Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 4
The increasing heat and humidity turned the once bright blue skies and surrounding air to shades of grey. A murky haze surrounded us completely; so dense it appeared to be making everything sweat. Little did we know it at the time, but each of the pictures we would take this day would have a washed out, grey hue.
Our initial riding section was to be through some dirt country lanes. Plumes of dust were hurled skyward by each bikes tires. Dust clouds slowly rose and as each bike passed, the dust became more intense. As the fourth out of four riders, visibility was greatly reduced but it still didn’t dim my excitement about riding the TAT.
Our environment was beautiful. Trees surrounded us from both sides and overhead. We continued our ride thinking that the more we rode under the leafy canopies overhead, the cooler it would become. But the heat was unrelenting and even as we rode in the shade, the temperature and humidity continued to rise. I opened all the vents on my lightweight Goretex off-road gear, I an attempt to get some cooling air. However, as the tail end Charlie of our group, the vents only let in the dust which rapidly transformed from its airborne state to a muddy goo inside the suit. It was truly damned if you do or damned if you don’t situation.
It was beginning to become quite uncomfortable, but we were there to ride and we wanted to get the most from our adventure. It just so happened that at this moment,the adventure was becoming more difficult. So we continued our ride in the stifling heat and humidity taking brief stops here and there to drink some cool water.
As we were approaching one of those stops, I think the heat got to me. Tracy, MaryLee and Kim had already pulled to the side of the road to have a drink and check the maps. For some reason, I took this as an opportunity to do a bit of a fly by. Coming off the corner and approaching the trio, I twisted the throttle and went flying by letting them eat a bit of my dust for a change. Wooo…. Hoooo…. I thought as I passed them all.
However, my victory pass would be very short lived. I turned the bike around and then pulled up behind them. I turned the bike off and started to dismount. As I alighted from the machine, I lost my balance and dropped the bike to the ground in an exceptional display of ineptitude. Marvelous. Sometimes the heat can do crazy things to you. I scrambled to pick the bike up as quickly as possible using my best, “I meant to do that” look, but nobody was buying it. They merely looked at me like an insolent little child and went back to cooling off and checking the map.
We decided it was time for some fuel, something to eat and the possibility for some air conditioning. So we made our way through the canopies at greater speed hoping that we would soon come across a suitable stopping place. After about an hour, we found a small gas station with an attached mini-mart and restaurant. We had struck gold. We pulled in and fueled up quickly. We rolled our bikes away from the fuel pumps and quickly shed our outer riding gear.
Just as we were heading into the restaurant, a group of bikes pulled in, then another and still another. We had arrived at a bike rally of sorts. All different types of bikes were represented. From sports bikes to cruisers to our dual sports bikes, they were all there. We stopped and chatted about various topics and the types of bikes we were riding. We would have chatted with everyone, but not everyone was human. One of the riders had as his passenger, his small dog complete with goggles and skull cap. It was a great meeting of riders on diverse types of machines. But they were only there for fuel and while standing in the sun the heat was intense. Before we knew it, they were all on their way.
Our conversations completed and wilting from the heat, it was time for cool air and some food. We quickly made our way inside and the cool air was amazing. As I stood looking at the menu, I realized how hot it really was. Finally clear of all the covering gear, sweat poured from my head and into my eyes. My under layer shirt was totally soaked and I could feel the rivulets of sweat pouring down my back and into my pants. Being inside seemed only to intensify my awareness of how hot I had been. I thought to myself that I might be eating this meal very slowly to extend the time I had in the cool dry air. I didn’t want to hold everyone up, but I was really, really hot.
I needn’t have worried though. As we sat at the table together eating our sandwiches, we exchanged knowing looks that indeed all of us were feeling the effects of the heat and sun. There were only 40 trail miles left to go on the day’s ride, but we each knew it was 40 miles of dust, gravel, sun and heat that none of us wanted to continue in. The temperature was well over 100 degrees and the humidity was unbearable.
We decided that although we probably only had about two more hours of trail riding to go, we’d stick to the pavement and head straight to our hotel and air conditioning. Once we had eaten our sandwiches and hydrated ourselves, we put our gear back on and made for the hotel in Crossville, Tennessee. There would be no gravel roads on this final leg, just smooth pavement where we could maximize our speed and reduce our exposure to the heat.
Thus ended our first full day on the TAT. We had enjoyed our introduction, but we were rapidly learning that the TAT commanded respect in all aspects. We’d been taught respect for the roads and trails, as well as environment in which we rode. We knew that the TAT would provide some challenges, but we’d underestimated all of the types of challenges that the TAT could throw at us. We were now well schooled, and with new awareness we readied ourselves for day two.