Trans-America Trail, Tennessee to Southern Colorado: Banjos, Tears, & Corn Nubbins

Trans-America Trail, Tennessee to Southern Colorado: Banjos, Tears, & Corn Nubbins
I have arrived in Tellico Plains, TN, and the official starting point of the Trans-America Trail (TAT). It took thousands of miles just to get here, but as I prepare to make my first turn onto the trail, I feel a weight and a reality of what I am about to do that I did not expect.

My emotionally-charged adventure in July began far north of Tennessee in Connecticut. I flew in from Colorado to pick up my dad’s KLR, still mourning his loss from October 2012 when a car pulled out in front of his BMW Funduro. Riding and speaking to his KLR is like having him with me. I ask if he, too, can hear the famous banjo picking from Deliverance, or if it is only in my head? I snap an official “I was here” photo and my adventure begins . . .

Early morning passing through a Mississippi farm just east of Arkansas.

Day 1: Detours and Whiskey

Day one. Hour one. I am already detoured due to construction. I struggle to find a way to reconnect to the trail and try to temper my frustration. Nerves and the rumors of slick-rock water crossings in Tennessee have me a bit anxious. I didn’t expect to re-route so soon. I take a deep breath to focus. Riding alone in the woods of Tennessee has me on edge. In an effort to alleviate the frustration, my first diversion is to Blythe’s Ferry, a location that is home to the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park and the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. This section of the Tennessee River is only passable via the bridge, so I double back and cross over. Word from the trail tells me of a rider who lost their Dakar to the rushing water only days ahead of me. I suspect I am subconsciously routing myself around the more serious water crossings. I am disappointed but also relieved.

Motorcycle & Gear

2008 Kawasaki KLR 650

Helmet: Shoei J-Cruise
Jacket: Firstgear Teton Textile
Pants: Joe Rocket Phoenix 2.0
Boots: Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX
Gloves: Held STEVE and AIR, Scorpion Cool Hand
Comm System: Sena SMH10

After a morning of acclamation, high emotions, and an inaccurate trail selection, I decide to head toward Lynchburg, TN. Unaware that I am entering the Midwest time zone, I stroll into the country’s most famous “dry” county and home of the largest producer of Tennessee whiskey. The time change affords me a spot on the final Jack Daniel’s tour of the day, which I gladly accept. At the end of the tour, I am given the opportunity to purchase a commemorative bottle filled with “free” whiskey, a work around to the county’s ban on alcohol sales. I defer and instead backtrack to Tullahoma, TN, where I enjoy some tasty carnitas at Las Trojas before bunking down at the Quality Inn for the night.

Just South of La Veta, CO: In a series of lucky turns, I manage to navigate around the hail laden rain clouds all day before a quick stop at home.

Day 2: Wrong Turn to the Dam Park

Other than water crossings, Tennessee does not get a lot of press among the TAT community, so getting my bearings continues to be a challenge. I feel lost, both emotionally and geographically. I soon confirm that I am off track again when I view the words, “Audemus jura nostra defendere” translated to mean, “We dare defend our rights,” which just so happens to be the state motto of Alabama … and also happens NOT to be on the TAT! It’s the journey, right?

Many sections of the trail, such as this segment in Arkansas, resulted in unexpected detours (aka new adventures)!

I return to Tennessee and Pickwick Landing State Park. In the 1840s it was a popular riverboat stop before becoming home toone of two dams on the Tennessee River established by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Nowadays, it hosts some of the biggest fishing tournaments of the year.

I arrive early and call it a day. I re-familiarize myself with my GPS tracks and roll charts in an attempt to get in sync with the trail. After ordering the park’s “dam steak,” I remember that I am in catfish country. One bite sets a future reminder in my taste buds to order the catfish next time!