Written August 28th, 2013.
I haven’t even had the chance to put captions on the photos of my last post, yet here I am starting a new one. I’ve made it all the way across the state of Tennessee and now I’m spending the night about fifteen miles west of the North Carolina border. I stopped here for one reason… or rather over 300 reasons: the Tail of the Dragon. Suggested by one of my coed lacrosse buddies, the Tail of the Dragon is a back road highway that holds over 300 curves in 11 miles. The guy at the store near here said the only tail lights you’ll ever see are your own, if you’re crashing. I guess that’s how loopy the turns are. I’m picturing the Newberg-Hillsboro route up by Bald Peak back home, but curvier and longer.
Let me cover the last day and a half for you.
After getting to the nearest motorcycle dealership in Hot Springs, the mechanic checked my chain. Unfortunately tightening it wouldn’t work for long, as it immediately slacked again and again. The mechanic recommended I replace my chain and get a better chain lubricant than the one I’ve been using.
Waiting for the maintenance only took an hour, during which I got to know some of the staff and was able to do some research on replacing some other parts once I get to North Carolina. The staff at John’s Honda in Hot Springs was extremely friendly and more helpful than any other motorcycle shop I’ve ever been to. They let me use their work computer to do my parts research, they educated me on some great touring bikes for the future, and one older gentleman, who may have been the owner, brought over a small fluorescent t-shirt with the shop’s logo and asked if it would fit me. I said it would, and he said I could have it; another random act of kindness to benefit me, so cool! After that, several people that worked in the shop were trying to recommend a riding route for me if I come back another time. The specific route I think was called the Pig Trail, but I know where it is on the map, and I look forward to riding it one day.
Riding through the rest of Arkansas was beautiful, but boring on the major highway at times. Before I reached Memphis, there was a dude in a truck that kept speeding up to get next to me and either photographed me or took a video. It was flattering, but frightening. In the distance, the city skyline of Memphis was coming closer and closer into view, and before I knew it, I was crossing the legendary Mississippi River and riding around the city. I kept on going until I crossed south into Mississippi and stopped for gas. The people were incredibly inquisitive and friendly. When I asked the girl behind the hot food counter what she recommended for food, she said: “the hot wings are good, I don’t recommend the lasagna or the egg rolls. The chicken strips and chicken gizzards are good, but I don’t know what a gizzard is.” I politely explained to her what a gizzard is and requested an order of those and some hot wings. Might as well try something I’ve never had before, right? The gizzards weren’t bad. I’m not a fan of fried food typically, but for as bad as they sound, I’d say they were pretty good.
My snack would be good enough to hold me over until dinner, so I left and rode on to Counce, Tennessee as the sun was setting. Mississippi was very green. I really liked seeing huge trees covered in thick, intense ivy. Most of the Mississippi ride was big highways, but felt like back roads because there was little in the way of road signage – other than “Cemetery” or the occasional sign for an in house taxidermy business.
It was extremely beautiful crossing back into Tennessee by riding on a bridge over the Tennessee River while the sun was setting and the reflection was caught on the water’s surface.
My friend Jack pulled up to his house less than a minute after I arrived. I was able to quickly wash up, then off we went to the local Mexican restaurant before heading to his friend’s house to hang out and watch a comedy show. The quaint town of Counce is so small that it’s not even really considered a legitimate town.
As one enters from any direction, a sign can be seen that reads something along the lines of: “Unincorporated town of Counce, Tennessee.” It is interesting to me.
Jack and I stayed up pretty late chatting, and arguing, about our lives and things that have passed and things to come.
Before I knew it, this morning came and we were both running out the door as Jack headed to work.
Instead of heading straight to Nashville via the route most recommended by my GPS, I heeded Jack’s advice and took something called the Naches Trace Parkway, which was well worth it. The Naches Trace Parkway is for non-commercial vehicles only and runs from Tennessee, down into Alabama for a few miles, then back into Tennessee, all through national forestland.
I hoped to see more wildlife than I did, but I won’t complain about a coyote sighting and hanging out with many beautiful butterflies on a rest stop I took. The most beautiful type of butterfly I have seen around here is primarily black with some tiny orange spots on the underside of its wings and bright blue spots on the top side of its wings.
After quite a bit of country riding, I arrived in Nashville.
