Tennessee Trip, September 2001

Subj:

Tennessee Bound

Date:

9/18/01 7:51:10 AM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

       I'm off and running on another trip. This time I'm cycling to the Southeast. I'll ride about 900 miles and end up in Johnson City, Tennessee, the site of Ray's army reunion. I have 11 days to get to the banquet on the evening of the 28th. Tonight I plan to be in Galesburg, Illinois, about 110 miles from Iowa City.

      My route will take me through central Illinois, southern Indiana, central Kentucky, western Virginia and then into the far eastern portion of Tennessee. The first part will be flat with corn, beans and grain elevators as the primary scenery. After I cross the Ohio, I expect it to be hilly and scenic. I'll be going through "Daniel Boone" country and into Appalachia.

      As I have been working on the plan I have had a hard time deciding which roads I want to take. I drew a straight line on the map from Iowa City to Johnson City and decided that I would just work my way along that line and choose roads each day that seemed safe and scenic. I'll keep things interesting as I make adjustments throughout the trip. I do intend to pass through or near Bloomington (Illinois), Champaign, Terre Haute, Bloomington (Indiana), as well as Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington, Kentucky. I plan to cross the Ohio River at Madison, Indiana about 30 miles northeast of Louisville and 50 miles southwest of Cincinnati. I chose Madison to avoid the traffic at the other major crossings.

      This is not a happy time to begin this little adventure. Everyone I know feels sad. We are melancholy. Some of us may be downright depressed and fearful of what lies ahead of us. Are ground troops headed into Afghanistan? Will the economy go sour? Why in the hell do those folks hate Americans?

      There are a lot of unknowns but the world will move on. Time will pass. So I will head out and hope for the best. Cycling on these long trips gives me plenty of time to think.

      I'll keep you posted on my travels and hope all is well for everyone.

                                          John

 

Subj:

Leg 1-Galesburg

Date:

9/19/01 4:28:34 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

I made it safely to Galesburg at about 5:30 PM yesterday. It took longer than I had expected. There was a mild but steady East wind and it rained continually during the last 40 miles.

I'm learning to distrust my map. Three times I chose to ride a quiet country road that was supposed to be hard surface but turned into gravel for some long sections. I must have ridden about 10 miles of gravel.

Someone in Johnson County has a big white albino dog and it caught up with me as I was going uphill on the Herbert Hoover Highway. It acted fierce but didn't bite. Usually I can outrun the dogs but this one was too aggressive and I was too slow. It really had weird albino eyes. Today I'll dig out my pepper spray.

The Canadian Geese are migrating. Late in the day I rode by several hundred of them standing at attention in a cornfield that had been combined. I assume that they were there to feed but as I rode by every goose stood with its head high and made no move whatsoever. Perhaps their instincts tell them to do that if they sense danger.

I stopped just once for a late lunch in Aledo. It is a small town of about 3,700 on Highway 17. This highway bisects Illinois east to west and also passes through my old hometown of Dwight.

I spent an hour at lunch because I met and ate with a 56-year-old farmwoman and her 35-year-old son. We talked about everything including the farm economy, the terrorists' attacks, Vietnam, and, of course, cycling. They were very nice folks and we could have talked longer but I had to get moving.

Today I will head to Bloomington. I should have a tailwind so I may go further east to Farmer City. I'm not very sure about the mileage and it is raining a bit right now so I will just adjust as the day goes on.

Best wishes.

John

 

Subj:

Leg 2-Bloomington

Date:

9/19/01 8:09:22 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Today I left Galesburg on Highway 150 and rode it all the way to Bloomington, 106 miles away. The road was a good choice. Much of the time it parallels I74 so most of the traffic is local. The bad spots were going through Peoria and Bloomington.

As I was pedaling I remembered that 35 years ago to this very month I was a 17-year-old college freshman at the University of Illinois. I decided to quit and drove this highway from Champaign to Moline on my way to see Ann at the University of Iowa and give here the unhappy news. (The Interstate Highway wasn't built yet.)

It rained on me half the time and I haven't seen the sun these last two days. I had a brisk tailwind. It would have been real tough going the other way.

I'm now headed toward Terre Haute but don't expect to get that far tomorrow.

I'm feeling well.

John

 

Subj:

Leg 3 - Paris, Illinois

Date:

9/20/01 8:07:29 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Today was my best day of riding for this trip. I rode 120 miles and stopped in Paris, Illinois. This is a town of 9,000 and is the economic center for miles around. Grain processing is the biggest industry that I can see. There has to be something more here but I can't figure out what it is.

Actually, this town is pretty "blah." There are some towns that make you feel good and then there are some that just feel creepy. I donít know why but this town feels creepy to me.

One interesting thing is that there are only two motels here. That is real unusual for a town this large with no competition nearby. It appears that few people come to visit here.

