Natchez Trace Parkway National Park
Journal of Frank E Briscoe
April 16-23, 2010
Brief History of the Trace:
Way back when, buffalo migrated along a north south corridor from what eventually would become Nashville, TN in the North and Natchez, MS in the South. Approximately 1,500 years ago Native American Indians began following the buffalo and a trail was born. In the late 1700s traders began following the trail north after having floated down the Mississippi River on rafts carrying various goods such as furs, tobacco, crops and what have you. The Mississippi’s current was too strong for these early traders to float their rafts back up river, so they would disassemble their rafts and sale off the lumber. Then they would either walk or purchase a horse and make their way back up river to Nashville via this Indian trail which became known as the Natchez Trace.
Many of these traders were from the Ohio and Tennessee River valley and were referred to as “Kaintucks”, a hardy breed of men that braved traveling the Trace. Andrew Jackson once remarked “Kaintucks” had three common attributes; they carried a rifle, plug of tobacco and a jug of good whiskey. Needed attributes as a description of traveling up the Trace is as follows: This early interstate road building venture produced a snake-infested, mosquito-beset, robber-haunted, and Indian –traveled forest path. Lamented by the pious, cussed by the impious, it tried everyone’s strength and patience. Two infamous robbers on the Trace would use a hatchet to hack off the head of their victims to take what few belongings the poor soul had on him.
Given the above details of the hazardous journey up the Trace it’s hard to believe anyone other then the “Kaintucks” would be foolish enough to make the trip. Especially considering the average amount of money from selling whatever including the raft they floated down river on would net them about $40.00. The arduous trek back up the Trace would take 5-6 weeks and generally the individual would arrive back in the Nashville area without any of the money he started with in Natchez. I sure know I’d be carrying a rifle and downing some whiskey to soothe my nerves, too.
In 1800 President Thomas Jefferson authorized the Trace to become America’s first National Highway to the far Southwest. Yep, back then our Country’s furthest southwest was Natchez. The Spanish claimed ownership of the rest of North America to the west and up to Canada. To build this “Highway” special permission and treaties were signed with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations who lived on the land the Trace passed thru. This narrow corridor allowed for safe passage of folks from these Indian tribes. Widening and clearing of the trail, was all that was done to build a “Highway” back in those days and the establishment of Stands “Inns” every 10-12 miles for folks traveling the Trace to overnight safely.
Once Steamboats came into being in the late 1830s-40s folks could travel much safer up river by this means and the importance of the Trace fell off dramatically. In 1905 a fellow wrote an article about the Trace, some gals with the Daughters of the American Revolution liked what he wrote and adopted the Trace as their “Official” project. Their goal, get the Trace made into a National Park which was accomplished and authorized by Congress in 1935. Finally, in 2005 the actual dedication and completion of the Natchez Trace took place. The Park Service initiated this 450 mile park long Parkway for non-commercial use and designated it as a Bicycle Route, too. Since then, many bicyclists have ridden the Trace. The Trace has been written up in one Bicycle Publication as “one of the 10 Top Places to ride a bicycle in the USA”.
Now that you have a snapshot history of the Trace I’ll share with you my motivation to ride the Trace, the whole length of the Trace. Of course, soon as I read the article about the Trace as one of the Best places to ride a bicycle and given its relative closeness to Nevada, Missouri, I knew I’d have to ride it.
Also, the Trace starts relatively flat in the South and becomes increasingly hilly as one travels North toward Nashville so this would be a good chance for me to see what it’s like to do self-contained and credit card type touring on a bicycle. My ultimate goal is to celebrate my 65th Birthday by riding across America which will be the summer of 2011. I’m hoping to start in the Anacortes up in Northwest Washington State and finish in Key West, Florida, going Corner to Corner.
What you won’t read much about in this journal are all the wonderful and interesting historic sites and points of interest along the Trace, over 100 of them on the Trace, and the many civil war battlefield memorials within easy driving distance. Rather I’ll be concentrating on what I learned about myself, my ability to ride a bike with all the gear needed to be self contained (carrying camping gear) and credit card riding where you carry a minimum of clothing, stay at Bed and Breakfasts and eat meals at restaurants. I’ll also share my observations of the folks met on the Trace and the places where I stayed over-night. As in life this journal is about the journey not the destination.
April 16 Day One: Covered just over 58 miles in 5:06:51 Actual ride time for an average speed of 11 ½ mph.
Up early, ate a continental breakfast at the motel before setting out. We first stopped at a National Park Service historic mansion and plantation near the entrance to the Trace for and extra copy of the map of the Trace for Ronnie and Gwen to use. Ronnie and Gwen are friends who have been gracious enough to haul my bike, gear and me down to Natchez and will pick me up in 8 days, hopefully, at the end of the Trace some 450 miles north of here. They plan to vacation traveling around the South and East of here.
At 9:45 AM my bike is loaded and I’m pumped to get going. Unbelievable, I have all the jitters and nerves I’d feel just before playing football or a wrestling match. Oh no, lesson # 1 actually make a list of equipment you plan on taking on any trip and check off each item before leaving home. I even told Ms. Vickie, before leaving home, this is the first time in years I didn’t make such a list so hope I didn’t forget anything. Well, I forgot to load my hydration pack which has been my primary means for keeping hydrated on bike rides this past 5 years, what an Idiot. Well, fortunately I do have two insulated water bottles and two 20 oz. store bought bottles of water which I’ll have to use instead.
Within a few feet, lesson # 2 learned. Spread the load on your bicycle in all four panniers (same as saddle bags but made especially for bicycles) 2 for the front and 2 for the rear. When I finished packing the panniers at home, I realized I could get all my gear and clothes in the two rear panniers so decided I didn’t need to bother bringing and using front panniers. Wrong! With all the weight on my back wheel made the front end of the bike too light causing me to wobble as I rode. This created a very un-nerving ride for the first couple miles. Thank goodness motor vehicle traffic was giving me a wide birth when they passed. Finally I managed to gain enough control to keep the bike in a fairly straight line but not without causing undue stress on my arms especially the triceps. Why make riding 450 miles easy on one self, I needed this additional stress. Right, all I have to do is keep telling myself this is good for me.
My idea of starting in the South was to have easy flat delta plains riding with a tailwind for the first couple days. To my surprise the road actually is gradually going up, maybe only 1 or 2 degrees but its up and the tailwind is a headwind. Doesn’t sound like much of a big deal until you’re pedaling a bike with gear weighing in excess of 85 pounds plus a body weight of 210. Lesson # 3 when you have a choice of which direction to travel be sure to include, check the over-all gradient to help determine which direction to start. About 30 miles into the ride I was beginning to fatigue. Hmmmm! Only another 24.7 miles to my first night’s destination, piece of cake ride for the first day. I can tell already, this trek is going to be a learning experience of epic proportion for successful bicycle touring.
Feeling really hungry and having read the availability of food on today’s ride my only place to stop was Port Gibson at mile post 40. Lesson # 4, be sure to carry snacks and/or better yet a nourishing meal just in case of emergency. No way, I was going to pass that little town up. Reading local history I learned, when Ulysses S. Grant, the most famous Union General of the Civil War, was savagely rampaging thru the South on a burn and destroy mission he said to his men “Port Gibson is too pretty to burn” and so the town was spared.
As I came into Port Gibson, I caught sight of a street vendor selling BBQ in my peripheral vision and immediately did a U-turn and wheeled my bike over to the little place. Two middle aged gentlemen immediately informed me, “we has the best BBQ in all of Port Gibson if not the whole South”. One with tongs waving in the air announced “We got ribs, sausage, pulled pork and chickin. What’s gonna be”? I go for the chicken. For six dollars I got 4 leg and thigh combinations and some spaghetti meat sauce. Weird, combination but tasted oh so good.
