Day 18: NEW ORLEANS, LA!!! “Finish in good style, mate” – 65 miles, 1,483 total

We woke up this morning so totally rested and comfortable in the gorgeous Fountainbleau State Park on the north shore of Lake Poncartrain. Our 97 miles yesterday were largely flat but into a headwind. Even though it wasn’t a particularly difficult day, just trying to keep up the pace beyond a total lolygag is the difference that makes us exhausted. I suppose the butter-fest of dinner I made contributed to the big sleep.

IMG_4704 IMG_4718But even after a chilll morning (including a second pot of coffee – oh my!) and posing for photos on the shores of the lake, we were rolling pretty early with visions of a Po’ Boy and a beer in New *MF* Orleans!! Our intended route was to start with about 12 miles on the Tammany Trace paved bike trail. A few miles in, there was a lift bridge with a bathroom stop. As we stopped, we realized there was a solo day biker pacing us. He said “Wow, I saw you guys when I joined the path and you were moving!” The guy is a French Professor who boomeranged back to the NOLA region recently named Marvin. We rode together for a bit and he asked us about our planned route. Upon hearing it, he made a firm veto and gave us a much better way. Simpler and totally beautiful – including passing the historic St. Genevive church – Marvin rode with us as long as he could, recommending places to visit in New Orleans (including his favorite Po’ Boy joint in the Garden District (Parasol’s)) and then we parted ways.

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One more flat day. We wandered through bayous, homes on stilts for storm surge, and ultimately made our way along the water to the city!

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We stopped on the side of the road for one last “elevensees” (we never make it to a proper lunch time before needing calories. As tempting as the Po’ Boy awaiting us was, we were not going to make 60 miles without some calories!).

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Just after some foods, we battled a 10-15 MPH headwind for a little more until we turned the corner at about 30 miles into the day. Rounding the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, it was a tailwind to guide us into New Orleans in style at 20 MPH.

IMG_4747We stopped for a stretch break (Chandra showed me this amazing Yoga stretch that somehow I had never noticed she does. It somehow releases all this stress in the muscles that get flamed out sitting in the saddle all day. For bicycle touring, it is an understatement to say that this was a life-changing moment for me). From there, it was 15 miles to Parasol’s and we were stoked to motor it out!

After a couple miles, though, Chandra said that the rear wheel was acting funny. We’ve been having issues with it going out of true and I shrugged it off “only 10 miles!” I thought – we’ll make it. Chandra persisted, though, and said “I think it’s different”. So, we stopped, I slowly pushed the bike forward, watching the rim relative to the brake pads — looked about as true as before. So we powered on. Then Chandra insisted, saying she really thought it was worse and I finally listened, agreeing to take everything off the bike, flip it over, and look for loose spokes to tighten. I spun the wheel and noted it rubbing once per revolution, I could see when the rim got close to the breaks in the bend that is known to be there, but then I felt it rub out of synch with that. Impossible! But it was. Looking closer, I found that the tire was hitting the frame – not the brake pads! Uh-oh. Narrowing down the possibilities, we found we’d blown through the sidewall of the tire and the bulge was hitting the frame.

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So, we took the time to change the tire (don’t count this as a flat, since the tube never leaked and we didn’t replace it!) and carry on. It’s a good thing I finally listened and that Chandra pushed because we had a couple tight bridges to cross and lots of crazy traffic in the city. A full blowout could have been super inconvenient. It remind me of finishing a 30-day backpacking section at NOLS. Our instructor recounted a story of running a race and being tempted to walk at the end, not having met his time goal. An Aussie runner came up alongside and said “finish in good style, mate! You’ll thank yourself later”. The timing was unfortunate, 10 miles from the end to make a repair like this, but I thought about that admonishment, and how much of a pain it would be to have a more serious blowout within those last 10 miles. So we took the time to do it right and finish in good style, and I’m thanking myself (and Chandra!) later already. While the packs were off the bike, I also tightened a couple loose spokes on the wheel and knocked a bit of the wobble out of it. The last ten miles were without the squeak that had come back to haunt us a bit, and with a solid tire that could handle city streets. It felt good!

