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

Riding Stats

Accommodations

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!

Riding Stats

Accommodations

Route Tracker

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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Accommodations

Route Tracker

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: Natchez to Clinton, 100 Miles | Deep South

Riding Stats

Accommodations

Route Tracker

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…

 

Reaching Across the Aisle: Cycling Style

Can roadies really learn to love mountain biking? I like to think of that as reaching across the aisle, cycling style. That’s what happened the past two weekends when at first, we rode the Hilly Hundred in Morgan, Monroe and Owen counties, and the following weekend rode in the Big Woods Brown County EPIC Mountain Bike Festival in Brown county.

Being #TomandDeb we camped both nights, both weekends and you’ll see us wearing the same cycling jerseys we wore on Northern Tier. Apparently we are attached to them.

Hilly Hundred

We thought what the heck, how much effort would two back-to-back 50 mile rides on hilly terrain riding carbon bikes actually take after finishing a 4,100 mile summer bike ride on steel bikes fully loaded through several mountain passes. Although we hadn’t ridden the Hilly in about ten years we knew now would be a good time to return.

And we weren’t disappointed.  Stellar weather, incredible organization, well marked scenic routes and SAGs that were so well provisioned with food, apple cider and live music I thought I was at a family reunion. CIBA just knows how to get things done right.

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What left me with the greatest impression at the end of the weekend was the volunteerism. So. Many. Volunteers.  To put this event on successfully, there were so many helpers. All smiling. All eager to help.

We’re going back next year and you know what? It’s going to be a lot harder for us.  Mount Tabor will feel like it really is, a short steep climb, instead of a little bump in the road for a couple of roadies who are still reminiscing about climbing along the Northern Tier.

Big Woods Brown County Epic Mountain Bike Festival

Gotta admit I was a little apprehensive. I don’t think I’d ever been on a “real” mountain bike before and mistakenly thought any bike without drop handle bars could be considered a mountain bike. Ooops. #wrong

On a whim, we signed up for the festival mostly because it was something new, it was on bikes and outdoors. Keep in mind neither of us have mountain bikes and Tom had been on a mountain bike proper only once. So he rented one and I rode a demo bike.

At registration Friday night, there were even a few raised eyebrows when I admitted to being a firsty.  One person might have even asked, “And you picked this festival, the EPIC for your first ride?” Hummm that was a little daunting.

But, everything is easier when you first start because peeps expect you to make mistakes. There’s no pressure. It’s all for fun.  A couple friends came down for the day and we were fortunate to ride in a women’s only group that included some instruction and support while Tom was left to fend for himself. Props for the EPIC event organizers to plan for this.

The moment I clipped in I knew it was going to be fun but borderline terrifying at the same time. Whereas on the road bike I can let my mind go, say prayers, work out emotions and pedal hard, the mountain bike ride requires 100% focus in the moment. Not the last moment. Not the next moment. The present moment.

From the warm up on the grass to experiencing maybe just a little bit of flow for the first time cycling on a trail, I was hooked.  And it sure doesn’t hurt that the demo bike was a women’s specific, top-of-the-line, full suspension, carbon bike that handled so well it felt like it had wings.

Uber props also to the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association whose volunteers are responsible for building and maintaining 27 miles of mountain bike trails. Twenty. Seven. Miles. This extraordinary effort draws so many cyclists and their families to the area, not only for this event, but throughout the year. Again, the spirit of volunteerism for the love of the sport and the outdoors is remarkable.

Yep we will probs be returning to this event next year as well. The EPIC event organizers took care of every detail. Can we just all agree it was one EPIC post ride party with campfires, food and bevvies from Big Woods Brewery and live music?

Not sure if the love affair with a single chain ring and full suspension will continue but for now it’s a hot romance and I guess we are buying mountain bikes this weekend and going to learn how to do that. There’s always something new to learn.

And oh yea, about learning something new. I also picked up a volunteer gig for which I’m not yet qualified but am stoked about because it’s connected to cycling. I’m helping coordinate social media for Carmel Cyclery.

If you have a second, would you show me and Carmel Cyclery a little social media love by liking them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?  And hey, I’m open to your comments both about Carmel Cyclery’s social media and mountain biking. Remember, with beginners there’s no pressure; it’s all fun.

At the end of the day, consider us just a couple of friendly amateur cyclists learning how to cross the aisle from road to dirt, cycling style and being a little outspokein’ about it.

#acaNoTier Wrapping Up our Coast to Coast Northern Tier Ride

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Tom and I wrapped up our Norther Tier ride just a little over a week ago and have some final thoughts we’d like to share, some numbers and finally one last video. Thanks so much to family, friends and followers for the love and encouragement.

