You’ve probably been wondering why you haven’t been hearing about the Great Natchez Trace Fall Tour, right? Well, there’s little available wifi within cycling distance of the trace, unless you are B&B or credit card touring. That being said, I’ll start from the beginning…..
One week ago:
Monday morning, I headed to my daughter’s dorm to pick her up, as she had an early morning appointment, so we couldn’t leave for Nashville until around noon. That would put us in Nashville around 3:30 or 4 pm to pick up my bike from REI and get me to the hostel. At 3:30, instead of being in Nashville, we were stalled along hwy 40, due to some unknown incident on the interstate. Nearly 38 miles from Nashville, we got off the interstate and onto a smaller road, #100 and headed west. At dark, we arrived at REI. It was too dark to cycle the 13 or 14 miles to the hostel, so we left the bike and panniers for me to pick up the following day. It’s just too hard to deal with public transportation with a full set of 4 panniers and a handlebar bag. So my daughter took me to the hostel and we parted company. Because I didn’t have my panniers, I didn’t have my computer to plan my trip the next day. I could have used the computer at the hostel, but they wanted $5/hr to use their computer, $6 to do your laundry, and this, after paying the most I’ve paid for a hostel almost anywhere!
With an early morning rise, I was at the bus stop by 8 am and at the central terminal by 8:30 only to find out that no busses go south to the area that my bike is until 4:30 pm, which would put me back at REI at dark, with 10 miles to go to get to the Trace! After asking a supervisor and someone standing with him, how to get to Brentwood, I was told that my best bet, would be to wait until 4:30, or take a cab, which would cost about $30. Out of the question. The last time I took a cab, I was quoted a price of $40 and it cost $65. I couldn’t allow that to happen again. A gentleman who had been helping me find my way around the bus terminal pressed a $20 into my palm and told me to go spend the day at the library, buy a cheap lunch and a flashlight at the dollar store, so I could just take the 4:30 bus and cycle in the dark to the Trace trailhead. I headed out to do this. The library was closed. I tried again to find transportation, when I found out that Nashville has a bikeshare program. Unfortunately, it’s just a bike rental program. You can only rent/use the bike for 4 hours, and it has to be returned to the same location at the end of that time. Hmmmm. Back to the bus terminal. I wanted to see how close I could get to Brentwood. I’ll walk the rest of the way, if I can. Looks like there is a bus that gets to within 8 miles of Brentwood, then another than will take me another mile. If I do that, I probably cut the taxi fee down to a reasonable amount. OH, the guy who was with the supervisor I asked about how to get there is the driver. He could have saved me 2 hours and 2 miles of wandering Nashville by simply making the same suggestion, especially since I already had an all day bus pass.
I took the first bus to the appropriate stop, got off, asked the driver if this was the correct spot to pick up the next bus, and was told that it was. What he didn’t tell me is that it doesn’t come for 3 hours!!!! A very nice man at the stop had the number for the taxi service. They told me they could send a cab, and it would cost $17 from where I was. I could use the $20 that the guy gave me at the bus terminal and still tip the cabbie. Perfect. And that’s how it worked.
Once I got the bike, it was past noon. No time for a test drive and to get the kinks worked out. Just hit the road. It was about 70 degrees. Ten miles to the Trail head. There was a nice bike shop at the trail head. unfortunately, I didn’t need anything. The Natchez Trace is a narrow roadway with no shoulders, but limited traffic, except in 2 areas; around Tupelo and around Jackson. It is deer hunting season, though and I’m a bit wary of stealth camping during hunting seasons.