US Highway 90 (which we had been on for 25 miles or so) gave way to Gentily street with a bike lane. A BIKE LANE! So Nice!

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Navigating was easy and pretty soon we were cruising through the French Quarter on the way to the Garden District. We sat outside at Parasol’s, toasted the beautiful day and nearly 1,500 miles of riding together with a Stone IPA and loaded up on shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys and onion rings. When the bartender came out to deliver the food, he saw Talula and said “where did you guys ride from?” We said “Wisconsin”. He said “What’s your final destination?” We said “Right here!”. He said “Hey, that’s cool!” and gave me a high five. I think I like this town! One by one, patrons came out of the bar and asked us questions. We just enjoyed the big eat, the beer, ice water, and completion!

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So now we sit in a room on Frenchmen street, showered up, waiting for our return driving crew to arrive and then will head out on the town, for dinner and music. I will write an epilogue soon, but for now, here we are. We made it and couldn’t be happier!

pre-epilogue epilogue…. I do want to say one last thing while I’m thinking of it. This kind of journey is one that draws Chandra and I closer together. But it also draws closer to the strangers we meet, the friends and family following the blog, the likes and comments on social media. It makes us feel more complete and close as a couple, but also makes us feel closer to the big world out there. Exploring is like that. Thanks for reading along with us.

Day 16: End of the Trace. Natchez State Park, MS to Jackson, LA – 80 miles, 1,321 total

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Day 15: Tandems on Tours — LeFleur Park, Jackson, MS to Natchez State Park, MS, 97 miles, 1,241 miles total

It was a cold morning. We knew it would be cold, so we had planned another fast cold start, straight to a hot breakfast in Jackson. We had scoped out breakfast options the night before and were disheartened to find the pickings slim. Options seemed to be a great looking place 3 miles north of our location (i.e., a six mile detour), a Waffle House, an IHOP 11 miles along our route, or wait until 11 am for the brunch places to open. We had been about to give up on our dream of a hot diner breakfast when Mike discovered Brent’s Pharmacy, just two miles away and along our exit route. So, there we were at 8 am, warmly welcomed by the staff and situated at the counter where we could avail ourselves to all the plugs our iPhones could want for. In short order, we had hot coffees and (unfortunately less hot, but still yummy) food, including cheese grits (Mike) and multiple biscuits (me).

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Powered up, we did some quick foraging for dinner at the next door store and nearby Rainbow co-op, so it almost 9:30 am before we really got riding. We had nearly 20 miles to ride–through Jackson State University and past the airport on some pretty bad city streets–until we caught up with the glorious smooth Trace again.

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It was nippy, especially in the long shady sections, but there was a quartering tailwind so we started making better time. About halfway at milepost 55, we stopped for lunch at Rocky Springs. As Mike was settling the bike and I was walking toward a sunny grassy spot to set up, I heard someone yell “TANDEM!!!!!” I guess I was too focused on food, because it took a couple more shouts and the shouter had to get pretty close before it penetrated my consciousness. Turned out to be a really nice guy named Dave Fritsch who was also riding a tandem along the Trace with his partner Rhona. We’ve only seen one other bike tourer (not counting Mr. Hoopdy), and now there’s another tandem. How cool.

And what are the odds? Anyway, Dave invited us to their lunch table and we had a grand time exchanging stories. Dave and Rhona are from West Virginia and are doing an 8-day trip from Nashville to Natchez on a brand new Comotion Tandem. But this wasn’t their first rodeo, the Comotion is their third bike and they’ve been touring for nearly two decades — including some incredibly aggressive routes (some off road) around the country. Impressive. Dave blogs on the CrazyGuyWithABike site, so when I get home, I am looking forward to reading about their trips. Some of their trip journals have been published, so it might inspire me to make these posts more interesting for a third person reader. The problem is that I am always tired at the end of a long day. (Maybe just lazy).

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Ah, there are so many things to aspire to.

