It was fourteen degrees, light breeze and sunny, perfect for riding and complemented the Nashville experience which we had all enjoyed. As we have moved north and then east from the Gulf area we all managed to understand the people better and they could understand us as well.
Tennessee continued with the bike signs coming out of the city. There wasn’t much logic to where they were sometimes though, it still seemed to be random placement of bike route signs in some areas. We didn’t see any other bikes for two days until a couple of guys out training appeared in the Kingston area.
The country heading east is a bit like paddling up most rivers. As you get fitter, the river gets harder and each time I reckoned I was done with going up hills another one would appear. I take back everything I said about Davy Crocket. There are mountains in Tennessee. They are not fun. I am not a cyclist.
Klaas was hopeless at organising the right winds for me. After battling a head wind he said he would sort out a tail wind. This he did, proudly boasting of his expertise. It was fine for an hour or so but that was it, head and cross winds again. He then reckoned that was what I deserved and it would make me a man. The way to get the miles done is to just keep at it, take whatever comes and put the hours in. There has to be a limit though, so we set it at about 62 miles (100km) per day. My speed was back to 8mph with all the hills so that was about eight hours on the bike. When you think that Pat Farmer ran over 80km/day from the top of the earth to the bottom, my effort is pretty lame. When I think of Bradley and Seda (family) riding from Harrington to the top of North Brother Mountain and back in a day, I feel pretty lame. It will be nice to eventually get back into the kayak doing something that I am better at.
On the map was a small place called Chestnut Mound. The climb up was the longest so far. Just when I thought it was getting easier and was about to roll over the top I would go around another bend and the road would get steeper. “Mound,” I thought, “that sounds like a hill. Hills have tops so the down run should be fun.” After 30km of riding along a hilly ridge that idea was long gone. Cookeville was just up ahead so we called it a day, tied the bike onto the front of the Ford and zipped down to the I40 to get a motel.
A couple of kilometres later the battery light came on. We made it to the motel, rang Ford which turned out to be half a kilometre away, and I took it round to them while Klaas stayed behind. Because the headlights are on all the time the battery was rapidly draining so when I pulled in there were probably only one or two starts left in the battery. It was about 5.00pm but a lovely woman called Karen said that they would look at it at 7.30 in the morning. I unstrapped the bike and rode back to the motel where we ordered pizzas for dinner and watched a couple of movies.
True to Karen’s word they got stuck in at 7.35am, fitted a new alternator and a new battery, and it was ready to go before 9.00am meaning almost no disruption to riding. We have had mixed service in America with phones, data services, sports and outdoors shops, and even Walmart, but every Ford experience has been good. They are not cheap, but for what you get they are not expensive either.
Highway 70 is a lot longer than the I40 for about 30km after Cookeville but much less traffic and mainly just a rural road, pretty much up and down like it was coming towards town. Maybe it was my imagination but I still had the feeling that there were a lot more ups than downs. It is interesting that mentally there had been many more lows than highs but that’s another part of the story. The sign coming into Monterey proudly boasts “where the hilltops kiss the sky” and it certainly felt like it. Perhaps mountains would have been a better word but hills was good enough.
We stopped in Monterey for a shake. Shakes are thick in America, even thicker than our thick shakes so you spend the whole of the drink with your cheeks sucked right in like egg cups. We had peanut butter flavouring which turned out to be surprisingly good. Not sure what good the sucking exercise is though, unless we needed to siphon a petrol tank maybe.
Monterey to Crossville is like riding along the top of the world even though you are not very high up. The trees were well behind the others we had come across in that the spring leaves were just starting. It wasn’t cold but it felt bleak compared with what we had been through. The whole area looked like a big wind had come in from the North East blowing trees down and shearing off branches. An internet search later showed that a huge storm had wiped out a lot of the Cumberland Plateau in February.
At Ozone Falls I was intrigued by a sign near the bridge coming into town. Klaas had stopped, so we took a break to investigate. About 100m off the road is a spectacular waterfall. The locals said they had just received rain and this was as good as the falls get. Klaas being who he is could not help standing right near the edge for a photo. There is no way that somewhere like that would be unfenced and un-signposted in Australia. Here, you could just walk down the track and straight off the edge if you were that stupid.
After a lot more smallish hills and then a bigger one we passed below Mt Roosevelt. Again we took time off to zip up to the top for a look. I certainly wasn’t going to ride up there although coming back down would have been exhilarating. You can see lots of water from up there, all of it lakes associated with dams. The eastern side of Tennessee is covered in dams.
