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June 4, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Yesterday’s Adventure/Misadventure

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Interesting day Sunday. I was attending a triathlon in Rock Hall MD.  (Not participating because of lack of training due to injuries, but my share in the AirBnB house had already been paid for.) Anyhow, I cheered on my teammates at the start and left for home around 10 AM.

Really bad news: When I got home and unpacked, I realized I had left my pocketbook at the house. I called my housemate, but she didn’t answer. I thought that maybe she had already left for home, since it was a sprint triathlon and the weather was so lousy.  So I started to drive back to the Eastern Shore. (My wallet and driver’s license were in my waist pack, which I was wearing.)

Mini bad news: The entry to the highway was blocked by an accident. I waited five minutes for it to be cleared and then got going.

Great news: About forty minutes later, my housemate called. She was at the house and found my pocketbook. We arranged for me to pick it up at her place when she got back to town.

Good news: Because of the delay caused by the accident, I was five minutes closer to home when I turned around. On the trip back, I stopped at the Wegman’s in Lanham MD, just 2 miles off route 50. So, I got in a trip to my favorite grocery store, which I had skipped on my first drive since it was raining so hard. And because routes 295 and 695 into DC were showing B-A-D traffic, and I was already off US-50, I explored a new, alternate route to get back into town, which worked out very well.

All told, I could have lived without this adventure/misadventure.

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June 12, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Bicycling the Natchez Trace – Postscript

Day 8: Saturday, April 14: Thousand Trails Camp to Nashville (2 miles — rode in the van)

Yes, it did rain, so I opted to stay comparatively dry by riding in the van, along with 8 of the other riders. The van made stops about 15 miles apart, to provide support for the people who had decided to ride. One of the stops was the Meriwether Lewis death and burial site.

Another stop that I really enjoyed featured two walks (between the rain drops) — one up to the top of a bluff, the second down to a waterfall. A nice way to highlight the Tennessee landscape.

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The end of the tour was kind of anti-climactic.  No farewell luncheon. We ended up in the parking lot where we started. Everyone found their cars, loaded their bikes and luggage and sped off. A few riders were having their bikes packed and shipped by Trace Bikes, a nice shop if you’re in the neighborhood.

Day 9: Sunday, April 15:  Nashville (no bicycling)

My bicycle was in the car with Ken. I was thinking about renting a bike through Nashville Bikeshare, but the weather continued gloomy, cold, and overcast, so I decided against it. Instead, I:

  • Saw a classic movie (Bringing up Baby) at the classic movie theatre (Belcourt).  At one time, the Belcourt was actually the Grand Ole Opry House.
  • Attended a reading at Parnassus Books, the independent bookstore set up by Ann Patchett. Good reading, nice bookstore.
  • Did some shopping in the West End.
  • Found a restaurant known for local cooking. The instant grits available at the hotel breakfast kind of qualified, but more was required.  The Tennessee Fried Chicken hit the spot.

 

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Summary

A great way to spend a week.

My only complaint: little too much riding through same-ish countryside, and not enough site-seeing. We’d been seeing other cyclists and groups along the trace all week. Yesterday, I stopped to talk with the people stopped (in a van and U-haul parked at a pull-off) for a group from Richmond VA. This group was also going south-to-north, but staying in hotels (and, last night, in the cabins at Tishomingo.) I don’t know if they were getting lifts in the van or riding to and from the Trace, but they had been able to incorporate three off-Trace stops that intrigued me:

Looks like I need another ride on and off the Trace, with these extra attractions thrown in.

June 2, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Bicycling the Natchez Trace – Days 5-7

Day 5: Wednesday, April 11: French Camp to Natchez Trace RV Camp (34 miles – van assist)

This was a short day of riding for me. Evidently,  somewhere along the way (at the Rocky Springs campground?) I had brushed up against some poison ivy. One of my hands was swollen and had tell-tale (thank you, Google) poison ivy blisters, with one or two blisters on the other hand.  I had taken some Benadryl the night before, which helped, but thought I should take some more. Since Benadryl puts me to sleep, I figured getting in the van at the mid-point water stop was the smart thing to do. In the 30+ miles I had ridden, I got to see some more historical sites, including a preserved part of the Old Trace, the “Sunken Trace”.

