Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 3
We packed the truck quickly, cramming in all our gear and loading the two little KTMs into the bed of our little truck. The passenger compartment had three occupants, one more than would be riding the TAT. For the journey to Tennessee, we had Kim’s dad Dick along for the ride. Dick would drop us off and then drive the truck back to New Hampshire after stopping to meet some relatives along the way. It was a great deal. Dick got some someone to chat and keep company with on the way down (and past) and we got free transportation of the truck back to New Hampshire. It was a win/win situation for us both
Finally, we were ready to depart for Tennessee. The pressure associated with the decisions surrounding the extra fuel tanks was over since it the design was done and anyway, we would have to live with it at this point. The mood in the truck was pretty light as we all looked forward to things to come. Kim and I could hear the TAT calling and Dick was ready to have a visit with the relatives.
The trip to Tennessee was pretty straight forward with no real issues. As we made our way south, we passed through some areas that had just been struck by tornadoes and the damage looked pretty severe. Light posts were bent at odd angles, house were leveled or portions were in shambles. It gave us pause to think how lucky we are not to not usually have to worry such destructive displays of mother nature. We may get the odd blizzard or two or lose power for a while, but at least our house would still be standing after the blizzard had passed.
We stopped along the way for some Bar-B-Que at a roadside stand and it was good. We thought we must be getting closer to the south because you sure can’t get good Bar-B-Que in the north-east. At about 7:00 P.M. we decided to call it quits on the driving for the day and got a cheap hotel. Up early the next morning, we were raring to go. The TAT awaited! We quickly checked out and got back to the truck. Good, there were still two bikes in the back, so we were good to go. Soon back on the highway, we watched as we scooted past towns, rest areas and truck stops. The music was on, there was some light chat and we were feeling good.
In case you don’t know it, if you’d like to see any of these pictures in full size, simply click on one and you will be taken to a full size gallery where you can page by each picture you’d like to view.
Before we knew it was lunch time and we needed to stop to get fuel. Off at an exit that promised fuel, we found a mini-mart type gas station. In scorching heat, I filled the truck up and as I was looking around, spotted this most amazing sign. A smiling chubby pink pig in a chef’s hat leapt about and beckoned to us. His recommendation, the Sweet Lips Diner; Come In & Pig Out!
Well, this we had to see. Once the truck was fueled, we headed just down the road a bit and there it was. A long diner like you’d expect to see in a rural area. A dirt parking lot surrounded it and it was packed. We took that as a good omen and headed inside. We were seated at wooden tables and served home cooked Bar-B-Que. What do you know, the pig was right, the food was good and there was plenty of it. We stuffed ourselves on the great Bar-B-Que and waddled our way to the door. Our next stop would be Jellico and our long planned meeting with Tracy and MaryLee.
Back in the truck the time flew by. Before we knew it, we had made it. Just up ahead was the exit sign for Jellico, Tennessee and the hotel where we would meet Tracy and MaryLee. We pulled off and there it was, our hotel for the evening, the meeting place and our departure point for our TAT journey. It sat at the top of a small hill and as we pulled up the driveway, we saw two bikes. Both with Alaska plates, Tracy and MaryLee were in the house!W
We registered at registration desk and picked up our keys. As we were unpacking our gear, out came Tracy and MaryLee. They were a great sight. We hadn’t seen them in almost two years and here they were, ready to ride with us again on another adventure. We were psyched. We hugged and shook hands and had all the banter that good friends have when they haven’t seen each other in a while. The excitement of seeing them again was multiplied by the excitement of the upcoming TAT journey.
It was dinner time by the time we unpacked our gear and bikes from the truck and made it ready for packing on the bikes. There was time for a few “group” photos and sooner than we imagined, it was starting to get dark. Hunger overwhelmed excitement so we drove over to a small pizza joint and toasted our upcoming TAT journey with pizza and beer. The excitement was palpable and each of us was a bit giddy at the thought of starting the ride for real. We soon finished our dinner and headed back to the hotel. We wanted to get an early start so we called it an early evening and racked out for the night excited by the thought that by daybreak, we would be on the TAT.
When we awoke the following morning, it was already very hot; like 85+ degrees hot. You could cut the humidity with a knife and by the time the bikes were loaded, we were all somewhat overheated. I filled my hydration system with ice cubes and cold water and hoped that they would last for a while. I knew that water was going to be important.
We said our goodbyes to Dick and my little truck we were finally off. We took a leisurely pace and the first part of the morning was mostly on pavement. But as we wandered along, the sun rose and the air heated and stilted. The horizon turned grey with hanging moisture, and seemingly our bikes cut their own wakes through the murky moisture. It was as if we had an extra burden of pushing the laden air in front of us, each carving and then leaving our own wakes. The heat was growing so intense that in our full riding gear it was almost unbearable for these four northerners. We thought we might be somewhat unaccustomed to the southern humidity, but when we spoke to the locals, even they said it was overly hot. Boy did we pick a tough time to ride.
But as we entered the afternoon, things began to change to the better. We left the pavement and got onto gravel, a place where we all felt more at home. In addition, as we left the beaten track, we got into some wonderfully green and canopied lanes. Immediately the air was a bit cooler and we were shaded from the intensity of the direct sun.
Riding along was like being in a strobe lit verdant wonderland. Bright flashes of sun briefly blinded us to the terrain ahead. The view was then almost instantly replaced by wet, deep dark greens, soothing to the eyes and cooling to the body. We knew it was hotter than Hell, but with the show presented before us none of us wanted, or dared, to stop.