Chapter 8, Natchez Trace Parkway
Rain, Trick or Treats and a Roadkill Armadillo
We were greeted with 75 miles of headwind our first day on the Natchez Trace. We can only hope it doesn’t last. It is a beautiful road, wooded on both sides and with low traffic.
Just inside Alabama, we saw a lone cyclist about a half-mile ahead, and we decided to try and catch him. He looked over his shoulder and pulled away, but Claire took the whip to Zippy and we closed the gap in a couple of miles and caught him. Mike, works for Alcoa and has made business trips to Kent, Washington where they have a can factory. “Why did you ever come here if you live there?” he said.
He’s been cycling for a year and his wife is getting interested and wants a tandem. We gave him the spiel on how much fun tandeming is, but I think being caught by a loaded tandem probably sold him.
We were in three states today. Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. If this Mississippi state park is an indication, we should be in for some nice camping. Nice hot showers and a lakeside site. Both RV neighbors have been very friendly. We shared a campfire with one couple and the other gave us coffee and chili for supper! RV people are so friendly and always seem to be enjoying themselves so much. Both these couples spend most of their year on the road, and have downsized their homes. Sounds good to us.
Carl and Velma Hookways from Canton, Ohio have a business size card they hand out to people they meet. On the back it says, “Our Friends Are Our Best Collectibles!” They too, have discovered the joys of living with just a few possessions in their motor home. Their possessions include three very petable cats. Claire was happy!
Next morning, a cold front, we’d hoped would miss us, rained on us just before dawn, making it hard to get up. Nothing like the patter of rain on a tent, and cool temperatures to keep us snuggled up, each waiting for the other to make the first move at getting up. This snuggle deeper into the nest thing is getting to be a problem in these cool fall rains. We’ll never get south.
Just as we emerged from the tent, our campfire neighbors from last night arrived, carrying steaming cups of gourmet coffee. Chili last night, coffee this morning; it’s as if we had servants. The rest of breakfast was peanut butter on rolls slathered with sorghum. Yum. We were also given two apples by our neighbors which went with our open faced sorghum sandwiches perfectly.
We left the park at 10:30, a couple of hours later than we’d planned; Carl and Velma wanted to take our picture, “Nobody will believe us.” and Claire had to pet a cat. Such is our pace these days. That will have to change when we go back to standard time Sunday, or we’ll be down to 30 mile days.
The day was sunny and in the high 60’s and crystal clear. Nothing like a cold front to brighten things up. We saw our first large fields of cotton since Tidewater Virginia. They were harvesting; John Deeres, not Black people with huge sacks, but I could imagine it.
We are also seeing new trees; pines with 10 inch needles and oaks I don’t recognize. The color is not spectacular, like some spots in the Smokies or even up in Virginia, but nice subtle greens and browns of the oaks, yellows and browns of the poplars and the rich burgundy of dogwoods.
I have seen lots of paw paw trees that I remember from my childhood. The fruit is black on the outside when ripe, burnt umber on the inside, the shape and size of a potato; sweet and musky in taste and smell, a sexy fruit. They don’t often bear, and I haven’t seen any fruit yet. Like persimmons, they need frost to get past the astringent stage, and we are trying to stay ahead of frost.
The mast crop (nuts) has been heavy this year and we see lots of squirrels, many as roadkill.
An old man paused from asking us questions today to point out a perfectly camouflaged, thumb-nail sized tree frog.
We saw a huge field with a half dozen burial mounds of primitive peoples of the area. I imagined them gathering nuts and berries and hunting to prepare for winter here, thousands of years ago, and how their lives must have been, short and fearful, but rich, intense.
At the National Park Visitor center in Tupelo, we met a bike tourist, Richard Lovett, who is on his way to Nashville from El Paso. We traded route information and talked touring; he’d done quite a bit. He was doing 100 mile days and having knee trouble. I’m glad we don’t have to rush. Added him to our email list.
Zippy’s Hugi freewheel stopped ratcheting yesterday and I had to fill it with Syn Lube to get it to work. Now it’s a bit stiff. I hope this doesn’t foreshadow a major breakdown. The freewheel is about the only part I can’t at least do stop-gap repairs. When they go, they go, and there is nothing to be done except get a new wheel.
