From Cookeville to Atlanta, aka Already?

The ride is officially completed! The coast-to-coast portion concluded in Charleston, South Carolina, where I dipped my wheels into the Atlantic Ocean at Folly Beach, appropriately known as the Edge of America. That wasn’t the end of my journey, though, since I still wanted to ride to Atlanta and conclude at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Oh no! Swallowed by the ocean!

Flashback to April and the unruly waves of the Pacific.

As you can see in the above video, I received an extremely warm welcome at Emory! My sister Cindy had done a lot to spread the word of my arrival. I was humbled to be greeted by the very people I admire, the doctors, nurses, and researchers who work tirelessly at providing the best care for patients in need. As they crowded around me and thanked me for helping raise awareness for bone marrow donation, it was only too obvious to me that they are the ones truly deserving of thanks. I am honored to be able to take part and make a contribution, however small it may be, to their life saving work.

The waves on the Atlantic side were much more cooperative.

The waves on the Atlantic side were much more cooperative.

Somehow, they allowed me to take Lutz up to the bone marrow transplant unit in the hospital! I was introduced to patients and their families, and it was another humbling experience to be included in their battles to regain their health. While I am glad to have had this opportunity to raise awareness for Be the Match and the need for bone marrow donors, I am also constantly thinking about how I could have done things differently, how I could have done just a little bit more to help the cause… well, I guess that just means I’m not done yet! My bike ride may be completed, but the mission, of course, is not. Possibly, given what I’ve learned from the first attempt, I should plan another ride… what do you think?

Oops, should I have provided a spoiler alert at the beginning? Sorry. But yes, in case you haven’t guessed already, the ride is completed safely! However, not everything went to plan. Much of the route was altered along the way. I guess I’ll flashback to how I came to be in Cookeville, Tennesse, which was where I left off the last entry, and retrace my steps back to Atlanta.

So there I was in Cookeville on August 12th. I had decided to veer away from the TransAmerica Route for a number of reasons. First of all, Cookeville is home to CrossFit Mayhem of Rich Froning fame. It was a long shot, but I thought that if I could get a little attention from Rich or from his coaches, who knows, maybe it could lead to great things. It was worth a shot, anyway. Plus, riding the TransAm wasn’t really doing it for me. Don’t get me wrong, the TransAm is fantastic. Being on the route is an enjoyable experience, and the maps put out by Adventure Cycling are exactly what a cyclist would ask for. But that was precisely the problem. At some point in Missouri I realized that I was losing myself. I

Here's an American, finally! Traveling from east to west.

Here’s an American, finally! Traveling from east to west. Note the can of mace he keeps ready on his chest to defend against dog attacks. He warned me to do the same as I approached Kentucky.

wasn’t quite sure where I was, and I wondered why I felt that way. And I came to the conclusion that I had stopped thinking. By just following the Adventure Cycling maps (which show you where to camp, where to shop, when to stock up on water for long stretches without services, etc), and by being greeted in every town by people expecting you (e.g. Ash Grove, Missouri, where city hall gives you a key to the house they let cyclists stay in, no charge), and by having lots of other cyclists around (many of them coming from the other way and telling you about what’s coming up ahead) there was little adventure left. I was following a well traveled path ridden by many others before me.. literally! Many times I didn’t even have to look at my maps because I could just follow the rider in front of me. The route might as well have been a tunnel. I never had to consider what was a little bit to the north or a little bit to the south. East was the only direction left. Perhaps this wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t spent so much time before planning my own route. What was once a relief, to be back on a planned route, became stifling. I longed to make my own decisions again and to be forced to consider where I was in the bigger pictures of the state and country. I wanted to again face the consequences if I planned poorly. And so I pointed Lutz south and went off to see what Tennessee had to offer.

Sunrise on a scorching hot day, when it was best to ride before temperatures rose too high.

Sunrise on a scorching hot day, when it was best to ride before temperatures rose too high.

