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  Dispatches for Stage 2
December '04 Archive

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Sunday - December 12, 2004 (3,237 miles - Rome, Georgia - 8,783 miles total)

I bit the bullet and acquired a 48 spoke tandem wheel that cost me $350. After dealing with yet another broken spoke in pouring rain on my way to Huntsville from Nashville, I had had it with my rear wheel. I called ahead to the Atlanta REI, and placed the order for the new wheel to replace my troublesome 36 spoke one which proved woefully insufficient in durability. With so many more spokes, the new wheel should last me a long time.

I bicycled on Wednesday Dec 1st from Fredericktown, MO to Cairo, IL. I crossed the mighty Mississippi at Cape Girardeau into Illinois. I was near Cairo in the dark when I discovered a broken spoke. I had planned to keep riding a great deal more since Clarksville where I would meet Matt Kear's sister Heidi was still a good distance away. Now I had to stop and fix another spoke yet again. I had just replaced the previous broken one in Potosi while waiting out the rain with David.

The next morning on Thursday, I pressed on into Kentucky over the Ohio River just north of its confluence with the Mississippi. On the other side of the river I had a choice to beeline for Clarksville over rural roads, or to head north a little to get on the shoulder of the interstate highway I-24. I had about 140 miles to cover until Clarksville and I thought that the interstate would offer more forgiving grades and a better shoulder. When I came to the on-ramp near Paducah, KY, I saw the explicit sign prohibiting bicycles on the highway. Such a sign usually means a narrow shoulder on bridges ahead, or none in tunnels. Availability of suitable alternate roads in the vicinity also leads the state departments of transportation to place such restrictions.

So, here I was having bicycled out of my way a bit north to gain the advantage of better roads, and now I had to drop back south toward Clarksville on rural roads. I eventually entered the state park of Land Between the Lakes which offered me wonderful roads with little to no traffic into the night all the way near Dover, Tennessee. I had called Heidi ahead of time, telling her that I would call her from a payphone in Dover when I arrived there. Heidi's husband Bryan Schott was stationed in Fort Campbell and she had told me that she could borrow a friend's truck to take me to the interviews and other commitments in Nashville on Friday.

At around seven o'clock, about two hours past sunset, I arrived at the South Welcome Center of the park where I found a phone. I had another seven miles to go before Dover, and another 30 or so before Clarksville. I had pedalled 114 miles to that point already. "Which is more inconvenient for you: staying up until midnight worrying about me, or coming to pick me up," I asked Heidi half joking. She was relieved to hear my voice. With their friend David Ainslie they had been wondering about me, surmising that I had not made it to Dover yet. David had decided that he would come out with Heidi driving his own truck - "I wanted to be part of the journey as well," he said when they showed up another hour later.

We spent the entire next day in Nashville together with Heidi and David, whisking me from one interview to the next, then to the Grasslands Middle School in Franklin. In the evening we had the presentation at the Nashville REI and returned to Clarksville late in the evening. They were not done: they drove me back to the park entrance near Dover the next morning. David gave me his cell phone for me to call him when I approached Clarksville. They would come out and film me, then we would have lunch together.

David had a four wheel drive truck with fat wheels. When they rejoined me before Clarksville, Heidi took my video and digital cameras, and settled in the rear cargo area. To my pleasant surprise, David took creatively to my suggestion to capture my ride from different angles. On more than one occasion, he drove his truck off the road toward the grass knolls on the roadside, and once near a rocky outcrop by the highway. They had excellent vantage points to capture unique angles of my ride that way.

I did not arrive at Tommy Koehler's residence in Franklin south of Nashville until ten o'clock that night. A 105 mile ride was what it took. Tommy had facilitated my visit on Friday to the Grasslands Middle School where he was teaching. The next day was Sunday and I was able to present my journey to Tommy's church group where I had a warm reception.

We quickly returned home from the church and prepared for my departure at eleven o'clock. A group of bicyclists gathered by Vanessa Ford of Nashville REI were going to join me for a while on my ride south from Franklin. Two of Tommy's daughters rode with me out of their neighborhood to the main road where we met the others. While we were riding south, one of the riders, Gregory, asked me how far I would ride that day. I guessed that I would make it to Lewisburg, a 45 miles away given the late start. By the time I separated from the crew, Gregory had connected with fellow bicyclists and a friend in Lewisburg. I was to find Bill at the KFC to coordinate. "They will take care of you," Gregory said before he left.

I kept riding in the rain toward Lewisburg. A short distance before the town as it was getting darker, a small car came from the opposite direction with the driver looking at me intently. Soon the car turned around, pulling ahead of me in a driveway; I approached, stopping in front of her. "My name is PJ," she introduced herself. She was Gregory's friend and had been trying to arrange a place for me to stay. "It gets dark so bloomin' early, sure glad you have the flashing lights," she said in her singing southern accent. "You are four miles away from town, go to Celebration Inn, the room is reserved for you, all taken care of." In the brief time that we chatted, she told me that the mayor would have wanted to meet me but had a function to attend, and asked "are you sure you will make it?" I assured her that I would be OK, and she took off.

