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  • Wm. Bracknell

Finishing the Natchez Trace - October, 2014 (part II)

Monday, October 20

We ended the day in Gadsden, Alabama around 3:30 central time, after leaving home at 9:30. The mileage at the end of the day was 398.5 miles and after a seven hour drive. Our campground book listed Gadsden as having a city park and campground called Noccallula Falls, so we set the GPS and headed that way. After registering and setting the camper up, we rode our bikes over to the falls.

On a rock ledge above the falls was a bronze statue of a Indian maiden who, by legend, said she jumped to her death here because her father would not allow her to marry a brave from rival tribe. The water level was down a little so the there was not a large flow over the falls. It also, would have been more impressive if the falls had not been in a developed municipal park within 100 yards of a busy street.

While we were there by the statute, a couple about our age was nearby. When the man started to take a picture of his wife in front of the falls, I offered to take the picture with both of them in it. They returned the favor by taking our picture.

In talking with them, we found they were from Copperas Cove, Texas near Fort Hood. They were on their way to Georgia to visit and help care for his ninety-eight old mother for a week to give his sister a break. I also found out he was stationed at Fort Hood the same time back in 1970 – 71.

Tuesday, October 21

We arrived at the Trace State Park, west of Tupelo in a little over three hours and after registering, had the rest of our picnic lunch from the day before. We detached the camper and set it up for our two night stay and headed back to Tupelo where Rhonda deposited me at mile marker 261 on the Natchez Parkway, where I had stopped last year. She then went into town to pick up an item she had failed to pack.

It took me less than an hour to ride to the 250 marker where I wanted to start on Thursday and be on track to do fifty miles each day. When I arrived, Rhonda was parked in the Tockshish exhibit pullover. I wanted to ride another five miles or so but the seat on the old refurbished Schwinn kept shifting up and down so much that it was uncomfortable to ride. We loaded the bike and picked up some ice before returning to the campsite.

Back at camp, I rested in my hammock before supper. One of our neighbor campers was local and we talked about the Tanglefoot trail that I planned to ride the next day. He said he and his wife had ridden portions of it often. Rhonda prepared a very good Mexican meal with Spanish rice and beef, homemade salsa, re-fried beans and tortilla wrappers. We had picked up about a half dozen pears from our neighbor's tree down the road as we were leaving on Monday, so we augmented our meals with the fresh fruit.

Wednesday, October 22

The next morning the temperature was in the mid-forties when we got up, so I used the camper gas furnace for the first time to take the chill off a little and encourage Rhonda to get out from under the covers. My plans for the day was to ride the 43 mile Tanglefoot Trail that we had heard about the year before, when we were in Tupelo. After breakfast, I began near the middle of the trail in the town of Pontotoc and rode 25 miles to southeast Houston. I was wearing nylon wind pants and a jacket over my riding pants and shirt. I didn't take them off until an hour later. Rhonda was waiting at one of the “whistle stops” (a shelter with restrooms and water) in New Houlka talking with another rider. Later, she met me in Houston and we drove back to Pontotoc and had lunch at a Subway. We really wantrd to find a local barbecue establishment, but weren't successful.

New Albany was the northern terminus, eighteen and a half trail miles away. After checking out a local bike shop there in New Albany, I started down the trail and was back in Pontotoc in less than two hours. During the ride of the forty-three and a half miles, I met three different individuals in golf carts from the Union, Pontotoc, and Chickasaw County sheriff departments. They were older men (probably retired) being paid to patrol the trail. One of them told me each had a four hour patrol. Of all the trails I have ridden, there have been very few that have anything close to that kind of patrol. It is hard to understand why, unless they wanted to insure success to the new trail. The area didn't appear to have that kind of need for security. I saw a bike officer on the Silver Comet Trail around Samirna, Georgia and one on the Monon Trail in Indianapolis, Indiana. Both in areas apparently needing law enforcement presence.

Back at camp I worked on the bike seat mount, hoping to remedy the shifting problem. Rhonda made a delicious chicken pot pie – sort of. She usually makes a garlic cheese biscuits in the electric muffin maker and puts the chicken veggie mix over it, but she forgot to pack the muffin maker, so it was more like chicken pot dumplings. Very good none the less.

