Day 11: Up the plateau to Crossville

by James

We awoke Saturday, the 28th of May, in Don Fritz’s first floor apartment in Knoxville, Tennessee. We were dressed and halfway packed when Don got up and began talking to his extremely shy cat, Billy. Don was trying to chide Billy into the kitchen for a meal despite Billy’s acute distrust of us strangers.

Billy the cat
Billy the cat, swerving toward Don to avoid us.

Once we were packed, we retrieved our locked bikes from the school playground across the street. Don, hospitable host that he is, had presented us with two Tennessee-orange water-bottles the night previous and now came out with a postcard for each of us. We thanked him, then said adieu to Don and his bashful cat Billy, hightailing it for the nearest McDonald’s for a calorie-filled breakfast.

Once we were done with breakfast, we stood outside the McDonald’s a while next to a group of rough-looking dudes. One of the dudes approached us and asked the typical lineup: where ya from, where ya goin’, etc. We answered all those, then he proceeded to tell us that he could fix the horrible hail damage on the hood of the car in front of us. The secret, he said, was dry ice. His brother had taught him that in high school and he’d apparently made some decent money off the little-known idea for a while.

Funniest God billboard
My favorite God-billboard yet, seen coming out of Knoxville.

After giving us that nugget of auto-repair gold, he then went on to tell an Osama joke, which had a punchline involving Osama’s body floating at the bottom of the ocean surrounded by seals1. He then told us he’d done a few comedy shows and, somehow, I didn’t doubt him. Anyway, after all this song and dance I figured that he’d be asking us for money, but he just wished us a nice day and sauntered off. He was just shootin’ it. Or maybe he realized that we looked more beat-up than he did.

After that, we set out for Crossville, which is 76 miles away from Knoxville. “Yeah whatever,” was our attitude towards the mileage. We were in for a little surprise.

Nothing til Crossville
The mostly-empty road to Crossville.

I decided to go without music for the day, mostly just to avoid developing the habit of always having music on while riding, which would be easy to slip into for me. Music is great when you’ve gotta pound out some serious mileage (especially some of the music I’ve got), but it stifles contemplation a little.

Nothing very notable happened between Knoxville and Kingston, the town we lunched in. The terrain was fairly hilly, but we were no longer following a valley and so scenery was limited. I mostly thought about my family and the months to come.

Bridge to Crossville

We arrived in Kingston just in time for lunch (the town clock even dong’d 12) and, of course, the first thing we did was whip out our phones to figure out what our options for dining were. We initially decided on Handee Burger, allegedly a good place to get a sandwich and hang out, but after finding it dim and locked, we moved on to Buddy’s Barbecue.

Mike, standing outside Buddy’s, said that he couldn’t decided whether the place smelled like he was in a mesquite smoker or whether it smelled like he was in someone’s mouth while they were smoking a cigarette. I half expected to open the door to a sauna-like setup where toweled old men were hanging out next to piles of pork. The place definitely had a pungent odor. Of course we had to eat lunch here.

We walked in, noticing that most of the booths housed burly-looking men dressed like they were on lunch break from a LL Bean catalogue photo-shoot. Probably a good sign. We strolled up to the counter and ordered bbq plus whatever else and took a booth. The food was damn good.

While Mike went to the bathroom, I overheard a father and son talking in the next booth over. The father had a low, country voice and the son had the high, imposing voice common to rural kids.

Father: What do you want to do when you get home?

Son: I’ll tell you what I wanna do: I wanna watch TV!

Father: Aw, come on now. It’s a beautiful day. You should go outside and play.

For some reason, I admired how patient and reserved the dad seemed, even within the apparent privacy of the booth.

After we finished up with the bbq, we enjoyed two gooey confections called Hot Fudge Cakes. There wasn’t much talking, but a lot of spoonwork. We sat for a while, letting the fresh cement in our stomachs set.

We got back on the road only to be met by a wall of green ahead of us. This was the jump to the Tennessee plateau, and it was there to knock our hubris (and our hygiene) down a peg or seven.

