Saturday, May 4, 2013

Biking from Nashville to Jackson, MS on the Natchez Trace, part 3

Have I mentioned no rain. We slept that night in a pollen-soaked campground, yellow dust coating the picnic tables, the ground, us in the morning. We ate, packed up, and unknown number 3:

Sickness. A slight case of diarrhea of which I am prone when drinking all different kinds of water, a lingering symptom of another ride taken when just 16 through a bog area, where the trip guide said the water was safe to drink. I believe I picked something up that day that has resided in my intestines ever since. Don’t talk me out of this idea. I fall quickly in and out of tummy trouble, and this trip will be part of a very long list.

But we ride on. On what turns out to be a perfect day, weather-wise.
We ride into Tupelo to get a Starbucks coffee and more supplies at a Wal-mart.
We continue riding, feeling as one should when the sun comes out: glorious, as if anything is possible. We only have 73 miles planned.

But after 20 I am again, suffering.

Sunburned, dehydrated, bum sore, we stop at Witch Dance, and again get
Psyched. I tell myself only 10 more and then ten more after that. I promise myself
I turn to the IPOD and listen, and feel a strength come into my body that surprises me.
I actually feel good. I actually believe this is all so cool.

Have I mentioned how old I am?

It is bittersweet—I wonder how much longer, how many more years, knees, I have left to do what I do, because at a certain age you KNOW, this is not an unknown, that you are not forever, that one day you will not be doing this, the unknown is when, and perhaps when that time comes, God will give me the grace to accept it. I ride with people usually 15 to 20 years my junior and at this point we are well-matched. At this point we are doing it.

My riding partner didn’t have a good section, so that when we pull in and I am high, she is low.
Another flat she announces. Damn the presta valves, but she pumps, pumps, pumps, and the tires HOLD.
We go on to Jeff Busby—but first
We pass mile after mile of tornado damage—from two years ago.
road normally

road after tornado outbreak April 2011
April 26, 27, 2011 there was an outbreak of tornadoes, sideways rain, shears winds, micro-bursts
That took down a 20-mile stretch of trees. All those things you’ve heard:
There were tree trunks but no tops, huge root beds ass-up, trees reduced to splinters. A living exhibit
Of what would be an unknown.
Day 5 and have I mentioned? No rain.
This was to be our shortest mileage day, and we needed it.
We caught up on laundry, bike maintenance. We are starting to feel stronger.
We arrive at French Camp around noon with a cadre of antique cars driven by antique drivers.
I ask them if they want to trade.
French Camp cabin
again at French Camp cafe
My riding partner and I order off a menu! Sandwiches! Potato chips in bags!
A honey-mustard sauce that we ask them to package to-go and pickles. Despite tummy trouble
I eat all of this.

We slather on sun lotion, sun block, SPF 15, 30, 45 and roll on, riding for the shade, patches of shadow
Beneath sections of tree canopy that cover the road.
the trees extended about 60 feet up (at least)
At Kosciusko we hear that more rain is on the way. Okay.
We keep going.
At a certain point, it will happen, and there is nothing we can do about it. For now.
For now. For now. That is how I try to think. In small chunks. Do-able pieces.
At least we weren’t caught in tornado alley back by Pigeon Roost like riders were 2 years ago.
We have traveled through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, a state with too many Is and too many Ss, and a smattering of Ps.
We sleep for the last night on the trail. It feels celebratory, melancholy, scary as the clouds pile up.
We know the end is coming, but do not know when the rain will arrive.

All night long sleeping next to a cow pasture where the livestock must be in heat or gastric distress
We lay awake listening until finally the rain arrives, waves and rivulets, sluicing down off the rain fly, spreading on the ground around us and our parked bikes.
Our old friend is back.
A slow-moving low that swamps us.

We awake to torrential rain, run relay to the bathroom with stuff to pack up, water pooled up in the corners of the tent I am now rolling up, heavier now to transport, soaking wet.
We wear rain jackets, rain pants, ponchos and within seconds the plastic is like a second skin sticking to us. We live in a new reality of wet, wetter, and wettest.
Of hard rain, filling the swales beside the road, filling our ears with the roar of cataracts. Slack rain dimpling the puddles, plimping off the ponchos, a slow drip off the brim of my cycling helmet.
Misty—the saddest of all, because it is so complete.
Fog—Thank God!—because it means it has stopped raining—or slowed.
Because it is back. Always with us, in some form or other.
We stop at the Cypress Swamp, hoping to get a glance, catch a snapshot of an alligator sunning himself on a log.

Even the snakes, turtles and toads that have been present along the side of the road—are gone.
The alligators are smart. They are hiding away where it is dark, cold, and wet—just like us.
We eat a lunch of bread with French Camp honey-mustard and sliced apple beneath a rain poncho.
We swallow back hot tea and hot coffee and know
That in 20 miles we will be in Jackson—where we will find ourselves in unknowns.

