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