English United States

‘Cheating’ my way to the West

My visa expires the 1st of June, and I think that I would really like to go to Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Since these states are too far away to cycle to in the time that I have left, I have decided to take the car and train to Denver, Colorado, and start cycling there again.

My idea was to stay two nights in Knoxville, but I believe that I had seen everything in one afternoon and didn’t feel like staying another day. Let’s go to Nashville! Jess recommended me to go to the Lilly Pad Brewery, because she said that there was a nice campground over there. After 65 frustrating miles with headwind, I finally arrived. There was indeed a very simple but nice campground. In two days, the weather switched from hot and sunny to cold with snow. The local people told me that these fluctuations were exceptional.

The next 65 miles (with headwind) brought me to Cookeville, and I pitched up my tent at a church just before it got dark. When I was having breakfast at a Waffle House, I looked at the weather forecasts and saw that the headwind was getting worse the coming days. Now I understand why most of the cyclists cycle the US from West to East…. I really didn’t feel like cycling in the headwind anymore. I decided to try to hitchhike myself into Nashville, although I wasn’t very optimistic. I got lucky at the first try. I saw a pick-up truck with a trailer at a gas station and I asked if he was going in the direction of Nashville and whether he had room for a bicycle. He was indeed going to Nashville, and of course he could take my bike. I asked him about the two motorcycles on the trailer. He turned out to be part of the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA-USA), and they were touring through some states. I didn’t even notice the rest of the group with their big motorcycles. Before we left, the guys wanted to have breakfast at The Waffle House. I got to know Larry, Tim and Ron. Tim asked me if I wanted to ride on the back of his motor. Of course! Before I knew it, I was sitting at the back of his huge Harley Davidson, driving in a group of motorcycles towards Nashville. Tim yelled at me that “you can still say you rode a bike all the way”. We agreed to stop at the first gas station after entering Nashville. I said goodbye to the group there and was very grateful for the ride, they saved me two or three days of frustration. In a circle, they blessed me and my bicycle and gave me a mini bible.


Because I suddenly arrived in Nashville, I didn’t have accommodation yet. I was able to arrange that pretty fast in a McDonald’s. in the afternoon, I randomly cycled through Nashville to see what there is to see. I noticed that Broadway was the place to be, the most important street of Nashville with a lot of live music. I visited broadway in the evening, and went in and out of basically all the bars to get the full experience. The next day, I visited a couple of museums and booked a car via Enterprise, because I’m driving towards St. Louis.

Broadway, Nashville

In the two days that I hired the car, I drove about 900-1000 miles, which was actually a little bit too far. Yet, I felt kind of powerful to drive a car through the United States, not bound to any places and able to go wherever I wanted to. I drove to Memphis, which I really enjoyed. I was walking in Memphis, with my feet 10 feet of off Beale. In my experience, the musical scene (Beale street) was even bigger than the one in Nashville. I noticed that there was a lot of police on the street, they even searched everyone trying to enter Beale street. Later that evening, I also took a look at the former house of Elvis Presley (and his plane).

Beale street, Memphis

After spending the night in the car, I drove to Hot Springs on the next day, the ‘boyhood home’ of Bill Clinton (fun fact). Route 7, labeled as one of the most scenic drives in the US, passes through Hot Springs. I obviously wanted to drive route 7. I unfortunately didn’t see anything of the environment, as it was already getting dark and I was furthermore driving in the middle of the pouring rain. The road towards route 7 was actually much nicer. I had to wake up at 5 AM the next morning to be able to return the car on time. The mountainous road was pitch dark and it was still raining, not the best conditions to ride in, but at least more comfortable than cycling. When it was light, I was already done with route 7 (poor time planning…).

My car for three days
I spotted a crossing turtle on a deserted road!

In St. Louis, I met Jim and Sally, part of the warmshowers community. They’re a retired couple and they didn’t mind that I didn’t really cycle to there place. I’ve heard that some people actually refuse to host if you’re not coming by bike. That kind of makes sense, but I have a good reason not to cycle. I actually stayed two nights in St. Louis, which allowed me to see the history museum and zoo. I’ve seen a lot of strange species which I may encounter in South America, some of which I really hope not to! On Tuesday, Jim rode with me to the city center which I hadn’t really seen yet. After a glimpse at the well-known arch, I moved on to the north, to Quincy, from which I will take the train to Denver.

De Gateway Arch in St. Louis, symbolising the Westward Expansion of the US (purchase of Louisiana, 1803)
Bicycle route along the Mississippi

English United States

Virginia and Tennessee

After short visits in Bristol and Knoxville, I’m heading towards Nashville the coming week. Because my tourist visa expires on the first of June, I have to make choices in the States that I want to visit. I’ll probably hire a car in Nashville and head to the North-West from there. If I have enough time, I would love to see Utah and Arizona.

