chosen to ride in this state for so many miles. I think the state of TN alone is keeping the car companies in business with pick-up truck purchases. I come from rural area in PA with rough roads and hard winter weather where most folks actually need a truck to get around, so this isn’t a city girls perspective on the truck culture in TN. And they’re not just pick-up trucks; they are HUGE pick-up trucks with loud diesel engines that belch black smoke (since TN has no emissions testing/standards) every time they step on the gas…which they always do when they drive past someone riding a bicycle.

Alright, I had my rant now let me get to the rest of the day. Eventually we got off Route 70 and headed north along the river towards our host’s home. From here we took a series of smaller back roads that were fairly quiet though some what hilly. This part of the ride was enjoyable despite our being hot and tired and having already ridden about 45 miles. Here’s a video I shot of part of the ride so you can see how nice it was.

After that it got a lot worse. The fellow we were staying with lives out on the edge of the river and the last 7 miles included some huge ups and downs at grades close to 12%. They were not something we could ride at this point in the day but had I known what was to come I would have been doing a dance of joy because they were at least paved.

Hannah riding on TN back road

The last two miles were not paved but were gravel roads that were made from thick, chunky, river rock and sand that saw so little traffic that they are not hard-packed at all.

hannah on gravel road in TN

I know it looks pretty in these pictures but neither of us cared about pretty views at this stage in the day.

crappy gravel road near TN river

The hills were so steep and the road material so loose we couldn’t ride down them with a loaded bike and 35mm tires. What’s worse than pushing a loaded touring bike up hill? Having to walk one down hill. I wish I had taken more shots of what it was like but I was in such a foul mood at this point it didn’t occur to me to record it. It wasn’t just the road either. The mosquitoes were out in full force and walking a bike isn’t fast enough to avoid them AND the directions from our host to reach his home were sketchy (no road signs or markings at numerous intersections???) AND it was staring to get dark.

I won’t go into too much detail about our host but it was the only poor experience we had with a warmshowers host during this trip and not just due to the location and road conditions to reach his home. We found out later that he isn’t a cyclist at all and doesn’t even own a bike. Well, that was sort of obvious because if you did live on a road like his and you did ride a bike you would have mentioned the road conditions in your WS profile or to us via the exchanged emails and the couple of phone calls we’d had. Okay, so I’m still bitter about it and need to move on. This is definitely a first world cycling issue. No one was sick and no one’s life was in danger.

In the end we camped and I fell asleep looking forward to waking up and getting to push my bike back up the steep, two miles of gravel road to get us back on a paved road.

The End of the Road…

Hello all!

We just wanted to let everyone know we are currently done riding. We had to make a decision to end the trip about 2 weeks ago. It was a tough decision to make since neither of us feel like we are done riding our bikes around but there were plenty of factors (severe weather on a daily basis, a serious family medical condition, finances and a cross country move, etc) that had to be weighed and we decided the best option was to call the trip finished in Missouri.

bicycles on overpass in Missouri

We will finish posting each day of the trip on this blog so you can follow it to the end and we still have a ton of great pictures to post! We will be heading back to PA later this week and moving out to Santa Fe, NM in July. Once we’ve established ourselves in Santa Fe we’ll start blogging again about daily rides, commuting by bike in Santa Fe and hope to be exploring the southwest by bicycle or scooter as often as possible. I also hope to record some more complete thoughts on bicycle travel in the US now that I have more time to reflect and write.

A huge thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and helped us along the way! We can’t express how much we appreciate having met each of you and even though this trip was intended to be about bicycling, in the end it’s true strength was about the people we met along the way. I hope we are able to reconnect with all of you at some point and we look forward to getting together with those of you we didn’t see on this trip.

Ciao!

Day 51 East Nashville, TN to West Nashville, TN

After a day of long miles we decided to do a short day that included spending some time in downtown Nashville. We took a relaxing morning by sleeping in and then eating at a French restaurant called Marche located just around the corner from their home. The food was delicious and the atmosphere very enjoyable. The entire neighborhood of East Nashville was quite to our liking due to modest sized homes that were each individual, good walk/bike infrastructure and a great offering of smaller, family owned shops, galleries and eateries.