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I also had a good talk with a man riding the Trace on a Suzuki 850 — after which he was headed to Asheville NC and the Blue Ridge Parkway. He offered to let me sit on the bike. Nah. What I really would have liked would have been to ride the bike, or be towed by him.

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Another rider, Bill F, was already in the van, because of some medical issues. We brought Bill to the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. (He was ok, just not up to the stress of continual riding; he would be in the van for the rest of the trip.) So, I got to see a little of Tupelo; alas, not anywhere near Elvis Presley’s birthplace. Then onto the Natchez Trace RV Camp for the night.

Day 6: Thursday, April 12: Natchez Trace RV Camp to Tishomingo State Park (55 miles)

Another gorgeous day of riding.  For the first time, the directional signs on the trace pointing north gave “Nashville” as the destination. Progress!

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I took a short detour through Tupelo, to visit a bike shop. (Still not anywhere near Elvis’s birthplace or downtown Tupelo.)  I actually stopped in not one, but two, combined bike-and-outdoor-sports shops. The one recommended by Scott, and the better equipped, was Core Cycle and Outdoors. However, I got a valuable tip about an attraction just off the Trace from the salesperson at the other shop, Trails and Treads. Getting back onto the Trace, I rode past the Tupelo Buffalo Farm and Zoo.

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As I rode north, the surrounding vegetation changed from bald cypress and tupelo wetlands to hardwood forests (more familiar to me, but I still didn’t recognize most of the trees.) A rest stop was at Pharr Mounds, Indian burial mounds.  But what made a bigger impression was that I got to tour the inside of a huge (36-foot!) Airstream trailer which was also stopped there. Not only was that trailer bigger than some apartments I’ve lived in, but also better furnished. The owners were on their way back to Ontario.

Near the end of the ride I took a detour off the Trace that I could have done without. Signs said I would be going past a lake with a marina and a Tennessee Valley Authority center. Unfortunately, those attractions were too far off the route (or uphill) to make a visit practical.  I did get to see some of the agriculture that supports this area — vast logging tracts and logging trucks (thankfully, going in the opposite direction I was headed.)

The destination tonight was Tishomingo State Park.  It’s a huge park — unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit the swinging bridge — it was too far from the camping sites. But the sunrise the next morning over the lake was spectacular.

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Day 7: Friday, April 13, Tishomingo State Park to Thousand Trails Camp (83 miles)

This was a three-state day: Mississippi, a corner of Alabama, Tennessee

A highlight not only of today, but of the ride, was not on the cue sheets, but was the recommendation of that salesperson at the Trails and Treads outdoor shop – Tom’s Wall. Tom Hendrix built the largest non-mortared wall in the country to commemorate his great-great grandmother’s 5-year walk back home from her Oklahoma exile. Tom died in 2017, but his grand-daughter is still there, maintaining the place and greeting visitors.041318_TomsWall.
https://www.natcheztracetravel.com/natchez-trace-alabama/florence-tennessee-river/456-wichahpi-stone-wall.html  Absolutely magnificent. Worth the .2 mile detour off milepost 338 — you can almost see it from the Trace. The wall has even made the NY Times.

The terrain was hilly, with some nice climbs and descents and lots of streams visible from the road. We crossed the Tennessee River, which was quite impressive. It put me in mind of the movie Wild River, where Montgomery Clift plays a TVA agent who needs to persuade a Tennessee woman to leave her land before it gets flooded by the reservoir to be formed by a new dam.

Because a steady rain was predicted for overnight through the next day, we made two changes to the trip plans:

    • We stayed in cabins, rather than pitching tents.
    • Farewell dinner was at a Mexican restaurant (Casa Grande) in Hohenwald, rather than at lunch tomorrow. The original trip itinerary called for a farewell lunch tomorrow at the Loveless Café, which I head read about in Road Food.  Oh well, next trip.

 

May 8, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Bicycling the Natchez Trace – Days 3-4

Day 3, Monday, April 9: Rocky Springs to Ridgeland  (64 miles)

What I’m learning about most from reading the historical markers along the Trace is the history of Indian settlement — both pre- and post-European arrival. Pre- (very pre) European arrival are the mounds, which were used for various purposes by various tribes at various times — burial, ceremonial, tributes. Post-European signs highlight the Indian territorial boundaries, as well as the “voluntary” evacuation in the 1820s and the Trail of Tears in the ’30s. Many signs indicate that the land was owned by a white settler with a native wife.  This really brought home the escape clause that was written into Southern laws saying that a “white” person could not have a drop of Negro blood, but Indian blood was ok.

