Unlike the past seven years when Alcoa, Tennessee, was the home-base for the Tennessee Tandem Rally (TTR), this year’s event was held just south of Nashville in Franklin, Tennessee. From a logistics standpoint, this added about an extra hour to our typical drive from our home near Atlanta, Georgia, but also added in a one-hour difference in time zones. This little twist allowed us to spend Thursday night at home as we were able to leave at 5:30am for the 3 1/2 hour drive and arrive at the Embassy Suites in Franklin just before 8:00am local time. At least for me, leaving the house at 5:30am isnt’ all that far off from my normal workday mornings and I think Debbie was able to nap a bit on the drive to catch up on the hour of sleep that she lost with the earlier than normal get-up. As for the drive itself, it was uneventful and traffic was light until just about 5 miles before our exit for the hotel in Franklin, at which point I65 was already backing up from the morning commuters heading into Nashville.
I should note, in past years we have typically taken part in the TTR Thursday Challenge Rides, an optional pre-rally ride for rally-goers who are interested in tackling something of an epic ride. Over the years these rides have included some truly challenging rides that were well beyond our threshold for pain and suffering so we and a few others were given “light” options on Thursdays. For example, we skipped the Klingman’s Dome and 5-ways to the top of the world rides and did more leisurely routes instead. This year’s Thursday Challenge was hosted by our very dear friends Brenda LeBlanc and James Mohs who live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about 30 minutes from Franklin. Sadly, our work schedules prevented us from participating so we missed out on the fun… and apparently some fresh asphalt! However, there were six intrepid teams who were up to the challenge:
Anyway, as I said, we arrived at the TTR host hotel — Embassy Suites in Cool Springs — just before 8:00am, checked-in with the rally organizers, found several members of our tandem-family and then got back in the truck for the 30-minute caravan to the remote start from the Hillsboro Elementary/Middle School near the Natchez Trace in Liepers Fork. We were forewarned that much of the ride route had to be modified and/or would have rough patches due to the recent flooding. Despite the warnings, shortly after starting the ride and while motoring through the rolling country side along Garrison Creek riding two-by-two an uncalled nasty hole in the road nearly flatted our rear tire and did flat the rear tire of the tandem riding behind us. That little incident split the group as several folks rode ahead while others stayed behind to support the team with the flat tire. Our group now included Benny Reeves & Julie Dupell from Oklahoma City, OK; James Mohs & Brenda LeBlanc as well as David & Christen Hunter all from the Nashville area; and after a missed turn, Eric Osgood & Linda Wood from the Atlanta, Georgia area joined us noting we inadvertently abandoned them due to a series of mixed signals after the flat tire episode which put them in time-trial mode as they worked to rejoin our group (doh!). After climbing out of the valley along the creek the roads became a mixture of silky smooth and weather-worn asphalt with a couple of sections of gravel road-under-repair thrown in here and there. To say that middle-Tennessee is ‘hilly’ is an understatement: many areas seemed like a virtual roller-coaster with climbs, twists and descents at every turn… and in one instance a back of three and four-legged dogs who were eager to mix-it up.
Our mid-ride destination was Fly’s Store in Fly, Tennessee, which is an amazing little general store just off the Natchez Trace. Mr. Fly still tends the store which is filled will all kinds of interesting things and, thankfully, lots of cold drinks and snacks. Of course, the weather was actually pretty nice. Although it was a bit warm and muggy, the skies were overcast which made the final leg of our 38-mile Friday ‘warm-up’ ride along the Natchez Trace quite pleasant and there’s absolutely no shade along the section of the Trace between Fly and Lieper’s Fork. Our post rest-stop group grew a little bit as we added three other teams: Craig & Carla Farrell from St Louis, MO; Rick & Heather Harris from Hermitage, TN, and I believe we also had John Calhoun & Madelyn Zalon from Carmel, IN along for part of the ride. The ride along the Natchez Trace was really a treat. While not necessarily flat, the road was never all that steep, had very little other traffic and was in perfect condition. The Trace took us all the way back to Lieper’s Fork, perhaps 1-mile from our starting point at the school. All-in-all, it was a delightful first day of riding.
A subset of our group — Teams Hunter, Mohs-LeBlanc, Farrell, and Wood-Good — met at the Puckett’s Grocery Store in downtown Franklin for a nice and relaxed lunch. After lunch, we opted to head back to the hotel so we could get checked-in and so I could attend to some work before we headed off to dinner and the social. Several other teams headed off to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway to put in some “hot” laps before dinner over at the ‘Pie in the Sky’ pizza parlour. We arrived somewhat early and found our friends and owners of Tandems Limited in Birmingham, Alabama, Jack & Susan Goertz had arrived even earlier and joined them at their booth for dinner. Jack & Susan sold us our first tandem back in August of 1997 and our lives were immediately changed for the better from that point on… so in addition to being dear friends, they also hold a special place in our hearts for helping to facilitate a watershed moment in our lives that has pretty much redefined who we are and what we do outside of our family and work obligations.
The evening culminated with a dessert social back at the Embassy Suites in the host’s team’s Hospitality Suite. Or, should I say the Hospitality Sweet! There were four or five really decadent cakes along with ice cream — your choice of vanilla or Neapolitan — and it made for a grand time. The ‘cozy’ surroundings made for great conversation and camaraderie among the rally goers.
All-in-all, the first day of TTR was a resounding success and we were looking forward to the rest of the weekend.