Days 343-351: the long, round-about way from Nashville to Chattanooga
After our great stay in Nashville, we hit the road again, excited to explore more of Tennessee, sad to leave behind all the great new friends we’d made. We decided that, since we’d had such a long break, we should take it easy getting back in the saddle, and plan some short mileage for the first few days. Then, we kept with the shorter-mileage days, because the countryside was just so beautiful that we kept running across great places to stop and stay.
From Nashville, we headed east toward Percy Priest reservoir. Our plan was actually to get to Cedars of Lebanon State Park, but the day was hot and we were seduced by the idea of just camping by the reservoir. From Nashville, we followed the Greenway out of town. For miles and miles, we were able to ride along this beautiful, wooded multi-use path – and we enjoyed the shade and the quiet. The Greenway ends at the dam, and you climb a hill out of the parking lot. Directly across the street is a visitors center, where a lovely young ranger told us all about camping options on the reservoir. We ended up at the Anderson Road campground, just a few miles SE of the visitors center. The campground is rustic, but we found a delightful spot right on the water, where we enjoyed the sunset that night and the sunrise the next morning.
From Percy Priest, we headed south-ish, along Hwy 41, to Murfreesboro. For the most part, Hwy 41 is a perfectly fine road, and traffic only gets heavy and unwieldy as you get into town. But, we lucked out, and spotted another greenway on the right side of the road, so we hopped on it and enjoyed a quiet, shady ride into town. Actually, before we got into town, Russ indulged in some urban fishing, since the greenway follows several rivers and creeks. We puttered around Murfreesboro that afternoon, and decided to just stay in town that night.
The next morning, we continued down Hwy 41, which continued to be a fine travel road. Just north of Manchester, we turned into Old Stone Fort State Park. We wanted to get into the park early in the day, since it was Friday and we wanted to make sure we got a spot. And it turned out to be a good thing that we pedaled so quickly, because that afternoon and evening were full of rainstorms that pummeled the area. We strung up our tarp porch and sat underneath it, as the rain came down so hard and fast that it created rivers through the forest around the park. (If you don’t believe me that it was that crazy, check out this video.)
In the morning, we woke up to a soggy, humid campground, and decided to head down the road a few miles to Barton Spring campground on Normandy Lake. The manager at the campground promised to make space for us, even if all the sites were full, and Russ was itching to fish some more. The country roads out to the lake were fantastic riding and we soared up and down the hills. Camping at Barton Spring made us realize that it’s actually summer! The place was packed full with families, swimming, picnicking, boating. It was an experience we hadn’t had since last summer! While Russ caught and released tiny fish after tiny fish, I sat under a tree and read, and jumped in the water whenever I started to get too hot. That night, we walked around the park and mused about the sheer number of people and the variety of humanity that was camped there.
From Barton Spring, we meandered south through the town of Tullahoma. We passed the George Dickel distillery, but couldn’t get a tour since it was Sunday morning. We figured the nearby Jack Daniel distillery would be closed too, so we skipped it as well (although, we later found out that Jack is open on Sundays, go figure). We rolled into Tims Ford State Park around noon and stopped to rest and find out about camping in the area. When we discovered they have a small restaurant with ice cream at the marina in the park, we opted to just stop for the day and continue to enjoy the feeling of being on summer vacation. That afternoon, another storm blew through, so we tightened our tarp porch and kept our fingers crossed that our tent would continue to hold (which it did).
In the morning, as it continued to drizzle, we debated staying another night at the park. When I realized that we didn’t have enough food and the small restaurant was closed on Mondays, we decided to mosey down the road a bit. The constantly changing weather was also getting us sick, so we opted to ride into nearby Winchester and get a cheap motel room. While I rested and tried to get well, Russ set up the computer in the only space in the room with wifi… the bathroom sink.
From Winchester, we were determined to finally log some miles and get into Chattanooga. We headed east along Hwy 41, moving slowly (since I was still feeling sick). When we reached the small community of Sewanee, we stopped for a bit of a break. We chatted with the guys at Woody’s Bike Shop, and ate lunch at Julia’s. Then, as it started to rain again, we took Joe (one of the guys at the bike shop) up on his offer to stay the night in town. That afternoon, after the rain had subsided, Joe took us on a hike out to a hidden waterfall. And that evening, we ate dinner with Joe and his roommates, Jerre and Charles.
We lingered in Sewanee in the morning, stopping for coffee on campus. Then, we headed down Jump Off Road toward our last camping stop before Chattanooga. If you’re in these parts, we really recommend Jump Off Road. It’s heavily wooded, which provides delightful shade on a hot day, and the traffic volume is extremely light (just don’t take Snake Pond like Google Maps suggests). We chowed down on some burgers at a local (and left-over from the 60s) fast food joint in South Pittsburg, then continued down Hwy 156. We naively followed Google’s travel advice and discovered that you really can’t cross the Tennessee River along Hogjaw Road (it’s a dam that was closed to traffic following 9/11). So, we ended up putting in a few more miles getting to our destination that night, Marion County Park. This would be a wonderful campground (right along the water, beautiful views), if not for the fact that I-24 (and all its traffic) is only a few hundred yards away. We did our best to ignore the sounds of cars and trucks, and focused on the water and groups of geese wandering around.
From Marion County Park, we followed Hwy 64 around the peninsula by the river. Given that it looks like it’s right along the river, we thought it would be fairly flat. It is not. But the serious amount of climbing is truly worth the stunning views. The traffic volumes were also quite light along this road, and we always had two lanes in our direction or a wide shoulder whenever we had to climb. Hwy 64 brings you into Chattanooga from the West, where you skirt the edge of Lookout Mountain and the remnants of a 60s tourist culture. And before we knew it, we were in downtown Chattanooga, getting ready for our presentation that evening. Thanks to everyone for coming out and to Outdoor Chattanooga for hosting us! We’re now greatly looking forward to exploring the rest of the city!
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