Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Natchez Trace Tale

Miles of smiles on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Instead of jumping on the Cycle North Carolina train again this year, Nimble Nate and I decided to revisit the Natchez Trace Parkway. We rode it in 2003 and decided that another little tour of it would be fun.

Our original plan was to start riding on Sunday, but since it decided that it would rain over two inches that very day, we hung out and watched football in Jackson.

On Monday morning, we left Kosciusko in a cool misty rain and rode to French Camp where we shared a table at the Council House Cafe with Jamey, a cyclist from Alabama. Jamey, a novice bicycle tourer, was out raising money for the United Way, which helped his community after it was devastated by the April 2011 tornadoes. He was interested in talking to us about our Appalachian Trail adventures and insisted on buying our lunch.

After a delicious lunch, Nate had to ride 20 miles back to Kosciusko, where he had left his wallet in his shorts, locked in his truck. He decided that he would retrieve his  truck and drive it to Jeff Busby camp ground, where we were to camp. Nimble Nate rode south with Jamey, and I rode on north. 

The little, no fee campground at Jeff Busby offered nice, clean, flush toilet restrooms. It was quiet and cozy.  The only other campers were two cyclists from Baton Rouge. We set up camp and talked with the other cyclists a bit.

Since Nimble Nate and I had his truck, we ended up driving to Eupora where we ate a killer fried seafood platter at Larry's. I'm talking fish, shrimp, oysters, frog legs, hush puppies, and fries! Our waitress, LaPortcia flirted shamelessly with Nate. When he asked what was good there, she slapped his arm and said, "Me!"

9/30/12 Day One-Kosciusko to Jeff Busby: 35 miles
Lunch at French Camp. I had the famous "Big Willie" BLT, potato soup, and bread pudding for dessert.

The Council House Cafe, French Camp. Building circa 1820.

Jeff Busby Camp Ground on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Tuesday, we awoke to a seasonably cool morning . After packing up, we rode 11 miles north to US 82 and found the wonderful Trace Way Restaurant about 7/10 of a mile east of the parkway. We had the ridiculously inexpensive and exquisite 'meat and three veggies' lunch plate for a mere $5.00. The price included your drink and cornbread. I opted for the fried chicken, green beans, mac and cheese, and greens. Good stuff!

Back on the road, we met Rebel, a south-bound cyclist from Murfreesboro, TN. He was wearing a coonskin cap under his cycling helmet, a US Army cycling jersey, and was riding with a Frenchman. He told us that the Frenchman took him to France last summer to ride bikes, so he was returning the favor by taking him to Mississippi. It seemed right to me. 

By the time we got to Witch Dance, Nimble Nate's knee was bothering him. He also seemed to have a little "bonk" on. We rested up, fueled up, swallowed some vitamin I, and then pushed on north for another 10 miles. We left the parkway at MP 243 and and rode west about 4 miles to the Davis Lake Recreation Area. As we approached the campground, we picked up a friendly, young, white German Sheppard who insisted on running along side of us. He followed us into camp and stayed the night with us and could not be persuaded to leave.

Davis Lake is a developed campground with electric and water on all sites. The $20.00 fee for the site was well worth the price of the wonderful, hot showers. A few more dogs came and hung out with us. We had a three dog night.

10/1/12 Day Two-Jeff Busby to Davis Lake: 56 miles.

On the road.
Meeting the King.
Elvis's humble beginnings.
Wednesday morning, we packed up and headed back to the parkway with our white furry friend alongside. It ran the entire 4 miles back to the parkway with us and then for a few more miles before we finally lost it. Once again, it could not be persuaded to leave.

The commuter traffic started picking up as we came within 20 miles of Tupelo. These folks drive faster, and noticeably more aggressive, than your regular Natchez Trace tourists. I have no complaints though, almost everyone was pretty respectful of our bicycle space.

We rode into Tupelo on the busy 4 lane, Hwy 6. We quickly found Eli's BBQ and had a really good pork sandwich for lunch. Consulting Nate's iPhone, we hit the back streets and took a tour of Tupelo and found Elvis's home and museum. The real "Elvis moment" came to me as I entered the restroom in the museum and discovered a flat screen TV above the urinals on which one could watch Elvis perform in concert as one relieved his bladder. Now that's classy!

After the Elvis tour and buying supplies at a grocery store, we grabbed a motel room for the night. Nimble Nate iced his knee, and we watched the presidential debates.

10/2/12 Day Three-Davis Lake to Tupelo: 35 miles.

Dead copperhead.

A pack of Natchez donkeys.

Hometown and Nimble Nate at Witch Dance.

Thursday morning, we pointed our bicycles south and headed back towards Jeff Busby. Nate's knee was still bothering him, and we decided that we needed to head back to the truck. We knew that we had a long day of pedaling ahead of us, so we stayed on schedule and slogged our way over the rollers.

Stopping at Witch Dance for a break, I became the victim of the witch's hex. My tire went flat as we sat there. I had a fairly new (2 weeks) slime tube installed on my tire, I couldn't understand why it was flat. When I pulled the tube, I discovered what looked like a defect in the seam of the tube. So much for the slime, it didn't seal squat! We quickly replaced the tube, but before we could leave, Nimble Nate's sunglasses broke. Another victim of the mischievous witch! We couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Later that day, a car passed us on the Parkway and soon turned around and stopped beside us. The gentleman in the car told us that a coyote was directly ahead of us on the road and was acting strange and aggressive. It was chasing his car, running up and down the parkway, and he thought it might have rabies. He obviously was worried for our safety. I picked up a stick and the guy drove ahead of us. Nimble Nate saw the coyote run off into the woods. We passed safely. I wonder if it was the witch wanting another crack at us?

We finally made it back to Jeff Busby. There we met a south bound cyclist named White Beard who was riding a three wheeled recumbent and pulling a bob trailer. He was from Denver and riding south for the winter.

We also met a real interesting character named Robert E Lee Voyles at the campground. He called himself the Mississippi Redneck. He had an old station wagon that he cut down to make into a home-made pickup and was pulling an old camper. Everything was hand painted an off red color. He had all kinds of mail boxes, axes, jacks, generators, cookers, flags, pots and pans, and other cool stuff strapped to and hanging off of his car. He told us that he just loved to travel and camp. It was a pleasure to talk with him. I thought of my hiking buddy, Boy Floyd, who carries a huge red pack, with lots of stuff strapped to and hanging off of it. The Mississippi Redneck took it one or two steps further. These two need to meet and compare notes, for sure!

10/3/12 Day Four-Tupelo to Jeff Busby: 70 miles.

The open road.

Natchez Trace Notes

  • Wildlife we encountered: lots of deer, turkeys, a few coyotes. A couple of dead snakes. Fire ant mounds everywhere you looked.
  • Road surface was mostly superb! Rolling hills in the north, flatter in the south.
  • Mississippi has lots of roadside litter. They did a nice job of keeping it picked up on the Parkway. Neanderthal slobs still threw trash out, lots of times mere feet away from trash cans. 
  • Weather: wow, couldn't beat it for the 1st week in October. Highs 70's, Lows, 50's.
  • Mississippi fried food: the best in the world!
  • Parkway traffic: low traffic, no commercial, speed limit 50 mph. Most drivers very courteous. Busy around Jackson and Tupelo. Signs posted on parkway "GIVE CYCLISTS 3 FEET". Nice.
  • Here's a great info-packed website that I used for logistics: Biking the Natchez Trace
  • Here's more info at the National Park Service website: NPS Natchez Trace