After eating we stopped in at the local bike shop, Eastside Cycles, to look for a specific rear view mirror that fit my drop-style handlebars. I had discovered one that worked (Blackburn Road Mirror) around my bar end shifters while we were in Delaware and have been really pleased with it. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, on a very windy day, I had propped the bike up only to have the wind knock it down and snap the mirror off. Not having a rear view mirror while touring makes you feel pretty exposed. Amazingly, they had the same mirror at Eastside Cycles! I say amazingly because most folks don’t need this type of mirror because they don’t use bar end shifters, making it an uncommon model for shops to stock.

Pleased with my find, we headed back to our guests home, said our goodbyes and headed for downtown.

riding to downtown nashville

liz on nashville bike bridge

There was no question as to whether or not we were in the right place when we got to the strip. It was around noon on a Friday and people were already partaking of the “Pedal Tavern” and frequenting the many restaurants, bars and an amazing candy shop where you can watch them make taffy. They also have a bike share program and there was live music EVERYWHERE!

downtown nashville TN

national guitar

nashville bike share

honky tonk

wandering nashville TN

We each ate some ice cream and wandered up and down the streets until we realized we were going to be late to our next host’s home if we didn’t get some miles covered.

ice cream

There were plenty of bike paths, bike lanes and marked bike routes throughout downtown Nashville and even the roads with heavier traffic made for easy riding.

west nashville TN area

About two miles from our destination we gave our hosts a ring to let them know we were on our way. Bill hopped on his bike and rode down to meet us. It was nice to have some company to the top of the long, steep hill that leads to their home. When we arrived Sametta was making delicious, Mexican food and after much needed showers we relaxed with them over dinner while they entertained us with stories of their previous tours, races and local involvement with the bike club in their area, which (If I remember correctly) they started. (Yes, that was quite the run-on sentence) Later on we took a close look at their awesome bike garage/workshop and I drooled over a titanium Moots bike of Bill’s and a Velo Orange front rack and handlebar bag system that Bill had on his Surly LHT.

Ah, you just can’t have too many bicycles.

Day 50 – Carthaghe TN to Nashville TN

Even though no serious storms passed through, we were still glad to be inside for the night. A local the previous evening had recommended we camp under a bridge and hang out at the laundromat all night. Really, our cheap motel room in Carthage didn’t have much more to offer than the basics. Additionally, there was the view, which included a series of interesting cloud formations:

view from motel, Carthage TN

clouds

The other entertaining part was that there were tons of handwritten signs at the motel. The two older women who were running it looked like they’d never touched a computer. Even the channel guide for the TV was handwritten on a piece of paper. Some of the rules posted in the motel office included priceless advice like, if you forget your room key, don’t break the door handle to get back in your room. And don’t flush food and garbage down the toilet.

Anyhow, the bridge we normally would have taken out of town was under construction, so we backtracked a little and left the way we came in.

route 70 in Tennessee

The ride on 70W from Carthage to Lebanon wasn’t awesome. There were many places with narrow shoulders and heavier traffic, and many otherwise acceptable shoulders were partially dedicated to rumble strips.

We stopped for lunch in Lebanon TN, where there was a nice community park with a bike path running through it.

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Lebanon TN

Lebanon TN

There was a police officer patrolling the park on bike, which we hadn’t really seen before, and we were even able to lend a tool to a local cyclist whose handlebars were loose.

SAM_0568

After the park, we got back on 70W. Even though it was marked as a bike route, we rode on the sidewalks because the traffic was heavy and there was no suitable shoulder. But eventually, a shoulder reappeared, and by the time we reach Mt. Juliet, we had a very nice bike lane to ride in.

taking a break

actual bike lanes in Tennessee

There was a chance of thunderstorms, so we watched the sky all day. As we got nearer to Nashville, it seemed like it might rain. We actually got offered a ride and place to stay from two different locals on our way into town, which was a first for us!

Fortunately, it didn’t pour where we happened to be when we happened to be there. Instead, the sky cleared, and suddenly we could see the Nashville skyline.

approaching Nashville

Just as traffic began to get crazy, we saw a pedestrian bridge next to the traffic bridge–we had found the greenway where it crosses Stones Creek. However, it wasn’t well marked from the road, so we had to flag down a runner to tell us which way to go.

