There is a magical roadway to the west. It is a strip of smooth two-lane blacktop 444 miles long. It is bordered by trees, fields, rivers, streams and many sights of historical significance. Perhaps its most unique feature is that it is a National Historical Park maintained and operated with Federal funding. It is the eighth most visited National Park in the country. Its northern terminus abuts Nashville, Tennessee while the southernmost part is in Natchez, Mississippi. The main purpose is recreation therefore no commercial vehicles are allowed. The speed limit is never higher than 50 mph, which discourages vehicles from using it for transportation. It is a perfect environment for the cyclist. Neither hilly nor flat, slightly winding, and, impeccably maintained. The roadway is known as the Natchez Trace Parkway. Folks residing in the proximity of it refer to it as the "Trace".
I've had the good fortune of riding on the Trace several times. Always starting at the northern end in Nashville. My furthest venture to the south was as far as Tupelo, Missisippi, which is less than half of the entire length. I always vowed that one day I would ride the entire distance. I hadn't gotten around to that yet when the Nashville Randonneur group announced that they would be hosting a 1500 kilometer Grand Randonnee on that very roadway. Designated The Natchez Trace 1500k the route would use the entire length north to south and back. I'd always thought I would ride it in just one direction, but the opportunity to ride it both ways, getting credit for 1500k in the process, seemed like something I needed to do.
The Start - Nashville, TN
DAY-1 (269 Miles) Nashville, TN to French Camp, MS
We are given the off signal and immediately descend to the start of the Trace, which is only about a mile away. I recognize the stone wall entrance as we transition onto the historic roadway. The surface is totally free of potholes and debris. I'm awaiting the arrival of daylight to begin taking in the scenery. When sunrise does occur there is a misty cloud cover in the valley. A rather dense fog. We stop at the overlook to take a photo of it. It's like looking at a cloud from above. Rather quickly we resume riding, The organizer's plan is for riders to make 270 miles this first day ending up at French Camp, Mississippi where there are cabins for sleeping. Chris and I are hoping to override the sleep stop to gain some extra miles the first day. There are few other choices to sleep so doing so would require catching a couple of hours shut eye at one of the many rest stops along the roadway. Some have covered picnic areas. Though first we have to cover the 270 before we can think about moving on.
|Morning Fog Hangs in the Valley
The terrain is somewhat more moderate south of Collinwood. Shortly we hit the Alabama border and ride past cotton fields for about thirty miles. After which we cross into Mississippi, which hosts the majority of the Trace. Our next official control is Tupelo, which is 300 kilometers into the ride. Volunteers position themselves in between these distances offering riders food and water. There are some gradual inclines that present themselves. Nothing difficult to climb, but some require me to stand in order to manage my 74 inch fixed-gearing. The temperature begins to climb as the afternoon progresses. We approach the city of Tupelo at the early part of rush hour. Traffic is heavy and this is further complicated by road construction. We are glad when the exit appears. We have our choice of establishments to use for food and beverage. We select a Subway restaurant. There are a few other riders there as well, including Bob from New Jersey. We spend forty-five minutes total consuming calories, chatting, re-filling fluids and organizing gear for the next leg.
|The Border of Alabama Day-One
|Tupelo, Mississippi is very hospitable and is known as the Birthplace of Elvis
|The Dining Hall at French Camp
|Passing by Jackson, Mississippi
|One-hundred miles to the Southern end of the Parkway
|View from the Lower Section of the Natchez Trace Parkway
|Heading South to Natchez
|Twilight on the Trace
|Moving into Darkness
Day-3 (187 Miles) Natchez, MS to French Camp, MS.
