Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Brewvet Challenge

Not your ordinary randonneur brevet series, the Brewvet Challenge combines cycling with beer in a manner requiring little planning, not much endurance and actually not much cycling either. I'm also a big fan of chocolate, so any opportunity to combine all three is welcome.

I got a late start on the month of May and needed to really push myself to conquer this challenge. Fortunately, I like to ride and I've got a surprising number of friends willing to support me in this endeavor.

Herewith, I present the requisite eight rides.

MAY 15, 2015, Ride #1
Ride: Collingwood, TN, to Nashville, TN, 97 miles.
Brew Location: Jonathan's Grille, Nashville/Bellevue, TN
Beer: Yazoo Dos Perros (3, just to be safe)
Wiki Yazoo: Linus Hall started with a homebrewing kit in 1993. He kept brewing with his wife Lila when he moved home to Mississippi after college, and then moved to Nashville in 1996.
In October 2003, he opened Yazoo Brewing, offering Yazoo Pale Ale, Dos Perros, Spring Wheat, and Onward Stout. In 2010, they moved their new brewery in the Gulch (whatever that is), at 910 Division Street. 
The website says, "Many Mexican beer styles today are descendants of old Austrian styles, from when Austria ruled Mexico..." Apparently, in some deal with the French, Austria controlled Mexico - briefly - during our Civil War. The U.S. never acknowledged it, but somehow it influenced the beer. Anyway, it says, "Dos Perros is made with German Munich malt, English Pale malt, and Chocolate malt, and hopped with Perle and Saaz hops."
It was hard to judge the color in the dimly lit bar, but it appeared dark with reddish tone. It was smooth and rich. I've come to expect chocolate beer to not taste like chocolate, but nevertheless give me the same satisfaction I get from eating dark chocolate. The balance was perfect, the aftertaste minimal.
The waitress let me taste-test this and Jakelope Maple Brown, another Nashville brewer. The Maple was thinner and had a little tang to it. I'm a big fan of maple and take packets of Untapped Maple on my bike rides, so I was optimistic. But Yazoo won, immediately.
The ride itself was also a randonneur permanent, owned by Michelle Williams of Crooked Letter Cycling. On the previous day, I rode a 222k permanent also owned by said same Michelle. As expected, that made this ride even more painful. However, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a gorgeous road. A week-long trek of 470 miles ended at this sports bar in Nashville, Tennessee.

NOTE: I expect special consideration for the greatest distance between brewvet rides.

MAY 17, 2015, Ride #2
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, over Palomares to Pleasanton, CA, 31 miles.
Brew Location: The Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill, Pleasanton, CA
Beer: North Coast Red Seal Ale
North Coast Brewing Company is in Fort Bragg, CA ...up on the Mendocino Coast.  I've been there on a kayaking trip with my son and tried their Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Everything they make is good.  This time, I went with a red ale. It was full and a little spicy. At first, I wasn't sure since I'm more of a stout/porter/dark-beer guy.  But I had the Ahi Tuna for lunch and they paired very well.
The ride was a familiar one for me, full of climbing and descending. Having ridden 470 miles this week, I foolishly sought the next milestone, 500 miles, as the goal for the week ending on this particular Sunday. To be safe, a little detour to gain an extra mile was in order, which took me by another familiar place - affectionately called "the Hop".

MAY 22, 2015, Ride #3
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, train station to Raley's and then home, 1.7 miles.
Brew Location: home, purchase beer from Raley's, both in Pleasanton, CA
Beer: Hangar 24 Chocolate Porter
Hangar 24 started next to the airport in Redlands, CA. Ben Cook started Hangar 24 after completing the Master Brewer Program at UC Davis. This porter is intended for pairing with full-bodied food, which I read after the fact. The 22 oz bottle gave me the opportunity to have two full glasses. The first didn't sit right with me. It was full of flavor but had an unpleasant aftertaste, dry, acidic. But the second glass was smoother, richer and a soft, slightly chocolaty finish (in that way I've come to expect with chocolate beer - but not quite like chocolate). At 8%, 22 ounces was plenty for me. But overall, I felt it was a good choice - even if it was an uneducated, spontaneous decision in a grocery store.
This ride was purely tactical. The Altamont Commuter Express serves as my commute occasionally, and my bike serves to connect work and home to the train stations. On the way home, I stopped by the store to grab a brew that I'd never tasted before.

MAY 23, 2015, Ride #4
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, over Palomares to San Ramon, CA, 44 miles.
Brew Location: The Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill, San Ramon, CA (their second location)
Beer: Russian River Porter
The Russian River Brewing Company is up in Santa Rosa, about two hours from here in wine country.  The description of the porter on their website says "Full-bodied, dry, clove spice, chocolate and roasted malts. Tasty on a breezy Autumn day!" Even though it's May in California, it was rather like a breezy autumn day today. And honestly, I didn't know it was yet another chocolate beer.  But who's complaining?
I was fresh off the bike after two hours, so the first sip was awesome! I had a black bean burger with fries for lunch and it went very well with this porter. It was very full and smooth with barely any aftertaste. It may have been my level of thirst or the burger, but it didn't seem bitter at all. The beer was full and soon enough, so was I.
The ride was cool and damp and never really warmed up until after lunch. The original plan was to climb Palomares, then swing through Castro Valley and climb Norris Canyon which would end up near "the Hop" in San Ramon. But we opted to skip Norris and take Dublin Canyon instead and then take the relatively flat San Ramon Valley Boulevard up to lunch. The ride home was as easy as it gets (Iron Horse Trail) and we were happy to have the sun poke out.

MAY 24, 2015, Ride #5
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, to Livermore, CA, 36 miles.
Brew Location: BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, Dublin, CA
Beer: Nutty Brewnette
BJ's is a chain that started with pizza in southern California and added their own beer along the way. Now they have locations from coast to coast. They offer the full spectrum of beers with seasonal specials, too.  I went with the brown instead of a porter just to bust out of my habit. Also, since this is a brewvet, I liked the "brew" in brewnette. The description claims four different malts and a healthy dose of hops. We didn't eat and it was warm and sunny outside where we were sitting, so the overall impression was a bit dry. But that's probably me. A cooler day and something to eat (anything, probably) would have made this beer quite satisfying. The flavor was balanced and complex which is my way of saying that I don't really know what it tasted like but it wasn't bad. Special thanks to Dedi for switching glasses with me (we both ordered the same, but mine came in a glass with some other label).
BJ's was not the original destination as this ride came together. There are three breweries in Livermore but they all open at noon. We had picked at 9am start time and it certainly doesn't take three hours to get to any of them.  BJ's opened at 10am, and had the added incentive of being a restaurant with big screen TVs instead of just tasting rooms. As we rode towards the increasingly warm sun, a struggle emerged between the ambitious riders and the social riders. A truce was reached with regroupings at predictable locations. The next conflict occurred because of the rerouting: we needed directions. Actually, a leader. Well, we had a leader (usually me) without directions, and someone with directions hovering near the back. Traffic was patient with us as we made course corrections. Of the nine that started, two diverted home leaving seven at the table ordering a variety of beers - photographic evidence notwithstanding. No riders had much ambition for the rest of the ride.

