The Natchez Trace is a road steeped in history. Before it became a modern national park roadway, it was first a trail. In the beginning it was used by Native Americans, Western settlers followed their path. The combined centuries of travel created a depressed road. Preserved are deeply eroded sections of the old Trace. Here in their footsteps you can feel some of the hardships they endured on their journey west. These included heat, mosquitoes (and gnats), bad food, disease, swollen rivers and sucking swamps. (Watch out for those swamps. They suck.) The Trace commemorates their travels and travails. We stopped at as many of the informational stops along the Trace as we could and eventually made it to Tupelo, Mississippi, hometown of Elvis Presley.
We got on the road earlier today than yesterday. Spent the morning touring the Melrose, an antebellum Natchez mansion that is now a national park property. At 30, its builder was one of the riches men in America, a real king of cotton. Lunched downtown Natchez at the Cotton Alley Café, before heading off to the Natchez Trace. Four businessmen at the adjoining table were enjoying a power lunch. They were all connected to the Mississippi electrical grid business.
We eventually made it onto the Trace, 444 miles at ~50 MPH. It took us only a little longer to drive all the way south to Louisiana. We were hoping to score a campsite and there were plenty that were available. They were all too [g]natty for us though. Our miracle potion of vanilla extract did not live up to its hype. The bugs always asked for chocolate or strawberry first, but settled for vanilla. We bailed and snagged a hotel in Jackson, MS.
We got a late start on the Trace, but made Mile 100. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but there is lots to see, beyond the gorgeous scenery. So far, the road was repaved just last year. Combine pavement like butter, with no traffic and the pretty countryside and I could drive all day. Tomorrow though, I’ll share the wealth with Anne, she deserves her shot too.
Speaking about not wanting to miss your shot, Aaron Burr was tried for treason out here. Sorry Hamilton fans, but he was acquitted. We detoured off the Trace to see the Windsor Ruins. The 23 pictured columns are all that is left of what was once the largest antebellum mansion. Its owner-builder died the week after it was finished, all on the eve of the Civil War, kind of prophetic, don’t ya think?
The day after our ride finished was a pretty sludgy day. After a leisurely start, we finally left Lafayette and headed east across the Atchafalaya basin. The westbound I-10 causeway was closed for the day, due to a horrible truck wreck, but we were heading east and were not affected. We stopped at the Atchafalaya visitors center and got directions for a place to go birding in the swamp. Unfortunately, we were greeted by way too much fauna of the six leg variety and turned around and ran back to the car. The fact that no one else was about, should have been a clue. We continued east, getting lost in Baton Rouge, before heading north to Natchez. Snagged a late lunch on the way, checked-in at the hotel and then toured the town. Those six-legged demons were everywhere, making every venture out of the car a trial. Returning to the hotel, we got the 411 on these bugs. We were calling them flies, but the locals call them gnats. They recommended vanilla extract, mixed with water in a spray bottle. They said that Off would not work, which we had already figured out. We’ll try this tomorrow and hope that it works, because otherwise camping on the Natchez Trace will be impossible. In the hotel, someone spilled a trail of Doritos on the carpet, which Anne the wag has dubbed the Nachos Trace.
We made it! Almost mishap free too, but more on that later. Today was a much better day than yesterday. First off, we had the wind at our back, which always makes things easier. Second, the pavement was unexpectedly better than it has been. I don’t know why, but I’m not complaining. Anyway, these two reasons were more than enough to make it an enjoyable day’s ride.
The literal high point of the day was a visit to Jefferson Island. It was a home once, a long time ago, but is now a resort. It’s on Lake Peigneur, but is not really an island, at least when we saw it. It is built on a salt dome, giving it at least 20′ of elevation over the surrounding countryside, which in flood season would make it an island. Many of the newer homes that we saw today are two story affairs. The living quarters are on the second floor and the first floor is just concrete support structure. In 1980 a sinkhole drained Lake Peigneur, but it is quite pretty now.
Now about that mishap. It didn’t occur on the bike. We successfully biked Cycle Zydeco incident free. We had finished the ride. I had loaded the bikes onto the Prius and we were driving out of the parking lot, when I promptly drove the front of the car into a drainage ditch. I guess, I was still a little punch drunk from the ride. I couldn’t back it out. Anne couldn’t back it out either, even with me pushing. Fortunately, about twenty cyclists appeared then and with only a half a dozen pushing, it was easily extricated from the ditch. All for the low price of getting laughed out of Laugh-e-ette, as it is pronounced here.
It is the morning of day four of Cycle Zydeco. Yesterday was tough, headwinds all the way. The wind got to everyone. One cyclist got into an argument with a volunteer and the cops were called. The pavement was as rough as ever. Anne got a blister on her palm from all the chatter-bump. We’re in sugar cane country now. We stopped at a plantation and the great-great-great granddaughter of its 1840s builder came out to greet us. Saw the still living oak where the real life lover protagonists of Longfellow’s poem Evangeline were purported to have met. Camped in the city park of New Iberia, which was throwing its Spanish festival. It’s not all about the French. Danced a little. Today is the last day of the tour. Motel tonight in Lafayette. We should have a tailwind.