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Related Photos The Columbus, IN to Chattanooga, TN Stage Back
(via Highways 7, 36, 42, 127, 150, and 27 )
September 25, 2004
Following a restful day in Columbus, IN with our hosts Charlie and Diane, we were ready to hit the trail again. Diane prepared a delicious breakfast that gave us a big energy boost. What a nice way to begin the day. We searched that morning’s newspaper for our photo. The Republic had inserted a picture of us with five lines of caption. Our last name, Angell, was missing one “L” and they did not include our web site address as requested. We were happy to get the word out about our Habitat for Humanity fund raising efforts but the paper gave their readers no avenue for following through. Now if we only had a trophy deer, we might have had better coverage!
On this morning, we were treated with our first tandem bicycle escort as we departed Columbus. Charlie and Diane joined us as they rode with us for five miles. About half of that distance was just getting through town as we connected with Highway 7. It was nice to follow someone who knew the way. In planning our AK 2 FL route in 2003, we kept our route sequence pretty simple after Columbus. Go southeast on Highway 7 to reach an Ohio River crossing and then jog over to Highway 127 in Northern Kentucky. Halfway through Kentucky, we veer onto Highway 27 which will take us to Homestead, FL.
Having selected Highway 7 as our road out of Indiana, we had no idea if it would be a bike friendly road. With a popular festival on the Ohio River in full swing that day, we had hundreds of cars pass us over the stretch of forty miles. Given that our shoulder was only a miniscule 12 inches wide, it made the trek more challenging. We had the option of a longer trip using back roads but since the truck traffic was very light, we never strongly considered it. While stopping for road construction near the Highway 31 crossing, a motorist hollered that he had seen us in the paper. That was in contrast to another motorist that gave a not-so-nice hand jester. One big plus with Highway 7 was that there were no large hills as the terrain was mostly flat with some gentle rolling hills.
The scenery and signs drew our attention on a number of occasions. In one area, we saw a large pumpkin patch as a number of farms and barns dotted the landscape. About six miles out of Columbus, we crossed Legal Tender Road. One could take this money route to reach the Indiana settlements of Grammar and Alert. Just north of Scipio, IN, a left turn would get you over to Green Acres. Even further to the east, there’s Correct, IN so the state seemed to have its share of unusual names. When we reached Scipio, we pulled off the road near the grocery store for a break. Our usual five mile break intervals were certainly needed with the higher volume of traffic.
After passing by the small community of Queensville, IN we reached North Vernon, IN. We stopped at a McDonald’s restaurant for a mid-morning breakfast. Being touring cyclists, we can eat breakfast as many times as we want. With a population of about 7,000, North Vernon had considerable more traffic with its four lane street. Just two miles south of town, we arrived in Vernon, IN. This small community of 400 was quite remarkable. It is said to be the smallest county seat (Jennings County) in Indiana. The architecture there was just incredible as dozens of buildings still remain from the mid nineteenth century.
Beyond, Vernon, we coasted through the tiny towns of DuPont, IN and Wirt, IN with more scenic farm settings along the way. The apples on one roadside tree looked very enticing. South of Wirt, our hosts from Columbus honked as they passed us by in their minivan. They were headed south for the festival. After a lull in traffic, we heard a loud rumbling that almost seemed to make the highway vibrate. We looked in our mirrors, expecting to see a semi-truck heading our way. Instead, we saw about 30 motorcycles pounding the payment. Seeing them all pass us by was quite an experience. A lot of them waved and gave us the thumbs up.
On the outskirts of Madison, IN, we noticed that we were starting to make a gradual descent. After one mile, we saw signs warning about a steep, curvy descent. The signs did not exaggerate. For two miles, we weaved down the hill at about 30 mph. There were a few cars behind us but none passed us as we were going the posted speed limit. At the bottom of the long, steep hill, we made a left turn. We were now on Main Street, headed for the historic downtown area. Madison, an Ohio River town, was hosting their annual Chautauqua Festival of Art and it was in full swing.
The town of 13,000 was expecting 70,000 people for the weekend. It certainly looked like they had reached that projection when we arrived at noon. We never savor riding through populated areas but this setting with all of the people walking about and the cars clogging Main Street was quite a spectacle. One advantage we had was our mobility. While the traffic was stalled at places, we could squeeze through to the heart of town. Pondering where we could safely park our rig, we turned onto a side street and headed towards the river. A couple of blocks inland, we decided to setup next to a tree in a center median strip. We were glad we didn’t need an actual parking space as those were all filled.
After locking our bike to the tree, we immersed ourselves into the huge crowd. As we walked by a portion of the 279 exhibitors, we could admire the artwork but our incentive to buy anything was low because of our mode of travel. We were actually hoping to find something to eat. There were several food vendors but the lines were tremendously long. So, we decided that we would wait to eat until after we left the festival area. We walked along the Ohio River for a couple of blocks before returning to our bike. The mansions and other houses in the area were just incredible with their vivid colors and architectural details.
Starting out on our bike again, we went a few blocks east to reach the most prominent part of town. Madison’s downtown area contains over 1,500 nineteenth century structures as it is Indiana’s largest historic district. A fire station we passed by housed Fair Play Fire Company #1, which at 163 years, is the oldest volunteer fire company in the state. While we were negotiating the traffic out of Madison, the occupants of one vehicle asked how much further we had to go. Barb replied, “About 1,700 miles.” They said that they saw the newspaper photo and that they really admired what we were doing.
Almost out of town, we still hadn’t seen a restaurant that didn’t look busy. Making one more turn onto Harrison Street, we were now face to face with a massive bridge going over the Ohio River. The narrow bridge looked quite intimidating with its high arch. On our immediate left was a convenience store so we pulled over for a lunch stop. They had some tables inside, along with hot food and cold ice cream, so we had a comfortable meal before tackling the substantial bridge.
Having finished lunch, we stepped outside to study the traffic volume over the bridge. Northbound vehicles were coming at a steady pace. The traffic heading south from downtown Madison seemed to come in spurts. Our primary challenge was to get behind one of those clusters of cars while yielding to the almost bumper-to-bumper northbound traffic. We waited almost ten minutes for the right moment. As we approached the bridge, we noticed a young man trying to hitch a ride across the bridge. There were no signs prohibiting bikers, but there certainly was no place for pedestrians on the half mile long bridge.
For our third and final crossing of the Ohio River, we pedaled hard to make it up the ramp at 7 to 8 mph. The view from the tall bridge was outstanding. Looking to the west, we could see the two smoke stacks of a riverside power plant. After a quarter mile of climbing, we reached the highest point of the bridge and now had five cars behind us. Going down the other side of the bridge, our speed increased to 20 to 25 mph. On each of the three, long and narrow bridges we biked over (one over the Mississippi and two over the Ohio) we experienced a wide set of emotions ranging from anxiety to excitement and finally, the thrill of making it across alive! We were grateful that the motorists were generally patient with our crossings.
After the bridge, we were now in the small town of Milton, KY. We remained in the Eastern Time Zone, but since Kentucky observes daylight savings time (and Indiana does not), we just lost an hour! We pulled off the highway to let a dozen cars pass before making two left turns. Now on northbound Ferry Street, we rode straight to the river’s shoreline. There before us stood the huge bridge we had just biked over. As we gazed at the massive structure, we were thankful we hadn’t seen this underneath view before crossing. We really would have been unnerved about trekking across!
We walked down the concrete boat ramp and to the river’s edge so that we could admire the majestic river. About 100 FT up from the water, we noticed a trail of debris that ran parallel to the river. We had read about the recent flooding along the Ohio River from the hurricane related rains but we were just in awe of how high it had peaked. Fortunately, the neighboring buildings were beyond the debris line and were not flooded. From Ferry Street, we turned left onto westbound Highway 36. Just as we made the turn, we were greeted by the young man who had been waiting at the bridge entrance in Madison. Someone had given him a ride to Milton. A small grocery bag he was carrying indicated that he had crossed the river to make some purchases and was now returning home.
With fifteen more miles to our destination, we were relieved to find that the river road was fairly flat. On our previous excursions near the Ohio River, we had some really tough hills to climb. Almost all of the bottomland was on the Kentucky side as on the opposite side, the river ran next to the Indiana hillside. So, we biked by miles and miles of robust crops with wonderful river views just beyond. Because Interstate 71 was five to ten miles south of us, the traffic on our narrow, shoulderless highway was thankfully lighter. A couple of signs caught our attention. A country church sign stated, “Our Sundays are better than Dairy Queen’s.” At one side road, a couple of signs noted, “UAW On Strike.” Apparently, there are auto worker labor disputes in places other than Michigan.