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Since there is so much traffic on the trace around Ridgeland ( a suburb of Jackson), the county has built a multi-use path parallel to the Trace that bicyclists are expected to use (and required to use during rush hours?). The path is quite nicely designed, except that it’s hard to find a way to get on it at the southern/western end. Some riders went through a field where Ken said a path had been mowed or somehow flattened down.  I ended up missing the trailhead; a few miles later I bushwacked down a grass-covered slope onto a cross road that went under the Trace to the path. Some riders continued farther on the Trace to downtown Ridgeland, where there was an actual intersection of a road with the Trace.

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Tonight was a hotel stay, a Marriott Town Place Suites, since the campground originally planned evidently wasn’t up to snuff. The hotel was just up the road from a Starbucks, where I bought the previous Sunday’s NY Times (to schlep around for the rest of the week) and near a newly developed/still developing shopping center with many choices for dinner.

Day 4: Tuesday, April 10: Ridgeland to French Camp (84 miles)

A gorgeous ride, despite the wind. We left town on the Ridgeland Multi-Use Path (easier to find from the hotel than from the western end of town). The path ends at a reservoir, where we got back on the Trace, which paralleled the shores of the reservoir for a few miles. I ended up at the tail end of the group (a result of a combination of leaving late; stopping for site seeing; and riding slowly), so rode for a while with the sweep, the ACA leader Scott Cone. In addition to the swamps  that we previously saw, we could now see farm land — cows, hay, and some horses.

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We stopped at the Kosciusko Welcome Center (and Museum), just off the Trace on the edge of the town of Kosciusko. A nice respite and staffed by knowledgeable and welcoming local people. Kosciusko is the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey — but that wasn’t mentioned in the Welcome Center. Evidently, all that’s left is her church and “Oprah Winfrey Road”.

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The overnight stop for tonight was French Camp, named for the Frenchman who settled it in 1810. Up the hill from the road that intersected the Trace is French Camp Academy, a “Christian boarding school”.  Some ACA groups stay there, but not ours (which I discovered, unfortunately, after having ridden up that hill.) We were in cabins in the French Camp B&B, just off Rt 413. Lovely old cabins ( moved to the site and rehabbed by the French Camp Academy); good dinner at the nearby cafe; and an excellent breakfast provided.

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May 7, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Bicycling the Natchez Trace – Days 1-2

Day 1: Saturday, April 7: More driving

The Adventure Cycling van made the trip from Nashville to Natchez.  We drove down the Interstates until just past Jackson MS, when we got onto the Trace.  At the southern terminus, we just drove through Natchez — too bad, I would have liked to see more of the historic center.  (Maybe tomorrow morning…?)

Camping was in Vidalia LA, just across the W-I-D-E Mississippi River. I put up the tent (the first time in 10 years) by reading the instructions and getting a little help. According to the camping experts, I really need a “footprint” for the tent, rather than just spreading out an old poncho as a ground cloth. But further questioning and research revealed that my old poncho would be ok, as long as I arranged it so it didn’t stick out beyond the tent floor, which would allow water to get on it and roll under the tent. (This is good news, because the footprint for my North Face Tadpole 23 tent is no longer available, although REI does suggest alternatives.)

The weather was winter-like: 38 with a north wind. I was not prepared for camping out in this weather.  Outside the tent I had on the winter-weight coat I’m glad I decided to bring. Inside the tent  I stayed warm in my sleeping bag with liner.

Day 2, Sunday April 8: Bicycling! Natchez (actually Vidalia) to Rocky Springs Campground (55 miles)

The group started the day by crossing the Mississippi River and following the Mississippi River Trail through Natchez. The entrance to the trace is on the eastern side of Natchez. I should have stopped in downtown Natchez, to see the historic sites and have some coffee, but I was too anxious to get started riding.

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There are historical markers all along the Trace. Some describe actual events that reflect the history of the Trace. Others are more informational.  I particularly liked the one for Loess Bluff – pronounced low-ess.  It made me glad I had read the Nevada Barr book Deep South , a mystery about a US Park Ranger stationed on the Natchez Trace. I knew what “loess” was.  I also recognized the names of some of the places just off the Trace, for example, Alcorn, a town which is home to a historically black university.

