One thing about using a bathroom blower to dry your still rain-soaked socks is that it proliferates the smell of your feet into the entire space, and one is now free to discern which foot stinks worse than the other. I’m looking at you, left foot. I learned through my professional life that the key with smells like this is to only smell them once. If you leave the room, don’t come back in. The second time may cost you your lunch, tough guy.
After the morning packup, I empty my bike and flip it over to see what’s not working. I’ve got a slow leak and my little hand pump won’t put the last 15-20 lbs or pressure into my tube. That and half of my top ring’s gears are rubbing. These issues are making life harder but touring is not about perfect conditions, it about whether your bike can keep going or not. I speak to a couple cyclists (the carbon fiber, kitted-out, day-riding variety) that come speeding down from the north and stop to use the restrooms. Nice guys and they give me bike shop and spicy fried chicken advice 🌶. They don’t know if the bike shop at the Trace terminus is open Sunday – why is this a recurring theme? After some map research, I get moving even later than the day before.
Hills. Hills. Hills. Apparently the northern terminus (which some history-denying Tennesseans hate to be advised) is the end, not the start, of the Trace – but most Nashville cyclists prefer to bike it southbound, probably because of yesterday’s dumb steep hill. (My two new friends from earlier told me, “yeah we don’t go down that one, that’s where we turnaround”. I was hoping it was the last of the variety and that’s a good sign. Either way, the half full back tire makes for a bouncy ride and my gear issues make for a bit more middle ring time than I’d like. So it’s much easier. Lots of 5mph minutes. As I get closer to Nashville, the parkway comes alive with people walking on it, hanging out in the middle of the road, taking selfies, being people in people places. Olmsted would approve. It’s what a parkway should be: cars can utilize it at a safe speed, but its a space for people to leisurely enjoy, so they take precedence over motor vehicle traffic. It’s not a highway to zip cars in and away as fast as they want. NYSDOT, can you hear me now?
My exit from the Natchez Trace is unceremonious. No signs of “end of the trace” or even “parkway” ending. Just a sign I haven’t seen in days that tells me I can get food and gas by turning right. So I do. I stop at the famous tourist trap of Loveless Cafe. Cool spot, seems like a lot of Larkinville in Buffalo was patterned after it. I was so ready to buy something for the first time in a while, but forgot to dig out myself, so instead I get some complimentary lemonade and push to the bike shop.
That’s when magic new friend time kicks in. I get my bike back in order. I meet Ben working at the shop. He’s originally from Syracuse and his tax returns identify his occupation as “boat thrower”. He offers a ride into the city to avoid what is undoubtedly the standard suburban style ring of traffic and strip malls. I take him up on it and soon we’re both meeting Rachel and Rob, a really cool couple living in Nashville who have put me up in their home for a couple days here. They also hook up the most amazing meal and the four of run out mouths over steak and beers.
I have plans of hanging with Ben and some other friends living in Nashville but by sunset, tour life is setting in and I’m sleepy. I do not delay in hopping into bed. Clean and comfortable are feelings I have missed. Every little thing feels like a luxury, from conversation to clean clothes to a full belly. I remember that I’m actually on paid vacation. Welcome to Nashville. It’s now time to figure out the next ten days of riding.