Would you do it again?

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Almost as soon as we arrived in New Orleans, people started asking us if we would be doing a trip like this again.  In the first few days, my answer was quick and certain – NO.  Then it became more conditional – “well, not self supported” or “well, not that far.”  Then it became even more open – “Sure, we might go out for a week or so…” We even started a list of places we want to ride, and now are hoping to get out for an overnight trip before the summer is over.

How did that happen – evolving from NO to maybe to YES?  We’ve been home for a month and in that time, we’ve talked about the trip a lot, and we’ve realized that, in the last week or so, as we finally approached New Orleans, we were figuring this bike touring thing out.  Of course we could have ridden back home (if we had the time, that is) and of course we want to do it again.  Because we really miss touring, that is, actually going somewhere, making progress out on the open road.  Our minds wander during meetings and we recall riding down the Natchez Trace in the sun, the blue sky overhead, the sounds of the forest loud beside us, calculating how many miles lay ahead and what we wanted to eat when we achieved our goal.  We miss the simplicity of travelling from one place to another, encountering hills and crossing rivers, even those aspects of the trip which caused us (me) stress.  We miss the physicality of the trip, burning thousands of calories every day, the great feeling of relaxation when the day was done, the soundness of sleep when you are so physically tired.

I really, really miss the time with Lisa – days and nights spent together, with time to talk,  solve problems, recount the day and chat about tomorrow.  Too often now, we rush out of the house in the morning and don’t connect until 7:00 or 8:00 at night after the day at work.  We are tired in a different way, and it is not our muscles which are weary as much as it is our brains.  Our problems are complicated, involve many other people and are more difficult to resolve.

Lisa was out of town this weekend, and I woke Saturday morning just wanting to get on my bike and ride.  I made some coffee, looked at the paper, then filled my water bottles and took off.  I rode south on Mississippi River Boulevard to downtown St. Paul.  I rode fast, positioned between the river on one side and the railroad on the other, as we had been so often on our trip.  I rode by the busy St. Paul Farmers Market, and by the St. Paul Saints baseball stadium, then north on the Bruce Vento Trail through St. Paul’s east side.  I rode by the abandoned buildings where Hamm’s beer was once brewed – the brew that grew with the great Northwest.  I rode around Lake Phalen and saw sailboats and kayaks. The day was perfect.

The Vento Trail intersects with the Gateway Trail, which heads east out of St. Paul, by the snow man of North St. Paul, as cool in late July as he is in midwinter.  I rode into Washington County, between fields and wetlands, and eventually down the lovely Brown’s Creek Trail into Stillwater.  The town was busy on a beautiful Saturday morning, crowded, and out on the St. Croix River, an incongruous gondola giving a couple a ride as big speedboats slowly motored nearby.  I had a quick cup of coffee, a Clif Bar and a banana, refilled my water bottles and turned around to ride up the hill away from the river and back home on the same route.

In the end, it was 64 miles.  At our touring pace, on fully loaded bikes, Lisa and I would have spent seven hours doing that.  On my lightweight carbon fiber bike, I finished in exactly four.  So, faster, but way less satisfying.  Because I didn’t really go anywhere!  I didn’t have the feeling of actually travelling.  I ended up back where I started, in my garage.  Worse, I parked my bike by the lawn mower, which just reminded me that there were mundane chores to be done in the afternoon. One of my favorite poems of all time is Mark Strand’s “The Continuous Life” –

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

Our sense of adventure is still present, but it is currently somewhat suppressed by the routines of daily life.  We miss that experience of leaning down close enough to hear the careless breath of the earth.  We have to work, of course, and want to work, and we like our work…and we want to care for kids and the dog, and mow the lawn and weed the garden and clean the house.  But the romance and appeal and excitement of adventure is kind of missing at the moment.  We trust it will come back.

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Homecoming

We flew home from New Orleans on Tuesday, June 19 (well, Wednesday really). Walked up the many steps to our front door at 3:30 am after an eight hour delay at the MSY airport, with our pannier bags and a suitcase that my sister shipped to us in New Orleans, fumbling for house keys that it turned out we didn’t have, marveling at how much everything had grown since we left, and anxious to climb into our own bed after so many nights away and a long night in a cold airport.

