This particular fixation started a couple of years ago when an internet search revealed the Natchez Trace 444 bicycle event. At the time, wasn’t even aware of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 440-mile National (and historical) Parkway through 3 states (MS, AL, and TN), 4 ecosystems, and 8 major watersheds. The original Trace was primarily a foot and horse path traveling through the Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw traditional homelands.
Intrigued by cycling the Trace but not interested in competing in the NT 444, a RAAM qualifier if completed within 44 hours. Initial intent was to complete the adventure in Oct 2019, during the same time as the NT 444 but cycling the opposite direction. That is, south to north. My sister had tentatively agreed to provide SAG support for the weeklong adventure broken into 2-day drive to start, 4 days of cycling, one day recovery in Nashville, and drive home. Unfortunately, a minor mishap at a sanctioned TT event last July resulted in a fractured right tibia plateau. This led to an external fixator for 2 ½ weeks followed by insertion of plate and screws, affectionately referred to as my dragon tail. Recovery time was 3 months of complete non-weight bearing on right leg. Although was able to begin spinning on the trainer, chain removed to eliminate resistance, 4 weeks post-surgery to facilitate return of ROM. Amazing how quickly ROM diminishes after just 3 weeks no bending the knee. Needless to say, riding the Trace didn’t happen in 2019.
Fast forward to 2020 with new target date (Sep) and SAG support (the Missus). The only impact CV-19 had was the cancellation of our stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. We had reservations in one of the converted Pullman cars. The Hotel closed in June. It re-opened in time for the ride but their days of operation were reduced to Thursday – Sunday. We planned to stay Sunday night. Disappointed in missing out on a unique lodging experience, but no other accommodations were affected. Choose south to north direction for 2 primary reasons: prevailing wind is generally from the south and wasn’t enamored with multi-day drive to return home.
General observations of the ride and itinerary: apparently some folks complete the Trace self-supported. That’s crazy. There are no lodges with stores directly on the Trace. There are numerous restroom facilities with drinking fountains but due to CV-19, only 2 were open and not sure about any of the drinking fountains. Probably goes without saying for female athletes but having a roll of TP in the vehicle can really come in handy. Food and liquid replenishment would be challenging. There are camping areas and a couple of bike-only camping areas near the Trace. Definitely a lack of lodging/restaurants immediately off the Trace. Highly recommend external support if considering riding the Trace. While certainly do-able in fewer days, 5-6 days of cycling seems optimal. Covering 100+ miles each day didn’t allow much time to visit the exhibits and didn’t walk to any of the more interesting sites (i.e., waterfalls, Rock Springs, Colbert Ferry, French Camp). Nearly all of the historical sites were a quick stop, photo of the placard, and back on the road. Additionally, there was no time to explore any of the cities where we stopped. The prevailing wind may be from the south but it certainly wasn’t for me. Cross/headwinds for 5+ hours every day isn’t very enjoyable. Small consolation prize, believe the N/NW winds kept Hurricane Sally to the east and mostly dry weather. It’s not an excessively difficult ride as there was just under 14K feet of climbing over 440 miles with the TN segment having more than its fair share. Didn’t see much in the way of wildlife but did see wild turkeys, deer, and turkey buzzards. The humidity is oppressive – even in September. Consumed lots of fluids in the MS and AL segments. Weather for the TN segment was glorious – started in mid 60s and rose to low 70s with a precipitous drop on humidity.
My bike, specifically the SRAM medium cage rear derailleur, developed a mechanical over the week and half leading up to The Trace Adventure. Normally manifested as nonresponsive shifting to easier gears. Didn’t matter if there was a load on the chain or not but it was sporadic. Seemed like the longer the ride, the more frequently it occurred. Like the derailleur just got tired. There was never an issue shifting between front chainrings – only moving on the cassette. Repeated pressing on the shifter produced no effect. After 30 seconds or so, the derailleur would engage and shift once, usually to a harder gear. At least then I knew I could shift again. The local bike shop (The Green Lizard), removed and cleaned the chain, cleaned the rear derailleur, unsynched and resynched the derailleur-shifter connection. Since the problem wasn’t consistent, no way to confirm issue was corrected. It may be a faulty derailleur. Thankfully there wouldn’t be a lot of climbing along The Trace.
Now the details…
Day 1: Drive to Chattanooga.
Nothing particularly noteworthy. Stayed at the Read House and walked around the corner to the Old Gilman Grill (outside table) for dinner. Had the fish special – wasn’t really. It was ok but the fish was processed as the shape wasn’t a typical filet or steak cut. No pictures. Still don’t remember to do that until it’s too late. Who wants a picture of a partially eaten meal?
Day 2: Drive to Natchez.