When we reached the small town of Prestonville, KY, we stopped for a short break. It was at this point, that the road was now designated as Highway 42. While resting, we watched two large log trucks turned onto the highway from a side road. Just beyond Prestonville, we crossed over the mouth of the Kentucky River which flows into the Ohio River. We were now in the neighboring city of Carrollton, KY, the county seat of Carroll County. A red brick county courthouse dominated the town with its four-sided clock tower. The county and the city were named after Charles Carroll of Maryland, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Small businesses lined the town square and banners were draped across the streets to promote the upcoming Tobacco Festival. Other signs showed a picture of a stalk of vividly green, tobacco leaves. Carrollton was at one time, a major tobacco warehousing center with about two dozen auction warehouses. In the year 2000, tobacco manufacturers started making direct contracts with the farmers. Because of the perception that farmers could usually receive more for their tobacco through contracting, the warehouses were soon closed down. Only one warehouse in Carrollton remains active. The owners of the closed warehouses now have to find a use for their unimproved, over-sized barns.
We circled the town square a couple of times before heading three miles east to our motel. After arriving at our motel, we checked in and then enjoyed the comfort of a warm shower. Through prior arrangements, a friend from Indianapolis, IN was driving down to join us that evening. While awaiting Brad’s arrival, we walked 200 FT to gaze once again at the Ohio River. As our day wound down, we enjoyed watching the barge traffic floating up and down the river. Along the shore, a small houseboat named “Willet Sink” was docked. To cap everything off, we were treated with a gorgeous sunset over the river. Brad then drove us back into Carrollton for pizza and hours of conversation before calling it a night.
Miles cycled – 63.4
September 26, 2004
Since there were no restaurants near our motel, Brad drove us into Carrollton for breakfast. We ate at a riverside diner a local had recommended. The interior of the restaurant was rather bland but spacious. For a pre-dawn setting, this establishment had a large number of customers. Consistent with other restaurants we had stopped at in Kentucky, there weren’t any non-smoking sections. Most of the patrons were smoking during their meal. As we ate our breakfast, the morning sun gradually added light for a splendid river view.
Just before exiting the restaurant, we stopped to read the bulletin board which usually provides a good expression of the local culture. There, was one of the most stunning postings that we had ever seen. A professionally created sign showed two hands shaking with text above and below the imagery. Their message was “Thank You for Smoking – Support your Local Tobacco Farmers.” We attempted to suppress our startled emotions as we didn’t want to show disrespect for the livelihood of the patrons there. Another sign promoted the three day Tobacco Festival that was to start later in the week.
Back at the motel, we were all set to check out when we discovered that our rear tire was flat. We used a sink full of water to locate the puncture. The tiny hole in the tube was in the same place as the leak we found in Columbus. Unable to identify the cause of the flat in Columbus, we rationalized then that the tube was damaged from being pinched. Now, we figured there had to be some foreign object in the nearly new tire. Randall took the tire outside for maximum lighting from the morning sun and probed the suspected area of the tire for several minutes. Finally, using tweezers, he poked around until a small piece of wire surfaced. The wire, at one eighth of an inch in length, had been completely concealed within the tire.
With the stubborn wire segment removed, we put a patch on the punctured tube before reinserting it back into the tire. The whole process delayed our start to 9:20 AM but we were glad to finally solve the mystery. After saying goodbye to Brad, we continued east on Highway 42. It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we continued to follow the river bottomland. Near the small town of Ghent, KY, we passed a number of industrial sites that were built on the rich farmland, including two chemical plants, a wallboard manufacturer, two steel mills and an automotive brake manufacturer.
The most dominant facility was a Kentucky Utilities power plant. Three tall stacks filled the blue sky with white and gray clouds. Roadside signs cautioned motorists with “Fog Ahead.” This Ghent generation station was said to consume an average of 14,000 tons of coal daily. That’s why we saw so many coal barges on the river! A mile beyond the power plant, we saw a storage yard that had several large mounds of rusting steel. Apparently, the ground up metal was raw material for a neighboring steel mill.
After ten miles of riding, we could see a tall bridge that went north over the river. We had reached the Markland Locks and Dam. Pulling into the visitor’s area, we walked around to check out the sights. The bridge towered above us and from our vantage point the side railings looked very low. We were glad that we had crossed the river back in Madison. A dam which generated electricity blocked most of the river’s width. Power lines were seen going north of the river so the hydroelectric power was evidently lighting up Indiana homes.
There was a two story observatory for viewing the two locks located on the Kentucky side of the river. One lock was full of water and ready for any ships going downstream. The other lock was at the lower downstream level. Debris had collected at the two massive gates so a lot of tree trash and plastic pop bottles would be released with the next ship passage. When we lived in Michigan, we had seen freighters pass through similar locks at Sault Sainte Marie in the Upper Peninsula so we decided not to wait for a ship to go through.
Past the dam and locks, we felt sluggish as we rode this stretch along the river. We then realized that we were gradually climbing with a slight headwind. Before reaching Warsaw, KY, we could see a casino building and a couple of casino river boats on the Indiana side of the river. We were now 45 miles southwest of Cincinnati, OH so we deduced that provided the casino with a lot of traffic. As we neared the center of Warsaw, we passed by the distinctive looking Gallatin County Courthouse. This bright white building had several tall, square pillars at the front entrance. We later passed the Bun Boy Restaurant and Motel. Having been on a saddle for months, we really didn’t want to be thinking about that part of our anatomy.
On the east side of Warsaw, we stopped at a convenience store to get some refreshments and snacks. We didn’t expect to find many services for several miles as our route showed mostly small towns. Beyond Warsaw, we biked by more bottomland and a couple of tobacco curing barns. After five miles we had reached Highway 127. It was now time to head south to Florida. When we planned this jog of 30 miles along the Ohio River, we thought that it might offer some diversity in the scenery. We were impressed with what we saw. Before going south, we took one last look at the river. From our broad view, it made a big bend as it was coming down from the north (from Cincinnati) and then flowed west towards Louisville, KY. What a sight!
During the time we biked along the river, we could see the hillside to the south. Having gone down a steep hill near Madison, we knew that we would eventually have to go back up. To our pleasant surprise, there was just a gradual slope for two miles before tackling a five percent grade to get up and over Interstate 71. Beyond the freeway, we climbed a bit more before descending into the small town of Glencoe, KY. Just south of Glencoe, and now six miles from the Ohio River, we were facing the hill that we expected earlier. With a seven to eight percent grade, this two mile ascent was really taxing. It didn’t help matters that the road was narrow and had rumble strips along the edge. With trees lining the entire climb, we could never see very far ahead of us.
When the road finally started to level out some, we turned left onto a side road. What a workout! We normally would have rested one or twice during a climb like that but there was no safe place to get off the road. Fortunately, we had shifted to our lowest gear near the start of the hill so that we could maintain a steady cadence at 3 mph. After another half mile, the pavement leveled out as we found ourselves riding on a ridge. We were also out of the dense tree area so we could see for miles around. It wasn’t long before we were chased by a farm dog. This canine gave itself a 50 FT lead as it raced along several hundred feet of fence. The owner’s two horses were bewildered as they were probably wondering what all the fuss was about.
After a couple of miles, we reached the small settlement of Poplar Grove, KY where the tall steeple of a white Baptist church poked into the blue sky. Riding along the ridge was a real treat as we could see the farms and grazing cattle in all directions. A number of the farm houses look well maintained and some of them had some landscaping with a small pond. We were seeing some tobacco curing barns along the way as well. Two fields of tobacco had the stalks of leaves speared on a stick for the initial curing out in the field. Because the yellowish green leaves were quite large, the fields looked like they were covered with teepees.
At the point where Highway 127 merged with Highway 35, a wide shoulder was added. For the next eight miles, we continued along the ridge with some gentle rolling hills. This combination of rolling hills, no headwind and comfortable shoulders gave us optimal riding conditions. We were just flying along at 12 to 17 mph as we enjoyed the Kentucky farm views. It wasn’t long before we reached Owenton, KY, a city of about 9,000. When we got to the downtown area, the restaurants seemed scarce so we quizzed an older gentleman in a car about eating options. He pointed the way to Dairy Queen. Since we had hefty appetites, this man was our hero!