During the 20 minutes or so I was eating my chicken, I think half the town of Port Gibson must have come to these guys for carry-home, we were outside so I can’t say carry-out. After chowing down, I took the opportunity to do a photo op. with these two jolly characters. They were a hoot, seemed like they knew everyone who stopped and what they were going to order before they ordered and always had something nice to say about the folks and their family. I thanked them and told them, “Yep I think you guys have some of the best BBQ I ever had”. In less than a quarter mile I came to a convenience store selling burgers. Well I need something for dinner tonight so stopped and ordered a Cheeseburger with the works to go, along with a couple cokes, chips and a couple bottles of water. When it was ready stuffed it all in the top of one pannier and headed back to the Trace.
Oh crap!!! I’m on a narrow two lane road with no shoulder and about a one foot drop-off heading back to the Trace when I hear the sound of a Jake brake screaming in my ears. Looking in my rearview mirror I see a loaded logging truck bearing down on me at maybe 50 mph or more. The driver kept on his Jake Brake and roared by within inches of me. Thank goodness this wasn’t one of the times I was wobbling down the road as I’m confident I would’ve become a grease spot on the road. Ah, back on the Trace with no commercial vehicles and the relative safety of drivers being courteous when passing a biker. Thank you Lord.
At about mile marker 52 I was beginning to really feel tired. There had been few unexpected hills and hauling all the equipment and clothes I brought along was causing me to ride a couple miles an hour slower than anticipated. Wheeled into Owens Creek Waterfall rest stop, rested my bike against a picnic bench and went for a very short walk into the woods to view the “waterfall”. Are you kidding? There was a trickle of water running over a short drop of a few feet of what I’d consider a more of a run-off stream (meaning when there is a heavy rain the little stream swells up in size due to surrounding area rain water flowing down to this drainage, certainly didn’t meet my expectation of a waterfall. Oh well, it gave me a break from my bike saddle. Almost 5:00 PM, may as well eat my burger, chips and have a coke. Ummmm! Didn’t realize how good a cold burger could taste. As I was finishing my food a motorcycle pulled in. A husband and wife, probably in early 50s, asked if they might join me at the picnic table, which of course I welcomed them as company. They were on an evening stress release ride from Jackson, Mississippi, about 50 miles north of here and only about an hour’s ride for them, almost a full day for me. They asked how much further I was going today. I replied only a couple more miles to Rocky Springs campground. “Oh, we just came from there and there didn’t appear to be any open campsites, you are probably going to have to go on to Jackson to camp”. Clearly this motorcycling couple had no clue as to the time it would require me to ride 50 miles. I thanked them for the advice. I did add according the Park Service information there is always room for a bicyclist to camp as we don’t require much space or needs. They wished me luck and we all remounted our respective steeds and headed off. It only took about 10 minutes to arrive at the campground and to my amazement the very first campsite I came to was vacant. Well though I would have preferred to go deeper into the campground away from motorhomes and travel campers I decided I may as well make camp here then risk having this campsite taken before I could get back to it, just in case the motorcycle couple were right about the campground being full.
Lesson # 5, keep brain engaged. Maybe this should be lesson # 1. In less then a half hour had my tent pitched, sleeping pad and bag laid out and all my gear off my bike. Wait a minute, where is my bike lock? I know it was the last thing I stuffed in the top pocket of my right side pannier. Oh no, I remember when I put my food in that pannier pocket it was unzipped. Another lesson learned, be sure to zip all pannier pockets before riding off. I had evidently lost the lock somewhere along the road. “Frank, how many years did you work with the Boy Scouts, taking them on high adventure trips? What is the motto, “BE PREPARED”. In my anxiousness to ride the Trace, I must have disengaged my brain is the only thing I can say in my defense.
Lesson # 6, look for the tent camping section of camp ground for peace and quiet. After making a toilet run, filled my water bottles for tomorrow I came back to the campsite. The folks across from me had very nice and expensive motorhome. It may have been nice but their generator was still noisy or so I thought. Fortunately after about 15 minutes they shut it down. What a relief to the ears, silence can be. Not wanting to set there looking at campers, I moved to the opposite side of the picnic table where I could look into the woods and pretend I was in the wild instead of reality of being surrounded on three sides by campers. All was right with the world relaxing after a hard first day in the saddle. That is until about 6:30 when the local mosquito population launched an all out assault on my body. Where is my mosquito repellent, oh yea I decided not to bring any to save weight. At least this time, it wasn’t because I forgot or lost it, it was just downright idiocy on my part. Oh well, I can escape these blood suckers by retreating to my tent. That’s better safely in my little lightweight well vented tent. “Little” is the key word here, I haven’t slept in a tent since 1994 when I last took the Scouts to Philmont Ranch. Gees even with an inflatable ground pad the ground is still hard. In addition, can’t sit cross legged as my prosthetic knee doesn’t allow me to do so. I’m not carrying enough gear to make a back rest, leaves me to one option laying down which proves to be less than comfortable.
What the heck! Someone just cranked up the loudest most awful sounding generator I’ve ever heard. Peering out of my tent I see it’s the old camping trailer next to me. I hear pounding of pans and whatever, must have kids playing? No It’s an old guy in a wheelchair banking around. OK, it is early and he has a right to do his thing but the noise pollution he’s generating is like chalk screeching on a blackboard to me. I know many of you in the younger generation don’t even know what a blackboard and chalk sound like, it’s close to the hideous loud noise called music now days. The campers obnoxious generator kept running until 4:16 AM, I know because it kept me awake thru the evening and night. Even taking a pain pill and sleeping aides didn’t deaden my senses to the point of being able to sleep. More then once during the night I contemplated sabotaging the dam thing.
April 17, Day 2: Distance covered 72 mi in 6:19:15, 11.7 mph average.
I must have dozed off once the generator shut down as I came to again at 6:15 AM when it once again came on. This is ridiculous, I may as well get up. Took me until 7:50 to get all my gear packed up, make a nature call and visit with the ole guy in the wheelchair. Shortly after I was up Bob, the ole guy, wheels over in his motorized wheelchair scooter. I learn he is a retired trucker, had to retire because of his severe obesity. He had gastric by-pass surgery four months ago and has lost 95 lbs already. Looking at him I judge he must still weigh in excess of 350 lbs. I’d be him if I didn’t ride my bike all the time. During the course of our conversation, I learn Bob and his wife come to this campground most every weekend. His wife still works, so that’s why he wasn’t in camp until 7:00 PM last night as he had to drive back into Jackson to pick her up. They didn’t sleep very well last night, oh really must be the generator kept them up. No not the problem, his camper needs leveled as he can’t do it from his wheelchair. Bob never came out and asked me to level his camper but I would have done it but first I had to make a nature call. I interrupted his non-stop monologue by excusing my need to use the toilet. As I started for the nearest toilet Bob, told me that one would be locked until 8 when the Park Ranger arrives. He pointed to another one about a hundred yards further into the campground. I headed for it with Bob following close behind. Figured Bob had to go as much as me or he didn’t want to have to halt his visit. However, he didn’t follow me into the toilet and I didn’t see him when I returned to camp. I waited a few more minutes for Bob to return but when he didn’t I decided he’d struck up a conversation with someone else. Maybe they will help him level his camper, daylight was being wasted and I had a good distance to travel this day and given how long it took me to go 58 miles yesterday I decided to shove off. Funny or sad depending on one’s perspective I felt terrible all day long for not having offered to level Bob’s trailer. Felt like I let him down and myself too for not being helpful when the opportunity arose or was it that I let my contempt for his generator not allowing me to get any sleep kept me from helping someone who needed help? Shame on me.
