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  • Wm. Bracknell

Biking the Natchez Trace Parkway - Part 1 October 2013

I started biking the Natchez Trace Parkway out of Nashville on Monday morning, October 2nd. Rhonda and I left after church on Sunday and stopped at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park south of Lebanon, Tenn. over night. We drove through Nashville to the west side using the GPS to guide us to the starting point just west of Route 100 and McCory Lane on Monday morning.

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile highway through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history. The Trace itself was used by American Indians, “Kaintucks”, settlers, trappers, traders and the military, it played an important role in American history. It bisected the traditional homelands of the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations. As the United States expanded westward into the late 1700s and early 1800s, growing numbers of travelers tramped the rough trail into a clearly marked path. In 1801, President Jefferson designated the Trace a national postal road for the delivery of mail between Nashville and Natchez.

In the early 1800s through the mid-1820s, “Kaintucks” from the Ohio River Valley floated cash crops, livestock, and other materials down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on wooden flatboats. At Natchez or New Orleans, they sold their goods, sold their boats for lumber, and walked or rode horseback toward home via the Old Trace. As the road was improved, stands (inns) provided lodging, food, and drink to Trace travelers. The “sunken” sections you can walk along today are clear signs of historic use.

I rode about 47 miles the first day. It was a little overcast when I started out, thus making for very comfortable riding. This part of the parkway's terrain was rolling hills. One of the first hills caused me to stop and walk the bike a short distance. I felt I was in good riding condition because of the rides I had in Michigan and Ohio less than a month earlier, but I had not gotten warmed up good and I let it get me mentally more than physically. Rhonda took a side trip into Franklin after I started down the parkway from mile marker 442. We met at a road site rest area near Burns Branch (mm 425) for lunch and I reclined in the Pod for about twenty minutes before resuming the ride. About 2:30, we met at the Jackson Falls parking lot and hiked the mile down to the falls and back. The falls were barely flowing due to dry weather. The day's ride ended at mm 395, We found a private campground called Thousand Trails on the GPS, but we had some trouble finding it. When we returned to the parkway from a trip unplanned to Holdenwald, we discovered that we were right at Grinder's Stand, the death and burial site of Capt. Merriweather Lewis. We took a few minutes to check it out.

Back on the search for the campground, we decided that when we got close the campground, we would ignore the what the GPS was telling us and make an extra turn to find the location and we did. The campground was mostly a membership business and they were making some substantial improvements. The part we were sent to, needed some road work and the sites had not been refurbished in some time. The bathhouse was pretty nice; old, but neat and clean. There were only four or five other campers in our section of about 50 sites.

On Tuesday, I rode 51 miles. Rhonda dropped me at the place I stopped the day before. It was clear day with moderate temperatures, We met up for lunch just south of US 64 and again at the Collinswood exit for an afternoon break. We went into the small town to checkout the visitor center and shared an ice cream cone down the street. I bought a patch in the visitor center that said “I rode the Trace”. After leaving Collinswood, I stopped at the pullover at one of the locations described as a sunken trace, Rhonda was already parked there and was talking with a couple of females wearing fancy biking attire and had high dollar bikes. One of them, needed air in her rear tire, but my DC powered pump hose end would not work with presta valves and she, nor I, had one of the adapters. They were riding over a hundred miles that day and had a ways to go.

After they went on their way, we checked out the “sunken trace” . When the trace was in use, this part was in a wet area and the traffic (horses and wagons) mired down and the trace was moved over a couple of times to avoid the area that had been difficult to get through. Also, there had probably been some erosion from the condition.

I finished up the day's ride at mm 346 at a rest stop named Holly. From there, we drove into Florence, Alabama and we stayed at McFarland Park, a city campground on the Tennessee River. There was a good sized marina near the entrance road to the park. Across the river, there were some large homes perched on some very high cliffs above the river in the Sheffield area of Muscle Shoals. Upstream, we could see the dam that impounded the water for Wilson Lake.