To reach Dairy Queen, we biked a mile south through town, passing by a few distinguished looking houses along the way. At the point where Highway 127 made a bend to the south, we continued east for a couple of blocks before finding the DQ. One would think that restaurants would be located on the beaten path but that wasn’t the case in this town. The parking lot was nearly full when we pulled in after 1 PM. Two parked pickup trucks had horse trailers attached. In Kentucky, even the horses get to go to Dairy Queen!
While waiting in the long line to order our lunch, a man from central Kentucky asked us about our trip. He had previously lived in Madison and Warsaw so he had some familiarity with our Kentucky route. When he realized that we had come up the big hill south of Glencoe, he offered that the rest of the hills in the state won’t be as tough. Even though motorists tend to underestimate how difficult the terrain will be, we were encouraged by his assessment. Checking out the bulletin board there, we saw that it was very reflective of the agricultural setting we were in. One posting promoted the sale of nine Farmall tractors with model years of 1937 through 1952.
As we returned to our tandem after lunch, we couldn’t help but notice a collection of businesses next door. A simple looking building housed the Official Wildlife Check Station, a Deer Processing business, a Taxidermy business and a Chiropractor. With this setup, a hunter could bring his recently killed deer to be verified, butchered and stuffed in one building. If their backs started aching after hauling the deer carcass to the pickup, there was help for that too. This was certainly a nifty one-stop shop for hunters.
After rejoining Highway 127 we continued in a southerly direction. We still had a nice, wide shoulder along with a thin band of rumble strips that separated us from the vehicles. Over the course of the next 30 miles, we occasionally saw stray tobacco leaves scattered about on the shoulder. From this curious observation, we recalled how in logging country, we had seen a lot of trigs and tree bark at the side of the road. We suspected there was a tobacco processing plant in the area and that the isolated leaves we were seeing had flown off the truck during transit. The leaves were not a menace when we ran over them as they were less disruptive than hitting a stick or tree bark.
About five miles south of Owenton, we left the ridge that we had been riding on for some time. Highway 127 now cut deeply into some very large hills. While the altered terrain gave us interesting rock formations to view along the road, we were very appreciative that the grade never exceeded five percent. One long climb was nearly three miles long but because of the gentle grade, it was no issue to ascend. Other climbs ranged from a half mile to two miles. Midway through the afternoon, a 10 mph tailwind greeted us which made our ride even more enjoyable. We got of lot of friendly honks and waves from motorists. It was truly a beautiful day of riding.
Although there were no towns of significance on this stretch of Highway 127, we did see a couple of roadside vendors. To attract attention, one of the vendors had a large confederate flag attached to a 30 FT pole. We later crossed the greenish Elkhorn Creek. With the substantial amount of water seen in the creek, it looked more like a river to us. As we were climbing a two mile hill following the creek, we could see nine buzzards flying overhead. With this sighting, Barb implored, “Let’s keep moving, keep moving.”
After passing several miles of grazing cattle, we reached Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky. A long, fast descent took us to the outskirts of town where we opted to leave the busy Highway 127 that looped around the city. Instead, we rode two miles on Holmes Street towards the downtown area. At the center of this town of 27,000, we stopped to marvel at the assortment of brick and stone buildings. At two to four stories, none of the buildings were very tall but they looked historically significant. While gazing at the buildings, we met a cyclist and asked him about the best route through town.
Using the biker’s helpful directions, we continued our trek. After just two blocks, we found ourselves crossing the Kentucky River which does an “S” shaped weave through Frankfort. We had previously crossed this river at the Ohio River near Carrollton. Now southbound on Capital Avenue, we could see the state capital building a half mile ahead of us. As we rode up the avenue, the massive limestone building got bigger and bigger. The avenue looped around to the south side so we followed it around. On the opposite side, a huge flower clock first drew our attention. Two women and a man resting at the clock stared at us in astonishment while we looked back at the clock in awe. The clock read 5:35 PM, which was telling. It was time to wind down our day.
Turning our attention from the clock, we saw on our left the grand, south face of the capital building. We were just amazed at the beauty of this structure. It didn’t hurt that we had a southwest sun and deep blue sky. To depart the capital grounds, we headed south on Old Lawrenceburg Road. This mile and half segment of wilderness took us parallel to the Kentucky River and underneath a seven story parking structure. Other than the parking structure, it was hard to believe that we were still in an urban area. At the end of Old Lawrenceburg Road, we turned west onto the aptly named East-West Connector to rejoin Highway 127. We groaned when we discovered that our last two miles was all uphill. Although the grade was only five to six percent, riding up into the blinding sun was obviously not the way we wanted to end our day’s ride!
After getting back to our main route, we saw that our motel was just a block away on the right. We were unloading our gear when the man we met at the Owenton Dairy Queen drove up. Unbeknownst to us, he had been following our progress but apparently lost track of us when we went through downtown Frankfort. He had the notion of inviting us to stay at his place but caught us too late as we had already checked into the motel. Oops. It was a missed opportunity to share our story with others but admittedly, we were quite tired and ready to hit the sack.
Miles cycled – 71.6
September 27, 2004
After eating some fresh fruit at the motel, we scurried to get back on Highway 127. We had planned to start riding after dawn, hoping to miss most of the morning commuters. However, even with our early start, the three lanes of traffic going in each direction were packed with cars. Next to the motel was a traffic light so we used that intersection for our entry into the morning rush hour. We expected that the first mile would be hectic until we reached Interstate 64 (which we previously crossed over in southern Indiana). So for four traffic lights, we literally flowed with three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic before reaching the freeway. The dozens of motorists headed for work were probably blinking their eyes as they approached us and wondering, “What in the world?”
Once we passed over the freeway, the three lanes changed to two and a wide shoulder was added. About 90 percent of the southbound traffic had disappeared. What a relief! For the next four miles out of town, we saw large clusters of cars heading into Frankfort. After a half hour of riding, the traffic dwindled to a normal level and we could enjoy the gentle rolling hills. Along the way, roadside markets were selling pumpkins, squash and fresh honey. Horses and cattle were grazing in the pastures. It was a beautiful, but chilly fall morning.
After eight miles of cycling, we stayed with the Highway 127 bypass while the main road went through Lawrenceburg, KY. This seven mile segment took us through the western edge of this city of 9,000. Because of our rush to leave Frankfort, our breakfast was lighter than usual so we were ready for our second breakfast. We passed by a Sonic Drive-In but we weren’t interested in eating outdoors so we went next door to Arby’s. Following a relaxing meal, we continued south to where the bypass rejoined the main road.
Just after finishing the bypass, we reached some road construction on the bridge that crossed over the Bluegrass Parkway. The four lanes of highway necked down to two over the bridge. We biked through the construction zone without issue as we still had a little bit of shoulder to ride on. Just before leaving Anderson County, two competing liquor stores caught our attention. The sign at the store on the left implored, “Last stop for Beer and Liquor for next 100 miles.” A few hundred feet further south on the right was the second store’s sign, “Last stop for Beer and Liquor for 99.9 miles.”
One hundred miles happens to be how far it is to Tennessee as most of Kentucky’s southern counties are dry. With no interest in beer or liquor, we hadn’t much paid attention to the local alcohol laws until seeing those signs. About half of the Bourbon State’s 120 counties are dry. People used to poked fun at the fact that Christian County was wet and Bourbon was dry. Later, we read in a Kentucky newspaper that Bourbon County voted to legalize the sale of alcohol in certain areas of the county. So, instead of being dry, they’re now soggy!
Later, we passed a large tobacco warehouse with reserved parking for the tobacco graders. Since this building was so large, it may still be thriving as a trade center. As we continued through the rolling hills, some of the farms and farm houses were quite remarkable. The homes were huge with immaculate landscaping. Ducks and emus were seen wandering about. We suspected that the lush green grass had something to do with the agricultural prosperity around there. One cattle farm seemed like they had miles and miles of four board fence. We later confirmed from their web site that they had 92 miles of board fence on their 5,500 acre spread.
About five miles north of Harrodsburg, KY, our nice shoulder disappeared. Fortunately, traffic on the divide four-lane highway was somewhat light. Upon reaching Harrodsburg, our one stop was at Old Fort Harrod. In 1774, James Harrod established the first permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies which was later named Harrodsburg. With the old fort long gone, a second fort was built near the site of the original and the area was designated as a state park. As we stopped to rest, a group of school children were touring the wooden fort. Of other significance to us was that the TransAmerica bike route went through this town, going from west to east (or east to west). We had earlier left that route in western Kentucky.
