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.

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