Music City! Nashville, TN

After a couple days with Sandra, her husband got home for a brief stop while on tour, and their son also stopped by for a dinner.  It was fun getting to know all three together, and we relaxed into the night talking by the fireplace.

Eventually, after about three days hanging out and helping Sandra work on her new cabin, I rolled out of Kentucky, and down into Nashville, Tennesee.  After a day of biking, I arrived in the early evening and sat down for dinner at a local southern food joint that I had heard was good.

As I enjoyed my meal, I began to feel a little something like the flu coming on, and as I ate, it got worse quickly.  A mere 20 minutes after beginning to feel symptoms, I was out of the restaurant and struggling to make my way to the Warmshowers house that I was scheduled to arrive at that evening.  I knew it was going to be a bit of a task to finish out my day.

Within 35 minutes, I was in downtown Nashville, and felt like I had a full-blown fever.  I knew my destination was close, but I could only ride my bike for a minute or so before I had to stop and rest.

I breathed heavily as I slowly typed the address into my phone…567 5th Street.  I could barely stand up, though I didn’t feel nauseous, luckily.  When I finally got the characters entered into the GPS app, I watched in horror as the map placed my destination 3.5 miles away…on the other side of the Cumberland River.

I stared at my phone with bewilderment.  I could have sworn that when I looked up the house before, it was right in downtown.  Not only had I already gone out of my way since the restaurant, but another 3.5 miles seemed monumental given the amount of energy I had.  But, I had no choice.

I crossed a pedestrian bridge, and turned onto a service road for the Tennessee Titans football stadium.  Two times along my next mile and a half, I had to stop my bike and lay down on the pavement.  I wanted so badly to just lay there for the night, my head resting on the cool pavement, but both times I forced myself up.

I had called my hosts and told them the situation, and that I was sorry, but I had to go to bed right away.  They were understanding, and said the attic would be waiting for me.  After another grueling mile, I finally made it to my destination.  I got off my bike and lay down in the street gutter.  Never over the course of my trip had I felt so accomplished.  After all those miles, it was that tiny stretch of pavement that would prove to be the most difficult challenge I had faced.

After a ten minute nap in the street, I double checked the street number, and went up to ring the doorbell of the house that was surprisingly dark.  I waited…no answer.  I rang again…no answer.  I double checked the house number, which I had correct, and got my phone out to call my hosts.

“I am outside on the porch…I don’t see you” The woman on the line said.

“The address is 567 5th street, right?” I asked.

“ohhh.” Said the woman, “We are 5th Avenue…Avenues are on the south side of the river, streets are in the north. I am sorry, I should have told you.”

“No, it was my fault.” I said, “I don’t think I have the energy to make it to your place tonight, though I appreciate the offer very much.” I hung up the phone, looking around for a place to pitch my tent.  My phone map did not show any parks nearby…I decided to knock on random doors and ask if I could camp in the yard.  Lucky for me, a man about my age answered my first attempt, and said yes.

“You can come in and warm up a bit if you want!” He said.

“No, but thank you…I just need to get to sleep.” I answered wearily.

I mustered my energy and unpacked my stuff.  Halfway through my tent setup, I lost my southern dinner in the grass on the edge of the man’s yard, which I would later apologize for.  clearing my belly made me feel much better, however, and I slept without difficulty until the sun rose up the next morning on the Music City.

Nashville Map

5th Street and 5th Ave

 