And there might have been one more reason why I was opting to go south instead of continuing farther east into Kentucky: dogs. There were many stories about cyclists being chased by dogs in eastern Kentucky. It was a concern that I had since I first started planning the trip, and the rumors were only being confirmed the closer I got to eastern Kentucky. My particular favorite confirmation I received was at Vette City CrossFit in Bowling Green. I asked everyone there after the wod about what my cycling conditions would be like as I proceeded through Kentucky.

“No problems! Absolutely fantastic riding here in Kentucky!” they said.

I like pie. Here's some key lime.

I like pie. Here’s some key lime.

“Yeah?” I asked, spirits lifting. “No concerns about dogs being off the leash and chasing cyclists?”

“Of course not! That doesn’t happen in Kentucky!”

“Oh good, I was concerned because many people told me they were chased by dogs in eastern Kentucky.”

“Oh, eastern Kentucky! Well, sure, but eastern Kentucky’s not Kentucky. You’re not going to eastern Kentucky, are you?”

And so I thought I was being clever to take this opportunity to veer off the route. Of course, I also knew that just because I heard no stories of dog chases in Tennessee didn’t mean that they didn’t happen. But I was going to find out.

Snacking at the grocery store.

Snacking at the grocery store.

I have to admit that I did not ride through eastern Kentucky, so I don’t know what it’s like, but I’m willing to bet that the dogs in Kentucky are no worse than the dogs I encountered in rural Tennessee. On August 12th, as I was making my way to Cookeville, my contacts with Be the Match were able to hook me up with a night at the Salt Box Inn, an absolutely stunning bed and breakfast! I didn’t know at the time just how beautiful it would be, all I knew was that I had to be there that night, and so I wanted the shortest route possible, since I was still about 80 miles away. I had stopped trusting Google’s bicycle directions, but since this time Google’s directions shaved about 15 miles off the way I would have gone, I decided to give bicycle mode another chance.

Big mistake.

Gotta stop to admire the flowers!

Gotta stop to admire the flowers!

My method for dealing with dogs is to just stop, since that takes away the thrill of the chase for them and they stop chasing. But then it takes a while to get going again. They stand there and snarl and bark, I get back on the bike and coast by a little bit, but once I gain some speed they chase. I stop. I holler at them. They bark. They snarl. I coast. They chase. I stop. Repeat. So whatever time I probably saved by going the shorter route I definitely lost in my repeated arguments with rural dogs. I could have given them a squirt of mace, but I didn’t want to if I didn’t have to. Plus, I was afraid that then I might have angry dog owners chasing me, and then what would I do? Spray them too?

Then the route wanted to send me down this steep narrow gravel road that I at first had mistaken for a driveway. As I stood there contemplating whether I wanted to go down this road, which went down to a river and got lost in the riparian vegetation, a dog came out to bark at me. Then another dog. Then three more. Pretty soon the whole neighborhood’s dogs were barking and snarling at me, and there wasn’t a single human to be seen. I studied the map and saw another road going the way I wanted, so I decided to check that out. A little way down that road I saw some lumps in the distance, perhaps a cluster of speedbumps? No, of course not. Suddenly the lumps all jumped up and I was surrounded by about a dozen of the scrawniest mongrels, all convinced that I was the most evil thing they’d ever seen that needed to be barked back to the depths of hell. A man came out and threw some rocks and sticks at them. That made them cower a little, and I asked him for some route advice. That conversation went a little something like this:

“What’s the quickest way to the highway?” I asked.

It's always hard to decide if you should keep going or turn back when the road becomes an excellent habitat for frogs.

It’s always hard to decide if you should keep going or turn back when the road becomes an excellent habitat for frogs.

“Wha?”

“Will this road take me to the highway?”

“Wha?”

“Where’s the highway?”

“The highway?” He followed this up with lots of gestures pointing the way I was going and words in an accent I just didn’t understand.

“What?”

“Wha?” he responded. I think he found my accent just as incomprehensible.

“What? …Nevermind. Is the road paved farther on?”

