Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Riding The Natchez Trace With Steve

This map is just one way, so double the distance and the CEG (Cumulative Elevation Gain. Click on the map to see the details).

I met Steve climbing the Mingus Mountains from Wickenburg, to Cottonwood, AZ September 13, 2006, Day 4 of our 26 day Transcontinental bike ride with PAC Tour. The first 3 days we crossed the California Desert; the temperature was 110; there was no relief, not even a shade cactus.

I didn’t know until nearly two years later that Steve had been beaten up real bad by the desert on Day 3 and was just barely hanging on to the ridge of the Mingus. Steve’s an excellent climber; I am not. Had he been his usual riding self we would never have met. I would have been summarily left in the wake of his desert dust.

Lucky for us the desert and the mountains equalized us and partners we were climbing 8,500’ straight up the Mingus.

In April, 2008 I rode solo from home, (Wilmette, IL) to Columbus, GA. My choice of departure date is a testament to my then naivete about cycling in a transitional season. Day 5 I arrived in Owensboro, KY 431 miles after my departure. Every day had been mid 30’s with endless rain and endless head winds. Steve’s wife drove him 85 miles from their home in Smiths Grove, KY to Owensboro to meet me. Our plan was to ride together to Russellville, KY on day 6 and Nashville, TN on Day 7.

I think I made it about 20 miles that Owensboro morning in yet another day of temps in the 30’s, rain, and wind. I simply couldn’t turn the cranks. I was still shivering from the 6 preceding yesterdays. The terrain was getting hillier, and my 50 pounds of gear still weighed 50 pounds. Steve had been so looking forward to two days on the bike, like a kid looks forward to Christmas, and I couldn’t even turn the cranks.

I was committed to being in Nashville on Day 7 so laying over in Owensboro for a rest day was not an option. I had no idea how I was going to get to Nashville. Steve and I huddled under the awning of an abandoned building weighing our options. My best contribution was somehow renting a car and driving to Nashville. Steve had a better idea: call his wife, have her meet us and take us to their home. All I knew was I couldn’t ride that day. There was no fuel in my tank.

I remember very little about the 80-odd mile trip to Smiths Grove. But I do remember after I showered I fell asleep for 4 hours with the lights on in the middle of the day buried under a haystack of down comforters.

Steve in front of his house in Smiths Grove, KY April, 2008

Steve drove me to Nashville the next day and never said a word about his disappointment in not getting to ride.

2009 I was riding my second PAC Tour transcontinental and Steve was training to ride PAC Tour’s Eastern Mountain Tour. He drove to Pine Bluff, AR and then rode with us to Clarksdale, MS.

So, it seemed only natural to give him a heads-up that I would be coming to Nashville mid-November for a professional meeting after which I wanted to get some miles in on the Natchez Trace, including my November UMCA century.

And so it was it came to be that Steve left Smiths Grove, KY about 4:15 a.m. and I left Nunnelly, TN about the same time for our rendezvous in Columbia, TN; loaded the bikes into one car and drove to mile marker 391 on the Trace and headed south for the Alabama Line, mile marker 341.

(Click on the pix to read the sign. Pretty interesting story)

Chilly, but sunny this Sunday century day. Collinwood would be the only service opportunity along our route. We stopped at the Collinwood’s Exxon at 10:30 to refill our bottles and found Exxon is the Place du Jour! The place was packed with little, elf-sized men whose bodies had shrunk with age but who still had enough skin to cover their robust bodies of long ago. Their toothless grins offered exceptional patterns for jack-o-lanterns; their beards laid fallow like harvested fields of corn.

Back on the Trace to the Alabama line and then back to Collinwood for lunch and another bottle refilling. The elves had given life to one another for another day and the crowd was replaced with men, women, and children heading home from church. Who woulda thunk that Exxon would be the dining option of choice! When the minister and his wife came in for Sunday dinner at Exxon, well, it was both the highlight and lowlight of the tour.

Signage in the 4 star Exxon Sunday Restaurant

Steve had been looking forward to these two days on the bike like he had back in April, 2008. I was grateful I could deliver this time and be a fully-able riding partner.