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Sandra’s Mennonite Friends

As I spent time with Sandra, she kept mentioning her Mennonite neighbors who had helped her with various projects, but most notably with sawing the trees into the boards that would make up her two cabins.  She said that they were unique and friendly, and that she would take me to visit them while I was there. Sure enough, one afternoon, we jumped in her car and rode through the fairly steep, though not tall, hills that made up the countryside near Franklin, KY.  We were soon in what Sandra called Mennonite country, and began seeing farms dotted with white homes and buildings in the style of the Amish.  Sandra began to tell me of the friends that she had, and their jobs.  There was the slaughterhouse, the carpenter, the sawmill, the grocery, and many other small businesses that were run just by the Mennonite community.  Our first stop was her friend who was a blacksmith.  He had graduated as an engineer from Harvard, she said, before converting to a Mennonite and marrying into the community.  She said he had been a valuable asset to them because 0f his specialized skills that lent themselves to construction and mechanical work. As we got out of the car, a horse drawn buggy with two bearded men pulled up alongside us, and we talked for a while before making our way into the blacksmith shop.  The men were cordial, though not overly friendly.  It was as if they respected us as people, but were not trying to win us as friends with their geniality. Inside the shop, another bearded man wearing stood with his nose down to his workbench, fiddling with some tool.  We stood for a while before he turned around to greet us.  I stood by while Sandra chatted with him and told him about how we had met.  A bed of orange and red coals glowed in the open stove along the wall. He motioned to me to follow him to the back room, so I did.

Blacksmith Shop

We walked underneath and past an intricate belt and pulley system.  Large machines the size of people  were scattered throughout the shop, though I had no idea what they did.  We walked through a back room, and through another doorway that led to a covered area outside.  To my amazement, two large draft horses stood harnessed to what looked to me like a little horse pen that was set on an incline.  The floor of the incline was not solid, but slotted, and I could see belts and wheels attached to the contraption. As soon as we walked up, the man pulled a lever and the whole thing went into motion.  All of the belts starting pulling as the floor began to slide backward along the incline.  The horses knew exactly what was going on, and began to walk in place…a horse treadmill!  I was absolutely amazed.  I had never heard of such a device.

Horse Treadmill

We walked back to where we came from, passing the belts and wheels that were now spinning furiously all around us.  We made it back to the fire, and he turned to us and said that we came at the perfect time for a demonstration because he was in the process of forging a hatchet. He pulled the piece of hot metal out of the fire with tongs and set it on a giant anvil.  With the push of his foot on a pedal, a mechanized hammer began to quickly smash the hot metal into the anvil.  Spark flew off the molten chunk of metal as the hammer struck down repeatedly.

I couldn’t believe that all of this power was coming from the two horses right around the corner! It was amazing to get a real sense of the true craft of metalworking, the life of the Amish and Mennonites, and what life was like for most people hundreds of years ago.

Menonite Blacksmith

A Harvard-trained engineer turned Mennonite blacksmith.

 

We left the blacksmith as another non-Mennonite citizen came in for a custom made knife that he had commissioned.  Our next stop was to make a lumber order for Sandra’s cabin project.

We drove through a past numerous Mennonite farms and finally made our way into a wooded area surrounded by tall hills on all sides.  The slope climbed steeply to our right, and to the left the road was flanked by a fence, beyond which was a large pond and a gentler sloping pasture that was closely mowed by the resident livestock.

We turned left down a dirt drive that split the first pond from another that sat about 4 feet higher in elevation.  We came upon a large barn and Sandra turned the engine off.

“Just be aware…” She said, “The Mennonites can seem a little unfriendly sometimes.  They don’t want to make small talk, or tell you details about their lives.  They also don’t want their picture taken.  It’s just the way they are.”

“Ok, thanks for telling me.” I replied.  The scene was so new and exciting to me that I already had my camera ready to go.  I put it away, making sure it was in an easily accessible spot in case I was able to take any shots.  I was happy when we entered the barn and no one was immediately around.  I turned on my camera to document the old-fashioned water wheel that was set up to harness the hydro-power of the water flowing from high pond to the low one.  The system utilized a similar system of belts and wheels to the one we had just seen at the blacksmith’s shop.

Menonite Sawmill Waterwheel

As we moved further along, an older Mennonite man of about 75 years greeted us, and led us down some stairs to the sawmill area, where five or six more men gathered for work.

Sandra talked to the men about a lumber order while I looked on.  I could not get over the thought of all of their clothes being handmade, or the fact that their whole life was led without electricity.  It was truly amazing to be involved in the lives of people who were so different than myself, but at the same time, it was apparent that there wasn’t any significant difference between us.  They were still just regular human beings.

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A Southern Kentucky Homestead

Robert rode me out of town after a stop at his favorite bike shop.  I felt a little violated by him grabbing my butt like he did, but at the same time I felt bad for the personal predicament that he faced, denying openly that he was attracted to men, while acting in a way that suggested he actually was.  All in all, he was a friendly man, and sent me these pictures after the fact through email.