“Wha?”

“Is it paved?”

“Wha?” He was starting to look really exasperated, like he was waiting for me to finally make some sense.

“Is the road paved? Or is the road rocky?”

A lot more gestures and words I didn’t catch.

“Ok, thank you!” and I pedaled away slowly as the man resumed throwing rocks at the dogs pursuing me.

Shortly afterwards the road I was following disintegrated into a mud slick. As I was riding, I kept hearing loud splashes, but once I stopped, the sounds ceased and all was quiet. Finally I figured out that I was disturbing mud-colored frogs as I traveled and causing them to hop away into puddles. I considered turning back, but I was promised this mud slick would take me to the highway. So I pressed on, and soon the road dried out some, and I enjoyed a very peaceful ride along a beautiful lake before it opened up onto the highway. So now I was back in a dog-free zone, and I was feeling pretty good about that, until I started to approach Cookeville after sunset. Suddenly the dogs were back in abundance, and it was dark! Here are a few of my most unfavorite things from this trip:

  • Raindrops on my head during the night when there was no sign of rain when I set up my tent and it was really hot, so I had left the rainfly off.
  • Tornadoes.
  • Sharp pokey wires on the highway.
  • Finishing packing up my gear in the morning and then realizing that something I need immediately is at the bottom of one of my panniers, and I’m not sure which one.
  • Being chased by dogs in the dark.

However, it was all worth it when I arrived at the Salt Box Inn. I was expecting a simple bed and breakfast, but this was a resort. This was a place normally rented out for weddings. And I had it all to myself! The owner, Susanne, helped me settle in and I got to have a hot dinner with wine. Though I was exhausted, I couldn’t bear the thought of going to sleep and being unconscious during my stay, so I kept myself awake as long as I could, enjoying the luxury.

My coach at CrossFit Mayhem.

My coach at CrossFit Mayhem.

The next day I wasn’t in any rush, so I had coffee and homemade cinnamon bread with Susanne, then packed up and visited CrossFit Mayhem. I had a great workout, but everyone seemed too busy to chat. I was told by one athlete that working out at CrossFit Mayhem was “the best” because sometimes you get to see Rich Froning! “I saw him once in the parking lot getting out of his truck!” he enthusiastically informed me. A little disappointed, I decided to visit CrossFit Knights as well. I did another wod with them and had a fantastic time making new friends. One of the coaches invited me to spend the night, and I was very happy to accept.

Just a few of my CrossFit Knights friends!

Just a few of my CrossFit Knights friends!

From Cookeville, I proceeded on to Knoxville. I had an appointment to visit MEDIC Regional Blood Center, a supplier of blood products for hospitals. I got there a couple days early, so I was lucky enough to spend a couple days relaxing in Knoxville, where I befriended some college students who have extensive experience with bicycle touring. They were kind enough to let me sleep on their futon. They also tried to take me mountain biking, but for some reason I preferred to spend my days off reading a book downtown with a beer, not riding bikes. They were great, but I’m glad I’m not 20 anymore.

MEDIC Regional Blood Center in Knoxville

MEDIC Regional Blood Center in Knoxville.

My visit at the blood center was absolutely fascinating. I got a behind-the-scenes tour of what it takes to collect, prepare, and deliver different blood products to hospitals. The blood center is also responsible for certain stages of the bone marrow donation process. I got to meet all kinds of people who play a role in saving lives. It was a pretty special experience!

I was rather enjoying Tennessee, but I had also recently received a tragic note from my friend Ichiro in Atlanta. He noted, “…only 200 miles from the finish line, if you were biking due south.” That was far too close for comfort for me! Even though I still had to make it to the coast before turning to Atlanta, I just didn’t like having my final destination so close so soon. I started sleeping poorly as I felt this chapter of my life ending before I was ready. And so, when I got an email from someone I’d met on the TransAm now sitting in a small town in Virginia asking me if I could find some bearings that he needed for his bike, I decided I could do that. I visited a bearings distributor in Knoxville, found the ones he needed, and brought out my inner Pony Express rider.