MAY 28, 2015, Ride #6
Ride: Milpitas, CA, to Pleasanton, CA, 30 miles.
Brew Location: Main Street Brewery, Pleasanton, CA
Beer: Pyrat Porter
Main Street Brewery occupies the building that was built in 1916 for the Parnassus Cheese Company, then the Standard Cheese Corporation (owned by Greek relative, Spiliotopoulos …Greeks in Pleasanton?) and is still called the Cheese Factory. Incidentally, it had an underground tunnel to the Pleasanton Hotel. In the 1970s, it was the largest local cheese processing plant around. Since 1995 they've been brewing excellent beer. As I’m apt to do, I looked for the porter – Pyrat Porter. It stood out on the waitress’s tray because it was very dark compared to the ambers and reds my buddies ordered. The foam was creamy and a deep, tan color that lasted for half the glass. From the first sip, it was a pleasure – smooth, rich and full with a quickly dissipating, lightly bitter aftertaste. What’s that? Oh yes, chocolate tones! This Brewvet Challenge has given me so many chocolate beers. For years I kept stumbling across porters that tasted like Peet’s Coffee (not my favorite). I couldn’t find the Brewery’s description but other online tasting reports claim that rum is used to make this, hence the pirate allusion. I didn't notice.

The riding prior to Main Street is my typical twice-weekly commute home from work. Often, Calaveras Road back by the reservoir will get traffic especially later in the week. But today there was a traffic accident at Calaveras and Felter that dammed up most of the cars during our ride. That made the rollers and switch-backs much more enjoyable. The weather had finally warmed up so it was a most excellent afternoon. As we entered town, my trio was joined by another commuter simply because of the impending beer stop. Another stopped on his way home from the train. And yet another joined during round two from his office in Pleasanton. It’s amazing how many friends want to hang with you when you’re enjoying a brewvet!

MAY 29, 2015, Ride #7
Ride: My house in Pleasanton, CA, to New Leaf Community Markets and back, 3 miles.
Brew Location: Heretic Brewing, Pittsburg, CA
Beer: Chocolate Hazelnut Porter
Heretic Brewing is not too far away in Pittsburg, California. I have fond memories of Heretic "Shallow Grave" during a 200km ride last fall, so I was happy to see several options on the shelf at the healthy, organic store down the road. Actually, I had to climb some steep hills with my single-speed to get there. No surprise, I chose the Chocolate Hazelnut Porter and also grabbed a package of brownies - having learned the importance of pairing foods.
I took a selfie then took a big sip of the porter. Umm, not quite right. Thin, dry and confusing. Oh wait, I'm dry from the minor sweat I created riding home. Small bite of the brownie and miraculously, it tasted perfectly balanced, rich and - you guessed it - chocolately! The foam upon refilling from the 1 pint 6 oz bottle was dark but thin and faded quickly. But the taste was a great match for the brownies.
The label says this was the very first beer he entered in competition (3rd). After feedback, tastings and improvements, he took Best in Show. Jamil Zainasheff (aren't you glad he called his brewery Heretic?) calls it "desert in a glass". That's what I wanted.

The ride itself was not planned. I needed two more brewvet rides in three days so Saturday and Sunday seemed okay. But I have a higher priority engagement on Sunday, and so I hatched this quick plan. My wife said "go". I had already ridden and changed into civies, so I kitted back up and took my Soma single-speed (Gates belt drive) off the rack. Rather than take the long way and avoid the big hills, I just powered over them.  According to Strava, I climbed 12% going there and 19% coming back, however briefly, in the 3-mile out-and-back. That's enough to make you crave chocolate.

MAY 30, 2015, Ride #8
Ride: Pleasanton, CA, to Hayward, CA, 32 miles.
Brew Location: Buffalo Bill's Brewery, Hayward, CA
Beer: Alimony IPA
I have no idea why this place is called "Buffalo Bill's" since Hayward has no significant connection to the wild west's Mr. Cody or any other combination of names I can find.
If I believe Wikipedia, a "brewpub" is a abbreviation of brewery and public place. I never new "pub" meant "public place." Such combinations were not legal in the United States until about 1980. 
The first five brewpubs in the U.S. were:

  1. Yakima Brewing & Malting, Yakima, WA (late 1982)
  2. Mendocino Brewing Co., Hopland, CA (Aug. 1983)
  3. Buffalo Bill's Brewery, Hayward, CA (Sept. 1984)
  4. Manhattan Brewing Co., New York, NY (late 1984)
  5. Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse, Berekeley, CA (Mar. 1986)
Yes, Buffalo Bill's in Hayward. The original owner sold it to the brewer, who couldn't get a loan so he took $70,000 in cash advances on his credit card to buy it. But that's not why we went there today. A friend of ours works there. And they open at 11am which works out well, logistically.
I had me heart set on Black Pumpkin Oatmeal Stout, but it's a seasonal beer and it's not the time of the season for pumpkin. Unbeknownst to me, after settling for Alimony IPA on the recommendation of the waitress, everyone else chose the same beer. It was either a classic case of group-think or simply a good choice; we'll never know. Alimony Ale was first produced in 1987 for a customer going through a divorce. "It's irreconcilably different." Unlike most of the other beers on this list, I could see through this one. I was a nice, amber color and as the foam subsided it clung to the glass. An ever so tiny hint of citrus was detectable, barely bitter at all. Light by my standards, I'd admit that it was medium-full and that made it quite nice as the gloomy, cool, overcast morning gave way to hot sunshine. We were outside with the portable heaters warming up, but by half-glass (about noon, straight up) the heaters were unnecessary. The group of seven ordered appetizers ranging from jalapeno poppers to kobe sliders, but I would say the best pairing was the sweet potato fries.
The ride was coordinated through the Cycleholics group; fitting, I think. "Drinkers with a cycling problem." Typically, we meet at 9am or 9:30am at Tully's Coffee on the south end of town. But since Hayward requires us to go west and slightly north, I posted instructions to meet at Peet's on the other side of town. There's always one who doesn't quite read everything. That left us a well-appreciated excuse to soft-pedal over the hill. The hill was keeping the fog bank at bay (even though "at bay" derived from baying or howling dogs, the fog was hanging over San Francisco Bay), so the descent into the Hayward side of the hill cooled us off. And my remedial navigation skills were evident. The return trip was slightly more direct, slightly more speedy thanks to a tail wind and in spite of the spirits, and slightly less focused as people went their separate ways home.