Ordered ham, egg, and cheese biscuits and a ham and egg sandwich, to go, from Innside Restaurant and ate on the road. No pictures but breakfast was really good. Drove the last 100 miles of the Trace (first 100 miles tomorrow) to get a sense of the terrain. Max speed limit is 50 mph with reduced zones of 35 mph approaching some of the bigger cities. There is no shoulder along the Trace. Interestingly, many of the bridges have a walkway. Go figure. We stopped at a couple of the historic sites (Emerald Mound and Mount Locust) but they were closed due to CV-19. Arrived at the Stone House Musical B&B and unpacked. Stayed in a small cabin that was just off the rear porch. Lots of history in Natchez and full of B&Bs. Learned a little about the Stone House’s history – built in mid 1800s and moved on the property twice. House has been part of the same family since it’s construction. Walked around a bit and stopped down at the river. A little eerie walking the streets as they were all nearly deserted. Felt like the only ones around. Then headed to Pearl Street Pasta for dinner: Italian Chopped Salad and Seafood Pasta Jambalaya with Stella Artois for me and Garden Salad and Chicken Piccata with a Sauvignon Blanc for the Missus. Sorry, no pictures again. My meal was pretty good but the Missus was not a fan of the overly breaded chicken piccata and very thick cream sauce with linguini.
Day 3: Ride from MP 0 to MP 111 (Ridgeland, MS).
Day 1 cycling route – https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34224312
Day 1 cycling video https://youtu.be/Ee-U3pIWGl8
Same preparatory routine every morning: 2 full scoops of SiS GO Electrolyte powder in a few ounces of water (bottled), ice to the top, then filled with water for 3 insulated water bottles; 2 ice-filled water only insulated water bottles, plus; 2 more ice-filled water only water bottles. 2 SiS GO and 2 water only insulated bottles would go in the cages. The remaining water bottles plus additional bottled water and Gatorade would go in the DC powered cooler with the Missus. Just don’t forget to uplug the cooler if stopping the vehicle for any length of time as the cooler will continue to draw power from the battery. Snacks were pretty much the same to: SiS gels (vanilla and apple) and bars (blueberry and banana), a few Hammer gels (peanut butter, vanilla, apple, and banana) and Smucker’s Uncrustables. Would usually meet the Missus somewhere between 50 – 60 miles for liquid replenishment. If necessary, would replenish a final time around 85 miles.
The Missus ran 5 miles in the morning along the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Breakfast was spectacular but also made for a very late start. Breakfast – fruit salad (kiwi, banana, watermelon, apple), poached eggs, ham & cheese, biscuits, and scones. The Missus adored the Victorian Biscuit Warmer (really just a holder of warm bread or biscuits). Didn’t actually start riding until 1030. The humidity was oppressive. Only saw a lone rider before Jackson area then several over a 15-mile stretch. Started harder than prudent and slowed considerably as day progressed with the wind and humidity exacting their toll. Although the forecast was clear, had a sun sprinkle at MP 85 then rain, not torrential, but legit rain for one mile, MP 95-96. Covered wet pavement until MP 101 then it was dry. Initial intent was MP 120 but couldn’t make it. Raised the white flag at MP 111. The shifting problem was not resolved. To add insult, developed a very annoying noise emanating from the rear derailleur/cassette depending upon the gear. Urrrgg! The Missus, who ran 5 miles and cycled 13 miles along the Trace while waiting for me, was a huge cheerleader to help get me there. Lots of coasting and MP watching the last 10-15 miles. Completely drained at end. Lodging at Embassy Suites in North Jackson/Ridgeland. The free hors d’oeuvres and drinks at the evening reception turned into drinks only – another casualty of CV-19. Decided to order Domino’s and have it delivered. The Domino’s tracker (yes, we’re a regular consumer of the product) showed the order being prepped but it never progressed beyond that point. Called the store after another 15-20 minutes of status stuck on prep to learn there was only one employee in the store and there was no estimate on when our order would make it to the oven. Cancelled the order and the Missus drove to Pizza Hut to retrieve our dinner. Ate in the room with our free drinks.
Similar to the morning, each evening had a charging routine – Wahoo Roam, 3 GoPro batteries, GoPro remote, iPhone, MacBook Pro, and Powerbeats earphones. It was challenging in some of the rooms to have find sufficient electrical outlets to charge everything. Have a Belkin USB hub the plugs into the MacBook but for whatever reason, being plugged into it wouldn’t charge either the Powerbeats or GoPro battery. Definitely need to invest in a GoPro charger. Currently relegated to charging one at a time when it’s inserted in the camera.
Day 4. MP 111 – 221 (Houston, MS).
