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 ...um, 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 ...off 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.


  1. You put Dave Barry's humor to shame. It's been a long time since I laughed this hard.

  2. Great read makes me wish I was there!

  3. You are right, that little plastic spatula that Dave calls a fender, will protect his derriere, while sprewing a large arch of a rooster tail on the person behind him, Ask Rich.
    He and I shared this experience out of Waxahachie.