And that completes my 2015 Brevet Challenge.
Six breweries, two grocery stores, eight different beers, two states, two bikes, 278 miles.

I must admit that this challenge was harder than I thought it would be. Spotting myself 15 days before starting made it more interesting. Riding almost 250 more miles than necessary is just showing off, but hey. Half of the brewvets were multi-beer events, commensurate with my exaggerated mileage. This, I feel, speaks to the excellent beers that were chosen. This may be the golden age of Craft Beers but probably not the golden age of cycling, yet this challenge simply spoke to me ...and apparently my friends, too. 

And for that, I raise a glass in salute.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recounting the Natchez Trace Parkway

It's good to be home with access to a real computer.  Rather than edit my previous posts with observations in hindsight and in pixels, I'll consolidate them here.  I know you won't go back and re-read the day-by-day, blow-by-blow.  But if you insist, here's your portal:
The pale blue line represents the whole trip, including
the little circles near Gulfport the previous week.
A year ago, "Natchez" was the name of an old-time riverboat on the Mississippi River - that's all I knew. But Greg tipped me about a special road that the Heart Across America ride would take, and I hatched a plan to visit my parents and do this Natchez Trace Parkway. 

I rode the start of the ride back in March (1, 2 and 3) and had a full range of experiences. It was overwhelmingly positive and optimistic and wrapped around the cause. Five days in Mississippi would be completely different.

It was still wrapped around the cause as we took every opportunity to share it with people, but there weren't that many people. Being just the two of us on bikes - and solo at the end of the week - made it quieter, with time for reflection.
The Magnolia State

Southern Mississippi

The actual Trace, a footpath
The city of Natchez was established in 1716, Curtis told us that - they've got an anniversary coming next year. At 300 years old, it is older than most cities in the United States.  Who knew?

Dave heard that the whole Natchez Trace Parkway covers five degrees of latitude. The changes in geography were perceptible as we rode day after day.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a National Park, roughly 800 feet wide and 444 miles long. The trees on either side of the road are thick enough that you cannot see or hear what may be on the other side until you exit. Sometimes there a county road or state highway with strip malls, gas stations and hospitals.

Overlook from Jeff Busby
Texas and Montana are big states.  Not only do they cover massive area, you can see forever. Mississippi is a relatively big state.  But on the Trace, because of the trees, your sight is limited - making Mississippi a small state. Only on rare occasions did the Trace rise up and offer expansive views. And even then, you can't see from the Trace itself - you need to take a short road to the edge of the park. And if you sprint, you might take the KOM.

Otherwise, the southern third of the Trace offered a canopy of trees to shade and protect us. That was welcome, but it focused our impressions to that of the road and immediate surroundings.


My bike, with everything I brought stuffed in that pack, looking out from Baker Bluff
Aside from the suburbs of Jackson and the area around Tupelo, the towns are small. The history of the Natchez Trace as a means of travel were constrained to the early 1800s as far as written history is concerned (written by people of European descent). It improved from a trail to a passable road. With the advent of better roads elsewhere and steam power to travel north up the Mississippi River, it became obsolete. The consequence was that no major cities grew.  The towns we stayed in were classic little towns with a court building in the center, surrounded by nearly empty storefronts along the square and then a strip of fast food places nearest to whatever state highway aimed toward the interstate.
Dave and Dennis on the square in Houston, MS
The middle of the the state has slightly more elevation change, but still hardly any hill above 4% grade or 600 feet elevation above sea level. There is a perceptible change in density and type of trees. It's more farmland. But there is still plenty of water: swamps and at least one slough.

Clearly, I recommend that you ride the Natchez Trace, it was a very positive and memorable experience. If you go, don't go alone - it's more fun with friends.  And when you book your rooms, contact Randy from Natchez Trace Travel. Trust me.

Northern Section (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee)

The Trace runs northeasterly, veering away from the Mississippi River which goes past Memphis. The area near the river is the "delta" where the "delta blues" come from. The Trace, however, finds hilly territory and apparently "hill country blues" originated here.

Like a bad billiard shot, it misses the corner of Mississippi and crosses into Alabama near Muscle Shoals. The spelling is correct, although the intention may be a reference to mussels - Wikipedia is unclear. You'll recall, of course, The Swampers - they've been known to pick a song or two.  The Muscle Shoals Sound (from the recording studio, FAME, founded by The Swampers) influenced Sam Phillips before he started Sun Records.

I only spent an hour or so in Alabama, before I entered Tennessee. But it took me another day and many steep hills to get to Nashville.


A personal quirk of mine is a mild obsession with numbers. Strava gives me plenty of fodder - although I have not yet purchased a power meter. (I'm fond of saying "there's always somebody crazier" and those are the people with power meters.) Recently, I upgraded from the Jawbone UP24 to the UP3. It's basically a step counter and a sleep timer. A new feature in the UP3 is a resting heartrate measurement.  While I sleep it checks my pulse and estimates my resting heartrate overnight.

The four dots towards the left are the nights before my trip, 44bpm. The next three are the visit with my parents; I think I needed to adjust to the humidity. The high point of the week (the worst point) was the night before the first ride in Natchez. I attribute that to the two margaritas and two beers - that's more than I usually drink in a whole week. As the week went on, I got better. Thursday and Friday were more strenuous days on the bike which seems counter-intuitive, but that's the data. And the last data point is home sweet home.

Cool, huh?

I didn't weigh myself during the ride.  But by the time I returned home, I had gained five pounds. Considering how much I ate at regular meals, especially once I got to Nashville, it's not surprising. I doubt it was the instant oatmeal for breakfast every day. My body is used to burning this many calories and I'm less concerned about what I eat after a few beers.  And on the flight home, since I gained two hours, I managed to gain an extra meal, too. And that't probably why I gained weight.

I failed in my desire to have catfish or a po' boy (or a catfish po' boy).

The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles; we diverted around a few. Adding in the ingress and egress miles, I logged 469.3 miles overall. Before that, I did 107.5 miles over three days in Gulfport, MS, where my parents live.

