Sep 28, 2008 - Bicycle Ride Reviews    Comments Off on 2008 Natchez Trace Parkway Bike Tour South to North

2008 Natchez Trace Parkway Bike Tour South to North

Back in the spring of 2008, I decided my week-long adventure vacation would be to bicycle the Natchez Trace Parkway from south to north self supported.  I was prepared to ride solo or with someone with conditions.  Here was my request for company to the Harpeth Bike Club General list:

I’m sitting here thumbing my way through Glen Wanner’s book Bicycling the Natchez Trace.  Why you ask?  It’s on my "cycling list of things to do" – ride back to Nashville from Natchez MS.  I plan to do it as my annual vacation in September (leave either Friday 9/12 or 9/19, finish about 7 days later.  9/26 will put me too close to Jack and Back.)  It sure would be boring to do it by myself.  Anyone interested?

Plan is to ride self supported so you need a rack and some panniers, or maybe a trailer.  No SAG car.  I plan to mostly camp, but a hotel for a hot shower and a real bed one or two nights is not out of the question, especially in the event of torrential rain or something.

Heading to Natchez on a Friday, maybe hitching a ride with a friend visiting family in Louisiana or southern Mississippi.  I looked up Uhaul prices one-way, and they’re really expensive.  Greyhound is my reliable plan – will take a good part of 13 hours to do it that way.  I’ve always wanted to ride a Greyhound and meet lots of interesting people.  Could be fun and part of the adventure.  If you have ideas for getting to Natchez other than these, please share!

I plan to start riding on a Saturday morning.  I want to be back on Friday or maybe Saturday the following weekend.  I’m not planning on setting speed records with hopefully 70 mile days max.  I plan to stop often and take in the sights, maybe get a ‘tall boy’ at a convenience store once in a while, possibly stop for a nap in the hottest part of the day.  The only deadline might be a hotel reservation.  But if you want everything planned perfectly, you might not be satisfied.

Again, if this sounds interesting, reply back with the week of your choice and let’s do some light planning.

WARNING – I don’t want any maybe’s or might’s.  I’m looking for "that sounds perfect – count me in" or "I’ll only cancel if a hurricane blows ashore and parks right over the Trace" or "I LOVE to hear Pat snore from the opposite side of the campground!"  (hey, it’s better than Turret’s In Your Sleep Syndrome – ask me about that!)  Another acceptable response is "I’ll know for sure by the end of July."

Looking forward to hearing from you soon, whoever you are!

Whoever it was turned out to be my buddy Steve Allen.  Monica Summers, another buddy, has family in Louisiana, and dropped us off in Natchez, MS on the way to visit.  It really worked out good. 
Why Ride the Natchez Trace Parkway in the first place? 
Well, it’s kinda hard to explain.  If you ride the northern 40 miles all the time (mile 400 – 442), and maybe you’ve driven it to the Alabama state line, you always wonder what’s further down there?  What’s it like at mile 1?  There’s a vast history surrounding the Natchez Trace.  Native American Indians used it as a trade route for thousands of years before the Europeans rudely interrupted them.  Boatsmen delivered raw materials down the Mississippi on rafts, returning to start again south to north via the Trace.  Though the hills on the north end would be easier on the earlier days, history dictated that we ride it south to north.

