Jeff prepared us a lovely breakfast of sausage, bacon and pancakes that we all tucked into with much joy. Eddie was full of excitement that this was the first time he had woken up and been able to ride a bike so was most definitely going to make full use of his newly found freedom. Nicholas would ride with him for a little, but then he would be joining Jeff and me for the beginning of my ride.

Spring break is a huge holiday for students in the US. College kids in particular use it as a time to go and party and places like Panama City and the Keys are packed. Jeff & family would also be going to Florida, but for a different reason. He and Nicholas would be going for their longest tour, a ride from the Gulf to the Atlantic. They hadn’t done much training, and so decided to come out with me.

Having said our farewells to Jenny & Eddie, the three of us rolled on out. Nicholas took the lead and Jeff the tail. They took me along a couple of really beautiful side roads, including one that had a nice gravel road that we got to descend and then cross a ford. They could both point out interesting things along the way and it made me wish I were there a couple of weeks later. Instead of leafless trees, the sides of the road would be covered with beautiful flowers in bloom and buds on the trees. One slight problem, with my visa expiring in late April I didn’t have the luxury of waiting. The abnormally warm winter and light tailwinds every day were definitely helping ease the pain.

Jeff & Nicholas had joined me for about 10 miles to the town of Lake City before having to part ways. It had been a pleasure getting to know them and their family over the previous 18 hours and I was saddened to be going off, but such is the life of a traveller. Always moving, making new connections and then seeing them fade. I try to keep in touch with everyone who emails me, and the blog definitely helps at least me tell my story, but I do need to get better at stopping the connections fading away.

The ride north to take me out of Tennessee was lovely. Jeff and I had sat down and he had helped plot me the best route out of the state and so I was on a quite small road which had the odd truck go past, but was generally delightful. It had my longest climb for a while on heading north from Caryville and then a beautiful descent where I lost all my gain dropping down to Elk Valley.

Just before I hit the Tennessee-Kentucky border I arrived in the town of Jellico. I turned onto the main street and with 1/4 of a mile of TN left, heard a loud hissing coming from my back tyre which had gone flat. I’d felt a small bump repeatedly since dropping into Elk Valley, but hadn’t been sure what was causing it. I didn’t make that link initially and assumed it was just like back in South Bend so retraced my steps, but couldn’t find anything that I could have run over.

I pulled my bags off and took my rear wheel off to work on getting the show back on the road. With the tyre off, I looked and saw a slight cut on it, but it didn’t line up with the hole in the tube so I was a little confused. I ensured that there was nothing in the tyre that could have caused a problem, put in a new tube, re-attached the wheel, threw my bags on the bike and was about to go when I found the problem. My tube was ballooning out of my sidewall which had decided to fail. Thankfully, I’d been given a tyre boot back in Florida which I could slide in to keep me going with a lower pressure.

With my temporary fix applied, I crossed into the Bluegrass State – Kentucky. I’d been in touch with my hosts Tom & Becky about my arrival time and with my slightly delayed start, wheel problems and hilly terrain it was starting to look like I wouldn’t arrive until the sun had gone down. The lower pressure and weakened sidewall meant I was also having to ride more carefully to ensure things didn’t get any worse. I stopped at McDonald’s and called Tom to speak about the situation. He offered to drive down to pick me up and I accepted.

30 minutes later, Becky pulled up and we put my bike on her bike rack. Tom was feeling under the weather and so she had driven over instead. We nattered the whole way back to Keavy where after cleaning up, the 4 of us headed out to Cracker Barrel – a southern staple, then I was taken to the the first KFC. When we got back home I went to grab my PC to show some pictures and passed out on the floor.

Riding with Nicholas & Jeff