Map of Our Natchez Trace Bike Trip

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Geri and Dennis at Black Belt Overlook

Twenty-mile Bottom Overlook
Our campsite at Tishomingo State Park
 Day 28 - It seems to be a lot easier to get up early when you're camping, so before sunrise we were already out of bed, but as usual we didn't get on the road until nearly 9:00 AM.  We made a quick stop at Black Belt Overlook before pedaling into Tupelo, MS. for a McDonald's Big Breakfast.  I imagine that Becky Brandt, who works at the USDA office where I work part time, will pay special attention to our travels today since Elvis was born in this town!  I did not realize that all McDonald's now have WiFi, so we were able to download photos to our blog from yesterday. There were a lot of things to see today along the Natchez Trace. We visited the Chickasaw village site and took a short cut on an unpaved bike trail to get back on the Parkway. We saw several sites where the old Natchez Trace was clearly visible and one place had 13 unknown Confederate soldiers' graves along the original Trace. There was a nice overlook called Twenty-mile Bottom which provided a view that showed we are having to climb some hills now. Our elevation seems to fluctuate between 300 and 500 feet, but we feel like we do more climbing than coasting. One of the most interesting roadside attractions was Pharr Mounds with 8 Indian mounds spread out over a wide area, two of which are 18 feet high. We saw another copperhead today, but he had met with an untimely death and had become a part of the road. We had to battle a north wind today which seems to get stronger each day, but at least, the temperature remains pleasant for bicycle travel and there is not even a hint of any rain. Toward the end of the day we passed the 300 mile marker and we traveled off the Parkway a few miles later to get to a campsite in Tishomingo State Park. We arrived at the entrance to the Park at sunset, but there was a convenience store at that intersection and we could not resist getting a pizza for dinner so we would not have to cook in the dark. As a result, however, after eating we did have to pedal in the moonless, dark night to the campground about 2 miles away. It was a little eerie riding through the dense forest on a narrow road in the darkness with just our bicycle lights, but there was no traffic. That was a big change from most of our day traveling on the Parkway. It has been moderately heavy with traffic ever since we left Tupelo, MS. It seems in this part of Mississippi that the Natchez Trace is used more for transportation than for recreation. The traffic volume here is very different than in the southern portion of the Parkway. We found a campsite right next to the showerhouse, which wasn't difficult because we were the only campers we saw in the entire Park. It was a busy high mileage day. We nearly broke 60 miles today, but we enjoyed the many roadside exhibits and attractions. We averaged an even 11 mi/hr today, which isn't too bad with the return of the hills and the wind.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

221 miles down-------221 miles to go!!!

Geri and Dennis on top on Bynum Indian Mound
Our campsite at Natchez Trace RV Park south of Tupelo, MS.

Day 27 - We had another relaxing morning catching up on journaling and blogging, but we left the motel soon after 9:00 AM. We stopped at a restaurant for breakfast and did some grocery shopping, so we really didn't get traveling north until an hour later. Fall is in the air and the mornings are very cool. Since we are headed north, the autumn season is accelerated for us and we are seeing leaves changing color rapidly and trees loosing their leaves. There wasn't much to see the first part of the day so we just pedaled north, but we did pass the 221st mile marker, which is the halfway point between Natchez and Nashville. The relief of the terrain has changed and we do have some long gradual hills to climb now, instead of the very flat country we traveled through in the southern part of the Natchez Trace, but this does allow us to get in a few pedaling breaks as we enjoy some long downhill coasts. We took a long, late lunch at a picnic area after visiting two more Indian mounds and jumped from one historical site to another the rest of the afternoon. The NE wind was stronger today and it slowed our progress more than any other day since we have been heading north on the Trace. The temperature was warmer today too, but with the low humidity the 85 degree weather was not bad. We pedaled 51 miles today and averaged 10 mi/hr. We found a commercial campground within a half mile of the Parkway before 6:00 PM. We cooked burritos for dinner and got to bed before 10:00 PM. We will be camping for the next 3 nights, so I will not be able to download any photos for several days. I will add them when we reach a motel on Sunday near Nashville.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Another Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp at Cole Creek