As sunset drew near, a ranger steered me toward the Garrison Creed picnic area. He told me to put my tent up behind the restrooms, because there is a tended area there, and I would be out of sight and he would check on me. Well, that tended area was also a trailhead. So hikers were coming off the trail until dark. I don’t like to put my tent up while there are still people around, because they don’t need to know that I’m a woman camping alone! So I waited for everyone to leave the parking lot, since it closes at sunset. 30 minutes after sunset, there were still 2 cars in the lot. Both cars owners were adamantly remaining at their cars, but not leaving the lot. One actually was hiding behind his car, and periodically peeking out to see if I had left yet. I didn’t feel good about camping here, but it was after dark, and the ranger had told me to camp here. I took my bike and headed up the trail, hoping that no one from the lot saw me duck behind the bathrooms. I hike with bike and gear about 1/4 mile up the trail and began to pitch my tent along the trail. Unfortunately, as I was pitching the tent, the guy who had been ducking behind his car approached and shined his light directly on me and spoke. I continued putting up my tent, and basically mumbled in my deepest voice, hoping to be mistaken for a man. yeah;0) He went on, but I felt very vulnerable. I got the tent up and turned in for the night. Listening, shivering, though it wasn’t really cold. Eventually, I could hear the guy running the ridges of the forest, singing and chanting at the top of his lungs. He did this for about 20 minutes. Near the end of the 20 minutes, he got louder and I could hear his pounding footfalls. He was approaching my site. Silence. Either he was trying to sneak up on me, or he was being respectful of my camp, and was quietly slipping by. 5 minutes later, I heard his car door shut and he left. Very strange. His chanting and singing was replaced by a troupe of coyotes. They serenaded me for another hour, then all the forest settled in for the night and I slept.
The morning brought a few people to the restrooms as I was brewing my morning java. Then a guy drove in, got out of his vehicle and took a big slug off a bottle in a brown bag. He saw me see him do it and hid the bag. He gathered some things and went into the restroom and cleaned himself and changed clothes, went back to the car and got more stuff, went in and came out again. this went on for half an hour, as I cooked and at breakfast very warily. He muttered something about having fallen on hard times, looked down at the knife I had close at hand on the table and left. I hated my start on the Trace.
Day 2: The morning began with a slight headwind and a few hills too slight and drawn out to be rollers and not enough descents to make them fun. I was struggling, when at the end of 8 miles, I realized that my brakes were rubbing. The repair made it easier to pedal. This day, I cycled 50 miles or so to Meriweather Lewis Park. The guy camping next to me was camping in his car and had been a park ranger for over 25 years. He was friendly, knowledgeable about backpacking gear and shared his Coleman cooker with me, so I’d save fuel. We chatted an hour or so, and he mentioned that he speaks publically on fulfillment of Biblical prophesy and that he would be camping down the trace in a few days, and perhaps we would meet again. He lives in parks and campgrounds. Feels no need to own stuff and seems very happy. The next morning, it was rainy and cold. I cycled 10 miles to a public campground, got a cabin, caught up on e-mails, got a hot shower, did laundry and had a couple of high protein, hot meals. I’ve not been getting enough protein already. So I bought all the jerky they had in the store.
Day 3: The next day, I was determined to make some headway, or change the plan because there were 2 more rainy, thunderous days in the forecast and I needed every day to be a 70 miler to get my trip done in time to catch the train back to Memphis to meet my daughter.
Day 4: 80 miles. A wonderful, gentle tailwind pushed me along, but I was still so tired when I got to Tishomingo Park, that I couldn’t cycle one mile to go get the slice of cheese pizza I was craving. I hadn’t stopped for lunch, was incapable of making a decision. Ultimately, I paid a small fortune for a cabin, as the temperature was supposed to decend to 23 that evening, and It was already too cold for me to want to stay up and cook (after having cycled 80 miles without replenishing calories….. I was looking for a disaster). The problem was, I’d have to cycle 3 miles into the park to get to the cabin! It was a tough call, but I took the cabin, bit the bullet and did the additional 3 miles. Somehow, in the process of checking me in, the rangers mentioned another camper along the lake and that if I chose to tent camp, and I got cold…… They didn’t finish the thought, and I’ve wondered where they were going with it? Anyway, because I had the cabin, I cranked up the heat and did cook, as there was a stove. while water was heating, I got a hot shower and felt somewhat better. The cabin was all stone. Stone walls, interior and exterior, stone fireplaces and stone floor. So it heated slowly, but was very charming. Dinner was satisfactory and I tucked in to sleep. Up at daybreak, I cooked a cup of tea and oatmeal, then headed out by 8 am. On my departure, I saw 3 coyotes right next to the park road. They were very pretty. I was off to a good start, on a very cold day. At 2 pm, I met another cyclist. He was the person the rangers had spoken of. Why didn’t they mention that he was a cyclist? Just as well.