South of Harrodsburg, we were happy to see the shoulder return. We continued touring by horse and cattle farms a few miles before arriving in Danville, KY. This city of 12,000 was a major fork in the road for us. Highways 127 and 27 would both get us to Georgia. We had long ago decided upon Highway 27. Our early research indicated that Highway 127 had the distinction of hosting the world’s largest and longest yard sale. From our experiences of biking by yard sales, they can be a dangerous setting for cyclists. The parked motorists may exit their vehicles with more focus on the “yard sale goodies” then what’s coming up from behind them.
So, west of Danville, we turned east onto Highway 150 which would take us through the heart of the city. After going through town, this highway veered eight miles to the southeast before connecting with Highway 27. Our trek through Danville was quite scenic. Initially, we biked by the red brick buildings of Centre College before reaching the Boyle County Courthouse and the remarkable downtown area. In a Time magazine issue, Danville was designated as one of ten successful small towns in America. From our view, the town did look quite vibrant and had a lot of rich heritage to display. To add to the charm, the signs for the two hour parking zone were posted on black posts topped with iron horse heads.
Heading out of town, we were quickly reminded that we were in an active, agricultural setting. A tractor pulling a hay baler caught up to us on the narrow curvy road and passed us after a short wait for oncoming traffic. Traffic was a bit heavy on this stretch of road but most everyone was able to get by us. The same could not be said for the tractor that passed us. Before long, the tractor had five cars following it and then ten. Eventually, we had to slow down as the line of almost twenty cars was backed up to us. The farmer then turned into a field and it was now clear sailing for everyone. A little later, we met a tractor coming up the highway and it had a line of cars behind it. We hoped that since the motorists were that patient with the farm equipment, they wouldn’t mind being slowed down by touring cyclists as well.
A few miles outside of Danville, Highway 150 went from a narrow two lanes to a divided, four-lane highway. Even though our shoulder was just a foot wide now, the extra traffic was able to get around us using the second lane. After going all morning on gentle, rolling hills, we were rudely greeted with a couple of big hills. The hills weren’t steep but were long. After ascending the second hill, we were now in Stanford, KY. The hilltop water tower proclaimed Stanford to be Kentucky’s second oldest city. In less than three hours we had bike through Kentucky’s two oldest settlements.
Entering town from the north, we braked hard as we went down a steep hill that ended with a blind curve. After bending to the east, we could see the quaint little downtown area ahead. The two blocks of Main Street were getting a major face lift as restoration efforts were under way. Even the street was all torn up as it was being refurbished. We pedaled by several orange barrels before stopping to asked a local about eating options. All the restaurants were on the bypass highway so we went another half mile east.
Reaching the intersection with Highway 27, we stopped to gaze at the road for a couple of minutes. This was the highway that would take us all the way to southern Florida and we were about to spin our wheels on it for the first time. Across from the intersection was a dairy bar which we were happy to make our lunch stop. We ordered lunch at the window and sat at the outdoor tables before discovering that they had an air-conditioned eating area as well. At 1:20 PM and with the temperature around eighty degrees, we decided to go inside to cool off. The girls working there were intrigued by our journey. They eagerly accepted one of our cards even though they did not have internet access. As we enjoyed our post-meal milkshakes, we got chilled so we went back outside to warm up.
After finishing lunch, we began our long journey on Highway 27. We climbed a medium size hill just outside of Stanford which gave us a gorgeous view of the valley to the south. Hilly knobs were seen dotting the landscape so we anticipated we had more climbing ahead. The highway was four lanes for a short distance before reducing to two lanes. Going down a slight descent, we enjoyed the beauty of a private pond with a water fountain. Near the front of the pond was a heart-shape island with a flagpole displaying the USA flag. Two stones displaying the Ten Commandments were standing on the center of the island.
As we continued down the highway, we couldn’t help but notice an annoying feature of the pavement. There wasn’t an appreciable amount marked off for the shoulder. The white edge line only gave us eight to twelve inches. We could have lived with that narrow margin except that they had converted that narrow span to rumble strips. It wasn’t very pleasant running over this bumpy edge, particularly for Barb, as the rear rider on a tandem receives more than twice the impact that the front rider does. So we rode just to the left of the rumble strip. We felt comfortable riding like that unless a big truck was coming. Then, we would get onto the shoulder for the rough ride. Trying to stay close to the edge but away from the bumps was also more of a workout for Randall to keep the bike steady.
After crossing a small creek, the road started climbing and a passing lane was added. The passing lane was really helpful except that it was not a safe place to stop. With no side road to get off on, we slowly climbed the six percent grade for two and a half miles nonstop. With the warmer afternoon, we were really straining by the time we got to the top of the hill. As we rested, we looked back to the north to see the yellow caution sign that warned truckers of a steep downhill ahead. Just beyond the hill, a road crew was trimming back trees that extended too close to the power lines.
To our relief, the highway was now relatively flat with some gentle rolling hills. We passed many flea markets, resale shops and what appeared to be perpetual yards sales. Although these thrift sales weren’t that heavily concentrated, we were certainly rethinking our strategy of avoiding Highway 127. We suspected that since Highway 127 had the stronger reputation, sales on that route were probably more prominent. On this stretch of Highway 27, we saw racks of clothes and tables of everything imaginable waiting patiently for their next owner. To minimize the daily set-up time, the yard sale administrators place tarps or plastic sheets over things at night or during inclement weather. A lot of the stuff looked like junk to us, but at least this kept it out of the landfills.
As we approached southern Kentucky, there was a touch of fall colors in the trees. Vegetation covered most of the ground, but occasionally bright red-orange dirt was visible. One pickup truck that passed us was pulling a trailer loaded with bundles of tobacco. We were also seeing an increase of southbound logging trucks as they were making deliveries to small wood mills seen along the road. Eighteen miles south of Stanford, near Eubank, KY, we stopped for refreshments at Orans Truck Stop. Welcoming patrons at the entrance was a vintage gravity-flow gasoline pump that was in use through the 1940s and early ’50s. The red pump was no longer active as it was just there for looks. It hinted of a time when life was simpler. One irony to the antique was a sticker on the entrance door promoting this location as a wireless internet hot spot.
With the quick stop for some icy drinks, we continued south as the afternoon was giving way to the evening. The volume of traffic picked up as we were mixing with the commuters heading home. The closer we got to our destination, the heavier the traffic became. While skirting the east side of Science Hill, KY, we passed by a large, white sign about the size of a billboard. In addition to showing a dove and the USA flag, the sign displayed the Ten Commandments. In the Midwest and now the South, we had seen a number of signs showing these biblical rules but this one was the most prominent we had seen.
Our arrival into Somerset, KY completed a rather long day for us. With a population of about 12,000, Somerset is the county seat of Pulaski County. As typical with our experiences with biking into a larger city, we faced the usual challenges. Our two lane highway changed to four lanes and then to six lanes. It was not a very bicycle friendly environment but motorists tended to be cautious when they passed us. This would be the last sizeable town until we reached southern Tennessee so we decided it would be a good location for a couple of days for resting and writing. Unlike small towns where there’s only one or two motels, we had two dozen to pick from. After much deliberation, we opted to go with a motel on the north side of town.
Miles cycled – 82.8
September 28-29, 2004
As we began our day, the first thing on our agenda was to buy groceries. We had a refrigerator and microwave in the motel room, so we wanted to make good use of those appliances. At the grocery store, we stuffed five bags of food into our B.O.B. trailer and then pedaled back to the motel. That seemed like an awful lot of food but we knew from our past consumption levels, we’d probably have to make yet another trip to the store before departing town. We checked our quantity of tire tubes and other bike supplies and then decided it was time to contact Barb’s sister Susan in Kansas. Per our instructions, Susan pulled some items from our parts inventory and mailed them to LaFayette, GA.
As typical with our rest days, we didn’t spend any time exploring the town we were staying in. Our obligation to update our journal was a heavy burden but we enjoyed telling our story. While Randall inserted more details into the Pueblo, CO to Medicine Lodge, KS stage story for eventual web publishing, Barb edited and made additions to our journal entries of the past week. Randall did his word processing on the laptop computer while Barb used a wireless keyboard to massage the text entries she had in her palm computer. At least once a day, Barb synced her palm updates with the laptop.
