West through Tennessee


There are many songs that have run through our minds while pedaling through the great state of Tennessee.  I (Debi) have repeatedly thought about a song I learned at Camp Nor’Wester (I worked there a few summers out in the San Juan Islands in Washington), The Tennessee Stud.  Here’s Johnny Cash singing it live on youtube and the chorus below.

The Tennessee Stud was long and lean
The color of the sun and his eyes were green
He had the nerve and he had the blood
But you never seen a horse like the Tennessee Stud

We’ve seen lots of horses the past few days as we’ve been making our way west across the state.  Expansive estates with white fences surrounding them in grid-like form.  The horses are always looking at us curiously.  I wonder if some think we’re horses with wheels?

Let’s catch up to where we left off in leaving Asheville, NC.  Keri and Ira dropped us a couple hours outside of Asheville near Knoxville, TN in Marbledale and we biked 41 miles to Yarberry Pennisula Public Campground.  We’ve tried to stay mainly at campgrounds during hunting season.  We’ve certainly seen plenty of gun racks here as hunting is in integral part of the culture of the mountains.  We see deer all the time so I bet it’s exciting to hunt, we just don’t want to be in the way.

Yarberry Peninsula was deserted.  Although it feels like Spring weather to our Vermont seasoned bodies, people in Tennessee aren’t camping much in late November.  It’s cool out, but peaceful with subtle beauty.  We had a campsite right next to the Little Tennessee River.  A Great Blue Heron seemed to observe us, sitting on a rock in the river for a couple hours then loudly announcing it’s arrival in a tree right above us.

Great Blue Heron reflecting

Bryan practices Tai Chi at our campsite

Tuesday we biked 52 miles to Watts Bar Dam  and the site of a Nuclear Plant AND a Coal Plant.  I tried to imagine the electricity surging from the area and spreading into the Tennessee countryside.  After a  long descent into the valley we reached the cooling towers.  Our map gazetteer of Tennessee indicated a public campground-but where was it?  I flagged down a dump truck that appeared to be employed by the plant.  We were pointed towards a picnic area but the driver didn’t know about a campground.  Confused and the sun quickly setting we cruised down towards the picnic area.  We noticed a side road to the right and decided to check it out, then we saw a restroom-like building, perhaps it’s the campground?  We ride in further and realize we’ve found the campground-but it’s abandoned, no longer in use.  Suddenly we find ourselves pointing at all the different picnic tables scattered in the woods.  It looked like a few years had gone by, small saplings growing strong where cars used to park at their sites.  There was a covering of leaves on the picnic tables and the numbers of the sites were hard to read.  It was eerie and amazing.

So many sites to choose from

Making dinner at our site

Camping by a Nuclear Plant

Wednesday we biked through Spring City and up onto Shut-In Gap Rd.  A major climb out of town on back roads.  We had hoped to climb up and over the Cumberland Escarpment and then down into the Sequatchie Valley but alas, we took a wrong turn.  We ended up continuing through dog-ridden Luminary, a town with apparently some of the highest crime rates in the area.  The dogs that chased us certainly reflected the atmosphere.  We realized our error and rode onto Summer City and 4 miles downhill into Pikeville.  When we reached the edge of town we were flagged down by a woman in her car, she had passed us earlier in the day and was impressed that we had been riding up in the mountains.  As we mentioned in an earlier post, Donna invited us to Thanksgiving at her house.  We accepted readily and headed to a nice room at the Coachman Motel and had Mexican for dinner.  We also crossed into Central Time Zone on Wednesday but didn’t realize it until late in the day.  It suddenly felt like a gift that we had an extra hour to soak up all our hotel room could offer us.

Going up Shut-In Gap Rd.

A little perspective, view of the cooling towers about 20 miles away that we started at in the morning

Thanksgiving morning we got some food supplies at the Piggly Wiggly Grocery and then turned our bikes once again towards the mountains to Donna’s.  This should be our last major climb until Mexico!  It was cold, a few snowflakes hit our faces as we climbed to about 2,000 feet to have dinner with great people and amazing food.

The road to Thanksgiving from Pikeville, TN

After breakfast with Donna and Jeff the next morning we bid them a fond farewell and had to only bike about 10 miles to Fall Creek Falls State Resort.  On the way there we met up with Kevin, a new friend from Thanksgiving, he lives right outside the park.  He had offered to show us around the park claiming he knew it like the back of his hand.  He was right on with that statement.  Kevin took us to all the hidden treasures of his “backyard”.  There were waterfalls, swinging bridges, winding trails, and Mountain Laurel forests.  Thanks Kevin for an AMAZING time and we look forward to hanging out with you again.

Fall Creek Falls

Another water falls in the park

A beautiful tree, Kevin and Debi contemplate the scenery

Getting disoriented in Mountain Laurel

Kevin, Debi and Bryan

We had our coldest night yet at Fall Creek.  We had a dinner of homemade canned tomato soup and Jalepeno Jelly thanks to Donna.  Yummy!  We woke up to frost thick on our tent.  We rode the bikes unloaded on a bikepath out to the Inn that was a part of the park.  We had wifi and an all you can eat breakfast, perfect  for Bryan who’s hunger can be insatiable!

