He began the journey last September, embarking from the North Carolina border in the drizzling rain. He has ridden in snow, sleet, rain and the hot summer sun. Now, nearly a year later, local Pastor Bill Horner has finally completed his ride across Tennessee.
“This endeavor is my hurdle over the midlife crisis, an attempt to ward off old age for at least a couple more months,” said Horner, at the beginning of his journey.
Not a native of Tennessee, Horner has lived in and out of the state since the age of nine. He originally came from the flat lands of Florida. For the past year and a half, Horner has been the pastor at First Baptist Church in LaFollette.
His duties as a pastor prevented him from riding straight through and instead, he has been riding across the state in sections. Because he hasn’t been able to do the journey all at once, traveling it in stages has allowed him to see Tennessee in different seasons.
Horner said he has seen many things while traveling across Tennessee on U.S Highway 70 on his bicycle. “A car is too fast and walking too slow, but a bicycle is just right. It allows the traveler to smell the wood of the sawmills, see the wild turkeys, visit many towns Tennesseans have only heard of, and encounter a local culture which is invisible to the motorists zipping down the interstate,” he said.
An old high school friend traveled from Houston in order to complete the last leg of the journey with him. It took two days for Horner and his friend Barry Chamberlain to complete the final 94-miles and end up on the old bridge spanning the Mississippi in Memphis, finally completing the nearly 575-mile trip at the Arkansas state line.
“It was a wonderful experience; hot and humid, but we made it,” Horner said in a Monday evening interview. He gives much credit to his friend for encouraging him along the way and said he was thankful Chamberlain was able to finish the journey with him.
During the final 94-mile stretch, Horner stopped at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis and saw the famous Peabody Hotel ducks march down the red carpet.
They march the ducks out of the elevator and down the red carpet to the lobby fountain each morning for them to swim and at 5 p.m., each evening they are marched back down the red carpet and up to their penthouse, Duckingham Palace.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Horner said. He also had the opportunity to sample the famous pork ribs at Rendezvous.
He said it has amazed him that at the age of 55, he has been able to make the trip at all.
“This trip has taught me that you’re never too old to realize your dreams,” Horner said.
“If an old man like me can peddle across Tennessee, then the readers out there can realize their dreams as well.”
After the journey was over, Horner said the end was somewhat anti-climatic. He realized, like many travelers before him, it is the journey that matters, not the destination.
“It’s like this bumper sticker I saw along the way that said ‘The journey is the destination’, that sums up this ride very well,” Horner said.
He said the journey was worth it every foot of the way.
“The people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the memories that have resurfaced all together allowed me the opportunity to rediscover the state I love at bicycle speed,” he said.
Horner said he didn’t ride to raise awareness or money for some worthy cause and he’s not out to set any records.
“I’m just riding for the pure pleasure of it, enjoying what the Lord has given us richly to enjoy; the privilege of living in Tennessee,” Horner said.
While he doesn’t have any immediate bike trips planned for the future, Horner said he is looking at the possibility of other trips within the state. However, right now, Horner said he plans to work on writing a book about the experiences from his most recent trip.
He said he wants to encourage people to get out and see the state.
“There’s a lot to do and see in Tennessee if you just take the time to look,” Horner said.
“I’ve seen a lot of little interesting things that add up to a slice of Tennessee, one piece at a time,” Horner said.