Because of this fortunate encounter, we got on a road a little later than usual, with 45 or so miles to cover. We made good time but it was hillier than we anticipated. Still, we didn’t really stop much, except that we (Mike) kept trying to get a picture of the cool moss hanging from the trees. We’d stop and take a picture:

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Only to find an even cooler tree down the road:

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Eventually, we gave up and just started pushing towards the day’s final destination, Natchez State Park. When we finally found the park (a few miles off the Trace), it was getting dark and we had two options: right to campground A or left to campground B. No other information or map was posted. After trying to look at a very poor map on the internet (Reserve America is really a disservice to camping, but I will rant about them some other day), we choose right. We biked quite aways until we saw RV spots but could not locate the tent spots. The instructions said to locate a spot and then reserve it at the park office. We kept going in search of the tent spots. Eventually, we came to the left option road and headed toward the park office. It was a LONG way, downhill, in fading light until we reached the office. You know what is coming: it was closed with absolutely no instructions for campers. We were tired, cold and hungry. (And I was grumpy). So we gave up and pitched our tent at the picnic area next to the office, hoping the ranger won’t show up and kick us out.

It’s past nine now, so we hope we are safe. At least, we are fed (Mike made a nourishing and filling vegetable curry) and warm in the green tent. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned.

Day 14: – yomigaeri (rebirth) — jeff busby campground, Ackerman, MS to Jackson, MS 101 miles, 1,144 total

Today was day two of this phase of the ride – the final 6-day push into New Orleans. I started out with an extra big oatmeal portion in hopes they I could make it to 11 without eating my arm.

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Yesterday’s short ride and early arrival were a great phasing back into the rhythm of the road after a rest day. It also afforded us time to relax a bit and handle some mechanicals. There hasn’t been much to say about mechanicals since things have been smooth but a couple minor adjustments have made a huge difference – enough that this morning I kept thinking of the Japanese word yomigaeri, which means “rebirth”.

First, midway through yesterday’s ride while legs were feeling fresh, I was really uncomfortable in the saddle. It reminded me that people have said you should switch saddles on a long time ride just so the geometry changes. Not necessarily better – just different so your pressure points of contact change. New saddle not being an option, I though about just moving my saddle back on its rails a bit. I planned to wait until camp but with a chill day chandra encouraged me to do it with 20 or so miles left. I did, and this morning right away I felt way more comfortable. I probably slid the saddle back 3 or 4 mm, but that change was enough! Way more comfortable today!

The other thing was the squeak we’ve been dealing with. We’ve thought it was the BOB trailer wheel or maybe the trailer hardware. It got worse over the last 4 riding days but we thought we had ruled out the bike wheels. As we rolled into a stop last night though, we both noticed a wobble in the rear wheel. Considering some of the terrain we’ve forced our bike over on this trip the wobble was no surprise. But I kind of suck at truing wheels. Nonetheless I had to give it a go. Looking at spoke tension there were a few spokes that were particularly loose. I tightened them up, rid the wheel of the wobble, worked slowly and meticulously to not make new problems, and that was it. This morning as we set out on the road something was different. After a while I realized the squeaking was gone!! Hard to express how annoying that sound was. Rebirth!!

Beyond those two mechanical changes the riding was uneventful. It’s our penultimate day on the Trace so we tried to soak it up, enjoy the flat easy riding, and burn this paradise of road riding into our permanent memory. We left the Trace for a mile or so to get an ice cream sandwich at a little market and of course had to out sprint a dog. Twice because we returned to the Trace the same way!

We had a picnic lunch in Kosciusko (named after a Polish immigrant who also designed the first fort at what is now West Point). Fun fact – Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko. We learned all this from the friendly attendants at the visitor center which also had lovely picnic tables and water.

After lunch we enjoyed the smooth road, the quiet without the squeak, and the general flat terrain and tailwind with cold northerly air coming in.

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In terms of stops along the way the Cypress Swamp was amazing!