Ollie is from Montreal. We met, chatted, and I headed on my way. That evening, we met and spoke again, at the Natchez Trace RV park. Another cold night. The day had given me another 50 or 60 miles, so I was somewhat on track. Especially since I had spoken with my daughter and no longer needed to get to Memphis on Friday, but Monday, instead. Breathing room. When I awakened at 5:56 am, the fly of my tent was coated with ice. I got a shower, but was still wearing the same clothes I’d worn for 3 days, since I have one cold weather suit and one warm weather suit. Onward
Day 5: Tupelo had been busy roads, without much in the way of good food. There were fast food joints, and a mexican restaurant, but no real “fresh food”. I was looking for something crunchy, green and moist! Didn’t find it. I’d spent so much time getting off the Trace, into Tupelo and looking for something to eat, that I never remembered to replenish my cooking fuel, or my protein sources! DArn. The goal for today was to do 60-70 miles and get to Jeff Busby Park. Hopefully, I could find some fuel there. When I arrived, I met the camp host, and liked the site fine. I was close to the restroom, and people were nice. Ollie was at this campground again. We chatted again. He is an independent sound engineer and a photographer. Ollie mentioned that there was a Texaco across the street, so when I awakened in the morning, I packed my gear quickly, hoping to have coffee and breakfast over at the Texaco.
Day 6 (or maybe 7)I couldn’t find it and Ollie had already left. He struck out by 6 am each day. Dang! Well, we had talked about French camp, it’s only 10 miles away and they have a b&b. That should mean the possibility of me buying just one of those “B’s”, right? French camp is cool. The first thing I’ve really enjoyed about the Trace, except the coyotes. Log cabins and buildings. It’s beautiful and it’s run by a local school and used by the school. No restaurant and nearly nothing is open on Sunday morning. There was a local convenience store, but they don’t do breakfast on Sunday. I waited around long enough to get lunch and to get harrangued by a local who thought I ought to have a license plate on my bike and he wanted to have a fight over it. No chance. I told him that I thought he was not doing the local community any favors by picking fights with people as they arrive in town. That I was looking for breakfast, not looking for a problem. He left, everyone apologized, and I ate in peace. Kept company by a local gentleman who had gone to school over at the French Camp. After breakfast, I went on to Kosciusko. Only 30 miles today, but there was a healthy headwind, I wanted to wash my clothes, so my clothes and my self were clean at the same time, and get some food and out of the wind. Tomorrow, Jackson is my goal. There is a headwind of 10-12 mph in the forecast, but 50 miles should be very doable with that. The Trace hasn’t had remarkably beautiful vistas,
many opportunities to meet locals, wifi, showers or much else to cause me to recommend it to other cyclist.
I might do it again, because it’s close to my daughter’s school, and hence seems simple, but I’m not sure. There are wild pigs along the parkway, here in Mississippi, and everyone warns us about them. Though hunting is legal on Sunday, beer and alcohol sales isn’t. So there isn’t even a glass of wine in the evening, unless you’ve carried it with you all day. The historic markers are frequently just to offer some information about the area, rather than to point out a specific site or ruin. There’s nothing at many of them. They mention things that used to be along the actual Natchez Trace, but since this is the Parkway, and only intertwines from time to time with the original trace, the actual sites of which the markers elude aren’t where the markers are. The occassional glimpses of the old Trace are quite lovely.
I’ve enjoyed aspects of this tour, but by and large, I haven’t felt the sense of security that I had during the spring and fall. This tour has felt very impersonal at many times. I’ll post pics later. There haven’t been many photogenic moments, though.