Outside of Breck's Bike Shop with Breck himself.

Outside of Breck’s Bike Shop with Breck himself.

My next stop was a WWOOF farm just north of the Tennessee border that was called Equine Enterprises.  I had spoken to the women whom I was about to meet on the phone for a period, and she seemed really nice and told me about what sounded like a beautiful property.  She said that they needed a worker for the next growing season, too.

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Heading South away from Robert and Bowling Green, KY.

I got to Sandra’s farm in Franklin, KY that evening.  Night had already fallen, and my GPS wasn’t programed correctly for their rural roads, so I had accidentally knocked on the neighbors door first, flashlight in my hand.  I hope I didn’t scare them too badly seeing as how they probably don’t get many knockers in those parts.

When I finally rode up the correct driveway, I made my way down a bumpy, rocky hill, past a couple horses in the pasture, and up to a patch of woodland that shrouded a lit cabin.  As I got closer, all sorts of dog barks started to come from the house’s direction, followed by Sandra’s yells to both the dogs (to be quiet), and to me (to not be scared).

I parked my bike, and approached Sandra, who was standing outside her screen door.  She had let all of her dogs outside, and they ran around me wagging their tails and barking, excited with all the commotion.  She shook my hand with a smile and led me inside her home, explaining that she had built it herself while her husband was on the road driving tour buses for music groups.

The cabin was one very big open room that was built around a beautiful stone chimney and a big old wood stove that sat next to it.  Thick, rough cut beams crossed the ceiling, while beautiful wooden planks with a natural finish covered the walls and floors.  The kitchen took up one corner, her copper counters glinting in the light.  The sitting area and large TV sat in another corner, and the kitchen table in another, where Sandra had set two plates, each piled high with a giant turkey leg, fresh greens, and bread.

“Are you hungry?” Sandra said smiling?

We sat down to dinner and talked about all sorts of things.  Over the course of the weekend, I would hear many stories from her and her family’s interesting life, some happy, some sad.

Sandra's Home

Sandra walking on the front porch of her hand built chinked log cabin. The walls were built from timbers milled by the local Mennonite community.

Inside Sandra's home was a beautiful chimney and this cozy woodstove that heated the cabin and provided a place to cook.

Inside Sandra’s home was a beautiful stone chimney and a cozy wood stove that heated the cabin and provided a place to cook.

Sandra and her husband had together formed what she said was the first tour bus company for musicians in the United States.  They would organize and manage the routes and destinations for various bands’ cross country tours.  They would drive the bus and take care of hiring other helpers.  Eventually their business had successes that would lead to Sandra, her husband, and eventually their two boys to lead caravans for acts such as the Eagles, Prince, and others.

It was awesome listening to Sandra’s stories about the music industry and the personalities of the musicians.  She proudly told me about the handwritten note that Prince delivered to her thanking her and her husband for the wonderful work.  And how she had met, but did not get along with one of my favorite bands, the Grateful Dead, because there were “…too many drugs in that scene”.

As time went on, they developed a deep personal and working relationship with the band Phish, and led multiple tours for them in the United States.  She told me about how the band became close family friends, and would come visit the family in Kentucky on holidays.

Unfortunately, Sandra’s music industry career came to a terrible end when, while the family was on tour with Phish, her older son, who was only 5, was left in one of the band’s trailers during a show while a cannister of nitrous oxide that was left on, slowly filling the trailer, and killing her son.

Following the incident, she said she could no longer work in the music industry.  She and her younger son stayed home in Kentucky while her husband continued the business.  It was at this time when Sandra started Equine Enterprises, a  horse training and breeding company that she ran from the property in Kentucky.  After much success, she was just in the process of selling her last horses when I visited.  She would be living off her land from that point on, she said.

The farm had ducks, turkeys, chickens, around 15 dogs, and a garden.  Her cabin, along with another smaller guest cabin that I stayed in, and we worked on while I was there,  sat halfway down a slope leading into a little valley with a small creek running through it.

Guest cabin that we worked on while I was there.

