Appalachian Gravel Growler, Collettsville to Marion, 55 miles | Hike-A-Bike (Emphasis on Hike)

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We’ve never really had a day cycling like today. Here’s how it all went down:

We got an early start, taking pics of Betsey’s, cycled a stellar segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopped for second breakfast at Famous Louise’s Rock House enjoying an exemplary $5.95 breakfast including grits and strawberry rhubarb jelly and thought we had the toughest part of the day behind us with a 10 mile climb on gravel roads.

The wheels fell off when we thought the power line easement was going to be about 100 yards of steep, rocky descent. It ended up being about two miles of ratchet, downhill bouldering, and making our way through thick brush. I thought for sure Mr. Snake was going to shake my hand or take a taste of my kankle.

Finally out of the power line hike-a-bike we dumped out onto some nice smooth tarmac and pulled into a C store – with a thunderstorm brewing.

Should have listened to the locals’ directions to the next C store stop. Instead we follow our GPS into the most God awful, remote, wet, soppy single track we’ve ever ridden/hiked.

I’m sure the local MTB association would be ticked at us even being on the trail. We apologize.

Had to hike with loaded bikes about four miles with Uber steep climbs and descents. Believe me there were times I wanted to throw the Cutty over the edge and stomp off. It was hard work for this old gal pushing my loaded bike up steep rocky ascents and trying to control the descents and still it was 20 miles to our planned campsite and well past 7pm. There were a lot of grunts and groans, mosquito swatting and abrasions. #justcrap

Finally we abandoned the proper route and just “googled” our next stop which was Shulford’s gas station.

Apparently there was a campground less than a mile away (says google). Inside, the Shulford’s clerk said it’s not opened. Undaunted, we google it and talk to Portia who says she loves to host bikepackers so bring it on.

There was no potable water at Catawba River Campground but insomuch as bathing, Portia said river baths were the best so we snagged a couple of pizza slices for dinner at Shulfords and made a bee line for the campground about 8:30pm.

Once there we set up the tent, stripped down to unders and took a quick dip into the Catawba River and bathed off. We ate pizza and then climbed into the tent and used our headlamps to ensure tics hadn’t gotten too friendly with us throughout the day.

At that point we decided to rethink our route into Ashville on Thursday given the trail conditions on the Appalachian Gravel Growler Route.

Stay tuned for what we decided.

As challenging as the day was, we are so grateful for:

  • We were never lost.
  • Despite “dropping” the bikes descending the power line easement they remained mechanically sound – no damage to the derailleurs, etc.
  • We had plenty of water.
  • Multiple modes of navigation (handwritten cue sheets, Google, Ride with GPS)
    Praise God for the campsite and Portia!
  • Weather was decent – humid but no storms. And the sun even peeked out!
  • And we finally saw our shadows!

There are so many things that could have gone wrong but despite the tough day we were able to finish albeit eight miles short of our planned destination.

Also there are so many people that are stronger cyclists that wouldn’t have had an issue today. But remember, don’t compare yourself to others, just beat your yesterday and enjoy the journey.

And that, my friends, is exactly what we did.

Appalachian Gravel Growler, Morganton to Collettsville, 42 miles| Finally Off Road!

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Lush forest, stellar views, very little wind and no traffic made for a near perfect day of riding off road on our first day.

This was pretty much a warm up day with just a little over 40 miles but dang… these two Hoosiers aren’t used to these climbs.

Good news is neither of us went over the handlebars, over the edge and we kept the rubber on the right side of the rocks.

Honestly the best part of the day was rolling up to Betsey’s (and yep that is how it’s spelled) Ole Country Market, our planned camping spot tonight and meeting 58 year old Bruce.

He was seated on the covered front porch in an electric wheel chair and gave us a hearty welcome. As owner he said he wanted us to make ourselves at home for the evening or else go home. His hospitality and enthusiasm were over the top.