My first interaction in Nashville happened while I was still on my bike, stopped at a light. A guy in a black Nissan Maxima with heavily tinted windows was stopped next to me. He rolled his window down and said, “Hey, girl! Was you in Louisiana yesterday? I think I saw a girl just like you on bike like that yesterday!” I replied, “No, I was in Mississippi for a bit.” “Yeah, yeah! That was it! I knew I seen you!” Was his answer. You have to appreciate the way people talk around here; it is a little endearing, but mostly appalling.
Soon after, I saw a couple walking down the street, the female adorned in tattoos and wearing a pair of fashionable cowgirl boots, and the male with a hairdo akin to that of Elvis. I giggled inside.
I rode around the city until I found a place that looked like it had enough food options for me. I had a great view of a huge sports stadium right where I parked, which also happened to be right across from the Hard Rock Café.
I was surprised to see a Rock Bottom Brewery right there in downtown; I thought this was an exclusive thing for Portland. I guess I am more naïve than I know! I opted for a place called Broadway Brewery and had a huge quesadilla and an IPA from a local brewery called Yazoo, which was very good!
I think I left the city around 1pm, headed toward Knoxville, with the intention of staying just inside Tennessee so I’d have the energy to enjoy the heck out of the Tail of the Dragon tomorrow. I crossed into the Eastern Time Zone about two-thirds of the way through the state.
I had been unable to find a place to camp via the internet because the closest national park sites have been closed all year. Instead, I thought I’d do what I’ve been doing: ride until I find a camp spot. I kept riding and saw signs that said: “Caution: extreme winding road. Use caution or alternate route.” I knew I was getting close but was afraid I would accidently hit the route and end up in North Carolina. Part of the fun of riding the Dragon is that a photographer sits and takes pictures of riders all day. Some people say over 12,000 riders hit the route every day during this time of year.
After a bit of extra riding, I came up to a small shop that had souvenirs for the route, so I knew I could ask for advice there.
I’m lucky I showed up when I did because they were just starting to close up shop. The owners of the shop also own a motorcycle-only campground about a mile back the way I came; I missed the sign because it’s down for repairs. The male owner of the shop told me about all the different things I should expect to see tomorrow and told me a story about how some bikers get sauced off of real moonshine out here. I wish I could relay the story, but I wouldn’t do it any justice without the thick southern accent of the man. Eventually, I paid my camping fee, grabbed some souvenir stickers, and headed back. Dodging several frogs hopping across the road, I found the site easily, parked, and set up camp. There are showers here, but the one closest to me looks like an old school outhouse, though it works very well.
It was a little unsettling when the female owner of the campground said I should leave any food I have on my bike or in the picnic area because there has been a bear coming and going lately. Fortunately, there are at least four alert dogs on the property that are left out at all times and occasionally all run off in a sprint into the darkness.
I just finished writing this, closed my laptop, and was walking back to my campsite when I noticed there were large amounts of trash strewn about the unoccupied site next to mine. I know this trash was not there just an hour before when I walked to the patio of the main house to start my entry… I quickly slid into my tent and sat with my head lamp on attentively listening for any sounds that may tell me if there was a bear around. Suddenly, I heard a low grumbling sound maybe fifteen feet from my tent and immediately clicked off my lamp. It was not an identifying grumble because it could have been a dog or a bear with that tone. You guys already know I’m afraid of the dark, and if you didn’t, now you do. I didn’t hear the dogs barking, so I waited. Then, I heard rifling through the trash near the picnic area, which is about forty feet from me. Terrified, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I assured myself it wasn’t a bear. I quietly unzipped my tent, aimed my head lamp at the picnic area, and turned it on pointed in the direction of the source of the sound. At first, I didn’t see anything. I could see the dogs sitting up near the patio of the house, so I whistled hoping to get their attention. Immediately, two sets of glowing eyes because visible from the picnic area, too small to be adult bears. The dogs started barking and running toward my whistle. I started to be able to make out body shapes. Maybe raccoons? Maybe coyotes? Oh God… maybe bobcats?!? Eep! Then I realized the movements were too predictable, and not cautious or creepy enough to be any of those. The eyes started getting closer and could see tails, wagging, in my light. One of the sets of eyes belonged to the oddly shaped miniature pinscher whom I’d made acquaintance with before. The other set belonged to that of an adorable brindle puppy that I hadn’t seen before. She is bigger than the minpin but smaller than the other dogs, which is why I’d thought maybe she was a bobcat or coyote.
Whew. Close one. I’m so glad I checked to make sure it wasn’t a bear and that all the commotion was just the dogs. Now, even if it is a bear, I’ll trick myself to thinking any odd noises are just the dogs.