After a long night and a big breakfast, I was physically and mentally fully ready for the Blueridge Parkway. Bill cycled with me for the first couple of miles. After he returned home, I had to do another 30 minutes of climbing, which finally brought me to the beginning of the parkway. I was prepared for a very tough road with steep climbs. Obviously, I took a picture before I started. And that was the moment when I started to climb. And that went much better than I anticipated and hoped for. The climbs were long, but not very steep, exactly the kind of exercise that I like: endurance. I had the feeling that I could go on forever, and the view was fantastic. Every now and then, I came across a viewpoint which was just to beautiful to pass. I took a lot of pictures.

During one of the climbs, I saw a black bear crossing the road. It stood still for a moment, looked me in the eyed, and ran across the road. I would’ve liked to tell a rough story about me fighting the bear, followed by a night in the carcass of a horse, but I’ll leave that up to Mr. DiCaprio. This bear just crossed the road. At 2 PM in the afternoon, I was already at the exit of the campground. I didn’t want to stop. I knew that the weather was gonna be worse tomorrow, so I decided to continue. It eventually became my longest distance so far, which is not very logical when you consider that I cycled through the mountains. Just before 6 PM, I arrived at the first campground of my trip (where they didn’t send me away…). After a hot shower, I immediately fell asleep in my comfortable sleeping bag. When I woke up the next day, my tent was covered in snow. It was much worse than they had predicted. It was about 2 inches of snow, much worse than they predicted. The parway was closed….

The parkway was closed and I didn’t feel comfortable cycling around the gate. I decided to bypass the parkway and take a detour instead. I didn’t regret that decision because while I was cycling in the valley, I couldn’t even see the top of the mountains. That basically meant that I would’ve climbed for hours to end up in the clouds. I anticipated to cycle the parkway for three days, but this turned out to be just one. dayI was one day ahead of my estimated time of arrival in Roanoke, but warmshower hosts Will and Lyndsey were still able to receive me. It was no problem all. Not long after I met them, we went to a local restaurant for their weekly trivia evening. They’ve done it for years with the same group. I thought that they were gonna play it with a small group of people, but the entire restaurant was playing. They were pretty dedicated. They were whispering the answers to each other, or they even wrote it on a piece of paper. You could tell that they had done it more often. Except for the music category, I barely knew any answers. ‘We’ eventually became 2nd, and the group was almost disappointed because they didn’t win.

Will (left of me), Lyndsey (in front of me) and friends

The next day, I left much later than I actually wanted. Lyndsey and Will were already working. They gave me their spare key and I could leave whenever I wanted. Yesterday, I didn’t even know them. Today, they trust me with the key of their house. I like it. At the end of a sunny cycling day, I spotted a very nice church on top of a hill. I didn’t feel like cycling much more, especially because I was cycling on a pretty busy and unpleasant road. The view was very nice and it was so quiet compared to the road. Suddenly, a lot of cars arrived at the church. Apparently, they had their weekly committee meeting. I talked to an older women and after a while, I asked if it was ok if I pitched up my tent on their field for the night. It was not a problem and this was the beatuiful view that I had:

The next day was the first day that I didn’t really enjoy. I was cycling towards Knoxville and I was kind of stuck to one boring road which was near a very busy interstate road. The strong headwind didn’t make it much better. A lot of people advised me not to randomly pitch up my tent at someone’s property, since that is not very appreciated. I asked to several people if it was ok to pitch up my tent in their gigantic yards. A lot refused. They seemed to be afraid of me, or at least very careful. A women even locked her door while she refilled my bottle with some water. Eventually, I luckily found a young guy who said that it was no problem at all. I even had the luxury to use the wifi connection inside my tent, which allowed me to have a look at the potential next destination. I sent a message via warmshowers. Ben and Anne, living in Bristol, replied within an hour, saying that they were happy to host me tomorrow. I was really glad to know that I had a goal for the next day. That made the even stronger headwind bearable. Downtown Bristol was really enjoyable, it’s kind of old-fashioned and it was busier than normal, as they organize a NASCAR race this week.

Het ‘platte’ land

After meeting Ben and Anne, Ben enthusiastically told me about the history of the city. Apparently, Bristol has been really important in the development of country music. Everybody knows Nashville and its musical heritage, but the actual birthplace of country music is right here, in Bristol. They even have a museum about it, which Ben and Anne support. They received a lot of tickets for their support, and they gave one to me. Ben took me to the museum the next day, which was deserted, probably because of the summer weather. Later in the afternoon, we did a nice hike in a forest near their house. There is an owl in the garden of Anne and Ben, and Ben feeds the owl with some mice every now and then. I managed to capture a nice shot of the owl ‘catching’ the mouse.

Virginia on the left, Tennessee on the right
Anne en Ben
Ben vs. Uil

The next day, I left for my last 120 miles towards Knoxville. The weather was fantastic, so I broke the record of my longest distance so far (90 miles), because I knew tomorrow was gonna be rainy. That worked out perfectly, I was in Knoxville before the rain began to pour. Knoxville is, similar to Bristol, pretty old-fashioned and furthermore so much smaller than I expected.