In addition to the missed catfish, there were also missed Brewvet opportunities. That's "brew" like in beer, and "vet" like in the French word brevet.  In Gulfport, my hotel was only a couple miles from Mississippi brewing - but it seemed weird to go out for a beer on my bike instead of visiting with my parents. But at the time I thought I'd have plenty of opportunities along the Trace. But aside from a Negra Modelo at Bel Piatto (yes, an Italian restaurant), there were precious few good beer drinking opportunities

If you ever need to prove you know obscure Fisch Facts, mention Dave's "Crazy Ivan" maneuver at the bottom of the hour. Okay, not *exactly* at the bottom of the hour and probably not even once an hour, but Dave gets out of the saddle simply to change his position - even on flat roads. That can be a surprise when you are drafting him. I almost ran into his tire several times.
Grinders Stand (like a motel), where
Meriwether Lewis died
(of Lewis & Clark)

Bridge at Birdsong Hollow
I've become a coffee drinker because of cycling. This was not a good trip for coffee. The hotel rooms tended to have one-cup coffee makers with single-serving packets of "regular" or "decaf" - very descriptive names.  Less than inspiring.  Unlike cycling *outside* of a National Park, there are no coffee shops along the way for that mid-morning recaffeination.

If I think of anything else, I'll edit this and make you read it again!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Natchez Trace Day 5

My body aches from the previous day's effort, so I didn't sleep well. It wasn't the fault of the bed, however - Miss Monetta's Country Cottage was wonderful. I had a double oatmeal, pop tarts and coffee for breakfast, compliments of Miss Monetta's. While I put on my sunscreen, I take inventory of aches and of the dozens of bug bites I've accumulated.

I had a nice little chat with Larry Butler (half of Miss Monetta's, with Dianne Bulter) about working at Murray Manufacturing Company (bicycles, lawn mowers, etc.) in nearby Lawrenceburg before they sold out.

It's a nice, cool morning but Larry thinks it might rain. Doesn't matter, I've got no options today. You've probably noticed there's no "Heart Across America" in the title today. Dave and the goose are 60 miles back in Belmont. I'm on my own.

I roll out to the Trace and search in vain for that easy rhythm. Everything hurts. It feels like I've already been in the saddle for six hours. My wrist hurts; Dave had noted that I move my elbow when I ride - that probably strains my wrist. My knee hurts; it's not exactly stable during my pedal stroke. My neck hurts; I have a big head. And I don't have much power. Not a good start.

But it's a nice, cool morning and the road continues to be immaculate. I have no options. Today becomes a tale of a tailwind. I can hear the breeze in the trees. I can see the bottoms of the leaves as the wind turns them over. But there's no roar in my ears. Just the hum of the tires on the pavement and the quick clicking of my drivetrain. I wanted to say "Cicadian Rhythm" for the drivetrain because of the Cicadas we've been hearing for days. But I was thinking *circadian* rhythm, about a daily rhythm - which happened about two hours in. Once I got warm, the pains subside. The power isn't really there but I attribute that to the lack of a drafting partner.

Tennessee is different than Mississippi. Hills, deciduous trees, visible rocky uplifts, and fewer historic sites dedicated to Native Americans. At Jack's Branch, I meet a nice German couple in their Mercedes van. I'm efficient, so I move on and see them at the next stop ...and one more time on the road.

I spend a bit more time at the Meriwether Lewis Memorial. I'm conscious of taking 100 calories per hour, exactly at the top of the hour. I'm less clear about hydration since I'm topping off the bottles at every fountain.

I meet a lot of people from Franklin, TN, today. One group has to contain three families; they were a swarm. I'm peppered with questions about my bike but I really want to pet their dog, Abbie. I stop often, scenic places like Baker Bluff, and solemn places like the War of 1812 memorial.

Did I mention the hills? Of course you know Tennessee has hills. Even as smooth as the Natchez Trace Parkway is, the hills are steeper here. I see 8%. Relentless, actually. More up than down. At the Tennessee Valley Divide, I figure it out. It's a misnomer to me's a ridge, not a valley. It's a horizontal version of the continental divide on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to 30 miles of downhill. Nope, more hills - just more down than up now.

All day long I've been watching the mile markers. I choose to mark the fours (384, 60 miles to go; 394, 50 miles to go). I recalculate my arrival time: 60 miles, four hours ...2:30pm. Hey, I've got no one to talk to so I do math. Don't you?

I pass 404, 424 ...I'm so close. But where's that big huge bridge I need to cross? I stop at a rest area and see a group of elementary school kids. The teacher is from Moraga, CA. That's where I got married. She doesn't really know where the bridge is, because she always takes highway 96 underneath it from Franklin. Within a few miles, not that far from the northern terminus, I see a highway 96 sign. And there's the bridge.

It's not that terrifying. I don't like heights. But the sightlines are towards the horizon; you can't see down too much - not that I'm looking. It is certainly a long way down, but I'm okay. My wife is laughing at this; my son stopped reading long ago. On the northern side is a viewing spot, but it's too sheltered by trees to give you a sense of scale.

For the past few miles I see cyclists - probably doing out-and-backs from Nashville. They have little interest in yet another plodding tourist "doing the Trace".  I take a 9% hill in the big ring. It's longer than I thought, so I actually need to work or risk embarrassment. And I notice wet pavement - it's been raining here. Lucky me, I missed it. Finally, highway 100. I'm done.

A ceremonial double-chocolate chocolate milk at the Shell station then off to my hotel.

The long-forecast rain finally catches up with me about a block from the hotel. Big, fat raindrops. Enough that I want my jacket. I pull into a drive-thru bank for cover. While I'm putting on my jacket, a voice comes over the intercom, "crazy weather, ain't it?" That's not the half of it.

After a warm reception at the Hampton Inn (my bike box has apparently been a novelty), I head over to Jonathan's Grille. The waitress lets me taste test a couple of local brews and I settle on Yazoo Dos Perros. Perfect. I have one for Dave and Dennis, too. Nap time.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Heart Across America Day 54 (Natchez Trace Day 4)

Today is a big day for me. I'm combining the Heart Across America ride with a randonneur 200k permanent. That means 60-some miles with Dave, and the comfort of knowing Dennis is back there. And then I keep going until I complete138 miles, unsupported.

This is nothing new for me, but it still causes me a bit of concern. Locals have said the stretch around Tupelo during rush hour is the worst.