Another segment of our journal publishing included the photo screening. From the 600 to 900 photos taken during the extent of the stage story, six to eight percent were selected for our “Related Photos” page and about a third of the entire group was selected for the complete albums (for the small fraction of our readers who want to see even more photos). Care was taken to choose those photos that related to our story. The photos selected for the “Related Photos” page had to be run through a photo editor to be adjusted to a lower resolution. Otherwise, those using dialup connections to get online would have to wait a very long time for the photos to open.
So much for the technical stuff! By mid morning, Barb called the Somerset-Pulaski News Journal and reached Terry, a reporter there. She explained to him that we were biking from Alaska to Florida. His first response was, “Why?” She told him that it was a great way to see the country and meet some interesting people. Terry then pressed further, “Why that route?” Barb answered, “That’s the longest route we could come up with and still be in English-speaking countries.” He then offered, “With our strong accent, there are some visitors who wonder if we speak English here!”
Since the newspaper was published twice a week and Terry was busy getting the next day’s addition out, we arranged to meet the next morning at the motel. That evening, we decided we were going to check out the next morning and go two miles south to another motel. The motel to the south had free, high speed internet access which we preferred for uploading our photos to our web site. Since we would have to be all packed for the reporter’s photography, we figured we might as well pedal down to the next motel then.
The next morning, Terry arrived as we were loading our rig. He quietly observed as we stacked the sleeping bags, tire bag, food bag, rain gear bag and tent bag on the trailer and then strapped them down. Marveling over our packing efficiency, he said that we packed up everything a lot quicker than most people traveling a long distance. Of course, most people have a vehicle full of stuff to haul around. While other touring cyclists may think we carry too much, those travelers with powered transportation wonder how we can carry so little.
During our 30 minute interview, we showed Terry our North America route map and discussed the details of our trip. He said that the story would be in the Saturday edition and that it would get a lot of exposure. Twice a year, they deliver papers to non subscribers in an effort to boost circulation, so our story would be seen by the whole county. When we later got a copy of the article, we were impressed with the quality of the story. A lot of the write-up was taken from excerpts in our journal and the content beyond that was correct as quoted. Unfortunately, the newspaper does not post any of its stories on the web so there was no link to reference.
Miles cycled – 3.3
September 30, 2004
After eating breakfast at the motel, we continued to work on our journal and upload photos to our web site until checkout time. Surprisingly, it was still foggy when we left at 11 AM. To exit town, we hopped back on the busy, six-lane highway and headed south. For the next five miles, many businesses lined Highway 27 with access provided by side streets, some of which were unnamed. To help orient motorists, the stop lights were labeled with green and white numbered signs. The numbers increased as we advanced south. By the time we reached the end of town, the last traffic light was number 26. What a lot of stop and go!
Outside of town, the six lanes necked down to four as we were now getting glimpses of Lake Cumberland. We were on the east side of this long, curvy lake. At our first bridge crossing, we thought we were crossing the Cumberland River but it was actually a finger off of Lake Cumberland. Less than a mile later, we found ourselves riding over the Cumberland River Bridge. What a spectacular view! The bridge had a comfortable shoulder so we could leisurely ride across while enjoying the scenery. To the east, there was a massive railroad trestle that crossed the river. With all of the running water that we crossed over in Kentucky, we weren’t surprised to learn that the state has approximately 54,000 miles of streams and rivers. That’s second only to Alaska
Soon after the bridge, the road necked down to one lane in each direction. With only one lane, we felt pretty crowded as the shoulder was a mere 18 inches wide and most of that was taken up with rumble strips. A few large trucks passed us which made us long for more shoulder. A few miles south, our prayers were answered as a wider shoulder returned. The signs told us that we were in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The terrain was more rugged now with sizable hills packed densely with trees. We were getting quite a workout with a couple of climbs exceeding one mile.
To add to our setting of ups and downs, yellow signs warned us about fallen rock along the way. Like the highway north of Frankfort, the road occasionally cut deeply into the hillsides. Among the steep forested ridges, we would catch glimpses of sandstone cliffs. The fog had mostly burned off by noon as the surrounding colors of the forest became more vivid. About 14 miles south of Somerset, we entered our final Kentucky county. There was a sign at the McCreary County border identifying it as the home county of a WWII Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Near the small settlement of Greenwood, KY, yet another sign reminded us how strongly entrenched the logging industry was in the area. Sponsored by the McCreary County Forest Industries Association, the message, “Trees Grow Jobs,” was promoted.
As we labored up several medium size hills, quite a number of log trucks passed us. Heading in the opposite direction, we saw the finished product with truckloads of lumber or landscape posts. Ten miles inside McCreary County, our shoulder inexplicably disappeared again. With all of the trucks we were seeing, our stress level rocketed upwards. For the most part, the truckers were patient and gave us a wide berth. We were grateful for that. As we neared the top of another hill, we were becoming quite tired from climbing and from being on guard with the trucks. Seeing a side road ahead, we saw an opportunity to rest.
When we reached the side road, a man was standing beside his parked pickup truck near the entrance. He was waving at us, signaling us to stop. Well, stopping was what we had in mind. We weren’t so sure what he had in mind, flagging us down as we crawled along at five to six mph. The first words out of his mouth immediately gave us his motive, “You guys look like a story!” Greg identified himself as a reporter for the McCreary County Voice. Here was a versatile newspaper reporter that was typical of small town America. He wrote stories, sold ads, shot photos, etc. When he caught sight of us coming up the hill, he was out delivering this week’s edition.
Greg had slammed on his brakes as he had this reporter’s sense that something unusual was coming his way. He said that they don’t see many touring cyclists come through here, especially tandems and he wanted to hear about our trip. Catching our breath, we were more than happy to give him the scoop. We were all thinking, “Wow, what an easy story!” While Randall started to describe the details, he competed with the noise of truck traffic and the horn of an oncoming train. The side road was just a couple hundred feet from a railroad crossing that ran parallel to the highway. Seeing a photo op developing, Barb turned her attention to the train.
As Randall continued his story, passing motorists honked or waved at Greg so he seemed to be a local favorite. He was concerned that he was delaying us but we assured him that our day’s destination was not far away. We were delighted that he was interested in our adventure. The way he intercepted us reminded us of the reporter in Cunningham, KS that practically did the same thing. When we quizzed Greg about eating options in the next town, he cautioned us about the road construction ahead as he thought that could be some tough going.
After about 15 minutes and a pad full of notes, he took our photo and wished us a safe journey. Later on, we received a copy of our story in the Voice with the caption, “Taking a Ride for the Habitat.” Besides publishing a well-composed story on our adventure, we were particularly pleased that they included a companion story on, “What is Habitat for Humanity.” While we didn’t always receive collections for our cause, we were happy to be able to give Habitat for Humanity “a face.” To see the text only version of the story, click here: McCreary County Voice.
When we reached the top of the hill, striking, red-orange signs captured our attention, “Blasting zone ahead – Turn Off Two Way Radios and Cellular Telephones.” Fortunately, no blasting was going on while we went through. A short distance later, we arrived in Whitley City, KY, a town of about 1,100. The highway through town was pretty beat up as they were adding another lane. We were able to safely ride to the outside of the orange barrels and away from traffic. Now 2:30 PM, we were determined to make a lunch stop. With the restaurant on the opposite side of the street, we had to dash across after a break in traffic and then navigate an uneven, crushed stone driveway. What a ride!
Following lunch, we had the same challenge getting back onto the highway as we waited five minutes for a break in traffic. The temporary driveway we were launching from was bumpy and soft so we couldn’t make a jack-rabbit styled jump across the pavement. Once back onto Highway 27, we could no longer ride on the outside of the orange barrels because there was heavy equipment ahead. So for one mile on the narrow, two lane stretch, we pedaled quickly up a gradual hill, hoping not to create a long line of cars. The northbound traffic eased up a bit so that some cars were able to pass us. Construction workers stopped and stared our way as if we were nuts. Finally, we got through the last of the construction with just a few cars and trucks behind us. What a relief! We then pull over to the shoulder that was now available for a short break.
Continuing on our way, we encountered more hills but they weren’t as big. When we got to a crossroad near Pine Knot, KY, a sign indicated that motorists could turn east for Interstate 75, which was twenty miles away. Having lived next to I 75 since 1986 we couldn’t help but think about our past. For the next couple of miles, we saw a number of log mills along the way. One site had a sign, “Buying Grade Logs, Top Prices Paid.” After a short climb, we could see some smoky mountains ahead of us. Descending down the other side we could see a bunch of signs ahead and then realized we were approaching the state line.
