Day 9: Mechanical failures, threatening weather, and golden arches

by James

Last night, Mike was so enthralled with gardening that he forgot to bring his sleeping-bag into the tent; this resulted in him waking up around 3AM and rolling around in a daze until someone mixed consciousness with warm mud and threw it in my face around 6:20AM.

We groaned our collective groan for a few minutes, likely scaring away all wildlife within a 10ft radius, and then disassembled our churchyard home. This happened relatively quickly; in all likelihood, because we were both starving. We finished packing our bikes, which were resting on the side of a wooden jungle-gym, then quietly made our way out of the churchyard, closing the iron fence-gate behind us.

We trucked over to a McDonald’s for breakfast: our first visit to the infamous hamburger-stand gone public-enemy for the day. I consumed a hot 1010 calories for around $4.50, tax included. Mike probably consumed a commensurate amount. We received some strange looks from a flock of regulars who had congregated for McBreakfast, but then again if I had seen myself strutting into a McDonald’s at seven in the morning, AM-ruffled and in spandex, I may have called it bad science-fiction.

After scarfing our substantial, flaky breakfast sandwiches, we continued west down State until it became route 11W.

Green hillside
Green Tennessee hills.

Biking for long distances isn’t as painful as you might imagine it to be. Most of the sharp pains stop after the first week, and if they don’t, your bike probably isn’t adjusted correctly. The pains that have remained for me are mostly dull. Achy wrists, sore ass, maybe a rogue leg muscle that’s tender. Nothing sharp, just a continuous, dull hum of annoyance. Like white-noise, it’s a class of sensation that’s relatively easy to tune out, leaving you with the rhythmic cadence of pedal strokes.

From there, it’s like high school detention1, but potentially better: this is dependent on the quality of scenery. Prolonged conversation with your companion isn’t feasible, so your only option is to examine your thoughts, prune them, or generate new ones. Rummage through memories, evaluate past choices. This can be fun, satisfying, or bizarre; so far I’ve encountered a few memories I’d long forgotten about, unsure of how their recollection was triggered.

Avenues of sensory escape are mostly closed. You can’t turn on TV. There aren’t any social network notifications firing red, scattering your attention. Can’t turn to a book. You can look around, but that only lasts for a few seconds every three miles or so; the eyes fill the mental cache quickly. The only bet you have for easy entertainment is music, and that’s exactly what I turned to today.

After riding for twenty miles, we stopped outside of a gas station in Kingsport. I gaped at the selection within the convenience store (becoming a habit?) while Mike snacked outside.

After ten minutes, we took off. After fifteen minutes, we were by the side of a very active, very angry-sounding route 11, figuring out how the hell (i) I had snapped two spokes, and (ii) how we were going to fix them, considering we were having considerable trouble getting my freewheel off.

Fixing spokes
*CRUNCH!* ... *CRUNCH!* ... shit.

Mike eventually pounded on Dad’s adjustable crescent and the freewheel gave way, allowing us to swap the wounded spokes. We replaced the spokes, I wrenched the wheel approximately true, then reassembled the whole mess. All told, we’d cut about forty minutes out of the day.

The ride today was stunningly beautiful. The hills of Tennessee have their own character, and I enjoyed taking in the lush green.

Tennessee sky
A Tennessee sky.

We kept cruising down 11W. On the edge of Kingsport, we both thought it a solid plan to hit the McDonald’s, since civilization looked to be thinning out and therefore our chances of success in a calorie-hunt were fast waning.

On our second trip to the golden arches, I consumed an amount of food worth 1590 calories. Level up, or what? This meal consisted of

  • (2) McDouble w/o cheese --- $2
  • (1) Small fries --- $1
  • (1) Fudge Sundae --- $1
  • (1) Baked cherry pie --- $0.50

Now, antagonists of McDonald’s, tell me how you can campaign against a restaurant that’ll provide relatively nutritious food yielding 2600 calories for a loose $9 in change. Are people campaigning against this restaurant really so short-sighted that they don’t see the use of this calorie-to-price ratio for the truly poor? For example, take us idiot post-college bikers.

After I accepted my fat bribe from Ronald for writing this post, we hit the road again.

Love on a real train

About an hour later, Mike drifted into some noise-strips and he came away with a flat tire. I was all geared up for a catnap when the rain and thunder started. We huddled under a tree, eventually getting soaked. I donned my helmet once again when the hail started, which only lasted a short time.

Before the hail came
Just before the heavy rain hit.

Once the weather cleared up, we stood outside of a Quality Inn getting dry and inhaling Snickers bars. We decided to attempt an 18 mile trek to Bean Station, which is the location of the motel we ultimately ended up at. The trip was a gamble: we were racing a storm on its way to Bean Station from the west.

Into the wet
Heading straight into the gamble.

We hauled ass down 11. At this point in the day, a rhythm had settled in our muscles. Any thought behind gear-shifting completely disappeared. We knew the terrain, and our bodies had internalized the frequency-to-grade pairings of our pedal strokes. Like I said, we hauled ass.

Ominous storm clouds collected south of us. The air felt charged and winds of varying temperature flared up and hit us like taunts from puerile nature. I was having a ball.

Oh boy
This was to our left. Ruh-roh.

We kept trucking in the bike lane (!) and the pavement beneath us felt like firm butter.

Just as light rain was falling, we turned off 11W, found our dingy but dry motel2, and settled in for the day, having clocked 69 miles before 4PM.

Mountain barn
One of the scenes visible from our room's window.

  1. one of the best uses of time in public high school.

  2. we decided to hit a motel today because bouts of hail were forecasted to hit in the evening.

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