We left Clinton in rather heavy traffic this Monday morning, but after we crossed I-20, it dropped off dramatically. We were also happy to run into our friend Carlos and we chatted a while on that overpass. When we realized we were both staying in Port Gibson, we decided we’d dine together at the end of the day. And then we rode together off and on over the miles.
The day was overcast, but sultry and sticky. We were expecting storms and kept watching the sky, but it did not seem threatening at all. We cruised along between the green woods, so deep and dark. The trees are a mix of hardwoods and southern pines, many with vines, kudzu or moss draped from the branches. The woods are silent, except for the sounds of birds, insects, frogs and toads and who knows what else, so not silent at all, but with no human sounds. It feels sometimes like we are riding through a jungle. We ride through tunnels of green arching trees and then out into the sunny open fields of corn or tobacco. I think we both feel the silent ghosts of the dead of “the war.” (When the war is mentioned here, it is only the Civil War that is referred to. William Faulkner said “the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past” and that is clearly true,)
At one point yesterday, partly as a way to pass the time, I recited to Lisa one of the few poems I know by heart – “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” (W. B. Yeats, who was also born on June 13) – in it are the haunting lines which I imagine applied to many of those soldiers – “Those that I fight I do not hate/those that I guard I do not love.” We can feel the almost overwhelming sadness buried in these fields and forests.
And here’s another, more mundane observation – our bikes, too, are absolutely silent. The pleasure I get from a silent bicycle is hard to describe – think of all the moving parts, metal against metal, bearings and hubs, pedals, crank, chain…all operating quietly and reliably mile after mile and all the rider hears is rubber rolling over asphalt. It is a beautiful thing to be rolling through these deep dark green woods in this lovely mechanical silence. OK, I did have a flat today, so that might dim the romance a bit. My tubes have a few thousand miles on them and the problem was right at the valve (rather than a puncture) and I had it replaced in about fifteen (oh, maybe twenty) minutes and we were rolling again. It was normal and to be expected, so my respect for the machine was intact.
Songs about rain were in my head. Jesse Winchester’s “Biloxi” – “and the storms will blow from off towards New Orleans” and Jodee Messina’s “Bring On The Rain” – “tomorrow’s another day, and I’m thirsty anyway, so bring on the rain” and, the best, John Hiatt’s “It Feels Like Rain” – “Love comes out of nowhere, baby, just like a hurricane…and it feels like rain…”
(I’m kind of partial to the Buddy Guy version of that Hiatt song with my long and unrequited love Bonnie Raitt on guitar but the original is also great.)
Riding these last few days, after some very intense hills early on our trip (the hills of northeastern Iowa and south out of Hannibal, which were so steep we had to walk them) – the hills we’ve had lately have been more subtle. I’ve sometimes even had trouble telling whether we were going uphill or down or just staying level. Have you skied under a full moon in the winter and lost your sense of depth and rise and fall? It is like that. I’ve the strange and entirely pleasant sensation of coasting uphill. I guess that’s what hundreds of hours behind the bars does to one’s brain.
We arrived at our antebellum mansion early in the afternoon and found a beautiful and large house on a hill on the edge of this small town. We, as always, asked about beer, and after we unloaded our bikes, I rode into town for those supplies. I have to say, we’ve been drinking (and eating) way less than usual, but cold beer after a long hot bike ride is essential. Once we have that and we shower, we are back to normal, regardless of what happened on the road.
We had a couple of hours to relax and chat with the owner of our inn (who was originally from Minnetonka and his mother was from Northfield) then walked to meet Carlos, who is staying at a different inn, along with the Belgians we met a few days ago and got Chinese take out and sat on his porch eating and talking. The expected storm came and was fierce but short lived (we were very glad not to be out in it, either on bikes or in a tent.) Carlos has been a delightful friend on this leg of our trip, and we hope to have a final meal with him tomorrow in Natchez, at the end of his ride. (Final only till we visit him in Fairfax, VA, that is.)
So, we are now under 40 miles from Natchez, the terminus of the southward bound Trace. We’ll finally get a day off there.