We awoke this morning in our secret spot having avoided being found despite a bit of restless sleep wondering if someone would bother us for being in the picnic area. There was frost on the ground, the air was cool, and sunrise on the lake was beautiful.
We made a quick breakfast ignoring the extra hour from the time change – we shifted our entire day an hour earlier (like, no different than before) to make sure we still hit the road early enough to make it off the road before dark. Pedaling up the hill out of the park we made our way to the final 10 miles of the Natchez Trace into the town of Natchez.
It’s bittersweet to leave the Trace. It has been a singular experience with all the benefits we’ve been going on about. Leaving also means an end to the buffer of the parkway lined with forest and a return to louder traffic, towns, farms, and finding directions.
But alas it must end and in Natchez we headed south into Louisiana. We arranged to stay with Perry and Lep who have made an amazing cycling retreat in their home outside Jackson, LA. When I called, Perry suggested a route that is shorter than what adventure cycling recommends. We took her advise and thus also ended our use of the adventure cycling maps.
Highway 61 out of Natchez is big with a good shoulder but also rumble strips. The rumble strips are nice in that they help us hear if vehicles are behind us on the shoulder but they also occupy the white line meaning we need to either be in the traffic lane (legal but not ideal when there is a shoulder) or ride between the rumble strip and the grass. Not much room in the latter – tried to show what that’s like here.
We also broke our front derailleur cable so had to make a roadside repair. No big deal, although it was hard to get it adjusted well without a stand. This meant quite a bit of fidgeting along the way but we got it to work enough to make it to Perry’s place. She had a stand and even a cable gripping tool which made adjustments for tomorrow easy.
After 30 miles on the highway we rejoined rural small roads. It’s been remarkable how much the terrain changes when crossing state lines on this trip. Mississippi to Woodville was characterized by pretty hilly terrain (still related to the Loess hills and the big river valley) while crossing into Louisiana the terrain started to spread out and give way to gentler rollers and an overall descent down Jackson Louisiana Road and ultimately into Jackson.
Despite missing the comforts of the Trace it was familiar in a way to be back on country roads – cars and trucks and all – and to see the countryside as it is now rather than the preserved version of the parkway. We arrived at Perry’s refuge before dark.
Perry hosts cyclists all throughout the touring season (which is almost all year save for mid summer when it’s too hot to ride down here). She and her partner Lep are super nice and amazingly generous. We pitched our tent under a roof so it will be dry in the morning. They have an outdoor shower (so nice!!) and even a repair stand, pumps, and a place for cycle tourists to lounge. We cleaned up and made minor repairs to the bike (adjusted the new cable better and trued the rear wheel a bit more. Then we were invited in for a fantastic dinner of beans and rice, salad, dessert, and conversation. Perry and Lep still tour but they used to tour on both upright and recumbent tandems. We had great conversation about tandem touring and riding, our current tour, past and future tours, and stories of the many people they’ve hosted over the past 15 years. They open their home also through warmshowers.org (awesome site – like couch surfing for bicyclists- which I used in New Zealand and we’ve hosted people through) and since they are at the crossroads of several popular tour routes they are always hosting someone.
Once again so much of what makes a tour like this worth it is the connections with people. Of course on a tandem there is a whole world of connection between the two of us. Meeting new people who understand that and sharing their stories and experiences is the second element. The miles and the road and scenery stitch it all together.
So we rest, clean, with full bellies, ready for 94 miles tomorrow – our final long day which will end on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. And suddenly, just like that, we are almost there!