I love riding on back roads. Almost as much as I hate riding on busy highways with no shoulders. On the 29th, I took a day off in Waverly and was feeling refreshed upon leaving town. A lot of the riding that day was going to be on back roads and I was feeling really happy to be outside. Especially because the weather was pleasant, it was kind of misty and overcast before noon before the sun came out and warmed me up.
After getting out of Waverly I turned onto a road that I was supposed to be on for about 15 miles before turning on an unmarked road. Timing that next turn is really difficult for me since the only way I’m tracking miles is by feel- I have no cycling computer or GPS besides my phone. I start to get an uneasy feeling after riding for what felt like longer than an hour down into a flat valley that seemed like a ghost town. It was marked “Cherry Bottom” on the map and I knew the turn was supposed to be coming up. Just as I’m about to check my phone for signal, a (very non-intimidating) dog starts barking at me and chasing me when I hear someone call out from inside a house. Circling back I ask them where the next road is and as soon as they say that it’s up ahead I basically zone out. They said something about a church and a stop sign…I need to do better at listening to directions. I still ended up pedaling right past the turn before checking google maps. (luckily I had full service!)
The next time I missed a turn that day, it was a bit more consequential. I had already entered a trailer park neighborhood in a holler, named Pond Hollow. As I’m riding down the gravel road, towards two guys walking a dachshund, the dog barks at me and gets immediately scolded and told to go into the yard. The same man looks up and says “Ya know that road dead ends right around that corner up there?”
Now I like to be optimistic about people’s characters and usually give everyone the benefit of the doubt before they prove me wrong. But, I’m not an idiot, I do understand that I was up in the middle of nowhere rural Tennessee in a holler and should be fairly careful. These guys immediately gave off the “good people” vibrations. They were quite the characters too. Let me try to describe them. The man with the dog had gray hair past his shoulders and was wearing a gray polo that just barely covered his potbelly with khaki shorts, fly completely unzipped. He was waving around a roll of toilet paper too for some reason…maybe he just went to the bathroom LOL. I didn’t recognize it at first but the other guy was blind, with a wiry build and probably 60 years old, he didn’t say a whole lot but the first thing that came out of his mouth was “ya know he can talk to her [the dog] and she listens, they understand what they saying to each other.” I knew exactly what he meant, “my dog knows what I’m saying too” I wanted to tell him, but something about the way he said it made me think this was a much deeper and serious understanding than I was willing to talk about at the moment. So I probably said something like, “that’s cool.”
The man in the gray polo had been a truck driver all his life, and has lived in Pond Hollow for 15 years. He knew “all the dirt roads from here to Hell.” Thus, he knew all the dirt roads and highways from here to Mobile Alabama, and to San Diego as well. He had MapQuest downloaded to his brain and was quite the talker so was not shy to tell me how to get there. My map and him disagreed quite a bit on the best route but I was steadfast and told him there was no way I’m making a new way to get there right now.
I did get his help on the best way to get back on route and he knew a way over the mountains that would shave some miles off. His instructions were basically to ride to the end of the road and push my bike up a washed out road, ride down, and then do that again. I was trying my best to listen to the turn-by-turn directions but that just wasn’t my forte that day. After getting his instructions straight, he told me that when I get to Pineview, “tell them you got lost in Pond Holler! Oh boy!” he snorted. This guy was just an awesome person, his country accent/outfit/knowledge made him instantly memorable.
So, I said my goodbyes, rode to the end of the street, looked at the washed out “road,” which looked more like a landslide off the mountain. Looked around a little more at any other possibilities and avoided the dirt road that leads to “150 miles of roads to nowhere” according to my friend. Basically said “Hell nah,” then got back on my bike and rode out of the time warp that is Pond Hollow and went back to the turn that I missed three miles down the road.
Lucky in Decaturville
Later that day I stopped at a mini-mart to get some dinner and snacks, it was around 3:30-4:00. At the beginning of the day I had no plans on where to stay that night, but now I’ve pretty much got two options- the campground a mile ahead, or Decaturville about 7 miles down the road. I met a nice guy named Marshall at the mini-mart who was basically in shock as to why I was riding my bike all this way. He was pretty funny about it too. Turns out that he had previously lived in Decaturville and told me that there was a pavilion near a public restroom that I could probably camp under, so that’s where I headed.
But when I get there, there was no public pavilion. Maybe Marshall was talking about the town that he lives in now. The sun was setting so I had to quickly look around to find a spot to “stealth camp.”I found what seemed to be a good spot behind the Baptist church in the woods but immediately get swarmed by mosquitoes when I get off my bike. Since I don’t have a tent, being in a spot where there are lots of mosquitoes can be pretty miserable. I have to zip up my sleeping bag all the way and cover my face with a shirt to protect myself. Even then, it’s not foolproof and I can hear them in my ear all night.
To be honest, it really sucks not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night. All sorts of things were running through my head, like camping in plain sight behind the church and risking trouble with cops, riding (or hitchhiking) back on the highway at night to get to the campground, and finding a new spot in the dark. I just walked into The Diner (that’s the name), feeling pretty down in the dumps and tried to figure out my next move over sweet tea and a salad. For a while though I just kind of sat there and moped.
After working up the courage to reach out to someone for help, I was told to talk to Nikki behind the counter at the diner. Boy, did she save me. She asked me a couple of questions to get a better feel as to why I’m on this bike ride and who I am, then made some phone calls to help me out. Turns out none of them panned out. But, she did let me know that camping behind the church would not be an issue and then even offered to let me camp behind the diner. The whole staff, and Nikki’s daughter made me feel welcomed. I was absolutely relieved to not be the stranger in the corner of the diner anymore. I was able to stay after they closed and hang around the diner too. Nikki insisted on doing as much hosting for me as she could: bringing me a pillow to sleep on, routing an extension cord outside so that I could keep charging my phone and backup battery, offering free drinks, and she even paid for my breakfast in the morning. I didn’t really know how to receive all of it, it was just so, nice. After a delicious breakfast of coffee with eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy it was a perfect start to a long 97 mile ride to Tishomingo State Park.
- I’m not good at listening to directions
- People are amazing
- If you need help, ask!
- Don’t go into a town with nowhere to stay. Because even though it worked out this time the alternative is not so good.
- Diners are a good way to meet people in town