He didn’t hang around long. From the middle of Pisgah National Forest he drives 45 minutes each way, each day in a modified van to work with a trainer to strengthen the left side of his body. He does squats, push ups, dead lifts and core work. This man is a stud!

So off Bruce went to the gym and we began to unload. Just about that time we heard thunder, felt rain and decided to rent the only cabin on the property, giving us shelter for the night. And that means Tom doesn’t have to haul a wet tent around all day tomorrow.

Soooo a shower, small kitchen to cook in, electricity and a comfy dry bed is ours tonight.

Giving thanks for the little things tonight and in awe of Bruce’s hospitality and mental and physical determination.

 

NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Meriwether Lewis to Garrison Creek, 46 Miles | That’s a Wrap!

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Our northbound bike ride up the Natchez Trace wrapped up today! As we traveled north the number gnats diminished and the rolling hills increased – just the way we like it!

In all, I think we saw only two chuckholes on the Trace (and that’s when you know you’re not in Indiana anymore). Drivers were courteous, giving us plenty of room to ride.

The scenery doesn’t change much as in early June it’s just lush, green forests all along the way. It’s a solid route for reflection and training.

We were surprised we didn’t see more wildlife. It was mostly turkeys and box turtles with a lot of dead snakes, armadillos and froggies. 🤣 Dang who knew Mississippi had so many snakes?

Every place we stopped it’s the people, both the locals and fellow travelers that enrich the journey.

This ride was a training ride for North Carolina coming up in a little over a week. The Appalachian Gravel Growler is half the distance each day but over twice the elevation (sometimes four times the elevation) and it’s mostly off road. So stay tuned to see how that goes.

What a perfect way to spend the week before our 12th wedding anniversary.

 

NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Tishomingo to Meriwether Lewis, 94 Miles | A Three-State Day in the Rain

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Oh such a great day but such a wet one! In addition to crossing both the Alabama and Tennessee state lines we rode most of the day on hills and in the rain. Gratefully it was a warm rain without a lot of head wind.

Not many pics today but for sure there were lots of smiles during the miles.

NoBo on the Natchez Trace, Witch Dance to Tishomingo, 77 Miles | Blessed and Lucky Indeed

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From Tom:

Ok it is my turn again 😁

I was doing a lot of thinking of prayers over the past few days. We are back out on the road and the 15 mile prayers have begun again. I was thinking of what we were praying for last summer during our ride. So many of those prayers were answered and a few are still waiting to be answered in “Gods time”.😁.

Maybe it’s luck; maybe it’s the answer to a prayer or maybe a little of both but here’s what happened the last couple days:

  • Rolling into the “primitive campsite” last night and wondering how we are going to charge up our electronics (Garmin, phone, lights, etc). We pull on the maintenance door at the restrooms and it is unlocked with electrical outlets inside.
  • Twenty miles to go today with major thunderstorms all around us, and God held an umbrella over our head and hardly a raindrop hit us.
  • Checking into our campsite at the state park tonight and we are starving. Deb asked if there might be a close place to eat. Jeanine says “a pizza place just opened up two weeks ago and they serve pizza and beer”.

We got off early today again at 6:30am. We were looking forward to our first cup of coffee and sausage biscuit sandwich at mile 18 ahead.

We roll off the Trace and .1 mile up the road find a gas station that had been closed for quite awhile.

Onward another 5 miles to plan “b”. A brand new Chevron with so many choices to put on a homemade biscuit: sausage, fried ham, fried bologna, fried chicken, fried smoked sausage. Did I say “Fried”?

Tasty, tasty, washed down with a cup of coffee. We look forward to your comments guessing which “fried” we went with. (Teresa Black, you already know Deb’s choice 😁)

On we went with a quick stop at the Natchez Trace Headquarters to fill up our water bottles and see our new friends Bob and Chad who were also at the stop. With 35 miles to go and a threat of thunderstorms heading our way we started booking it to the state park.