Thursday, October 23

Again, the early morning was quite cool so I waited until ten so the temperature could reach the low fifties. I needed a jacket but I also needed bright colors so I had to put on my jacket backwards because the front had red, white and blue coloring. Before parting, we set the lunch stop at an old trace parking area at mile post 222, a twenty-eight mile ride. At the lunch stop, I was ready to give up on the Schwinn 10 speed. I just could not get the seat to stay adjusted in the right position. I would have switched the seat and seat post and all with the one on my Trek, but it was about a millimeter smaller and would not go in the frame. I brought the bike along because it was very light and with the narrow tires, very efficient. After taking my Trek off the rack and putting the Schwinn on, I laid down in the camper for a 20 minute rest.

The day's ride ended at Mallard Creek, just short of mp 200 near highway 9. We were planning to go over to the Tombigee National Forest to camp at Choctaw Lake, but we decided to checkout the NPS campground on the Parkway. The camping was free and it was a whole lot closer. There were about a dozen campers there and the camp host was still on site. It did not have showers or electricity. I had a good charge on the camper battery, so we had some lights. We heated water for bathing and used a bucket in our on-board tub/shower. If I had wanted to put water in the storage tank and use the water heater we could have even take a real shower. With the teardrop (Pod), a bath would not have been possible.

Friday, October 23

The next morning we drove back to the place I had ended the day before after stopping for ice at a store just off the parkway on Highway 9. Lunch was at Cole Creek (mp 175) and I finished the day at highway 429 at mile post 146 for a total of 54 miles for the day. The nearest camping was at Holmes County state park near Durant and not to far off Intestate 55 about seventeen miles to the west. The hostess back at the Kosciusko Visitor Center gave us good directions and the GPS backed it up.

The campground was not as well kept as the other Mississippi State Parks we had stayed in, but the senior rate was only $13.91. They had hot showers, paved sites, electricity and it was not very crowed for a Friday night. After supper, I helped a guy with several small kids gather firewood and provided him with some kindling and a wax/sawdust fire starter. We watched a little TV before calling it a night.

Saturday, October 24

Before pulling out the next morning, we dropped a check in the payment box and used their dump station before returning to the trail. The day goal was the 100 mile marker at the Choctaw Agency parking area, just outside and north of Jackson (the state Capital). We had a lunch at a very nice park on the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir at mp 122.

While we were eating our lunch, a couple about our age rode into the park and it was obvious that they were seasoned touring bikers. They were lean, had high quality bikes, and paniers (saddle bags). After finishing eating, we talked and found out they were from Toronto and had started in Nashville. His name was Ricky and hers was Penny. Ricky was Asian and Penny was born and raised in Australia. Ricky was a retired genetics professor from the University of Toronto. They had gone through a travel agency to plan their trip. The agency had planned their itinerary and made reservations along the way at various places of lodging; ie, motels and B&Bs.

After leaving the park. I found that the traffic near Ridgeland ( an adjoining town next to Jackson) was very heavy and it made me extremely nervous, especially after hearing stories about bikers being hit in the past. To make it worse, my bike seemed to feel like the brake was dragging. It was a very warm afternoon and I was glad to get to the rendezvous point.

We found a campground on the lake listed in our Woodall's Directory, set the GPS and headed out. We stopped at a Kroger to get some ice, a frozen steamer bag (teriyaki beef, lo mien noodles, and oriental veggies), some milk, sandwich meat and bread and restock our canned vegetables. When we left the shopping center, the GPS was seemingly sending us around the block and we thought it was doing one of its crazy moves, so we tried to find it ourselves. Mistake! After going out of the way for about three or four miles, we found out the campground was just across the street from the shopping center. The GPS had been trying to get to a place to cross the street because there was a median blocking the street crossing.

The campground let us get a tent site with a paved parking area at a senior rate so it was a good deal. After setting up and turning on the AC, I went to do laundry and Rhonda went for a walk. Supper was delicious, there was football on TV and we could check and send emails using their wifi connection.

Sunday, October 26

We got up early the next morning, packed up and ate breakfast at McDonald's just down the street to save time. We felt that early Sunday morning was a good time to get out and around Jackson in light traffic. Dean Stand at the 73 mile post was the lunch stop. There are a number of historical sites along the Trace called “stands”. They were the site of a inn or home where someone setup to provide meals and lodging for travelers along the Trace. It was off the parkway on a short access road and they failed to mark it as they had done all the others, so unfortunately, Rhonda missed it and had to drive seven miles and turn around and come back. I guess I should mention that this trip was the first time she had driven the truck pulling the camper so there was definitely no backing up and a turn around had to be a good wide place. At lunch, Rhonda said she saw Ricky and Penny go past her while she was still at the Choctaw Agency parking early in the morning.