First 25 miles I felt sluggish and very hungry. I planned to stop at a café about mile marker 60 but turns out I didn’t check the map the map as to how far off the Trace the café was. I had read about services available in Utica in the brochure the Park Service sent me but when I looked on the map this morning, that would have required me to ride 10 miles east of the Trace and another 10 back didn’t make sense. So I elected to eat some of the snacks I had brought with and ride onto mile marker 89 which would put me on the south side of Jackson where I knew I’d be able to eat without going far from the Trace. Given my experience with the logging truck when I left Port Gibson and given the fact that every road and highway I had passed so far it appears Mississippi doesn’t build roads with shoulders. Hey, I’m a fat boy I can go a few miles, hours without food. Wrong again, pedaling a bicycle requires lots of energy and food generates energy quickly. Burning body fat is a slow process. Frank when are you going to start using your head. So far, you would think my other head was doing the thinking for me as the one which houses my brain must have gone on vacation without me.
Finally at 12:30 I made it to mile marker 89 (about 34 miles of riding). Lucky this time, there was a convenience less than a mile from the Trace which served food. I had a half BBQ roasted chicken, BBQ beans, potato salad and a banana. That should fuel me up.
Back on the Trace I didn’t ride more then 8 or 9 miles and again I found myself without energy. Stopped ate a snack and gave it another goal. Yet again within 8 miles I had to stop for rest and a snack. Then I dropped to 4-5 miles between rest stops. The good is that this is about the distance between historic and or sites of interest on the Trace. Though I don’t normally like to stop so often when out for a bike ride, I was quickly learning these frequent stops made riding more enjoyable. No longer was I grinding out the miles, I was enjoying the beauty of the Trace and all the wonderful history along it. The light bulb in my brain has been switched on. Maybe touring isn’t about getting from point A to B quick as possible but to enjoy the journey. What a wonderful discovery I’ve made.
I noticed another touring rider had passed me several times during the day. He looks younger than me but must either be taking long rest stops or riding as slow as me. Ten miles before the end of this day’s ride, I was stopped resting on the north end of the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Watching and wishing I was out on the water enjoying anyone of the many water sports activities going on from swimming, water skiing, jet skiing. How nice it would feel to have my hot sweaty body submerged in the cool lake water. When I turned my attention back toward the road, I was once again going to be passed by the other touring rider but this time as we waved to each other, he suddenly slowed down, did a u-turn and came back. Hi, my names Jim, nice ride you have there”. Looking down at Jim’s bike I realize he is on the same manufactured bike and model as I have so I said, “Yea sure is how you like yours”. I also noticed Jim’s load is much lighter than mine. So I had to ask him, “How far you going”. Jim responded “I’m doing the whole thing, plan on staying at the Kosciusko Park Service campground tonight at mile marker 160. I stayed at Rocky Spring campground last night”. Dang I’m duly impressed Jim that’s a 105 miles in one day. I’m struggling to get in 78 today. Jim replies, “It’s not that I want to ride that far, it’s more of that’s where the next campground is located”. Well, I’m only going another 10 miles as I have a reservation to stay at a private campground with a shower. “You’re staying at a campground with a shower? I could sure need one of those”, Jim further tells me he’s really tired. Well if you want you can stay with me at my campsite we can split the cost. Jim says, “You have a deal, I don’t think I can ride another 35 miles today”. Hearing this helps my ego and I have a new enthusiasm for continuing to ride. Jim looks to be about half my age and he is having a hard time covering the mileage. With new found energy I mount up and we head up the road, amazing Jim isn’t riding that much faster than me.
The next 12 miles go fast and we take a break to view the Cypress Swamp. The Park Service has built a wood walkway about a quarter mile into the swamp and it is awesome to walk along it and behold the beauty of mother natures work.
We saddle back up and shortly we arrive at the Ratliff Ferry Campground. Not nearly as nice as I had envisioned and there are quite a few motorcyclist drinking beer around the camp store. This might not be such a good place to stay after-all. Upon checking in we learn bicycle camping is a small grassy area by the parking lot between two boat ramps and the cost is per bicyclist not per site. Oh well, it’s only $10.00 each and does include use of the shower. Jim notices a sign for $1.00 cans of Budweiser. We need to carbohydrate ourselves and the price of the beer will make up for the campground fee. We get two beers, head to the grassy knoll, set-up camp and get ready for a shower. Jim offers to let me go first and he would stay by our bikes and gear to keep anyone from taking anything. Before I head to the shower, Jim goes back to the camp store for a couple more beers. I leave him to his beer and go for a shower. When Jim, comes back I go for a couple beers for each of us. Except this time my beer a Bud Light in a blue can costs me $2.00 while the Budweiser in the red can is what Jim is drinking. I confront the clerk as he is not the one who sold me my first beer that the sign says Budweiser for a $1.00. He says, “that is for Budweiser only”. I counter Bud Light is Budweiser with less calories but he doesn’t give in. In fact, he calls for the owner who is in the next room which is a small bar and grill. The owner comes into the store and I again state my position about Bud Light. To which the owner rudely replies, “what’s wrong, can’t you read, my signs state BUDWEISER, that is in a red can not a blue can stupid”. OK, not going to argue any further paid for my beer. Asked how late the bar grill is open and told generally 7 PM but seeing how it is Saturday night they will stay open later. I say thanks and head back to camp. At 7:10 Jim and I finish our beer, hop on our bikes and ride the 70 yards to the camp store. Oh shit! It’s closed and I see the owner driving away from the back of the place. He probably was having a good laugh at leaving me without dinner. I announce to Jim, this is not good as I don’t have anything to eat except a couple energy snacks. Jim tells me not to worry as he travels prepared for such circumstances.
When we get back to camp Jim brings out a large pork-n-bean looking can which is charred from being in fire, has ones on the bottom and top, 4 thin metal tent stakes, the bottom quarter of a beer can, the sharp lips of which have been bent in to form a small hole just under the size of a penny, which Jim has also produced. Along with this he has a small squirt bottle of a clear liquid and a couple sandwich bags filled half way one white in color and the other a rust color look to it which also appears to have dried rice in it. Jim asks me, “What do you prefer chicken and mashed potatoes or Spicy chili”? Which do you prefer, I ask back. “No you’re my dinner guest and you get to choose”. I decide on the chicken as my stomach doesn’t tolerate spicy food. Next Jim inserts the tent stakes into the bean can at the bottom and along the side and out thru the top holes. He then places the beer can bottom on the top of the bean can and squirts his fluid into the small opening in the beer can, lays the penny on top of the opening then sprays a little more liquid around the top of the beer can and penny. Jim then explains the liquid is grain alcohol which is his stoves fuel. He lights the top level liquid with a match, the flame is a yellowish color, he further tells me once the top liquid heats up the can, which only takes a few seconds, the lower level of fuels trapped by the penny will burn blue as it is under pressure. It only takes to minutes to boil 2 cups of water. Jim pours the boiling water into the sandwich bag of white stuff, that’s your chicken, mash the contents around to get it all most let sit for two minutes and your dinner is ready. Amazing, Jim is a real life McGyver. Jim asks if I have a spoon to eat with and I tell him no as I planned to eat all my meals at restaurants. That’s a mistake, you always have to “Be Prepared” to cook a meal when you are touring. I ask Jim if he had been in the Boy Scouts. Yes was the reply he earned the “Eagle” award. I should have known. Well, Jim gave me his one and only spoon so I could eat. He said it would take another few minutes for him to relight his stove and cook his meal anyway. I began eating and was again surprised to find the meal in a bag quite tasty. It was instant mashed potatoes which he had seasoned with butter flakes, garlic, pepper and a couple more spices. I forgot to mention he also gave me a pouch of chicken you can purchase in most any grocery now days. Even as hungry as I was and as good as the food tasted I found it was “almost” more then I could eat but I managed to eat it all. Oh yea, I learned the grain alcohol is not only a good fuel but goes well with Gatoraide as a nice after dinner cocktail.
