Day 10: The Natchez Trace — Shady Grove, TN to Colbert Ferry, AL. 84 miles, 898 miles total

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Last night we ended our day at a cyclist only camp on the Natchez Trace. We were tucked in a horse staging area and all alone. At 3 in the morning we awoke to the loudest most extensive coyote “conversation” I’ve ever heard. It was amazing! It would die down then a single coyote would start again. It’s strange since they started calling after the sliver of moon had set. I don’t know what got them going, but we listened for a long time until the crickets retook the stage and their buzzing lulled us back to sleep.

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We awoke and headed up onto the Trace to see what the hubbub is all about. Imagine a perfect road with hardly a bump, little traffic, no trucks allowed, everyone knows bikers are there, a 50 mph speed limit, and a wooded buffer on both sides. For 450 miles. It’s cycling bliss! That doesn’t even consider the history and background of the place. I will link to some information. Before planning for this trip I had heard of this place but only in passing. The more we’ve learned the more fascinating it is. And so we only rode half a mile before stopping at the Gordon House – an 1830s brick house that a ferry operator’s wife lived in until 1859. Beautiful from the outside its pretty run down inside.

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We moved along only long enough to see a section of the original trace. Amazing to walk on a dirt path that conveyed so many people over 100s of years mostly by foot. Granted, bike travel is much faster than walking but the feeling of the changing environment and getting around on your own power is similar.

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Some of the land near the trace is beautiful and pastoral although often you can only see the gorgeous forest to the side.

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The terrain remained hilly but with shallower grades. That means longer time grinding away up hills and long but not as fast descents. The temperature reached about 85 degrees and the wind was from the south. All that combined with being the fifth straight day riding meant a certain amount of “gaman suru” or pushing through discomfort. When people see our narrow saddles they assume the worst in terms of discomfort and they are on track. But it’s not just sitting on a narrow saddle but really being in a single position for this many hours that makes you ache. For example, if you were to say binge watch an entire season of House of Cards in one day (I don’t recommend it!) you will likely switch position from lying on one elbow to the other. Imagine being in the same position on abike for 8 hours a day for a week. Yes, the pain is in the bumstead, but it would be hard to lean on one elbow that long too. All this is to say that on the 5th day in a row in the saddle there’s a fair bit more fidgeting and shifting around trying to be comfortable. The slow going exacerbates the discomfort, fighting up sometimes seemingly unending hills sometimes in granny gear going near a walking pace. Then *bam!* gravity, overtopping the crest, it’s 45 mph for a mile or two. All the while the gorgeous scenery and perfect road and companionship made it bearable.

This characterized the morning until we stopped for elevensees at the Meriweather Lewis national monument. Lewis – of Lewis and Clark fame, was walking to DC with his expedition journals along the Trace and spent the night in 1809 in a sort of saloon in TN. He died of a gunshot wound in the night. He was depressed since Clark was getting all the props for the expedition but some suspect foul play. Scandalous! In any case, it’s clear his last living night was at this spot on the Natchez Trace and his tomb and a monument remain. We explored the area, ate, and pressed on.

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We hoped to get to Collingwood for lunch and provisions but our pace was so slow in the headwind and hills that we stopped at a picnic area to eat. It was a gorgeous picnic area with water and tables and we shared our stories with curious local and tourists – all of whom were inquisitive and supportive (although they all say they wouldn’t ride like this!). Then we pressed on to Collingwood which was rumored to have a grocery store and we hoped it did!

As happened in northern Illinois we keep encountering small towns – even those with food stores listed in the adventure cycling maps we are using for this part – with boarded up buildings. Is this a remnant of the recession? Is it part of the general shifting away from rural life? We did see a few massive estates yesterday and an airstrip capable of handling private jets in amongst the boarded up towns. Maybe it’s just another indication of the widening gaps in income in the US. “By the way, Smithers, do load a couple extra lobsters and a case of Dom onto the plane. I think the country store may be closed. ”

Anyway we found a small grocery store in Collingwood and while Chandra was inside I was struck by the loud trucks and ruckus of town being off the Trace was jarring. I was just replying to an email from a friend who informed me that the knucklehead who buzzed is yesterday was a “coal roller“. I was writing back and feeling a little discouraged about people In general when a guy saw the flag and said “Wisconsin. You’re far from home!” I said we’d been riding since last Saturday. He said “where’d you fly into?” I said no flight just riding. He smiled and we both laughed a bit. “Well right on man” he said as he left. Faith restored.

We got back onto the Trace for the final 24 mile push to camp. Everything changed! The hills of Tennessee gave way to Cyprus swamps and cotton fields and flat ground.
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Despite the headwind we made amazing time and the miles ticked by. The smells are different (more piney as we left the oak hills behind) and the bugs and animals are different. It’s humid and warm although not for long.

Riding on the Trace in the hills (that just this morning we remarked reminded us of the driftless area in Wisconsin) and now into south is a privilege. We feel like we’ve earned some easier terrain by working hard to get here. Tomorrow morning we will hit a rural diner for breakfast and make our way into Tupelo Mississippi. Can’t wait for some rest and maintenance of bike and legs and bums. Fun fact – bag balm is amazing! Made to relieve stress on cows’ udders, works well on human bums too!

We are lucky to be here and make it this far. After resting we are thrilled to explore the rest of the way to NOLA!

One thought on “Day 10: The Natchez Trace — Shady Grove, TN to Colbert Ferry, AL. 84 miles, 898 miles total

  1. Thank you for such a description of your evening and day. I have. Been reading about the N T and have read about the places you talk about. Sorry for the sore buns. I so look forward to your posts. The pictures didn’t come through today but we will see them when you get home. Love ya. MG

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