The water from the tap was rusty, so I fill up from the filtered tap in the breakfast room. Consolidation begins on my possessions, some things go. The rest needs to fit in my oversized seat bag. I saved enough Skratch Labs drink mix for Friday and put it in a Ziploc bag.  Do you think anyone would question the white powdery substance? Nah. Cheese Danish, instant oatmeal and "bold" coffee for breakfast. Dave's chatting up a couple out in the parking lot. She's got a German accent, he's surprised we aren't crossing the country on bike trails made from abandoned railways. Some guy in an orange T-shirt wandering away from the hospital next door asks us how to get to the gas station that he went to yesterday. Okay, well ...let's ride.

Since I'm doing a randonneur event, I need a timestamp from a place chosen by the organizer (Michelle Williams). Unfortunately in a town like this and the town in Alan Jackson's "Little Man", sometimes even gas stations go out of business. Texaco is gone, but there's an Exxon close enough. Now for worry #1, dogs.

We have several miles of side streets and country roads before the Trace. As soon as Dave mentions the mace he's carrying, I hear barking. It's a Chihuahua, but still. Dave tries to educate me about screaming "AARRU" because it sounds like a dog. Sure, a dog on a bike with tastey ankles. It's total paranoia. We're staring at every run-down home and trailers (profiling, I'm sorry). Then a pack of three dogs come charging from a rather nice home (profile failure). It could have been a hundred, but I was gone. Dave had dropped back and was riding beside the van (white goose). Nice dogs, actually. Mercifully, we reach the Trace.

Life returns to the surreal experience that has us spoiled for the whole week. Perhaps there are flaws, or perhaps we're bored, but I start to point out small dimples and discolorations in the road in previous days. At one of the blur of historic stops about a once-proud native culture, Dennis spots some rather large nail-heads in the van's tire ...bolt-heads, actually - huge. So we send Dennis ahead to Tupelo to get it fixed and run some errands and find us some lunch.

Now Dave and I are alone and unsupported. Dave appreciates this feeling. I'm ambivalent. Along with being navigationally challenged, I quickly forget when the van is back there. I don't have a rearview mirror like Dave and on more than one occasion I've been startled by the van. Life is always interesting for me!

Dave detects a wobbles in his front wheel. A broken spoke. And we're unsupported. Before I thought to photograph the event, he had removed the offending piece, performed some rudimentary failure analysis, adjusted the other spokes to compensate and was ready to roll. I'd still be there.

I'm anxious to read Dave's blog because I thought we rode at a workmanlike pace. With the late start for worry #2, I was pondering worry #3, how long would it take me to finish. 6pm? Certainly well before 8pm. Honestly, I couldn't go much faster and still have enough for 138 miles. Tupelo traffic never materializes.

Around noon, we hit the big visitors'center. Incidentally, there must be a segment that ends near the bathroom instead of the main entrance, because Dave's got a 2015 KOM and I got nuttin' - 15 minutes behind. Dave's blog probably won't mention that I got there first. Anyway, I love that place. Books, maps, pins, giant maps made into the tile floor. But alas, we roll.

Eventually we hear a honk. Dennis is back. Lunch. Dennis got me a Turkey Reuben sandwich - he heard me say that I liked Reubens before I went vegetarian/ pescitarian (except on big bike rides when I'll eat turkey and drink regular Coke.) We are a laugh riot at small-town restaurants with all our quirks. Hopefully, Kenny is normal - my replacement for next week.

Soon Dave's exit arrives while mine is 70 miles further. It's tough. But it's what we had decided to do long ago. I look over my shoulder and watch Dave shrink out of view. Big exhale. Damn, miss him already. Okay, I hope I helped.

These memories will last a lifetime and I'm glad to share them with Dave. Many times, this poem has crossed my mind. Dave knows it by heart, or at least used to - as do I.

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.

By John Walter Wayland

Back to part two. I'm tired, I've got no one to draft and I need to make good time. A pair of touring cyclists had passed, so I run them down. Two guys with Adventure Cycling doing the Underground Railroad tour. They're going to Toronto. One is a bluesman with a guitar on his back. (The other is not Ralph Macheo.) We chat until they exit. I pick up the pace again. A bit.

What's this? A hill. I flip my Garmin display to show elevation and rate of incline. 7%, ouch. Screw it, I've stayed in the big ring all week and I'm not downshifting now!

Not much of a descent. And another 7%-er. Where's Dave? Oh yeah, he's showered and having a beer about now. But the scenery has changed. There are rock outcroppings. And very light rain, and it seems darker. I'm feeling okay. It crosses my mind that Don Brennan might be with me. My smile surprises me.

We, I mean I, cross into Alabama. It looks different. There's more climbing, more differentiation. There's the Alabama/Tennessee state line and another historic marker. Now I'm in Tennessee ...seems like I was just in Mississippi.  Now I'm starting to focus solely on the mile markers. Whoa! Opening up before me after a welcome downhill stretch is the Tennessee River. Which means I've got a bridge to cross. Very cool, I thought this might be worry #4 or whatever it's up to. That was refreshing.

Back to the countdown. I'm really tired. My 17-18mph pace is now 15mph. I muster a few historic stops (to eat). I'm checking my water. Another mile marker. I pass a pair of touring cyclists. Wave.

I pass a guy heading south. When I stop to photograph a bridge (really just stopping to give my butt a break), he loops around. He's a local, trying to get back in shape. The Heart Across America story spills out. Time to roll, should be 45 more minutes.

In my focus on mile markers, I miss two things I wanted to see: the stepping stones at Rock Spring, and the Wichahpi Stone Wall. Oh well, nine miles to go. Four. One. Zero, and I'm still going. (No, it's not a navigation problem.) Okay, there it is. And no dogs.

Collingwood, Tennessee, is small. I find the Exxon station I need for my randonneur timestamp. Snickers and a chocolate milk. I ask for directions to Miss Monetta's Country Cottage while I pound down my purchase.

Miss Monetta's Cottages are basically single-family homes on the edge of town ...a B&B. It's awesome. So my bike is in the garage, I've woofed down the complimentary snacks and water and spent way too much time writing this. If I've shorted anything, it's Miss Monetta's. If I've neglected anything for PC reasons, it was dinner.

Summary: my wrists, butt, neck, ankles and every last muscle suffered today. It's been a long week. One more tomorrow. What's it been like for Dave?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Heart Across America Day 53 (Natchez Trace Pkwy Day 3)

Does anyone remember "if it's blue, this must be Boise", an old TV commercial? This sort of cycling has similarities to business travel: New city, new hotel, unpack just what you need, repack and roll. Most of the time we dispense with the hotel's alarm clock and use our phones. In Natchez, the clock was at some random time so I set it and then carefully set the alarm for 5:45 - specifically AM. But I had set the time 12 hours off. In Clinton, it was perfect. Here in Kosciusko, there was no alarm indicator, but it worked. Regardless, in every city so far, I have woken before the alarm.

