We always knew we wanted to turn north somewhere around Louisiana, but it wasn’t until we actually got to Louisiana, Baton Rouge to be specific, that we found out a way to do it.
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444 mile long road with no traffic lights, no dogs, and most importantly, no commercial traffic.
A straight shot to Nashville, TN, the Trace is like a giant highway. While the direct, isolated route is definitely a nice attribute, it prevented us from getting a feeling of Mississippi culture as we didn’t really get a chance to interact with the state beyond the various Walmarts, bike shops, and their employees, which aren’t a fair representation of the general populace in the first place.
As we headed toward the start of the Trace in Natchez, MI, we noticed we were being followed by a rather ominous looking storm. We were 20 miles south of Natchez when we ducked out for cover. We ended up pitching a tent on someones property, hoping that nobody in their right mind would be walking around in this kind of weather. Of course this also happened to be the day where we had detached our fly from our tent (when attached, you can pitch the tent and fly up at the same time), so we clambered into our wet tent, which little did we know, would stay wet for the next 4 or so days.
Luckily, nobody in their right mind, or wrong mind, showed up at our tent that night, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about crazy Mississippians taking us off their property with an enormous gun.
We made it into Natchez just in time for a second breakfast, where we had the smallest “All Star” breakfast imaginable. The two pancakes were no bigger than my palm. Even a 2 year old could have finished what they gave us, let alone an “All Star.”
Slightly disappointed, we headed over to a post office where we mailed home all our winter gear, seriously lightening our load.
Then, on to the parkway!
As we rolled into our first campsite on the Trace, we passed by three other touring cyclists. One guy looked like he was carrying enough gear for a medium sized family, by himself. Ben swore he saw him with a pot AND pan. The other two, Kim and Stein, were also headed north after just having ridden south on the Trace. Apparently they originally planned to take the ferry back up to their car in Nashville, but as the ferry only departs once a month, they had no other option. Kim kindly recommended using the creek as a bath/shower to wash off all the thick humidity we had been riding in alllllllll day.
Not even five minutes after I took that picture of Ben, claps of thunder could be heard over the sudden bursts of wind. We scurried back to our campsite and into our semi-wet tent, just in time for the on-pour. It rained all night long.
Unfortunately, we didn’t set up our tent in the highest of spots, which was stupid since we both knew it was going to rain. So, lesson learned: if you pitch your tent in the nicest looking area, which might possibly also be the lowest area, you might wake up in a small pond.
Next morning, we pack up our wet tent and slightly damp belongings and get back on the road.
Along the trace, there are various historical sites and overlooks. Apparently, the Trace was created in the George Washington era, which followed along a trail used by the three native tribes. They could travel from Natchez, MI to Nashville, TN in just under 10 days.
We arrive in Jackson, MI, where we went into town to fill up on groceries and various bike supplies, and ended up stealth camping just off the trace on a closed part of the highway still thankfully open to bikers.
It hardly rained that night, but we woke up around 6 to get back on the road before we started seeing too many morning joggers/cyclists.
Although I was a little grouchy from having to wake up so early, I was soon extremely thankful that Ben had roused me from my precious sleep. We pulled into a cafe around 7 for breakfast, and once again, we were being followed by those ominous clouds.
By the time we finished our breakfast burrito and omelette, it was pouring; tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings/watches were in effect and everyone’s eyes kept nervously darting to the television screen. I, however, was shamelessly glued. Tornadoes scare the living crap out of me. Earthquakes? No problem. But duck and cover doesn’t work for tornadoes…
It’s also kind of interesting how everyone east of New Mexico are constantly up to date on the latest weather forecasts. You ask somebody in CA what the weather is going to be like and they’ll probably say, “I dunno, clear and sunny.” Anywhere else, they’ll say “30 mph winds coming from the north” or “It’ll start raining around 4,” or “tornado watch in such and such counties until 9am.” Yikes.
Anyways, there weren’t any tornadoes, and we were back on the road by 9.
The storm was blowing pretty quickly to the north east, exactly where we were headed, but luckily it blew faster than we could ever hope to ride. However, that didn’t mean we were done with the rain…
Cypress swamp on the trace, definitely a must-see. Didn’t see any alligators though
Spent the night sharing a bike-only campsite with Joe and Bill, headed south, and our friends Kim and Stein.
Next day, we stopped at French Camp for lunch, the location of a prestigious school and delicious cafe – we had the famous BLT and broccoli salad. Yumm!
While we were eating, we met Denise and her husband, who’s name we can’t remember (sorry!), a lovely couple who just a little under a year ago realized they weren’t enjoying life like they should, quit their jobs, and have been traveling around the country in the car, on their feet, and on their bikes ever since. They had obviously made the right decision, for it was quite clear that these two people were basking in happiness. It was incredibly inspiring.
Spent another night at a bike-only campsite, this time by ourselves. We were very strategic about our tent placement, even though skies were clear.
Next day, Tupelo, MI. Restocked on food, (thanks to Walmart) and back on the road. Stayed at Tishomingo State Park where we had our first shower since we got into Mississippi. And they were warm. We saw Kim and Stein, met a nice motorcyclist named Bob, and were greeted Easter morning by an older guy (who offered us hard boiled eggs) who was traveling with his 3 buddies up the trace. When we found out we were going the same direction, he very fairly made a comment about probably passing us on the trace. Little did both of us know…
In order to avoid having to carry all their gear, they were alternating driving a car. So three would ride, one would drive, and then switch every x amount of miles. We found out later that there was a lot of tension in the group due to discrepancies over how long they would ride before alternating, a stressor that was only furthered by the fact that they were being passed by two kids with “50 pounds” on their bikes. While we had passed the group earlier in the day, the alternate driver kept passing us, so we were always in view, a serious thorn in all 12 of their tires. Whoops! Honestly, I’m pretty proud we passed them, but then again, it would be sad if we didn’t with 2 months of training behind us.
Crossed over into Alabama, than Tennessee 30 miles later. In TN, the dogwood trees (some others as well), were still in bloom. Also, there are over 100 species of trees on the entire trace. It was neat to see them change as we progressed further north.
Spent the night at Meriwether Lewis State Park. First free STATE park we’ve been to! Got invited to share a fire with an older couple, Louis and her husband….Larry? who had been on the road for the last 6 years visiting every state capitol. The only one they have left is Albany, NY, even though they’ve been to NY a thousand times. Ben and I both had our first Yuengling brew. It was like a mix between PBR and Bud lite.
Last day on the trace, also only day with big hills. We were being warned of them since Tupelo, but apparently we have higher standards as to what constitutes as a “hill” than most people east of Texas.
Finished the trace in 6ish days? Remember it used to take them a little under 10…
At the end of the trace lies the Loveless Cafe, a famous restaurant where famous musicians frequent. Delicious biscuits with even more delicious homemade preserves. We both liked the blackberry best. They also had an amazing coconut cream pie. Unfortunately no famous sightings.
Next stop, Nashville, the music city!