After dinner we visited for an hour or so before calling it a night. I learned Jim’s last name was Johnson. He lives in Evergreen, Colorado. Is an advid touring bicyclist. He rode across America to celebrate his graduation from college. He has ridden all over Colorado including all the major annual tours there. He was riding the Trace this week as his 25th High School reunion in Atlanta is next week, turns out Jims is not half my age as he is 43, quite an amazing young man. I’ve been fortunate to have met him this day.
We called it a day at 8:00 and retired to our tents. I thought as tired as I was I’d fall right into a deep sleep. How wrong I can be, I spent my night tossing and turning. Then my legs would cramp, then my feet, then my knees would scream in agony. Hard to believe a Titanium knee can ache as much as a real one. Started having pains in my prostatic knee a couple weeks ago, gave me concern so went to see the Dr. who did the surgery. He informed me I had all the classic signs my knee was giving out. Maybe I’d get another year to 5 years at most out of it. When I told him my plan to ride the Trace this week he said it wouldn’t do any good giving me a steroid shot in the knee as the shot needed a week to work. Fine with me, I found those shots always hurt like hell and relief was only for a couple weeks to a month anyway. When I also shared with Dr. Esch my plan to ride across Country next year, he said you’re crazy and need a shrink not an orthopedic surgeon. At least, his nurse was sympathetic to my goal to ride across the USA. As I was leaving Doc said, “Good luck, if anyone would be able to do it with a knee problem like yours it would be you.” Thanks Doc, I like you too.
April 18 Day 3: Rode 57 miles in 4:51:54 actual ride time, 11 ½ mph average.
Woke up at 6:30, correct that got up as I didn’t get much sleep last night. The ground seemed even harder than the night before. Add to that my legs and feet kept cramping up on me most of the night. So I spent most of my night tossing, turning and cursing. Two nights with little or no sleep will make today’s ride a chore for sure.
Jim was up at the same time and we had our gear loaded, teeth brushed, filled my water bottles and ready to roll. “I sure am hungry, hope we can get some food at the campground store.” Jim replied, “Well if not, I have a couple breakfasts we can eat but then I’ll be out of food”. Let’s go see what we can get. Walked our bikes over to the store and sure enough it was open, so we walked in. Oh, no! I thought to myself the grumpy owner greeted us at the door as we walked in, this isn’t going to be good. Jim asked if they served breakfast. Mike, Mr. Grump, said, “just getting open and no I don’t serve breakfast but I have a pot of coffee brewing would you like some? Sure, Jim replied. As we followed Mike into the bar area where the grill was also located he said, “I have some sausage cooking and biscuits baking they will be done soon would you like some of them, too”? “You Bet” Jim and I responded in unison. As we sat down at the bar, Mike says “I can make you some pancakes, too”? Jim jumps on the offer but I pass as pancakes and I don’t get along, they make me nauseous. Are you kidding me, is this the same guy I had the rub with the night before over $1.00 beers?
Over the course of the next hour we learn Mike grew up and lived all his life in L.A., is a retired mechanical Engineer. When he retired in 2005 he bought this campground. Turns out he and his family had been coming back to this area, his dad grew up here abouts, to hunt deer every year for the last 40+ years. His dad and a couple brothers also retired in this area, too. Mike turns out to be a pretty nice guy, he must have just been having a bad night last night.
We were getting along with Mike so well, I decided to ask him if he would be willing to allow me to ship some of my camping gear back to Missouri. So I pop the question on him. Mike, all I need is a box to put my gear in. I’ll phone my office and have an UPS “Call Tag” issued. An UPS driver will bring it and all you or your staff have to do is attach the tag to the box. Mike says, “That’s easy enough”. He goes to his storage room and comes back with a box which held most of my gear I wanted to send home. That done we said our thank you’s for his above and beyond hospitality and good bye to our newest friend. I would have never guessed after last night’s experience with Mike that I’d be so appreciative of him. It’s good to give folks a second chance, they’ll often surprise in a good way.
As Jim and I are riding back out to the Trace, I mention to him, “looks like we are going to be bucking a pretty good head wind today”. I just didn’t know how right I was at the time. All day long the wind blew between 12-15 mph with gusts in excess of 20 mph. Dropped my speed down to 5 mph on more then one occasion, I normally average 11 ½-12mph on the Surly. By afternoon my left knee was screaming for mercy or was that me, whichever I was in pain. Took a pain pill but that didn’t help.
After stopping for lunch, I was headed back onto the Trace when I saw Jim at a convenience so I rode over to say hi and ask how he liked the wind. Jim’s a much younger and stronger rider than me. He had taken a two hour nap at a city park across from the store and was ready to ride again. I mentioned my knee was giving me a lot of pain which was making the ride more of an endurance to tolerate pain then a pleasure ride. Jim asked it I’d taken any Aleve. No I don’t take it because it causes my stomach to churn with heart burn. Jim suggested I try some as it is great at reducing inflammation in the joints. I didn’t need anymore coaxing then that. Jim gave me a couple tablets to take right then and a couple more for later.
OK, I’m not being paid to endorse a product but let me tell you I’m a believer in Aleve. Within 20 minutes of taking those first two tablets I was without pain and able to pick up my speed substantially. Rode fast enough to stay up with Jim, that’s how much better I felt. Jim had come to my rescue once again. How fortunate I was he stopped to make me a new friend yesterday afternoon.
Jim and I rolled up to an overlook to French Camp at 4:05 PM. It was so peaceful and beautiful a field full of yellow and blue wildflowers with a wooden fence parameter greeted us to French Camp. Jim and I said our last good byes. He was going another 15 miles today and another 80 miles tomorrow so he would stay well ahead of me from here out.
Wow! Double Wow!!! French Camp is like stepping back into the 1830-40s. For real, French Camp is run by a non-denominational Christian group. I learned the Camp had celebrated 200 year of continuous operation in 2009. The current Christian group had purchased it from another Christian group. They run a school for kids with problems and part of the curriculum and experience of being at French Camp is the restoration and preservation of the settlement as it originally was established. They have done a stellar job of it, too.
The cabin I stayed in is over 150 years old and in pristine condition. It was so inviting and peaceful I could have stayed here forever. Of course they had modernized the interior with electric and bathroom facilities but kept the hardwood floors, walls and décor from the 1800’s. It is an awesome place and I highly recommend French Camp to anyone who visits the Natchez Trace as a must see.
Debra Collier the Innkeeper gave me about a 45 minute history lesson of the area. Her husband’s grand-father, as well as his father and himself all went to school at French Camp. Debra’s own children went to French Camp settlement Academy (school), too. The Academy (school) has classes from kindergarten thru 12th grade which 185 kids as young as 4 years old thru their teens attend. The Academy is considered as one of the premier private schools in America with some of the highest academic accreditation, including the latest technology such as the internet. The lifestyle is kept simple for the kids, sharing and teaching them moral values. What a great experience it must be for these kids. Debra shares with me the French Camp Academy encompasses 1,700 acres has numerous restored cabins, homes and buildings such as a working Blacksmith shop, stable and more. She and her husband lived in the main cabin, also a B&B across from the cabin I’m staying, for 15 years before they were able to purchase a home just down the street. Most land in this area is passed on from one generation to the next.
April 19, Day 4: Rode 54 miles under 5 hours averaged almost 12mph.
