The Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee (BRAT) was a challenging ride for me. The daily routes were hard, hilly rides through mountains. With the exception of the first day, I was physically able to complete all the routes. I was not in the minority on that first day though; many riders took a ride on the sag wagon that day. There was one older man riding a touring bike that carried all his gear with him. While the rest of us let the baggage trucks carry our luggage, this guy carried tent, sleeping bag, etc. all on his bike. He lived in the area and at the starting point the first day, he discovered he’d forgotten his tent at home. Rather than drive back in his car to get it, he just took a slight detour off the route later in the day on his bike to swing by his home to pick it up. So instead of the 80 grueling miles the route provided, he ended up riding about 94 miles on the first day. And when I say he was older, I’m guessing he’s in his 70’s. He wasn’t a fast rider (couldn’t really be since he was carrying about 50 extra pounds of gear on his bike), but he was steady. I hope I’m able to still ride like him when I’m that age. I heard one of the park rangers refer to him as “Mr. Self-Contained”. I had never been to Tennessee before and I really enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the routes. The top of climbs were always a great place to stop, take pictures and let my heart rate slow back down to a reasonable rate. We went through some cool little towns along the way too. The locals were always very friendly, but sometimes it was difficult to understand what they were saying because of their accent. We found some good places to eat too. One of my favorites was in the little town of Dayton, TN. The sign on the little cafe we ate at included the statement “air conditioned”……….you know that place has been around a long time! We also visited the courthouse in Dayton where the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial took place. Bob sat in the judge’s chair……..we took photos and had some good laughs there. One thing I noticed was that there is a lot of poverty in Tennessee. Some of the houses we passed looked like they should be condemned, but you could tell there were people living in them. We stopped at a large dairy farm that had its own cheese processing plant. They made several different flavors and we sampled about a dozen of them. I also tasted some of their “moonshine jelly” which was made with tequila. I picked up one of their brochures (they do mail order), so I might have to place an order. We stopped at another dairy which had a huge fiberglass cow and took pictures of Bob doing obscene things with the udder. We also went to a winery (there seemed to be a lot of those along the way) and tasted their products. The weather was unseasonably warm with highs in the lower to mid 90’s a few days. It cooled off at night though and wasn’t too bad for sleeping. There were about 175 cyclists on the ride. There were all ages, but the majority were probably 50 or older. There were some real serious riders who rode fast and completed the daily routes before lunch each day. Our little group of riders preferred to do a little sight-seeing, picture taking, etc. along the way. We called ourselves “The Five O’Clock Losers”……….we were slow and were lucky to make it into camp before they stopped serving supper. I enjoyed the non-biking activities offered on this tour…….canoeing, hiking and river rafting. The canoeing and hiking we did in Fall Creek Falls State Park. One of the park rangers led us on a hike to the base of the waterfall there. The river rafting was on the Hiawassee River near the last park we stayed at. We received instructions regarding hazards in the river, but no one could understand the guy because he was from Tennessee. We were able to make out the term “river-left” so we took that to mean we needed to stay to the left of any obstacles on the river. One of the riders rode back to get his car a day early. He advised us that the route was not very good. There was about a 10 mile section that was under road construction with no shoulder to ride on. He thought it was dangerous with the amount of traffic the road carried. We took him up on his offer to shuttle us back to the start so we could retrieve our cars too. Instead of riding the route, we went back to the little town of Tellico and did a nice ride up to Bald River Falls. We drove to Nashville later in the day and spent the night there before going our separate ways the next morning. Once again I had a great time with my friends Bob (Kansas City), Debbie (upstate New York), and met some new friends as well. I can’t wait for the next adventure!
BRAT – Final thoughts, photos and videos