Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Natchez Trace

     Last week I went on a three day bike ride on the Natchez Trace. The Trace goes from Nashville Tennessee to Natchez Mississippi. It’s a wide two-lane road with a 50 mph speed limit. The entire road is a national park. Originally it was an Indian trail, but in the early 1800’s people on the Ohio River began floating goods on barges down the Ohio and Mississippi to Natchez, selling their goods there and walking back on the Trace.

     No commercial vehicles are allowed. There are no stores or houses on the Trace. The only towns it goes through are Tupelo and Jackson. It’s perfect for bicycling.

     In the 1970’s I took two trips on the Trace. The first was three friends and I bicycling from Tupelo to Jackson, about 100 miles, and back. One of us, Rodney Temples, a crazy Vietnam vet, borrowed a bicycle to ride with us even though he had no experience, unlike the rest of us who cycled all over Atlanta. Setting out from Tupelo—after of course visiting the King’s birthplace—Rodney took off and yelled over his shoulder that he’d see us in Jackson.

     We caught him in about five miles and for the next ninety-five we’d have to stop and wait on him periodically and we filled that time singing to him, “Yeah, yeah, go to Jackson/ Go ahead you big-talkin’ man/ Go on go to Jackson…”The June Carter part of the song.

     The second trip was three years later. Dan Denoon and I rode from Jackson to Natchez and back, again a 200 mile round trip. We pulled into Natchez in July heat so hot you could see it rising off the pavement. On an otherwise deserted narrow street in an old part of town, while I was leaning against a wall to rest in the shade, an old black man appeared and told me he didn’t believe in that civil rights, that white folks were superior and the young coloreds were messing with the divine order.

     I also encountered my first armadillos in south Mississippi. They were still decades away from North Georgia. On both of these trips we rode the whole way the first day and stayed in a motel, then took two days to ride back, camping in sleeping bags without a tent along the way. Armadillos are so stupid they will crawl over a person in a sleeping bag scavenging for garbage. They do not fear tennis shoes flung at them. They got body armor.

     On last weeks’ trip my plan was to ride about 120 miles, from Muscle Shoals to Nashville, over three days, with my assistant Michael driving me to the starting point and Cynthia picking me up at the Nashville end. I figured three days to do the 120 miles because it’s hillier in Tennessee and I’m 30-odd years older than on the earlier trips. Also, I don’t sleep on the ground anymore. I booked two places to sleep in a bed near the Trace.

     This is a long tale so I’ll be giving it to you in installments. The next will be “Day One” and then with “Day Two” we’ll get some pictures, because it wasn’t until then that I figured out how to take pictures with my cell phone.

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