The almost finished guest cabin that I stayed in.  You can see the smoke from the wood stove rising out of the chimney.

Sandra was excited to show me the spring water source that fed her farm, and was, according to her, the most valuable thing about the property.  We made our way down a path and into the bottom of the valley where the creek cascaded beautifully out from a cave in the side of the hill, down the rocky slope, and into the woods.  Sandra had set up a pump system called a Ram Pump, that used the gravity from the slope and air pressure to create enough water pressure to supply the whole of her property without the use of electricity.

Sandra's Water Source

Sandra’s backyard spring-fed water source.

Cave Spring Watersource

Her Kentucky cave spring.

Sandra and Ram Pump Setup

Sandra with her Ram Pump setup. Just to the upper-right of her head you can see the pipe that carried water down the hill to the pump where it created the pressure to drive the water out of the valley and to her home.

 

 

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Robert, and the Mary Jane’s Chocolate Shop Visit

“Sure you can stay with me tonight.” Said Robert in his calm, monotonous voice that came through the phone. “I am a professor at a local college, and we are having a holiday party tonight, so I won’t be home til around 11.  I wish I didn’t have to go…you know how people are at these things.”

“Ohh yeah, haha” I said, not actually sure what he meant.  Maybe he wasn’t the type to enjoy a big social gathering, I thought.

We agreed to meet at his apartment that evening.  I hung up my phone and continued toward Bowling Green, excited to meet another bicycle enthusiast.

As I got closer to town, I weaved my way through residential neighborhoods to avoid the rush hour traffic on the busy main roads.  I rolled up to a stop sign and reached for my cell phone to check my location.  As I pulled my gloves off, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move in the front yard next to me.  A round little boy of about 8 or 9 years was pointing an imaginary gun at me, shooting and making gunshot noises as he protected his ‘territory’ from me.

“Nice shot!” I yelled to the boy.  This took him offguard, almost as if he didn’t feel like he was visible to me. He looked at me for a second, before answering.

“What?” he said tentatively.

“I said nice shot!” I smiled at him, and in a way that made me think he needed a brother or sister to play with, he bounded across the yard and up to me on my bike, obviously very happy to have someone to talk to.

He could barely contain his excitement as I answered questions about where I was from and what I was doing.  His mind moved a mile a minute as he told me stories of his family, his favorite things to do, his friends and his school.  I gave him one of my business cards, thinking that he would like to follow the blog after I left.

We talked for a while longer, and after declining an invite to his basketball game the following morning, I rode away having made a new friend.  It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later when I heard the noise of my phone ring from my pocket.

“Is this Paul?!” a young voice came across the line.  I knew who it was immediately. “I just wanted to say be careful on your ride! And if you can, come to my basketball game tomorrow!”

I told him thanks and that I would be careful, and that I would stay in touch.  Not only did he make me laugh, but it felt good to be able to connect with and be cared for by a young person like that.

 

After making a good dent in the $11 all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet, all the while being asked repeatedly by the waitress if I was done, I waited until 11pm at a coffee shop near Robert’s house.  Finally the call came from Robert, and I rode the last few minutes to meet my new friend at his condo, which was located outside of town, just off a five lane highway packed full of every franchise and big box store that our great country has to offer.

Robert greeted me warmly, and we sat and talked, trying to get to know each other.  He seemed very nice, and was very talkative.  He was a middle aged man, recently divorced, with two daughters who would be visiting later that night with their friend.  He showed me his bikes, told me about his days as a green beret, and said that his daughters thought he was gay, though he denied it.  He generously offered me use of his shower and laundry, and invited me to come on a tour of the place, which I accepted.

I remember feeling a little on edge since I first met him, and even briefly considered leaving and camping for the night.  I had made an agreement with myself that if I felt uncomfortable at any point, I would listen to my instincts and find a better situation.  In this case, I dismissed the fears, which were not terribly strong, and seemed irrational, and continued with Robert as he led me up the stairs.

He took me into his bedroom, where the shower was, and said I could stay for the night if I didn’t want to sleep on the couch in the family room.  This seemed a bit strange, but I brushed it off and declined, and gathered my things for the shower.

