U Tenn, more great riding, the cleansing power of riding in turns, Davy Crockett and earthquakes.

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Rocinante slept in the hotel’s garage, lucky her. Breakfast was one of the best ones of the trip at Pete’s! University of Tennessee seems like a great place and I had a great chat with Prof. Nuria Cruz-Cámara. It looks like the especialist in Siglo de Oro is retiring soon, so I must keep an eye on that situation.

From there it was back on the road. I took a detour to explore the mythical Smoky Mountains for some awesome riding. When you are riding in the turns it requires 100% of your concentration. You need to see where the turn is going, your speed and banking have to be in synch with the turn. Too slow and it’s boring, too fast and you hurt yourself. So there is a sweet spot. While you are there you can’t be thinking about the layers of narration in Don Quixote.

There I am, on the zone, linking the turns, enjoying the riding, climbing into the Smoky Mountains, when right there is the biggest baked bean factory, I’ve ever seen. Bush baked beans, amazing! I stopped to check out the museum and gift shop. After a deer mom and her baby decided to cross the road right in front of me I returned to the highway, for the rest of the day. Lunch was at Davy Crockett’s birthplace! Delicious pulled pork sandwich. They had a TV going with Fox news going nuts over an earthquake somewhere in Virginia. I love the alarmism. A few miles down the road I actually had to stop for a siesta. Riding through Virginia was impressive, hills and mountains all around for hours and hours, it actually is a bit of a strange feeling, somewhat disquieting.

With no humidity, it cooled down in the evening. I put on my jacket and even my baclava. The last hour approaching Charlottesville was freezing, I had to alternate hugging the engine with my hands for warmth.

I finally made it to University of Virginia. It is beautiful, Jefferson designed the campus which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I’m excited about my meeting tomorrow, but sad it is my last visit.

The best ride of my life. Day 17, Leg 11 Vanderbilt, Nashville to Knoxville.

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Chatting with Liliana, the wonderful coordinator of the Spanish Dept. I fell in love with the Vanderbilt PhD program. Then I met a couple of professors and I love the vibe. Lisie  Michel, Walnut Hill ’09 being the wonderful, sweet, great girl that she is treated me to a coffee and a tour of the campus, which is beautiful. It was great catching up with her.

After 36 long, boring hours in Nashville I was happy to get out of town.

Now, the ideal time to go on a road trip, as we learn in the classic, highly informative, almost documentary movie Animal House is when one’s situation is desperate, but one is not ready to give up (“Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Asks John Belushi). A more politically correct way would be in Van Morrison’s words, during a “period of transition”. So there I am, and I am leaving Nashville, after over two weeks on the road, it hits me, what the Greeks call a catharsis, and I am terribly sad about all the changes in my life. An hour out of town I stop at a truck rest area and call my brother Theo in London, and he expertly and on his easy way calms me down. Some chocolate and water, a full tank of gas and I’m recovered for what is the best ride of my life.

About an hour out of Nashville I go off the highway and into the back roads. These are the ancient, rolling hills of Tennessee. Farms, and forests and crops and ponds and valleys and hills. Sometimes I thought I was in Switzerland, others it was very evident I was in rural Tennessee. There was a disproportionate number of bikers on the road, proving that I was on the right road, I did not want it to end. But then I arrived in Knoxville and I fell on love with it! I can’t wait to visit the school tomorrow!

Day 16 Off. Nashville

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We had thunderstorms all night. I got up early and went down the street to have a coffee with my friend Karen who was dropping off her daughter at Vanderbilt. After (a free) breakfast back at the hotel I went to a fantastic mass at the Nashville cathedral of the Incarnation. It is a great and beautiful church, there was great music from the organ and trumpet and a singer with an angelical voice. Of course the theme today was: “The ways of the Lord are inexcrutable”. The cathedral sits back to back with Vanderbilt so I went for a nice walk around the beautiful campus full of grand old trees while I had a long conversation with my brother Theo in London.

Nashville has a full scale reproduction of the Parthenon, making the city “the Athens of the South”. I went to check it out. Still, I prefer the original.

Making the most of my hotel deal I had a great workout in the gym and a dip in the pool, before doing my homework for my new school BB&N, about “digital natives”. Then it was time for laundry and ironing while watching old movies on TV.

