Ash to Nash: Pioneer Edition
Riding your bicycle… from Asheville, NC to Nashville, TN. We had our suspicions this would be one of those classic adventures that becomes the stuff of many a tall tale.
“I once rode my bicycle from Asheville to Nashville!”
“Yeah ok Grandma, time to put down the wine spritzer.”
Start off in the charming foothills of Beer City, meander your way through the Great Smokies, descend through the Tennessee Valley, and then climb over the Cumberland Plateau before dropping into the land of country music and moonshine. All on your trusty bicycle. All in seven days. The pioneer edition of the ~360 mile AshtoNash bike ride was held from June 5th – June 12th and included 17 brave souls (nine women and eight men) willing to trace a route that few humans have traced before. We can say this with confidence based on our conversations with locals who seemed to liken it to riding your bike from the moon.
The Kickoff Party
AshtoNash kicked off Saturday afternoon with incredible vibes at the Andy Herod Art Gallery in the River Arts District of Asheville. There was great food from a taco truck, cold beers, a three legged dog, funky art, laughter, lots of maps, bad jokes, opening ceremony tarot cards, and excellent banjo music by Old Sap. We also talked everybody through our suggested route to Nashville which they all promptly ignored. (If you missed it, check out the suggested route here.
The group was evenly split between male and female riders and we were soon to find out that the ladies made it the most Lost of all (read on to see what we mean).
Most teams clocked over 360 miles and more than 18,000 feet of elevation gain in the 7 days. One team missed the start line due to a bit of a longer than anticipated layover at the kickoff party bar.
“Kitty Litter” Christian won the rad bike award for rocking out in his 1984 bike with recycled kitty litter panniers.
Andrew Cavell (who recently joined the Lost Leaderboard) 3D printed a custom banana holster to purposefully pack his potassium. The banana survived into day three despite the haters calling for its demise.
All the pioneers were provided with these amazing custom cycling caps from Walz Caps. We heard over and over again from people how much they love these hats; and for once we don’t think they were buttering us up.
The following morning the teams showed up to load up on coffee and donuts before putting last-minute touches on their bikes and pedaling towards Hot Springs, NC. Teams that opted to ride 63/209 through Trust/Spring Creek were surprised with a pop-up tiki bar set up in the back of a UHaul truck overlooking the Pisgah National Forest. At least 5 of the 17 made it.
One team of four women dubbed “Dollywood” arrived in Hot Springs so hungry they invited themselves into the cabin of a woman named Freda (trail name “Twin Peaks” for obvious reasons, says team Dollywood) who prepared hot dogs and chili for the ladies. We think a new lifelong friendship was created here.
Most teams put themselves up in Hot Springs (a small mountain town along the Appalachian Trail) that night after ~35 miles and ~3,330 feet of elevation gain. Except for what would earn them the nickname “Bobarosa Crew” who pushed ahead another 18 miles and with the official approval from Fat Bob himself, were allowed to camp in a shed full of picnic tables at the motorcycle bar known for its fried bologna, the Bobarosa Saloon.
Day two saw the teams pushing West towards Pigeon Forge, the home of Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Appalachian-themed amusement park, in a day that had roughly half the elevation gain but twice the mileage.
At this point we heard from a member of team Dollywood who had now fallen off her bike three times and broken her bike seat. One member of the Kitty Litter gang started the trip out with seven stitches on his shin but could only account for five of them. One team decided to avoid the tourist town and rode north through Knoxville, reporting a slew of bike problems along the way. We’ve also learned the hard way that “camping” in Tennessee is just a term you use when you park your air conditioned RV somewhere.
To round out Day 2 the riders had an impromptu meetup at the Smoky Mountain Brewery for hot food and cold beers. They told us their waiter mentioned the dishwasher walked out on the spot and they were propositioned for a way to make some extra cash. No photos followed of them washing dishes so we’ll assume no one took him up on the offer.
Kitty Litter crew opted for camping in a swamp next to a chorus of bullfrogs when everybody else was in a hotel.
Route tracking was done on Wayward:
Up through Day 3 the field was traveling fairly close together but that quickly changed. One team was told by a local bike shop that the biking in Chattanooga was nice and we soon observed a little blue dot heading for Chattanooga. The Kitty Litter gang managed to make great time on the long stretch from Pigeon Forge to Maryville but squandered their progress with a 20 mile “unintended detour” which will forever be known as The Townsend Deviation. Christian shared the lower right photo summarizing his feelings on the whole ordeal.
The ladies of team Dollywood fearlessly gave a 15 mile stretch of the famous “Foothills Parkway” a shot. It’s one of only seven federal scenic parkways in the country and runs along a ridge through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They said the views were unchallenged but the hills were intense. It must have been worth the climb because they rated the parkway as a “must see” stop on the ride.
The Psychedelic Rigatoni + Bobarosa crew were fortunate enough to be in the same neighborhood as the Lost support van and were greeted with a cold beer to boost spirits in their final push to their campground in Anglers Cove just south of Kingston.