Wednesday was my best day, I rode 53 miles. When I reached the entrance Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi, we went in and secured a campsite for the night and left the pod. When I went to pay for the site, I realized I could not find my wallet. The last time I remembered having it is when I purchased gas and bought ice between Florence and the parkway or possibly when I was preparing to leave the rest stop*. We returned to the parkway so I could ride another eight miles to Jourdan Creek. During this ride, I was cruising along the edge of the road when all of a sudden, I heard the sound of tires squealing behind me. My first thought was to go to the shoulder and beyond. Fortunately, there was no ditch, just a gradual depression. As I looked to the side, as a pickup pulling a boat passed me and came to a stop. The driver got out and came back to apologize. He said just as he was about to go around me, when some idiot passed him, so all he could do was to lay down on the brakes.

Back at camp, we had a good supper with two rib eye steaks Rhonda had gotten at a local grocery. She pan cooked them and they were wonderfully delicious, along with loaded baked potato mash potatoes and Italian green beans. It was warm so I had the temporary screen in the door and the portable fan in the roof vent going until well after dark. The campground was stretched out along the shore of an empty lake. The park personnel said it sprung a leak from a small sink hole and only had water during real wet periods. All the sites were wooded and there were less than a dozen campers there.

There are seven mound groups located along the Natchez Trace Parkway, all in Mississippi. Visiting the mounds allows you to see the rich legacy of American Indian cultural achievements. Many diverse prehistoric Indian groups, drawn by the bountiful wildlife, warm climate, and fertile soil, made their homes in what is now Mississippi for thousands of years before the first Europeans and Africans arrived. The mound culture thrived in this area beginning about 2000 years ago and lasted until just about 400 years ago. Mounds built of earth are the most prominent remains left on the landscape by these native peoples of Mississippi. The first one I stopped at was Bear Creek at mm310 and was about 18 miles south of the Tennessee River crossing and the other one was Pharr, twenty-five miles north of Tupelo. The Pharr mound exhibit included quite a bit of interpretation and was most interesting. They were primarily built as burial grounds for prominent tribal leaders.

Today, I did 34 miles before lunch so we could eat barbecue in Tupelo. There were three barbecue places listed in the information we had. As we were headed for Romies, we spotted Eli's, made a quick lane change and a left turn and parked in an adjoining shopping center. Their parking lot was not big enough for us to maneuver the van and pod. The barbecue was great. We met a couple at the next table about our age that told us about a trail that had just opened not far west of Tupelo, the Tanglefoot Trail. It runs 44 miles from New Albany to Houston, Ms. and it is paved. It is definitely some we need to check out next year.

After lunch, we went by Elvis' birth place. It is part of a 15 acre park and was very will presented. The site had his boyhood home and the church he and family attend. Rhonda and I, both felt that the park was very well done.

I was trying to decide if I wanted to ride twenty more miles to make it an even 200, but it was 88 degrees and in the last few miles before lunch there had not been much shade. I thought that my rear would be in pretty good shape after the 275 miles last month in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, but it was smarting after the long morning ride. The heat and my sore backside convinced me it was time to head home. Also, we needed to be back for a friends anniversary party and a neighbor's wedding on Saturday anyway.

From Tupelo, Mississippi the "Trace" goes on for another 260 miles to Natchez (maybe next year}

*I got my wallet in the mail about a week after we returned home. A local man living near by was riding the parkway and found it near the rest stop I had started at on Wednesday. It was just north of the Alabama state line. I am pretty sure that I saw him riding north right after I left the rest stop. It must have fell out of my bike bag.

Camping Locations

  1. Sunday, Oct. 2 Cedars of Lebanon State Park, Tenn.

  2. Monday, Oct. 3 Thousand Trails RV Park, Hohenwald, Tenn.

  3. Tuesday, Oct. 4 McFarland City Park Campground, Florence, Ala.

  4. Wednesday, Oct. 5 Tishomingo State Park, Tishomingo, Ms

  5. Thursday, Oct. 6 Cullman Campground, Cullman, Ala.

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