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On Saturday, the 6th of September, C. and I headed out from Blacksburg bound for Nashville. I had a Sept. 14th rendezvous with three friends south of that city at a B&B near the top of the Natchez Trace Parkway; C. was planning to meet a fellow from Arizona in Nashville, with the intent of all six of us heading south together.
It was well after 10AM when we hit the road, much too late for my taste, but so be it. Since C. used to live in the area, she had many friends she wanted to try to see. In the town of Pulaski, we stopped at her old job site, and while she yakked I headed down the road to a buffet where she later joined me. Then on to Wytheville, where we camped for the night in the back yard of another friend. We passed several large furniture manufacturers and yardage mills. The next morning's departure was just as late, as we continued to follow route 11 southbound. We reached Abingdon, a charming town, around 6PM, did some grocery shopping, and on the advice of a local, set up our tents behind their lovely new swim center which had just closed. It was pleasant and quiet, and in the morning we paid a guest fee to swim a bit and use their showers before heading out at 9:15. Getting better.
We skirted around the northwest side of Bristol rather than through town, and crossed into Tennessee, where we continued to follow 11W into Kingsport, where I'd arranged a homestay with folks from the LAB hospitality book. We puttered around town a bit shopping and doing laundry, and then headed up the hill to our hosts, smashingly delightful people with a charming home. They fed us royally, and provided separate bedrooms for us. It was a warm and convivial evening. We departed, again at 9:15, in a morning rain. Not excessive, but definitely there. I was hoping, as we continued, that we would bypass Knoxville to the northwest; I had no desire at all to go into any large urban area unnecessarily, but C. had another friend there and was interested in visiting him. We left this unresolved.
C. and I did not ride together; our paces were not similar, nor were our stopping/eating patterns. I found her waiting for me at a gas station about 10:30, and mentioned that if the rain continued I would opt to get a room in Rogersville. That would give us a 40 mile day. 60-70 miles in the rain just ain't my cup o' tea. She wasn't sure she'd want to stop that soon, but we set up a rendezvous point there anyway, and off she went. It continued to rain and stop, rain and stop, until a veritable downpour began. At times I literally could not see. I could not find C. at the rendezvous point, so I found the motel, got a room, and began a long process of drying out everything and cleaning up the bike. The only food reachable in the rain was a McDonalds across the street ... not what I would have chosen were there a choice.
C. was carrying a cell phone, and we had made a phone rendezvous date, as well as the physical one which didn't work out. So at the appointed time in the late afternoon I called her, and it actually worked -- the only time it did, as it all turned out. She was, at that time, about 6 or 7 miles further down the road dealing with a flat tire in the rain; she'd stopped for lunch earlier, and I guess I didn't spot her bike, either because visibility was so bad or I just wasn't looking for it (or both). She still wanted to get in more miles, and said she'd call me later. I then made a slew of calls about renting a car to get to Nashville. Our Kingsport day had been on the short side (as had the previous two, because of late departures), and now this short bad-weather day confirmed that I probably wouldn't be able to ride all the way to Nashville and get there in time to get my bike serviced and make the rendezvous. I planned to ride as far as possible -- perhaps to Cookeville or Lebanon -- and then get a car. But my phone research negated that plan neatly: I found there are only four places in Tennessee where you can get a one-way rental car ... Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. So I would have to go to Knoxville after all, and pick up a car there. That meant 200 miles of driving, instead of riding most of it. It would also get me to Nashville two days early, instead of one day late. Since being late was not an option -- the people I was meeting were on a tight schedule -- I had no real choice here (except perhaps to ride it and hitch the last part, which I didn't want to do). This was a direct outcome of my choice in Blacksburg to wait for C. I don't know whether I'd have chosen differently there had I known I'd have to get the car in Knoxville, but I hope I would have.
C. called very late, in the middle of a huge thunderstorm and downpour. She was in her tent in a semi-deserted campground about ten miles south, shivering in the rain and lightning. Not at all where I would want to be. I told her I was heading into Knoxville the next day, and would go straight out to the airport (only place to get a one-way car) and stay out there, to pick up the car the following morning. She didn't want to drive to Nashville, and since her connection there was a bit more fluid than mine, she had that option. I told her I'd look for her in the morning as I rode south: since I like to start earlier, that should work out well. We made a morning phone date, and I flaked out. The storm continued all night, awakening me occasionally. I was VERY glad that I wasn't camping. The morning phone date did not work, so I left a bit before 8AM after suiting up. It was still raining. After a few miles I stopped to call C.'s home machine and leave a message, and a fellow in a business van offered to drive me a few miles south to his turnoff. This I accepted, and scanned the road for the campground, which I never spotted. The countryside was green and lovely, with rolling hills and frequent flocks of migrating Canada geese.
The sky was clearing when I mounted up again, with a sneaky feeling that I'd missed C.; I dearly hoped that she would not sit there waiting for me to appear. I continued to ride south, stopping at phones when I found one (very infrequently) to leave a progress report on her home machine. When I stopped for a bite in Rutledge, Tennessee, her machine had a message back for me, so at least I knew that this system of communication was working.
As I unchained the bike in Rutledge, a pleasant-looking gentleman approached me to talk about bike touring. After several minutes and the usual where are you coming from, going, living, we discovered that we had both attended the same university at the same time in northern California. That was a surprise. He and his wife had lived within a very few miles of where I still live. So then we had an old home week session -- they now live outside of Rutledge and love it -- and much time passed before I headed out of town.
The sky opened up again, and I fled into an open and empty carport to wait it out. Onward. At the next downpour I found an empty machine shop bay. So between phone calls, rain stops, wetsuit offs and ons, it was a very fragmented day but a wonderfully stimulating ride. I liked being alone. Strangers respond differently to solo travelers. And it was still such a joy to be on surface roads riding through real life. It was 4:30 when I got to the edge of Knoxville and began a 17-mile circle route around the city to the south; then on down a heavily trafficked commercial road to the airport environs, where the first three motels I stopped at were full. I finally got a room at a shabby Ramada, and immediately called C. to let her know where I was and encourage her to join me. I still felt guilty about having blown our hook-up, probably by taking the van ride. Clean-up, laundry, dinner, zonk. Sixty-three miles of start-stop, wet-dry, yakkety-yak, and heavy traffic at the end.
In the morning C. and I finally connected by phone. She had not waited for me at camp, but had left when she was ready, i.e., around 11AM, and was generally about two and a half hours behind me all day. She didn't go to her friend's, but camped in a churchyard on the north side of town, and would now head west towards Nashville. I picked up the car and headed west, driving the road I should have been cycling: highway 70. When I have the time, I avoid freeways and interstates, and I had the time. Got to Nashville late in the afternoon, found the bike shop and a room, and frittered away the evening. In the morning I did a 30 mile ride in the hills east of town, left the bike at the shop, vacated my room, and went to the airport to pick up Todd, the first of my three companions for the next stage of the trip. We settled in at the motel he'd reserved and went downtown for the afternoon. In the evening, Ed, another one of our party arrived, along with a friend of Todd's. The next day and evening the four of us spent being tourists, and the following day -- Sunday -- the friend departed and Todd, Ed and I rode southwest out of town to a B&B in the community of Linton, where we hooked up with the fourth member of our party: a woman named Stefan from Washington D.C. In the evening I called C.'s contact place and learned they were expecting her later that night. I told them I'd call again in the morning. END PART TWO
© 1997 BFZ
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