If you traveled the Sevier County segment of State Route 338, Old Sevierville Pike, in the past month, you likely were held up in traffic as the venerable historic road once again underwent paving.
Twice in three months preceding the recent paving I had occasion to ride a bicycle both ways over the 10-mile stretch from Seymour through the historic and scenic Boyd's Creek community. I encountered hardly a blemish in the previous surface, noticed nary a crack or pothole, and bicyclers notice such things.
Our state roads are smooth as silk in places because every time you buy gas in Tennessee you pay 21.4 cents PER GALLON to the state. The Department of Transportation gets 12.8 cents of that. Last year TDOT gathered in about $375 million. TDOT has more money than it knows what to do with, so it gets creative and redundant, paving and repaving roads before they need it.
In a state hurting for funds for schools, the arts, health and environment, this money should be spread around. Just last year the state government killed a land acquisitions fund that had been set aside to preserve historic, scenic and wildlife-friendly lands. A transfer of just one penny from the gas tax could have saved that fund, along with a lot of scenery and species that surely will perish. Bicyclists notice things like that too.
My wife Jeanne and I recently rode the Virginia Creeper Trail all the way from the Whitetop Community to Abingdon. It's a user-friendly ride, where one may trundle or fly along hardly pedaling for 20 miles, as the trail descends 1,500 feet through ancient upheaval.
Natives blazed portions of the trail hundreds of years ago. Later, Daniel Boone and other pioneers expanded the trail. It's called the Virginia Creeper because it follows the course of the old Virginia-Carolina Railroad, over which steam engines were forced to creep along a century ago, but the steep grades and sharp curves worked to our advantage.
We loaded our bikes onto a trailer at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop in Abingdon, Va, and were shuttled up to Whitetop. An hour-long, serpentine drive through the wilderness led us to an old train station now serving as an information and comfort center.
From there we pushed off and began coasting and coasting and coasting, mile after mile through beautiful expanses of forest that opened suddenly to reveal mountain vistas. We crossed high wooden trellises that skirt rushing waters, bluffs, thickets and scenic valleys. Ghostlike, we glided past lonely old depots and houses where children paused in their play to stare with wondering eyes. We stopped to listen to bluegrass pickers at an outdoor cafe before gliding on past trout fishermen and families with picnic blankets and caves and rock ledges along the changeable Holston River.
Most bicyclists stopped in the old town of Damascus, where they had parked their cars, or else caught shuttles back to Abingdon. Those bikers hardly broke a sweat, so easy is the trail, but Jeanne and I pressed on, adding a dozen miles to our ride and quite a bit of pedaling, but the payoff was a great ride amid leaves just beginning to blush. The colors must be breathtaking by now.
I gasped in wonder one recent autumn day, as I frequently do when running. I was on the last mile of a five-mile gambol over hills and valleys. Already it had been a good run, with leaves spinning and waltzing down around me in three-quarter time--each leaf's design determining its aerodynamic dance. Calves and colts and fillies that had appeared on the landscape in gangly-legged confusion and wide-eyed wonder in the spring had matured into dignified and stolid beasts, but the sky above was wild, suffused with all the colors of wine.
Mesmerized by the rhythm of my running, I didn't bother turning when I heard something stirring on the steep hillside above to my left. Probably a dog or a cow, I thought. Only when I heard it crashing loudly behind did I turn to look.
A six-point buck was running headlong through the foliage straight down the hillside and now down a road-bank so steep that I couldn't have followed without falling. The big buck took it in stride. Plunging down antlers first he crossed the road where I'd just run, then he leapt down the near-vertical hill on the lower side of the pavement in one of the most graceful and athletic feats I've ever witnessed.
Dead in my tracks I tried to follow his course visually but soon lost him among the trees along the banks of a creek. Only then did my over-taxed lungs remind me to catch my breath. It was a beautiful moment that brought time and the world to a standstill.