When we left on our trip, the lilacs were just reaching their peak and the lawn was hardly long enough to mow…while we were gone, the peonies bloomed, as did the azaleas, and the grass flourished and so did everything else and we came back to a lush array of perennials on the hillside of our backyard.

We learned, while delayed in New Orleans at the airport, that my family had planned to surprise us on arrival at the gate in Minneapolis – with signs, flowers, balloons, the whole works – and we were really touched. After discovering we would arrive in the middle of the night, they dropped it all off at our house and so we got to enjoy it the next day.

The dog was kind of weird for awhile after we got home — we think he was afraid we would leave again – and then he came around and was back to his usual nose poking, tail wagging, dog kissing self after a day or two, and he continues to stay close by when we are home.

Dan went to a 9:00 meeting a few hours after we returned, and I went in to the office a bit later and was humbled and delighted to find that my team had put up a “Welcome Home” sign with balloons in the office and had a box of crazy great donuts to celebrate the end of the trip. We were so, so grateful for our colleagues, who adeptly took care of the work underway and reached out when there was something critical at work but otherwise let us focus on the work of bicycling and traveling, and cheered us on.

Josh did a fine job of taking care of the house and yard while we were gone, in between his two summer jobs. In the first few days after returning, we caught up on laundry and gardening and grocery shopping and bill paying, and things got back to normal pretty quickly. Being “back to normal” for us includes listening to a lot of live music, in addition to our work and household and people and pet responsibilities. The first weekend we made it out to see our friends Wilkinson James perform a great late night gig at the Aster Cafe with the Mississippi River and the Minneapolis skyline in the background, and the next day we were delighted to see many people we knew at the first Grand Oak Opry concert of the summer, just off of the river in St. Paul, under a 200 year old oak tree in a St. Paul backyard, where we heard our friend Chastity Brown perform, and we got big hugs from her after the show and chatted some about Tennessee, her home state, and our ride through small towns there. We also had a lovely dinner with friends Tim and Kevin who were visiting from Hawaii, and celebrated a milestone birthday with our dear friend Nancy, and made gumbo for my family and neighbor Ted while listening to a New Orleans soundtrack, and ate from food trucks during a Spoon concert with friends Paul and Cindy on a perfect summer night. And then we were honored to be celebrated with an al fresco dinner at Bernie and Cindy’s house with a group of dear friends, with a Mississippi River menu that included Lisa’s lemonade and Minnesota trout and Iowa corn and Cajun shrimp and grilled pork and corn bread and Izzy’s ice cream (Cindy’s suggestion: “get rocky road,” a fitting selection.) We were also humbled and delighted by cards and notes from friends and family, and by the gift of a beautiful book of Thomas Paquette’s paintings from our friend Sally; he painted his way down the Mississippi from the headwaters in Itasca State Park to Louisiana, and the paintings are gorgeous. Perhaps it is not surprising that after we walked over to Now Sports to pick up our bikes when they were reassembled on the 4th of July, we rode downtown to the Day by Day Cafe for breakfast, and started talking about our next long bike trip over eggs and toast and coffee.

The truth is, we miss it. We miss that rocky road; we miss being outside and experiencing the unknown and the simplicity of days just riding bikes, even though we love being back home, with people who know us and with all of the comforts of this life we have created. And we miss the south in a way that we did not expect, and the food and people and history and extraordinary beauty we encountered.

It was humbling to discover that so many people were reading this blog while we biked, and we have been struggling to figure out how to end, or continue it…we really liked writing together, and we realize that our day to day life may not lend itself to an ongoing blog. Or maybe it does.

Today Dan took his bike into a local bike shop, Grand Performance, after he had a recurring flat on the Old Abe Trail outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We camped there over the weekend so we could attend the Eaux Claires festival (did I already say we love live music?) This was year four of the festival, and it has consistently been an interesting mix of creative musicians and artists and writers assembling at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers, which is unlike any other festival in terms of collaboration and the unexpected. We typically camp and bring our bikes along, and Dan’s back tire was looking pretty low yesterday before we set out on a 50 mile ride. I will let him tell the rest of the story because it is like the perfect bookend to this homecoming post…

Dan: Lisa has written beautifully of the odd experience of returning to the familiar after a sojourn in a strange land.