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We left the serenity of the Trace to explore Jackson MS. on Friday night at rush hour. We are used to city riding though and made our way to this cool state park campground called Le Fleur Bluff right downtown! It’s mellow and we found a breakfast place and a coop for supplies in the morning. It’s supposed to be 33 degrees tonight. Feeling like the first days of the trip!

On the way into Jackson we stopped to pick up a bottle of wine. A random woman in the store asked me where we were from. I said “Wisconsin”‘and she said “it’s nice to have you here – welcome to Mississippi”. When we stopped along the Trace in this tiny market to get ice cream the huge guy behind the counter was also super friendly. He said “great what y’all are doing – we are all 99 cents from a heart attack. We should be riding a bike”. He was gruff when we first walked in but we left feeling welcome and he gave us all his advise about New Orleans. I could get used to southern hospitality!

Now to sleep. Looking forward to diner breakfast tomorrow at 93 miles to Natchez!

Day 13: Easing Back In: Tupelo, MS to Jeff Busby Campground, MS, 71 miles, 1,043 miles total

Sometimes it is hard to motivate after a rest day, and I thought getting going would be especially difficult given how hard we had been pushing.

Despite fretful sleep, we woke early. After stuffing ourselves on the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (which, surprisingly, was better
than many as far as free breakfasts go), we were out and ready to roll by 8:30 am. As I gingerly set myself down on the bike seat, I was pleased to discover the seat felt pretty good, and as we pedaled out of town, the legs also felt fresh. I guess, the rest day (plus two solid rest nights) worked their magic.

It could also be that the day was gorgeous — sunny, but cool with a gentle NE tailwind. And the Trace was equally gorgeous — smooth black pavement, small rolling hills, and little traffic.

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Plus, we had the easiest day yet–just 71 miles to the campground straight along the Trace. No need to hunt and forage for food; we had done that yesterday. So instead, we pedaled along chatting idly about life, work, and how cool this trip is. Oh, and in doing so, we realized we had forgotten to take care of some house/work related issues, so we used a sunny spot to do some “office work” and make some calls for about a half an hour. I guess real life creeps in every so often, even when you are on vacation.

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As we were finishing up this “work”, we met a couple, Rick and Joanie, from Alaska who were driving a small rv around the South–starting in Texas and ending up in New Orleans, where they would store the RV and heD back to face Anchorage’s winter. In classic small world (Kevin Bacon 6 degrees) fashion, Mike and Rick soon discovered that a common colleague/friend connection. My mom, Jo, is the master of this — she once ran into our neighbors in the restroom at the Continental Divide. And legend has it that a college friend recognized her voice during a darkened cave tour. Whenever it happens, it always amazes me that with billions of people, billions upon billions of connections exist just under the surface. All we need to do is scratch lightly upon the surface of a stranger’s life to reveal them.

Given the short day, we also took the opportunity to stop at various points of interest, including a section of the Old Trace called the sunken trace.

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Despite these stops, we pulled into Jeff Busby campground around 3:30 pm. With the sun still high in the sky, we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Luckily, the campground was filled with friendly people. A Canuck from Montreal came by and admired the bike (apparently he had bought a tandem at one time and it wasn’t a hit with the wife). The camphost is a gregarious Aussie, named Ian, and there’s two other bikers in camp: a solo biker on a loop from Huntsville, AL to Natchez, MS, and the solo dude on his hoopdy again. This campground is one of the most pleasant we’ve been in so far. I guess we deserve a little easy riding. But don’t worry, we aren’t going through too soft. Tomorrow will be longer (although Mike informs me that the tailwinds should be even stronger)!

Till then, we are fat and happy and safely tucked away in the green tent, ready to sleep at the late late hour of 8:03 pm.

Day 12: Tupelo, MS rest day #2 — 0 miles, 972 miles total

Today was our second rest day of the trip, and just shy of 1,000 miles in 11 days, we were cooked and needed the break! We woke up in our hotel room, left the bike safely against the wall, and slowly made our way out to explore Tupelo a bit.

IMG_4574Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Apparently, he went into this local hardware store asking his mother to buy him a rifle. She refused, favoring a guitar. I guess that made some difference to rock-n-roll history….