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A highlight of the day was the wildflowers growing along the side of the road. One of the staff at the Welcome Center helped identify them. Crimson clover was especially common. And beautiful.

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Another highlight of the day was my detour off the trace to explore Port Gibson. The town has clearly seen better days — the largest house, formerly a bed and breakfast, is for sale; a site on the Mississippi Blues Trail serves as a memorial to a building that is no longer there;  the downtown area has many vacant storefronts. However, there is a gorgeous mural in that downtown, commemorating the town’s past glories. And Port Gibson is a “Main Street Community“, so there might be an effort underway to restore/revivify it. Another mural commemorates an NAACP boycott of the white merchants from the mid-60s. A suit resulting from that boycott even reached the Supreme Court, which decided in favor of the NAACP.
https://www.nytimes.com/1982/07/03/us/naacp-delegates-celebrate-boycott-decision.html

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The campground was primitive — no electrical outlets or hot water. The group leaders had a really nifty battery-operated gadget to charge multiple electronic devices. I didn’t really miss the hot water — the temperature outside wasn’t hot enough to work up a sweat while bicycling.

Note for people planning tours of the Natchez Trace: In addition to including mileage on your cue sheets, be sure to include the Trace’s Milepost numbers. There are so few intersecting roads in some sections, or changes in scenery, that the mileposts are the best way to monitor your progress, in addition to providing nice, absolute cues in case your mileage doesn’t match the cue sheet.

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April 27, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

Bicycling the Natchez Trace – Preface

Intro/Overview

In January, 2016, I took the Leadership Training Course offered by Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). I have a fair amount of experience in bicycle touring, but none on Adventure Cycling tours. Therefore, the leadership co-ordinators agreed that I could qualify as an Adventure Cycling leader, but I really need some experience on their tours first.

I was pondering which tour to take when a message appeared on one of my (many) bike-related lists: A local rider, Scott, was leading the ACA Natchez Trace tour in the April of 2018.  Sold! And, a bonus, another local rider, Ken, also saw the post and signed up, so I (and my bicycle and camping gear) could get a ride down to Nashville with him.

Thursday April 5: Drive from Arlington to Nashville

I drove down to Nashville with Ken — his car, but we split the driving. The drive to Nashville was mostly uneventful. A highlight was lunch at Graze on Main in downtown Wytheville VA.  It was an excuse to get off the interstate. It also served pretty good local food in a nice setting, the Bolling Wilson Hotel, named for Edith Bolling Wilson, the wife of President Wilson.

A lowlight was getting a speeding ticket for going 12 miles over the speed limit on the Interstate. We got to Nashville, the Super 8 West, at a reasonable time, and had dinner with the trip leader Scott at a local barbeque place.

Friday April 6: Tour of Nashville

Tonight’s hotel stay was included in the trip cost, to ensure that we would be there and ready to leave for Natchez early the next morning. But Friday was our free day, to see the sights.
Our first stop was Belle Meade Plantation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Meade_Plantation ). The plantation made its money mostly as a stud farm. Its first famous horse was Bonnie Scotland — one of his hooves, silver coated, is preserved. Bonnie Soctland and other horses raised there evidently have sired many, many Kentucky Derby runners.  The guide’s talk stressed the family history of the owners, the Hardings, and the fate of the plantation — now greatly reduced in size but still impressive. (The plantation history is reflected in many street names in Nashville.) The house’s décor (woodwork) was memorable, as were the outbuildings and supporting farm buildings, including the slave quarters, remains of the dairy and stables, and a more recent winery with interesting Tennessee wines.
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We then headed to downtown Nashville, which Ken had previously visited. Our destination was the Frist Art Museum, a definite highlight. The featured exhibit was by Nick Cave, moving sculptures and other fascinating multi-media work.
While Ken was exploring other exhibits at the Frist, I headed next door to the Union Station Hotel. As the name implies, this was originally the passenger train station for Nashville. Since Nashville no longer has any passenger train service, the building has been transformed into a hotel, preserving some of the original fixtures, such as stained glass windows and a recently unearthed tile floor. Definitely worth the visit, might be worth the stay if you’re looking for a Marriott in downtown Nashville.
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We had a late lunch in the South 12 neighborhood at the 12 South Taproom and Grill. Unfortunately, the recommended coffee shop (Frothy Monkey) had a line out the door, so we nixed that and asked a local for advice.  Good advice, good food.
We ended the day by meeting some of the group at the Super 8 West and getting ready for the next day’s departure.
February 28, 2018 / bikesbytesbites

My 3, er 4, er 5 Trips to Fort Myers FL

I’ve been in Fort Myers and Naples for a week of vacation.  I thought I had previously been here three times, or four, but it turns out this is actually my fifth visit.  The trips are very different in what got me here, both transportation and reason.