I walked to downtown Nashville: 95% tourist trap, 5% kitschy cool. I did have a decent burger at Mojo’s and an ice cream (chocolate if you don’t know me that well) at Mike’s.  Two miles walk back later I was at the hotel. I’m happy Rocinante got a rest today, I love that bike.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

I have been thinking of this poem a lot on my ride. Maybe it was thinking of the snow in the Texas heat, or thinking of Rocinante, at any rate, enjoy:

Robert Frost

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Leg 10 (part II), Day 15. Texarkana to Nashville Tennessee

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The heat was much milder today. I crossed Arkansas without blinking. Actually I did stop to take a photo of the exit for the village where Bill Clinton was born and for lunch in Little Rock. It is very nice, there are streetcars, and it is the place where racial integration in schools started in 1957 . The office of tourism is in an old mansion where I had a good laugh with the girls and I had lunch on the River Walk. I had catfish again in this great place, the Flying Fish! I had a coffee and Tiramisu with a fellow Harley rider talking about Spanish soccer (in Little Rock, Arkansas!!!) and I continued into Memphis.

Crossing the Mississippi, even for the second time, is an awesome experience.

The cradle of American music and the birthplace of Rock and Roll, Memphis is a very spiritual experience (if you are into the blues and rock and roll that is).

It was five pm so I decided to press on to Nashville for a couple of reasons: to have the day off from riding on Sunday, to increase the chances of going to a decent mass. What I did not take into account was that it was Vanderbuilt University moving in week-end, so hotels were booked. I managed a great deal with Larry at the Holiday Inn – big shout out for everybody that has helped me out so much on this trip! The hotel is the nicest I have stayed in so far, and I am excited.

Report on the flora and fauna

Like Lewis and Clark or Darwin on the Beagle, I too, being a natural science and biology aficionado have a research component to this trip. I have made careful observations on the flora and fauna along the way. Although my trip is far from over, here is a detailed report on my findings:

Flora:

A lot, except in central Texas. I love the huge magnolias, but my favorite are the humongous rhododendrons.

Fauna:

Armadilloes: Six, dead on the side of the road.

Birds: Many of the regular variety, plus of the falcon and vulture kind. A lot of egrets/herons in Louisiana of all sizes and colors, proving that you can never be too thin nor too cool.

Buffalos: none

Cats: a few strays around gas stations and hotels.

Cows: thousands

Deer: A bunch, the first one on the lawn of a house in Georgetown in Washington D.C.

Donkeys: unexpectedly, a lot.

Goats: Also surprisingly a lot, even of the rare Boer breed.
Fish: mostly dead and fried, on my plate.
Horses: hundreds
Lions: none, although I did see a sign for a drive through safari park in Texas. These, however, are not recommended when you are on a motorbike.

Sheep: Remarkably, none

Squirrels: Of course, although less than in New England
Skunks: half a dozen, (see armadilloes)

Zebra: No, wait, no (see Lions)

Halfway, turn around day, 107° in Texas

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Yes, I was sipping a short latte at Starbucks in UT Austin, sad to head back, not looking forward to another blistering day under the Texas heat, wishing I could ride on and on (even in the heat).

Everything in Texas really is bigger. UT Austin has fifty odd thousand students, 100 grad students in the Spanish dept., two, not the usual one Cervantistas, a skyscraper instead of the usual bell tower or chapel. At any rate, I had a very nice chat with Prof Laura Rodriguez and they obviously run a Texas style department: big and good.

To call UT a campus is a misnomer, city is more appropriate. Their own electric plant, water plant, etc., etc. Before leaving I stopped in their Catholic chapel and took some time in prayer and reflection before starting my ride home.

From there it was back roads all the way to the top Northeast corner of Texas, Texarkana.

The riding was beautiful, but the heat extreme.

In a little roadside place, Lee’s Landing, I had the best catfish I’ve ever had, they also make these great jalapeño poppers, and chocolate balls! Lee is the owner, he’s a great guy and a crazy biker!

The heat continued into the evening, although the sky was clear, there were a couple of showers but I just powered through them cooling me and poor Rocinante down, and making the ground smell cool and sweet. Despite the heat, the ride was beautiful. Traveling around this huge, great country you notice all the subtle changes in vegetation. Moving North on Rocinante I started to see more and more tress and the occasional patches of grass become bigger and bigger.

My objective was Texarkana on the border with Arkansas so I stopped for a quick dinner – making friends with a guy that collects old Spanish artifacts from the conquistadors! and I pressed on to Arkansas. The heat continued in the 80s and 90s well into the night.