I have a couple of observations. When anyone suggested in New Orleans that we should ride home, I could only think ‘that’s absolutely impossible to even consider’ and yet, now, a couple of weeks later, my thinking is that we were getting this adventure cycling thing figured out. Of course we could have done it. Because we’ve learned you can do these things. One day at a time, you can do almost anything. (Including change the world, I hope.) So now, we are planning our coming trips, even before the end of the season. Stay tuned.

And on machines and mechanics: I really admire the bike, I tried to write of that during our trip. It is a marvelous machine – relatively simple, very efficient and mostly true to the original designs of the 19th century. But a bike needs attention, especially when pushed the way we pushed them. You all know of Lisa’s tire troubles. So this weekend, riding in Wisconsin, my tire went flat. I didn’t have a reliable replacement tube and Lisa had to ride 20 miles back to the car and return to pick me up.

Today, I took the wheel into one of St. Paul’s high performance bike shops, near campus. I chatted for a few minutes about changing tires, about methods and tools. Then I left the wheel with the mechanics and came back in a hour, the tube replaced. They determined that I’d picked up a tiny piece of wire which pierced the tube. (Sound familiar yet?) I thanked them, bought some new, and supposedly better, tire levers, and went back to work. At the end of the day I went home to install the wheel and found it to still be flat after resting in the back seat for a couple hours. The shop was still open, so I went right back. Different mechanic this time. I waited and watched him remove the tire and tube and locate the hole. I asked if there was another wire poking through – he said the puncture wasn’t on the tire side, but the rim side. He replaced the rim tape (is this sounding familiar yet?) and put on another new tube and I walked out, thinking “well, more evidence that even expert mechanics can goof it up.”

Which we already knew. So, bottom line – I’m going to do it myself from now on. I’m going to work on the machine (zen and the art of bicycle maintenance) and understand that the machine I’m working on is myself. I look forward to getting my hands dirty.

We have more miles to go. Thank you, friends. We could not have done this without you.

Day Twenty Eight: New Orleans walkabout

It was strange to be on foot all day yesterday rather than traveling by bike, but we had a lovely time wandering around the city.

We woke early and walked down to the Mississippi river and it was humid – tropical, even, by nine o’clock. Overheard the captain of the steamboat Natchez direct his crew through their drills (“we will now do the man overboard drill”), watched stone carvers put the finishing touches on a monument that is a tribute to immigration (donated by immigrants who arrived here under other presidencies), listened to some good music in the streets including at the National Parks Jazz monument where they had free jazz yoga underway with a ranger playing the piano, walked through the farmers market, and eventually took a break for beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. The highlight was our stop at Faulkner House Books off of Jackson Square, located in a home where the writer William Faulkner lived for a time. The store is small (max capacity: twelve customers), but impressive, with a great collection of new and rare books. We walked in, looking a little sweaty and ragtag, and Dan asked if they had first editions of Faulkner’s books, and the woman (Joanne) working there said they were in the locked case, and Dan said that well, we were not likely to be buying any, and Joanne said “and I had such high hopes.” That was the start to a great conversation and she later put Dan in charge of the store while she stepped out and returned with a rare first edition of The Sound and the Fury valued at over $19,000. “The past is never dead, it is not even past” is a Faulkner quote that we cited many times as we made our way through Mississippi along the Natchez Trace, and the complex, tragic characters in his novels seemed very real and close by during our time there, so it was great fun to visit the books and rare letters at that lovely little shop.

The afternoon was spent in part by the hotel pool reading, and later I went off to find a salon for a pedicure while Dan took a nap (we are now doing vacation things!) We were delighted to discover prosecco and chocolate-covered strawberries in our room with a congratulatory card from the Gergen-Burkes, which was a very generous surprise, and later headed out for dinner at Herbsaint, which came highly recommended by friend Melissa B. Dan sent her a note telling her we had a reservation for last night, and she replied, “I have three words for you: Get The Gumbo.” And we did, and it was sublime, as was the rest of the meal.

As we sit out on our little patio with coffee this Sunday morning we catch the occasional sounds of the city drifting over us – music from a calliope, horns playing gospel hymns, and it is very peaceful. We are getting ready for more adventures in the city today, including the art museum and Preservation Hall. We are also sending our love and best wishes to Dan’s brother Tom as he sets off today with a group on a transcontinental bike trip…by comparison, our hills were considerably smaller than the mountains he will climb….looking forward to hearing about his adventures from the west to the east coast.