We finally headed out at 11am for a day of easy miles on Tennessee bike routes to Old Stone Fort State Park in Manchester.  Now that we’re in the Central Time Zone it gets dark starting around 4:30pm.  We managed to bike 67 miles and we were in the dark for the last 5.  We don’t like this to happen but when we’re pushing daylight it’s hard to stop.  Arriving at the park was a little challenging at night.  Ranger Jason took sympathy on us and brought us a big pile of hot coals from an empty campsite to ours.  Thanks Jason!

The shoulders on Tennessee roads, something to write home about!

We explored the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Site the next morning.  The site of a 2000 year old supposed ceremonial site for Native Peoples, it was an interesting setting.  50 acre field enclosed by an eight foot tall mound at the entrance and cliffs all around with 2 rivers converging-The Little Duck and The Big Duck Rivers.  An interesting phenomenon was discovered recently, on the summer solstice the light of sunrise lines up perfectly with the entrance of the grounds casting light into the 50 acre field.  You can read more about the site here.

Pretty bridge leading to Old Stone Fort

Museum blends in with landscape at Old Stone Fort

Supposed ceremonial grounds at Old Stone Fort

We planned the next couple days on a park bench while eating our trail mix.  We thought  we’d only have a 20 mile day to get to the next State Park.  We were in the corner of 3 pages of our atlas so one map reading error later we realized we actually had 44 miles to go, not 20.  Oh well, what’s 24 more?  We arrived at an empty Henry Horton State Park with not much going on at all.  We rested and mentally prepared for the rain the next day.

In the rain on Monday we cycled about 20 miles to Columbia, Tennessee.  We asked a fast food employee where the nearest laundromat was and we proceeded there to wash everything.  We talked to a nice couple at the laundromat while we washed everything except for our raingear.  After a stop at the grocery store and our clothes clean in our panniers we headed to the Days Inn for some resting and relaxing.  That is where I’m writing from now.  We decided to stay here 2 nights in order to really chill out before starting the Natchez Trace Parkway. We’ve resupplied our food and other little necessities and we’re ready to ride.  We’ll be camping for the next 5 days along the parkway and we need to average 50 miles a day because we have a stop lined up in Koscuiko, Mississippi on Sunday with our first warmshowers hosts, Donna and Gary Holdiness.  Www.warmshowers.org is a networking website for touring cyclists to connect with places to stay.  We’re excited to use the network for the first time.

We are so happy to be heading south as we’ve been going just west for a while.  Hopefully the temperatures will keep steadily rising and we’ll be able to ditch our fleece pants before Louisiana.  It’s been a cool Fall y’all.

Take care and we’ll be back online soon.

Debi and Bryan


11 Responses to “West through Tennessee”

  1. 1 leslie

    listening to that link really brings back memories. i think i just got chills!

  2. 2 Mom

    So nice to know you are headed for warmer temps. Loved all the info plus picts of places and both of you, awesome writing and pictures…

  3. Hi,

    We are the couple you met while doing laundry in Columbia, TN. Be glad you are not here now. It is cold, wet and windy (well at least for us).

    Enjoy your ride on the Trace. You should see a lot of wildlife and at least the speed limit is about 55 most of the way and no big trucks.

    Hope you have had a chance to check out the RV-Dreams Journal I think you will like it. They like you all stay at State Parks and Corp of Engineer’s Parks.

    Lots of great pics also.

    Will continue to follow your journey. I am not sure why our paths crossed but time will tell.

    Stay safe and God Bless you both.

    Jerry & Annette

    • 5 thrubike

      Jerry and Annette,

      Thanks for the link and we will check them out! That was a cold rainy day for sure – nice to have met you and thanks for reading!

    • 6 thrubike

      And yes time will tell.

      Take Care

      • Middle TN-Cumberland Mountain State Park and Picket State Park and in East TN-Fall Creek Falls, Frozen Head, Roan Mountain and South Cumberland State Recreation Area. These parks also have backcountry sites that are free ..

  4. 8 amanda

    Hey Guys!

    Beautiful descriptions. I think have been to that place with the waterfalls before! One time when I went to Tennessee on a rock climbing trip, it ended up raining a lot, and we couldn’t climb, so we went there and explored around. It’s super cool.

    Glad your well – much love


    • 9 thrubike

      Thanks Amanda!

      Fall Creek Falls is a major rappelling area too! Kevin showed us some dizzying angles. So Beautiful!

  5. Great post! I love the photo of you two and Kevin… Debi that is such a Debi face! I love it! I did some hiking in the Smoky Mnts near Knoxville. Isn’t it interesting to compare it to the forests of Vermont? Love you both!

    • 11 thrubike

      Thanks Risa!

      We have loved watching the forest change as we travel – It is truly an amazing world we live in.

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