The fifty mile post was at a location that did not have a place for parking very near, so we met at the Rocky Springs camping area and left the camper in a site and headed down to the Mangum Mound parking at mile post 46. Rhonda headed back and I rode the nine miles back to the campground. Right after I started out from the parking lot, I met the group of five riders of the supported group and a few minutes later, I met Ricky and Penny coming down the road also. They must have gone by me while we were in the lunch stop at Dean Stand.

About half way back to Rocky Springs, I saw a medium sized, young, black bear cross the road about sixty yards ahead of me. Up the road further, Rhonda was stopped at the Owen Creek Waterfall parking playing her clarinet as I approached. Maybe that was what ran the bear out of the woods. When Rhonda arrived back at the campground, I was getting a bucket of water for bathing later. This park service campground was like the other one (Jeff Busby) – no electricity or showers and was free.

Monday, October 27

I started the day back at Mangum Mounds with 46 miles to complete the goal of riding all of the Natchez Trace. We set Mud Island Creek as our lunch point. A ways past Port Gibson, I was passed by the group of five as I was going up hill. I had seen the same group the day before. They were being supported by a commercial company with a white van. They had stayed at a bed and breakfast in Port Gibson. I asked one of them as they passed, if Ricky and Penny stayed there also and they said they did. A short time later as I was climbing another hill, I heard someone call out my name. It was Ricky and Penny.

I stopped at Mud Island Creek and caught Rhonda practicing on her clarinet again. Since it was only eleven o'clock, I decided to go on to Mount Locust Information Center and the historic house at mile post 15.5. A little over and hour later, Rhonda passed me and pulled in just ahead of me. When I arrived at the picnic area, there were Ricky and Penny having lunch. They made room for us and we had lunch together and talked about our families. I got a picture before going inside to ask about the parking at the terminus (mile 0). Ricky and Penny went to see the historical house and I headed down the parkway to the end, a little over fifteen miles away.

Rhonda had to park in a lot off the parkway so when I got to the sign for the beginning (or end) of the parkway, I had to set my camera up for a timer photo. Just as I was getting it set, Ricky and Penny rode up. The first thing Penny said was that I cheated; meaning I left while they were checking out the house and beat them to the end. They took my picture with my camera and I took one with theirs.

In Natchez, we stopped at Walmart to get some ice and a unsweetened tea. They did not have any unsweetened. I must have been too deep in the south; nothing but sweet tea.

After dropping off the camper and paying the fee, we headed back to town to see the points of interest. The first place we stopped was Bluff Park on Canal Street over looking the Mississippi River. There were display boards and historical markers at various points along the walk and in a covered Kiosk telling the history from the Natchez Indians, to the French, Spanish, and British influences to the trade from the Kantucks, slave trade, Jim bowie, the antebellum homes, the civil war. and the cotton industry. The homes and churches around the downtown area were impressive.

Natchez also has two casinos, the Isle of Capri and Magnolia Bluffs. The Isle of Capri is on a paddle wheel river boat and the Magnolia Bluff was in a building that was built as a replica of an old mill. It was up river a short distance on the banks below the bluffs.

After our quick self guided tour of the highlights of the town, we made our way to the Pig Out restaurant for some very good pulled pork and brisket. About two blocks from the restaurant, we were stopped at a light and there on the corner were Ricky and Penny once again. They were on the way to a Thai restaurant. We spoke briefly and wished them a safe trip home. They were going to rent a car and drive back to Nashville where they had left their car and then return home to Toronto.

Tuesday, October 28

On Tuesday, we drove across Mississippi and most of Alabama to Columbiana, south of Birmingham to visit Rhonda's uncle Sonny, aunt Mary, and a cousin. We parked in their yard and spent the night in the camper and having a very nice, but short visit.

Wednesday, October 29

The day began in the rain, but ended in good weather with us arriving at home around 5pm.

Our total mileage was 2089 miles over10 days.

Praise the Lord for a safe and enjoyable trip

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