IMG_2112We walked through a nice neighborhood to a grocery store to load up on staples for the next session of riding and had lunch/coffee at a nice local cafe. The owner asked which of us was the big Elvis fan bringing us to Tupelo. I must have looked a little confused because he said “Oh, I’m just messing with you” and asked where we are from. We talked a bit about riding the Trace and then we moved on, noting the Elvis-inspired public art.

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In all we probably walked about 5 miles so after lunch we chilled at the hotel, Chandra fixed my therm-a-rest pad with a patch, and we generally relaxed trying to do as little as possible.

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Finally, to not walk more, we took a cab out for mediocre mexican dinner and saw some of the area impacted by a massive tornado in April. Before going out for dinner, we got to wish our niece Geneva a happy 4th birthday in Tokyo as she is celebrating with Chandra’s sister Keiko and her kids. Technology is cool!

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Now we are watching the final game of the World Series (go Gigantes!)  and contemplating whether we will make it past 9:30 PM. Tomorrow is only 75 miles on the Trace with a predicted tailwind, so we will pack in the morning, make a leisurely start, and look forward to the final 6-day push of this journey!

 

***Addendum: Hoopdy

Aside

*** Ever wonder how to spell “hoopdy”? Apparently, according to the Urban Dictionary, you can basically spell it any way you want (e.g., hoopty, hooptie, hoopdy, hoopdi, hoop-d) without any significant change in its meaning of “a piece of shit vehicle that must (or should) be embarrassing to drive for some reason.”

 

Day 11: Riding Toward Rest — Colbert Ferry, AL to Tupelo, MS, 74 miles, 972 miles total

This morning, I awoke feeling as fresh as a daisy — run over by a coal rollin pick up truck.  Yep, the morning definitely felt like the sixth consecutive day on a bike.  As Mike mentioned, it isn’t so much the legs (although they are weary), but more the soreness and fatigue of exerting from a single position for hours on end.

Usually, only a cup of coffee will get me moving on a morning like this.  But today, there was an additional reason to bounce (crawl) out of the warm sleeping bag and get packing.  Instead of our usual coffee and oatmeal, Mike had promised me a hot diner breakfast at a little town about six miles along the ride.  This was, in part, a luxury, but it was also a necessity as we had been unable to find oatmeal in any quantity small enough that we would want to carry it at our last couple of grocery stops.  And so, by 7:30 AM, we were packed and on the Trace.

But not for long, because as soon as we pulled onto the Trace, we spotted road closed and detour signs, which usually a not a good thing when bike touring.  All those prayers must still be working though, because the detour pointed us right toward the little town of Cherokee, AL.  We cruised along southerly bound for a couple of miles toward town, when we saw the detour sign point to an easterly left turn.  Knowing Cherokee to be dead south, we decided to take a chance and ignore the detour sign.

Besides, the weather was beautiful and the sun was coming up over the cotton fields.

Sunrise on the Trace

Sunrise on the Trace

Within a few more miles, we snuck up on the backside of Cherokee and parked ourselves as the local breakfast spot.  JJs is just the type of diner that one finds scattered in small towns across the country, at least those small towns that are still lucky enough to have an open restaurant.  Local men loudly opined their views on how the SEC (as in Southeastern Conference, not Security Exchange Commission) selects its football champions to their counterparts seated at different tables and booths throughout the diner.  Sticking out, we found ourselves a corner booth and enjoyed the best the diner had to offer.  Luckily, at this point, we are not picky and even diner coffee and unseasoned omelets with processed cheese taste delicious.  And, Mike even got to have the trip’s very first BREAKFAST PIE!

Breakfast Pie at JJ's in Cherokee, AL

Breakfast Pie at JJ’s in Cherokee, AL

Turns out, the large men arguing the SEC particulars were part of the town’s fire crew.  As they out, they confirmed that they had set up that detour a few days back when there was some water issues closing roads into town.  We had made the right call in ignoring the detour, saving ourselves an extra three miles of riding.  The day was looking good!!!