Equipment and SuppliesSurly LHT
Bikes:  I ride a Surly Long Haul Trucker with Tubus front and rear racks and Ortlieb panniers.  Bike is about 28 pounds, bags loaded are about 35 pounds, plus water was probably close to 65 pounds.  I think this was a good setup, as Tubus and Ortlieb must be designed down the road from each other.  They’re made for each other.  The Surly, geared as a touring bike with a mountain bike cassette nad touring crankset allowed me to stand up and pedal, or gear to walking speed for long ascents.  I also started with a barely broken in Brooks B17, which is now fully broken in.  Of course SPD shoes and pedals because walking is something that’s required on tours.
Steve rides a Bianchi all-carbon race bike and he pulled a borrowed BOB Ibex offroad single wheel bike trailer.  The trailer started at 16 pounds, and loaded it was around 50.  Steve couldn’t stand up without his frame flexing, causing his back wheel to drag into the brakes.  It was also geared nicely for the first 4 days of southern flat Mississippi.  His bike is probably 19 pounds plus water he was over 70 pounds.  I think it was a break even on bikes on weight, but I think the real touring rig was better suited as you’ll hear on days 5 – 7 in the hills.
Camping:  We took a 2-man REI Half Dome 2.  I recommend a 3-man tent for two men.  We bumped elbows all night while camping, and I snore badly.
I took 16 ounces of white gas to fuel my MSR Dragonfly.  I only burned maybe 4 ounces of fuel.  The warm conditions made it easy and fast to boil water for camping meals.   In September, my 45 degree REI Kilo sleeping bag was perfect, too hot for the most southern and humid nights.
Food:  Since I aviod meat other than seafood, Steve bought Mountain House meals for 5 nights.  My experience is they suck.  His experience was the same.  I brought ZZZZZZZZZ camping meals, vegetarian, and each night they were fabulous.  I threw in a pouch of tuna fish for protein for recovery.  One morning we snagged a couple of bagels from our hotel.  Bagels make excellent camping breakfast with some peanut butter.  I gotta study the viability of eggs over multiple days.  Eggs have lots of protein and B12.
Clothes:  I carried two sets of riding clothes.  I also had a set of non-bike clothes to sleep in, a long sleeve t-shirt for cool nights or mornings, and swimsuit.  Of course my Crocs for off-bike hanging out, and are excellent when your feet are swollen after a long day of riding.  I don’t know what Steve took for clothes, but I think he had two pairs of cycling clothes.

NOTE:  when you take two pairs of cycling clothes, the idea is to wear one the first day, wash that set that night.  That set probably won’t dry by the next morning, so you’ll have to strap them to the panniers or trailer or whatever while you’re wearing the second pair.  When they get dry, throw them in the tent at camp so you can put them on the next morning to ride. 

Toiletries:  A MUST HAVE – wet wipes.  The Natchez Trace has no showers in the campgrounds, so you take a lot of rag baths.  A bandana comes in handy for this.  But, I don’t want to use my bandana for my tail end.  Wet wipes are worth their weight in gold.  Trust me.  Wet wipes are good after doing your business to get extra clean and prevent saddle sores.   I didn’t have any this time, but have had them on other multi-day trips where there were showers!
I also brought bag balm ointment for sore butt, and Body Glide as a preventative.  The system worked.  I also have a small tube of Duac – antibiotic and something that dries out sores.  It works really really good.
Of course, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, and camp soap.  You can use camp soap as shampoo when washing your hair by water bottle.  Remember the sink bath?  Fill up a water bottle and stand outside in the grass and wash your hair.  It really works great, but not functional if it’s really cold outside.
Parachute Cord – bring a bundle of it.  We used it as a clothes line, and I made a neck loop for my camera after seeing another touring cyclist with one (thanks Dave.)
Every other toiletry didn’t get used – band aids, antiseptic, antibiotic ointments, etc.  I guess if we had needed them, they would be on the hot list.
Bug repellent – get plenty of it.
Sun Screen – get plenty of it, and use it.  Parts of the Natchez Trace have no shade, particularly in the afternoon as the Trace turns more easterly.

Since you saw my invitation to ride, there was no plan, and no reservations.  We’d have to average about 63 miles a day to finish in 7 days.  That was the only constraint.  Primary plan was to camp, and rooms were OK if we felt like it.  We camped four nights and roomed two nights.

Day 0 – Natchez MS Overnight
Monica drove us down to Natchez MS, hit a couple of Geocaches, and we had a nice dinner at Pearl Street Pasta.  It’s a really good restaurant, excellent fried Calamari (that should tell you something.)  We stayed at the 1888 Wensel House.  As Monica drove off, we knew there was only one way to get back to Nashville.  This B&B stay doesn’t count towards our hotel stays!  We hadn’t started yet!
NOTE:  The Wensel House has a great cottage, and is excellent for storing bicycles.  Two bedrooms offer the non-snorer a good night’s sleep.  To get on the Trace, go over a block, and head out of town.  You hit Natchez Trace perfectly.  Mimi and her husband are excellent hosts, well educated and like to talk about anything.

