The following two
reports from my trip were actually written during the following spring
to try to sell the idea of publishing my trip reports from my next trip
in the local newspaper. While not being immediate, they demonstrate a clearer
memory of details than I could provide now.
equipment on this trip was rather primitive. My bike was a three-speed
black English "racer" that I purchased for $44 the previous November.
The pannier bags used on the trip were small ones I had made for school
which sat on the fenders. For camping equipment, I carried two wool blankets,
a borrowed gas stove, a small plastic tarp, a pot and a few utensils, and
very little clothing, mainly cotton. Unfortunately, I have no pictures
from the trip or of me with that bike.
The trip taught
me that I needed more gears and dropped handlebars, but it barely whetted
my desire to travel. I immediately began planning a much longer trip.
August 2, 1965
My watch shows
it is about four o'clock. I am camped on a wooded hill about 60 miles
from Gadsden. A breeze is blowing rather strongly as I sit here on
the black dirt and pine straw of a small clearing. Nearby is my bicycle,
which is leaning against a small tree. Between two other small trees,
I have strung a rope about two feet off the ground for my tent. Beside
me is the gasoline stove which I carry, giving off a hissing sound as it
boils some corn.
It's been a hard
day for me, and even though I've rested two hours, I'm still somewhat tired.
I feel hot in spite of the breeze because the sun has burned me slightly
on the way here. And how was my day and what am I doing?
Nearly a year ago,
I borrowed a boy's bicycle to take a ride in the country. The ability
it gave me to go, to see, and to do made me decide to get one of my own.
By November I had a bike and used it to explore all the area around Jacksonville.
I rode to Anniston, Piedmont, Ohatchee, Gadsden, and Centre; I went to
the local springs, where I would sometimes read, watch birds, or just get
a drink; to the caves that I knew, where I explored with my carbide; to
the Coosa near Ohatchee, where I watched the fishermen; to Yellow River,
where I once went swimming; to the local mountains, which I climbed; and
to Little River Canyon, where I only had time to look. By the end
of July, I had covered 2,000 miles on my bike. But that was not enough.
On each of my trips,
I had reached a point where I had to turn back, even though I never wanted
to. I realized that if I kept on going, I could be twice as far away
the next day. For this reason, I planned a trip that would let me
do just that. And so this morning at eight o'clock, with my bike
loaded with equipment, and my mind both doubtful and eager, I set out from
Gadsden for the Smoky Mountains.
On the way up the
valley, I spent as much time as I could studying Lookout Mountain.
Two years ago, I had walked that mountain to Fort Payne, taking two days
because the going was so rough. Today I traced my trail along the
ridges and noted the place where I had stopped one night. This time,
I made it to Port Payne in three hours.
In Port Payne I
stopped for supplies, and where the highway leaves the mountain, I stopped
to eat my daily loaf of bread. I ate sitting on top of a cement table
or walking around to flex my legs and watching the cars blur by.
I had been following their trail all day, but my eyes had been, when possible,
on the mountain. The drivers in their cars, on the other hand, had
been intent only on getting to their next destination, and so had hurried
on. Yes, I had been following their trail all day, but now they would
go down one road and I another. Perhaps we should have separated
a long time ago, but in another sense, I think we had.
August 9, 1965
The night is dark,
and the rain has let up some after a hard burst. I am riding my bike
down the gleaming black highway that goes along the top of the mountain
to Gadsden, with the spots of water on my generator light throwing a weird
pattern of splotchy light in front of me. Going around a bend, I
see an open store, and I ride into its graveled yard to rest.
The people on the
porch are curious. Where have I been on that bike? What am
I doing out at this time of night? They offer to fix me a sandwich,
but I refuse and ask for a drink of water instead. I am very happy
because the rain and the night riding have exhilarated me. Even so, it is
easy to see that I'm tired. I should be: I have already come 110
miles today and still have 13 miles to go.
Yesterday I camped
seven miles this side of Cleveland, Tennessee. I had left Cherokee,
North Carolina, the day before, had crossed the Smoky Mountains, had passed
through Maryville, and had battled a storm before I stopped. The
next morning I rode down through Madisonville, Ocoee, and Cleveland, and
again stopped, having traveled 176 miles in two days, first over mountains
and then against head winds.
This morning I
woke up at 4:30. The night had been cold, and I had had trouble sleeping.
I laid on the ground in my two blankets shivering for a while and then
got up. I stuffed my things into the panniers on my bike, folded
and tied my blankets over them, and started on my way.
At Ooltewah, I
turned off the Chattanooga highway and headed for Ringgold. Each
mile went by slowly since I was again fighting head winds; each hour seemed
like a lifetime. La Fayette, Summerville, Cedar Bluff, and Centre
used to be only names on a map, but as I fought my way through them, a
bit of each was burned into my memory.
Why make a trip
like that? Because I want to experience all of life. I want
to cross every ocean by raft, walk through every blizzard, ride through
every country, swim every stream, and visit the depths of every cave.
I want to enjoy every pleasure and suffer through every pain.
One of my dreams
had been to camp for a week in the Smokies, and here I was, coming back
early. I had wanted to see and enjoy the wild forests and high mountains
I had read about; instead, I found the Park merely a large recreation area
for tourists and auto campers -- small cities of tightly packed tents contrasted
with empty campsites far back in the woods cluttered with garbage and smelling
from horses. A dream was shattered, and yet I know now to find my
own way and not somebody else's. One dream crushed, but did it hurt me?
As Thoreau said, "If you have built your castles in the air, your work
need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put your foundations
I have to tell
some nice stories from this trip that I did not report above.
At one point
on my way to the Smokies, I felt like giving up because I was tired and had
no more energy. So, I actually turned around and was astonished to
find how fast I could go. I realized then that I had been climbing,
so I turned back and continued on. In a short while, I crossed into
Nantahala Gorge and traveled the next three miles at 50 mph, yelling in
On the day I
crossed Newfound Gap (5,048 ft.), I found climbing the Smokies with just three speeds to be only boring.
At the top, I let the cars get ahead of me, and then I was able to travel
at 50 mph for the next nine miles with no car able to catch me. Near
the bottom was a short tunnel that the road first went through and then
looped back over. At the tunnel, I flipped on the front-wheel generator
at full speed, wondering if my tire would blow, then unhooked it on the
other side. Climbing over the tunnel on the over side, my speed dropped
to pedaling speed; only then was a car able to catch up to me to pass me.
through the park, I meet two younger fellows on a ride. We stayed together
until Maryville, and they showed me how they cooperated with the traffic
by signaling when it was safe to pass.
That night I
stayed at a motel, little as I could afford the $5. But the sky was
black, heavy rain was approaching, I was far from any woods to camp in,
and one sign announced, "Slippery When Wet," a second sign announced, "ELEVEN
PEOPLE KILLED ON THIS STRETCH OF ROAD LAST YEAR," and a third sign announced,
"PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD!" I have always wondered if the motel was
responsible for the signs.
later, when I finally decided I ought to keep a record of my mileage, I
thought the information for this trip might be lost. However, I discovered
a stick on which I had whittled my mileage on the way to the Smokies and then had left
at my campsite near Cleveland. On the way back, I stopped at the same campsite,
whittled the new speedometer figure, and this time kept the stick. The stick
plus my memory of other distances made computing the total easy.