I stopped at the KFC where Bill, who was the manager, was excited to meet me. "Your English is very good," he said twice before I explained to him how I had learned it. "Help yourself to the buffet," he said joining me for dinner.

When I settled at the Inn, for a while I did not know who had paid for the room. Was it the mayor? Gregory? PJ? I did not know whom to thank. I finally asked the hotel manager that question and obtained the phone number for PJ - I could call her in the morning to thank her.

Lewisburg was an interesting town, the home of the Tennessee Walking Horse and the fainting goat. PJ had been a photographer for the TWH Association and told me about these magnificent animals. The Tennessee Walking Horse has the smoothest ride I was told, with three, easy-riding gaits: the flat-foot walk, the running walk, and the canter, which are all natural and inherited traits. Even a young foal as it walks alongside its mother imitates these gaits that eliminate the up-and-down motion that we associate with horseback riding. Bill told me over breakfast about the fainting goats which were bred to protect the sheep against the wolves. When the wolves attacked an intentionally mixed herd, the silly fainting goat would faint out of fear and keel over, becoming easier prey, and allowing the more valuable sheep to get away! That may be the legend, actually the goats have a nervous condition called myotonia that causes their muscles to stiffen when startled - read more on the web site link above.

In the morning the editor of the local newspaper interviewed me at the urging of PJ, who then offered to contact News Channel 19 television station in Huntsville, Alabama for coverage. I rode with Bill for a while in a drizzling rain which later became a down pour. The ensuing ride by myself in the heavy rain was not that bad except for the flats that I got in the trailer and rear wheel due to broken glass on the road side - beer bottles are everywhere! I was actually fuming when I noticed yet another broken spoke at that time. I had to stop short of Huntsville to repair everything, then when I got there the next day, I called Atlanta REI first for my 48 spoke replacement wheel, then the TV station - the TV interview aired during the five o'clock news while I was riding toward Scottsboro.

Around 4:00 pm after riding on the shoulderless Alabama roads, I stopped at a gas station to buy some drinks. I struck a conversation with a sheriff's deputy there who asked me where I was heading. "It has been terrible up to here, there was no shoulder coming into Huntsville, or since, and it is a busy road," I said. "You've been making good time, I have seen you 18 miles back," he responded adding, "I did not get any complaints about you from drivers..." I chuckled of course. "I have complaints about drivers, do you want to hear them?" I asked half serious this time!

Actually, despite the lack of shoulders, the Alabama drivers had been more accommodating then on Rt. 50 or Rt. 8 in Missouri. This was further reinforced when a driver pulled alongside me later in the dark, telling me something about a garage. "I can't hear you from the highway noise," I said and soon we were shaking hands, his name was Andy. He had a guest room above his garage that he was offering me. He lived a few miles from the highway, and he was expected at home, but he could bring his truck back if I wanted to join them for dinner. The deal was sealed when he said: "I will just take my truck to work tomorrow and we can bring you back here." He had brought other cyclists home before, he had found them interesting and honest people with great stories, and he also cycled. "I will take on a long ride myself when the kids grow up," he explained over dinner. I nodded quietly when he said: "I admire the fact that you are living the moment. It is easy to get caught in regretting the past and worrying about the future while forgetting the now..." Sharing the dream with his children over a world map spread on the floor was fun; I think I had their attention! The next morning, Andy sent me on my way with a more effective rain solution: a poncho designed for bicyclists and a more breathable rain jacket than the one that I had with me.

On Wednesday, I went over harder terrain, the extension of the mountains that I had been avoiding farther north around Chattanooga. I spent the night just short of the Georgia border where I would be crossing into the Eastern Time Zone. Around noon on Thursday when I placed a call from Rome, Georgia to my contact in Atlanta, Turgut Güneysu, he told me that he was near where I was, and that he had already started driving toward me! I guess he could not wait... ;-)

I was whisked into Atlanta, spending the next day at the Autrey Mill Middle School in Alpharetta. One of the three sessions that I offered was taped, then shown on closed circuit to the entire school of nearly a thousand students. We were later able to take my bicycle in to the Atlanta REI where my new wheel was fitted and minor maintenance was carried out. Turgut had been a very supportive champion of my project in the area, and the teachers were all excited to finally present me to their students. I was thrilled by everybody's enthusiasm...

This evening we received a friend of mine from my Ohio State days as a Buckeye, Ergun Yurdadön who drove all the way from Mobile, AL with his family to see me. We will all drive west to Rome tomorrow and I will bring the rig into Atlanta. On Monday I intend to leave the area toward Jacksonville, Florida.

I hope that I can make it into Miami before Christmas. I need to ship my rig back to Seattle, I want to visit the schools that have been following me and, most of all, I am longing to see Nancy on that joyous occasion. I have been gone too long already.