We descended into another valley, knowing full well that the pedals we weren’t pushing were a kind of signature on a very large debt. We rode down the valley, hit a right on 70W, and began repayment.

Since it’d been a sweet 8 days or so away from the horrible Blue Ridge Parkway, our legs were spoiled. We grunted up near-thousand foot climb, soaked in heat.

Mike on break
Mike on break from the Plateau climb.

After a few hundred hours, we hit the apex and descended to a gas station in Crab Orchard. I walked in and did my standard Hostess inspection. A girl, now living in Knoxville but originally from California, walked up and asked where we were going. We talked a little then parted ways. I bought a package of Snoballs and munched them outside like sweaty lion on pink gazelle.

On break from climb
On break from the climb. Want to collapse.

After I’d disposed of all evidence, we hopped back on the bikes and trucked it to Crossville; the road was flat and life was good. Mike said he was doing okay, but I was punch-drunk exhausted.

As we made our way into the center of Crossville, I could hear electronic bells chiming in the distance, the pitch modulating eerily a la Doppler. Worried that we had unknowingly stumbled into a reenactment of The Running Man, I asked Mike, “the hell is that?”

He replied, “church-bells.”

The town was strangely empty, but once we turned on Main, we realized why: the entire street was sealed off for a giant classic car show. We got off our bikes in a daze and strolled around for not more than a minute before we were approached by locals. They welcomed us in, pointed us to food, and told us to have a good time.

Crossville Main
So *this* is what everyone means when they say "Main Street."

We locked our bikes up outside of a music shop (and just behind a 1950-something ‘vette) and walked the length of Main, gaping at cars. My interest in cars is limited strictly to utility, but I’ll admit that I was pulled in by the incredibly simple, beautiful engineering that some of these antique machines displayed.

Walking back, we hit a discount baked-goods stand. Mike bought an oversized brownie and I bought 3 cookies. After paying the lady working the booth, I asked her if there was any beer for sale at this shindig. She dumped a bucket of stink-eye over my head and said no. Dry county? I hope not.

After getting our fill of Main, we wondered back to the bikes and had an Indian-style sitdown. We decided priority number one was to figure out where we would be sleeping and, though we had some brash plans to sleep on one of the Main st. lawns, we thought that maybe less risky conk-spots might be worth investigating.

We called the Cumberland county fire department and, after talking to two fireman, we got an okay to camp on their grounds for the night. Relieved and excited for a tame night, we made tracks to Dairy Queen to replenish our gadgets and stomachs.

We did the walk-in routine and found a table towards the back of the oddly-labyrinthine DQ. I set up the surge-protector, we plugged in, then I got to work on yesterday’s entry. Mike wrote a little in his journal, then authored a postcard, probably for some forlorn woman.

We stayed there maybe three hours, and after two huge burgers and a chat with the intrigued, slightly mystified, and very friendly staff, we split for the firehouse.

Fire station ho!
On our way to the fire station. Don't know what to expect.

When we arrived at the firehouse, we were greeted by two guys who ostensibly worked there. I prepared for some ‘splainin’, figuring that we’d be presented with a “the hell you guys doin’ here.” Instead, the gents knew who we were and welcomed us in. We talked and laughed in front of the station, then the guys invited us to the back where we could pitch the tent.

Fire station & bikes
Back of the fire station. Shed on the left is our hut.

But instead of ever unpacking our tent, the firemen did us one better: they offered us use of their brand new shed. Not only that, but they gave us full use of their indoor bathrooms and shower. We were overwhelmed at the hospitality of these charming dudes. They seemed like they were capable of having a damn good time, and we greatly enjoyed talking to them.

We set up in the shed, taking turns to change out of our bike clothes. I sat working on the last day’s entry a little more while Mike read Capote, the shed door open to keep us cool. I hit the indoor bathroom, exploring much of the fire station to get there, then slept like a drugged bear in winter.

Cumberland sky

  1. it sounds much more crass in condensed form than it really was

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