I closed the door to his bedroom, and another to the bathroom, and started to strip off my layers and get out my toiletries while the water warmed up.  Out of nowhere I heard the bathroom door handle move, and in popped Robert, looking at me innocently. “You forgot your cell phone.  It was on the kitchen table, and I didn’t want you to be without it.” He said.

I looked at him as I stood there in my spandex tights. “Ohhh, thanks.” I said uncomfortably, not sure how to react.  Robert shut the door and left.

I showered and wondered what I should do.  There was definitely an idea in my mind of heading out.  My laundry, however, was in his washing machine, and I couldn’t go without that stuff.  After thinking it over, I put my pepper spray in my pocket and told myself that with his daughters there, it would be fine.

After another hour or so of somewhat uncomfortable conversation, his two daughters and one of their boyfriends returned from the movie they saw, one of the Hobbit trilogy.  We hung out all evening until bedtime, and I was right, once there were more people in the room, I did feel a lot more comfortable.  I decided to stay the night, and slept soundly ’til morning.

Soon after I woke up, Robert came downstairs and said good morning. “How did you sleep?” He said

“Really well.” I answered.  “I have been pretty tired at night for most of this trip.  It has been easy to sleep.”

“I was down here last night…you didn’t wake up at all did you?” Robert said.

“No…” I said, feeling somewhat uncomfortable by the fact that he was watching me in my sleep.  I was happy I was headed out that day.

Robert made a great breakfast for his daughter and I while I told some stories about what the trip had been like up to that point.  When I mentioned my friend Jim in Louisville who was all alone for the holiday and wanted chocolates for Christmas, Robert lit up. “I know a place that’s chocolate is wayyyy better than Whitman’s!” He said.  “It is a little family-owned shop nearby, and their chocolate is unbelievable! I will ride you out of town and we can go to the chocolate shop and then my favorite bike store on the way out!”

I agreed, excited to give the business to a small local place, and we got ready to go.

Robert and I ready to leave his condo.

Robert and I ready to leave his condo.

The day was mild, a nice temperature for biking, but a drizzle came down as we rode off to the chocolate shop.  After a few miles, we pulled into the parking area of a simple strip mall.  Tucked in among the other shops was Mary Jane’s.  Unassuming from the outside, the inside evoked the warm and cozy feeling of your grandmother’s house.

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Writing the Christmas card to Jim with my new friend Marie.

 

Robert introduced me to Mary, and her daughter, Marie.  They were so friendly and loving, chatting and smiling.  Robert and I walked around picking out chocolates for ourselves and relaying the story of Jim in Louisville.  Robert generously announced that he wanted to buy chocolates for me, as well as pay for the package that we were putting together for Jim.

“No, no, no.” Marie said.  “We would like to donate the chocolates for Jim’s Christmas gift!” She said with a smile.

“Well I will cover the shipping, then.” Said Robert.  I was so happy, to have been able to share the story and the care of him with these generous friends.

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Robert grabbed my butt at the moment this picture was taken.

 

 

 

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Tobacco Country

I left Mammoth Caves and rode the beautiful wooded parkway that led out to the south toward Bowling Green, KY.  The scenery of the day was magnificent, consisting of rolling farmland and woods.

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Along the way, I came across a number of indications that I was in tobacco growing country.  It was an interesting addition to the already rich history that had been formed in my head of the area.  I first passed a giant warehouse that didn’t seem to be in use currently, but displayed a giant clue as to what it might have been used for previously.

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Other properties I passed along the way were drying fresh tobacco in their barns.  The smell of the unfermented tobacco was not familiar, or unpleasant.  I would later pass a multi-level drying house that must have had a footprint of two or three acres.  Hispanic workers coming driving out of the storage house after their day of work told me that there were others just like it in the area. I wondered about their safety, as working with wet tobacco can cause nicotine and other chemical exposure through contact with the skin.