During my ride to Damascus, Virigina, I had a number of adventures. It was mostly bucketing down rain, and one afternoon a huge bolt of lightning with a simultaneous deafening crack of thunder sent me scurrying into the nearest building, which was a post office. It was closed for the day, but the building was still accessible for people needing to pick up mail from their boxes. I was sitting there for a while, watching the rain and listening to thunder, about to give up and check into a nearby hotel, when I was joined by a man picking up his mail. He showered me with concern about riding in this thunderstorm and asked lots of thoughtful questions about my trip so far. He then said that I would be welcome to stay at his house with his wife for the evening, and after accepting that I probably wouldn’t get much riding done that day, I decided to take him up on his offer.

Delicious homegrown southern comfort food.

Delicious homegrown southern comfort food.

I was fortunate that day to have met two of the kindest and most generous people on this planet. I got to spend a fantastic evening with them sharing stories, cuddling with their rescued pets, and enjoying the best meal I’d had yet. All of the food they prepared had come from their own garden or from their friends’ ranch. We had a classic southern comfort food dinner with meat loaf, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and corn. To think that I could go from soaked and shivering in a deserted post office to suddenly being embraced like a family member around a cozy candlelit dinner table is surreal.

And then, sooner than I would have liked, it was morning and I was back to riding in the rain. Balance in the universe was restored by having a fairly miserable day. I had to change a flat… again… and ended up by the Bristol Motor Speedway in the evening, looking for a place to camp. I had been told that camping would be easy in this area, since there were a lot of campsites to accommodate race fans. Unfortunately, these campsites knew that they were in high demand, so they tried to charge me $50 to camp for the night. First of all, that’s ridiculous, but it’s even worse given that this was just to camp in a muddy lot. We’re not talking cute little nature preserve campground here, we’re talking pitching a tent in the mud squished between RVs and trucks. Flustered at the situation, I was determined to just keep riding in the rain and the dark until I got to Damascus, but I decided to try just one more time to see if I could find some human kindness. And gloriously enough, the manager of one campsite allowed me to pitch my tent for free. Unfortunately, the memo didn’t reach all of her employees, and just as I had gotten cozy in my tent with my book and flashlight, one guy on a power trip decided to rip open my rainfly and start cussing me out. I told him that I had spoken to his manager and she was allowing me to stay there, and he immediately backed off. I really wish he would have stuck around long enough for me to explain to him that a simple, “Excuse me, I need to talk to you” would have sufficed, given that tent material is quite thin.

After more riding in the rain, I finally made it to Damascus the next afternoon, where I made my delivery and my cyclist friend made the repairs he needed to make. I deserved a day of pampering, so he cooked a huge meal and we stayed in one of the many hostels to be found in Damscus. Damascus is particularly prepared for travelers passing through since it is found on both the TransAm and the Appalachian Trail. It was a delight to see pieces of the AT, a trail that I have dreamed about ever since reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. One day, perhaps I’ll hike it as well! That or the PCT. Possibly both.

A long bridge on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

A long bridge on the Virginia Creeper Trail.

So now my schedule was all up in the air, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had successfully made my delivery, and the only set thing on my schedule was to be in Charleston, South Carolina by September 2nd. My detour back north made it somewhat tempting to complete the TransAm and go all the way to Yorktown. It was doable, but we would have had to ride really hard to get there with enough time for me to still make it to Charleston. On the other hand, my friend and I could take it easy and explore the area a bit, which would make my ride to Charleston more leisurely.

One of the more scenic campsites I've had.

One of the more scenic campsites I’ve had.

We opted for the easy way. We took the time to explore the Virginia Creeper Trail, which was very picturesque, and treated ourselves to plenty of groceries so that we could cook rather gourmet meals on our little stoves. When it rained, we dozed under pavilions at parks. It was a very enjoyable and relaxing part of the trip, during which we didn’t worry about schedules or miles. Then, he proceeded east, and I took off south to visit North Carolina.

