Child-like giddiness rounds into a meditative stare with accompanying perm-a-grin as the miles melt away. The farther I ride, I notice the density of buildings dwindle and feel the tension fall away as I’m greeted by the new, surrounding green.
(Okay, let us dispense with the coffee shop prose and move on to the embellished story telling.) Mountains, curves, and breathtaking views lead me to a need for gas on the rim of nowhere. I know my upcoming turn will lead to a very isolated section of mountain, so I ride past the turn in search of fuel. 1 mile, 5 miles… Bullheadedness sets in. I’ll run the tank dry and fucking walk if need be, but I WILL find gas! Finally a dingy building appears. I swerve off the road to the pumps. Upon dismount I’m stung by some unnecessary insect. I do the required “I’ve been stung” dance, throwing my jacket to the ground while spinning madly and ripping up my shirt to survey the damage. Not bad, I’ll live, but I’ll have a throbbing reminder for a few miles. After a quick look to make sure there are no witnesses to my impromptu dancing, I get on with gassing up. The pumps are “old school” so I walk in to the windowless building to pay. I wait for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit space…… 40 items on 20 shelves and 3 obese redneck women who are all staring my way. “Um… Can I get some gas?”… stare… blink… stare… “haw haw… no.” Awkward pause. “We ain’t got nun.” Great. I’m told 4 more miles are required to end my quest. I turn back out to the midday sun and the wagging tail of a stray puppy. Not now, Cuteness. I’m on a mission. Finally gassed up, I ride the 15 stubborn miles back to my turn onto hwy 53. After resuming my planned route, I see a gas station half a mile from the turn… I choose laughter over weeping.
53 is stunning. Winding and gorgeous. It is hard to get photos on snaking mountain roads but here are a few at lower elevations.
Stopped and spent $4.50 on “spicy chicken” (a.k.a. MSG nuggets) in Gainesboro TN.
After lunch I found the best graffiti ever!
I continue to hwy 135 that follows the bends of the river. After a few miles I find the old tree and cemetery that mark my turn farther off the beaten path. I have no idea what to expect. The Google Street View vehicle must have heard banjos and made a U-turn. While planning, I had seen a small squiggle running up a mountain and had to add it to my route. Bad road soon turns to no road and a large grin creeps across my face as I come across this sign:
This what I came for! The reason I bought a KLR! The reason … Hey it’s over. A short twisting climb to a pretty good view but… That’s it. Not the stuff I get all misty-eyed over while reading endless ADV and trip blogs. Well shit. (Wait, regroup… Ah! Here we go) a union of man and machine locked together, battling a relentless battering of jagged rocks and loose dirt. My white-knuckled death grip on the handlebars are the only thing between me and the savage beating that Mother Nature’s vengeful earth would deal me with the slightest mistake. (I wonder if the blog guys lie as well?)
After risking life and limb, on what from here forward will be referred to as Dead Man’s Pass, I make my way to Big South Fork to set up camp for the night. After eight hours on the road I am ready for food and sleep.
Out of the boots and into the Teva’s
I found some hammock friendly trees and setup. I dropped into my nylon cocoon to take a short break when.. plunk “What was…” Plunk. Plunk. “..that?”. It seemed that my trees of choice were in a rush to pass on their heritage one or two falling nuts at a time. Realizing that this would not be conducive to sleep I put up my rain tarp and moved on to dinner: cheese sticks, flatbread, Nutella and red wine.
I noticed (hard not to) the bear-proof trash cans, food bunkers and laminated warning info screwed to the table that indicated there may be bears in this park. A paranoid person by nature, this would have cost me sleep, but I was lucky. There were dogs in both camps surrounding mine AND I came prepared with my handy bear rape whistle. With a good book and a flashlight I turned in for the night. Side note: I decided that bears could probably smell red wine for miles, so, for safety’s sake, I finished it.
Morning comes and I awake, refreshed and beautiful.
Yep, bike and gear still here.
And I remain unmolested (thanks to my handy bear rape whistle.)
Pack up and greet nature. A short hike and a visit to an overlook, then off to the other side of the park to Oneida, Tennessee for gas.
Oneida.The skies darken, the temperature takes a nose dive, and the wolves gather in search of easy prey. In my youth I had a car that blew a hole in a valve cover here. Spent a hellish four days in waiting and deemed it the village of the damned. I had since attributed that to the overactive imagination of youth but now.. I’m not so sure. As I gas up, every passing bumpkin grins a twisted grin and makes a comment like “Ya have rain gear?” “‘Gonna get reeeeal cold ya know!” ” You got a purdy mouth.” Okay, I made up the last one but you get the idea. I quickly pull out my iPhone, check the weather, book a hotel room in Cookeville, drop the bike in gear and begin to put miles between me and this godforsaken dot on the GPS. I vow never to return and try my best to encourage a government air strike before the zombies spread.
The more distance I rode, the more the skies began to clear but it remained a little cold. My mesh gloves were useless and I refused to stop to retrieve my fleece jacket from my bag. Press on. The flattening landscape gave no shelter from the gusting winds occasionally kicking the bike sideways. I learned to brace myself whenever I saw a line of trees coming to an end. Press on. I was distracted from my discomfort by a .. Motorcycle?.. Passing the other way. It appeared to be a three wheeler covered with a long purple shell that completely covered the bike as well as the two large rear tires. The driver waved, I waved back, then spent the next half mile wondering…. Did I just wave to a giant purple dildo? Press on.
Cookeville. Cheap hotels and bourbon. Feels right.
The nice Indian man gave me the room key. I quickly unloaded the bike, filled the tub with hot water, iced some whisky, and melted. I awoke, called a cab, and headed to dinner at a local Cajun restaurant.
Full house but the bar worked fine. Calfkiller beer, crawfish etouffee and conversations about piercings and the trappings of modern life. I caught a cab back to the hotel ($4 flat rate, anywhere in town) and rested up for my last day’s ride.
Sunrise at a cheap hotel. Enjoy the complementary breakfast – stale bagel – load the bike, and hit the road. This part of the journey will take me south of I-40 through the Center Hill Lake area and wind down to Woodbury, Tennessee.
After a few uneventful miles I found myself on a strange bit of back road that took me straight towards a small cinderblock building with aging Harleys out front. A half wall separated me and a handful of real bikers. This wasn’t the bar-hopping “hell’s accountants” native to my suburban neighborhood. This was the 1%-ers. Real bikers. As I closed the distance between me and the MC I noticed they all turned to look at me. Shit. There was a pause, for what seemed like a year, with this gang eyeing me in my bright red jacket, on my bright red bike. Then one of them held his beer aloft. Then another, and another. Soon the full club was toasting me as I rode past. (Mind you it was 10 am, but who am I to judge the drinking habits of others.) I gave them a return wave and grinned for the next mile.
Not only was the road leading to Woodbury beautiful, but apparently they also love bikers. How do I know? Check out this sign:
It’s a tad fuzzy so I recreated it here:
After a few hours of snaking through pastoral bliss, with bacon in mind, I stopped in the charming little town of Woodbury for lunch on the square.
After lunch, I suffered Murfreesboro’s and Franklin’s stop-and-go traffic, then rolled up just in time for the last hit of my son’s baseball game. America, baseball, and motorcycles – the perfect end to my maiden journey.