Early last Saturday morning, January 28, my goal was to leave the house before 5:00 am and drive across the Upper Cumberland plateau to I-40 East at Crossville, then drive through Knoxville and points further East to Asheville, North Carolina, to meet my friend Eric at a downtown hotel parking lot. I was motoring along that stretch that runs uphill, past the curves, that is between Sparta and Crossville. At my right, to the East, the sunrise backlit the horizon so that it resembled nothing so much as a freight train speeding parallel my course. The picture below doesn’t capture the thundering dawn train I imagined; I must have snapped it about three minutes later after fumbling in my backpack for the camera.
The drive from Stepford to Asheville only took about four and half hours. I enjoyed driving I-40 near the border and through Cherokee Forest into Asheville, especially the tunnels. Although my 1997 850’s horsepower was anemic even in its day, the standard transmission, front-wheel drive car handles superbly. As I drove, I listened to the entire book of Genesis on CD, and experienced a surprising emotional impact the narrative never had upon me when I read it. I arrived at my hotel about 11:30 a.m. local time.
The Sheraton Four Points is, if Tripadvisor and other online hotel review sites are correct, a former Best Western hotel. But the rates were excellent and the location good – a block or two from downtown and right off the freeway. After I checked in, I phoned my friend, Eric, who said he was only a few minutes away. Our goal was to exchange human powered vehicles – a Pouch E68 folding kayak and a 1985 Razesa 12-speed road/touring bike. As also noted somewhere on Tripadvisor, the magnetic room-keys didn’t work, but the friendly staffer at the desk quickly “made” new ones. The room, itself, was a bit small but apparently clean. The room’s WiFi signal was relatively weak, at two bars, but adequate for email, looking at the weather, etc.
We parked at the edge of the hotel’s lot and emptied our cars of gear. I assembled the kayak so Eric could see how it was done; he took photos to help remember. I’m still puzzled by the fact that I always look worse in photographs than I do when I check my appearance in a mirror to make sure I’m presentable before I go outside. I also brought along some miscellaneous gear found a watch I thought I’d lost at a put-in a couple of years ago; it’d probably got stuck to the velcro on a paddling glove for cold-weather I included in one of the boat’s bags. We’d both brought our lunches and ate them in the parking lot while assembling the boat and monkeying with the bike. Here’s a picture of the kayak and gear spread out behind our cars in the parking lot, followed by another picture of Eric riding the Razesa to make sure it could still be ridden and also so I could take the picture of one of his final rides on the bike he bought at Madrid in about 1985.
While we worked in the parking lot, the bus driver for the Liberty University women’s basketball team, in town for a game and staying at the Four Points, came over and talked with us about the kayak and about religion and culture. Something about a folding kayak that never fails to attract the attention of passersby.
I bought that red kayak from Ralph Hoehn at www.pouchboats.com in, I don’t know, maybe late 2005. I wanted something that tracked straight and was sufficiently sturdy that when bracing knees and feet against the frame, the frame itself would not come apart. Ralph’s demo-boat fit the bill, perfectly. When I bought it, it had what I think was its original hullskin – without fore-hatch, deck much faded, a sort of rubber tractor-seat, PVC hull much scuffed and nicked. Ralph challenged me to assemble it without instructions. As with any of the folding kayaks I’ve owned, it took not too much time to look at and think about the pieces to see how they must fit together. I was able to manage the thing without very much difficulty, with maybe one part left over. I assembled it for the first time in the front yard of the first house my wife and I owned.
The faded red deck was about the coral-pink color of the common trumpet creeper or campsis radicans, which I saw growing on the rocky shoreline of Woods Reservoir the second or third time I paddled the kayak, so it came to me as a sort of vision-quest revelation of the kayak’s name. Ralph had told me the kayak had never been named, so I was free to find a name for it.
In this kayak, I explored portions of the Duck River up and downstream Normandy Lake, all of Normandy Lake, all of Woods Reservoir, portions of the Elk River up and downstream Woods Reservoir, and most of Tims Ford Lake. In addition, I paddled Lake Ocoee and Lake Watauga in this kayak.
Here are many of the photos I’ve taken of and from this boat – http://foldingkayaks.org/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=3318 .
About three years ago, now, maybe a little longer ago than that, but not much, I bought a more recent hullskin from Ralph. Although it was used, it was not much used. New hullskin came with a forward hatch, a little better workmanship on the rear-deck closure, as well as better workmanship on the rudder-cables management (plastic sleeves to prevent the cables catching on stowed gear aft, and reinforced exit points on the rear deck). The problem with the new skin is that it never fit quite right, due, in my opinion, largely to PVC tabs holding the sponson sleeves in position. Inflated, the left side tubes always pushed up over the gunwale frame in front, and at right, was significantly lower than it ought to have been. Nothing I tried, in terms of fitting the frame into the skin, could correct this. The kayak paddled fine, but looked odd to me. I guess I’m OCD enough to have been significantly bugged by the left side bulging. Back during the summer of 2011, a couple of times I was so frustrated with the odd fit that I wanted to burn the boat or throw in front of a speeding tractor-trailer rig.
I’m not sure why I got so frustrated with the E68, but I couldn’t tolerate the fact that the deck was uneven left to right. When I mentioned a couple of months ago to Eric that I wanted to burn it, he said, “I like that kayak.” He’s paddled it several times. Here’s a picture of him in it on the Stones River near Manson Pike Trailhead at Murfreesboro:
Eric told me he’d purchased the Razesa bike in Madrid in 1985, at which time he was serving as a short-term Southern Baptist missionary there. He said he bought the bike for around $300.00, and it was a mid-range roadbike he thought comparable to what’s available currently at about $1000.00. Eric said he and another guy had ridden from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast and back using this and another bike. When he got back to North Carolina, he said he’d ridden the Outer Banks a few times with it, as well. Maybe a couple of years ago, I remember him telling me he hadn’t ridden in a long while and that he’d slowed down his jogging regimen. Back pain, leg pain. When I mentioned that during the Christmas holidays I’d ridden a very old (late 60’s to early 70’s) Raleigh Grand Prix at Goldman’s Bicycles, and wished I’d gone ahead and bought it at $119.00, he mentioned that he’d had the Razesa in a trainer stand for the past three years using it as a clothes rack. Said I could have that bike. I began researching downtube shifting and Razesa bicycles.
The bike’s got a lugged frame, Weinmann brakes, Weinmann rims (the original rim on the back and a newer rim on the front), Shimano 600 derailleur, Simplex (according to Chuck – and I found a West Coast Craigslist ad with photos that seems to confirm this) shifters. I think the frame’s about 54 centimeters. The steel frame bike is lighter than my aluminum Trek Navigator. The lugs have some cool decorative cut-outs. The rack is original, and Eric included a couple of panniers purchased at the same time.
Later on we had supper at Mafel’s downtown, a place we chose because Eric wanted the salmon advertised on the Daily Specials chalkboard. Turned out to be a good choice – good food and a waitress who laughed at our jokes. Inside, somebody’d turned the music up too loud; we ate at a table outside protected from the wind by plastic and vinyl side-curtains. I took pictures of stuff I saw; because my camera bounced out of my sweatshirt pocket while riding around the parking lot earlier, the SD card got scrambled and I lost some of them.
The drive back Sunday was pretty uneventful. I stopped off at the scenic overlook as I drove down to Sparta from Crossville. I was reminded again that the state of Tennessee is a good deal more than its government – it’s the land, air, water, living things and what the people living here make of it. Government is limited because it can be nothing else – a flawed human construct. Below are some photos I took from the overlook.