In our house, birthdays are a big deal. They have been since the beginning, but perhaps even more so after each of my experiences with cancer. This has led us from birthday gifts to celebrating birthday eves to full blown birthday fest celebrations featuring experiences instead of things. June is the month of Al’s birthday and his choice of how to celebrate was to motorcycle the Natchez Trace from the southern terminus in Natchez, Mississippi to its northern limit near Nashville. He was undaunted by the approach of Tropical Depression Cindy, so on Wednesday, June 21st, we left home headed into the the mercy of the storm.
All of that sounds much more dramatic than the first day’s reality. We did encounter some sprinkles before arriving at our first night’s stop in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Thursday we made our way to Natchez and started up the Trace. It was a beautiful day despite constantly playing cat and mouse with Cindy. Rain suits on, rain suits off, rain suits on, rain suits off, over and over as it was uncomfortably warm and sticky with humidity between the rains. We covered the first 90 miles of the Trace before calling it a day at Clinton, Mississippi.
One of the wonders of the Trace is how different it feels. I do not think that this would be so obvious in an automobile as it was on the Harley or would be on a bicycle. When we stopped to take a photo at the sign, we were both immediately taken by the sudden peacefulness versus the experience of riding on the highways that took us there. For those who are unfamiliar, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a unit of the National Park Service. It covers 444 miles, traversing through parts of three states. The original portions of the Trace date back centuries. It was originally a game trail, then was used by the indigenous peoples, then by settlers, slaves, the carriers of the early postal service, and merchants. Some portions wore down into “sunken” sections, in places 20 feet below the surrounding terrain. Todays Trace crosses four distinct ecosystems and provides habitat for diverse animal and plant populations. One of the most notable things about the Trace is what is not there: there are no motels, gas stations, restaurants, or commercial signs; campgrounds are limited and none have hookups or showers; commercial traffic is forbidden. The speed limit is 50-55 miles per hour in most places and the Trace is a designated bicycle route, so bicycles enjoy the use of the entire lane. There are, however, a variety of interesting stops featuring ruins, nature trails, and some interesting geography. Below are a few photos from our first day on the Trace.
Ruins of the Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818; the first school for women chartered by the state of Mississippi.
A single small stone marker remains.
Mount Locust, a restored plantation and stand. A stand was a place that operated as an Inn, offering a stopover for travelers. The slave cemetery is a stark reminder of the darker side of American history. It lacks the monuments and markers found in landowner cemeteries. A single small stone marker remains, but one has to enlarge the photo considerably to find it amongst the trees.
Windsor Ruins, located about 10 miles from the Trace. The columns are all that remain of the 4-story, 25-room mansion which was the largest antebellum house in Mississippi, the magnificent centerpiece of the 2,600 plus acre Windsor Plantation. Completed in 1861, it was destroyed in 1890 by a fire, reportedly caused by a party guest who carelessly dropped a cigarette. The wrought iron staircase, which also survived, is now a part of Alcorn State University. Al, at six feet tall, is dwarfed by the columns, lending some perspective on their scale.
The following day, rain was inevitable and we started out in our rain suits. We were fortunate enough to have a good hour or so of pleasant riding under cloudy skies before spending the remainder of the day living with Cindy on her terms because after two days of teasing she finally had her way with us. I cannot complain too loudly as we were lucky enough that the hardest downpour, raining almost sideways with the wind, came while we were stopped at a gas station near the Trace where we had gassed up and stayed for a bite to eat at Subway. I did manage a few photos early in the day at the Cypress Swamp just past milepost 120. The air with heavy with humidity and mosquitos were dancing around us so we did not linger long. I was sorry for the gray skies as the lighting made for rather lackluster photos.
We spent the night in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Because of the rain we did not go out exploring, but rather spent our time at the hotel laundry washing out and drying all of our clothes. It could be an interesting place to visit again. Tuscumbia was the home of Helen Keller and her home is a historic site. We did stop at additional sites along the route, visiting ancient burial mounds and some of the older sections of the Trace, but I demurred from taking any more photos as I had no desire to ruin my camera in the rain.
Our final day on the Trace was as glorious as the previous day was wet. We lingered in the beautiful weather, enjoying our stops and spending some time visiting with other motorcyclists who were also out enjoying the day. As it was a Saturday and possibly also because we were getting closer and closer to Nashville, the traffic picked up and the bicyclists were out in significant numbers. It made me a bit wistful as I have not been on my bicycle since I had my mastectomy. I see bicycling again in my future, but maybe I will wimp out and wait until fall before I air up the tires and take it for a spin.
Our major stops on this beautiful day were at the Meriwether Lewis Site and at Leipers Fork. We also lingered at a stop that afforded a bit of a view of Tennessee’s famous double arch bridge. I learned a bit at the Meriwether Lewis Site, but was a little surprised by the whitewashing of history by the National Parks Department in referring to a slave as a “servant who belonged to . . . .” Either that, or I completely misinterpreted things. That said, if one finds oneself in the area, it is worth stopping to explore the site. We ended our Saturday by joining a friend and his friend for dinner and conversation. All in all a lovely way to spend a day. I have posted a few photos below.
These photos are from a lovely, shaded rest stop. The various fungi were somewhat fascinating to me in their variety.
At the Meriwether Lewis Site. The monument is a simple broken column, symbolizing a life cut short. The official story is that he died by his own hand, but there are those who believe he was murdered. Either way, it was not a pleasant death.
A waterfall a short hike from the Trace. A kind person took a photo of the two of us together.
Interesting “homemade” instruments and our lunch stop in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. It’s quite a happening little place with a number of galleries. We were told that a number of country music stars have estates in the area, also adding to the draw. Al did not stop so I could photograph the General Lee and the Andy Griffith police car, but we both thought it was cool to see them parked together by the main road.
Tennessee’s famous double arch bridge, as glimpsed through the trees. It towers above highway 96. The best part of this final stop before Nashville was getting to spend some time visiting with a small group of motorcyclists who were also taking a rest break.
The end of the Trace.
We really did not take any photos beyond this point. We headed into Nashville and made dinner plans with our friend who was also visiting there. After a pleasant evening of sitting outside just talking, we headed up to our room to rest up for the next day’s journey. Our goal once we left Nashville was to simply make it home safely. Our route was mostly interstate, which was a stark contract to the serenity of the Trace. Had we had enough time, I do believe we would have gone back down the Trace the other way, but I have yet to find a job that will pay me to not show up for work. We had a day at home before I had to face reality again, but Al leapt right back into it and had a busy day scheduled for the day after our return.
All in all, Cindy proved not to be an awful dance partner and we were for the most part spared from her wrath. Some farther south were not so lucky. If you believe in prayer, please hold those people up. A week later they are all but forgotten by those who are farther removed from the storm.
With that, I shall end this post. I hope you all have a happy 4th of July, however you choose to celebrate.