Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Coming Back the Short (But Hillier) Way

When last we left ... er, me ... I was camping on Swan Creek at Fall Hollow Campground, having ridden 85 miles with 4500' climbing to check how my fully-loaded touring rig would handle middle Tennessee. The verdict: Pretty good.

I first awoke at dawn, but decided it was cold and rolled over. I woke up again about an hour later, when the Cub Scouts started to get noisy. It was still cold, though, so I just lay there for a while and thought deep thoughts.

Eventually, I climbed out of my warm sleeping bag and put on some clothes, and then set up my little stove to make coffee. As you may recall from yesterday, I had the prescience to get a cinnamon roll to go from Marcy Jo's, so that my breakfast was pure bliss.

As I finished my coffee, I slowly began breaking down my camp and putting everything back in what I hoped was the right spot on the bike. Last week, I had carefully weighed each pannier to get them as close to even as possible, and the balance had shown in how well the bike handled the day before.

That done, I rolled the now-loaded bike up to the bathroom, took a shower, put on riding clothes, and went by the office to pay my bill. The owner fixed me another cup of coffee, and we chatted for another half an hour before I finally dragged myself away.

The campground was less than a mile from the Natchez Trace, so in 10 minutes I was starting up the mile-long climb to the Swan Valley Overlook. Although it was a good way to warm up, my knees were saying, "Hey! How about a couple of easy miles first next time?"

The Trace was as pretty and quiet as always, with more trees starting to turn for autumn. The day was overcast and stayed cool -- never getting much above 70 -- which made once again for excellent riding.

On one of the early downhills, I noticed that the bike was shimmying when I got over 25 mph. I stopped at the next overlook to move the panniers around a bit and re-balance the load. Whatever I did worked, and the bike was great for the rest of the day.

At the Gordon House rest stop at Hwy 50, I stopped to try to locate the bicycle camping area there. I didn't have any luck, but ran into another cyclist who was starting a week-long trip down to Natchez. His wife was ahead of him, driving their car with the clothes and camping gear. I envied him the support, but just barely. There's something about getting there under your own power, carrying everything that you need with you, that you can only understand once you've done it.

I was getting a little hungry when I came to the TN-7 exit, but decided to stay on the Trace rather than go down to Fly's Grocery and get one of Mr. Fly's famous one-dollar turkey sandwiches. I stopped for a second to scarf a Bonk Bar, then continued north and was soon at the Pinewood Road exit, turning off to go into Leiper's Fork.

A young girl was up on the stage at Puckett's Grocery singing to about 20 folks eating lunch, and I felt out of place. I got a piece of chess pie and a chocolate milk from the back, but on the way out ran into my friend Robert Gregory. He was also out for a bike ride ... albeit a much faster and shorter one. We sat outside and ate and talked for a while before each heading our separate ways.

The chess pie was just to hold me over, so I took Southall Road to Carter's Creek, then came up that and on into downtown Franklin. There, I stopped at Mellow Mushroom for a calzone -- my first real hot meal of the day. On my way out, a little girl noticed my Gran Fondo kit and asked if I knew her daddy, Andy Garner, who races for them. I said that I did, then talked to her and her sister and mother for a bit.

I stayed on Hwy 31, then cut through some of the back roads just south of the mall by I-65. Waiting at a traffic light there, a fellow in a pick-up truck asked how far I'd gone and where I was heading. It was a long light, and he said that he used to ride but was worried about "all of the kids texting and stuff nowadays." He wished me a good trip as the light changed, and I was soon back home.

Maybe people are just more friendly to you when you're out riding a loaded touring rig than when you're on a fast bike. Or maybe it's us -- when we're on a fast bike, we're focused on training and looking like we're racers, and aren't as open to talking to strangers. Either way, my trip back up was the perfect mixture of quiet seclusion surrounded by nature and the friendly camaraderie of good everyday people.

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