I get coffee, banana and a muffin at 6:30. That means I was technically "early" for breakfast. Back to blogging.

I'm not late for breakfast yet, so I'll give you one thought I failed to publish so far. Across the river from Natchez is Ferriday, Louisiana (comment if you think it should be Faraday) - birthplace of Jerry Lee Lewis. Tomorrow, we will pass by Tupelo, Mississippi - the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

After oatmeal with Dennis and Dave, we roll. I'm certain we go left to where we exited from the Trace yesterday and then continue in that direction. Dave's electronic gizmo collection cluttering up his handlebars say the opposite. I'm wrong. Today we have sunshine, so I know east from west. I am not to be trusted. Dave says "68 miles, then we turn right."

To those of you reading Dave's blog as well as mine, I apologize for the lack of photos or video here. Read his first. Or check my Instagram or Strava.  The issue for me is that I'm writing on my phone and attaching photos causes irreparable problems.  Nonetheless, I took some *amazing* photos of swamps and trees and only-in-Mississippi sorts of things! Trust me. I start saying "left in, left out" as a memory tool - so I know which way to go as we exited each stop.

Would you like a glimpse behind the scenes?  Dave's the star, I'm comic relief and partial wind blocker. Dennis drives the grey goose, a Mercedes sprinter van that you've likely seen on earlier photos. The van generally trails anywhere from a few hundred yards behind us, to immediately behind us. When he's close, he's filming us with a hood-mounted Go-Pro. Sometimes, he's miles behind if he spends more time at some historic point of interest.

When we stop, he stops. My water bottle magically gets filled, I can get sunscreen, snacks or wipes for my glasses. I deny most things, being a randonneur, but I'm only human. There's no espresso machine. If Sean Maloney were here, there would be espresso. Once we get close to the finish each day, Dennis drives ahead to go check in.

Today is quite nice. The weather is nearly cloudless and the temps are mostly in the 70s. Cycling perfection.

We stop at the frequent points of interest. We aren't focused on speed at all. We see a line of trees that once represented a territorial border. Similarly, Line Creek marked another border. There are sections of the old Trace - a dirt path through the woods - so we ride on the old Trace. We climb "the wall" - a 6% grade hill that I just named. It's nice to climb. We met two couples from Texas at one stop, chatted, then now meet them again at the next stop!

This is a stop called Jeff Busby. Thomas Jefferson Busby was a congressman in the early 1900s. He's the one who made this National Park a reality. I think it was approved around 1930, but the very last section (ironically, mile zero in Natchez) was completed in 2005. At 603 feet, this is the highest point on the Trace.

It's a campground. At the other end of camp is the scenic overlook where you can almost see Alabama (I made that up, but I posted a photo me). The drive is paved. And another hill, an actual hill. It's called "Little Mountain" - says so right on the official sign. Dave wimps out and drops to the little ring but I'm out of the saddle feeling my instant oats. I wish I had my single-speed. We are rewarded with a fantastic view!  It's a low, wide valley completely void of civilization. More photos.  Had I pedaled another twenty feet, I probably would have scored a 2015 KOM. As I walk around, Strava tells me I just completed a segment. Hmm. (Editor's note: I checked Strava and my time was about 17 minutes to Dave's 4 minutes ...that's my story.)

Have I mentioned how much I like Dave? He gave me a slice of his cold pizza from last night. If you know me, well, I love cold pizza. Time for a fast descent down Little Mountain.

Alas, no cyclists going our way all day. But we did spot a small peloton heading south. We wave, they reciprocate. Here's a touring cyclists with double panniers. He waves. He 's turning a high cadence. I assume he's on his way to the tip of South America. Maybe not. Now here's a woman who may be on a Trek, but is not on a trek. Is she with the other guy? Do they not really like each other?

I begin to notice a mix of pine and deciduous trees ...maple? And less and less of that wonderful canopy over the road. Now the pavement is no longer sandy colored, but dark grey asphalt - still smooth. Around mile marker 205 we see a sign referring to tornado damage from 2011. It does look more sparse. Are we climbing or are my legs fading?

We notice more heat from the road. It's still nice, maybe 80 degrees. Dave's gizmo central indicates a subtle climb and a long descent. He's being cruel. Yes, a subtle climb. Then four or five bike lengths of descent. I question his sanity and ask politely about the oasis of free-wheeling that never materialized. He says we're at -1%. So I roll a bit at 20mph - like eating sand at a mirage.

And now the cycling gods respond to Carol's prayer and the canopy returns! Life is good. A few more stops for historical markers and we reach the exit for Houston.  For a few minutes, we endure the reality of public roads until our hotel. Nice. Good internet. Clean towels.

After the daily ritual of laundry and showering and recharging the electronics, we find food. No beer - it's a dry county - but good food. The locals seem to find us interesting ...or they fake it well.

Before dinner, we walk around the courthouse square. It's just like Alan Jackson's song "Little Man" ...just a set of streets, ...historic district, ...wouldn't sell beer. We stopped in the Recall pharmacy. My mom worked for years in a little drug store with a fountain. Her name is Elizabeth Jane but she's called Betsy. This drug store has a fountain. We talk to the pharmacist's wife, Jane ...Elizabeth Jane Pearson. Cool.

Oh, the clock comments at the beginning of this post? The clock here wasn't even plugged in.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Heart Across America Day 52 (Natchez Trace Pkwy Day 2)

The clock in my hotel has three-inch high numbers so I can read it without my glasses. In the three o'clock hour it's raining heavily. As forecast. Back to sleep. It's a gift, I can go back to sleep. 5:45am, the alarm goes off. I'm two minutes late for breakfast ...Dave's finishing his yogurt (no oatmeal).

The forecast was for rain overnight, a respite starting at 7am for a few hours before thunderstorms return. We should roll. But the nice thing about free breakfast (besides being free), is the familial atmosphere. You'd think a couple of guys wearing spandex shorts would repel people, but it doesn't. Carol and Gary fall prey to Dave's charm.

They appear to be retired and currently live in Sarasota, FL. They're going to Portage, MI to see grandson Todd graduate high school. I actually lived in Portage briefly and grew up 10 miles from there. And this may also surprise you, but my name is Todd! By now Carol has spun her chair around. The conversation shifts to the Heart Across America. As with nearly every encounter, they've been affected by heart disease of some sort. Carol already knows about the carotid artery scan from her nursing days. Gary's 97 yr old mom gets her's checked. Dave gives her a card so she can follow our progress. She offers to pray with us, so we all hold hands as she talks.  Her recall is amazing. Of course she remembers *my* name but she's got all the details including Dennis' roll as driver and defender. I see them leave with their cute little Schnauzer, Jessie Jane.