DAY 1 – Natchez, MS to Rocky Springs:  65 riding miles
Track and Pictures
Ah, the morning of the ride.  The anticipation – we’re feeling great!  We pack our bikes, unpack, resort our stuff, pack back up, and roll out to the street.  It’s a beautiful day and a perfect start to a week of uncertainty!  The route is easy from Wensel.  We hit the Trace and stop for our obligatory picture at the entrance.
Our first stop was Emerald Mound.  I couldn’t believe how big this thing really was.  Dozens of feet tall, bigger than a football field.  Compared to the indian mound in Fort Walton Beach, this thing was the "big city" for the indians.  This was a Top 10 site to see, and worth the drive to Natchez to check it out.
Riding was relatively flat, and the uphills were very gradual but long.  The Trace is a tree tunnel down there, with oak tree limbs growing over from trunks right at the edge of the road.  Much of the Trace in the south has trees right to the edge.
Our lunch stop was Port Gibson.  We rode about a mile to get to the intersection on the map, to find a Sonic and a Subway, with the latter having something I could eat.  To get there, we rode through the stereotypical poor Mississippi, with Steve and I both wondering if the people on the front porch actually lived in that rotting shack with broken windows.  It was unbelievable.  Later, we found out the other part of Port Gibson was considered so pretty that it was the few cities that survived the Confederate burning policy in the Civil War.  Sorry we missed it.
Camp was at Rocky Springs, which was much like every other NTP campground – toilets and sink, no shower.  Fire ring, charcoal grill and picnic table.  It’s really all you need.
At Rocky, we met Larry.  Larry had hiked nearly all of the Appalachian Trail at one time or another.  He offered us cold drinks, since he understood how dang refreshing that is to have a cold drink after a long ride.  Thanks Larry!  Larry is from Columbus GA area, and was touring the trace via his camping van.  We saw him several nights – a really nice guy.
Camping – again, 3-man tent is right for two men.  I snored, Steve didn’t sleep.  We bumped elbows all night.

