Ah, my first overnight self-supported bicycle tour. I had been on many week-long and overnight supported rides, including the BRAT twice, RAGBRAI once, Tour de Cure and Jack and Back numerous times. Since I’m going to ride the Natchez Trace in September, I figured I’d better test the system.
For my first self-supported ride, I needed a moderate distance, and I wanted to ride from my doorstep somewhat close to downtown Nashville. In 2007, BRAT rode without me, starting in downtown Nashville, first night at Henry Horton. I’d use their cue sheet as a base.
- Friction bar end shifters
- Cane Creek Brake Levers, Avid Juicy Cantilever brakes
- 48/38/26 Crank, 11-32 mountain bike cassette (I know this seems low, but take my word for it – it’s really not.)
- 36-spoke wheels with Shimano LX hubs (hand-built by Henry at Harpeth Bicycles)
- Continental Gatorskin Plus, 28c
- Full fenders (didn’t need them this time)
- Tubus rear rack (they’re strong, but I think an aluminum rack would be lighter)
- Blackburn Low Rider front rack (not used this trip, but will on the Trace)
- Jandd large handlebar bag (this seems big, but it was really nice to have it.)
- Ortlieb Rear Panniers (cinch up type. I think rolldowns might be good for canoeing, not biking. The attach system on Ortliebs is outstanding)
- Topeak Road Morph pump (this pump is the only portable pump I’ve ever seen worth a dang, and I’ve seen them all.)
Advice: If you want a Long Haul Trucker, go buy the kit. It’s pretty dang good, and cheaper than my setup.
Saturday morning, I headed out about 7:30am. I caught Franklin Road, and headed uphill away from the Cumberland River. I finally got to Concord Road, headed east to Wilson, and rode to Hwy 96. At that point, typical "Jill Ride" to Bethesda. Comstock took me eventually some roads that hit Thick Road. Thick takes you to Chapel Hill proper. It’s really not that difficult and there are plenty of stores along the way. Except, make sure your water bottles are full at Bethesda. See notes on return trip.
Arriving in Chapel Hill, the BRAT cue sheet routes you on Lunn Store Road. Don’t do that. It dumps you on Hwy 99, which is a backroad "get you there" highway. It’s two lanes wide with very wide shoulders. It’s safe and can handle BRAT riders, but I recommend catching Smiley and cutting east through downtown Chapel Hill. Also, the Subway that’s on the BRAT cue sheet is actually 2 miles into town in a strip mall. That sucked when the temperatures are 95 degrees and very high heat index.
I finally arrived at Henry Horton after stopping by the grocery store in search of a magazine, which I didn’t find. The campground is nicely wooded, and the primitive camping sites are advertised "on the Duck River" but back enough that you can’t see the water without a short walk. I unpacked my hammock (which I’ll never take again) and tried to sit in it to cool off. Finally I grabbed my shower stuff and hit the shower to try and cool off, which did the trick. I don’t know how people can "stealth camp" in very hot weather. After my shower, I set up my Golite Lair 2 tarp tent, and proceeded to the pool. That pool is the busiest pool I’ve seen! All of Chapel Hill was there to take a swim! It was still the best $1.50 I’ve spent in a while.
Bike Camping – I learned
- If you have two pumps for your stove, check to make sure you have the right one. My camping neighbor’s fire did the trick.
- If it’s gonna be really hot, just bring a lightweight sheet. a 45 degree sleeping bag is too hot. I was drenched.
- Bring a book. Camping can be the most boring part of bicycle touring.
- I have a Outdoor Research Bug Bivy. Henry Horton is remarkably bug free, but paranoia had me use it anyways. The bivy definitely takes some getting used to – feels very restricting.
- Leave the hammock at home.
- Figure out a way to blow up my Big Agnes sleeping pad. It’s very lightweight and compact. But after a day of bicycling, the huffing and puffing to fill it up is not very acceptable.
- You have more time to pack when getting ready for a ride than you do repacking at camp. Repacking takes more space in the panniers.
- People are very friendly at campgrounds.
Return trip, I headed into Chapel Hill, cut over on West Depot Rd until I hit Smiley. I followed it to Egypt (I think a BF should precede the name) on to Thick. This time, I took Cross Keys, which it turns out is one of my favorite roads. I don’t know why BRAT didn’t use it. Beautiful old barns, scenic views. No, I didn’t ride my 60lb bike up Pull Tight. I passed through Bethesda, thinking I’d get some water – the market is closed on Sunday. That sucked. I modified the return to take Bethesda Arno on to Arno Road and hit the store near McDaniel for a refill.
I’m going to take a special paragraph to complain about Brentwood drivers. They are SO RUDE and they’re in such a hurry. On Concord between Wilson and Franklin, people blew their horns, others yelled for me to get on the sidewalk. I think they were on the way to church, and probably late. Advice to the general public – don’t treat bicycle tourists like that. Share the Road, and Give 3 Feet!
I finally arrived home about noon. That was a little faster, I think, because I skipped Lunn Store Road. It really felt good to roll up into the driveway knowing I survived.
Hardest parts about my trip?
First and foremost, the heat. Water management was critical. If I had brought water purification tablets, I would have been hard pressed to find water in creeks and such. I’d probably tote extra water in a pannier if I had known Bethesda was going to be closed.
Second, the Brentwood drivers were such a disappointment. Or, it was just a let-down to re-enter the city after being out in the country for two days. Makes me think about bicycle tourists on multi-week or month trips as they come through a place like Nashville.
Third, that bike and all that gear is HEAVY and definitely not aerodynamic. You really have to slow things down. I averaged 13mph. I spent most of my time in the middle ring, except when descending sections that were definitely downhill. I’m sure I’ll be trying to figure out how to get lighter. Cold weather, I’m sure I’ll get heavier. Advantage is, I still got to see things I wouldn’t have if going faster.
My advice while touring, it’s all you have to do all day. Take your time, talk to people. Stop and take pictures, get something to eat. Turn around and go back if you caught a glimpse of something interesting. Smile at passing cars – it’s polite to wave in the country (people wave back in areas that don’t see very many bicycles!)
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