My wife and I left Signal Mountain around 6:30 P.M. Eastern time yesterday. We drove North on Hwy. 127, down the mountain, through Dunlap, across the Sequatchie Valley and back up onto the Cumberland Plateau. The weather was perfect. We stayed on Hwy 127 until we arrived in Spencer, Tennessee and turned West on State Route 30. I had read how 30 was not to be missed. I have to differ. Certainly not a bad road, but nothing to write home about. I guess the Edsel now has company.
Nearly to McMinnville, we took a few county roads to cut Northwest to get to State Route 288. We travelled 288 Northward until its junction with State Route 56. North on 56 we plodded into Smithville. Once in Smithville, we took U.S. 70 West to Watertown, TN. A few miles past the town limits we took State Route 265 in a generally Westerly direction to I-40 for a 15 minute ride into downtown Nashville. Gaining an hour due to the time change, we rolled onto Broadway just as the sun had set. Checked in, parked the bike, the wife showered and it was time to hit Demos for a steak and then the honky-tonks.
Overall the trip took about 3.5 hours, about an hour more than if we just took I-24 from Chattanooga to Nashville. As far as our enjoyment of the route, we prefer the county roads to State Routes, State Routes to U.S. Highways and cannot stand Interstates unless we are within 45 minutes of a large city. Considering the heat the next day, this leg of the trip turned out to be the best part. The farms and fields were on display - hay lying cut drying in the pastures, wheat almost ready to harvest and corn about knee high.
We got a late start Sunday. We hit the road with no breakfast and without provision for a roadside one. We tested Broadway West until West End Avenue. We stayed on West End until we diverged onto State Route 100 and on down to Pasquo, TN.
Instead of Breakfast it was lunchtime and there were plenty of bikes at the Loveless Cafe at the head of the Natchez Trace. Stomach rumbling, heat mounting and the thought of a hundred miles down the Trace with nary a snack provided quite a craving for whatever the Cafe might provide. Of course the wait to be seated for lunch was one and a half hours. Let me say that again - one and a half hours. Nothing is that good. So lunch became the payday bar I picked up as we gassed up. My wife guarded her granola bar.
Until today I had never been on the Natchez Trace. Needing to be back in Chattanooga by night fall, I knew I could only bite off a small part of it. We slowly circled the overly large on-ramp with quiet anticipation. We slowly and painstakingly followed the 40 m.p.h speed limit. We also slowly developed an apathy for "the wave" as we passed every motorcycle registered in the three states that the Trace goes through. As slow as our progress was, at least we weren't as slow as the bicycles. We had at least 10 m.p.h. on them.
The purpose of traveling the Trace was to see the interpretive center at the grave site of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame. We made it to Grinder's Station, saw the monument erected for Lewis, but that was about the extent of our Nation's tribute to him. I guess about all a life of service to your country gets you is a pile of stone. No museum, no 15 minute movie, no artifacts, pictures, trinkets or kitsch - just a large pyramidal stack of gray, weathered and unpolished rock. Anti-climactic. We were at the furthest point away from home on my wife's first overnight ride and we both kinda wondered why we made the trip.
An interesting detail about the Trace is that the vegetation has been pared back 100 feet or so from each side of the road. Pretty much that meant no shade. On a blaringly bright, mid-90 degree day at 40 m.p.h., everyone knows how important it is to keep visibility killing shade as far from the roadway as possible. You never know when Lance Armstrong and his "doctor" are going to blow a turn on their tandem bike and barrel out of control across the double yellow. Speaking of bicyclers, at least we didn't have it as bad as they with their huffing and puffing inside their zipped open lycra blouses.
We took U.S. 412 East into Columbia to look for a really late lunch. Not being Chili's-Friday's-Applebees aficionados, we were hard pressed to find anything with character open on Memorial Day. We did find a sandwich shop on the square, however. Being that neither my wife nor I smoke cigarettes, the smoking only establishment complete with poker machines and ashtrays for all really hit the spot. Despite my sarcastic tone I will say with all sincerity that the short order cook seemed to be a real nice guy. The party of five or six that walked in and then right back out because of the smoke missed meeting a genuinely good soul and also missed some of the best soybean oil, deep-fried chicken strips and tater-tots Maury County, Tennessee had to offer.
After nourishment, we took U.S. 412 on East and picked up State Route 99 to Henry Horton State Park. We took a few country (county) roads to U.S. 41 south to Shelbyville, TN. The last stop of the trip was going to be the best - the George Dickel Distillery in Normandy Tennessee. We were an hour or so away from Cascade Hollow - and a business closed to factory tours on Mondays. We found out the closed on Mondays part at the gates of the distillery. Nice.
Even if we couldn't make it inside the Distillery, I did find on google maps a road up the Cumberland Plateau I had never ridden. It was called Cumberland Mountain Lane. According to the map it passed a couple of mountain lakes. Despite the swelter of asphalt, a hot wife to my rear and the hot pleather seats of the V, I could feel the cool breezes of the mountain road coming. It was to turn into into Deer Run Road, then Cabbage Patch Road. With such names, it was bound to be much more interesting that the direct route of U.S. 41 back across Monteagle Mountain.
My wife and I carefully navigated the county roads to find Cumberland Mountain Lane. As we approached the base of the mountain the road curved around a picturesque cornfield cut in two by a small creek. As we crossed the creek we saw the bright yellow outline of a steel tube barrier across the road. Gated! Dammit. Owned by a sand company of some kind. Finally I just gave up. We headed all the way back to U.S. 41, down south to Pelham, TN, across the Plateau to Tracy City, TN and a final gas stop.
Just as I topped off the tank, through my mirror I noticed a pink tank top approaching. Turning around to greet the stranger, it turned out that she had a matching pair of dirty flip-flops, matted and bleached blond hair and that unmistakeable look of a five day methamphetamine binge. She was selling a well used pair of moto-cross gloves. I thanked her for the offer but declined the bargain. She was a pretty good salesperson. She continued to recite the good qualities of the red and black leather (and red clay accented) gloves. I guess when my wife climbed on and we departed, she realized she couldn't make a sale. I don't know. Maybe not. She could still be there bargaining with whatever traveler makes his/her way into the Grundy County metropolis.
Back down the Plateau to the East and across the Sequatchie Valley, we finally ended the longest, most uneventful, most sunburned overnight tour imaginable. I guess on the bright side, we had no major mechanical problems. Similarly, no one forced us off the road or stole anything from us of value (like this computer). As such, I am able to write this wordy missive as a way to get rid of the memory of my wife's first (and maybe last) two wheeled experience. I do look forward to another trip. Any suggestions?