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.

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