After a day in Tupelo to pick up mail, we turned south again into uncertain late October weather. It was cloudy but warm. South wind again. Headwind. That seems to mean rain around here.
The trees are showing more color now. These are not the bright colors of the Appalachians, but different and subtle; burgundy and yellow splashes against brown oaks or bright green pines.
The pines are lovely, dark trunks and long clumped needles, in stands along the roadside mowings of the Park Service. The whole road is parked out (real estate terminology) up to a hundred yards back; I’m surprised to find myself liking the effect.
We rode past a huge, infestation of kudzu that reminded me of one of Calvin’s (of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip) ghoulish food monsters, only these were 60 feet tall. It is very beautiful, if you can forget about the damage it does.
We saw our first armadillo. Too bad it was roadkill. We turned around, went back, and took a picture. Cars slowed and people looked at us funny.
We got into Jeff Busby campground after 71 miles, and heard thunder. We got the tent up fast and just beat the rain. We napped two hours and, when the rain quit for awhile, went to the nearby grocery for ice cream. We found an exhausted looking cyclist, Ron Kessler, sitting on the curb shoving food into his mouth. He is riding alone and wants us to ride with him tomorrow.
Ron awoke us at 7 a.m. with the news that there was a tornado watch in effect. The sky was black. Perhaps because the sun wasn’t up yet, I couldn’t tell. It was hot all night, and humid. We packed a wet tent, shoved some food down and started south. Ron had all sorts of informed ideas about what the weather was going to do, and he carried a NOAA weather radio. Around noon he said the front was about to pass over us with lots of rain, and that if we waited it out it would clear, turn very cool, and a strong tailwind would blow us to our destination. Soon a small rain squall moved through, the wind changed dramatically, the temperature dropped noticeably, and the sky brightened. We rode south and all of his predictions were true until, at exactly six miles, at a rest stop, a huge thunderstorm hit us and the wind turned against us.
The temperature stayed down. Way down. Car people came and went at the bathrooms, watched us shiver under the eaves, got back in their warm, dry cars and snickered at us. We hate car people when they snicker.
Claire and I decided to go it alone and rode into the headwind and rain, and thunder and lightning, non-stop for 30 miles. One of those car people stopped to offer us a ride. Her car would not take Zippy, so we declined. Some car people are nice.
Seventy-three miles today, much of it in hard rain. Ron came in about the time we had finished our showers. He had lingered, hoping his theory would eventually prove out, stop raining and provide a tail-wind. It didn’t.
He told us that there were tornadoes just to the south of us as we rode. Glad we were not faster. Ignorance is bliss.
The reason Ron knows so much about the weather is that he programs computers to tell weather persons what to tell their television audiences. He works for the weather service in Washington, DC. At one point today, when his prognostication had gone wrong, he said, “I sure wish I had radar right now.” What it would have told him was that it was raining everywhere and that we were going to get wet. Thanks for trying Ron.
Now it is only sprinkling off and on, and the weather service has told everyone that it will be beautiful tomorrow morning. We can hope.
The colors were spectacular today under the dark skies. The saturation was phenomenal. We saw new trees and new colors today including some bright oranges and reds. What I like about the color here is that it is all small understory trees, shining their brightest under tall conifers of richest green; like a Northwest autumn. Saw our first bald cypress today; thick at the bottom of the trunk and standing in water. If we didn’t know we were in the deep south before, we do now.
During the night I heard huge splashes in the backwater near our tent. The campground hostess told us that it could be either beaver or alligator, both of which thrive here. The alligators were put in the river to control the beavers, but they prefer pet dogs. Yesterday, after a full day or riding in the rain, we probably smelled like wet dogs.
In the morning we packed up a wet tent, again. I’m expecting to smell mildew soon, perhaps between my toes, maybe behind my ears.
We stopped at a large bald cypress and tupelo swamp today. Fascinating. Big bulbous bottoms to the trunks, sitting in some feet of dark water reflecting them from below through mats of fluorescent green floating plants.