After our stormy night we were sleepy, but ready to take on our longest day. We actually had three options for this day. Our car was almost exactly 100 miles away so we could: 1. Bike 60 miles to the Meriweather Lewis campground, then 40 miles to the car the next day. 2. Go 80 miles to a bike-only campground (potentially biking in the dark), then 20 miles to the car the next 3. Bike 100 miles to the car (definitely in the dark). We decided we were just going bike and see how far we got and how we felt.
The day started out crossing the Tennessee River and going over a bunch of hills. We started out really strong and we were feeling really good. We made it about 15 miles before our first stop. Our second stop was for lunch and it was the best one yet. We looked on the map to see if there were any good food places near the Trace that we could get lunch since time was of the essence. We found a town called Collinwood whee there was supposed to be a restaurant/grocery. Well we didn’t find that particular one, but we did find Miss Halzelbea’s Sweets and Treats. It was the first restaurant in town and when we pulled up it had a sign saying “bikers welcome” with a picture of a bicyclist and motorcyclist. We also saw that they served sandwiches. Perfect!
We walked in and took a step back in time. They had four tables and all of them might have been dining tables in their home over the years. Each table was situated on top of an area rug and was draped with a tablecloth. The glass display counter was filled with homemade cookies, chocolates and other sweets. There were old pictures, an Elvis tribute and some awesome 60’s music playing. It was fantastic. We were greeted by an older woman, Miss Hazelbea I assume, who immediately asked where we’d biked from and where we were headed. She took our order back to her husband, who was furiously making sandwiches as she chatted with guests. It was adorable. She had us sign their guest book and let us look through the old ones(which were actually wedding guestbooks… clever!) . We ended up staying there a little longer than we planned, but we really enjoyed the vibe we got from the place so it was worth it. We might as well have been at home. I would recommend this place to anyone looking for a good chat with a “damn Yankee” (apparently this is what you call a person who moves from the north to the south…or so Miss Hazelbea says).
We left Hazelbea’s feeling full and ready to take on the rest of the day. Unfortunately, we had a head wind and more hills that slowed us down. We kept up a fairly good pace though and the bathroom or historical site pull-overs worked perfectly into our 8 mile stops. It was great to be able to sit on the picnic tables, use actual toilets and refill our waters. At one point we noticed that the trees no longer had leaves and were just beginning to bud. It was strange because it happened so gradually (or at least we think it did).
Eventually we made to the Meriweather Lewis campground and after checking out his grave site we were feeling good and felt like we could continue on to our 80 mile destination. We also really wanted to get on the road back to Michigan the next day and only having 20 miles in the morning would make the drive easier. We left the campground around 5:30 thinking we’d have about 2.5 hours of daylight remaining. We were racing against the sunset and super tired and to make matters worse we hit more hills. So frustrating. But we motored on, took lots of breaks and walked up some of the hills.
At one point we thought we might be hitting the last of them, but we were immediately disappointed. We came down one hill and were met with the biggest, steepest climb of the entire Trace. It took us quite some time to get to the top, but on the way up we were treated to a wonderful view of a beautiful waterfall. The excitement only lasted a second, because the sun was going down fast. Ethan ended up walking his bike the rest of the way and I rode about as fast I would have been going if I were walking. Always an embarrassing situation, but I did it! Got all the way to the top!! Boom! Turns out our efforts were well worth it. We ended up riding on the top of that ridge, called Devil’s Backbone, for the rest of the ride. And better yet, the decline off the ridge was slow and steady and took us right down to where we wanted to stay with only a few short and easy climbs. It was a gift from the bicycle gods. It also made for an incredible end to a very difficult and rewarding day. To top it off we were treated to an amazing sunset with brilliant oranges and bright pink. It was sheer perfection. Mother Nature at her best! We couldn’t not have asked for a better end to our ride. Especially because the night was night so kind to us…
Our goal was to get to a bike-only camp ground, but first we needed to stop at one of the historical sites about .3 miles before that had a bathroom to get water. By the time we got there though, it was freezing cold and we had about 15 minutes of daylight left. We looked around and decided this was where we were camping. We figured if someone from the park service came we’d just tell them we couldn’t find the other one or didn’t know about it. We set up the tent behind the bathroom so we couldn’t be seen from the road. Like I said, it was freezing out so we made dinner really fast, ate and got in the tent. We went to bed right away because we wanted to wake up before sunrise to finish our last 20 miles. I was hoping to get a good nights sleep after two restless nights, but that didn’t happen. We both fell asleep pretty fast, but woke up around 11:30 Ethan woke to the sound of howling. Lots of howling. And barking. And I heard it to, but I was also shaking uncontrollably (same as the very first night). I scooted closer to him and tried to get warm and go back to sleep, but all I could think about was what animals were howling like that. My imagination was running wild, but the reasonable part of my brain was saying “it’s just coyotes!” I could also tell that they were pretty far away. Still, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I woke up Ethan and he put his sleeping bag over both of us and helped me warm up. Sweet relief. I think I feel back to sleep for bit, but woke up again at 3:45 to more shaking and more howling. Ethan warmed me back up and both of us drifted in and out of sleep for the next two hours. It was a long, very cold night.
A long day and a long night. We’re ready to get outta here!! Read on to hear about our last day on the Trace!