The timing is great for the weather but awful for commute traffic. Unlike yesterday's ride with a couple dozen cars all day, we have dozens at a time queued up behind Dennis in the van. Most are cautious and considerate as they pass. But some take undue risks. With virtually no shoulder, we stay right but oncoming traffic veers to their right and I see one hit the brakes to avoid a passing white pickup truck. The Natchez Trace is a National Park, people! - not a place to play chicken. A few miles of that and we are back to our old personal playground.

The skies are overcast and the roads are still damp. I don't have a fender. I apologize. Dave's bike has a stubby little fender that only protects a portion of his, well, you know. He's not apologetic. And he doesn't need to be because there is no spray to speak of.  We get down to work.

Around mile 20, Dave yells "wabbit" ...a cyclist ahead!  The power ratchets up as we reel him in. The next five miles disappear as we take turns talking to Caleb Snyder. He's the track and field coach at Belhaven College in Ridgeland, out for a quick out-and-back before going to work. Interesting guy.

By now we're more than a third of the way and haven't taken a break. Oh sure, little historical turn-offs appeared every other mile yesterday. We give up waiting and pull off onto the grassy shoulder. I look for snakes. Can't be too safe. I call my randonneur friend, Michelle Williams. She writes the Crooked Letter Cycling blog and is the hub of cycling in this part of the Magnolia State. Caleb knows who she is... Nice. Just so friendly. Wish we had more time.

Espresso Gu since Sean Maloney isn't here to have a double and we're off again.  I must have joked about our average speed dropping below 19mph, because Dave's down on the drops and I'm playing catch-up. Fine, my turn. Oh yeah? We roll past an scenic stop. Peripherally, I see a wooden walk-bridge. So I get my reprieve from hammertown and we turn around. It's like a Louisiana bayou. Oooh, even better, we see people!

Reversing roles, I start chatting while Dave goes to take pictures. Mind you, Dave's camera has a two-foot long boom with a bike attached. Before long I know Linda and Donny Studnick's (or Studnička, it's Czech) life story. Donny is living with 100% blockage of one of his carotid arteries; the other is perfectly clear so surgery was not recommended. He drives. They laugh about the occasional wrong turn - not related to the carotid. Another joke about trying to focus the auto-focus camera. I love these two! And I'm thinking "you're going from Nebraska to Oklahoma City, and you're in Mississippi ...heading south?"

I gave them my card; hopefully they get to read this.  Send us a copy of that photo. (Unless it's blurry!)

Okay, hit resume on the cruise control. (You can hit the fast-forward button.) Wait, what's that in the road? It's sorta moving. It's a turtle. I suppose that says something about the traffic volume, he's almost all the way across. Dave nudges him. He clams up. Sorry, bad metaphor. I try to pick him up gently. I don't really know what happened but he startled me enough that I never really picked him up. Now he's shell-sided down and peeing like a racehorse. Fortunately, it's going the other way. I assume it a defense mechanism. He stops and I right-side him. He's okay now the road, in the grass.

Resume cruising speed. "Dave! Did you see that snake?" Continuing to make questionable choices with nature, we loop back. About three feet long and as big around as your fist. Dave says he's alive. I regret this with every fiber of my being. I thought his head was smashed, but he's eating something that's already smashed. Morbidly fascinating. Perhaps cannibalistic, I think he's eating a snake! It's hard to tell from my safe position behind Dave. He asks if I want to take a closer look. I turn my bike around and leave. I don't like snakes.

Another uneventful 15 miles and we're in Kosciusko. Apparently there are several acceptable pronunciations - some taking great liberty with the actual order of the letters. I think Costco is one of them. My favorite is Cozy Couscous (I made that up).  I shouldn't joke; this is serious.  It's named for a Revolutionary War general from Poland named Tadeusz Kościuszko.  Before that it was called Red Bud Springs. It's part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which I've noticed signs for throughout this trip.

Significantly, Oprah Winfrey was born here. (See how I gave her her own paragraph?)

It's barely noon and we hammered out 75 miles, hoping to avoid thunderstorms. We did. And now we are hungry. Dave wants pasta. Since he can easily make me suffer at speeds slightly over 23 mph, I am motivated to make Dave happy. Actually, I'm the only one who noticed the Italian restaurant. As we start to order, the waiter can't quite follow Dave's question. Now I can't, because Dave's switched to Spanish. Now we're getting special beer "from the back" ...not on the regular menu. I love Dave. And it's not just the beer talking.

Check Dave's version of the story, it might be different. Perhaps neither is accurate.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Heart Across America Day 51 (Natchez Trace Pkwy Day 1)

Canal Street in downtown Natchez runs along the mighty Mississippi River. I can see it from my third-floor hotel window. Even from a distance, you can see the strength of the current. It's heading to the Gulf of Mexico. We're heading north.

It's been 49 days since I rode with the Heart Across America. I should be fresh, they should be tired. It's appropriate that we're next to a bridge over the river, because there has been a lot of water under it since Day 1. The toll has been documented, but Dave looks great. Second wind, tail wind, whatever wind ...he's strong and very much in tune with what his body needs to achieve this continental goal. I'm literally along for the ride. After I drop off my rental car.

In 1809, the first stage coach was able to navigate the Trace. Of course, for thousands of years, the Choctaw and Chickasee and their ancestors used the Trace. Now, with GPS and carbon fiber bikes on skinny tires, we do the same.

We have a local cyclist, Curtis Moroney, to guide us out of town. Curtis is more than a local cyclist, he's a former racer and state champion and current go-to guy for all things cycling related in Natchez. He's a native Natcheezian. We met him last night and hung out at his house swapping cycling stories - I have no doubt several of them were true. This morning he's got to go into the office so he does an out-and-back to the 10-mile marker.

At least one car passed us, maybe two but no more in the first ten miles. We rode three abreast most of the way. He told more stories ...history, cycling friends, markers for local rides and races. It was really a pleasure to have him join us. He had a beautiful old Tommasini bike. Dave and I were subtly geeking out over it.