200 miles down----242 to go!!!
 Day 26 - We had a leisurely morning as I got caught up on blogging, since we had a low mileage day planned.  We did not leave our motel room until checkout time at 11:00 AM.  We made a stop at a museum before we even left town and met another couple who were very interested in our tandem bike.  They were tandem bicyclists themselves, although they were touring the Natchez Trace by car.  They mentioned that when they are on their loaded bike it weighs 500 pounds.  This was reassuring to Geri and I because our bike, trailer, all our gear and body weight approaches a quarter of a ton also.  We thought we pedaled the most weight of any loaded tandem!  Our day was similar to yesterday, except we only had to travel about 48 miles.  The weather remained pleasant for us with temperatures never getting any higher than in the low 80's and lower humidity.  We stopped at every exhibit and historical site again, including another Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp and several views of the original Natchez Trace.  It is amazing to us that any evidence of the old Natchez Trace still remains, since it was abandoned over 150 years ago, but in some places it looks easily passable.  I am not a superstitious person, but I felt like I should not have bragged yesterday about how long it had been since we had any tire trouble, because we had a rear flat conveniently at one of the roadside exhibits.  The tire had a noticeable hole in it, so I had to patch the tube and the tire.  I must have run over something pretty big, but I am thankful I didn't hit it with the front tire too.  Just south of Mathison, MS., where we got a motel room for the night, we passed the 200 mile marker on the Natchez Trace.  We are close to the halfway mark.  Just before sunset, like yesterday, we reached a motel.  We picked up a Subway dinner to go so we could eat in our room and not have to go out again.  The weather forecast for the next week is a carbon copy of the weather we have had for 2 days now.  It's payback time for all the nasty hot weather we had to endure for so long earlier!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dennis on top on an Indian Mound at Boyd's Site
Geri on the banks of the Pearl River

Day 25 - It was quite a shock going outside this morning and feeling the huge change in temperature. It definitely felt like a fall morning with cool, crisp air and clear blue skies.  The temperature was in the 50's and the humidity was low.  We were excited to finally be able to travel in seasonable weather instead of the 90+ degree summer like temperatures we had for nearly two weeks.  We found a bike shop before leaving town and I was finally able to purchase several tire tubes.  I had been traveling with only one spare ever since the triple flats we had on Sept. 17th.  "Knock on wood," we have not had any tire problems for several days now, but our gear slippage had returned.  Although the gear slipping was minor, I wanted to have it looked at.  It appears that the new drive chain I had put on in Natchez was not matching up exactly as it should to my worn rear gear cassette, so I had that replaced.  The bike shop mechanic found another problem, but I can wait until we get home and I have have my regular mechanic, Mark Pace, work on it.  Mark is a tandem bike specialists and he has been my only bike mechanic for over 10 years, except when we are on a trip.  We did not get traveling today until 11:00 AM, which was a concern for us because we had a high mileage day planned.  We left Ridgeland, MS. on the same bike trail we entered the city on.  It was a great way to get through a town that had such heavy traffic on the Natchez Trace.  The bike trail ended at the south end of Barnett Reservoir, a beautiful 50 square mile lake that we pedaled beside for many miles watching startled shore birds leap into the air as we zoomed past.  The wonderful cool weather was accompanied with a NE wind that we had to pedal against, but the thick tree cover along the Trace protected us most of the time.  Despite our need to make up time from our late start this morning, we still stopped at all historical sites and roadside exhibits.  Our favorite today was a nature trail through a Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp.  Geri searched for floating logs with eyes and nostrils, but she never found any.  By tomorrow we will probably be too far north to be looking for alligators anymore.  We passed several sections of road construction on the Parkway, but it did not slow us down and the road's surface is the smoothest road I have ever pedaled a bike on.  I want the bring these road crews back to Missouri so they can teach MODOT how to lay a road.  They are unbelievably smooth, of course, no semis are allowed on the Trace Parkway and that probably makes a huge difference.  Late in the day we enjoyed watching our shadow dance on the trees to the east from the low sun angle as we raced to Kosciusko, MS. for the night.  We were checking into a motel next to a Mexican restaurant before sunset, which made Geri extremely happy.  It was a lot more pleasant cleaning up for dinner this evening without having to remove dripping wet sweaty clothes like we have at the end of the day for nearly two weeks.  Geri went to bed with a very happy belly.  She said the restaurant we ate at had the best Mexican food she had ever eaten and Geri has had a lot of Mexican food in her life!  Even with our late start today, we still managed to cover 64 miles and averaged over 12 mi/hr.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cowles Mead Cemetery