Sunday - December 15, 2004 (3,399 miles - Eastman, Georgia - 8,945 miles total)

I am already at 3,400 miles. That was the estimate for my trip from Seattle to Miami when I had started. I have another 500 miles to go before Miami. My day counter shows 73 days as I post this dispatch - if we take away the ten day recuparation rest in Boulder with my friend Matt Kear, I had estimated the duration correcly, but the distance was off... So I will take another 8 days or so to wrap this up.

A cold snap has come down from the north and I woke up encased in frost this morning inside my tent. I had been riding for 72 miles when I decided not to ride into the night. The road did not have a shoulder and the nearest town was another 30 miles away. I had been fighting cold head winds all day and I decided to call it the day when I saw a church that had a big lawn behind it. That became my location to retire. I was comfortable sleeping with my balaclava over my face, though the frost built up inside the tent and had soaked my sleeping bag by the morning. My bag is a 20 degree synthetic one that keeps its loft even when wet...

The ride from Rome to near my host Turgut's place in Alpharetta was uneventful the other day. I had wide shoulders until I approached the suburbs. Cities and towns in US are designed for cars in mind only. As soon as one enters the city limits, the shoulder goes away, and it is instead replaced by a gutter bordered by the cute, ubiquitous grass. Sidewalks are discontinuous, not all have ramps. We were all led to believe that all buildings and all sidewalks would be handicapped accessible, but that remains yet to be seen. Of course, the side benefit of such smooth sidewalks could be that bicyclists could use them when the traffic gets too thick???

So needless to say, I rode with the traffic that evening, and the next morning after I left Alpharetta. I was following a path clockwise around downtown Atlanta, eventually turning due south. Around noon, I noticed a gentleman on the roadside, crouched, resting his left elbow on his left knee. With his right hand, he motioned me, asking: "Are you Erden?" He was a reporter with the local National Public Radio station. At first I thought that they had contacted our media relations partner Mike McQuaid, who gave them Turgut's contact info, so they knew how to chase me down on the road. Mike had contacted them prior to my visit to Atlanta, but it seemed that reporters for all media outlets were busy covering the appointment of the new Catholic Archbishop. So maybe this was a follow up...

It was actually better than that! Dave Barasoain, the reporter for WABE FM90.1 in Atlanta was driving by, and noticed the website address on my trailer. He called the station, had them look it up, then decided to hold the interview on the roadside. It makes such a difference to have a professional on the other side of the microphone! Feeling at ease and sharing is so much easier when the right person holds the microphone... Dave's interview will be broadcast on WABE FM90.1 on Friday morning, at 07:30am EST. You can hear the actual broadcast interview from our media coverage page.

Since my departure from Atlanta, our phone calls with Nancy have focused on when I would conclude the trip in Miami, and the date for my return ticket. The busy travel season coming up would limit our options. After a bit of consideration, I think we have decided that she will join me in Florida. She can rent a car, find me on the road as I approach Miami, and take the vacation that she so deserves by now. I can conclude the trip without stressing out about being late and we can walk the beaches around Miami where it is warmer.

I can't wait!


Thursday - December 23, 2004 (3,972 miles - Miami, Florida - 9,518 miles total)

I have made it to Miami. I arrived around five o'clock this evening to the Stephensons. Michael and Lynne Stephenson have kindly offered a place for me to stay over the next week before my return to Seattle.

I will ride another 8 miles or so tomorrow to first visit the Miami Port Authority, then to go to the Miami Children's Museum for a scheduled presentation to kids. Port Authority theoretically would be where I would process my papers for departure from Miami by rowing. I will take a few pictures there, and then ride on to the museum on another causeway where I will call the ride across the US done.

I had originally planned to finish at the Port Authority, but I feel the finish at the museum among children is more fitting to my purpose and to the overall vision of Around-n-Over.

I will post a couple more dispatches about the ride down, and the experiences during the last stretch into Miami. Nancy is arriving on Saturday morning, and we will both return to Seattle on January 1st by plane where I will focus on the transition to rowing, preparing the boat, and most importantly making up for the time away from home.


Monday - December 27, 2004 (3,980 miles - Miami, Florida - 9,526 miles total)

In all it took me 82 days and 3 hours to get to the Miami Port Port Authority from Seattle. Not bad, given the occasional delays...

The holiday season is upon us. Ramadan came and went while I was riding, and along with it the four day festive Muslim holiday during which families unite, visiting elders and dressing up the young ones in new clothes. Hanukkah was just celebrated, people are still observing the traditions around Kwanzaa and Christmas.

What a wonderful time to stop and to reflect on how much we have in common in seeking the company of the loved ones, in sharing the bounty of our labors, and in spreading joy to those around us.

This is the time to focus on building together for the future rather than finding excuses to divide along religious lines. I wish everyone the open mind, the grace and the fortitude to reach out.


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