DAY 2 – Rocky Springs to RatShit Ferry (Ratliff Ferry):  75 riding miles
Track and Pictures
Today took us through Jackson.  We experienced the first day of beautiful parkway, terrible traffic.  The NTP is used as an expressway or cutoff for most of Jackson, with a 50mph speed limit, with no rangers.  Effective speed was 60-70mph.
Lunch was at Monroe’s in Clinton – a suburb of Jackson.  It wasn’t far off the NTP and the Sunday buffet was really good.  An alternative is to exit at the same place, and eat the smoked meats at the gas station on the corner (if an animal has to die to feed you!)
After eating, we bumped into the first two of four bicycle tourists during the trip in Ridgeland.  Dave and Tom were on the Adventure Cycling’s Great Rivers tour modified from St Louis.  Dave is 68 years old, and Tom is 72 and has a website HERE.  You can see from the website that they’re pretty experienced tourists.  They were credit card touring, which means they stayed in hotels, inns and "stands" along the way.  They also told us of a B&B right off the Trace in Hohenwald that caters to bicyclists.
We later found that the NTP follows the western shore of Ross Barnett Reservoir.  It’s very pretty, with the Tarot, cypress and water lillies lining the shore.  But, it’s not something the original Trace users would have experienced so it made me just a little sad.  Later, I would value the change of scenery!  The traffic was absolutely disgusting.  The Natchez Trace is used as an expressway to get across Jackson.  And, the beautiful day had everyone out for a Sunday afternoon drag race along the Trace.
We stopped at Cypress Swamp, which is on my top 10 list.  They have a boardwalk over a cypress swamp.  Very pretty.
Finally arriving at Ratliff Ferry, we discovered motorcyclists hanging out in the parking lot.  Larry from Georgia was also there, but he didn’t show up much.  The tent campground was adjacent, and our one tent neighbor had been there for two weeks.  He told us gator season was a few days before and the parking lot was crammed full of boats that night.  Ratliff is pretty much a fish camp.
We were excited about Ratliff Ferry because it had a gas station and showers.  Turns out the gas station closed early on Sunday, and is closed on Mondays.  The mosquitoes nearly carried us off.  After eating at the one picnic table, we jumped into the tent, not to emerge until the next morning.
The showers require their own mention.  Steve went in first while I set up the tent.  While he was in there, I went and swam in the river in my bike clothes.  As he came out, I asked how it was, and he said "it’s an adventure.  Try the first stall."  I should have known better. I passed the motion sensor on the lights in the shower house which had no windows.  I went in the first stall and pulled the shower handle out in my hand.  I managed to get it back in, and found no hot water.  I tried the second stall.  No hot water but the handle stayed put.  So I began washing one body part at a time in the ice cold water, washing my bike clothes as they came off.  About the time I was completely naked and my hair soaped up, the timer ran out and the lights went off.  It was pitch black in that shower house.  So, in my nakedness, I began feeling my way towards the door, finally finding the motion sensor and the lights came on.
And the dogs – the poor dogs.  People apparently abandon their dogs at Ratliff Ferry.  There’s a place in hell for those people.  Sweet brown-and-white dog, momma dog and puppy were involuntary residents of Ratliff Ferry.  They were so friendly.  One time in the night, I heard dream barking from one of them right outside our tent.  Those dogs have a lot of love that someone threw out like an old bag of clothes or something.  In the morning, I found them chilling on one of the boat ramp docks.  The little puppy wanted to play, and kept jumping on the tent!  Scolding her caused some serious submission with her rolling on her back and quivering.  I felt so sorry for them.
I’ll say one good thing about Ratshit Ferry.  The sunrise was absolutely beautiful over the swamp – all kinds of birds and swampy scenery made it a beautiful sight.  I will sorely miss those dogs.

DAY 3 – RatShit Ferry to Jeff Busby:  75 riding miles
Track and Pictures
Ah, the joy of rolling out of Ratshit.  I fed our dog friends some cheese crackers that I had no appetite for.  Old white and tan dog followed us for a mile, when we finally bid him farewell as we picked up our pace.  I still miss those dogs a week later.  Spay and neuter your pets, and NEVER give up on them.  They trust you for goodness sakes, and these dogs were crossed by their owners.
Today we saw our first ranger at mp187.  We were stopped for a break, and he stopped to ask us if we were OK.  He told us to let them know if there was anything they could do to help us out, and he was glad to see us out there.  We felt really welcome.  I wish he had been writing tickets in Jackson.
Another highlight was meeting Lisa and Donna, our second set of bicycle tourists all week.  They snapped a shot of us and posted it on their blog – SaddleSoar.  Since they were staying in hotels and B&B’s, I think we were the only campers along the NTP this week.
Last highlight – the most interesting living wildlife we saw.  On one long lazy stretch, a family of (we think) otters started to cross the road.  When they saw us, they turned and dashed back into the woods.  We think they were otters because of that hunched back, and that funny gallop they have on land.  Otters are one of my favorite animals.  Their playful bounding appears as though they really enjoy life.
Somewhere along on Day 3, we hit Kosciosku, the home of Oprah Winfrey.  We stopped to check out the bicycling-only campground.  Turns out, it has a pit toilet, a running water tap, fire rings, picnic tables, tent pads, and you can hear car doors slamming in the Days Inn parking lot just behind the tree line.  It smelled like a skunk that day, and I imagine it doesn’t get much use with the hotel right there.
Kosciusko has a great Mexican restaurant just to the west of the NTP.  I had two beers and they tasted great, with probably 35 miles to go.  No problem.
We also passed French Camp.  There’s a nice B&B right off the NTP,
Jeff Busby was one of the nicer campgrounds.  The entire campground was up on a hill under a pine forest.  It also happens to be the highest point in Mississippi, or something like that.  And, we had no mosquitoes.  We saw Larry again and he gave us rootbeers, which we promptly mixed with a little 151.  A cold drink is quite nice.