Coasting to the state boundary of Tennessee, we couldn’t help but notice the cluster of tobacco shops on the Kentucky side. We hadn’t seen any liquor stores for some distance but tobacco was readily available. In this setting, the Kentucky merchants were apparently taking advantage of the lower taxes for tobacco. These stores, as we had seen throughout our travels in Kentucky, were shops that appeared to be like a convenience store but their specialty was tobacco. To make purchases as simple as possible, many had drive up windows. As we paused for photos, we saw a few Tennessee motorists make their quick stop for cigarettes.
With a count of ten, Tennessee had the largest cluster of signs we had seen since visiting Sign Forest in Watson Lake, YT. One said that Scott County was named for a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Another noted that the public water supply was fluoridated. We wondered if the Tennessee smiles would be healthier looking than the Kentucky smiles. To the north, the most interesting sign for the northbound drivers was a rather worn out billboard that stated, “Warning!!! Jesus is Coming!”
With about nine miles to our destination of Oneida, TN, we were hoping for an easier ride to finish our day. The first thing we noticed immediately was that there weren’t any rumble strips. Oh, life is good. There weren’t any assurances that the bumpy surface might show up somewhere down the road but we were very encouraged with how the start of Tennessee was looking. There was a shoulder that varied from two to three feet which wasn’t appreciable but it would work for us. After arriving in Oneida, we went straight to our motel and checked in. For dinner, we enjoyed a big meal at a Huddle House restaurant which is popular in the south.
Miles cycled – 44.0
October 1, 2004
Following a breakfast at Huddle House, we left Oneida at 8:30 AM. With our early morning start, we expected to ride into some fog but we had no idea of its duration or density. We found that this cover was like a white sheet hanging over our heads. Knowing from the day before that the fog can linger for a long time, we decided that it was futile to wait a half day for relief. Last March, we toured in snow covered western Michigan to try to prepare for May riding at the Arctic Circle. During that cold weather training, we encountered a day when the fog just wouldn’t quit. We were thankful to have experienced that harsh day as we knew what to expect.
When biking, fog can put a damper on the riding enjoyment. Most riders wisely avoid it. The biggest thing with fog is the reduced level of safety and the rider’s sense of mind. It’s like riding through a tunnel that never seems to end. Signs are only readable to within hundred feet. Patience is imperative! To make ourselves as visible as possible, we wore our bright yellow vests and had our flashing headlight and taillight on. Now that we were in Tennessee, we had some confidence that the rumble strips would not return and that the shoulder would be consistent at three foot width or more. Just like on a rainy day, the photography was limited and scenic views were nonexistent. Some may portray this as a miserable setting but we saw it as part of the diversity of our adventure.
The most hectic traffic was our departure out of Oneida. Outside of town, we climbed up some moderate hills as we cut through the fog. A few semi-trucks passed us as we were curious that they were all pulling empty trailers. Heading northbound were a number of logging trucks. The logs they were carrying were considerably smaller in diameter than those we had seen in Kentucky. Randall joked, “Dem not logs, dem sticks.” At the west edge of Huntsville, TN, a sign near a motel gave us a chuckle: “Restaurant Wanted – Full Utilities Available.” Now we had seen a lot of help wanted signs on this trip but this was our first restaurant wanted sign.
Just south of Huntsville, we passed by the small community of New River, TN. Near there, we crossed the large waterway called New River. Highway 27 ran parallel to the Southern Railroad tracks which hauled a lot of coal and logs. The tiny settlements of Helenwood, High Point, and Robbins, TN were just off the highway and were centered around these tracks. The hills we were climbing were now quite substantial. With some climbs up to a mile long, we would follow the winding road up and then weave our way down on the other side. We went up and down and up and down as we felt like we on a roller coaster.
North of Elgin, TN, we saw a curious sign, “Appalachia Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Housing.” Not knowing how far off the highway the houses were located, we elected not to leave our hilly route. When we later checked out their website, we were intrigued to learn that their idea for affordable housing first took root as a Christian partnership in1972. After Habitat for Humanity was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976, this group later evolved to the present day Appalachia Habitat for Humanity. In 1997, AHH hosted the Jimmy Carter Work Project. Later, in the year 2000, the chapter was distinguished as having the most homes built for a rural area.
As we entered the small town of Elgin, we made a welcomed stop at a convenience store for refreshments and snacks. The entrance door there had not one but four signs related to smoking: “Help Stop Underage Smoking,” “Under 18, No Tobacco, We Card” and “No Smoking.” In case you miss the first three signs, there was a “Thank You for Not Smoking.” We were definitely not in Kentucky any more! Pets were also prohibited. They were certainly laying down the law.
A couple in the store asked how far we were traveling. The husband was impressed with our route and told us that he had always wanted to go to Alaska himself. The couple stated that they liked being outdoors. We gave them our card so they could check out our website. They noted the Habitat for Humanity name and asked if it was the same as the local Appalachia one. We confirmed it was as there are several affiliates. They thought Habitat was a good organization and that it brought a lot of volunteers to the area. They followed, “Even Jimmy Carter came here once!”
Leaving Elgin at about 10:30 AM, we could sense that the fog was about to break. A mile later, the sun briefly peaked through. Boy did our spirits ramp up! In celebration, Randall sang the tune, “So I just did me some talking to the sun. And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done. Sleeping on the job.” Oh, the joys of cycling. As we biked through the remote rural areas, we started to notice the names of the side roads. Many were named for men using both their first and last names. Presumably these were people who once lived on the roads. We passed roads with names like Virgil Cecil Road, Robert Bunch Road and Lewis Landrum Road.
Since it was early October, there were many campaign signs posted along road. One campaigner listed the three issues he thought would make him most elect-able in his district, “NRA Approved, Pro-life and Opposes Same Sex Marriage.” Along the way, flea markets and perpetual yard sales increased in frequency. As patches of blue sky appeared, the roadside trees brightened up our morning with gorgeous colors. With the road now very curvy, we had very limited sight distance at times. Sometimes we had a comfortable shoulder and other times it was miniscule. After ascending several hills, we passed by a quaint little shack that was covered with tin signs. An old Maytag washer was sitting out on the front porch as we were unsure if anyone was living there.
Beyond this shack, a black dog started giving chase to our rig. Fortunately, in our first Tennessee dog sighting, the canine did not tangle with us. Eventually, the trees became less dense so when we got to the top of a hill, we could see the ponds and trees for miles around. What a view! When we reached the small town of Sunbright, TN, the fog was completely gone. We should have spent our night in Sunbright so we wouldn’t have to deal with the fog! Since the small community of 600 was located at the bottom of a hill, our tandem raced through the town’s center at 25 mph while the locals watched in bewilderment.
South of Sunbright, an overpass crossed the railroad that we had been following for several miles. As we approached Pilot Mountain, TN, Barb was able to get a photo of her stoker’s rearview mirror. The image she captured showed an approaching car and church. With the arrival of the car, Barb announced to Randall, “Car Back,” so that he wouldn’t be surprised by the car. Near Pilot Mountain, a large church identified itself as, “Pilot Mountain Old Fashioned Independent Missionary Baptist Church.” What a mouthful! The sign went on to say, “The Name Above All Names,” which was immediately followed by the pastor’s name. Just exactly whose name were they exalting?
For the next few miles, the road leveled out a bit. Was this to be the calm before the storm we wondered? Soon, the road started a gradual ascent but got steeper with each quarter mile of climbing. We looked ahead, wondering where the hillcrest was. With a continual bend in the road, it was hard to ascertain. After two miles, we decided to take a break as we had a wide shoulder suitable for resting. Finally, after the third and final mile, we reach the top to find the town of Wartburg, TN. With an elevation of 1,370 FT, we felt like we were on top of the world!
The town of Wartburg billed itself as, “A City for All Seasons.” We were past due for lunch so we started searching for meal options. Given that the historical downtown was a distance off the highway, we opted to stop at a Subway. While in Subway, the boyfriend of an order clerk asked if that was “yur-ens” bike. He thought that our rig was the coolest thing he had ever seen. He then proceeded to tell us that his girlfriend couldn’t ride a bike. In defense, his girlfriend’s coworker rebuked, “You shouldn’t be telling secrets like that.” Later, when we were outside getting ready to go, he asked if we had ridden far. When we answered, “From Alaska,” he said, “Are you serious?!” We presented our Habitat card to convince him.