Tailwinds,
Tom and Deb


From Tom:

I am sitting here in my kitchen thinking about this past few months.  It all kind of seems like a dream.  An experience of a lifetime and hard to put in to words.  Here a list of my thoughts:

  • It took about two weeks to peel away the layers of a lifetime of work and not think about work, emails, projects, etc.
  • Going to bed at night thinking about the upcoming weather, wind direction and knowing it is totally out of our control
  • Looking at the maps and planning out our next weeks of riding with a goal of averaging 70 miles a day.
  • Looking at the next days ride and planning out our 2nd breakfast about 20 miles down the road
  • Walking into the Saloon in our spandex and every cowboy’s head turned at the same time to give us the eye as we walked through the front door
  • Pulling out of our campground the third day and going the wrong way, about 8 miles the wrong direction down a big descent. Turning around and now going back up in the right direction.  Learning to never start a ride with out turning on my Garmin and finding the course first
  • Getting our morning camping routine down:
    • Tom pack up the sleeping bags, thermarests, tent
    • Deb fire up the stove and cook up coffee, and oatmeal with Craisins and walnuts
    • Pushups and Planks
    • Prayers of gratitude for yesterday’s ride and prayers for today’s ride.
  • Eating Paydays and peanut M&Ms – not on the post riding diet 😊
  • My 15 mile chats with God, praying for so, so many things that were absolutely answered
  • Waking up each morning for the first few weeks with a little uneasiness of riding on the busy roads with little shoulder with semis/logging trucks. By the end of the ride, having no fear, and 100% faith that God is sheltering us from drivers, mechanical issues, and providing us with mental/physical strength to finish each day.
  • Applying layers and layers of sunscreen
  • Getting the blog done at the end of each day (hoping we had phone connection)
  • The comfort of getting into the tent while camping and being so comfortable and the wonderful satisfaction of a good day of riding.
  • Making the decision to get Deb a front rack and having her front bags shipped to us in West Glacier. Also getting her new touring tires:  A no brainer after the fact
  • Looking back at our daily videos and seeing our happy, happy faces totally enjoying our journey
  • Doing a Fred Flintstone the final short hill to our finishline, brakes fully engaged, but having to stop myself with my shoes. Perfect timing for my brake pads to expire with over 5000 miles on brake pads and tires 😊.
  • The greatest memory will be all the wonderful, kind people we met along the way!!!!

It was an experience of a lifetime seeing God’s creation at 12 miles an hour with my true love.


From Deb:

Each night I still dream about the bike trip, in a good way.  Yet when I’m awake the bike trip seems like a dream. Did Tom and I really ride 4,132 miles across the country, camping out, pedaling hard up mountain passes and coasting wicked fast down the other side, eating like teenagers, and spending over 23 hours a day together? Dang!

The night Tom and I returned to Indiana we were able to see all of our bigs and littles and realized on our way home from Sahm’s Place we heard sounds in Indiana we didn’t hear in any of the 11 states we visited. Indiana night sounds. And we’d missed them. Well not as much as we missed the fam, but still, we missed them enough to “camp out” one last night on our screen porch. It’s as if knowing we were safely home, there was still one last little bit of our ride we didn’t want to let go of, sleeping outdoors, even with the stank bags.

Although I acclimate quickly, I am missing the silence I experienced during a good part of the day on the bike. There is so much busy-ness and noise in most every moment and this chases away quiet time and thoughts.

And this… Cycle over 4,000 miles across the country, legs not sore.  Run four miles at a 9:33 pace a week later, sore as heck! The saying , “use it or lose it” appears to be true.  And that goes for most anything. Rote tasks performed before the bike trip now take some thinking. And I forget everything. It will all come back, including the running and most of the rote memory, but I will say it’s refreshing to look at the world with “new” eyes.

I’m so grateful for Tom who helped make this cycling adventure unforgettable as he navigated and led us safely across the country. All I had to do was follow Tom, not follow the map.  He waited patiently at every turn so I wouldn’t miss it, redirected me a couple times when I did, and was always up for an ice cream, second breakfast and breaking out another Pay Day. He is a font of positivity.  What do you think it’s like to live with a person like that? What do you think it’s like to BE a person like that?

Fr. Jim’s prayer for us was: I pray you are both well and that each day’s journey continues to be a gift from God. May God give you the strength you need to endure and the presence of mind to grasp the beauty  of God’s creation and the kindness of strangers. Prayers answered, Fr. Jim.

What’s next for us?  Unquestionably there will be more bike tours, although probably not as long as the Northern Tier at least for the next couple years.  Not sure we will ever do an organized tour as it’s a lot of fun doing our own thing. And we have our eyes set on a long distance hike but haven’t chosen one yet.

For now though, the sleeping bags are laundered and stowed, the Whisperlite stove retired and replaced with a Jenn-Aire cooktop and the old 1995 Cannondale Touring bike has been thoroughly cleaned and lubed. That bike will always be my favorite.


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FundRiding Update:

Contributions are still coming in for St. Vincent de Paul and Back on My Feet and these links have more information on each organization and how to donate. If pledges were made for number of miles ridden, nights camping or century rides completed, see the above infographic for stats.  If your circumstances have changed, any amount is appreciated.

Tom and I were back running with team members from Back on My Feet last Friday and were welcomed back with the rain. No worries the miles and smiles made the rain hardly noticeable. And besides, we’re used to it. This Thursday evening we will head back to the SVdP Food Pantry.

Thank you to those who have already donated.  Both organizations are careful stewards of your donations.


What About the Prayer Intentions:

I’m still praying. I’d welcome an update if prayers are answered or need to be changed. Click here or email me at deb.a.gardner@gmail.com. All are confidential. 🙂