I left Memphis wondering how it survives. Other than the tourist dollars thrown around Beale Street on barbecue, blues and beer, in the light of day, the city was vacant; empty storefronts, empty streets, a three-story mall advertised as “the cornerstone of renaissance for the downtown area” had only a handful of vendors on the first of three floors. Either people were weary of the city’s dangerous past of panhandler harassment, a vast number of businesses were econo-crushed and bailed without a trace, or the blues revivalists need a new marketing team.

I took off with a bad barbecue bellyache and sped back down onto the marshy Mississippi Tran-Am with a mission to assess the Tubby Bottom crossing (see Tubby Schmubby). I was in and out of the Magnolia State after a long day navigating through hot dusty farm roads and small towns that looked as though they were straight out of the 1930’s set of the feature film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”.

(So hot even the cows were soaking)

I swung up north just across the TN/MS border to pop my tent in the Big Hill Pond State Park. It was a long, hot day. I rolled into the campground a bit before dark and found caution tape strewn across the freshly painted bathroom doors. Fortunately, there was a working water spigot that became a convenient relief as a dishwasher and hydration supplier along with the convenience of solitude for some spigot showerin’. It’s amazing how simple and easy life can be with a bit of water and warmth … until I heard a growl. “Oh, s%&t, are there bears in Tennessee?” I fled my tent site to the illuminated bathroom facilities with mace in one hand and a knife in the other; obviously not prepared for clawed-n-angry poo-bears … not that they’d be after my tomato soup and canned veggies anyway. I waited out my false alarm/wake-up call and eventually crawled back to my tent for the night.

I carried on following my Tennessee Trans-Am bread crumbs after repeatedly insisting to the campsite painter-man – “They call me A.B.” – that I didn’t want to accompany him to the local Wal-Mart; yeah, odd. Anyway, in comparison to Arkansas and Mississippi, the Tennessee trails transformed from dirt to pavement, the houses from mobile to in-ground, and the lawns from wild to mowed sod. The unpredictability of the dirt and ambiance of the backwoods folks were behind me … and I was still without any good moonshine.

(...and I mean literally in-ground)

I wore down some knobbies getting to David Crockett State Park where I planned to have a good sleep with “the king of the wild frontier”, but instead was greeted by a group of Christian traditionalists; women in ankle length skirts and head wraps with hoards of children. I put a little precautionary conversion-attempt bubble in front of me after a young bible-camper scooted up to my site on his training-wheel shod Schwinn and said, “I like your motorcycle. Do you celebrate Christmas or the Sabbath?”

Fortunately, the religious inquiries stopped with the kid and the rest of the group was very friendly, although super tight. Tight to the point that I had three different people come up to me, opening conversations with, “Oh, you’re the girl who rode her bike from California and is on her way to a wedding.” One of whom opened by yelling at me across the large camp circle, “Hey, I hear you’re from California. Why don’t you come over and chat with us.”

Although it was an odd intro, I enjoyed an hour-long chat with Evelyn and her husband Bill and was even invited to stay at their house in Leipers Fork, just south of Nashville. Apparently it’s a community made-up of the Music City success stories, including Wynonna and Ashley Judd, Montgomery Gentry’s Troy Gentry, Keith Urban, etc., and I modified my route on my way north in order to pass through. When I arrived in the quaint town, full of art gallery’s, high-end furniture and household trinket shops, I stopped in the recommended Joe’s Naturally organic food stop that’s owned and operated by a New York City native who up-and-left one day to buy a farm. I would have taken Evelyn and Bill up on their offer, but the locals were busy setting up for the Cork in the Fork wine and music festival and the $100 tickets kept me on my way toward Nashville.

I pushed on up the Natchez Trace Parkway, a famed bicyclist route, to make it to the Music City for some Saturday night listening opportunities, but what I got instead was hooked up with a middle-aged hostel maintenance manager who talked my ear-off about his burgeoning music career over his O’Douls in a jukebox bar.

“So do you play any instruments,” I asked, assuming the answer would be positive considering the cut-throat competition in the Tennessee town.

“Naw,” he replied. “I tried once, but…”

“Do you write songs,” I continued.

“No. Tried that too,” replied the karaoke singer.

It was a sad scene, but just like the Hollywood hopefuls I’ve met in L.A. with delusions of grandeur, Nashville’s got their own American Idol dreamers.

I skipped out to the livelier Music City Hostel for Sunday night and hit the town with a good group of travelers until the wee hours of the morning … although; we did receive a shock at our initial venue when the first band walked on stage. What we thought was going to be some mellow folk music turned into a surfer-punk group of 40-something year-olds wearing matching homemade cotton jerseys and football eye-black. We listened with “you’ve gotta be kidding me” looks on our faces. But fortunately with all of the hair-swinging and teeny-bopper lyrics it turned into a kind of amusing musical comedy.

I left Nashville with chances of rain in the forecast and began twisting through the paved narrow small-town roads until I got to the adorable town of Bell Buckle. The sprinkles started and I stopped to dress Cart-her in his raingear. I snacked in a little gazebo reevaluating my plans to camp at Rock Island State Park.

As I continued down the road the rain got heavier and heavier until the water blurred my vision to the magnitude of a faucet running down my visor. Fall was indeed here; the rain fell, the temperature fell and I fell into a warm bed in Sparta, Tennessee instead of my sleeping bag, before calling the bride to be.

“Teri!” I exclaimed when she answered; happy to hear a familiar voice. “I’m soaked and am hiding from the rain in a budget motel about three hours north of you.”

“Come on down,” she responded, despite the fact that I was about five-days early and she was in a whirl of work, school and wedding planning.

“I’ll see you tomorrow T,” I said with a relieved smile.

Never take for granted the open arms of a friend. I’m lucky to have her and so is her new husband, who, fortunately, is equally as amazing.

My Tran-Am bridesmaid’s mission was a success and so was the Tellico Plains, Tennessee wedding weekend. From the reunion of friends and motorcycle fanatics to rafting, dancing, drinking, hot tub fun and a good DJ who even joined the after party, memories have been made.

(Photo by Andrea Wilson Photography)