Traversing The TAT (Trans-America Trail) Chapter 5
Our brief night’s sleep was followed by a morning dawn of bright blue sky. Although the sun had set on our first day’s ride, the heat of the previous day had never broken. I stuck my head out the hotel door to sample the temperature and immediately a wall of heat and humidity streamed into the room. It was already sweltering.
I walked back into the room and I guess that my face told the story. Kim just looked at me and said “It’s sweltering isn’t it?” I gave her the look that said yes and she smiled and just started to get ready to ride for the day. We both stared at our dusty riding gear laying on a chair across from the bed. Neither of us really wanted to put on all that gear in the sweltering heat.
By the way, if you don’t know, click on any one of the pictures in the gallery below and it will open that picture into a full size picture and then you can click your way through the remainder of the pictures in either direction in full size.
But the TAT was calling and the longer we waited, the higher the temperature would climb. So we put on our dusty gear and headed out for the day. Tracy and MaryLee were ready and we wasted little time in getting underway. A quick stop to pick up some fuel and a little meddling with the GPS and we were soon on the TAT.
After only about 15 minutes on pavement, we were once again back on the gravel of Tennessee passing verdant fields and small family farms. On today’s ride we would not see any of the massive commercial farms, only those run by enclaves of dedicated families who tilled the earth to bring us the food we eat each day. As we rode, proud but weary buildings told stories of those people who toiled each day to scratch a living from the earth. Some once proud very large barns had now given their all and leaned precariously or fell completely under the sweltering sun. Patches of once bright paint clung to the barn board that was now grey with age and withered with time.
Trucks from the 1950s and 1960s with their dulled paint and pieced together bodies sat side by side with newer expensive dual wheeled, closed cockpit air conditioned tractors. Each of these tools had its role, and each would be used until it could no longer give any more. Then like an old animal, it would be put out to pasture to lay in the sun, watching the seasons pass until it was no more.
We were only in this farmland for a couple of hours but with each passing farm scene I could see that each was but a chapter in the very beautiful story of how nature and man are inextricably intertwined. Viewing them made me feel very small and the world very large. Having taken all this in, I was awed by how unbelievably important our farmers are to us and how little we think of them and fail thank them each day.
It was now getting hotter with both the earth the riders baking in the sun. It was time to do something to get some relief. Anticipating some heat, Kim and I had brought cool vests for extreme heat. It was now or never and we put them to good use. Cool vests are vests that you wet down and then wear close to your body. As you move through the air, the vest retains the water but allows a small amount to evaporate cooling its wearer.
Both Kim and MaryLee were really suffering in the heat so I gave mine to MaryLee and Kim put hers on. Tracy and I could almost see immediately that the girls were more comfortable and the vests were doing their job. Under our riding gear, Kim and I were also wearing pressure suits. Pressure suits are like jackets made of mesh with molded in plastic armor. Not ideal for pavement but sufficient for gravel roads. Kim and I decided that we would offload our jackets and ride with the pressure suit as our jackets. Anything to get some cooling air past our bodies.
Lighter and somewhat cooler than when we started the day, we rode along taking in the farms and the green countryside. As we rounded a corner we approached a barn with a pond in front. Not unusual you might think, and as to barn there was nothing unusual. It was the pond that was a bit different. Inside the pond, a big black blob appeared to be moving slowly back and forth. What the heck could that be I thought to myself and as we got closer, we found that it was not a rock. It was something far more interesting. It was black with small splotches of white… and it was furry. It was a cow standing belly high in the pond.
As we approached and ultimately passed, the cow looked at us impassively and merely got back to the business of cooling off. Now I didn’t feel so bad. No I wasn’t a wuss, no sir. It was so hot that the cows were standing in the ponds to cool off. That my friends is pretty hot. Even though she had a leather jacket on, I did not give her any credit. Some of us were out riding in the heat, and others of us were simply lounging around in their natural pools.
We continued riding gravel and found ourselves somewhat lost. The TAT isn’t always that well marked and sometimes you just have to make a decision to go one way or the other until you can find the next section. So as we mosey-ed along, we came to another gravel road that could have been the right one for this segment of the TAT. The girls were pretty hot so Tracy and I went on ahead and scoped out the possible turn. What we found was pretty cool.
We rode a section of rather loose rocky gravel enclosed by trees. Branches of all sizes littered the road and there were some tree falls partially blocking the road as well. We rode around the tree falls and branches enjoying the somewhat cooler air in the trees. Ultimately, we ended up at a locked swinging gate that was supposed to barricade us from a wooden topped dam. We could ride around the swinging gate, but at the other end of the dam was a tall chain link fence that we could not get around.
I walked across the dam taking some pictures of the dam itself and an apparent power station. It must have been overly dry or they must not have needed the energy because although one side of the dam was full of water, the lee side of the dam was mostly dry. A mostly dry river bed ran to an impressive building and large array of power lines, but no water was churning any generators. It was a bit strange seeing all that engineering sitting idle while the supply of water it needed to produce electricity sat on the opposite side of the dam waiting its turn to go rushing through the generators and empty out into the river below.
Time passed very quickly during my little dam inspection and when I returned to the meet with the rest of the gang, it was clear that Kim was really suffering from the heat. She was all flushed and she literally had to sit down to keep her head clear. It was time to get into some cooler air pronto, so after we had plied Kim with water and recharged her cooling vest, we got under way to find some cool air and some food for our road worthy women.