Percy Priest Lake to Center Hill Lake, Tennessee

My thought process for this ride was simple: Leave the car parked at home, and ride somewhere nice for an overnight that's a minimum of 50 miles away. I looked at the map and quickly noticed the "lake to lake" possibility as a doable option.

Done, now let's gather the goods and begin riding.

Keep in mind that this is a solo trip for me. If you go with friends or family members, you can share the load and it won't be as heavy for any one person.

Items to gather and pack: Basic bicycle repair items, survival kit, emergency weather items, extra clothes, two-day-plus power food supply (no junk/fast food), camera-iPod-cell phone, four liters of water, sleeping gear, and personal hygiene and safety gear. Also, as an added precaution since I'm riding alone: Email to a friend the link to my route and note where I'll be spending the night.

Okay, it's a little tough on the hills with the weight I'm hauling. I admit it, I'm thinking on some hills, "Man, I wish this fully loaded mountain bike would turn into a light road bike right now." But no such luck; this is part of being self supported on an overnight ride. I may have gone a bit overboard with the food; I'm carrying enough for two and a half days. The only thing I have to replenish is water, which means the way back will be much lighter.

It is at around mile 50 when the ride will take on a different nature. Up to that point it's a regular bike ride on the open road through beautiful country.

My worst mistake was leaving in the early afternoon instead of early morning. It meant I would arrive under the light of the moon; due to logistics at home, it was the best I could do. But that's what bicycle lights are for, right?

The part of the ride on Central Pike is a tad chaotic with Saturday afternoon traffic. Everyone is out riding in their cars on this pretty day, and it's a major shopping day, too. But once I cross over I-840 things are relaxed. Motorists are surprisingly nice, keeping their distance while passing and many encouraging me with their words: "Go legs" ... "Wooohooo!" ... "Make that hill!"

The volume on my iPod goes up a little. My first scheduled stop is at mile 25, at the intersection of Road 265 and Road 266 (Cainsville Road/Trammel Lane). A quick stretch of the thighs, a ten-minute rest with a snack of trail mix, and off again.

The next 25 miles I cross through the town of Watertown, followed by the town of Alexandria. I'm now getting close to my destination; this is where I have to dig deep as the climbs get longer and steeper. The personal challenge really begins here, but I'm rewarded with country vistas. Feeling and sensing all my surroundings -- incomparable to a car ride.

The ride takes a toll on me at the Center Hill Lake area. I'm already tired from 50 miles of hot afternoon riding, to then be faced with the toughest part of the ride with wobbly legs. The drop in temperature is really nice though; a cool 60 degrees in comparison to mid-80s.

There are three campsites as I enter the lake area. One of the three has showers, but it's closed; it'll be worth it to me to ride an extra 15 miles of hills for that hot shower at Floating Mill Recreational Area. (And yes, the hot steamy shower was the best shower EVER!!!!)

At 136 miles (68 miles each way) this wasn't my longest overnight ride, yet it was certainly one of the toughest. Tough due to the hills around Center Hill Lake with an overly loaded bicycle. It was also one of the most memorable. Riding at night under the light of a full moon was spectacular. I finally arrived at the campsite at 2:00 a.m. since I left so late in the afternoon, but the long hot shower more than made up for it.

There are several ways to accomplish this ride. Do only a one-way day trip and have someone meet you at Center Hill Lake to give you a ride back in their car. This way you will not be carrying heavy gear, making your ride easier, but it's still a challenging day ride. Another option is to have friends go to the lake as an advance party and set up camp for the riders -- again, leaving you without the need to haul additional gear. And lastly, the other option is to do it all self supported and overnight as I did it. It all depends on how much and how long you want to ride, your physical ability, and personal preference on riding style or bicycle types. Either way, you can't go wrong; the ride is beautiful and very rewarding.

Tips for this adventure: 1. Leave early morning (rather than early afternoon, as I did). 2. Watch out for the loose dogs guarding their properties on road 141 (north side of Center Hill Lake right after you cross the dam). I had to search hard for an extra ounce of energy to pedal away from at least four Cujos. In a group you may not be messed with, but for the solo rider ... aye yi yi, dogs feel empowered.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Here is a map of the route.

Also, here is the link to a YouTube video of the trip.

Caption, top photo: Custom frame pack is a lifesaver; it served as a mini-grocery store on this trip. The nice kind of pack is the one not on your back.

2 responses so far ↓

Dell Wilson - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Nice S24O. Thanks for sharing. Do you know what was the total weight of your gear (not bike nor bags)?

David G. - Apr 8, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Roughly 30 lbs, give or take a banana. I took much food just in case since I don't do the fast food stops. Will take a little less next time, now that I know.

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