Day Twenty Five: day off in Natchez, MS

We took today off, partly because it was my birthday and also because we’ve ridden 12 days straight. We reached the end of the Natchez Trace yesterday and celebrated with Carlos last night. It was so great to sleep in a terrific bed in the “Dairy Barn” (rather than the main house.) We are waking earlier than we used to, but we dawdled for a while before heading over to a delicious breakfast in the restaurant.

Then we toured the house with a retired judge who was from a tenth generation Natchez family. He knew the people who used to own the house (he roomed at Ole Miss with one of the sons of the family and said they used to get as “drunk as goats” in the place while in college.)

He said no one around here calls these houses “mansions” – “they are just houses…big houses, for sure, but just houses.” (Between you and me, this is most definitely a mansion.)

We rode our bikes a few miles to the laundromat and took care of our few clothes. Then we cycled through downtown again, and stopped in at a museum dedicated to William Johnson, a freed slave who became wealthy as a barber and left a record of his life in diaries.

Then back to the pool.

The topic of conversation this afternoon was our next steps. We have a hotel in New Orleans for Saturday night. New Orleans is roughly 230 miles away so those would be three long days.

I knew that when planning this leg last winter, but now that it is here, it seems really daunting. We are off the Trace, so are back to more complicated navigation, dealing with Louisiana dogs (who have a reputation) and the daily predicted thunderstorms. I’m ready for New Orleans, honestly. Lisa feels pretty strongly about riding into the city. So we are looking at the logistics of various scenarios which might satisfy us both.

We walked back to the river to dine at the Magnolia Grill on Silver Street (also known as Natchez-Under-the-Hill) and Lisa surprised me with gifts. After some local music, we rode home again with Natchez’ Rock and Roll taxi. We got out of the car to the very loud sounds of tree frogs, or insects. I’ll include a ten second day clip of the night sounds.

It was an unusual birthday, for sure, and a very good one.

Day Twenty Four: Port Gibson to Natchez, MS

I have been reading Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” on this trip, and it has provided a thoughtful perspective on what it is to be traveling through unknown terrain, whether geographical or psychological. She notes:

“Lost is mostly a state of mind, and this applies as much to all of the metaphorical and metaphysical states of being lost as it does to blundering around the backcountry…. The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.”

We have been lost, and uncertain, and uncomfortable, on this trip — even given all of the maps and technology and planning and arrangements — and have experienced discomfort, as well as a rich life of discovery as a result.

This afternoon we finished our ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway, and felt both giddiness and loss as we counted down the mile markers to zero …. it was a tremendous biking experience. For more than 400 miles we were on a nationally maintained, historic roadway and the land adjacent to it. We entered it in the same way we started off on all of the other parts of the trip — with some sense of the towns and sights along it and high hopes for light traffic — but what we did not expect before starting was the quiet that we frequently experienced. Sometimes 15 minutes or more would pass before we would see a car or truck or RV, and in that time we would hear the quiet whir of our bike tires on pavement and the clink of our shifting gears, and the sounds and songs of birds in the woods around us, and maybe a far off tractor or mower, or water dripping off of rocks, or a cow or rooster making itself known.

We spoke with a group of lovely Belgian cyclists last night and at various points today at length as we compared our journeys, and they they too remarked on how amazing this was, the best biking they have experienced, and this in the context of many other cycling trips in Asia and Europe and better known places in the U.S. We did experience dry weather and blue skies most of the time, and that contributed to the overall satisfaction for us all, I think.

Our day started in our antebellum bed and breakfast in Port Gibson, where our young host served us bacon and eggs and berries in a dining room built in the 1700s and talked with us about his decision to buy the house and move there from Minnetonka, MN. The house had fifteen foot ceilings and beautiful details and no nails were used in its construction, only wooden pegs. We walked down his long, hilly gravel driveway after saying goodbye to him and his lively Golden Retrievers, and rode south toward Natchez.

The trip was a short one by comparison to other days though we felt a bit tired and ready for a break, which we experienced as soon as we entered Natchez. It is a beautiful river city, with amazing historic homes and streets lined with flowering trees and bushes, and we are staying at the Dunleith Inn which is quite posh by comparison to most of our accommodations this far. We are in the Dairy Building, and evidently the inn’s more notable guests (Mick Jagger, Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser) have stayed in the main house. Loved having the pool to ourselves before walking back into town to meet our friend Carlos for dinner along the river. He has been great company, a true companion and a lively storyteller, and we look forward to seeing him again in a few days in New Orleans.

The day ended with a ride back to the inn in the town Rock and Roll Taxi, with an older fellow who was playing great music. Dan asked him about Jerry Lee Lewis, who played his first gig down the street from where we had dinner when he was 13, and our driver went on to tell us that he first heard Elvis perform on a hayride, together with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, for $1 some years back.

Looking forward to more adventures in Natchez tomorrow….