Slept like a log last night. No aches and pains, the bed was soft and cushy, almost like the feather beds I remember from my youth. Woke up about 6:50 AM, didn’t take much to get ready as I didn’t have camping gear to pack. Promptly at 7:30 AM Debra announced breakfast was ready. Orange juice, coffee, yougurt with whole grain flax, fried egg with cheese atop a slice of tomato, bacon, biscuits and of course grits (A Southern must have for breakfast). Whew! After this wonderful and very large breakfast I don’t know if I’ll be able to ride.
At breakfast met Chip and Marlene who stayed the night in the main cabin. They too are riding the entire Trace, heading North same as me, but they have selected to stay at hotels and B&B’s along the way. I realize this is the same couple who passed me the first night out, just before Rocky Spring. Out of curiosity I ask, “Where did you stay that first night”? Chip said their youngest son lives in Natchez and he drove up to Rocky Spring and picked them up, took them back to Natchez for the night, then drove them back up the next morning to Rocky Spring. Ok, wish I had had someone to do that for me.
During my visit with Chip and Marlene I learn she retired from Continental Airlines as a flight attendant for 41 years. Chip never did say what line of work he retired from. They have two sons, the oldest is 28 and in the US Air Force as a Para-Rescuer currently serving in Afganistan. His tour of duty will be over in a couple months. He plans to discharge from the regular Air-Force and join a Reserve unit in Anchorage, that’s where my son and his wife are. Never ceases to amaze me what a small world we live.
Chip mentions they have over-estimated their ability to ride distance carrying gear on their bike. They actually have very little gear for both of them compared to how much I’m carrying. They rode 65 miles the second day and 65 miles yesterday and that was almost too much. The next two days they had planned on doing 80+ miles each day which now they wish they weren’t. I suggested they might be able to stay at the Bed and Breakfast (B&B) I planed to stay at this night and gave them the contact information for not only tonight but for the rest of the trip too. Chip said he’d check it out and see if they could get lodging.
At 8:40 AM said good bye to Debra, Chip and Marlene. Told Chip and Marlene, hoped to see them at this night’s B&B. The first 10 miles were up and down hills, some steep enough to slow my speed to 4 ½ mph. I thought this ride was mostly flat? Although the steepness of the hill became more gradual the rest of the day, I would consider this section to have many rolling hills. At mile post 220 (about 40 miles into today’s ride) lost all my energy and became nauseous. OK, what gives? I’ve drank 50 ounces of water but maybe that wasn’t enough. Toughed out the last 14 miles but had to stop frequently. The last 4 miles into Houston, MS. was off the Trace, the road was rough and had many pot holes to weave around as well as keeping out of the way of traffic especially the many trucks, again no shoulder to ride on. The Trace is so easy to ride on and vehicle traffic respects bicyclists but on the regular roads it’s rider beware!
Just as I rolled into Houston City limits there was a Wal-Mart. What would it be like without a Wally World in most every community? Better but that’s a whole story and complaint of mine not to be included in this journal. Like most everyone else, I stop and go in and purchase Aleve and a diaper rash ointment. Over the past 4 days I’ve developed quite a saddle soar. My chamois butter has let me down. It might have something to do with NEVER EVER begin a tour with a brand new saddle, even if it’s a model you’ve been using for years. A saddle needs broken in over the course of a few weeks of short rides. Another lesson learned on this trek.
After the Wal-Mart stop it was a short distance to tonight’s Bed and Breakfast Bridges-Hall Manor, two blocks off Houston’s Square. What a beautiful Grand old Victorian style home. Ms. Carol Kourtrobolis met me at the door with a warm Southern hospitality welcome. She inquired, “You must be Mr. Frank Briscoe”? Yes, mam I am he. “How far behind you are the other couple you recommended to stay tonight”? I don’t know as I haven’t seen them all day. But I’m glad you had room for them. Well, since you are first and you referred other folks to me, I’m going to give you the master bedroom for tonight” Well thank you. Are you kidding me, Ms. Carol’s home is quite elegantly and daintily furnished and I suddenly feel like a bull in a China shop as the phase goes. My room specifically is maybe 20’x20’ with a queen size bed and a 6 inch thick homemade comforter, drapes with lace trim, a day lounger sitting at one of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the town square, many doilies and tapestries throughout the room and the adjoining bathroom. Then there are china bowls, dishes and whatever all around the room. This is a woman’s, woman’s room not a guy’s room especially me. I’m almost afraid to move around in the room for fear of breaking something. I learn Ms. Carol has made or a friend has made most everything in the room. The Chinaware items are from the 1800s. Nice very nice, wish my Vickie could be here to enjoy this.
Saw my first deer today at about 11:30 AM which was gone in a flash when a car approached from the opposite direction I was riding, photo opportunity missed, darn cars. I’ve been surprised at the lack of seeing wildlife on the Trace as the roadway looks like prime wildlife habitat. Less then 5 minutes after seeing the deer I spotted 3 turkey, two hens and a Jake (male). The Jake was strutting his stuff for the gals as this is the mating season. Lucky bird! Hell, I can’t even get it up anymore due to my enlarged prostate and bicycling, I would have never guessed such a problem for myself at the early age of 63. Ah, that’s another story for another time. Oh well, I’ve got my bike for personal pleasure. Though I have to admit this trek has become more of a masochistic thing with the saddle sore, nausea, left knee pain and over-all aches and pains in general. Gees, I’m having a great time aren’t I?
Now I’m really feeling down, maybe I’m making a mistake thinking I can do a Corner to Corner (Anacortes, WA. to Key West, FL) crossing America next year. Especially considering I’m having trouble lining out as well as figuring out how to pay for folks to SAG (Support and Gear carrying in a motor vehicle) me across. Maybe I should go with one of the many tour companies who offer across America rides? I’m now thinking the only thing I want to carry on a cross country ride is my body as it’s too heavy a load by itself. This ride has given me a deeper appreciation for the folks who do totally self contained touring. It ain’t an easy task for sure.
It’s only 9:00 PM and I’m sitting here still nauseous and falling asleep trying to write this journal. I give up for tonight, goodnight!
April 20, Day 5: Today rode 59 mile in 5:19:54, approximately 11 ¼ mph average.
Up at 8:05 feeling much better this morning, cleaned up and went downstairs to yet another large and wonderful Southern style breakfast. Great breakfast but chose to eat light as I’m thinking that is what contributed to my nausea yesterday. I may have made a mistake at breakfast by mentioning to Chip and Marlene my take on President Andrew Jackson’s infamous decision to move all Indians; The Natchez, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee nations to Indian Territory in what would eventually become Oklahoma. I’ve been reading at the historic markers along the Trace the Indian Tribes chose to leave their homeland and relocate. What a crock of shit. They were forced off their land. Did anyone in this area of the Country ever hear of the “Trail of Tears”? Thousands of true native Americans died on this trail relocating to Indian Territory. President Jackson was once saved by a Cherokee in battle, yet this power hungry politician betrayed these noble people for his benefit not theirs. Anyway I no more then mentioned my feelings about the Indian Nations decision to relocate and Ms. Carol comes out of the kitchen and intervenes by stating President Jackson did many wonderful things for the good of the Country. Right, just not for “Red Skins” as they were vermin to exterminate, women and children included. OK, OK, I know this journal is about the Trace and not how terrible we treated Native Americans, the victor in war write the history. End of Indian relocation story.
After my ranting and raving about the unfair treatment of Native Americans, Chip asked if I might be willing to do them a favor. Sure if I can, what do you need? “Today we are going to ride 70 miles to stay at a cabin we have reserved at Tishomingo State Park. Tomorrow night the only community within reasonable distance is the community you’re staying in. The only place there is a Ms. Monetta’s Country cottage which you have rented. The cottage has two bedrooms in it. Would you allow us to stay there, if we pay 2/3 of the rental”? Sure love to have company and you guys are good company, consider it done. Chip thanked me and then said, we’ll be staying at the same place as you Fall Hollow the final night as they had a vacancy. I find it lonely so it will be nice to have folks, new friends, to be with in the evenings.
