Leaving the Smokey East

Photography and writing
Patience Melton,
Route Feminent's first sponsored rider.

When you have no timeline and no home to get back to, time becomes obsolete. Riding for me is about the slow all-body-encompassing experience of the road. Each peddle forward is not only heightening your bodies experience, but also pushing you towards your next destination. Before setting out on May 4th I had a few personal growth goals to achieve, the main one was to learn how to let people help me.

The first night on the road, I set my tent up just before it started pouring. It was only 30 miles outside of the town where I started my tour in Cleveland, Tennessee.

The unevenly lit bathroom at the campsite had a fly swatter on a nail too high for a person to reach, which seemed more like a warning sign to bugs. The showers buttons were so strange. I spent what seemed like forever trying to get them to turn on. The stall I settled on had America written along the wall in thick black sharpie. I'm not sure if it was a reminder, or to show pride.  America the brave. 

 It's so funny how the first night of tour I felt gross from sweating and sleeping outside, but after a week of riding I sleep and ride in the same outfit without a second thought.

Riding through the very edge of Tennessee towards the mountains led me down lots of back roads. Lots of farms, fenced in roaming animals, and fields of yellow. With no destination that day, it was so easy to spend twenty minutes or more taking photos.

To go east you have to cross the Smokey mountains. I was advised by the owner of a motorcycle campsite to take the Cherrohala Skyway all the way over. It's a scenic road stretching 40 miles and reaching an elevation of 5000 feet.

Mostly climbing. Almost all climbing. For a person who was only on day three of riding with gear, it's safe to say I walked my bike. I cursed every item in my pack.

"Fuck that pair of hiking shoes, fuck that camping stove, fuck the extra water."

There was only one official camp stop on the road, Indian Boundary Campground.

When I got there, I stopped at the camp store eager to eat everything. I grabbed an orange cream popsicle, a chocolate popsicle, can of pinto beans, mini bag of doritos, fritos, and cheetos. Oh and a moon pie.

Don't worry,  I had nourishing breakfast that morning.

That night an older couple came over with a bag of food. "Hello!" they said as they approached my tent. "Hi." I nervously responded, not having talked to many people in the past few days. They handed me the bag containing a few hard boiled eggs, chips, chocolates, a bottle of water, and a cold beer. I was so excited to have more food. They asked a few questions about what I was doing. "Oh, you are bike touring?" and "Wow your traveling solo, you are so brave." They left and came back a few hours later as I was about to fall asleep. The came back with a package of chocolate bunnies and a hundred dollar bill. At first I hesitated with the money but they insisted while inviting me to breakfast.  During breakfast we talked about the campground and their lives as retired business professionals.

They invited me to go see their favorite waterfall in the area. Having felt like part of the family I jumped the chance to tag along. Although trusting people on the road can be tricky, I think I've learned when to trust my gut.

So we road to the waterfall and had a blast taking photos and talking about their adventurous lives. They were so proud of me to be with them. So excited to hear about my trip.

I experienced that a lot on the road. People being proud of me. Excited to tell the regular people in their life that this single lady was touring around America on her bike.

I'd be lying if I didn't say that feeling of encouragement is more fulfilling than a gas station muscle milk.

Camping towards the coast started to get expensive so I started utilizing warmshowers.org  The people I've met on that site are beyond words. I am now adopted by three different families and feel like I've made lifelong friends.  After only a day with many hosts, a lot of mutual tears were shed.

People were openly offering me so much, but asking people to help me out was hard still hard. To let go of that amount of control meant that is wasn't just me doing it all, that I wasn't in control a hundred percent. 

Though once I did, I experience a lot of doors opening. I saw one of my favorite bands, The Vaccines, were playing in Richmond, Virginia. I messaged them asking if they could hook up a broke touring cyclist with a ticket. They said yes. So at the end of my two weeks on tour I was dancing in a crowed concert, to the music that fueled my 800 miles to get there.

"You've seen the world, what did it look like. You took a plane, I'll take a push bike" Is my favorite line by The Vaccines.

Taking my bike makes me feel like part of the world. It's one of the few ways to experience an intense level of connection with people and environments. I feel like I can ask for help when I need it, I feel like I can even use to lose a little more control. 

Patience Melton

Patience is a talented photographer and storyteller, whose story above shares her experience of being hit with that desire to leave your life behind for a new experience. In spring of 2016 she left from Tennessee to meander across the country again by bike, the loose goal being to end up in the west. This is Patience's first entry from that adventure, and Patience is Route Feminent's first sponsored rider. Be sure to blow up her instagram and tumblr.

We have a growing number of essays written for and paid by our Route Feminent project: a fundraiser to help support adventures for women and non-binary cyclists. You can help this project pay for and share more stories by purchasing a rad, little sticker pack in our store.

Other Route Feminent Contributions