Dennis with the bike on the bike path through Ridgeland, MS.
I just wanted to prove that I can look as cute as Geri too!
  Day 24 - We wanted to get an early start this morning, but we had a miserable night in a hot tent and we were too tired to get up at dawn.  When we eventually tried to get the day started, a light rain kept us in the tent.  As a result, we were not pedaling until 10:00 AM.  On the bright side, it was cooler this morning and traveling was much more pleasant, at least, until it started to rain hard.  We took shelter under an inviting grand oak tree beside the road and, even with rain pouring down all around us, we barely got a drizzle on us and the bike.  The rain did not last long and we were soon traveling again on cooler, but wet roads.  Motorists remain extremely considerate, however, and they move in the far left lane when passing, so we don't get hit with road water spray.  We leap frogged historical sites one after another today and saw several old family cemeteries.  One tombstone was inscribed with the individual's birth year of 1776!  We stopped for the largest convenience store lunch I have ever eaten in my life at Raymond, MS. and we toured their visitor's center where we had the additional bonus of hearing the community string band practicing old time tunes.  We were not in top form today after the difficult time we had traveling yesterday, so when we reached Ridgeland, MS. outside of Jackson, we elected to stay at a motel rather than pedal an extra 4 miles off route to a campground.  The traffic had gotten much heavier the closer we got to Ridgeland and we appreciated a paved bike path that paralleled the Natchez Trace through town. We saw nearly 20 other cyclists on this popular trail in the short time we were on it. We only covered 54 miles today, but it felt like more due to our lingering fatigue from yesterday, but we still managed to average 10.5 mi/hr and we reached the 100 mile marker on the Natchez Trace.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Geri in the middle of Emerald Mound

Dennis in front of Mount Locust Inn

Our campsite at Rocky Springs
  Day 23 - We set the alarm for 6:00 AM, but we woke up at 5:45 AM. We were anxious to get on the road, but we took advantage of the motel breakfast and made a quick Walmart stop before heading north on the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Trace Parkway stretches 450 miles from the farmlands of Natchez, MS. to the hills of Nashville, TN. It was originally an Indian path which became a road that opened the forested wilderness of the Deep South to settlers, soldiers, boatman and even outlaws. Today the recreational road is a limited access, low speed, noncommercial vehicle pathway rich in history and scenery. It is ideal for bicyclists like ourselves. Even with our early start, it was quite warm and the cold front that we have been promised by the weatherman had not arrived yet. We knew we were going to have another hot traveling day. We made several stops to learn more about the history of the Trace. The first stop was an exhibit near a small cemetery with elaborate marble tombstones and a large carved marble crypt. While we were there, the same bicyclist that joined us on our final 6 miles to Natchez two evenings ago, stopped to say hi again. His name was John and he was out on another training ride with his friend, Will. We stopped at Emerald Mound, which is the second largest Indian ceremonial mound in the U.S. It is enormous at 35 feet high and covering 8 acres. We also visited Mount Locust Inn, which is the oldest structure still standing in the area and served as accommodations for travelers along the Trace in the 1800's. There are many places where the original path of the Natchez Trace is still visible and it was exciting to stand on it and think about the thousands of pioneers who followed this same route. For lunch we decided to go off route 2 miles to The Old Country Store in Lorman, MS.  Do not judge a restaurant by its exterior.  The owner, Arthur Davis, says, "If Colonel Sanders had my chicken recipe, he would have become a 5-Star General!" Mr. "D" is right.  We had a great chicken lunch there, but when we left to start traveling again the heat was stifling. It was the hottest I remembered on the entire trip. We were forced back into the safety of the air conditioned restaurant for over an hour until the temperature was tolerable enough to travel. Even with the delay, it was still pretty miserable pedaling in the heat and we did not reach our goal of Rocky Springs Campground until after 7:30 PM. It was our latest arrival time so far on the trip and we had to set up camp in the dark. As I walked through the copper-colored leaves with my dim flashlight, I thought a lot about the 3 copperheads we have seen on this trip! Although this campground had running water and flush toilets, there were no showers. It was not very pleasant removing dripping wet clothes soaked with sweat and only have access to a sponge bath to clean up before bed. Just as we got in the tent, it started to drizzle, so we had to put the rainfly on, even though it was still warm and the rainfly would trap extra heat in our tiny bedroom. We covered over 66 miles today with temperatures in the 90's most of the day, but we still managed to average 11.5 mi/hr and we passed the 1000th mile mark on this trip!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Trippe's Bike Shop
View of Mississippi River bridge to Louisiana over acres of Kudzu
Barges on the Mississippi River north of Natchez, MS.
Geri on the front steps of Rosalie Home
Inside Rosalie Home
Stanton Hall
Banana blossom
Antebellum home for sale in Natchez, MS.