Today’s ride I started out strong, actually stayed strong all day. The down side I have one giant saddle sore on my ass. I’ve never had one this big before, it’s about the size of a silver dollar, not the new ones either I’m talking about the Eisenhower Bi-Centennial size (1 ½ inch diameter). What does it feel like? Well imagine someone is using a dull knife to couch a hole through your right side buttocks at the sit bone. That might come close to describing it. Needless to say I kept applying Dr. Bordeaux’s Diaper ointment liberally to the affected area all day. I even tried to wear a pair of regular shorts over my bibs to cut down the friction but nothing seemed to help much. Yep, this ride is beginning to be test of my pain tolerance.
Riding from South to North on the Natchez Trace is beginning to look like a bad choice on my part. No more then started out this morning and began climbing one hill after another. Folks think the west is tough to ride because you are climbing mountains. Yes but those mountains are generally long and at a less grade. Plus once you reach the top, you can count on an equally long downhill to recover. While hills in the Eastern part of the US are shorter but have much steep grades to climb and closer together. What does all that mean? You’re expending more energy to climb, the descents are fast so little or no time to recover and you’re heading right back up another hill. You get an anaerobic workout with hills in the East. Trust me I’ve ridden in Colorado and Nevada and I’ll take the mountain climbs over short, choppy, unrelenting hills any day.
Today I began thinking about the many books I’ve read on touring and even my new friend Jim from day two mentioned. It’s OK to ride slow, rest as needed including taking a two hour nap in the middle of the day if needed. Hey, what have I got to lose?
It can’t be any harder taking the slow and easy approach compared to trying to maintain a 12 mph average. Low and behold, it works. The day passed much easier and enjoyable slowing down. There are over 100 historic and/or points of interest along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Rarely do you have to ride more then 5 or 6 miles before there is something to stop and see or read. I love to read everything at museums so why not on this trek up the Trace. If I was feeling tired instead of hurrying along to the next point of interest I’d take a break drink some water have a snack and smell the roses. I finally learned, “It’s not how far nor how fast you go. It’s the pleasure of the journey”.
This new and slower pace of mine, took 3 hours of breaks today, made for much more enjoyable though longer day even considering the strong head wind from the north combined with the hill climbs. The slower pace did cause me to be a little later arriving at tonight’s B&B the Sachem in Baldwyn, MS owned by Tom and Jeanne Stott. Well actually, this B&B is located 10 miles off the Trace. To avoid having to ride an extra 20 miles, Tom said he would come pick me up at their exit and deliver me back there tomorrow morning. That sounded like a great idea, so when I was 5 miles out I phoned Tom. To my amazement he said he was already in route to pick me up as they were concerned my bike may have broke down or something else had gone wrong. Tom said stay where I was and he’d drive to me. Oh no, Tom I’m riding every inch of the Trace. You can meet me at your exit as planned. Tom accepted this news well, probably because he and his wife are seasoned touring cyclists themselves. Sure enough as I rolled up to the exit there was Tom waiting. He was driving a Volvo sedan, had a portable bike rack attached, when I got off my bike he grabbed it and loaded it on the rack while I put my gear in the back seat and we were off in a matter of minutes.
Visiting with Tom on the way to his home, he expressed surprise I was riding South to North. He found it easier to go from the North to South. I said that was my original thought but when I did an internet search about riding the Trace I read a story about a guy who rode it last year from N-S. He said if he had it to do over he’d ride S-N. His thinking the flatter stretch starting in the South would give time for one’s legs and body to acclimate to riding all day before reaching the hills in the North. Plus the prevailing wind is from the South. However so far, this week the wind has been blowing from the North. Tom said, yep this time of year that’s the direction the wind blows. To which I replied, well why make the ride any easier. Maybe the individual who wrote the story wanted fool folks into working harder?
Upon arriving at Tom’s home, he showed me where to stow my bike in his garage for the night. Then amazed me further by advising me I could take his Volvo into town for dinner. Are you kidding, you’re going to trust me with your Volvo? Sure, and I’ll tell you where there is a pretty good Italian restaurant to load up on carbs with a good pasta meal and a couple beers. This is too good to be true but it was. Upon entering Tom’s home I met Jeanne, a plump lady with a really great heart. After our introductions and greetings she immediately asked if I had any clothes needing washed, which I did. She said she’d do my washing while I took a shower. Tom and Jeanne made me feel like a part of the family, they were so nice. Tom showed me my room in the front part of their ranch style home. Gave me the controller to the TV in the living room and said the front half of the house was all mine. He and Jeanne would stay in the back out of my way. No need Tom, I’m keeping a journal of this trek and don’t have time or enthusiasm to watch TV but thanks anyway. Tom and Jeanne, so far, have been the nicest of the nicest B&B hosts on the Trace.
As I was leaving Stott’s home for dinner, Tom asked what time I’d like breakfast. I said tomorrow would be my longest day so I should get a reasonably early start. Tom suggested 6:30, I countered 7:30 would be fine as Jeanne was planning on preparing me a big breakfast with waffles. Ah, that won’t be necessary keep breakfast simple and fast Jeanne. I didn’t want to tell her the truth is waffles and pancakes make me nauseous. Hopefully, she will get the idea and skip the waffles.
When I returned from dinner Tom and Jeanne were sitting at their kitchen table enjoying a late evening snack of banana nut muffins, one of my favorites, which they immediately offered me. I was too full to eat one but suggested that would be great for breakfast, again trying to shy away from having to eat waffles. Jeanne noticed my arms were sun burned and asked if I’d been using a sun block lotion. Nope never use the stuff, minor sun burns normally turn to a tan on me. Well, you better put some on tomorrow as it’s going to be a hot day. Ok, mom.
April 21, day 6: Rode 76 miles in 6:53 minutes and took 4 hours of rest breaks.
Had another great night of sleep, dressed and went out to the kitchen dreading I may have to eat waffles. Ah, Tom and Jeanne are really keen on picking up on what people need or want. No waffles but juice, coffee, fried eggs, bacon biscuits and muffins with plenty of butter and jams. Wasn’t able to eat the muffin but Jeanne said she’d pack me a couple for snacking later in the day. As I was leaving Jeanne gave me a big hug and told me to keep the rubber on the pavement and the wind at my back. That’s a favorite saying for cyclists, I use it myself. As Tom and I were heading back to the Trace, he mentioned he thought I was carrying a lot more gear then I needed to be carrying. I agreed and told him I’d already sent home most of my camping stuff. He suggested he’d send home my tent poles which I wasn’t able to get into the box Mike gave me to use. Might even want to get rid of some clothes and maybe even the kickstand you have on your bike as the hills from here North will get even steeper and closer than what you’ve ridden already. Not wanting to be a burden, I told Tom I’d carried my stuff 282 miles already what’s another 168. Thanks but no thanks I don’t want to burden you. No burden we’d be glad to send anything home you don’t need. At this point I should have agreed as I could have easily eliminated another 15-20 lbs but no I have to be macho man. Did I mention what a bull headed stubborn idiot I can be at times?
