Friday, March 2, 2012

Natchez Trace Tour - 144k Permanent X 2

I can't seem to pass through Nashville, TN without spending a day riding in the area.  My favorite venue is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is a 442 mile roadway extending to Natchez Mississippi.  The roadway is designated an Historical National Park.  It features a smoothly paved surface, meticulous landscaping, and very minimal vehicle traffic.  There are several RUSA permanents that utilize the famous roadway as the primary route.  I arranged in advance to ride one leg of Michelle Williams' Natchez Trace Tour.  A 114k free route between Pasquo, TN and Collinwood, TN.  The shortest and most desirable passage between the two points is the NT Parkway.  The return from Collinwood, if undertaken by bike, counts as a second permanent, which I opted to begin one-half hour after finishing the first one.  From control to control would be 90 miles each way.  If completed within the time limits, I would earn 288 official RUSA kilometers.

I left the convenience store adjacent to the NT Parkway promptly at 6am.  It was dark and 42 degrees.  The weather forecast called for a high of 67F with showers beginning in the afternoon.  Strong, and potentially dangerous thunderstorms were predicated at night.  It was my hope to be finished before the heavy stuff moved in.  The northern portion of the NT is a bit hilly, but nothing daunting.  I enjoy riding it on my fixed gear using 70" gearing.   Sunrise began just fifteen minutes into the ride, with full daylight by 6:45.  I could feel the morning sun warming me up.  I quickly fell into a nice rhythm on the bike.  The moderate grade hills felt very nice and I was making good time.  With thirty miles behind me I had the sickening feeling of my rear rim hitting the pavement.  I stopped at a bridge and inspected the tire.  It had about 10 pounds of air left in it.  An apparent slow leak.  I used a mini-pump to pressure up to about 85 lbs.  The tire felt firm so I continued to ride.  In ten miles I felt the rim hit again.  This time I would change the tube and look for the offending problem.  After searching extensively for something in the tire I could find nothing but a small hole in the middle of the tread.  I used the US Treasury Department tire boot before putting in a new tube.  Back on the road I was now confident that my problem was over and the rest of the ride would go smoothy.  The next twenty miles were perhaps the most enjoyable of the day.   I felt like one with the bike.  Rolling smoothly like butter on an impeccably clean two lane. Then I felt the rim hit the pavement.
Sunrise on the NT Parkway
 I cussed loudly as I peeled the tire from the rim again.  I was upset that I had not taken an extra tire with me.  I had decided to leave it in the car as the roadway was so clean that flats were unlikely.  The hole in the tire, which I had booted, was apparently not the root of the problem.  I could not discover what was causing the pin hole sized puncture in the tube.  I combed over every millimeter of the tire, finding nothing.  I put in a new tube and pressured with a quick fill to 120 lbs.  The tire felt rock hard as I got back underway.  With forty miles to Collinwood and one spare tube remaining I believed I would be able to finish the first permanent. However, I was having serious doubts about the return permanent.  The little town hosting the control does not have a bike shop.  If another flat occurred my plan would be to get a taxi from Collinwood to the nearest bike shop to purchase a new tire. If time allowed I would take the cab back to start ride number two.  Although, I was not sure the little town would even have a taxi.
Many miles of smooth road lay ahead
 As luck would have it the remaining miles to the Collinwood exit went without a hitch.  Less than half a mile from the parkway I pulled into the gas station convenience store that served as the control.  I pushed my thumb into the rear tire that still felt rock hard.  I allowed myself to hope that my day would be getting better.
I checked into the control at 1:30pm.  Permanent number one was done in 7 hours 30 minutes.  I could start Permanent number 2 at 2:00pm, which allowed time for lunch.
Collinwood, Tennessee
Official Park like building in Collinwood, TN
 Heading back out to the NT I noticed the cloud cover rolling in as predicted.  It was plenty warm, in the upper sixties, so a passing rain shower or two would not be that bad.  Although, I was still hoping to stay ahead of the more severe weather.  The wind direction from the south would help me meet this goal.  Providing, I could keep air in the tires.  As the miles ticked off I became more confident that I would make it through without further problem.  It is quite isolating out there on the lonely roadway.  I rather enjoyed the feeling and the quietness of the place.  There would not be a stop sign or traffic light until the finish.  Darkness fell shortly after 5:30.  I had about 40 miles remaining to the finish.  The NT is even more isolating at night.  Other than a few dim lights at the comfort stations every 10 miles or so there is no artificial light.  My bike lighting was the only source.  Occasionally deer would jump out of the blackness into my headlight beam.  It was a little startling for both the animals and me.  Otherwise, the air temperature remained comfortable, no rain fell and my tires were holding air.  Life was good.  I really was enjoying the pleasant night.
I opted not to visit the Mud Hole
 The NT features sign posts on the northbound side designating each of its miles.  My exit would be just past the 442 marker which is the last one.  I looked forward to each mile as I neared the end.  The terrain is the hilliest near the norther terminus.  I climbed a gradual upgrade aggressively and was rewarded with the appearance of mile marker 438.  I then felt my rear rim hit the roadway.  After many miles my problem tire finally lost its pressure.  I calmly but quickly worked to re-pressure with the mini-pump to 80 psi.  I only needed it to hold for four more miles.  It did.  Going flat again on arrival at the finish, which was no longer a concern.  That tire would never roll another mile.  I intend to dissect it, if necessary, to find the small invader that cost me much time and trouble.  However, that could wait for another day.  This day I rode 180 miles on fixed.  Permanent number two was finished in 6 hours 40 minutes. 


I have a strong urge to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway from end to end on fixed gear.  Permanent route owner, Michelle Williams has a network of  RUSA approved rides that allow one to ride every inch of the famous road, and receive credit for it.  Four permanents strung together traverse the whole thing in one direction. The routes can be reversed for a return, if desired.  The multiple permanent concept allows for a more leisurely experience than a single route.  Instead of a continuous ticking clock one can take a time out between rides, including a full nights sleep.   I'm not sure if I want that, or a more traditional sleep deprived rando experience.  Either way, my intent is to do it.  I will ride alone if need be, but company is always preferred.  Anyone interested in joining me on the adventure can let me know.  I'm open to riding one-way or round trip. The ideal time would be the fall.  Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi can be deadly hot in summer.  Let's pick a date. 


1 comment:

  1. Hi Joe... Great ride report... I've often thought about riding the Trace as one of my multi-day touring trips... You've wetted my appetite again... Thanks... Steve Hallett, NJ Rando Volunteer.