  • For twenty miles all we saw around us were dark clouds, lightening, and winds (tailwinds 😁👍). As I said before God was watching out for us as we rolled into the State Park Campground with only a couple of drops to cool us off. After a jaunt off for pizza and a Bud, we are back at our campground, with tent up, showered up and ready to call it a good night.

Our next two posts should be wet ones with the forecast ahead of us. Stay tuned.

 

NoBo on the Natchez, Kosciusko to Witch Dance, 76 Miles | Locals Trump Locale Today

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First order of the day was to walk our bikes down the steps from the rear decking of the Kosciusko Visitor Center. Thank you, Tom!!

Great day of riding today. We got an early 6:30 am start and had the pleasure of meeting Johnson Spencer, a 77 year old French Camp native at our first stop.

Johnson claims to be the only man in Mississippi with two last names. He and his two buddies were chatting it up and wanted to know a little about our bikes and share a lot about themselves. And that was perfectly fine with us.

Johnson has been working his whole life and started when he was just seven years guiding his dad’s mule helping to haul logs out of the woods. He shared a lot about his work at a local school and some of the kids he still remembers. Wish we could have stayed all day to talk to him.

Today brought us very little traffic, a little more cloud cover for a reprieve from the heat and per usual, an awesome road to ride on with just few rollers to keep it interesting. But sometimes the locals trump any locale ya visit.

Finally cracked open the Whisperlite stove to cook a meal. At the end of 67 days on the road last summer I could fire it up blindfolded. Tonight I actually had to watch what I was doing.

We have officially passed the half way point and tomorrow will take us to and through Tupelo.

NoBo on the Natchez: Clinton to Kosciusko, 76 Miles | Into the Mystic

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Just a regular day of cycling – hot, relatively little elevation and just plain steady.

We didn’t feel as perky as we did yesterday but we made it to our destination in Kosciusko and we were still smiling at the end of the day. 😊

Right now we are camping on the back deck of the Kosciusko visitor center and it over looks the Trace. There are lightning bugs, (two ceiling fans yay), flushers and outlets. An Italian restaurant and gas station are located nearby. Everything a bike traveller could want.

It seemed extra hot today with the temps in the mid 90’s and I’m sure the heat index higher.

Loved the cycleway that bypassed Jackson, the huge reservoir we cycled next to for many miles and the Cypress Swamp. We finally met some northbounders today too!

The GNAT meter registered LOW today (praise God for that)! And the only critter we saw was a box turtle.

We were glad to be done and looking forward to tomorrow’s ride to Witch Dance.

NoBo on the Natchez: Natchez to Clinton, 100 Miles | Deep South

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We made it to Natchez last night about 7pm and without hesitation dropped our rental car off ready to ride bikes north to Nashville. We could not WAIT to get back to bike travel. I mean… it’s been a year.

We’d scouted a bit of the route on Saturday on the way down to get the lay of the land and were a bit surprised that there was more traffic than expected and no shoulders.

So we do what we always do: perform the “wave”. That means we would be using our defensive (and courteous) approach to cycling. When we see a vehicle approaching from behind, the left arm goes straight up and waves big until we see the vehicle moving over. We then give a thank you wave when they pass. That along with being all lit up seems to work.

We also thought of the big things that might be potential hurdles for today. We were a little worried about our longest day (92 miles) being our first day and the heat (forecast for mid ’90s) but it was the littlest thing that was the most challenging.

The GNATS. Let’s just say the rest stops were infrequent and very short.🤣 They swarm you when you stop riding and they are persistent.

I asked one of the locals who lives here in the Deep South how to get rid of the swarming nuisances and she said splash apple cider vinegar all over us. Should we replace one of our water bottles with a bottle of ACV? 🤷🏼‍♀️ If anyone has any other ideas, let us know. I don’t mind smelling like a pickle but don’t really have room for the bottle.

As it played out, traffic was very light and not an issue. Road surface was spot on – and without rumble strips, stop lights or commercial traffic.

As far as the critter count goes we saw deer, fox, lots of hawks, my fave snake (a dead one) which appeared to be an eastern diamondback rattlesnake and some armadillos who might have tried to play chicken with approaching vehicles… but alas, lost.

