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.