DAY 4 – Jeff Busby to Tupelo (Quality Inn):  74 miles
Track and Pictures
Ah, the beautiful and rural countryside.  We began to find one of the challenges of riding NTP self-supported.  Supplies are kinda hard to find.  Larry had called the park service and they had mailed him a cue sheet with supplies.  He gave it to us, and we discovered it was only about 50% correct.  NTP bathrooms (aka water sources) can be 30-35 miles apart in this section, so you have to rely on gas stations.  That means there are some marathon sections requiring at least three bottles of water. 
OK, now we get into something that I found to be one of the lousiest sections of the NTP.  A section was being repaved which means nice smooth roads.  It also meant flagmen at one-lane-closed sections that didn’t wait for us to get through before letting cars the other way.  It also meant dump trucks sharing the road with us, and they didn’t understand how to slow down to pass bicycles.  Add that with the Jackson-style commuter traffic around Tupelo proper and you get dangerous bicycling conditions.  To top off the day, we exited at the second Tupelo exit, Highway 6.  We followed it over the railroad tracks, turned left on some road, and rode another 2 miles to the Quality Inn.  It was quite a shock to go from rural road to 6-lane city traffic.
Three nights of traffic, hauling a really heavy load, and to find a Jacuzzi tub by the pool, fully equipped with back massaging bubbly jets.  I wouldn’t normally get in a gross public tub like that, but compared to camping it was quite nice.  Across the street we found a really good Italian restaurant and we pigged out on calamari, pasta and a few glasses of wine and some beer.  Ah, that bed felt good – no elbow bumping in that little tent.
I’m sorry I missed Elvis’ birthplace, but it would have been about 8-10 miles added to our daily miles.  I hope to take Donna down there by car some time to do that.

DAY 5 – Tupelo to Colbert Ferry (bike only campground):  67 miles
Track and Pictures
After a hotel breakfast and snagging some bagels for the next day, we hit the road.  We missed about four miles of the NTP to go hit Wal Mart and pick up a few odds and ends.  We met the Wal Mart greeter, who excitedly told us about his brother-in-law that runs tours in Massachusets.  He gave me the link, so here it is
We got into some "real" hills.  My notes say some were very Nashville-like, though not as steep.  One went up for two miles.  Steve said the day’s highlight was the hotel’s continental breakfast. 
We also crossed into Alabama today.  Passing Tishomingo State Park signaled real hills.  (note:  I think Tishomingo has showers since it’s a state park and they have a pool.)  We encountered real hills on a regular basis from that point to Nashville.  We’d climb one, ride along the top for a while, descend to a flat section for a while, then repeat.  As we proceeded north, the length of the flat sections decreased to zero.
One highlight today was Freedom Hills Overlook.  After climbing a long hill, you can park and walk a quarter mile to the lookout.  Steve had road pedals and cleats and let me go check it out.  This spot is on my Top 10 list – a really beautiful view.
Colbert Ferry is a bike-only campground and has a ranger station with a bathroom and sink.  Upon arrival around 4pm, we had a few general questions.  The lights were out and I pushed the door.  Well, they had forgotten to lock the door and the alarm went off.  A half hour later, the ranger finally showed up to respond to the alarm.  We had the dusty campground to ourselves, about a block from the bathroom.  The place is a little dusty and dirty, but someone left firewood which ran off the very few mosquitoes.

Supplies needed:  bandana, large water bottle, camp soap, wet wipes.
1.  Take everything off that allows you to maintain your level of modesty.  Wet your bandana in the sink and put a little soap on it.  Wipe your arms, legs and face down.  Rinse your bandana well and wipe off the soap.
2.  Fill the water bottle and take it outside in the grass.  Wet your hair with the bottle.  Wash your hair with camp soap, then rinse it out with the rest of the bottle.
3.  Return to the bathroom with your wet wipes and go to a stall if the place is busy.  Take off your clothes.  Clean everything with wet wipes that you couldn’t clean with the bandana.
4.  Put on your street clothes and bug repellent.  You’re clean and ready to go camp. 
It seems a little weird, but you get pretty clean and used to it.  It’s really not bad.

