Day 10: Don's Knoxville
We awoke to our alarms akimbo in the still-dark, dingy motel room in Bean Station1. After five minutes or so, we were wolfing cold pizza that we had ordered the night prior. We made short work of four slices, then got to packing quickly. We found circumstantial evidence the day before that the Good ‘Ol Boys are running some kind of shady prostitution ring out of the Bean Station Budget Inn, so we wasted no time in packing up and hitting the road for Knoxville.
After Mike returned the key to the woman stationed at the front desk, we were off. The morning was extremely overcast, humid, and slightly breezy. My kind of weather.
The day started on flat terrain, which our legs appreciated. I put on some music2 to amplify the feeling I got from the desolate, fragrant, and wet environment. The plant-life surrounding us was lush from a recent watering and matte from lack of morning sun. We pedaled on, and I really enjoyed the mood. Think Tennessee impersonating the state of Washington.
Eventually the sky sprung a leak and in five minutes we were getting showered on (good impersonation, huh?). It didn’t matter much; we put on water-proof tops and kept trucking. If anything, the rainfall added to the atmosphere.
After stopping at a gas station, we huddled under an awning for a while and the dumping stopped. We ditched the rain clothes and kept pedaling.
We rode through a valley, funneled by green hills. The recent rain had anointed the tops of the hills with mist. The fog gave an even more surreal tint to the Washington look. We were sitting pretty in a bike lane.
We banged out 41 miles, then we reached the outskirts of Knoxville. Our first task of the day was to visit a Walmart and stock up on all of the cheap goodies to which we had become accustomed. We made the few turns necessary and wound up in the sort of massive parking lot that signals a hallowed ground of serious shopping.
Before shopping, we went to a McDonald’s and got stuffed on McDoubles, sundaes, pies, fries, etc. I think we’re finally getting a little tired of the value menu, but time will tell.
We locked bikes in the Walmart parking lot and got to shopping after Mike left his mark on the bathroom. We finished browsing, then tallied and paid at the register. We forgot to pick up apple sauce. Bummer.
After Walmart, we scouted out a bike shop using the phones and set out towards that. This took us closer into Knoxville, where the hills came alive and beat the hell out of our knees. After descending a monster hill, we hit a left on Broadway and found the bike place, Greenlee.
When we walked into the bike shop, the mechanics on duty stared at us with a mixture of wonder and lethargy. I yelled something about spokes and they got to measuring my wheels. The mechanic who was working with me had a handlebar mustache and I’m sure he was very excited to work around the heavy panniers hanging off the side of my bike. In fact, I know he was very excited based on the swears muttered as he pushed and pulled to get to the wheel’s quick-release.
Nonetheless, he did a great job measuring the spokes and only charged me four bucks for four of them. Mike was talking to another, slightly more sunny mechanic and got a few bolts replaced on his front rack. We left the bike shop happy, especially considering we had entered the shop with zero spokes for me, which could have left us stranded miles away from civilization.
We kept trucking down broad, entered downtown Knoxville, and found a coffee shop to unwind at. A very swanky coffee shop.
We did our standard hey-I’m-just-a-cyclist-walking-into-your-shop-surreptitiously-with-a-5-pound-bag-of-chargers3 stroll past the register and found some comfy couches. I ordered an iced coffee and Mike got his signature sweet-tea/lemon-bar combo which seemed to do him no evil.
The coffee shop, as I said, really was swanky. The bar itself was beneath a little structure within the shop that you could actually access via a set of stairs. A lattice of small, soft lights on the bottom of this structure kept the bar well lit.
We hung here for a few hours. Instead of writing an update like a good bicycle tourist, I recharged my batteries by browsing the typical fare I would were I at home, i.e. hackernews. After an hour and a half, I was knee deep in an article that provided yet another fix to all time management problems ever, and Mike was tired of waiting around. Mike said he was going to go bike around and try to find some postcards; we decided that he’d come back here and we’d call up our host for the night, Don Fritz.
Mike went and came, then we tried calling Don. No answer! We decided that we’d better cruise on over to his place to see what was up with our sleeping arrangements for the evening. We hopped on our bikes and pedaled southeast, into the heart of the UTenn campus.
On the way over, we met a very relaxed, middle-aged black guy4 tooling around on a bike. He asked about our gear and said he was going to a brew pub just down the street. On the way, about three people recognized him, one of whom called our new friend by yelling “hey, handsome.” We said we’d make it to the bar if we could, but unfortunately never did.
After a few more minutes of pedaling, we made it to Don’s house. We’d caught Don unexpectedly (like the inexperienced surfers we were), but no less, he welcomed us in. We asked him if he’d like to join us out to eat and he accepted. I could see that he’d prepared for our arrival: there were pillows, blankets, and a roll-away bed set up in the middle of Don’s living room.
Don put on a Janis Joplin tye-dyed t-shirt (more on her in a little) and got out his mountain bike, which had a trailer attached for grocery runs. We set off for Biscuit st., where a cluster of restaurants was circled around an upscale pedestrian area. We chose one almost at random and shared a delicious meal, Mike getting a Ruben and Don and I getting hamburgers. Over dinner, Don told us about himself and his interests, which consist almost entirely of Janis Joplin and researching his extended family, which, of course, includes Janis.
We finished up with the meal and returned to where we parked our bikes, slightly unsure of what to do next. Eventually, Don proposed we go to see the Sun Sphere, which is a monument that was built for the year that Knoxville hosted the World’s Fair. As we walked towards the Sphere, Don told us a lot more about his extended family, which allegedly includes Michael Jackson, Mohammed Ali, Katie Couric, the Arquettes, and the Duff girls. How all this is possible, I am not sure, but Don seems to have done a lot of research.
We got to the Sun Sphere and took an elevator up. It was eerily deserted, but we got a great view of Knoxville and Don told us a little bit about very many prominent buildings. Don snapped some pictures, then we began the walk back to the bikes.
Again we arrived at the bikes and again we were at a loss as to what to do next. The time was only around eight, relatively early for a Friday night, but then again Mike and I were pretty beat from our ride in. Don suggested we got to see one of the oldest cemeteries in the city which was only a few blocks away; Mike and I happily agreed.
After the cemetery, we went back to Don’s place and talked more about his family and Janis. Don claims he has a spiritual connection with Janis because he discovered her name in his research without any context for who she was and felt compelled to learn more about her. In this accidental way, he became one of Janis Joplin’s biggest fans.
Don’s living room is an impressive array of all of the family-related memorabilia he’s collected, with a slant towards Janis. Hundreds of knickknacks fill the room, each with a significance, a connection, or a story somehow linking the object back to Don’s family.
What drives a man to research his family so obsessively I’m not sure. But I do admire Don’s zeal and he’s a damn interesting guy to spend a few hours with.
After watching a few songs from a Joplin DVD, I told Don I was ready to turn in, so he got out some blankets and bid us good night. I fell asleep almost instantaneously: whoever knocks couches for sleep-comfort isn’t trying the right furniture.
A big day for the trip: we’d surfed our first couch.
read: NOTHING THERE↩
DJ Shadow’s seminal downtempo record, Endtroducing…, to my knowledge the first album produced entirely from samples. Here’s a good clip↩
we have perfected this↩
a rare class of guy that I always appreciate running into: he’s always an older black male and he has a venerable sheen of experience while retaining hipness and a relaxed demeanor.↩