"Running The Trans America Trail"October 16, 2009 by Mike Strawbridge
On March 17, a small band of adventurers set out on a trip across Tennessee's back roads. We followed the route laid out by Sam Correro for his Dual Sport motorcycle buddies. The complete route runs across the country but we only ran a portion of the Tennessee section.
Our group of ralliest met in Sparta, Tn on Friday night. Somehow in the planning, some people thought a midnight start would be cool. Interestingly most of them did not show up.
Our interesting mix of vehicles consisted of Robert's 4wd Toyota pickup, Mark's 4wd Subaru RS and my Jeep Cherokee.
Wilson took time to plot the waypoints on maps for us. We also had Sam's tulips and a couple of different GPS routing results to work with.
After great burgers at Yanni's in Sparta we set out on our adventure. Once we finally decided on an amateur radio frequency that we could all use, we had radio communication between the three vehicles.
The route left Sparta and headed out toward Rock Island state park. This was familiar country to me as my first rally experience back in the early 80's was running these roads on night rallies with the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagle sports car club. In fact, when crossing great falls river, we crossed a bridge that I remembered form my college days. It has not changed much except for maybe some added guard rails. In the dark you approach on a gravel road into a 90 degree turn. As you turn you are greeted with two planks spanning what looks like a giant dark chasm. I s rally not so scary in the daylight but my son got to have the same experience I did when I first saw that bridge in the dark over 20 years ago.
From there we continued on across the back roads and occasional gravel and even rarer water crossings. Having seen pictures on the Transamtrail web site, we were expecting some 4wd style off roading. However, most of the route through middle Tennessee was on paved roads. We did find our first water crossing somewhere around midnight. It was not very challenging in the Jeep or Roberts Toyota but Mark decided to bypass in the Subaru. Wilson quickly re routed him and they met up with us at the end of the gravel.
Somewhere north of Bell Buckle, Tom was driving Robert's truck and decided to try to pick up the pace a bit on a section that switched back and forth between gravel and pavement. We had fun making quick time across the country bit used a lot of fuel in the Jeep in the process. Also, Robert was looking a little green at the next stop.
We took a moment to stretch our legs in Bell Buckle although it was completely closed. Including the gas station marked in the route. We considered going to wake fellow ralliests Bill and Charlie but decided to let them rest. The route did take us right by Bill's house however.
Leaving Bell Buckle, we headed southwest and crossed I-65 somewhere north of Lewisburg. This is one of those bridges you see from the interstate and wonder where it goes.
In the town of Rally Hill, Tn Scott and I got to do a little bit of off roading. Making the turn onto Rally Hill Road, we were greeted by friendly orange Road Closed barrels. With just a bit of prompting from Wilson about investigating why the road was closed, we traveled on. We soon found the reason. From what looked like recent flooding, the entrance ramp to a low water bridge had been washed away and replaced with about 20 yards of mud. About 12 inches of vertical concrete was exposed on the entrance to the bridge with the water flowing merrily around it. I made a quick wade through the water and mud and decided I could do it. With Scott watching form the bank, I crawled through the water and walked my Jeep Cherokee up onto the bridge and across to the other side. I then reversed across the bridge to go pick up Scott. Partially blinded by Mark's headlights, I dropped off the end of the bridge rather abruptly but bounced across the water easily. Scott climbed in and we attacked the bridge once again while Mark and Wilson took the Subaru around on the detour. Meanwhile, Robert and Tom had missed the turn altogether and met up with us at the end of the road having taken the detour by mistake.
Somewhere north of Pulaski and Lawrenceburg we realized that we were not going to pass an open gas station on this back roads route. Robert had prepared for this contingency having extra fuel on board in his pickup but I was not so prepared. Scott and I decided to deviate from the route and proceed directly to Lawrenceburg in search of a 24 Hour gas station. The others followed us. Scott plotted what turned out to be an interesting route across the back country. Probably not too different from the section of the trail we missed.
On the north edge of Lawrenceburg, we found a fuel stop. We fueled up on Gasoline, Red Bull and Peanuts and were back on the road again.
In west Tennessee, we found much more gravel roads and more water crossings. Fatigue also caught up with us just before dawn. Scott nodded off for a moment and I made a wrong turn in a spot where the GPS suggest route was different from Sam's trail. Also about that time, I was talking to Wilson on the radio was they had made a wrong turn as well. While we we getting ourselves sorted out, Robert passed us without knowing it. He was now ahead of us trying to catch up and there other two cars were waiting on him.
Fearing he had gone off course and maybe gotten in trouble, Scott and I retrace to look for him while Mark named Wilson continued. Our search was hampered by the fact that this remote area had no cell phone coverage and poor radio reception. Robert finally regained cell coverage and returned my call. He was as I suspected ahead of us and we asked him to wait. We met back up with Wilson and Mark at our predetermined rendezvous point and then went on to look for Robert. This section was huge fun to run twice as it was mostly gravel and had many water crossings.
Just before we found Robert and Tom, we got to a spot where our GPS was trying top route us into fields and pastures and nowhere near the correct route. We made a couple of quick turn arounds before getting the route corrected with a little help form Robert and Tom via cell phone. We caught up with them in what looked like a great 4wd playground. I am surprised they were not off exploring the hills when we found them just after daybreak.
After crossing the Tennessee river to officially enter west Tennessee, we got on some really fun smooth gravel field roads. These roads were covered with small round river rock that made four wheel drifts way too easy. These roads consisted on short straights connected with 90 degree turns at the edge of different fields. These would be huge fun to run a stage rally on.
Around breakfast time - a little over twelve hours from or start time - we stopped in Selmer for a biscuit. This area is famous as the home of Sheriff Buford T Pusser of Walking Tall fame.
Following the Trans Am trail was not quite what we expected but it was an interesting adventure. Scott and I plan to do it again sometime. We will run in the daylight next time however. For more information on the trans am trail see Sam's web site at www.transamtrail.com
Mike Strawbridge October 16, 2009