The greenway runs to downtown Nashville. Our Warm Showers hosts lived in east Nashville, not too far from the endpoint. And, even better, the greenway was a portioned of a well-marked bicycle route through the city, the Music City Bikeway, which runs in an east-west direction. Cyclists can bypass most of the bad traffic in Nashville by staying on it. It may not have been flat, but it was a welcome relief after 70W.

SAM_0572

The multiuse trail also included this pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River.

Music City Bikeway in Nashville

The bridge took us to the Shelby Bottoms nature area, which was lovely to ride through.

Music City Bikeway in Nashville

We got a little turned around in Shelby Park, but we eventually found our way into east Nashville. We enjoyed riding through the area, which seemed to have great character and be undergoing an urban revitalization.

Our hosts were Alan and Michaela, who were great people. I am going to let Elizabeth write more about them and their cat.

Day 49 Cookeville, TN to Carthage, TN

Again, we watched the weather in the morning to see what might be in store for us in the afternoon. More storms were in the forecast but at this point they were tapering off and the next few days would be clear again. We decided to head to Carthage, TN which is about a 30 mile ride. This would get us into a town with coverage from high wind and hail by early afternoon, should another strong storm pass through the region.

Most of the days ride was gradually downhill and once again we would spend most of the 30 miles on Route 70.

70W in TN

SAM_0533

We passed through the small town of Baxter which is mostly what you see in this photo. There was a public restroom inside a renovated train station, much to our relief.

Baxter TN

A good portion of the days ride was also stressful as the sky remained stormy in appearance and clouds continued to build through the morning. We didn’t take many breaks for this reason but I had to grab a quick shot of this historic marker of the last stagecoach hold up!

last stagecoach hold up sign

riding to Carthage TN

Route 96 in TN

entering Carthage TN

Once we arrived in Carthage we stopped at the first soda machine we saw for a Coke and then rode up the street to the local police station and asked about the weather forecast for the afternoon and places to camp/stay the night in the area. The women working the main office was very friendly and helpful. There was no mention of camping but there was a Budget Inn and she called for pricing, etc. After some general chit chat and directions we headed to Main street to see a bit of the town.

Al Gore grew up in Carthage, TN and we found this store on the Main drag. I think it had closed but the front window sign still remains.

IMG_8405

We had passed the Gore family farm and the house he grew up in earlier in the day before we rode into town. I didn’t take a picture since it looked just like every other house in the area and wasn’t that interesting.

From there we wandered along to a Sonic and bought huge shakes. I had Strawberry Banana and Hannah had Mocha with Caramel. They were quite good but I think outside of riding I might avoid this sort of thing and think it too sweet, too heavy and too big.

Sonic shake snack

Eventually we made our way to the other end of town and the Budget Inn, becoming our old standard at this point. We booked a room at $40 a night and spent the rest of the evening resting. We ate pretty poorly. There was no grocery store or simple restaurant to eat at so we ended up with McDonalds and gas station snacks. We definitely felt it the next day. Yuck.

Day 48 – Sparta TN to Cookeville TN

Because of the daily thunderstorms and the bike problems (flats, a weak chain link), we decided to do a reroute through Cookeville TN, since they had two bicycle shops.

The ride from Sparta to Cookeville was actually quite nice, since there is a direct four lane highway with ample shoulders between the two towns. The road still featured hills, but all the grades were manageable and we made great time.

Route 111 TN

TN country side

When we got into town, I took the “bicycle shops” phone book page Mary had ripped out for us into a gas station and asked for directions.

We also ate some delicious cookies that our host, Mary, had made just for us!

Mary's homemade energy cookie

The bicycle shop that seemed easiest to find was Cookeville Bicycles. It wasn’t hard to find, but overall, and despite a few bicycle route signs, Cookeville was one of the least bicycle friendly towns we’d been in on this trip–lots of busy roads with no shoulder.

Cookeville bicycles had a great selection of bicycles, parts, accessories, and clothing. The employees were able to assess and repair our bikes right then and there, which was a relief. I picked out a new chain and rear cassette and two cycling jerseys so that my lower back would stop getting sunburnt, and Elizabeth got new tires, for hers were beginning to dry rot. We split a set of tire liners (Stop Flats or Mr. Tuffy, I believe), to be inserted between the tube and tires on our rear wheels.