I rode part of the Blue Ridge Parkway into North Carolina. I passed a sign at one point that said I had just crossed the continental divide of the east. That had me a bit puzzled. Many people had informed me that the most difficult part of a transcontinental bike ride wouldn’t be the Rockies, as one might expect, but rather the Appalachians. I don’t know, maybe my odd detours allowed me to find a rather tame way through, but I didn’t find the Appalachians very difficult. Of course there were some hills that were beastly, but I still think of McClure pass in Colorado as the worst I’ve encountered. Or perhaps climbing out of the canyons in Utah. Or even my training hill over in Rancho San Antonio back at home. Maybe I’ll have to spend more time in the Appalachians to really appreciate them.

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The people I met continued to impress me with their hospitality. In Harmony, I asked the fire department about a place where I could camp, and the firefighters bent over backwards to help me out. In the morning, they even called in a local journalist to interview me over breakfast. And that’s how this article came about.

So many people this box were camera shy!

So many people at this box were camera shy! And surprisingly enough, I did not collaborate with this girl in advance to comply with her shirt.

Soon, I was in Davidson, North Carolina, where I met up with various people connected with Be the Match, including the mayor and students from Davidson College who are part of Be the Match On Campus. Again, I was treated to a luxurious stay at a charming inn downtown, and I even got in a wod at CrossFit Eternal Davidson.

The next day, I got to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Hendrick Motorsports! Because of the Hendrick Marrow Program, I got invited to see how these cars of NASCAR are assembled and prepared for race day. I’m not much of a NASCAR fan, but I could see how I might easily get swept up into the craze. It was pretty thrilling to be able to go into the team’s travel truck! (I’m sure there’s an actual word for it, but I don’t remember what it is.) Mostly everything reminded me of Cars.

My various adventures in North Carolina!

My various adventures in North Carolina!

From there I made my way to Charleston. Everyone was edgy about the hurricane Erika, but I didn’t encounter anything particularly nasty until I entered Charleston. At that point I got slammed by a wall of water and strong winds, but I kept going. My sister Lori had reserved a hotel room for me as a reaching-the-coast treat at the harbor, so that was my motivation! At the very least I wanted to startle some hotel lobby person with my grubby and drippy presence. And I was not disappointed! When I walked up to the front desk the little guy there looked up with his polite smile, but it immediately melted and he struggled to maintain his composure as he started flapping his hands at everyone around him while calling out, “Towels! We need towels!”

Arriving to a cozy hotel room in Charleston after riding in a storm.

Arriving to a cozy hotel room in Charleston after riding in a storm.

The storm raged on for a couple days, and I was determined to pass every second of it in bed. I got up once to visit the hotel bar, where I ordered an Old Fashioned with which to toast the completion of the coast-to-coast portion of the ride with my family over Skype. Another time I got hungry enough to walk to the restaurant next door for some food (shrimp and grits), but mostly I stayed in bed, listening to the rain and thunder. When the sun came out, I bundled myself out to the campground on James Island and waited for my meeting with my Be the Match contact, Ashley.

On September 2nd I got to spend the whole day with Ashley, and that was big fun! She took me to a drive at Claflin University, where I got to hang out with enthusiastic students as we got many more people to swab and join the registry. Then we drove back to Charleston to hang out with all kinds of fun people at Revelry Brewing Company. Ashely had sent out the word that I would be passing through Charleston, and nurses, patients, donors, cyclists, and many more came out to hang out and have a drink in celebration. I was having so much fun and everyone’s stories were so interesting, Ashely practically had to drag me out of there.

Tonia, Harold, and me hiding from the sudden downpour during our stroll.

Tonia, Harold, and me hiding from the sudden downpour during our stroll.

