Today is a big day for me. I'm combining the Heart Across America ride with a randonneur 200k permanent. That means 60-some miles with Dave, and the comfort of knowing Dennis is back there. And then I keep going until I complete138 miles, unsupported.
This is nothing new for me, but it still causes me a bit of concern. Locals have said the stretch around Tupelo during rush hour is the worst.
The water from the tap was rusty, so I fill up from the filtered tap in the breakfast room. Consolidation begins on my possessions, some things go. The rest needs to fit in my oversized seat bag. I saved enough Skratch Labs drink mix for Friday and put it in a Ziploc bag. Do you think anyone would question the white powdery substance? Nah. Cheese Danish, instant oatmeal and "bold" coffee for breakfast. Dave's chatting up a couple out in the parking lot. She's got a German accent, he's surprised we aren't crossing the country on bike trails made from abandoned railways. Some guy in an orange T-shirt wandering away from the hospital next door asks us how to get to the gas station that he went to yesterday. Okay, well ...let's ride.
Since I'm doing a randonneur event, I need a timestamp from a place chosen by the organizer (Michelle Williams). Unfortunately in a town like this and the town in Alan Jackson's "Little Man", sometimes even gas stations go out of business. Texaco is gone, but there's an Exxon close enough. Now for worry #1, dogs.
We have several miles of side streets and country roads before the Trace. As soon as Dave mentions the mace he's carrying, I hear barking. It's a Chihuahua, but still. Dave tries to educate me about screaming "AARRU" because it sounds like a dog. Sure, a dog on a bike with tastey ankles. It's total paranoia. We're staring at every run-down home and trailers (profiling, I'm sorry). Then a pack of three dogs come charging from a rather nice home (profile failure). It could have been a hundred, but I was gone. Dave had dropped back and was riding beside the van (white goose). Nice dogs, actually. Mercifully, we reach the Trace.
Life returns to the surreal experience that has us spoiled for the whole week. Perhaps there are flaws, or perhaps we're bored, but I start to point out small dimples and discolorations in the road ...as in previous days. At one of the blur of historic stops about a once-proud native culture, Dennis spots some rather large nail-heads in the van's tire ...bolt-heads, actually - huge. So we send Dennis ahead to Tupelo to get it fixed and run some errands and find us some lunch.
Now Dave and I are alone and unsupported. Dave appreciates this feeling. I'm ambivalent. Along with being navigationally challenged, I quickly forget when the van is back there. I don't have a rearview mirror like Dave and on more than one occasion I've been startled by the van. Life is always interesting for me!
Dave detects a wobbles in his front wheel. A broken spoke. And we're unsupported. Before I thought to photograph the event, he had removed the offending piece, performed some rudimentary failure analysis, adjusted the other spokes to compensate and was ready to roll. I'd still be there.
I'm anxious to read Dave's blog because I thought we rode at a workmanlike pace. With the late start for worry #2, I was pondering worry #3, how long would it take me to finish. 6pm? Certainly well before 8pm. Honestly, I couldn't go much faster and still have enough for 138 miles. Tupelo traffic never materializes.
Around noon, we hit the big visitors'center. Incidentally, there must be a segment that ends near the bathroom instead of the main entrance, because Dave's got a 2015 KOM and I got nuttin' - 15 minutes behind. Dave's blog probably won't mention that I got there first. Anyway, I love that place. Books, maps, pins, giant maps made into the tile floor. But alas, we roll.
Eventually we hear a honk. Dennis is back. Lunch. Dennis got me a Turkey Reuben sandwich - he heard me say that I liked Reubens before I went vegetarian/ pescitarian (except on big bike rides when I'll eat turkey and drink regular Coke.) We are a laugh riot at small-town restaurants with all our quirks. Hopefully, Kenny is normal - my replacement for next week.
Soon Dave's exit arrives while mine is 70 miles further. It's tough. But it's what we had decided to do long ago. I look over my shoulder and watch Dave shrink out of view. Big exhale. Damn, miss him already. Okay, I hope I helped.
These memories will last a lifetime and I'm glad to share them with Dave. Many times, this poem has crossed my mind. Dave knows it by heart, or at least used to - as do I.
The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
By John Walter Wayland
Back to part two. I'm tired, I've got no one to draft and I need to make good time. A pair of touring cyclists had passed, so I run them down. Two guys with Adventure Cycling doing the Underground Railroad tour. They're going to Toronto. One is a bluesman with a guitar on his back. (The other is not Ralph Macheo.) We chat until they exit. I pick up the pace again. A bit.
What's this? A hill. I flip my Garmin display to show elevation and rate of incline. 7%, ouch. Screw it, I've stayed in the big ring all week and I'm not downshifting now!
Not much of a descent. And another 7%-er. Where's Dave? Oh yeah, he's showered and having a beer about now. But the scenery has changed. There are rock outcroppings. And very light rain, and it seems darker. I'm feeling okay. It crosses my mind that Don Brennan might be with me. My smile surprises me.
We, I mean I, cross into Alabama. It looks different. There's more climbing, more differentiation. There's the Alabama/Tennessee state line and another historic marker. Now I'm in Tennessee ...seems like I was just in Mississippi. Now I'm starting to focus solely on the mile markers. Whoa! Opening up before me after a welcome downhill stretch is the Tennessee River. Which means I've got a bridge to cross. Very cool, I thought this might be worry #4 or whatever it's up to. That was refreshing.
Back to the countdown. I'm really tired. My 17-18mph pace is now 15mph. I muster a few historic stops (to eat). I'm checking my water. Another mile marker. I pass a pair of touring cyclists. Wave.
I pass a guy heading south. When I stop to photograph a bridge (really just stopping to give my butt a break), he loops around. He's a local, trying to get back in shape. The Heart Across America story spills out. Time to roll, should be 45 more minutes.
In my focus on mile markers, I miss two things I wanted to see: the stepping stones at Rock Spring, and the Wichahpi Stone Wall. Oh well, nine miles to go. Four. One. Zero, and I'm still going. (No, it's not a navigation problem.) Okay, there it is. And no dogs.
Collingwood, Tennessee, is small. I find the Exxon station I need for my randonneur timestamp. Snickers and a chocolate milk. I ask for directions to Miss Monetta's Country Cottage while I pound down my purchase.
Miss Monetta's Cottages are basically single-family homes on the edge of town ...a B&B. It's awesome. So my bike is in the garage, I've woofed down the complimentary snacks and water and spent way too much time writing this. If I've shorted anything, it's Miss Monetta's. If I've neglected anything for PC reasons, it was dinner.
Summary: my wrists, butt, neck, ankles and every last muscle suffered today. It's been a long week. One more tomorrow. What's it been like for Dave?