DAY 6 – Colbert Ferry to Hohenwald (Fall Hollow):  68 miles
Track and Pictures
OK, we’re pretty tired now.  Since I snore, I woke refreshed, and Steve woke exhausted.  He cussed the trailer a few times, calling it several things that he wouldn’t say in front of his momma.  The hills continued with more frequency.  We hit several long climbs, but I knew the friendliest town on the Trace was 35 miles ahead – Collinwood.  That was our next resupply, and was our source for morning coffee.
We crossed into Tennessee some time around mp342, and Collinwood was 15 miles out.  This is a long stretch with no supplies or water, and the pull-offs are pretty lame too.
Collinwood – the greatest bicycle town on the NTP, and maybe the country.    I first discovered Collinwood on the 2006 BRAT.  The local womens’ club brought homemade food to the welcome center for everyone to eat.  This year, they allowed with no resistance the HBC radonneurs to set up tents in the city park for a 600k for a napping spot.  It turns out that bicycle campers are allowed to camp for free in the city park, and they’ll allow them to shower at the fire department next door!  Now that is welcoming.  I’m telling you, every town along the Trace should welcome cyclists like that, and they’ll get some of their money.  Bicyclists generally don’t care about having a fire, and they generate little trash.  They just want a bathroom, supplies, water and a place to put their tent.  A shower is GREAT!
We spent some money at Chad’s Restaurant.  The nice lady at the welcome center sent us there.  We both had catfish and sweet tea.  Man, was it good.  We finished the meal with coffee, and one of the lovely folks there filled our water bottles.  I’m telling you, this town really appreciates bicyclists.
At Collinwood, we called Monica and had her Google for the Hohenwald B&B and found Fall Hollow Campground and B&B.  They had an opening so off we went.  More on Fall Hollow later.
Steve seemed in a little better mood after our visit to the bicycling oasis.  I saw Old Trace Drive and took it.  Beautiful one-way stretch, rough, loose pea gravel on the downhills with several nice overlooks.  Steve skipped this detour and met me at Jack’s Branch.  Jack’s has to be voted the most beautiful stop along the NTP, on my Top 10 list.  The parking lot has a nice bathroom on the side of a short cliff that overlooks a low creek area.  I immediately went down, took my shoes off and soaked my swollen feet in the creek.  That’s what bicycle touring is all about.  You have to soak your feet in the clean cold mountain streams.
We saw our second ranger somewhere on this section.  We hadn’t seen a car for 30 minutes and he passed us from behind.  He wasn’t so nice as the first ranger.  He got on his loudspeaker and blurted something like we needed to get single file sooner when cars pass us.  After being almost run down in Jackson and Tupelo, I kept my cool and my middle finger to myself.
North of Collinwood, we were also detoured due to bridge construction.  We had to leave the trace for maybe 5 or 10 miles.  Though at first disappointing, we discovered that to see something other than the NTP was actually refreshing!  I hadn’t realized how monotonous it had become.  We saw farms, barns, antique tractors, donkeys, dogs chased us – it was real bicycling!  I highly recommend creating some of your own detours if you ride the NTP!
Our arrival at  Fall Hollow was quite nice on a downhill.  We exited at Hwy 412 and we were looking for the "shed" which was right at the exit.  Fall Hollow has tent and RV camping spots, and sits on a beautiful little creek.  The restaurant is open Thursdays through Saturdays, and I think was an afterthought to the campground – the food was pretty good.  Bill and Kathy drive guests to Hohenwald to eat on nights the restaurant isn’t open.  The rooms I think were an afterthought to the restaurant – they were pristine, new and extremely clean.  Our door to the building was through the dishwashing area, leading through the actual dining room, which was fine with us.  After the restaurant closed, Bill let us put our bikes and gear in the restaurant!  I don’t recommend Fall Hollow for pampering, but keep reading – it’s a fantastic place to stop.  Their literature and website says they cater to cyclists and they do.
Bill greeted us at the back door and asked us if we wanted something to drink – the perfect question for cyclists.  I said beer, and Bill disappeared for a second and showed up with a couple of Buds ice cold, no charge.  I think he keeps a case just for that occasion.
Later, we found out that Bill calls his place more of a "stand" than a B&B.  That’s kind of the case.  You get a clean private room and something to eat. Breakfast was more an event you participated in, which was great.  Again, this is a "stand".  We found our coffee cups and Bill pointed us to the walk-in for various things as he attempted to get the "eggs over medium" out of the pan without breaking them.  Dixie the dog visited us while we ate.  Though it sounds weird, I can’t express how welcome we felt there, and it was just exactly what we needed.  I highly recommend a stop there instead of Meriwether Lewis.  At $55 a night, it’s a bargain.  Their campground has hot water showers too.