Day Twenty Seven: LaPlace, LA to New Orleans, LA

We woke yesterday, as we have so many mornings in the last month, to the sounds of highway workers who were staying next door at the days comfort super six eight rodeway motel inn getting up at the crack of dawn to get back out to work.

Our typical first thoughts when we woke were on how far we had to ride, what the weather looked like and how soon we had to leave. Then, we’d rise, try to find clean biking clothes, pack our panniers and grab a bite at the free continental breakfast and mount up.

This last morning, though, we knew we only had about 45 miles to ride and that they were largely on the bike path on top of the river levee on the east bank of the Mississippi so we didn’t feel too rushed. We had to return the truck and then find our way to the levee, but got good advice from a lovely former school administrator who was working at the hotel about how to get there easily. It was sunny and hot, even at a little after 9:00 AM.

The lady at the rental place said “you’re riding into New Orleans? That’s a long way!” Then she advised us to go easy on the Hurricanes and sent us on our way.

We found our trail and began a leisurely and thoughtful final day’s ride, except for when it was pouring rain. The levee is about 30 feet high so we had a good view to our right and left.

The Mississippi is really wide here, and deep enough for ocean going vessels to sail twenty miles upstream. The ships are visiting the many chemical and refining and agriprocessing plants that lined the river in our early miles. We rode by Norco, Destrehan, St. Rose, Kenner, and through a variety of environments, from industrial to residential.

On our right was the river, close by and lined by trees and wetlands. On our left, the river road and development. Mixed in with the industry were plantations, strip malls, and around Kenner, really nice residential neighborhoods. We saw lots of birds, including egrets and red-billed ducks and one bright green parrot (or parakeet, but big), and over and between the trees to the right, the smokestacks of huge ships.

We entered the city through the beautiful Audubon Park and then followed St. Charles (we were now sharing the street with traffic) and rode along the streetcar tracks past fabulous homes, block after block. Lisa, who has visited NOLA a few times, started to recognize the neighborhood and soon we were pulling into Jackson Square with its artists and tourists.

It is hard to express what we were feeling as we looked at each other and realized we were done; we are sappy people, and we both got a little teary. We’d ridden 1,427 miles since May 20, through 9 states, on busy highways and county roads, chased by dogs and one goat; we’d crossed and ridden beside countless rivers, the greatest rivers of the heartland, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee; we’d had breakdowns and resolved them with the help and kindness of complete strangers.

And now we were standing at our destination, trying to absorb the moment. We walked around grinning, wanting to tell everyone what we’d done. We grabbed a couple and asked them to take our picture by the Bourbon Street sign and they turned out to be from Wisconsin and had many questions for us.

We walked over to a restaurant where we could hook our bikes up and keep an eye on them and ordered a popcorn shrimp po boy and beer. Of course we told our waiter we’d just arrived on our bikes and he took our picture, and then the manager said to Lisa “I commend you on your travels!”

We walked down Bourbon Street to our hotel, the Royal Sonesta, and rolled our bikes into the fancy lobby. Lisa said “this is the nicest hotel our bikes have ever been in!” The staff knew we’d biked in, and had received the bag that Lisa’s sister had shipped down with regular clothes. I’d also spoken the night before with one of the desk managers, Rita, who recognized that my name was Norwegian (she came from Norway) and she actually recognized us right away. (There weren’t too many others in the lobby who looked like us.) We sat out in the courtyard and waited a while for the room to get ready, and then Rita and Brian, the hotel’s Director of Rooms, came out and told us that they’d upgraded us to a two story room opening on to a small private patio. We were gobsmacked as the bellman took us to the beautiful room. He said that in 45 years working at the hotel, he’d only seen people arrive by bike three times.

After we showered (and got into clothes that weren’t Lycra) we walked down to the Spotted Cat for music and to meet our friend Carlos, who’d bused to NOLA from Natchez. As many possibilities as there were for fun last night, Lisa and I started to flag at 9:30 and we ended up walking home and climbing into a huge comfortable bed for a long night’s sleep. We are in New Orleans till Tuesday and have a long list of music, food and museums to experience. We might even ride those bikes one more time before we ship them home.