After a quickly consumed breakfast we organize gear and get back on the road for another 300k day, We both are feeling a bit stiff and sore, but we have a full nights sleep working for us. I'm confident that we will warm up and feel better after a couple of hours. After a few miles of riding in the city of Natchez we enter the Trace at the southern terminus. Riding this section is more pleasant in the daylight. Also, we have the mental boost of heading toward the finish not away. I'm considering this a pivotal day. Getting through today will put us over 1,000k, which is 75% of the total distance. The remaining 500k is broken up over two days and should be easier to manage.
|A Church in the City of Natchez, Mississippi
|The Marker of the Southern Terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway
|I love this Bike!
|Chris' Food = Carbo Loading - Mexican Style
|Chris heading to French Camp
|Posing by a Historical Marker with matching Knapps Cyclery Jerseys
Day-4 (141 Miles) French Camp, MS to Tishimingo, MS
|Info for the Day Ahead
|The road to Okolona is loaded with Log Trucks. Little room for bikes!
|Entering Okolona, Mississippi
|Chatting it up with two of our Favorite Volunteers
|The Entrance to Tishomingo State Park
Day-5 (155 Miles) Tishomingo, MS to Nashville, TN
|Sweet Home Alabama
|Road Closed - Detour to Cherokee, Alabama
|Collinwood, Tennesee - The Penultimate Control
|Michelle from Minnesota riding with Jim from Ohio
|Jeff Another Favorite Roadside Volunteer
|Vicky from Texas on the Recumbent
I'm now riding more gently and slowly, especially on descents. I suggest to Chris that she go on ahead as I will be slowing her down at this point. She insists on staying together. We cover about ten miles when we notice a pick-up coming the other way slowing up while eyeballing us. The truck pulls to the side of the road. I notice it's the RBA Jeff Sammons. He asks me if I want a new wheel which he pulls from the back of the truck. It's a complete fixie wheel and tire with the correct 17 tooth rear cog. Five minutes later I've got the wheel on and tight and we are heading to the finish with less than forty miles to go.
|Wheel Delivery From RBA Jeff Sammons
As we near the final mile markers I begin to think about the steep climb just before the finish. Off and on it has entered my mind whether or not I will make it up with so many miles in my legs. I've climbed it on prior occasions, with a fixed-gear, but never with over 900 miles behind me. I'd mentioned it to Chris a couple of times and she would just say; "Walk it. No big deal." At this point, or at any point, I don't want to walk up this hill one-half mile from the finish. I'm pretty determined to climb it. If I had a roll of duct tape I might tape my feet to the pedals so I can't clip out. It's climb or fall. With no duct tape on board I decide to pretend I'm locked in. I will not clip out no matter what. We pass by the final marker of the Trace and bear right to the big hill. The road connects Route 100 and I-40, so there is lots of traffic. Falling could be deadly, but I hold onto the thought that I won't clip out. With the hill now under us it's time to stand and push the pedals. It steepens a bit more past the half-way point, but we both continue to climb. It hurts some, but not as bad as I anticipated. I don't have to fight the thought of clipping out because it never enters my head. The finish is at the top and Chris and I arrive together. The longest brevet in the country is behind us. Boo-ya!!
|At the Finish!!!
At the barn which serves as the finish we are treated to food and beverage while celebrating with other riders and volunteers. A tired, but happy group sharing thoughts of the adventure just behind us.
I'm appreciative for the companionship of Chris during the entire adventure. She has a very pleasant personality. Always looking at the positive side of things. For me our riding together was the perfect offset to my rather sour disposition and negativity. We rode every mile within ten feet of each other and never had any kind of serious disagreement. I suggested all kinds of crazy plans to finish the ride in a faster time. In retrospect, they were all dumb. None the less Chris listened to them patiently without criticizing. In the end we wound up riding the plan which was the design of the organizer. Ride, eat and sleep lots. This worked fine. Anything else would have been less enjoyable, if not down right disastrous.
Speaking for myself this was a unique and fantastic event. The venue of the historical park built around a roadway was the perfect setting. The organization of the Tennessee group was no less than superb. Clearly much thought and effort went into the planning. And, much hard work went into putting it on and supporting the riders. We couldn't help but feel well looked after. Several riders suffered mechanical issues besides myself. All were given assistance and those riders finished. Little details like charging stations at the sleep stops for phones and GPS units were provided. Cremes, ointments and pain relieving gels were on hand to help ease some of the suffering. There were too many volunteers to count. All performed their tasks in good spirits. All of this combined made the event enjoyable and memorable. It is likely to be held again and I would be just as likely to return.
All the riders from New Jersey finished successfully. We represented our region well. Something to take pride in for sure.
|Bill R. a New Jersey Randonneur from up North
|Bob a true blue NJ Rando
|Bill O. A long time NJ Rando with brother Mark and Tom from Minnesota