First, an apology. Evidently the Ride statistics on donations and mileage, updated daily, were changed on Jeffrey’s iPhone but were not recorded at WordPress for several days. You may have been misled to think that we spent 5 days in Abingdon, VA. The problem has been fixed. Fast forward to Rogersville, Knoxville, Kingston, Sparta, and Lebanon, TN.
We’ve mentioned that Tennessee bike routes are good in theory, but sometimes lacking in practice.
Look carefully at the photo. Note the rock wall to the left, the narrow lanes, the narrow stripe with rumble strip, the few inches of pavement to the right of the strip, the crumbling shoulder, the rail at the edge of a dropoff. This road is a designated bicycle route! We ride (or in this case, we walk – we walked up this mountain, because there was no place to ride) on a knife-edge between one disaster or another.
Sometimes it’s better not to have a bike lane. Then drivers don’t expect us to stay in it notwithstanding its condition.
But one way or another, we are here to see the scenery and the people.
Look at this view outside Sparta. Jean-François Millet couldn’t paint such beauty.
Even the soil is a beautiful color.
When there aren’t markers for things like the start of Morgan’s Civil War raid on Ohio and Indiana, there are markers for military maneuvers.
Jeffrey looked for breakfast, but there was none to be had.
On an empty stomach, and braking to keep our speed under 35 mph, Jeffrey swooshed down into the Caney Fork River Valley. (The name is no match for two creeks we crossed yesterday – Mammy Creek and Daddy Creek – and the Calfkiller River.)
Then we climbed that narrow mountain road . . .
. . . to the plateau leading to Smithville.
In Smithville, Jeffrey spotted a Mexican store.
Rogelio is from Mexico. Ana is from Venezuela, is a U.S. citizen, and speaks good English. They say virtually all the locals from south of the U.S. are from Mexico. There are local bigots – every community has them – but on the whole, they say the Old Stock Americans are accepting. Particularly the young people; Ana said that some of the American women dating Mexican men have learned good Spanish. As on many issues, young people seem more open-minded about immigration.
Ana said the worst thing that happens to Mexicans is that they are exploited by local employers. She sees that as racism. But it could just as easily be equal-opportunity exploitation of the vulnerable.
Ana said that for a while, local police aggressively delivered unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities for removal from the U.S. Contrary to what we read in the papers, she thinks the atmosphere has been better lately.
Ana and Rogelio took a photo of the Lightning, and gave Jeffrey a cold drink, a donation for HRF, and their blessing for the road.
At the far end of the plateau, we quickly dropped over five hundred feet to Dowelltown, braking like mad.
We stopped at the post office
and had a nice chat with the postmistress. A Postal Service employee, she could not let us take her photo. She spoke candidly about how Dowelltown has lost its firehouse and library, and she worries that without the post office (threatened by budget cuts), there would be nothing to hold the town together.
They talked about the Tennessee Valley Authority dams and power generation. Jeffrey is a fan of Robert Caro and his multivolume autobiography of Lyndon Johnson. In the first volume, Caro devotes a chapter to describing the hard and dreary life in the Texas Hill Country before electrification. The Tennessee Valley must have been similar. Today this area is not rich, but it’s not destitute either. People who say “government is the problem” forget that to bring rural Tennessee into the 20th century, government was the solution.
We followed empty roads
and country roads
and roads alongside cattle pastures.
There was occasional light rain this afternoon. The heavy rain held off until a few minutes after we stopped for the night. The manager of our motel, Mr. Vinod, gave Jeffrey a discount, fruit juice, pastry, and conversation.
Mr. Vinod has lived in the U.S. for a long time. Why Tennessee? He had family here (they had come for business reasons), went to high school and college here, and stayed. When he visits India, he misses the U.S. When in the U.S., he misses India. That is not unusual for immigrants. Neither are his children unusual; they are America-born and India holds no attraction for them.
Mr. Vinod feels very much accepted here. Other immigrants we’ve met in this region have been less emphatic. We’re now commuting distance from cosmopolitan Nashville; maybe that has something to do with it.