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.


  1. Great recap! Love the detail you capture and the subtle humor!

  2. Thanks Todd, I enjoy hearing the other side of the story. I am sure I am not the only one who will miss you!

  3. Great post! I'm absolutely loving following this journey!