Day 2 cycling route https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34224306
Day 2 cycling video https://youtu.be/mc5_CKg7XVc
One of the reasons we enjoy staying at Embassy Suites is the free made-to-order breakfast. Well, CV-19 affects everything. There was a single cook doing his best to make omelets for all of the guests. Trooped back up to the room to eat: French Toast, scrambled eggs, and Raisin Bran for me; cheese, mushroom, and tomato omelet for the Missus. No photo. Nothing new or interesting to see here. Loaded up and drove north on the Trace to yesterday’s stopping point.Better start time but still not ideal; 0845. Mis-remembered my own itinerary. Yesterday was only supposed to be 100/101 miles. Today supposed to be longest day – 128. Meant only had to cover 117 miles to stay on target. Recovered fairly well from yesterday. Started out easier but windier than yesterday. Gave in after 2+ hours of battling the wind and asked the Missus after she ran 5 miles to motopace. We got better as the miles clicked off. Ended up increasing average speed by 1 mph and lowered AP by 13 watts. A hazard of motopacing is a lack of visibility of road debris. Didn’t know the rock I thought I clipped was actually a turtle until the end of day when the Missus asked me about the turtle. Crash avoided! The small chances of rain in the afternoon came to fruition – wet pavement around MP 92 and a fine mist began around MP 96. It was hard to differentiate between precipitation and road spray. The wetness graduated to light mist (I’m sure there’s a meteorological scale that defines the gradations of mist but it’s unknown to me) between MP 98 – 102. Had on/off fine mist until MP 221. Another revised end spot for the day; supposed to make it to MP 228. Finished stronger than yesterday. Attribute that to motopacing. Saw no other riders today. Loaded up the bike and drove to Bridges-Hall Manor B&B. While unpacking, the Missus discovered her iPad was missing. Rechecked all of the bags and the vehicle but no luck. The iPad was no longer in our possession. Mild panic set in and she called the Embassy Suites. After numerous failed attempts to reach a living person at the ES, she finally spoke with someone only to be told no one from Housekeeping was available. Call back tomorrow. We walked down the street and ate dinner on the patio at No Way Jose’s; combo (steak and chicken) fajitas for 2. Dos Equis lager for me and pink lemonade for the Missus. No pictures because everyone knows what fajitas look like. However, I’ve observed several common themes when ordering fajitas: lots of meat and onions, a few slices of pepper, and never enough tortillas. Seems to be universal. After more worrying about the missing iPad and a game plan for tomorrow if the iPad was found, time for bed.
Day 5 MP 221 – 330 (Florence, AL).
Day 3 Cycling Route https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34224236
Day 3 Cycling Video https://youtu.be/t7uTvFq8xVI
New day but same morning prep. Another fabulous breakfast: fruit salad, scrambled eggs, cheesey potatoes, bacon, sausage, and biscuits. Eureka! The Missus was in luck; her iPad was found by Housekeeping and would be waiting for her. The bad news? She had to drive back to Ridgeland, then find me along the Trace. The plan was to meet around MP 295 (75 miles). We loaded up the vehicle and drove to MP 221 to start Day 3 of cycling. While getting ready to ride, a friendly butterfly seemed attracted to my bike. I headed north while the Missus backtracked to Ridgeland and the Embassy Suites to retrieve her iPad. Where would she catch me? Since the Missus was otherwise occupied and not available for a while, set an easy pace. About 12 miles into the ride at the Witch Dance site, saw a Cycle of Life van and trailer. The guide said she had 5 riders headed south behind her. Sure enough, passed 5 riders spread out over a 3-mile range. The Trace runs through the Tombigee National Forest for about 15 miles. Considered riding in to Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis) but decided against it. Stopped at the Parkway Visitor Center at MP 266 for a brief respite and filled the water bottles at one of the few functioning restrooms. The drinking fountains were turned off but water from the sink worked well enough. Stopped on the Jamie L Whitten Bridge over the Tenn-Tombigee Waterway to admire the dam and locks of the same name to the northwest. The waterway was amazingly blue. My plan was to stop around MP 295 and wait for the Missus. Unfortunately, there were no historical or scenic sites to stop at until nearly MP 309, the AL border. The Missus caught and passed me around MP 305. Took a longer than normal break at the border for liquid and an Uncrustable. Actually retrieved the lounge chair from the vehicle and sat in the shade for a bit. Back on the bike for the final 21 miles of the day. Loaded the bike just shortly after crossing the Tennessee River and drove to the Farmhouse Sanctuary B&B, an actual working farm. A newer and more modern B&B than the previous two we stayed at but still impressive nonetheless. Lots of quality wood workmanship on display. After unloading, quick shower, and dinner recommendations, we drove in to Florence for dinner at Ricatoni’s Italian Grill. We each had the Chicken Ricatoni. Mine with a Belgium white beer and the Missus her usual Sauvignon Blanc. There is a picture this time.
Day 6 MP 330 – 444 (Nashville, TN).