Walking a portion of the Sunken Trace was a highlight for me today. To think of all the people, history, emotions, hope, ambition that has been a part of that trail is fascinating to me.

All in all a perfect day of riding the Trace and we even squeezed in a century just because we could.

Because he is the best riding partner and husband ever, Tom found a Mexican restaurant a quarter mile walk from where we are camping so we celebrated with our own little mini fiesta after showering.

Tomorrow we ride through Jackson. Tom and I ran a marathon there in 2014. #memories

Thanks to our friends, family and followers who are following along!

NoBo on the Natchez: Just About Ready to Roll

In a little less than a week we’ll set out on bikes to cycle 444 miles northbound on the Natchez Trace. The timing of it makes us smile because it will be exactly a year and a day since we left to ride our bikes across the country on the Northern Tier route.

Will there be push ups, planks and daily prayers again – the same as when we cycled the Northern Tier? Yep! Tom’s been keeping up with all three of them.  Me, just the prayers.  The push ups and planks are going to hurt. What can I say? Life gets busy.

We’re riding gravel bikes this time and using different bike bags so there are some adjustments with the packing. Since we’re moving to a bikepacking set up instead of road touring we need to cut the gear and clothing in about half.  Tom’s pretty well set but I def need to get my mind right. If you recall, last time I had a hard time parting with my camp chair? Yep that and more went home with my sister from Fargo – too much extra weight.

This time I’m having a hard time parting with the tarp that Tom says we need to leave home. Who wants to do push ups with their nose in the dirt?  #notme

And there will be no more big grocery stops for food as we’ll be using the grab ‘n go approach to meals and cooking a lot simpler. That means we need to leave the second cook pan, spices, cutting board and spatula at home. But. These bikes are sweet! They’re lightweight, agile and ride like a BMW.

We’ve been getting some outdoor rides in the past few weeks getting our legs, lungs and back ends ready.  I think of all the rides we’ve been on however, the ride to and from the Indy 500 track on a practice day was the most memorable/eventful as we rode bikes home in gale force winds.

The Trace is sort of a warm up ride for the route the bikes are really made for and one we will ride in North Carolina in just a couple weeks, and ultimately another long distance route we hope to ride in 2020. So we are in the process of planning the work and working the plan.

And oh yea, we thought it might be kinda fun to ride bikes in every state since we’ve already run a marathon in every state.  Soooo… we’ll be knocking off three states this trip and the blue will turn to green on the diagram to the right.

If the weather forecasters are correct we’re in for some hot days.  But, given the likelihood, or rather the unlikelihood, of being right based on the forecasts lately here in Indy, who knows what weather we’ll cycle through.

More on our bike travels down yonder in the deep south to come…

 

It May Not Be a Christmas Miracle but it Sure Felt Like One

We’ve kind of settled in after returning from the bike ride about six months ago, and although we don’t talk about it as much as we did, at least once a day a memory from the ride flashes by, a lesson learned is recalled, a new friend fondly thought of, or our sense of wanderlust, rekindled.  But we know we can only “ride out” an adventure for so long until it’s time to start planning another one (or two).

What about that little Christmas miracle? About a week before Christmas I received news that a donation to the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry was misplaced. It wasn’t just any donation, it was THE largest donation. It was a $1,000 check. Unfortunately the check dated in August was void after 30 days.

After a few phone calls, we got it straightened out and gratefully the Pantry was able to cash a new check, however, the donor remains anonymous. We know only what bank it was drawn from but not much else.  Whoever you are, thank you. It really seemed like a little Christmas miracle. It was unexpected. Is is so appreciated.

And finally Happy Birthday to this guy.  Welcome to your 60’s Tom!

 

When ya’ll were 21 years old, how did you envision your life at 60?

At 60, I’m wondering how Tom is envisioning his life at 70. That, I think, will be the topic of conversation tonight on date night.