Day 22 - It was great to sleep in for the first morning in over a week.  We enjoyed the motel breakfast before heading out for the day.  Our first priority was to get to a bike shop.  We found Trippe's Bike Shop, which was located in a Western Auto store in Natchez.  I knew immediately that the bike mechanic there must be good, because of the steady parade of customers coming to see him.  We got the drive chain replaced in just 10 mins. and we purchased other biking essentials, including replenishing my low tire patch supply.  Unfortunately, the tire tube size I needed was sold out, so we will get them later on the trip, but the drive chain replacement eliminated the shifting problems I had been having.  We had the rest of the day to tour Natchez and we made good use of our time by stopping at the Natchez Visitors Center with excellent views of the Mississippi River and then touring several beautiful antebellum homes.  It was obvious that we have traveled a long way south when we observed banana trees with blossoms growing in front of a restaurant where we had lunch.  We returned to the motel by 5:00 PM and walked to an all-you-can eat buffet to fuel ourselves for traveling again.  Back in our motel room with stuffed stomachs, Geri washed our clothes while I got caught up on 2 days of blogging.  We covered nearly 11 miles touring Natchez on the bike today and we look forward to beginning our trip to Nashville, TN. tomorrow on the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How I get Geri to pedal 75.9 miles in upper 90 degree heat!
Not an ideal spot for changing a bicycle tire!