Plunging down from the base of the mountain is about a quarter of coming off our East Coast escarpments, lots of fun but put into that perspective not all that impressive despite feeling like I had ridden to the top of the world. The bottom area was flat for many miles as the road wound around the lake areas of Rockwood and Kingston. Interestingly Rockwood was a dry county until six years ago and there are still dry counties in Tennessee.
It rained during the night so the next morning was a foggy start with expectations of a drenching as thunderstorms were forecast. The terrain was flat and there was no wind so the plan was to get as many miles down as quickly as possible. The temperature was twelve degrees but it rapidly warmed up, the road dried out and the sun shone again. Now that was a pleasant surprise.
Highway 70 is full of surprises. I was glad of that, sort of pleased that our maps were very limited. Farragut looked like any other small town on the map. Riding along the country road very wealthy subdivisions appeared. They were in communities with large, expensive looking houses. One after the other they appeared which was pretty strange being in the middle of nowhere. It gradually became evident though that I wasn’t far from somewhere big as I came into town. Farragut is big. It is wealthy. Large BMW, and other European car dealerships, same huge shops spread out just like in Texas, but with trees everywhere. It exudes affluence.
After another hour of riding the city just seemed to keep going. The wealthy look disappeared so I assumed that was just evidence of which side of town I was on. Eventually a sign declared that I was in Knoxville. Throughout the ride I had been surprised at how far I had come. Klaas almost couldn’t believe me when I had told him we were just 12 miles from Nashville a week ago when in our heads we had thought we were about a day short. So here was Knoxville, with the poorer area giving way to wealth, hills and no room for bikes. You just have to take your chance in one of the two lanes, stay off the edge especially when there is a rock wall beside you with nowhere to go, and trust that drivers obey the 3ft rule for cyclists. Luckily they do.
There were plenty of signs declaring that I was still on the 70 so I just kept on going through town. Klaas had the GPS set for a position on the other side of town and was up ahead. At the end of the city high rise the road stopped being just a road and fed straight onto the freeway. There was no other option but to keep going. Being the weekend cars were few so it was OK and after about 5km there was a sign showing the 70 heading east at the next exit. Eventually one of the familiar Purple Heart trail signs appeared so Knoxville had been tackled unscathed and I was headed in the right direction.
Again there was some rain overnight and showers were forecast but lady luck smiled on us once more. The day was uneventful, except for a sign letting me know that I really was at a mountain. Google maps had all sorts of numbers on the roads but luckily in real life there were plenty of signs with 70 on them. Newport finally appeared. It looked like a typical highway 70 area that the I40 had displaced, but on a bike you don’t go off exploring side areas, you just stick to the route so maybe I did it an injustice.
After a good night’s sleep the mountains that I could see were not so worrying. As it turned out the road flattened out as it followed a river, and what I will call mountains crowded in on both sides. It is the French Broad River. You depart from the river for an absolute bitch of a climb up to the state border and enter North Carolina. There is a great sense of achievement though, and as I had passed a few signs declaring that this was a bike route there are obviously people who ride this. Mad buggers!
Hair streaming in the breeze (I wish), I sped downhill to Hot Springs where there are lots of rafting companies. Let me try that sentence again. Hat shield flapping in the slipstream…. Oh well, it was a fine time until the road went up again. There were four slow vehicle lane sections as it wound itself ever upwards. Even mountains have a limit though. They eventually top out and what goes up comes down. The only worrying thing though was that the French Broad River was still there. It flows west. After crossing the Appalachian Trail I had hoped to have reached a summit but for my journey it was just an intermediate peak.
Highway 70 joins the 19 and heads south towards Ashville. The 19 is divided highway but luckily it had wide shoulders. After 8km I pulled off and headed through the suburbs which actually turned out to be highway 70. That was more good luck than good management, but take it when you can I say. Called it quits at Asheville East after 528km and won’t get back on the bike until Saturday.
Some of these are out of order, sorry.
Klaas: Just back after five days on the road. Seen some beautiful country traversing the Appalachian Range which runs between Georgia and Main. The scenery is magnificent and reminds me of Switzerland. It is so very different from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which are as flat as pancakes. The biggest difference I noticed in this country are the non existence of pubs outside of the cities.I have travelled now several thousand kilometres (On the wrong side of the road) and have yet to see one pub. Plenty in the cities but not like in Australia where you to travel on country roads there is always a pub every fifty or hundred kilometres.Down here you see churches, literally hundreds of them. It seems there is a church every one or two miles.The Baptists win by around eighty five percent, followed by Methodists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Klu Klux Klans, and lastly Catholics. Talking about the Bible Belt. Take your pick. They all fiercely compete for what I presume is the same God. Different States have different laws too. eg. You cant purchase alcohol on Sunday in Louisiana but slip across to Mississippi and you can. Klaas