While outside Subway, another guy approached us from across the street. He was excited to tell us that he had done some cycle touring in several European countries. While riding on the other side of the Atlantic, he related that he learned to enjoy red wine after a hard day of biking. He lamented, “You can’t get any good wine around here!” Impressed with the length of our trip, he asked if we needed anything or if he could help in anyway. Our bike was doing fine and we were doing fine but we appreciated his warm reception. As we headed southeast down the hill, we discovered more businesses, including our favorite outdoor restaurant, Sonic Drive-In. We were bumming about the missed opportunity to dine at Sonic, but we then realized that we had met some intriguing people at Subway, so it was worth the stop.
After Wartburg, we rode over five miles of rolling hills. The trees were thick in places so our view was somewhat limited but we were having a blast. Coming around a curve, a sign warned trucks about a curvy steep downhill ahead. For nearly two miles we had a wonderful, weaving descent as there was little traffic to compete with. Having lost a lot of elevation, we now found ourselves riding in a narrow valley between two rows of mountains which ran mostly north to south. Occasionally, the area between mountains was wide enough for fields or pastures.
This setting reminded us of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana except these mountains were entirely covered with lush, green trees. The trees were a mixture of hardwoods and pines with a touch of fall colors. As we looked off in the distance, we could see a cascading of multiple ridges. The more distance the ridge, the smokier it appeared. What an awesome sight! Along some segments of the highway, very tall trees lined the road. We felt like we were riding through a deep, green canal. It was in this part of Tennessee where we had our first Kudzu sightings.
Kudzu is a vine that is native to Japan and China, but it grows very well in the Southeastern United States. When left uncontrolled, it will grow over almost any fixed object in its proximity including other vegetation. Over a period of several years, the vine can kill trees by blocking the sunlight. For this and other reasons, many people look upon the vine as an unwanted weed. Growing up to a foot a day, this vine likes the climate and soil in the Southeast so much that it’s probably not going to go away anytime soon.
About six mile north of Harriman, TN, Highway 27 became a divided, four lane road with a wide, but bumpy shoulder. Oak Ridge National Laboratory was now about 15 miles to the east so we suspected that the highway was expanded to handle the extra traffic from there. As we were heading south and southwest, we were just flying down the road at 14-16 mph. We didn’t have much of a tailwind so we must have been on a gradual downhill. Arriving in Harriman, a city of 7,000, we went through a few traffic lights before stopping to rest at the south end of the city.
As we headed out of town, we passed by a sign for Christmas Lumber Company. We were quite amused as we figured that in Harriman, it’s Christmas time year round for the handy man. Actually, back in 1926, this business was started by a man whose last name was Christmas so this merchant must have a loyal following. Just after the lumber company, we biked over the Emory River. The neighboring railroad trestle and the sizable river provided us with tremendous views. Two miles to the south, we pedaled under Interstate 40 which went through Knoxville and Nashville.
After being in mostly rural areas, we were now passing a number of businesses as we went from Harriman to Rockwood, TN. We lost our shoulder but gained a marked bike lane. Except for the occasional low hanging branches, it was a nice change of pace. A school bus stopped next to us at one red light. A young girl pulled down her window and yelled, “I like your bike!” As we approached our Rockwood motel, we scouted around for restaurants or grocery stores. There was nothing so, immediately after checking in, we ordered pizza to be delivered. Our order arrived one hour later which was much faster than our delivery in Murphysboro, IL.
With our final editing completed, Randall posted our journal entries from mid August onto our TeamAngell website. It was always a relief to get another update published. Across the street, a canopy housed a church revival complete with loud music. A train track was nearby as well. Having completed sixty miles of very hilly terrain, we were so tired that the surrounding noise was no issue.
Miles cycled – 63.4
October 2, 2004
After a restful sleep, our aches and pains were gone as we were ready for the second half of Tennessee. Given that there were no restaurants around, we snacked on power-bars before departing at 7:45 AM. The motel operator said there was a McDonald’s about ten miles south so we were banking on that. Thankfully, there was no fog but the skies were overcast. The dew was so heavy that the vehicles outside our motel room looked like they had been rained on. With Highway 27 now four lanes wide, we expected the extra lanes to continue through the rest of Tennessee. We recalled that from previous riding on multiple lanes, the grades are more gradual and easier to climb. With a slight tail wind to start the day, we were anticipating a faster ride.
The marked bike lane we enjoyed in Rockwood ended just south of the motel. However, we now had a wide shoulder and a few signs outside of town actually designated the shoulder as a bike route. It was the weekend so the traffic was lighter. The vehicular noise was low enough that we could hear several roosters crowing in the distance. We later saw chickens roaming in the yards near the road. Several houses had dog kennels holding many howling dogs. We were attracting some attention. After five miles, we paused near a large mill for our first morning break. Just north of Spring City, TN, the four lanes inexplicably necked down to two lanes.
Finding the McDonald’s restaurant there in Spring City, we pulled off for breakfast. The restaurant was sharing space with a convenience store as the businesses were getting a lot of traffic. Several of the customers were wearing bright orange so we assumed that the University of Tennessee had a football game up in Knoxville. Some of the loyal fans were seen purchasing orange “T” flags for their car windows. After breakfast, we walked up to an ATM to withdraw some cash. The machine let us have spending money so apparently we still had some funds left in our account.
To our chagrin, the two lane highway continued for two miles south of town. Compounding the problem, this segment of road was being shared with Highway 68, so this shoulder-less pavement was ridiculously busy. For the most part, we held on to our space at the edge of the narrow road as cars passed us repeatedly. On two occasions, we pulled off the road for logging trucks. There just wasn’t enough room for both of us. What a harrowing two miles! There were a couple of creek crossings along that very active road. We theorized that the expense of expanding the associated bridges was precluding the badly needed lane additions.
Once we reached Highway 68, at least 90 percent of the traffic left Highway 27 for this route to the east. Were the cars headed 20 miles to the east for a junction with Interstate 75? We can only speculate. After the turn off for Highway 68, Highway 27 returned to a four lane route with comfortable shoulders that were marked as a bike route. For the previous two miles, we were hounded by dozens of cars and now we were on this super highway and we saw no cars for several minutes. It was such an eerie feeling.
Every since Harriman, our route has been heading southwest as it followed the Tennessee River valley. We come up to a sign that read, “Evacuation Route – Watts Bar.” The nuclear power plant was east of Spring City and now northeast of us. If there was a problem with the power plant, at least we were heading in the right direction to get away quickly. We were starting to see more and more of the Kudzu vine along the road. Some of the clusters appeared to have the shape of animals in a zoo. Other globs looked like large, green monsters or ghostly figures. We came up to a mile of road construction where the orange barrels guided the four lanes down to two. Just a few cars gathered up behind us as we pedaled through.
At the outskirts of Dayton, TN, we decide to take the bypass around the city. Even with the bypass, there was some stop and go because of a few traffic signals. In 1925, the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” was held in this town. High school biology teacher, John T. Scopes, faced court proceedings on the charge of having taught evolution in violation of the Butler Act. The trial was originally conceived as a publicity stunt to promote business in Dayton. With a population of only 7,000 people, it didn’t seem like the town prospered that much from the trial.
Since we were making such good time, we decided to go another twenty miles before having lunch. As we flew with the wind, we enjoyed the beauty of the neighboring green hillsides. While stopping for our five mile break, we press the button on our tandem odometers to check our average speed. To our astonishment, the average was 14 mph or 40 percent above our normal touring speed. We quickly shot a photo of one of the odometers as we never expected to top that again!
Less than an hour later, we were approaching Soddy-Daisy, TN. About four miles north of the town, Highway 27 became a limited access route. After crossing over a finger of the Chickamauga Lake, we took the very next exit which connected us with Dayton Pike Road. As we continued to the southwest, we were obviously in a very urban area. We passed by a couple of produce stands along the way. Frazer’s Produce presented a wonderful October setting with their pumpkin and squash on display. After a very tough half mile climb, we descended into the center of Soddy-Daisy.
To our left was a Burger King restaurant which we thought would be a good lunch stop. Before turning, we stop to gaze at a helicopter on display. The Huey was flown in combat missions in Vietnam in 1966-67. She was damaged by enemy fire multiple times but was never shot down. This strong symbol of the Vietnam War was dedicated to all who served. When we entered into the Burger King parking lot, we did our usual practice of taking up an entire parking spot with our rig. We then removed our helmets, purple bandanas and gloves and hung them on the handle bars so that they could partially dry out.