DAY 7 – Hohenwald to Nashville:  53 miles
Track and Pictures
After our breakfast with Bill, Steve stashed his nemesis in Bill’s storage room.  The trailer would no longer hold him back on the hills and such.  I had more to prove – that I could continue with everything I needed to ride for a month if I needed to.  I took the tent poles and we headed out. 
We were greeted with the first hill that I needed the granny ring for.  We climbed out of Fall Hollow for at least two miles in cold air.  I had thoughts about whether I should have left my gear, but I kept trudging along. 
We never did hit any more flat sections.  Everything was either up or down for the remainder of the trip.  The road got curvier.  The water and restroom stops became frequent.  I suspect it’s because water and electricity are more handy in the northern stretches.  We passed our old familiar spots – Jackson Falls and it was dry, the Gordon House where I sat and provided a surprise check for a 300k ultra event and nearly got hypothermia!  We passed Sheboss where my buddy Benny Wilson lives just down a mowed trail.  We stopped at Water Valley – one of the most beautiful spots on the NTP if it weren’t for the high tension power lines, and an excellent destination for our moonlight rides.  We rolled into Garrison Creek and refilled water bottles – a regular spot for HBC rides.  We rolled past an excellent stop, Leipers Fork, only because we stop there so much and we had finishing on our mind.  We crossed the Highway 96 bridge, and we arrived at mp440 pull-off, a mental destination signaling downhill to the finish.
We finally arrived at the gate on the northern end for our ceremonial picture, the second time I used my portable tripod.  There, I had this great feeling that we were done, but melancholy that it was over.  I wished for a rest day and a continuance to St Louis, or Little Rock.  My body had become accustomed to the job it had to do.  I was tan and my muscles were doing what they needed to do.  I could keep riding long past the Loveless Cafe. 

A ride back home that my neighbor David so graciously provided in the middle of the afternoon left time for reflection – an emotional moment.  A moment that was only a thought last spring – how would it feel to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway?  I have some simple things to tell you, the reader.

  • I will never ride it again by bicycle.  It’s not good enough to warrant a second pass.  It’s checked off my life’s list of things to do.
  • If it calls to you to ride it, by all means go ride it. 
  • Don’t get hung up on riding every mile.  I recommend getting the Delorme map for Mississippi and finding some detours.  The NTP can get monotonous – not because the terrain doesn’t change, but it changes so slowly by bicycle that you don’t sense it.
  • Ride it self-supported.  It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the experience.  A friend rode it with their family last spring, credit card style, and hired a driver to take them to their accommodations or bring them water, lunch or snacks.  We did wish a few times for that kind of service, but also considered it too wimpy!
  • Skip Ratliff Ferry.  Find other accommodations.
  • Buy the two lower sections of the Great Rivers route from Adventure Cycling Association.  Those maps have more details than any other source.
  • Some B&B’s offer pickup and dropoff service for bicycle tourists, if you must.
  • The park service should either add a shoulder or slow the speed limit way down around Jackson and Tupelo.  It’s dangerous down there for cyclists.

We’re lucky to live

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