 

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My plan for the day was to ride through the city of Bowling Green, and on south to the farm that I had arranged to stay at through the WWOOF website.  The daylight was quickly disappearing as I made my way through the countryside and towards the city.  I still had 30 miles to go and less than two hours of daylight, so I made the decision to see if there were any Warmshowers hosts in the area that had availability.  If anything, I thought, it would be an opportunity to meet more interesting people.  Boy, was I right…

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Mammoth Caves National Park

My frenzied McDonald’s experience fueled a pleasant, sunny 45 mile ride that day.  Though I stayed on one road for a large chunk of the mileage, I passed a number of points of interest on the way.

The first was a residence next to the highway that stood out to me due to the fact that it appeared ‘culturally different’ than my community back in Michigan.  The house and outbuilding looked to be fairly rundown, as if college students had been put to the task of taking care of it for the last twenty-five years.  The backyard stretched for only a few yards before sloping steeply up to train tracks that I had been following all day.  The yard was mostly dirt and weeds, and filled with old cars, car parts, and other fix-it-upper projects that had taken a back seat for the moment.  A large confederate flag was proudly displayed on a makeshift flagpole near the front porch.  Two men sat quietly on the stoop, long beards cascading down under their baseball caps as they held aluminum cans in their hand.  I did not stop, although the thought crossed my mind, and the idea didn’t go away as I continued to ride.

The scene struck me when I first caught a glimpse of the place. judgements such as “redneck” and “racist” went through my mind as my stereotypes and preconceptions came alive.  But as I rode, I yearned to know those people better.  I never did turn back, but I still think about what they would have been like, just person to person.  I like to imagine them as welcoming, friendly, and fun.  I guess I will never know.

As I continued on, I passed several signs and markers describing and commemorating various civil war battle sites.  It seemed as if every four or five miles there was a new site with a unique story.  The towns that I passed through all had significance in the war as well, which made the ride interesting as I pictured young men marching through the hills, sacrificing themselves for their idea of freedom.

Around twenty miles into the day, I began up a beautifully forested hill, large pines swayed in the wind on both sides of the road.  As I crested the climb, some sort of factory came into view, and the smell of pine became even more pungent.  I could hear the sounds of loud machinery, and as I got closer, I realized I was looking at an industrial saw mill operation.  Huge pine trunks were being handled by some sort of crane with  a claw on the end, and fed into a series of powerful machines.  The heavy trees were being handled and processed so quickly, they looked like toothpicks.  This time I did stop, and asked at the front desk about tours, but the woman looked as if she had never been asked, and said that they didn’t do tours.

I rode on, and all day kept seeing signs for an Amish discount grocery with fresh baked goods.  Not only did this sound delicious, but when I finally came upon the establishment, I needed a rest, and was intrigued by the way of life of many of the Amish I had seen thus far.  I went in, expecting to get in and out with a quick cinnamon roll, but upon entering, realized I was in a poor and hungry man’s paradise.  The grocery was similar to a regular grocery store, except every item was slightly damaged and marked way down! I was so happy to be able to restock my supplies with delicious food for next to nothing.  I clopped around the store in my plastic-soled bike shoes, probably looking quite strange to the young women in the bakery who stood eying me and whispering amongst themselves.  I don’t know if they were scared, intrigued, or both, but I think it’s safe to say that the visit was entertaining for all parties involved.

I eventually made it to Cave City, a hodgepodge of tourist-traps like putt-putt, a dinosaur sculpture park, and more cheap souvenir stores than I ever care to be around again.  To my great relief, after a long ascent, I reached the entrance to the park, and from that point on, until I was out of the park the next day, I didn’t see a single business or building that wasn’t part of the national park.  The hilly forests were absolutely beautiful, specked with rocky outcroppings and many deer that must have enjoyed the park as a safe haven from hunters.

After stopping by the park headquarters and arranging for a campsite that required a 5 mile hike to get to, I rode the last few miles over some very hilly terrain, in and out of a river valley, on and off a river ferry that cars used instead of a bridge, and finally, as I approached the trailhead I was to take to the campsite, I came across a vacant cabin set back a ways in the trees.  The sun had set, and the long hike to my campsite seemed way to hard at that point, making the cabin yard very enticing.  With help from the darkness, I was adequately concealed for the evening, and got out of there the next morning without a fine from the rangers.