Geri on the Natchez Trace Parkway
Day 21 - We got up early again hoping for a predawn start, but the front tire was soft again and I decided that I better change it with the comfort of running water available from our motel room rather than on the side of the road later without that convenience.  It didn't make any difference, however, because before we were out of the Vicksburg city limits, the front tire went flat.  It was very frustrating to change a tire that I had just changed 30 mins. earlier.  By now, I imagine that anyone reading this must think that I am incompetent at changing bicycle tires and repairing tubes, but I promise I have never had this much trouble before.  Vicksburg is full of history and we hated to leave it without seeing some attractions, but we had to focus on our goals for this trip and move on.  This is one of the biggest disadvantages of traveling by bicycle.  We are not able to visit everything because of traveling time restraints.  We decided to push ourselves hard today and try to reach Natchez, MS. in one day instead of two as we had planned.  This would free up a day in our schedule and allow us to spend an extra day in Natchez for bike repairs and sightseeing.  Early in the day, however, we got discouraged that this would not be possible.  We fought a moderately strong wind directly in our faces for 35 miles.  We were reduced to sub-10 mi/ speeds for many miles.  When we reached Port Gibson, MS., we stopped for a long Subway lunch to recover from, not only the nonstop wind, but the excessive heat as well.  We have battled afternoon temperatures in the high 90's for many days now and it is wearing us down.  We left Port Gibson with the intention of getting as close as we could to Natchez and then camping, but the shortest route to Natchez at this point was to follow the Natchez Trace Parkway.  The change in traveling conditions was unbelievable!  The Parkway had very little traffic with glass smooth roads and extremely friendly hill grades with lots of shade from the thick trees on both sides of the road.  Most important, however, was the lack of wind.  The forest surrounding us now created a fantastic wind break and our average traveling speeds increased from below 10 mi/hr to nearly 15 mi/hr.  We felt like we had been transported to a different state, because not only did we loose the wind, the temperature seemed over 10 degrees cooler.  Our earlier fatigue did catch up with us, however, and we felt the need to pull over at a shaded picnic table and take a long rest.  The power nap recharged our motivation and with the great traveling conditions I calculated that we could reach a motel in Natchez before dark.  We continued to make great time with the only delay of another copperhead on the road.  I have seen 6 copperheads in the wild in my life and half of them have been on this trip!  This one, however, was a thick 4-foot monster that did not like to be photographed, so I stayed away from the end with two sharp points!  We saw several other cyclist taking an evening ride on the Natchez Trace and one friendly rider even rode with us for the last 6 miles to Natchez.  The sun set today at 7:01 PM and we reached the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway at exactly 7:01 PM.  In less than 30 mins., we were checking into a nice motel to reward ourselves for covering 75.9 miles today in much less than ideal conditions and averaging 10.5 mi/hr.  An end of day coincidence occurred in front of the motel.  We had just arrived when a friendly couple drove up beside us and asked if we had been in Vicksburg earlier in the day.  After we said, "Yes," they told us they saw us changing a tire on the side of the road and apologized for not stopping to help!  We have found this part of the country to be the most friendly of all the places we have visited in our many adventures.  There was no blogging or journaling tonight.  It was lights out, get to bed and NO morning alarm! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two beautiful people (inside and out) Kendric & Michele Proctor
Day 20 - I got up early feeling fully rested and I was able to complete all my journaling and blogging for yesterday.  Regretfully, we said our goodbyes to Kendric and Michele and we were on the road before 7:45 AM with breakfast in our bellies.  Within a mile we had a complete rear tire blow out!  If you have never experienced a tire blow out on a bicycle, all I can say is it sounds like a gun being discharged.  It always makes Geri scream!  I have hear so many bicycle tire blow outs that I am not startled by it anymore, but I still haven't gotten used to Geri's scream!!  After Geri settled down from thinking she had been shot and I settled down from thinking that Geri was attacked by a predatory raccoon, we got to work on replacing the tire with my last spare.  I plan to save the tire I removed because the blow out hole was small and I can patch it in case of an emergency.  I am hoping that the hole I discovered in the tire may have been the source for the many rear flat tires we have had on this trip.  I had a little route finding difficulty and the roads were not in very good shape, but I did not get lost this time.  We enjoyed watching a skilled cropduster pilot spraying a field with power lines on each side of the road we were traveling on.  He would fly above the wires on one side of the road and under the wires on the other side of the road!  After a little over 20 miles, we reached Rolling Fork, MS. on Hwy 61 and started heading south into a moderate SW wind.  