I've been traveling without reservations this trip. This time of year it is pretty easy to get a room and the motels are hurt even more by the reluctance of folks to travel after the attacks. Since I was going so far and since there were only two motels in town I made a reservation at the Super 8 here to be sure I had a bed when I got here.

I usually spoil myself with pretty good motel rooms. Like Mike Chelf keeps telling me "you can't take it with you." I like Super 8's for their nice thin towels but I do find it interesting that Indians own about half of them. The office smells of their cooking and the aromas even fill the stairwell going to my room.

I rode the first 25 miles today in a fog. It made me think about buying some life insurance but I threw away that impulse right away and just watched my rear real carefully.

The road was good. It was fairly quiet except for the portion through Champaign and Urbana. The terrain is flat. It might be boring to some folks but I enjoy watching the farm operations and I enjoy waving to the farm folks. The corn harvest is underway down here but at a very early stage.

Oh yes, I had sunshine much of the day and that left me in a much better mood.  I also had several interesting visits but I'm getting wordy so I will close for now.

Tomorrow I could end up in Bloomington, Indiana but am likely to ride further. I have gone 336 miles so far so I can slow down the pace in a few days when I hit the hillier areas.

John

 

Subj:

Day's 4 & 5

Date:

9/22/01 7:31:16 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Tonight I am in the town of Madison, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio River. I haven't written a note since I left Paris, Illinois two days ago. Last night I was in the small town of Nashville, Indiana at a country inn with no phone. Nashville is a tourist destination a bit like Galena. Lots of specialty shops that I would never enter.

So far there isn't much to report about this countryside. As I left Illinois, the good farm ground seemed to disappear fairly quickly. This southern part of Indiana is about as hilly as central Missouri. The roads are good but they wind through lots of wooded areas and go up and down like a mild roller coaster ride.

Yesterday I did ride by a small oilfield with 5 working wellheads. It was located in a field just west of Terre Haute. Now there is a town you never need to visit. I guess I continue to get that feeling about so many towns in this area.

I rode right through Bloomington, Indiana and the Indiana University Campus. I could make this a tour of the Big Ten Universities. It was hard finding lodging the last two nights because of the weekend and special events. The owner of the inn last night gave me a twenty-dollar discount when I told him I rode in from Iowa City. In Madison they are having a large Chautauqua arts fair and crafts sale. There are booths spread over at least a dozen city blocks. I just got a room at the Holiday Inn because of a cancellation.

I have now ridden 510 miles and the body is a bit tired. Tomorrow I plan a short ride to Lexington, Kentucky. I plan to leave early and hope to catch a motel room in time to see Miami play Oakland. The Ohio is pretty wide here and it will be fun to cross over to a new state.

Really, for me, the best part of the trip is the ride. I enjoy putting my head down and working hard. I don't know why but it just feels good. I prefer the scenery in the West and I prefer the lighter traffic load out there but I could ride most anywhere and be quite content.

Best wishes.

John

 

Subj:

Day 6 - Madison to Lexington

Date:

9/23/01 7:32:41 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

I didn't plan to ride 100 miles today but I did. I am now just southeast of Lexington, Kentucky (the horse capitol of America).

The day was pleasant with blue skies and warm temperatures. The sad thing is that as I left Madison and crossed the Ohio River, the river was blanketed in a thick fog and I could see nothing. The Ohio is very wide here and is cut deep into the earth. As you approach the river you plunge down 450 feet to bridge level and then have to climb up that same distance on the other side. I think the river is about 400 feet above sea level.

Before I left Iowa I bought a Magellan GPS module for my handheld computer and I can read my location and altitude whenever I want. But, it has to be a bit ridiculous for this fellow to be pedaling down the road with a computer in one hand, a minidisk player in the middle back pocket playing hundreds of minutes of music, and a cell phone beeping in the other pocket. I'm carrying much of my net worth with me. Anyway, I may get lost but I can phone in my latitude and longitude and altitude if anyone would ever want to find me.

Damn, it was a hilly route. Daniel Boone and his friends should have kept moving to Illinois where the good farmland lies. Only the less ambitious stopped in this area and the even less ambitious stayed.

I was getting real pooped as I pedaled down to Frankfort. At one point I stopped for some roadside relief and rest. There was something dead and decaying nearby but I didn't even care. I tried to imagine what it would be like to smell decaying flesh all night long.

The winds were from the southeast today but tomorrow they should move to the northwest. I will ride south following roads that were used before Interstate 75 was built. I am going to head down to Knoxville, Tennessee area. If my brother is home in Loudon, TN I will go visit him. If he is not there, I will circle into Georgia and work my way north through South Carolina and North Carolina on my way back to Johnson City, TN.

I've been eating way too much fast food but I feel very healthy. I have now covered 610 miles or so and any ailments I have had along the way are pretty well gone. I get stronger as the days go by.