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River crossing in Mammoth Caves NP

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On the ferry, in the beautiful valley

 

The next day I woke up, bought a morning ticket for a cave tour, and hung out in the park coffee shop for the morning.  The women working in the shop gave me (probably their only customer all day, due to the off season) free coffee, and told me about how they loved their jobs, even after the 45 minute commute, but that the government was cutting their hours, which would make their already tight budgets very hard to manage.  I felt for these women, not having many economic options at their disposal.  I was happy, however, that they could maintain a positive attitude throughout.

One entrance to Mammoth Cave, the largest cave system in the world.  Currently 400 known miles, but still being explored.

One entrance to Mammoth Cave, the largest cave system in the world. Currently 400 known miles, but still being explored.

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They lit a Christmas tree in the cave for the holidays. In the foreground you can see remnants of the mining infrastructure that was installed by slaves after colonial settlers claimed ownership. Evidence of Native Americans through found artifacts place them as the oldest known discoverers of the cave.

 

 

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McDonalds with a Side of Trespassing

The sun was descending in the sky as I continued south towards Mammoth Caves.  I still had about 40 miles to go to, and really no drive or reason to make the extra effort that night.  I passed through a small town and stopped at a beautiful highway side McDonald’s to warm up and explore the options locally for a place to stay.

As I sat down with my coffee, I had yet to get a response from the few Warmshowers hosts that had listed their info in this remote part of southern Kentucky.  After searching the internet a bit for local campgrounds, all I could find was a trailer-camping spot that provided electricity and water hookups for RV’s, but cost $25 a night.  I decided to take my chances finding a hidden spot along the road on the outskirts of town.

I rode away from McDonald’s and slowly scanned the thickly wooded areas along a stretch of  road on the country side of the highway.  There were only a few houses dotting the area, and it seemed as if the shrubbery and grasses would provide me with good cover.  I dismounted my bike, looked around quickly to make sure nobody was watching, and exerted as much strength as I could muster to lift my loaded bike over the dried weeds and brush, and into the trees that ended up providing me with a safe and comfortable camping spot for the night.

 

The next morning I awoke again to a frosty film covering the inside of my tent.  It had gotten cold, but knowing that I was only a few minutes from a warm drink at McDonald’s, packing up was relatively painless.

I sat with my coffee and tried to decide what to have for breakfast before I embarked for the day to the caves.  The gas station had a couple pieces of fruit, but I wanted something a little more substantial before riding.  I considered firing up my stove in the gas station parking lot, but after thinking for a while, I somehow rationalized buying the McDonald’s Pancake and Eggs Breakfast Platter.  I have to admit, after eating frozen snacks so often over the past days, I was actually excited about the meal.  My better half was not letting me go through with it without at least a little psychological punishment.  I felt guilty about supporting the food production practices of the establishment, not to mention the preservatives, artificial flavorings, and refined sugars that I was about to consume.  I told myself that I would try it as a way to explore and understand why people liked this stuff so much.  The caloric boost would be helpful too, I thought.

I decided to get the meal with an extra hashbrown instead of bacon or sausage, which further helped me rationalize this deviant behavior.  I got back to my seat and read the ingredients on the two rather large containers of brown corn syrup the afforded me with my meal.  Mildly disgusted, I decided not to read the margarine container.

As I began eating, the initial shock of flavor was intense, at first making me sick, but within seconds turning to some sort of deeply rooted animalistic delight.  McDonald’s knew what they were doing.  The pancakes were flavored alone with an explosion of sweet and salty, which made them delightful by themselves.  The syrup and butter served to increase the flavor even more.  My mouth watered as I grabbed a hashbrowns, which was crispy, greasy and salty, prompting me to eat them both at once.  I probably looked like some sort of crazed drug addict as I worked through the plate.  The eggs were the only thing that didn’t seem to be artificially enhanced in some way, which made them taste almost bland in comparison to the rest of the smorgasbord.  I was on an emotional roller coaster, the guilt of eating this junk weighing heavily, while the rush of flavors helping to flood my brain with happiness and positivity.  I could see how people got addicted to this stuff.

In the end, I was happy that I had bought my McDonald’s Breakfast, just so I could know what the competition was.

I left the restaurant,  1200 calories richer, and rode south towards the biggest cave system in the world.

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