It made for a rough day, because so much land was cleared for crops that the wind had an unobstructed path to beat us up as it crossed an agricultural desert of harvested crops with no wind breaks.  We felt like we were pedaling uphill all the time on the terrain that has continued to be perfectly level.  We passed through Onward, MS., which is famous for being near the place where President Theodore Roosevelt got his nickname of "Teddy" for refusing to kill a captive black bear.  He was ridiculed in political cartoons in his day for this.  The wind remained moderately steady through the day, but fortunately it was not quite as hot and the humidity was slightly lower as well.  We saw our first hill in over a week north of Redwood, MS.  It was a long, thin ridge along the Yazoo River.  The bridge over the river provided us our first climb in over a week and we enjoyed a half mile coast on the other side of the bridge.  We stopped at a Methodist church in Redwood to see if we could refill our empty water bottles and a nice lady there not only allowed us to do that, she gave us Popsicle treats as well!  Sorry we didn't get her name, but thanks!!  We had a series of hills leading into Vicksburg, MS., but they were easier then pedaling into the wind all day.  We arrived at a motel in Vicksburg at 6:00 PM after covering 66.4 miles and averaging over 10 mi/hr.  It was a long day of pedaling.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My tire changing partner
Day 19 - We got up at 5:15 AM and packed up quickly, but we were delayed by low air pressure in both tires on the bike.  I aired them up hoping to get us through the day instead of delaying our early morning departure.  While we were loading the bike, a farmer named Kendric Proctor stopped by and talked to us.  Little did we know he was about to become an important part of our lives today.  We left Roy's Store Campground and enjoyed a peaceful ride next to a huge oxbow lake on a road with little traffic.  We reached Glen Allan, MS. and that is where our problems began.  I made the first wrong turn on the entire trip.  This route took us past the largest cotton field we have seen so far.  Geri and I joked that the reason cotton T-shirts are so cheap is because of this one field that could produce enough cotton for all the T-shirts being made on the planet this year!  We ended up following a lady doing a morning workout run to the top of the Mississippi River levee.  I knew we were not on our proper route.  The lady tried to help us with directions, but she thought it was best for us to backtrack nearly the entire distance we had already traveled, which was close to 20 miles.  This was not an option that I wanted to follow, and according to my GPS, we could travel on top of the levee to a road several miles south and get back on route.  My choice, however, was a poor one.  The levee road had deep, loose gravel and it was difficult to pedal a weighted tandem bike on.  We struggled for nearly 2 miles when a man in a pickup truck drove up beside us.  It was Kendric Proctor, the same man we talked to this morning, although we did not recognize him right away.  It so happens that the lady running was Michele Proctor, Kendric's wife!  When she got home and told her husband about the couple she met on a tandem bicycle, Kendric knew it had to be us and he knew our route choice was going to be very unpleasant.  He came after us to invite us into his home for the night, so we could get a fresh start in the morning on the right road.  My thoughts flashed back to the many wonderful people we met on our transcontinental triathlon in 2004, who helped us out and it was an easy decision to accept Kendric's generous invitation.  We pedaled back to the Proctor's home and enjoyed their hospitality the entire day.  The series of coincidences that brought the Stewarts and the Proctors together seems greater than to have occurred by chance and it seems to provide evidence for Divine intervention and micromanagement in our lives.  In that regard, within minutes after arriving at the Proctor's home, Geri and I were observing his free range chickens and Kendric commended on the huge number of birds he has lost.  At that very moment, a raccoon climbed out of a tree in broad daylight with us standing only 25 yards away and crouched in a predatory position.  Within seconds he attacked a chicken right before our eyes.  Kendric was able to grab a rifle and eliminate the raccoon just in time to save his chicken.  We were all amazed that the raccoon was so bold as to make his attack in broad daylight right in front of us.  Kendric then commented, "If it hadn't been for you guys, I would have lost another chicken."  He would have been in the field on his tractor and come home to one less bird in his flock and falsely blaming the alligators.  It seems we were all brought together by something more than random chance.  I spent the day helping Kendric do repair work around the farm as best I could and Geri stayed at the house with Michele.  We were treated to a great BBQ dinner in their comfortable home and given a large bedroom for ourselves for the night.  The only negative of the day is that I returned from my day with Kendric to a bike with a rear tire completely flat, but I enjoyed repairing my tire with an armadillo only 10 feet away!  I've only seen those animals as road kill in Missouri!!  I thought about having to change the tire on top of the levee in the heat of the day with no shade instead of in the comfort of the Proctor's home.  Coincidence or intervention?  Think about it!!!