And so, even with the breakfast stop, we were on the bike and riding toward Tupelo, MS, by 8:30 AM with six miles and food safely under our belts.

The Trace offered another beautiful day of riding.  Although our rear ends were uncomfortable and made us fidgety on the bike at times, the rolling hills kept us occupied and a slight to moderate headwind kept us from overheating.  The predicted morning rain never materialized, and we made good time, traveling mostly in silence toward a rest day.

Riding the Trace--somewhere between Colbert Ferry and Tupelo

Riding the Trace–somewhere between Colbert Ferry and Tupelo

One of the things that I love most about these trips is the synchronicity we have other, both on and off the bike.  On the bike, we feel each other’s effort.  Even without looking ahead, I know when the road ticks upward as I feel Mike lean into the pedals and I match him stroke for stroke.  When the strain requires down-shifting, I let off and watch as the chain moves left to a smaller ring.  Coming out of a downhill tuck, we know when to uncurl ourselves and start pedaling again.  There’s no need to say anything.  We just know and adjust.

Off the bike, the rhythm is similar.  We have a routine for loading and unloading the bike. And we go about setting up camp, making repairs, and cooking dinner without the need to ask where things are, what needs to be done next, etc.  We’ve done this so many times that we could do it in the dark (actually, we have done it in the dark).  For example, last night, we got a flat in the small tire on the BOB trailer.   As I was pitching the tent, Mike pulled the tire off and located the puncture in the tube and the offending shard of glass in the tire.  Without saying anything, I walked over to patch the tube (I always do the patching), while Mike wandered off to get us water.  By the time the patch was dry, he was back to finish the repair work and I headed back to finish setting up camp.  It’s a strange thing to be so in sync with another human being.

But you needn’t fear that we live the days in complete silence.  There’s plenty to talk about . . . we just don’t need to talk about mundane logistics very much.

The Trace has various interesting historical markers and points of interest.  Although we don’t stop at every one, we use the most interesting ones as an excuse to stop and take small breaks, especially those that also house restrooms and water.

The Bear Creek Mound was built between 1100-1300 AD and used for ceremonial or elite residential use.  (I guess the Native Americans also had their 1%ers.)

Bear Creek Indian Burial Mound

Bear Creek Indian Burial Mound

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At another stop, we ran into another biker–of a sort.  A lone biker on an old cheap Walmart bike, with a gallon jug of water on one handlebar and a backpack hanging off the other.  When filling water bottles, he inquired about our trip.  Turns out, he’d been at Colbert Ferry as well, probably a day or two before us.  Before parting, he told Mike, “I gotta get me a lady friend and a bike like that.”

We’d been stressing a little because over the last few days, we’d developed a squeak emanating from the back half of the rig that had been growing increasingly louder over the miles.  It was hard to diagnose as it only occurred when riding fully loaded (which means we can’t recreate it at night when we have the time to fix it).  We’d been biking along thinking it could be the free hub (bad news if so) or the rear drum brake (also not such an easy fix) or perhaps the rear rack or the BOB trailer.  We’d been hoping it was one of these less essential parts, like the rack or trailer wheel.  Seeing a guy riding mile after mileon a old hoopdy/hooptie/hoop-d*** bike reminded us to keep these things in perspective and not get too obsessed about chirps and squeaks along the way.

Even so, when we got into Tupelo, we did stop in for some expert advice from Brian at the local bike shop, Bicycle Pacelines.  Thinking the likely culprit to be the small wheel on the BOB trailer (which has over 6,000 loaded miles on it), we had Brian take a look.  Although the wheel is probably out of grease, it still spins easily, so we bought a new quick release skewer and continued onward to the hotel . . . which meant dinner!

Our plan had been to buy a six pack of beer, order a pizza and watch Game Six of the World Series from the comfort of our king-sized bed.  Alas, the pizza joints in this town (or at least those that aren’t Pizza Hut) don’t deliver, so after laundering and showering, we took a short walk through the motel parking lots to The Lost Pizza Co.  A popular place, the line was so long and Mike was so worn out that he nearly fell over waiting in line to order.  But order he did–two beers, one large salad and one large pizza.  YUM!