It was about 12 noon so the hamburger business was brisk. Once we sat down with our meal, an older couple stopped by our table to say that their grandkids were fascinated by our bike. One of them just stared at our bike and did not eat anything after we pulled up. As we were enjoying our hamburgers, an older man driving a pickup parked next to our bike. He spent some time looking over our rig before coming in to order his meal. A few moments later, he strolled over to our table with his lunch in a sack. The man informed us that he had passed us earlier this morning while he was riding his motorcycle. He thought we had made pretty good time.
This man looked very weathered and could have been a model for the old cowboy greeting cards sold in some stores. His teeth were missing or decayed to the extent that you wanted to stay focused on his eyes. Glancing down at his mouth could be painful and distracting to people who didn’t know him. However, as he carried on with us, we soon realized that he had a very gentle soul. When we told him we were going to Americus, GA to see the International Headquarters of Habitat for Humanity, he immediately praised Jimmy Carter with, “He is the only true born-again Christian we’ve had in the Whitehouse! Not like dem fellas we have today.”
After that depiction of Carter, he preceded to give us some travel tips near Americus. Because our detour route from Highway 27 was not firmly established, we were suddenly all ears. He recommended that we stop in Andersonville since it was only ten miles from Americus. This was the site of a Confederate military prison. Conditions were brutal there and at one time it held 32,000 prisoners in the space intended for only 10,000. He then enlightened us with, “Dem Yankees, dey were Christians, too.” Continuing, he said that they didn’t have enough water so they prayed. One night, there was a storm and lightning stuck the ground. Where the lightning hit, a spring started that still runs today.
In other recommended tour stops, he pointed to FDR’s “Little Whitehouse” and the Charles Lindbergh statue at the Americus airport. He said that Lindbergh rode to the airport on a motorcycle and then traded it in on an airplane. In less than a week, he learned how to fly the plane. After thanking the man for his great tips, he wished us a safe journey and then left us to reflect on his historical expressions. As we have told our friends all along, you can meet some incredible people while on a bicycle!
After lunch, we continued southwest on Dayton Pike which soon changed to Dayton Boulevard. A billboard along the way greeted visitors with, “Soddy-Daisy, A Growing City with a Hometown Atmosphere.” About four miles south of town, the highway veered left and passed under Highway 27 before turning southwest again. The road was quite narrow initially but gradually widened as we got closer to Red Bank, TN, a suburb of Chattanooga. We followed the highway until it started to bend and ascend a steep hill. Whenever touring cyclists become disoriented and they’re approaching a big hill, it is time to stop and get out the map!
While we were studying the map, a motorist saw us on the curbside and immediately made a U turn to pull up behind us. The local man confirmed that we had to climb the hill and then enter a tunnel. As we exited the tunnel, we would be entering Chattanooga. Except for the climb, it seemed simple enough. Shifting into granny gear, we crawled up the seven percent grade for a quarter mile. At the top, we entered the short tunnel, and just like that, we were now in Chattanooga. We had made arrangements to stay with Philip and Donna in northern Chattanooga. This tandem couple had seen our story at www.TEAMANGELL.com and eagerly invited us to spend the night in their home.
In advance of our arrival, Philip notified the Chattanooga newspaper about a possible photo opportunity. His contact was interested in our story but had fewer reporters working on the weekend. The newspaper’s staff wanted us to tell them exactly what time we expected to be arriving. This was so they could schedule a photographer to shoot a photo of us pedaling into Chattanooga. That was a problem. We were not familiar with the route. Would it be hilly? Would there be a good riding surface? Also, what if the weather or wind was unfavorable? Lastly, we might experience unpredictable events like flat tires or mechanical issues.
It would have been very difficult to predict how fast we would ride the projected distance of 65 plus miles. We thought we might arrive between 4 to 5 PM but we didn’t want to commit to that time slot. As it turned out, we averaged 3 MPH faster than our two most recent days and were on track to arrive before 3 PM. We called our hosts to let them know of our earlier than expected arrival time, but there was no way to reach the newspaper’s contact. It was a missed opportunity. The departures of touring cyclists are usually easier to coordinate than arrivals. Because of a prior commitment to reach northern Georgia on Monday, we were unable to schedule a photographer for an early morning departure out of Chattanooga.
Once we exited the tunnel, we raced down the other side and through a quaint shopping district of North Chattanooga. Now just north of the Tennessee River, we had a half mile hill to climb before reaching the residential area of our hosts. Philip and Donna lived in a smaller house build in the 1970s. They had remodeled the interior with bamboo and tile floors and sleek European furniture and appliances. It was a very calming setting and they were delightful hosts. Donna loves to cook and fixed a delicious, gourmet meal. We sat around the table stuffing ourselves and listened to stories about their fascinating, one month tandem tour of Italy.
Miles cycled – 68.3
October 3, 2004
Expecting a rendezvous with Barb’s former coworkers, we had no cycling planned for today. In the morning, Philip drove us to Saints Peter and Paul Church so we could attend mass. The building was a very lovely cathedral style structure located in the heart of downtown. After the service, Philip gave us a nice car tour of downtown. As a member of the Chattanooga Urban Area Bicycle Task Force, Philip is very active in the cycling community with development of the Master Bike Plan and the Bike2Work promotions. While driving down various streets, he pointed out bike lanes and other bike safety features that he helped implement. Having never visited the downtown area, we were impressed with the beauty of the architecture there.
Upon our return, Donna prepared a delicious southern style breakfast for us. She was quite a cook! After breakfast, we presented our adventure slide show using our laptop computer. Still tired from our travels, we then took a short nap as we had a busy afternoon and evening planned. In the afternoon, we had made arrangements to meet Barb’s former coworkers from her days at Siemens VDO Automotive. When she left Siemens last May, the company was in the process of transferring about a dozen employees from Auburn Hills, MI to Huntsville, AL. Had Barb chosen to stay with Siemens (and not move to Seattle), there was a position available for her in Huntsville. Her former associates, Mark and Rick determined that the career relocations would be favorable for themselves and their families so they elected to make the move.
Given that Huntsville was only a couple of hours driving distance, we chose the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga as an entertaining venue for the families to explore. Mark and his two sons and daughter picked us up in North Chattanooga for the transport to the aquarium while Rick with his wife, three daughters and two sons drove directly to the site. For our gang of thirteen, the multi-floor exhibits of fish, reptiles, butterflies and birds offered a very diverse display of nature. In addition to viewing the world’s largest freshwater fish tank, a large wall map of all of the world’s major rivers caught our attention. Starting with the Yukon River in Alaska, we could trace back to each significant river our adventure took us over. That certainly put things in an interesting perspective!
After almost two hours of touring, our legs and feet were aching from all of the walking. We could tolerate pedaling a bike several thousand miles but now that we were using different muscles, we couldn’t handle walking several thousand feet! Before leaving the aquarium, we check out the neighboring view of the Tennessee River and the multiple bridge crossings. The Market Street Bridge was the most striking. The blue painted steel of the bascule (which pivots upwards to allow ship passage) had a regal appearance. We later drove over this bridge to reach our restaurant for the evening.
Arriving at the Mudpie Coffee House, we found their outdoor deck to be a cozy place to enjoy our meal. After ordering, we had fun talking about the changes in our lives since last spring. Mark’s kids were attending schools in the urban part of Huntsville while Rick’s children were in a more rural setting. The kids were quick to point out the disparity of a southern living versus the northern life that they left behind in Michigan. The southern etiquette was very prominent here, particularly at the school level. They were to respond to adults as, “Yes, Sir” or “Yes, Ma’am” without hesitation or sarcasm. In the rural schools, it sounded like they were even more conservative with their manners. The families seemed to be adapting well to their new environment.
Barb’s former coworkers thought we both looked pretty fit and tanned. They thought Randall’s beard was getting pretty shaggy. Mark advised, “Hey, if things don’t work out in Seattle, Huntsville is a wonderful place to live!” Hmmmm, we weren’t so sure that would be a good fit. As we continued to talk, everyone received their food orders except for the two of us. We waited and waited until it was determined that our order got lost. To compensate us, we got free dessert! We were suddenly very popular with the kids. After a wonderful evening with the former Michiganders, we spent time with Donna and Philip discussing our departure route for the next morning. Our hosts planned to give us a tandem sendoff so we wouldn’t have to worry about getting lost in Chattanooga! Looking forward to our exploration of Georgia, we retired for the night.
Miles cycled – 0.0
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