A Middle Tennessee Sunday

The forecast was for 90F (32C). So we got an early start.

There was fog from the lake.

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Soon it cleared. The roads were quiet. Churchgoers were still at home. Those who tied one on last night were sleeping it off.

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That’s a bike lane, and a buffer lane, at the right of the highway. Tennessee has lots of these – not always passable, but they exist. Despite what we heard yesterday about the dysfunctional legislature, there are some good things about this state’s governance.

At this intersection, we reluctantly passed up a visit to Dayton (site of the 1925 Scopes trial mentioned yesterday) and headed for Crossville.

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The road climbed steeply. It was banked (tilted), which made it hard to navigate. It was narrow. Sometimes the shoulder had crumbled away. Some of the dropoffs were 10 feet (3 meters) or more. It was a scary ride, and we did more than a little walking.

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In one of the valleys, we entered Cumberland County – and the Central Time Zone. That’s a railroad bridge looming overhead to the north.

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Some local historical color:

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In Crab Orchard, we needed a break from the hills and the hot sun. When we saw this “American Owned” sign, which we suspect is code for something bigoted, we took our business elsewhere. This sort of sign has cropped up on more and more shops and hotels as we get farther from the Mason-Dixon line.

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Downtown Crossville.

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Hitesh and Palak are married. She has a degree in human resource management. He is two semesters short of a degree in industrial engineering. He is from near Mumbai; she grew up in Boston and hopes Hitesh can find a job up there when he finishes college. Meanwhile, they invested in, and run, this convenience store.

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They said the occasional drunken customer is unpleasant, but most people in this homogeneous area treat them well. While Jeffrey was talking with them, they served several regular customers who were warm and friendly; one customer asked for “the usual” (cigarettes: in Tennessee, we’ve seen them for as little as $1.50 per pack, and smokers are legion; in NYC, a pack costs $14) and then, without irony, gave Jeffrey the story of the recent excision of his skin cancer. Hitesh said he’d heard that there used to be signs outside town warning blacks to stay away; the atmosphere is nothing like that anymore, but “outsiders” still are rare.

Refreshed after an ice cream and some root beer, Jeffrey climbed another steep hill, rolled down the far side at 35 mph (57 kph), and felt the Lightning become unstable. With difficulty, he kept it under control and moved onto the shoulder.

The front tire had gone soft. Our first puncture on this Ride!

He walked the Lightning to the end of a bridge so it could rest against the guard rail. He removed the front wheel, pulled off the tire, and pulled this metal shard (maybe 5 mm or 1/5″) from the inside. It had punctured the tire liner and reached the tube.

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The flat probably resulted from riding in the bike lane. Driving lanes have few puncture hazards because car and truck tires crush or sweep up bits of debris like this, and the wind created by big vehicles blows the rest to the side of the road – onto the shoulders and bike lanes – where it stays until it gets stuck in a bike tire.

While Jeffrey worked on the tire, Jonathan Dayton pulled up to offer help.

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Jonathan is a fellow bicycle commuter. He said he serves his Lord Jesus Christ and asked if Jeffrey attends church. They had a pleasant conversation about Isaiah. Jeffrey suggested that there have been some mistranslations of Hebrew into English that confuse some readers of English Bibles, but noted that all Peoples of the Book are actual or spiritual children of Abraham so the differences are just technicalities. We’re not sure Jonathan was convinced. But he is a good fellow – a distant relation of the Dayton who signed the Constitution, he said – and they wished one another well.

Changing the tube left Jeffrey overheated again. He stopped in a few miles, at a Dollar General in Pleasant Hill, for a cold drink and to cool off a bit.

Outside the store, he met Ron and Rick.

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Rick was fascinated by the Lightning. They had a long discussion about bicycles and electric bicycles. Rick, who greeted several passersby (he seems to know most everyone in town), wants a no-gas vehicle to use instead of his truck when he doesn’t need to haul things. (The truck emits remarkable clouds of dense gray smoke; he may need a new truck, too.) He will check out electric bicycles on the Web.

A woman from the NJ shore stopped by to talk; she moved to Tennessee to be with grandchildren. It seems to have been a hard choice. She was happy to have a word with someone who understands where she came from.

Then we met Holly, Jesse and David.

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When Jeffrey told David how HRF opposes torture, David related a fascinating story of the survival training he was given in the Navy years before 9-11-01. He said air crews had to pass a 6-day survival course before being allowed to fly behind enemy lines. Part of the course involved torture-resistance training. He said it was terrible. He was waterboarded, among other things. But he said the experience gave him self-confidence and enhanced his patriotism, because it made him grateful to live in a country where we hope (he says) that we don’t torture people. He said that at the end of the survival exercise, when the “enemy” flag was hauled down at the training camp and the Stars and Stripes was raised, there wasn’t a dry eye in his unit. He still thinks a lot about this experience – one could mistake his reaction for a form of post traumatic stress disorder – but he has processed it all in a positive way and feels it made him a better person.

So it’s not just retired generals and admirals who support HRF’s campaign against U.S. torture and Guantanamo’s debasement of our laws. David, too, here in rural Tennessee, understands that torture is something that Americans (we hope) do not do.

Evidently we had climbed pretty high, because soon we came to some long, steep downhills. We pulled off at a scenic overlook and met some motorcyclists. The gentleman in the middle used to own a bike shop. We had a nice chat about bikes and highways, then took one another’s photos.

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At dinner tonight, Jeffrey talked to Lonnie Finley.

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Mr. Finley, who was drafted in 1953 just before the Korean War ceasefire, grew up on a farm, well-fed but cash-poor. He worked in Dayton, OH, for a few years, but when he and his wife had their first child, they moved back home to Sparta, TN. To supplement his Social Security income, he does work for monument companies, using rubber stencils and a sandblaster to engrave headstones already placed in cemeteries. He talked about his yellow-dog-Democrat friends (that means they’d vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket) and said he himself has voted for candidates from both parties. Like other Tennesseans we’ve met, he is supportive of HRF’s help to refugees. No one has said anything negative. Courtesy? Maybe. Or common sense and good-heartedness.

We do encounter a very small minority of drivers who seem to resent sharing the road with a bicycle. Otherwise, we have experienced nothing but kindness from our hosts in Tennessee.

One thought on “A Middle Tennessee Sunday

  1. Jeffrey, it takes a kind person to elicit kindness from so many. It is a marvel how many people to are touching on your journey. Keep up the good work

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