Day 4 Cycling Route https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34224231
Day 4 Cycling Video https://youtu.be/fWmTkDMqLo4
Repeat morning preparations for the final day. Breakfast was scrambled eggs on toast, sausage, and Raisin Bran. Today’s ride would be the hilliest. Wasn’t sure how much climbing but knew it would be more than the previous days. Weather was much cooler with lower humidity to start. The Missus ran another 5 miles along the Trace. Again, wasn’t in a hurry. Legs had 330+ miles in them over past 3 days. First day was probably the most difficult. For whatever reason, feel sluggish after taking a day off followed by a big ride. Quads were a sore but didn’t feel exhausted. Crossed into to TN at MP 341.8. The terrain was hillier but longest climb was slightly more than a mile and most climbs averaged between 3-5%. Would say the TN segment is the most scenic but each of them has their picturesque moments. Psychologically, hitting MP 400 was huge. Remaining distance felt less intimidating and far more manageable. I mean, 44 miles is no big deal. Saw the most riders approaching Nashville; all of them headed south. Never saw a single rider headed north (while on the bike. Did see 2 while riding in the car) until MP 435 when one passed me. Even though legs had another century plus day, competitive nature took over and caught up to him. Wasn’t able to wheelsuck for very long as he pulled off into a parking lot shortly after catching him. I must say the ending was very anticlimactic and rather disappointing. The marker for the North Terminus is on a steep hillside at MP 440. The Trace just ends at Route 100 and you have a choice of directions – north or south. Expected a MP 444 to create that Bucket List accomplishing Kodak moment. Sadly, not to be. On the Trace one minute and then screaming down Route 100 on a sketch bike lane filled with all kinds of debris. Finally stopped at an entrance to memorial park and waited for the Missus. Must admit the disappointing conclusion of the Trace seemed to erase the lethargy than normally accompanies a 114-mile ride. Loaded up and drove to the iconic Loveless Café for an early dinner. Ordered the pork bbq plate with coleslaw, fries, and an amber ale while the Missus had a BLT, fries, and lemonade. Will chalk it up to CV-19 but food didn’t match the notoriety or expectations. Pork bbq was pretty good but fries and coleslaw were disappointed. The Missus wasn’t impressed with the BLT either. Drove to Opryland Gaylord where we’d stay for next two nights.
Day 7 Nashville
Many of the places in the Gaylord are closed or have reduced hours due to CV-19. The Missus ran 5 more miles in the morning around the perimeter of the hotel while I did, nothing. Ordered breakfast to go from a nearby Cracker Barrel and brought it back to our hotel room. At some point (or multiple points) along the Trace, the Missus was feasted upon by some type of insect (e.g., noseeums, chiggers, ??) that itched ferociously. She was miserable. Drove into Nashville and walked around downtown to include the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. Quite the dichotomy with the whole CV-19 mess. Mandatory to wear masks at the Gaylord but as soon as folks walk beyond the check-in counter many are pulled down or removed completely. Certainly not all but a significant percentage. Downtown Nashville was much the same. The vast majority wore them but as soon as they entered any of the fine drinking/music/entertainment establishments, down or off they came. I mean, you certainly can’t sing, drink, or smoke while wearing a mask! And boy were there lines to gain entrance to these establishments. There were also many party busses that seemed to be dominated by drinking, dancing, and singing ladies. Must be a TN thing. To be honest, it was a little disconcerting to be around so many people. Haven’t been exposed to hoards since our CV-19 shortened skiing adventure in Utah back in March. The only establishment we entered was Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for a single scoop of peanut butter ice cream for me and chocolate hazelnut crunch for the Missus. We walked down to the benches overlooking the Cumberland River that runs through Nashville. We gradually made our way back to the vehicle and returned to the Gaylord. Walked around a bit before we settled on dinner plans – The Old Spaghetti Factory, take out of course. Spicy Spaghetti Vesuvias, salad, extra bread and a side of breast of chicken parmigiana for me while the Missus had Spaghetti with mushroom sauce (extra sautéed mushrooms), minestrone soup, and bread. Didn’t realize the restaurant was right back downtown but it was only 20 minutes away. Returned to the hotel only to discover my salad and extra bread were missing. Called the restaurant and spoke with the frazzled, short-staffed manager who indicated he would adjust the bill. Still waiting…
According to TrainingPeaks, finished the Trace with the following data points:
132 Fitness (CTL)
173 Fatigue (ATL)
-27 Form (TSB)
Duration: 23:37 hms
Distance: 446 mi
El. Gain: 13832
Work: 17093 kJ
Day 8 Return home. Gained an hour as we came back to EDT. Traffic wasn’t too bad and made it home by 6 pm. So ends another cycling and culinary adventure. Where will the next one be?