We ride along the Yockanookanay River, a name that only Faulkner and his fans would love.
It rides on the tongue like a bicycle cruising along, with one or two sudden gear changes.
We can feel it, the last day of riding, the road rising up,
We get closer and closer to water, to the reservoir as big as a sea—at least in the mist
It becomes water, air, and sky—all one color. And
A squall comes up. My riding partner feels as if she is cycling once again along the North Sea
There is wind, bursts of power swept in off the lake, shaking our loaded bikes
We are lucky; we have to gear UP to go up hill as the wind is pushing us.
STOP, she yells.
An alligator, or maybe she says crocodile. I haven’t been able to convince her they don’t exist in the US.
Or else the fatigue makes her forget.
Either way, I do not believe her. It is The Perfect Storm all around us and why should we stop for a log in a canal
I take a picture anyway and the head ducks underwater
She’s right! I stand in fascination while she pulls out into the road, time to go.
We keep rounding curves bringing us into the head of the squall and then turning us away.
I actually feel very alive, fighting for breath as the wind carries it away.

Finally we are on the outskirts of Jackson and its mothering traffic. We pull over
Onto a multi-use trail, that winds, safely, gear-challengingly through a woods that parallels the Trace.
To the Parkway Information Cabin where we are greeted by National Park Rangers.
We made it, we say and they act like it is a big deal.
It is raining.
We ask for the closest coffee shop where we might be able to dry off, make a few calls, and get ready
For the LAST 10 miles to our couchsurfing destination in Clinton.

At Great Grains where we camp out for three hours the rain pours and pours. We order
Coffee, espresso, hot chocolate. Josh arrives, we get him a coffee. Josh leaves us a key.
We play, and play, and play, and play cards. Waiting, waiting, waiting, We’re so close
And so far away.
We want to just get going in order to stop.
The misery of waiting those three hours in wet clothes, wet shoes, wet underwear, sends shudders
Down my wet head, dripping hair, rain-washed cheeks.
The phenomenon of this system I will later learn is causing creeks, rivers to flood their banks
For the farmer’s fields to take on standing water, for every low place to become full of
The multi-purpose trail ends 100 yards from the parkway at mile marker approx 95.  
We have to carry our loaded-down bikes across a drainage ditch that is running about a foot high to the roadway.

Everywhere danger. The rain. Our ability to stop, to stay alive. The hideous traffic. The cars passing too close, the trucks honking. I can feel the stress in all the sore places of my neck and butt. All I want is to make it alive—and eat pizza. Please God.
We exit around 89,88 and turn into more local rush-hour traffic. We don’t talk anymore. We just keep going.
We don’t move over for cars, we make them move over for us. There is the continuing ominous fear that at any minute we will be hit from behind. I expect to hear the screech of brakes and a sudden, stomach-gutwrenching-crunch of human bones and bike and steel.
We ride.
Three miles to our couchsurfing destination, a refuge from the rain, cars, and for a while
We shower, eat pizza, and do laundry. A shelter from the storm. Thanks Josh.

The next day we cycle to Flowood. In the greasy rain on greasy roads. As it seems that in Jackson the only way to get around is by car.
We bikequested a route to the Bike Rack that was primarily on divided highways 4 lanes wide on each side. I felt as if I were on Lakeshore Drive—something I would never do.
Except for this
Bike the Drive
At the Bike Rack we were treated with incredible CARE. I want to spend a blog alone on the Bike Rack.
A little I’m afraid if I talk them up too much others will come to expect the great treatment we received.
I’d like to think it was because we were special.
But the Bike Rack gave us free boxes, tips on packing, sealing tape and then
Jesse gave us a ride in his truck to the train station. Then Jesse
Helped us get our bike boxes and assorted gear into the station. These are good people.
Thank you Tom Martin for 40 years of business (his card says this), Thank you Tom Martin
For being there.

We checked our luggage, Thank you Ms. Dillon, and walked around Jackson, where we
Peeked into the Old Capital (Old Capitol Museum) picked up a flier about a re-enactment to take place

*Saturday, May 4, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum. Capturing the Capitol. In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Union Army capturing Jackson during the Civil War, Union reenactors capture the statehouse and camp on the Old Capitol Green. Reenanctors will be on hand to demonstrate drill, tent set-up, and other related skills. For more information call 601-576-6920 or email Old Capitol.

Then got some local advise on where to get some sandwiches to go. McAlister’s, where we
Order 2 of everything and got it in about 3 minutes, just in time to make it back to the train.
City of New Orleans, thank you. Even though you arrived in Chicago
3 and a half hours BEHIND schedule, you did the job.
We got home.

Knowns and unknowns of the Natchez Trace.
I am 54 years old and I realize I may never bike the Trace again, but I am already planning
My next trip.

P.S. Did I mention--we rode almost 400 miles!!

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