The Overnight: Bell's Bend Edition

Photos & text by Nick Valdes

Summer is the season for implementing winter day dreams - if there is such a thing in LA. I left Nashville and friends for the mountains and sunny skies of Los Angeles one year ago today. No regrets, I love Southern California: the people, the culture, the sprawl, the mess, the haze. But that cannot cloud my memories. I also love Nashville, Tennessee and the Southeast. For no particular reason, Nashville always seems the best place to celebrate my country's independence.

My visit would be short lived, but what better way to see my old stomping ground than with the friends who introduced me to it along with new faces. The plan fell into place easily -- text messages sent the night before my arrival read, "hey let's get out on a quick camping trip. Sunday night?"

"I think I can swing that" the general consensus.

After the heat and humidity gave some the excuse needed to stay home, the group widdled down to ten. Some camped, others saw us to our destination, Bell's Bend State Park, and continued their ride elsewhere.

Our ride left from the center of my world in Nashville, Halcyon. After a little convincing I was able to get everyone to give me a few minutes in front of the lens and Steph was kind enough to get a group photo. We left the new-wave glam of 12 South for a more fitting tour of Nashville, heading north through the historic North side of town. It wouldn't be a journey in Nashville without a feeling of regret stumbling upon another historic building leveled to dirt, awaiting something new but lacking the undefined characteristic Nashville of old. Still, there was more to love. Children and neighbors out and about along Buchanan Avenue watched the sunset and greeted us with cheers as we rode by - we did our best to answer with waves and makeshift bells of cable strikes on bare top tubes. The heat gave us consolation -- a radiant sunset, the type of big sky I've come to miss. I was too lost in enjoyment of the moment and discussions of the heat to notice we missed our turn towards Ashland City. We resigned to the scenic route. I was fine with that.

We reached the boundaries of the city that have yet to be tamed with development, still blanketed with deep green lawns dotted with mid-century landscape homes. Crossing under the tracks on West Old Hickory was a stark boundary that we'd left Nashville (though officially that was miles back); each pedal motion we rode closer to the city as the crow flies yet further isolated ourselves in the Bend until the Cumberland River surrounded us on three fronts.

We were quick to set up camp and strip down. Then we split, making use of the little light left - some to ride trails, others towards the boat ramp to take a dip in the Cumberland and look back towards the city. It was a day before the Fourth of July, and I couldn't help but think that we all did it up right. As I often do, I quietly took photos of others, enjoying their enjoyment. The sun set and the water was barely cool. Our bikes were parked at the water's edge, clothes hung on the guard rail.

"Where y'all ride from?" A voice from the tree line above startled me as I made shelter for my camera with a camp towel.

"Nashville," not knowing if my honesty would be perceived as sarcasm.

"Wow. That's a helluva ride!"

"Perfect night for a bike ride," I replied. Our conversation continued, covering all the reasons why we would do such a thing. He was perplexed but admiration was palpable.

From the heavily wooded ledge above the boat ramp, I never made out the silhouette of the man with whom I spoke. By our standards this was a quick jaunt from town. Twenty -- maybe more, maybe less -- miles. But he is right. It was a "helluva ride."


Nick currently resides in Paonia, CO -- follow him on Twitter @nick_valdes

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker

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