The next day I was pretty exhausted from all the activity, so I spent a day relaxing and riding around downtown Charleston. And I’m really glad I did, because that meant I was still in Charleston the following day when friends showed up! Tonia and her husband Michael and their daughter Savanna had come out to attend the graduation of Michael’s little brother Harold. After the ceremony, they drove over to pick me up, and I joined in on the celebrations! Cocktails and food with strolls around downtown Charleston, it was fantastic!

An accidental selfie at Hunting Island.

An accidental selfie at Hunting Island.

It was definitely time to move on from Charleston after that, but I wasn’t ready to leave the coast. I had worked so hard to get there, I wasn’t ready to head inland to Atlanta yet! And so I decided to make my way to Savannah, Georgia, then turn west to Atlanta. Along the way I discovered that I would be passing by Hunting Island, which several people had told me was one of the most beautiful places on the coast to visit. How could I possibly resist?

The campground hosts were thrilled to see me, and pretty soon word got around, and I had lots of people coming up to ask me if I was the crazy cyclist. They were all horrified to hear that I was planning on leaving the next day, so I was invited to share a campsite so that I could stay longer. I couldn’t say no to that! Hunting Island had lots to offer – sandy beaches, warm water, dense woods, a long pier, and a gorgeous lighthouse. It was very peaceful and I stayed two extra

nights soaking it all in, riding, napping on the beach, and floating in the water. The campground hosts let me in on their favorite activity, hunting for fossilized shark teeth on the beach. That quickly became an obsession and I made friends with other fellow shark teeth hunters. Now I have a handful of shark teeth and no clear idea of what to do with them. If you end up with a shark’s tooth necklace in your stocking at Christmas, you know why.

It was heartbreaking to tear myself away from Hunting Island, but it was time to push on to Savannah. I had visited Savannah many years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to seeing it again. Once again, I was enchanted by the trees draped in Spanish moss haunting the city. I allowed myself to be ensnared by River Street for a while and couldn’t resist the chance to do a mead tasting. I had promised myself a cocktail in Savannah, but a mead tasting by the Savannah River while watching river boats go by seemed like a good idea at the time.

Finally, I was ready to make some progress toward Atlanta. Catherine Williams, the communications manager for the Winship Cancer Institute, had organized a welcoming committee, so timing was of the essence. I camped behind a gas station, in an abandoned business park, and in the woods on the side of the highway. In other words, things were back to routine for a few more days, and it was bizarre to accept that I was actually closing things up. This was it. My final few days on the road.

Selfie with my sister!

Selfie with my sister!

Of course, my back tire decided that it was time to call it quits and I was getting flat after flat after flat. I struggled to keep going. I was carrying a pretty crummy spare tire. Things weren’t quite bad enough yet to make me want to use it. My last night on the road, I was staying with Cindy’s friend Hilary, about twenty miles away from my final destination. I texted both Cindy and Hilary to let them know that I was on my way, but quite slowly since my tire needed to be replaced. Cindy wasn’t having that! She contacted Kevin, who had ridden with me from Portland to Boise, and asked him the size of my wheel. She bought me a new tire and tube and Hilary drove off to pick them up and deliver them to me. I wasn’t allowed to see Cindy before my scheduled arrival at Emory, but it felt odd to know that she was just a short car ride away.

The next morning I rode the final twenty miles to Emory. As I came upon places that I recognized, the reality that I was at the end of my journey started to really sink in. I might have had a more emotional moment if I didn’t have a schedule to keep. I needed to be there at noon, and that thought distracted me from the ache I felt in the pit of my stomach. As I rolled onto campus I saw the cameras waiting for me and I couldn’t help but laugh. TV cameras, for me? For riding my bike? But then I saw my sister waiting for me in her white lab coat and I was so excited to get over there and give her a hug. Well, that brings us back to the beginning of this post.

After the warm greeting at Emory, Cindy and I went back to her house and soon I was pounced upon by my niece and nephew! They wanted to know if I would go for a bike ride with them.

I think I can handle that.

My niece and nephew kept a map of my progress!

My niece and nephew kept a map of my progress!

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