I missed the game but saw the final plays as the Miami Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders. I still have a Sunday paper to read so I will just wish you all well and move to the paper and my maps.

John

 

Subj:

Day 7 Down to Corbin, Kentucky

Date:

9/24/01 8:06:30 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

I hear that Iowa has experienced a nice fall day. Here in Kentucky there was a heavy rain last night and it didn't end until about 10:00 this morning. I waited until the rain was very light and then headed out into the Kentucky countryside.

My first 10 miles took me back into the hollows where the road was narrow and steep and the guard dogs were patrolling everywhere. It was cool and gloomy but it was still fun to cycle along the Kentucky River.

My plan was to head south following the general direction of Interstate 75 but since I can't ride the Interstate I zigzag all over the place on the various side roads that go in the same general direction. Much of the day the road was too full of traffic to do much sightseeing. I needed to watch my rear carefully because most of the time I had no shoulder to ride on in the heavier traffic. It was mentally tiring.

The roads continue to be very hilly. During the last three days I have had over 5,000 feet of climb each day. Today it was 5,400 feet over 97 miles.

I now have come about 710 miles and I don't know where I am headed tomorrow. If I don't reach my brother I may head over to the Cumberland Gap area and relax at that park while seeing the historical sites on my bike. Then I might head further southeast toward Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge as well as Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I have some time to just wander.

I had my first flat tire of the trip. My rear tire is getting worn down but I intend to go a few hundred miles more before I rotate the tires. The front tire lasts at least twice as long as the rear.

When I stopped for lunch I found a motel coupon book and was able to get this great Best Western room for just $36.  I need to save since I got soaked for $120 in Madison, Indiana.

My bike is filthy, my body feels good, and my mind is fairly relaxed. Now I will move on and explore a little and take it easy.

Best wishes,

John

 

 

Subj:

Day 8 Cumberland Gap

Date:

9/25/01 6:24:14 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Cumberland Gap is a tiny historic town at the tri-state corner. I rode in from Kentucky, crossed over a sliver of Virginia and now I am in Tennessee.

The Gap itself was the route used by early settlers on their way from Virginia and North Carolina to the lush fields of Kentucky. Daniel Boone is the most famous of the early pathfinders who came through here.

I spent some time at the visitor's center on the Kentucky side and learned about all there is to know. The Ranger told me that I wouldn't be able to ride through the mile long tunnel that now goes under the Gap. She called ahead and a pickup truck took me through.

I'm staying in a lovely lodge and I'm just about the only guest here. At dinner in the restaurant next door I was the only diner until a large group arrived, as I was finishing. The leaves will be turning here in a week or so and the tourists will pack the little town.

I met a shopkeeper in one of the old stores. He appeared to be about 65 and said the store had been owned and operated by his family since 1907.

I also met and talked to a couple from Miami. They were in Alaska this year so we talked a lot about shared experiences there. They found it hard to believe that I packed all my travel needs in the bag on my rack.

It isn't always easy to hold a conversation with the folks who live here. They talk like Gomer Pyle to the extreme. It's embarrassing when you ask them to repeat what they said and you still can't understand them. I just fake it after the second try.

I rode just 52 miles to get here and I plan to just tour around this part of the country for the next three days. I really haven't decided where I will head.

They are having record cold temperatures here. It could even freeze tonight.

I haven't seen another cyclist on the road for the last 8 days.  The road was busy today. I'm ready to search for a better route. I better get to work on that.

Best wishes,

John

Subj:

Day 9 Cumberland Gap to Gatlinburg

Date:

9/27/01 2:55:11 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Today I had a rugged 100-mile ride to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This small town is just south of Pigeon Forge and at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

It has been a strange day. It began with no breakfast because the only restaurant in Cumberland Gap didn't open as scheduled. I did get some coffee from the friendly desk clerk but I had to leave town with an empty stomach.

The low temperature was 35 degrees. The sun doesn't come up until 7:30 so I waited for it to warm up and tried to leave at 9:30. But as I was inspecting the bike, I saw that the sidewall of the rear tire was so damaged that it was bulging and wouldn't last long. I carried one spare tire with me and put it on before leaving. I didn't want a blow out on the road and possible damage to the rim. I had no idea what was coming.

Tennessee roads are better than the Kentucky roads I have been riding. The first 10 miles of my ride were cold but great. I had a beautiful blue sky, lovely mountain scenery, and a five-lane road with a relatively clean shoulder.