Day Twenty Six: Natchez to Laplace, LA, mostly by U-Haul

So we went out to dinner tonight in a ten foot U-Haul truck.

The restaurant, Frenier Landing, was on Lake Pontchartrain, a couple of miles from the motel where we are staying, next to some swampland, and the night air was humid and heavy. We were amazed by the size of the dragonflies there; they looked like small birds. Dan had gumbo with alligator sausage and I had a delicious crab salad with remoulade, and no one really seemed to look twice at our vehicle as we climbed out of it, though I thought it was sort of hilarious.

We took yesterday off after twelve days of riding. It was Dan’s birthday, and we had a lovely room for two nights at the Dunleith Inn in Natchez. After breakfast we had a tour of the inn and visited some other historic sites and had to do mundane things like laundry, and then had an opportunity to reconsider our 240 mile or so route into New Orleans again, which we have changed several times. While talking this through, it became clear that one of us was ready to be done with biking, and the other was not. So we worked to figure out a compromise.

We decided that leapfrogging ahead through Baton Rouge would get us past the many miles of rural roads without services in rural Mississippi and Louisiana on the route, as well as getting us past some expected storms, and would let us finish our ride into New Orleans along the levee. So when we woke up this morning we immediately started making phone calls. First to the one car rental agency in town, Enterprise, to see if they had a car or SUV that we could rent (answer: no, they had nothing available until Saturday), then to Downtown Carla Brown’s shuttle service (answer: no, she was in Nashville delivering some cyclists doing the Trace but she could take us to Brookhaven to get on an Amtrak on Friday), and then to the Rock and Roll Taxi service (answer: yes, they would take us to Baton Rouge after 4 o’clock but could not take our bikes). So then we started considering other options…and U-Haul seemed pretty attractive. They offer one-way drop off, plus enough space to fit a couple of bikes in the back of their trucks, and there are lots of U-Haul offices in the region. The lovely woman at the Natchez U-Haul, Linda, said they had a truck available and quoted us a price and after breakfast in the Dunleith Castle we loaded up our bikes and rode out to highway 61.

Unfortunately, Linda discovered she was wrong when we got there… there wasn’t a truck that we could take without messing up other people’s plans. She was really apologetic and started making phone calls in between people coming in to pay bills and Fed Ex packages (the other part of the business) to see if she could find another truck for us, and eventually found one about 15 miles west in Ferriday. To get there, we would have to ride across a bridge that was under construction. By this time there was an older guy sitting at the other desk behind the counter (who looked like he could be Joe Biden’s brother), and he kind of quietly suggested that he didn’t think they were letting bikes on the bridge, and said he would check with the U-Haul in Woodville, about 35 miles south on 61. He found they had a 10 foot truck we could rent, so now the trick was to get us there before they closed for the day. And then he very kindly offered to drive us there…turned out Mike was the owner of the business and had a pickup and could take us and our bikes there in between some lawn mowing and other duties. His sidekick was a 15 year old boy who was wide eyed and quiet and watched as we strapped our bikes to Mike’s trailer, then came along for the ride.

It was a very pleasant trip, a beautiful wooded stretch of highway 61 that would have been a challenge on bikes only because there wasn’t much of a shoulder to ride on, and Mike had lots of stories including one about finding a still in those woods when he was a kid, and his dad called the police to let them know, and they smashed it up, and his dad later turned the barrel into a coffee table. The U-Haul office was in a small fitness center next to a Sonic Drive In and we got our gear and bikes out of the truck and profusely thanked Mike, who didn’t want any money for driving us though we persuaded him to at least let us pay for his lunch.

The rest of the day was spent driving down highway 61 in our big old truck, listening to NPR, stopping at the state line, drinking sweet tea under a giant oak tree in St. Francisville, and looking out at a landscape with sugarcane fields and refineries and lots of truck stops and strip malls. We drove through a torrential rainstorm and were sort of glad not to be on our bikes, though I confessed to Dan that missed it, I missed the intimacy with the landscape that is part and parcel of traveling by bike.

Tomorrow we will be riding along the river again…looking forward to it.

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….