©2019 by Jelle.

'Cheating' my way to the West

26/4/2018

My visa expires the 1st of June, and I think that I would really like to go to Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Since these states are too far away to cycle to in the time that I have left, I have decided to take the car and train to Denver, Colorado, and start cycling there again.

My idea was to stay two nights in Knoxville, but I believe that I had seen everything in one afternoon and didn’t feel like staying another day. Let’s go to Nashville! Jess recommended me to go to the Lilly Pad Brewery, because she said that there was a nice campground over there. After 65 frustrating miles with headwind, I finally arrived. There was indeed a very simple but nice campground. In two days, the weather switched from hot and sunny to cold with snow. The local people told me that these fluctuations were exceptional.

 

 

 

The next 65 miles (with headwind) brought me to Cookeville, and I pitched up my tent at a church just before it got dark. When I was having breakfast at a Waffle House, I looked at the weather forecasts and saw that the headwind was getting worse the coming days. Now I understand why most of the cyclists cycle the US from West to East…. I really didn’t feel like cycling in the headwind anymore. I decided to try to hitchhike myself into Nashville, although I wasn’t very optimistic. I got lucky at the first try. I saw a pick-up truck with a trailer at a gas station and I asked if he was going in the direction of Nashville and whether he had room for a bicycle. He was indeed going to Nashville, and of course he could take my bike. I asked him about the two motorcycles on the trailer. He turned out to be part of the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA-USA), and they were touring through some states. I didn’t even notice the rest of the group with their big motorcycles. Before we left, the guys wanted to have breakfast at The Waffle House. I got to know Larry, Tim and Ron. Tim asked me if I wanted to ride on the back of his motor. Of course! Before I knew it, I was sitting at the back of his huge Harley Davidson, driving in a group of motorcycles towards Nashville. Tim yelled at me that “you can still say you rode a bike all the way”. We agreed to stop at the first gas station after entering Nashville. I said goodbye to the group there and was very grateful for the ride, they saved me two or three days of frustration. In a circle, they blessed me and my bicycle and gave me a mini bible.

 

CMA-USA

 

Because I suddenly arrived in Nashville, I didn’t have accommodation yet. I was able to arrange that pretty fast in a McDonald’s. in the afternoon, I randomly cycled through Nashville to see what there is to see. I noticed that Broadway was the place to be, the most important street of Nashville with a lot of live music. I visited broadway in the evening, and went in and out of basically all the bars to get the full experience. The next day, I visited a couple of museums and booked a car via Enterprise, because I’m driving towards St. Louis.

 

Broadway, Nashville

 

In the two days that I hired the car, I drove about 900-1000 miles, which was actually a little bit too far. Yet, I felt kind of powerful to drive a car through the United States, not bound to any places and able to go wherever I wanted to. I drove to Memphis, which I really enjoyed. I was walking in Memphis, with my feet 10 feet of off Beale. In my experience, the musical scene (Beale street) was even bigger than the one in Nashville. I noticed that there was a lot of police on the street, they even searched everyone trying to enter Beale street. Later that evening, I also took a look at the former house of Elvis Presley (and his plane).

 

Beale street, Memphis
 

Graceland

 

After spending the night in the car, I drove to Hot Springs on the next day, the ‘boyhood home’ of Bill Clinton (fun fact). Route 7, labeled as one of the most scenic drives in the US, passes through Hot Springs. I obviously wanted to drive route 7. I unfortunately didn’t see anything of the environment, as it was already getting dark and I was furthermore driving in the middle of the pouring rain. The road towards route 7 was actually much nicer. I had to wake up at 5 AM the next morning to be able to return the car on time. The mountainous road was pitch dark and it was still raining, not the best conditions to ride in, but at least more comfortable than cycling. When it was light, I was already done with route 7 (poor time planning…).

 

My car for three days

 

I spotted a crossing turtle on a deserted road!

 

In St. Louis, I met Jim and Sally, part of the warmshowers community. They’re a retired couple and they didn’t mind that I didn’t really cycle to there place. I’ve heard that some people actually refuse to host if you’re not coming by bike. That kind of makes sense, but I have a good reason not to cycle. I actually stayed two nights in St. Louis, which allowed me to see the history museum and zoo. I’ve seen a lot of strange species which I may encounter in South America, some of which I really hope not to! On Tuesday, Jim rode with me to the city center which I hadn’t really seen yet. After a glimpse at the well-known arch, I moved on to the north, to Quincy, from which I will take the train to Denver.

 

De Gateway Arch in St. Louis, symbolising the Westward Expansion of the US (purchase of Louisiana, 1803)

 

Bicycle route along the Mississippi

 

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