I woke up off and on throughout the night, partly from the lower than expected temps and partly from sleeping on just the rocky ground. Around 5am, I decided I had enough, and started packing things up so I could get on my way. Since it was so cold, I stayed in full gear as I put away the tent and strapped it on the bike with the rest of my gear.
With the sun barely up, I was off, ecstatic to finally be on schedule. I pulled up the day’s track in the GPS as I navigated out of the park. Moments later, I had dirt and gravel passing beneath my tires as I began the Trans-America Trail. After a few miles, I stopped underneath a railroad trestle for a photo opportunity and remembered my rear brake issues. It still worked, but I didn’t feel like stressing the zip tie more than I needed to.
Shortly later, I reached a state highway and made a decision: even though the Eastern TAT is considered easy, my limited skills off-pavement weren’t good enough to overcome a crippled motorcycle. I would stick to paved streets, but would still follow the basic TAT route as best I could, intersecting the trail in various spots as I went.
And so I traveled across northwest Mississippi, through one small town after another, many the size of only a couple of city blocks. Several towns looked like ghost towns, while others I felt would soon become one. In many, I noticed that the post office was not only the center point of the town, but it would be the nicest building the town had. As I rolled through each, I wondered what people did for a living, reflecting that while I hated several aspects of living in a city like Washington, I could never live in a town as small as Crenshaw or Lula.
I soon left Mississippi for Arkansas, and as I crossed over the river, I realized that while I’d crossed the Mighty Mississippi well over a dozen times in my life, this was the first time I could remember making the crossing by a route other than I-40. Despite that though, I’d still be taking the interstate into the city. I tucked in once more as I merged onto the Interstate. Much like the Washington Beltway, I-40 speeds topped 80mph. While I liked the time I was making, I hated the wind pushing against me. Just outside the city however, I had my reprieve, forced to a stop as traffic backed up into the distance. Luckily, an exit was beside me, and I cut over to take it. There, my luck ended as I traded one traffic jam for another. Several minutes later, after covering barely a half mile, I saw a Best Buy and jumped at the chance to get out of the traffic, justifying the detour as being the perfect time to replace my lost GoPro.
Half an hour later, I was back on the bike with a new camera tucked into my empty cooler. Traffic hadn’t thinned, and in the midday heat I regretted never taking off my insulated weather pants. I slowly made my way back to the interstate, where I saw an overturned dump truck blocking the highway just prior to the on-ramp. I passed it, picking up speed and happy to be moving again as I made my way to my uncle’s house for the night.
I showed up barely before he did, the garage door opening as I parked the bike. He greeted me with a hug and let me pull the bike into the garage as he let out his wife’s two small Yorkshire Terriers. One ran to greet me, remembering me from years past, while the other was terrified of me, still in my full gear.
We caught up on the last few years over drinks and burgers, and he told me of a late relative of mine who had made several cross-country trips on an old Triumph. I jokingly said that was where my pull for this trip came from.
After dinner, I threw my clothes into the wash and my uncle drove me to the parts store. Maybe because this was an Advanced Auto Parts, instead of an O’Reily like I had gone to the previous day, I found the bolt I needed, an M10x1.25×20. I pulled it from the rack, and picked up some blue Loctite for extra security.
Once back home, I had just started another round of repairs to the bike when my aunt came in from work. We greeted each other warmly, her not caring about the grease on my hands. A short time later, the bike was back together again, fixed. With that done, I went to bed.