The Happy Hippie (vegetarian) pizza at Lost Pizza in Tupelo, MS.

The Happy Hippie (vegetarian) pizza at Lost Pizza in Tupelo, MS.

And yes, we ate all but three slices of that large pizza.  We could have finished it off, but I wanted to save room for the Fro-Yo next door and for a seventh inning snack.  Hudson would have been proud of us.  We mounded 1.5# of Fro-Yo and toppings into to-go cartons and happily headed back to the hotel, devouring spoonfuls of chocolate, coffee and caramel goodness as we walked.

When we got “home”, Hudson must have had his rally cap on, as the Kansas City Royals royally spanked the San Francisco Giants 10-0 in a must-win Game 6.  We made it to the 7th inning, but with the score at that point 9-0, we succumbed to the eight pillows and king-sized bed.

Tomorrow — nothing, or at least, nothing that requires riding the bike!

 

 

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!

Day 8: Southern Parkway Riding: Cave in Rock State Park to Dover, TN. 103 miles, 718 total

We left illinois this morning to spend a few hours riding through hilly western Kentucky and on into Tennessee.

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We arose feeling a bit weary
and knowing that short steep hills and headwinds would greet the day. But first we checked out the Cave at Cave in Rock. Fun fact – marauders hid out in the cave in the late 1700s preying on passing boaters. I put on my best marauder face.

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We enjoyed the scenery a bit before heading to the ferry across the Ohio River into Kentucky.

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Once into Kentucky we were greeted by amazingly courteous drivers who slowed dramatically when they got close to us and often yielded the entire lane to us. We found a lovely porch outside a closed community center in Carrsville where chandra enjoyed a little time I a rocking chair.

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A welcome change from southern Illinois was the lack of dogs chasing us. We probably did 10 or more full out sprints to outrun dogs chasing us from farms. We have Halt pepper spray but really don’t want to use it. There’s nothing like a stoker feeling the threat of an approaching dog homing in on her fast moving legs to “pile on the coal” and increase the speed. It’s exhausting!

But not today in Kentucky. We saw more horses than dogs and enjoyed fall colors lining the path as we climbed over the bluffs of the Ohio River. About halfway through the day, we reached land between the lakes which is a national recreation area designated by JFK. It’s closed to commercial traffic with a low speed limit, perfect macadam, and hunting hiking etc. land on both sides of the road extending the the dammed Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. This is a southern parkway much like the Natchez Trace where we start riding in a couple days. It’s a glorious way to travel! Not only are cars courteous, but bikes are expected to be here so there’s no arguing our placement – not quite so where coal trucks rule the road. I should say yesterday the coal trucks were ubiquitous but also more courteous than many cars. In fact yesterday the coal trucks were stressful and I feel like we stressed them out too. They came by every couple minutes often with little or no shoulder for us to get out of their way. One of them slowed to our pace (and was probably surprised to be following us at 37mph down a hill) for a while so I pulled off into the gravel to let him pass once we slowed as the road headed uphill. He clearly thought we ran off the road unintentionally and stopped to see if we were ok. I bring up this aside to note both that many people express concerns about big rigs and bikers but big rigs have always been professional in our experience. I fear a weekend warrior not knowing how to drive a huge RV much more. But also I want to note that some days we ride through areas where bikers are anomalous or even a danger but today on this southern Parkway we got to shed all such stress and enjoy the ride.

The hills impacted our pace as did the morning headwind, so the last 8 miles or so were in the dark. We have good taillights though and Talula has loads of reflective tape so an little time in the dark is no big deal. We Aren’t at the campsite we hoped to reach today, but it will do and some minor route adjustment has us tapering distance from about 93 tomorrow to 80 to 70 into our rest day in Tupelo.

Today we really also felt like we are entering the south. Accents are different, fall colors are not as far along, the landscape is changing and it’s warmer every evening. So at this campground next to a loud road I bid you adieu until tomorrow when we reach the Natchez Trace.