Trip #1: Vacation to Celebrate Recovery (1991)

In the spring of 1990, I ruptured my right Achilles tendon. It’s a horrible injury with a long recovery.  In the winter of 1991, I was finally ready to celebrate my recovery.  I did so by taking a car trip (with bicycle in the rear seat) around Florida. I landed in Jacksonville, visited my friend R, then headed to the west coast via Gainesville and Cross Creek (home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.) Going down the coast, I stopped in Fort Myers (actually Sanibel Island) before proceeding to Everglades City and the Ivey House where the manager took me on a kayak trip in the Everglades. Then it was across Alligator Alley to visit my Dad near Fort Lauderdale, where I got on my return flight.

Reconstructed route

Trip #2: Bicycle Tour (1999-2000)

This was a commercial tour, Gator Country Hell Week, spanning the Christmas-New Year’s season of 1999-2000. (A good time to be away from home, since all the computers in the world were supposed to stop working because of the Y2K bug.)  The tour started in Fort Myers, but all I got to see of the city was the airport, my hotel near the airport, and the route out of town headed north.  This was a wonderful tour which had us, among other things, spending New Year’s Eve in Daytona Beach; spending one day with ultramarathon cyclist Pete Penseyres; riding on the Withlacoochee Trail; and eating alligator (optional) in Moore Haven.  Oh, wait, I did explore a little of Fort Myers on the day we got back to town, but it’s a blur.

Trip #3: Another Bicycle Tour (2009)

Adventure Cycling publishes a Florida Keys tour that goes around Southern Florida — starting from Fort Lauderdale, through Miami then onto the Keys. From Key West there is a ferry to Fort Myers. The ride then goes across the Everglades to get back to where it started.

A friend from the Oxon Hill Bike Club organized this tour, using the Adventure Cycling maps. We improvised, by starting the tour in Coconut Creek (between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach), so I could visit my father, and my friends could leave their van at my dad’s condo. What I remember of Fort Myers is getting off the ferry after dark and riding to my hotel; getting lost trying to get out of Fort Myers; and that Lehigh Acres, a suburb, had been hit hard by the mortgage crisis. The lodgings were primarily camping. The group made one exception, in Labelle, where there was no camping, but there WAS the Swamp Cabbage Festival. I made a few more exceptions, to stay in a hotel room in Key West (Marriott points) and that cheap motel in Fort Myers, since I didn’t want to put up my tent in the dark.

Terry set up for loaded touring (camping) - Florida 2009 Tour

Trip #4: Visit to friend (2014)

In the winter of 2014 (I think),  I combined the visit to my father with a 2-day visit to Naples to see M, a friend who had a temporary work assignment there. I vaguely remember my Marriott hotel in north Naples, but have better memories of our walks on the beach and our explorations of downtown.  I drove to Naples over I-75, but took the old route back east (the Tamiami Trail) to see more of the Everglades.

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Trip #5: Visit to a friend and a cousin (2018)

In talking to K (ok, emailing), I mentioned that 2018 would be the first year in over 25 years that I hadn’t been to Florida in the winter.  My dad died three years ago. The year of his death my trip was to settle the estate. Last year, I did a weekend training course with Adventure Cycling. My friend replied (paraphrasing): “I’m renting a place in Naples for a month. Why don’t you come down for a week?” Sold. I had a plane ticket the next day.  Then I remembered that a cousin I hadn’t seen in a while had a house in North Fort Myers  (photo) that would be ready to receive visitors … any day now. So, a flight into Fort Myers, with a long stay in Naples and shorter visit to Fort Myers. This time, I’ve actually had time to explore Fort Myers and Naples.  Gee, it only took almost 30 years.