After 10 miles I entered a long construction zone and took the hardest tumble I have ever experienced. The five lanes were reduced to two and they were paving and laying down different layers of asphalt. Anyway, I was going through an area at about 20 mph when a big semi came up behind me. I tried hopping my bike up from one level to another to give the truck more room to slip by. I didn't make it and in an instant as the truck went by I went head over heels and landed on my head. As I was flipping over in the air I remember thinking I was so thankful for the good helmet I was wearing because it really took the brunt of the fall. I had a stiff neck but no other damage. About 6 drivers who witnessed the accident stopped to help out. Some of them thought the semi clipped me as it went by. One lady was sure I needed an ambulance, but I was lucky and except for some minor damage to the bike, I was able to get up and move on to the next town to get some breakfast.

In Tazewell I straightened up the bent parts of the bike and gathered myself. When I took my helmet off gravel and sand poured out.

I was a bit discouraged after the accident because I was running late and I had some bad traffic for awhile but then the road improved magnificently and I had great scenery as I went up and down over these little mountains. I stopped at the top of a pass that had a great scenic view. There I met a man from Dayton, Ohio and visited with him for about 20 minutes. He was an auto technician who traveled around fixing unusual problems with Toyotas. He told me he made $80,000 a year doing that. We shared lots of quick stories and I had to break off the conversation because I needed to get moving down the road.

In Morristown I had a late lunch and finally had cell service so I called Mike Chelf and got good news from him about some property things. He is a real gem and an interesting thing is that leaving him alone usually ends up in good results because he makes good decisions.

I was tired but I was determined to make it to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg. I'm glad I stuck it out. Pigeon Forge is a lot like Branson. This is a slow week here and you can get great hotel rooms for $30-40. Dollywood is the major attraction but it is closed on Thursdays. There are lots of other attractions or distractions.

I continued on south to Gatlinburg and I think it is really just a town that is the main entrance to the Smoky Mountains. I'll learn a bit more tomorrow.

I got a $29 room at another Indian owned motel. There was no one in the office when I entered but the smell immediately told me that the proprietors were Indian. I'll bet that they could increase their revenue 5% if they eliminated that smell from their office.

I have a few quirks: I don't like to complain. There are no towels in the room but I have a bath mat and washcloth and that's enough for me to get along.  I went to a convenience store and bought a couple microwavable pizza and sandwich things. I thought I had a microwave in the room but I was wrong so I ate them cold. I hope that was a healthy thing to do.

Tomorrow I need to wind back toward the northeast to get to Johnson City on Friday. I may do it the hard way and go over the mountains into North Carolina and go into Johnson City from the back way. I'll wait to see if I have lots of energy in the morning.

On to another day. You have my best wishes and good thoughts.

John

 

Subj:

Day 10 Foothill Ride to Greeneville

Date:

9/27/01 7:42:07 PM Central Daylight Time

From:

John Cruise

   

Gatlinburg is dark and cool in the mornings because it is in between the Appalachian Mountains that are part of the Great Smoky Mountains. I decided that I didn't have the energy to go over the pass into North Carolina. It would have been a long hard two days to go up the back way to Johnson City.

Instead, I rode through the foothills up to Greeneville, 66 miles from Gatlinburg and just 30 miles short of Johnson City. I'll mosey on into Johnson City tomorrow. This will be my last report from this trip.

There is no flat ground in this part of the country. Yesterday I had 6,200 feet of climb in 100 miles. Today I had 4,500 feet in the 66 miles.

It could be great riding in this area. There is some fine scenery. I liked having the Appalachian Mountains off my right shoulder and a long, hilly valley off to the left.

The problem is traffic. The long valley that runs from Chattanooga northeast to Johnson City is pretty highly populated. There are many resorts and retirement communities along with lots of campgrounds and the like. A lot of people who don't want to live in Florida choose this area for its more moderate year round climate.

But, the roads can't handle the traffic and these drivers seem less considerate of cyclists. I'm very tired of watching my rear so closely and riding on rough, dirty shoulders. When I get to Johnson City the bike will be packed up and I will don my running shoes for exercise.

I think I got some good news today. Nate has failed in his venture in Phoenix where he was supposed to start a new life. Cheryl and I knew this was coming because of several phone calls but we have discouraged him from returning to Iowa City because we felt that he would just fall back into old habits there.

He agrees that Iowa City is not a good choice. He is moving to Cincinnati where he will stay with his friend Jerry and get a job there. I think that may work better for him. Of course, I had to wire him money to make the trip but that was cheaper and better than what I had planned: a trip to Phoenix to bring him back to Iowa City.

Back to the trip. It has been 925 miles and they were harder than many of the miles I have traveled before. I'm glad to have the experience and I would do another trip east if I had a good reason with a particular destination. But, when I drive east I hate the traffic and when I bike east the traffic load is very tiring. I love the west and there I shall head.


I have to be very thankful that I could spend the last 10 days cycling. Americans are still gathering themselves and I can see that the impact of September 11 will be far more serious than I imagined at first. I have some thoughts about what I want to do about this but the thoughts are a bit too "fresh" to share yet.

Thanks for listening and caring.

John