I look for excuses to ride. Are we out of milk? I’ll be right back! Have you heard about the new breakfast joint that serves real maple syrup? Let’s check it out this weekend! Did you know a total solar eclipse is crossing the entire country? Let’s go chase it!
The last time the lower 48 saw a total eclipse, a peanut farmer was president, Christopher Reeves was Superman, and I wasn’t old enough to ride. Now, I’m not only old enough to ride, I’m just old … and the Great American Eclipse of 2017, starting in Oregon and arcing all the way to South Carolina, presented me with the motherlode of excuses to ride. The plan, if you could call it that, was to leave Tennessee after the Touring Weekend (RoadRUNNER’s annual event) and ride along the path of the total eclipse until I found a good place with scenic views and clear skies. Hotels along the path of totality had been fully booked months in advance though, and I didn’t have any lined up, imbuing this trip with a certain joie de vivre that required some flexibility. For those nights when there wasn’t room at the inn or money in the expense account, I brought along Plan B: a hammock.
Through the Woods
I wandered with no set route, west by northwest. Every once in a while, I’d pull over, refer to the map, and continue on. The road danced along the Virginia/Tennessee border before cutting through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. It’s a quiet region with small towns nestled in intimate valleys and local farms and woods interwoven in verdant embraces. It’s quieter still in Daniel Boone National Forest as the road carved lazy esses through the thick woods. And I got to my campsite at Mammoth Cave National Park on the last rays of the day, slung the hammock between two trees, and fell asleep to the sound of raindrops.
I woke to the sight of a deer foraging 20 paces away. I could stay here and wait for the eclipse, I thought, remaining deep in nature, exploring the park, and eating camp ice cream. But something compelled me onward. I rolled through a patchwork of woods, towns, and small farms. In Owensboro, I stopped for lunch and paid my respects to a fallen star, 2006 MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden, taken from this world too soon. The terrain flattened out and I rode through farmland under the relentless blaze of the summer sun. A ferry carried me and the Africa Twin across the Ohio River to Cave-In-Rock, IL, and I made a lazy beeline to Makanda. I secured a campsite in nearby Giant City State Park and fell asleep to the sounds of the night.