Natchez Trace Tour Day #7
Houston MS to Tupelo MS
Today: 45.6 miles Cumulative this tour: 427.9 miles
Jack and I made a casual departure this morning, opting for a lobby breakfast of cereal and juice. My stomach felt better too.
With a short ride plan for today, Jack and I had no need to load up on provisions. As usual, we stopped often on the Trace. The site at Bynum Mounds was pretty cool. Today one sees big mounds of earth covered with grass. But with help from visual aids and signage, one could imagine a busy Indian community centuries ago.
We stopped also at the Black Belt Overlook, and found it thoroughly lacking in appeal. A limited view over the tops of trees. OK, this ain’t Utah.
Headwinds became a factor today. Whenever we’d break into any type of clearing, we’d encounter a 5 to 10 mph headwind, which was sometimes channeled into even higher speeds. More trees please! The headwinds were present for some of our uphill climbs – today was supposed to be easy!
Traffic picked up on the outskirts of Tupelo. A few semi-trucks passed us and we wondered why they were out here. We did get some satisfaction when we saw a ranger go after one with lights twirling. As before, almost all drivers were courteous around us, with only an occasional knucklehead in a hurry.
We reached our exit north of town around 1:30pm and decided to visit the Natchez Trace Visitors Center. In the nice cool A/C, we watched two 15-minute videos, one about Parkway history, and another called Secret Soldier, about a woman who fought as a male soldier in the Civil War.
Afterwards, we talked with the ranger, discussing food options. One suggestion was a place called Connie’s, and she put in a bid for us to bring her back some blueberry cream bread pudding.
Dang, the planned visit with my step sister hit a snag. She had been reading an itinerary spreadsheet I’d sent. As is my custom, I include a “From” and “To” column for each date, and unfortunately she had read only the “From” column, and hence was 1 day off in planning. As a backup, we made a plan to meet up tomorrow.
From the Center, it took quite a while to find our campsite. The ranger gave us directions but was vague, having never been there herself. We rode and walked a ways down a wrong road, then took the correct one but stopped too soon, and then finally found it.
But a nice campsite it was. The place was designed for large groups, with roofed pavilions and water troughs located beneath mature trees. While Jack and I set up our tents, we turned to see another cyclist camper approaching.
Rodney was pushing a loaded mountain bike with knobby tires and a massive trailer up the slopes to the campsite, huffing and wheezing with every step. He immediately began with friendly banter, and made a quick declaration that he was “Cycling for Christ.” The rear panel of the trailer read, “God Loves U,” but the secondary message, reusing the “U”, read “U Got Work?”
We liked Rodney right away, but he was one of those guys, well… Think of someone super talkative. Think of a true hobo. Think of that scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, you know, the one in the railroad car when Pee Wee meets Hobo Jack. Pee Wee ends up throwing himself out of the moving train, going crazy from too many verses of Jimmy Cracked Corn.
Jack and I rode off for dinner. There was a twinge of thought that Rodney might help himself to our (meager) campsite articles, but Jack always reminds me that a fairly strong code of ethics usually presides at campsites. Others’ campsites are not to be touched.
The cycling on busy Tupelo streets is poor, but we clawed our way along Gloster Street, looking for a place called the Blue Canoe. We settled on Ryan’s. Honestly, the foodie in me usually considers such places low-quality pig troughs, but they’re near perfect for hungry cyclists.
Big salad, big veggie plate, another big veggie plate, a few pieces of chicken, and the 2 hot chocolate chip cookies. A very good stop – I left about to pop.
We took an alternate route back to camp via Beech Springs Road (the “cool way”). Another camping cyclist had set up away from our site, a gentleman our age from Wisconsin riding solo. He was headed south on the Trace doing Nashville to Natchez. We chatted for about ½ hour while he sucked on 24oz. Busch beers. Real friendly guy.
He talked about a few rides we might consider in the future. Among them, one called the “GAP” ride, which I have since learned is the Great Allegheny Passage trail in PA, MD and VA. Another is a ride up in Alberta from Jasper to Banff in national park lands. Both of these rides sound enchanting.
Rodney had set up his tent, quite possibly the largest tent I’ve ever seen a solo cyclist hauling. He started up the banter again, soliciting funds from Jack, and declaring he’d be studying his Scriptures in the morning. Quite the Holy Hobo. Rodney smoked a lot too. It’s a very unlikely thing for a cyclist to do, particularly one on a low budget. Cigarettes are expensive, aren’t they?
Alas, I do appreciate characters like Rodney. Meeting friendly guys like him and the guy from Wisconsin is one of true joys of bicycle touring. Call it the making of interesting connections.
Dusk arrived and so did the mosquitoes. We ducked into the tents anticipating a wonderful night of sleeping, with a forecast low of 52. I spent some time forecasting the rest of our route, considering some possible changes Jack and I had discussed. Both of us were feeling pretty good and figured we might skip our upcoming rest day.