As were driving along I mention to Tom about my saddle soar and how painful it was getting to ride but hoped I’d be able to tough it out this hardest and longest day of my journey. With this Tom says I have to tell you a story about my trip across America on a bicycle tour. I was 42 yrs old, I’m 69 now, we hadn’t been on the road a week when I just fell apart mentally. Literally I pulled over to the side of the road, climbed off my bike, sat down and began crying like a baby. I had several saddle sores, every part of my body ached. I was sitting there crying and thinking to myself why in the hell did I ever think I could ride clear across America I was beat and ready to quit. When this 70 year old lady who was also on the tour came along, she stopped her bike, got off and came over and put her arms around me and asked what was wrong. I told her how I felt and that I made a mistake coming on the tour and was going to wait for the SAG vehicle to pick me up and go home. She then took my chin in her hand and said, “Here’s what you are going to do. The next town we come to you’re going to call home to your wife, (didn’t have cell phones back in those days), tell your wife how bad you feel, sort of cry on her shoulder thru the phone. Then you are going to ask her to mail you a care package with some of your favorite treats to one of our overnight towns 4 or 5 days from now. Then she lifted my head by chin as she got up, looked into my eyes and said now you’re going to get up off your ass and get on that bike and ride”. Good story Tom, I got the message. Thanks for the pep talk. With that Tom pulls out a tube of sun-block lotion and tells me to put it on my arms and neck. I said, “Yes sir, as I took the tube and applied a liberal amount to both arms and my neck.
Thanks Tom you and Jeanne are fantastic folks, I hope I can visit with you again one day. Back at the Trace Tom helped me load up and offered one more time to ship anything home I didn’t need. Again I was stupid and refused this generous offer. With that Tom gave me a big hug and sent me on my way. What a grand old couple Tom and Jeanne make. Everyday seems to bring nicer and nicer folks into my life. I love being on the road, even if my body is having difficulty coping with the lifestyle. It will eventually adapt. Where else or what else could you do to become such close friends with folks so quickly.
No more then I started today’s ride and the hills came in quick and unending. Did I mention how short hills are in the East compared to the length of mountains in the West? Well today makes me a complete liar as I measured one hill to be a tad over 5 miles in length which I climbed at the break neck speed of 3.8-7.9 mph. I kept telling myself, like in the West, this hill was going to reward me with one long enjoyable downhill ride once I made it to the top. So much for that logic, the down hill was only two miles and then another hill to climb. Well I did recover mostly before that next hill but I sure would have liked to have had a 5 mile down hill.
Finally about 24 miles into today’s ride I decide it’s time to follow the lady’s advice in Tom’s story. So I call home and do a little whining to Ms Vickie, my wife. She listened patiently to me for about 20 minutes and then said something like, thought you were having so much fun. I knew I’d whined enough to her and said talk to you later. Even though I didn’t receive the sympathy I was looking for from Ms. Vickie I was able to ride the next 11 miles without a break. Maybe there is something to sharing one’s misery with a loved one, even if they don’t sympathize with your agony?
I made it to MP 341, the Alabama/Tennessee border before I felt like I couldn’t ride any further without taking a break. Mostly the need for a break was due to the pain caused by the saddle sore as the rest of my body was holding up quite well today. At this border crossing there was a good sized sign on the south side was the State of Alabama Great Seal and a brief history of the State, while the North side had Tennessee’s Great Seal or Crest and a brief history of that State, too. The grassy area the sign sets on had just been mowed and smelled so sweet, even a little cool and much too inviting to pass up a break. I sat down in front of the Tennessee side ate a snack, drained a 20 oz bottle of water. Then decided to lay down put my legs up on the supporting column between the Crest and history, I may have even dozed off for a little while. I must have been quite a sight to see all sprawled out with my bike laying off to one side, too bad no vehicles stopped so I could have someone take a picture of me.
After about a half an hour of this total immersion in relaxing I felt ready to ride again. What a surprise my body felt fully refreshed, my saddle sore didn’t hurt nearly as much. As an added bonus the next six miles were relatively flat, though there was a 10+ mph headwind, I made it 8 miles before having to take another short break primarily due to the pain of my saddle sore. The rest of my body especially the legs are feeling very strong. Or is it the pain in my butt is keeping me from noticing any pain or aches in the rest of my body?
Stopped at a historic marker and learned Native Americans inhabited this area at least as far back as 8000 BC. Interesting as the Trace was first a path worn by buffalo, which the Indians began following to hunt the buffalo and to then about 1500 years ago as a trail to travel up to the Ohio River Valley in the Summer and back to the lower delta area of Mississippi in the winter. Then in the late 1600s the white man, mostly of French descent, began settling the delta area of the Mississippi while the Ohio/Tennessee River Valley was being settled by folks known as “Kaintucks”. These later folks began rafting their farm products, furs and timber down the Mississippi River to sell in Natchez. The current of the River was too strong for them to raft back up, so they would disassemble their rafts and sell the lumber. Then they would either purchase a horse or walk the Trace back to Nashville area.
Interesting many of these “Kaintucks” would frequently spend the $40.00 or so they earned selling their goods in Natchez to make the trip back home. Worse some were robbed and even killed by despicable thieves who waited in ambush along the Trace. Makes you wonder what was the point? President Jackson probably best described this hardy breed of man. Every “Kaintuck” I’ve ever met have three things in common; they carry a rifle and know how to shoot it, a plug of tobacco and a good jug of whiskey.
4:50 PM finally made it to Ms. Monetta’s Country Cottage, of course, the last mile on the Trace was all uphill. Guess, the Trace wanted to remind me there would be more hills to climb tomorrow. Following the directions to the cottage I passed by Diane Butler’s beauty salon, she was at the door motioning for me to stop. Said she’d been waiting for me and was beginning to worry she’d have to come looking for if I hadn’t got there by 5:00 PM. I learned from Diane that Chip and Marlene had arrived about 3:00 PM and probably were at a local diner Chad’s a couple blocks away. The cottage was only a half block further down the street from Diane’s salon. As I rolled into the driveway I noticed the front door was open. Chip immediately came to the door and said they had been waiting for me in order for the three of us to go to dinner. Chip said I wouldn’t believe how nice the inside of the cottage was as he showed me in. Wow! The inside of the cottage looked like something you would see in a magazine or model home, very nicely decorated, beautiful hard wood floors throughout, really comfy sofa and recliner in the living room, flowers on the dining table, treats laid out on the kitchen counter. Chip showed me the master as he and Marlene thought I should have it for allowing them to share the cottage for the night. I protested but they insisted. Again, I have very nice accommodations while they are sleeping in separate beds in a much smaller room as happened at Bridges-Manor two nights ago. Remarkable the folks I have met this week.
I quickly unpacked and headed to the bathroom for a shower before heading out for dinner. Once in the bathroom, I immediately saw there was a full length mirror on the back side of the door. I had to check my saddle sore. Once I removed my clothes, turned my back side toward the mirror, spread my legs and bent over. No, I didn’t kiss my ass goodbye! What I did see was a 3” long by 1” wide sore that was easily through two layers of skin working on the third, raw meat look. No wonder I’ve been in such great pain and riding has been an exercise in pain tolerance.
April 22, Day 7; Distance rode 38 miles actual ride time 3:19:22.
Up at 6:45 AM, put on street clothes and rode my bike the ½ mile to Chad’s café for a big Southern Country breakfast. Oooohhh! Unbelievable the pain from my saddle sore, proves bicycle riding shorts do make a difference a big difference in the comfort level to one’s tush. Lesson learned, don’t leave home with out bike riding shorts or bibs. The ride to Chad’s proved not only painful but bone chilling, too. The temperature was low 40’s with wind and high humidity. In fact, while eating breakfast it began to rain. Rode back to the cottage dreading how miserable this day was going to be. Why am I doing this, again? Oh yea, training for next year’s big ride across America. Are you insane?