If all dogs go to heaven, then all bikes should do the Trace. Slowly undulating hills, barely perceptible at 3% or 4%, kept us exerting and relaxing. The road surface was as smooth as a billiard table with a sandy colored chip seal that only a National Park could have. Boringly perfect, we started pointing out imperfections as if they were road hazards. And we started sprinting for bridges (my fault) - I was winning until I told Dave what I was doing! Then I had to fake an unclipped pedal to save my ego. We stopped that, of course, with 60 miles to go.

The trees made a canopy and occasionally opened up inexplicably for a verdant meadow or grand oak tree. We stopped a few times for sights and food, but basically we just rolled on. As we approached the Sunken Trace, the skies opened up for a welcome rain. The thick, heavy drops came and went soon enough so we didn't need rain gear. For a few miles, fenders would have been welcome but riding side by side was fine. We talked the hours away and spent some time in comfortable silence.

Around mile 30 or 40, we saw cyclists. And more cyclists. Apparent touring cyclists on hybrid bikes mostly with street clothes (and one winter jacket). We waved, they waved. They seemed to be enjoying themselves on an easy ride.

I just can't tell you what a wonderful road this is. I can see how it might get boring, especially solo. But the lack of traffic, of turns, of any uncertainty, made it very serene.  There was plenty of time for reflection. Time for talk of family and how we miss them. Time to recharge, as if a 90 mile day could actually afford that.

Any bike ride has it's moments of concern. What's that noise? Did I feel a twinge? Heartrate, cadence, vibrations, weather, bonking ...the constant survey. Not much today. There was a noise, though. Not from our bikes. Distant. Like a train, no, like a subway train. Like a constant high-pitched note. Cicadas. Billions of them. Turned up to 11, Nigel. In some areas you could hear them distinctly, deafening. At mile 88 they almost completely shut off, or at least down an octave.

That's when we reached Clinton, on the outskirts of Jackson (the capitol).  Motto: You Belong Here.  Yes, from time to time, I heard Johnny and June singing "I'm going to Jackson..." Now, I'm gonna look around.

(Also read:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

My Head's in Mississippi

I planned this trip months ago. When the Heart Across America crew first announced their cross-country bike route, I knew I wanted to ride somehow. One of my commute buddies, Greg, mentioned they would be riding a road in the southeast that is special for cyclists. I looked it up and immediately knew I wanted to ride it: the Natchez Trace Parkway.

It helped that it wasn't too far from my parents' house. And it was even better that they would come through on Mother's Day. So that's the plan: Mother's Day in Mississippi, then ride the Trace with the Heart Across America.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It was 49 degrees when I woke up. Cold. In a few days I'll be longing for cool temps and low humidity. I had disassembled my bike and packed it the night before. My wife drove me to the BART station. The train took me to Oakland and a shuttle conveniently to OAK airport. Bike checked, tall Americano and I'm waiting to board.

I'm not one to talk to strangers, but I was compelled by the guy across from me. We exchanged small talk about West Coast Conference basketball and intern opportunities for psych majors. He was Marley Biyondolo, sophomore guard for Pepperdine University. He's from Australia. Nice kid.

Tracing to the Trace

In March, the Heart Across America crew left from Palo Alto, CA. Many of my friends joined Sean Maloney to kick off this great event. The camaraderie was fantastic, the scenery was awe inspiring and the optimism was high. I rode for a few days and then turned for home while a smaller group headed down the coast for San Diego. My flight from Oakland connects in San Diego.

From there, my flight takes me over the path they took in April. When I booked the trip, I was confident that they would stay on schedule. The schedule is in tact, but it's nothing like what anyone imagined. It's not an easy ride but no one expected tradegy. Read Dave's blog.

Smell the Humidity

Touch down in New Orleans, pick up my bike and now it's off to Gulfport to see my mom and dad for a few days.

It's late, so I grab some fried pickles and margarita pizza at Chili's. I order a Samuel Adams and they bring me two's happy hour.  I stare at Strava for awhile to pick a route for the morning.  The Best Western has clean towels, comfortable beds and free wi-fi. And an in-room coffee maker.

5:15am, the alarm goes off. Need to roll before dawn to beat the heat. Except near the highway, there's not much traffic. Several dogs were up, though, and they wanted to chase. Within half an hour the humidity fogged my glasses! I managed to stay on course, not get lost and make it back in time for the free breakfast. And I was awarded with a KOM somehow. Okay, there were only seven riders on that segment's all-time list but still - a KOM is a KOM.

It was nice to visit with my parents again. It's been too long. I spent several days riding at dawn (top 10s, but no more KOMs), visiting, slowing down, nearly off the grid, going to bed early.

Clever Insights

I'll spare you the family minutia and offer my thoughts on riding in Mississippi. No one else was out riding, as far as I could see. Forensic Strava data shows they're here, but not many of them. Most seem to be triathletes and many segments were TT loops. Strava needs a sprinter award because "KOM" implies a mountain or at least a hill. Not here. There was an occasional depression near a bayou or creek and a fractional-percentage climb afterwards. 100 feet of climbing per 10 miles is typical - no way to hit the 100 feet per mile metric we seek back home.

There's hardly any shoulder, but drivers gave me the whole lane when passing. Some just trailed me for miles until they could pass. Either they were in no hurry (highly likely) or my high-viz kit created a spectacle (equally likely). Given the TT segments, I pushed a big gear all the time. Not much free-wheeling. The strangest thing was the cloudy glasses. It was so humid that they fogged up and wouldn't clear. I'm sure that my aero tuck was negated by the glasses halfway down my nose ...gramps can't see. Which also meant that I nearly had to stop to read street signs. Probably cost me another KOM (kidding).

No gators. Don't laugh! The aforementioned dog chases were my biggest concern. For those of you keeping score, there were more opossum than armadillo carcasses. No snakes (they have poisonous water snakes here).  Jim Stafford sang, "Black water Hattie lived back in the swamps where the strange green reptiles crawl, snakes hang thick off cypress trees like sausage on a smokehouse wall." Over and over in my head. The downside of solo cycling - song lyrics on endless loop.

Plot Twist

Finally, I had a cyclist sighting. Saturday at breakfast, after my ride, after my shower. By the way, hotel breakfast buffet consists of cheesy scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage and mini cinnamon rolls. A few of the people were super thin, the rest took multiple plates if you know what I mean. Back to my cyclists. Full baby blue TREK kits; not the lean muscular types. From across the room I could detect an accent (anyone seen "Legally Blonde - the Musical? or European?). I interrupted them. Sweden! Riding cross-country from San Diego to Florida, a few more days to go. Cool. I shared my Natchez Trace plan and the shortest version of the Heart Across America story. Ya, good.

Cliche, perhaps, but I did laundry at my parents' house. Now it's time to go to Natchez.