Correspondence leading to said beers:
That blue dot was still heading towards Chattanooga…
Later after reaching their campsite in Anglers Cove, Rigatoni also shared this picture of his rear tire:
Day four was hump day for the pioneers. The last day in the Tennessee Valley presenting the pioneers with the sneaky challenge of pedaling up the Cumberland Plateau into the Crossville area.
We heard a lot of great things on this route along Highway 1 through Ozone and Crab Orchard. One team was stopped for some bike repairs when a friendly local pulled over to offer them Pepsi and Peanuts.
The Lost Support van decided to pay a visit to that little blue dot which now appeared to be veering North away from Chattanooga.
“We thought maybe we’d bike down to Chattanooga for fun” – Rachel
“I don’t bike for fun.” – Kiley
They were awarded a few cold beers for their effort and said they’d eventually make their way up North into Sparta by tomorrow after crashing somewhere in Pikeville for the night.
Several teams holed up at hotels in Crossville for the evening but not before barnstorming the local bike shop for all the bike tubes and local knowledge they could get.
With well over half the ride done by day five, at this point we noticed the wear and tear starting to show on the bikes and the riders. Flat tires, being chased by dogs, relentless heat followed by sporadic downpours. All in a days’ work for them. The riders were rewarded with an epic downhill portion on Highway 70 through Bon Air and into Sparta.
Team Dollywood reported they took a breather at Sunset Rock near Bon Air and while standing around the bikes they heard the heartbreaking hiss of a tire relieving itself of all its air.
“And then it started to rain” – Larissa
We caught up with a few of the teams while they were holed up at a fantastic little brewery tucked into the Sparta countryside called Calfkiller Brewing Company. The beer and the staff were incredible and it was mentioned that the owners of the brewery were building a new campground near Burgess Falls, slated to open in 2022.
Sensing the teams were needing a little TLC, Lost organized an AirBnB meetup buried in the hills North of Smithville that night where a peace offering of cold beers and cheeseburgers was made. Only a mile-long uphill gravel driveway was in their way.
The Kitty Litter gang, the legends they are, had decided to push on to Cedars of Lebanon State Park in hopes of reaching Nashville on Day 6.
By the next morning the teams that joined the mountainside meetup in Smithville were off to a slow start. Perhaps because of the amount of brats and Coronas that were inside them, or perhaps because of the 8% grade gravel hill in front of them. Who’s to say?
What we do remember is the Rock N Roll Hobo specifically laughing at everyone else’s flat tires and proclaiming his tires are bulletproof. More on this later.
Kitty Litter gang and Dollywood were headed for Nashville come hell or high water. The Kitty Litter gang had a relatively short distance to cover while Dollywood had to push quite a bit further.
The other teams didn’t have aspirations quite as large and were going to camp at Cedars of Lebanon to break the remaining distance to Nashville into two days. We think it was because they just couldn’t get enough of riding their bikes and wanted to savor every last moment with them.
It was this day when one team played their good fortune of drawing the “summon the Lost wagon” tarot card at the kickoff party and the Lost wagon had no choice but to trawl its way into the cedar forest. Moments after playing the card, Julie of the Kitty Litter gang played her “Two Free Pizza Delivery” card but in a twist asked for them to be delivered to the guys at the campground. Captured below are the guys holding their 32oz beers and chanting “Julie! Julie! Julie!”.
Shortly after the Lost wagon delivered the goods it began to thunderstorm, flooding the campsites with a few inches of water. The wagon was pillaged and turned into a makeshift shelter during the storm. We think that’s where it obtained its funky wet dog smell.
The Rock N Roll Hobo finally showed up shortly after the rain stopped, delayed by, you guessed it, a flat tire. He was a great sport about it though, muttering “You know that’s exactly what I get for saying my tires don’t get flats!”
We think the Kitty Litter gang and Dollywood were enjoying air conditioning and Netflix while this part was going down. And they earned it.
By Saturday (Day 7) we had two teams in Nashville already and the rest approaching from Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Saturday temperatures had real-feel near 104F so the teams were feeling the heat as they cruised on the Stones River Greenway into downtown Nashville towards the finish line.
The finish party took place at 6th and Peabody, home to the Yee-Haw Brewing Company and the Old Smoky Moonshine company. Participants were treated to live music, tacos, and a nice splash of sun-rain while sharing stories of the previous week.
Medals were handed out, as is customary. We also gave a special acknowledgement to the Kitty Litter Crew, Dollywood, and Team Rachel+Kiley. They truly followed the guidance of the Lost Gods by refusing to use the support vehicle to carry any of their gear throughout the trip. The same cannot be said for the (cough) Bobarosa and Rigatoni crews.
The grand prize, a custom Lost toaster, was awarded to Christian Pedersen. Not only did he have the oldest bike… and not only did he camp in the most humid, frog-infested patch of mud anybody could call a ‘site’… and not only take a 20 mile detour in stride… but he somehow seemed to enjoy it.
The official finish line wrapped up with high fives and hugs. For the teams that had enough energy, the electric Saturday night downtown vibe of Nashville was pillaged in the best possible way.
Ash… to Nash.