Opps! Used up another of my many lives. Just before reaching the corner where the cottage was located a couple mutts charged out of yard to protect their territory which took my attention from the road for a couple seconds. Next thing I hear screeching of tires sliding on wet pavement and look forward just in time to see a jeep slide thru the intersection. The driver was going to blow thru the stop sign and must have seen me at the last second. I swerved to the left, he slid to the right and we missed colliding by inches. Thank you God, I appreciate you taking care of this old guy. Why, I don’t know but thank you just the same. The gal driving the jeep was all apologetic for almost running me down. I was thankful she didn’t succeed.
Today doesn’t seem to be starting out very well, maybe I should just go back to bed. Nope, that’s not going to happen I have a schedule to keep. Another lesson for next year’s trip, keep my schedule flexible.
8:55 AM the rain has stopped time to get moving. The first 11 miles were mostly flat to downhill. The 12th mile, yep have to pay for that easy riding, all uphill slowing my speed down to 5-6 mph. Still better start then yesterday’s unending hills. To my great surprise all 38 miles today were relatively easy. Since this was my shortest day, I stopped at all 10 of the historic sights and points of interest I came to. Even took extra time at each, helped get my mind off the saddle sore pain.
The highlight of the historic sights was the Meriwether Lewis Memorial (The Lewis of “The Lewis and Clark” expedition fame) where I spent almost and hour reading and walking the area including a couple hundred yards on the actual Trace Trail. Interesting Meriwether committed suicide here while on his way to Washington DC to defend the expenses he incurred on the famous expedition across America. Why is that interesting? He shot himself twice back in an era that used percussion pistols which fire one round and have to be reloaded to fire another? Very interesting indeed.
1:05 PM arrived at Fall Hallow B&B. Nice long hill going from the Trace down to Fall Hallow, which means tomorrow’s ride will start with a nice up hill, right I can’t wait. As I rolled up to Fall Hallow, I could see a nice campground, a large metal building with a small restaurant on one end and a nice sized Country home out back of the building nestled beneath a cliff with a stream running behind it. The restaurant was closed with a note stating open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5-8 PM, thank goodness this is Thursday and I’d be able to get something to eat later but I’m really hungry now. Unable to find anyone at the building, I walked out to the home which had to be were the B&B was located. No one there either. This isn’t good, so I walked back to the building, walked around it, and peered thru the windows around the building. Half the building had a dirt flow and various pieces of equipment and machinery was stored. Then I spied into a window where I could see a motel room set up, two double beds, dresser, night stand and a chair, fairly Spartan fixtures what you would see in a 2 star motel actually. As there were benches along the front of the building I elected to lay down on one and wait to see what develops.
About 2:00 PM a couple in an SUV drive-up next to the building. Ah ha! Has to be the owners, back of the SUV is full of groceries. The driver opens his door steps out and introduces himself as Bill Roper, about this time his wife comes around the back side of the vehicle and he introduces her as Kathy own. He then apologizes for not being there when I arrived but it’s Thursday and they’ve been out buying food for the restaurant and they didn’t expect anyone to arrive so early. Fine no problem, then I offered to help carry in the groceries. Good move on my part as Bill asked if I’d like an Ice Tea and a sandwich after we finished. He made not one but two huge Turkey Club sandwiches, chips and bottomless glass of ice tea.
Bill turns out is quite the talker, he kept asking questions, telling stories and on and on. I quite enjoyed visiting with him but could see Kathy was getting upset with him as they needed to be preparing to open the restaurant, which she reminded him several times. Finally, I said Bill “Bill I need to shower” and stood to leave. About this time Chip and Marlene walked thru the door and the conversation continued on. Finally Kathy said, “Bill you need to get your chores done the restaurant opens in 45 minutes. “Hey Bill, why don’t I take Chip and Kathy down to the stream to check out those Blue Bonnets Kathy said were in bloom”. It worked we were able to escape and let Bill finish his work. But not before Bill told us one more story. He did offer and we accepted to use his SUV to drive to a couple of the local Vineyards after we finished down by the stream. I have to admit he was one enjoyable chap to visit with and a great host, Kathy too but she knew work had to be done.
Due to the lateness of the day we made it to only one Vineyard, Amber Hill Winery. We were greeted by one of the owner’s Judy who shared with us the history of the winery. We learned the vines needed a couple more years to mature before they would be good enough to become a good table wine. Then she gave us a wine tasting of several varieties of wines from Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany. Actually she had a very good selection of wines to choose from. Chip and Marlene popped for a bottle to share at dinner this evening and I inquired of and purchased one of Kathy Roper’s favorite wines as a gift or peace offering for having caused Bill to not get his chores done in a timely manner this afternoon. Kathy was elated when we presented her the bottle of wine upon our return to the restaurant.
After cleaning up, Chip, Marlene and I met for dinner about 7. The special for tonight a 12 ounce Ribeye steak that melted in your mouth, oh so so good best meal of the week. Bill also thru in a couple pieces of his Specialty Fried Catfish, which was also delicious. While we were having dinner Judy, the Vineyard owner arrived with her husband and co-owner of the Vineyard Tim for dinner and we all joined in a round of lively discussion. Oh yea, Bill joined us, too. What a hoot. He left Kathy and the rest of the staff to do the kitchen cleanup and closing of the restaurant.
Bill, Judy and Tim shared with us a couple non-listed points of interests to visit on the Trace as well as what laid ahead for us tomorrow. It appears we are going to have one monster hill to climb right at the start tomorrow morning. About 9:30 PM we all decided to call it a night. Chip and Marlene were so impressed with the added points of interests to see as well as the hospitality of Bill, Kathy, Judy and Tim that they decided once they arrived in the Nashville area tomorrow they would rent a car and drive back down the Trace stay another night with the Ropers, go to Amber Hill Vineyard to partake in a party owners were sponsoring there tomorrow night and pick up some wine to take back home. Gees, I sure wish I could have talked Ms. Vickie into joining me on this adventure. She could have driven our van, while I rode my bike and we could have shared all the wonderful experiences and folks I’ve met this week. But alias she wasn’t interested in kicking back and enjoying a good time or life. She’s a work-coholic, me I’m past that time.
April 23 Day 8; Ride distance 53 miles, actual ride time 4:55:06.
Up at 6:45 AM, the last day on the Trace makes me feel melancholy. AS promised last night Bill is in the restaurant and has breakfast ready promptly at 7:00 AM. Bill made us one huge and delicious omelet, orange juice, coffee, homemade biscuits and bacon from a local farm. Bill was just as talkative this morning as yesterday.
Turns out he knows some of the Presley family, as in Elvis’s relatives, and told a couple stories about Elvis. After Bill finished talking about Elvis, Chip turns to Marlene and asks if she is going to share her stories of Elvis. It turns out Marlene was Elvis’s personal flight attendant for two years on the Lisa Marie he owned. They were great stories about the personal side of Elvis. As I sat there and listened to Marlene and Bill’s stories I wish I too could return tonight to continue hearing more of them. But I have to meet up with Ronnie and Gwen this afternoon, drive straight back to Missouri and get ready for a month of tournaments in Vegas. It sucks, I need to retire and ride my bike.
By the time we all said our farewells, took some pictures of all of us and exchanged phone numbers and email addresses it was near 9:00 AM before getting on the road.
Holly cow, hill climb, what an understatement. Not only was it a chore to get back onto the Trace but it was all uphill for 2 ½ miles. The speed I could must was 3 ½ to 4 ½ mph, that’s a grind! There were a couple points of interests to stop and check on the way up which I definitely made sure to stop. Marlene and Chip didn’t stop as they were on a mission to get to Nashville and back to enjoy the good conversation and wine they would partake in this night.
This final day turned out to be the most beautiful of all the days, the most wildlife spotted and oh yes the hottest temperature of the week as well as the steepest hills of the entire 450 mile length of the Trace.