Cookeville Bicycles work shop

cookeville bike shop

Interestingly, the bike shop tech had the same problem with a spontaneously exploding tube that Elizabeth had when changing her flat in Oak Ridge. However, it was the front wheel this time. We’ve speculated/concluded that the way the stock rims on the Surly fit tires makes them more prone to tube pinching. And it was nice to know that if it was user error, it wasn’t just us being inexperienced.

SAM_0525

Fortunately, none of our problems were as bad as this next bike, which another customer brought in while we were waiting:

mangled front wheel at Cookeville Bikes

We had a great time chatting with the store’s owner(?) or manager(?), who also gave us tips on where to head next for lunch. Here’s a picture that Cookville Bicycles took of us, once we were ready to go:

cookeville bicycles

Since we had missed lunch, eating was next on our agenda, so we headed to the downtown square area and got sandwiches. Then we went upstairs to Cookeville’s Outdoor Experience, a hiking/backpacking/caving/climbing/paddling and general outdoors store. While we were inside, the afternoon thunderstorm we were expecting approached–warnings were being issued for damaging winds and hail. The employees let us stash our bikes inside, which was a huge relief since we’d just had them overhauled.

So, we hung out inside and waited for the storm.

IMG_8381

stormy sky heading our way

Cookeville TN

The storm did not severely hit Cookeville, but we were still glad to have been safe inside. While we were waiting, Elizabeth also got to practice a climbing technique–frog style ascending.

Outdoor Experience, Cookeville TN

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After the skies cleared, we rode back to the other side of town and found a hotel room for the night, as we were tired from our previous day’s ride up the Cumberland plateau, still quite hungry, and unwilling to risk more storms. We went out for Italian food and hoped for better weather.

Day 47 Harriman, TN to Sparta, TN

In the morning we ate the included breakfast at our hotel and watched the weather. It looked to be less wet and less windy but there was a good bit of fog.

foggy ride in Harriman TN

We made good time riding along the valley but knew the flats were due to end as we approached the Cumberland Plateau. The ride up the plateau was not as bad as we thought it might be but I think this was because we are in better shape and more used to riding now. Had we had to do this long climb a month ago we would most likely have been pushing the bikes up part of it or taking frequent stops to rest. The overall grade was quite nice and there was a shoulder, although it was narrow in places and had a lot of debris from yesterday’s storms in it.

TN cumberland plateau

The climb was about 10 miles long and when we reached the top it certainly flattened out.

riding on rt 70 TN

There were plenty of places that were dealing with flooding from the storms but the weather was really clearing up to blue skies and sunshine. This photos is of a low lying area in Crab Orchard, TN that had a road going through it to cross under the rail road tracks.

flooding in crab orchard TN

That afternoon we passed through some small towns and noticed that all the buildings were made of a brightly colored stone. I assumed it was being quarried locally because when I say all the buildings were made from it, that’s exactly what I mean. Gas stations, houses, small businesses. The stone was beautiful in color and reminded me of the south west. I later asked a local about it and they said it was quarried in middle Tennessee by digging out under the large strata deposits and knocking huge layers of rock off from underneath. It resulted in large, thick slabs of rock that are perfect for building with. Here’s a picture of a building (maybe an old theater?) made from this rock.

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The afternoon riding was relaxing but since we did a short day yesterday we were heading all the way to Sparta, TN today and there was still a long way to go at 3pm.

Riding to Sparta TN

The last 7 miles or riding included a massive downhill, within the plateau, that ended up being difficult because trying to ride downhill at 25 mph with controlled braking for a good 5 miles was hard work. Some of the roads we took were not in great shape and we had to be real careful to keep to slower speed that wouldn’t “unhorse” us as we traveled over cracked pavement.

At one point we realized we were on a road that had been closed due to construction of some sort. We decided to continue on and see if it was passable on a bike.

closed TN road machinery

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As you can see it was just passable for a bike but not for a car.

At the bottom of the descent we found ourselves on the outskirts of Sparta and headed to the Walgreens where we were to meet our ride to our host for the night. We had contacted a warmshowers host in Sparta who was unable to house us for the night. However, he did have a friend who was able to host us. Her name is Mary and her friend Ben was able to pick us up with his truck in Sparta.

Mary and Ben were excellent hosts and we had a very enjoyable evening with them while relaxing on the back porch. Mary made an excellent dinner including a beautiful dessert that I snapped this shot of before I wolfed it down.

Mary's dessert