Friday, October 30, 2009

Hitting Bottom

If Port Gibson ever gets something going, Oak Square Plantation will be an extraordinary place to stay. As it is, it's really a great place.

On top of being beautiful and very comfortable, they had wifi (which enabled me to post last night's entry). They also did a great breakfast this morning for RandoGirl and me.

The owner ate with us, telling us about some great places to see in town. We intended to stop by them, but as we rolled out of the driveway the clouds were looking foreboding and the breeze was getting blustery, so we instead hit the road.

The rain held off until we got onto the Trace itself, but then came in with a vengeance. The wind was pushing us back towards Nashville, and within a couple of miles were were soaked and chilled to the bone.

Fortunately, we only had just over 40 miles to ride by then, so we worked our way thru the first half of the trip and stopped at a rest area for a short break. RandoGirl went inside the bathroom to squeeze the water out of her socks, and I watched the rain while eating a quick candy bar.

By the time she came out, we were both freezing again. We had no sooner mounted up and started down the road, however, when we realized the front tire was flat. We turned quickly around and went back to the rest area, wheeling the bike into the men's bathroom. There, dry and relatively warm, we quickly changed the tire and got back on the road.

At first, it was hard to get moving, but when we decided it was either bike hard or freeze, the miles started clicking by. Within 30 minutes we were passing mile marker 10.

Although the rain never eased up, our mood lightened as the single-digit mile markers passed. We kept noticing just how much the Trace at the bottom looked just like the Trace at the top, although the hills were generally milder. The signs were similar, the bridges and overpasses almost identical, and the rest areas were virtually interchangeable.

When we passed by the southern terminus sign, it looked just like the one at the northern terminus. We quickly pulled over in the rain to film one final movie.

You know you're cold when you can't talk.

Traffic was light but somewhat ill-tempered as we headed into town. A few cars passed us in less-than-perfect spots, as if they were the ones getting soaked by the rain and were in a hurry to get somewhere. Also, I had originally programmed our route to let us stop at Under The Hill, so we actually went almost right past our hotel once before we wound up at the river. From there, we stopped, looked at a map, and figured out how to get to the hotel. It took a lot of turns, and a couple of blocks walking the bike down the sidewalk, but we finally got there.

As we were checking in, a lady came in to ask us about our bike. Her name was Amarins Harrison, and she was actually touring on a quintuple Co-Motion (that's a bike built for five) with her husband and three kids. They had started in Kentucky, ridden to Charleston, SC, then gone down to Pensacola, FL, and had arrived at Natchez the day before. From there, they planned to head west, and then eventually north to Alaska. She was impressed by our 90-mile-plus days, but we were much more impressed with what she and her family was doing. The wealth of memories that this kind of trip would give to a family makes me incredibly envious.

After we checked in and got the bike put away, RandoGirl and I shivered our way to our room.

RandoGirl had to be careful taking these pictures, as our stuff was soon strewn all about.

A couple of long, hot showers later, finally wrapped in warm dry clothes, we soon headed down the street for coffee and hot soup. Thus reinforced, when we noticed that the rain outside has eased, we started walking towards the river.

Unfortunately, the rain was far from over, and we had to dodge the drops as we passed various barbecue joints heading back towards our hotel.

Smart pig -- he wasn't out there walking around in the rain wearing biking sandals.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Southern Charm

Genteel southern folk have a wonderful way of gossiping. They never really say anything bad about somebody, and if they do say something that might just come out bad, they'll tack on a "Bless his/her heart" at the end of it.

For example: "She means well, and I don't think that she really meant to murder and eat her own children, but those diet pills just set her off something fierce. Bless her heart."

I think that this is a natural outgrowth of the way we were raised. My momma always told me that if I can't say something nice about someone, to say nothing at all. But there are some people and things that you just really can't find a whole heck of a lot nice to say, and when you gotta say something ... like when you're writing a blog about a trip ... you really have to work hard to avoid damning some place with faint praise.

Bless its heart.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

RandoGirl and I absolutely loved the Fairview Inn. Yes, it was a pain to get there in downtown Jackson rush hour traffic, but it was so worth it. She didn't mention this yesterday, but they went ahead and upgraded our room, at no additional charge. It's possible that they learned that I was really RandoBoy -- named one of the top 100 ultra-distance bicycling blogs in Middle Tennessee (by me). This is the price of celebrity.

We slept great, although I did awaken a couple of times to hear the heavy rain and thunder. When morning came, it looked wet outside, but did not seem to be actively raining. Nonetheless, we enjoyed an excellent breakfast, talking with a fellow in town for business. He works for a short-line railroad, and I have always found railroads fascinating (even if I don't have any business around them).

We finally left about 10:30 am under ominous skies, taking a circuitous route out of town. Eventually, we were on Hwy 18. The speed limit was 65 on this four-lane road, but the shoulder was pretty good. We actually didn't even need the shoulder for most of this stretch, however, as the traffic was light enough (and people were kind enough) to go over and give us the right lane.

As we neared the Trace, the sun started peeping thru. The wind had been pushing us west out of town, and it also broke up the clouds. By the time we stopped for lunch at a Sonic's in Raymond, MS, we decided to also put on sunscreen.

After lunch, we went thru downtown Raymond, then continued west another two miles to hit the Trace. At this point the wind turned weird. At times, it would get behind us and we would be cruising uphill at 20+ mph. Then we would come out of the trees and it would clock around 180 degrees to smack us in the face, leaving us to strain to stay above 15 mph on level ground.

We also noticed two other things that we had never seen on the Trace before here. One was that the mile markers were now only double-digits -- the first one we saw was for MM 78. Another thing we started seeing was one of the true harbingers of the deep south: Spanish moss.

Nothing says humidity like spanish moss. It's also great for telling which way the wind is blowing.

Around mile marker 55 we took a break at Rocky Springs State Park. This is when we decided that it was actually not going to rain on us today, and RandoGirl could take off her jacket. We left the covers on the panniers, however, just in case.

A little bit south we passed another milestone:

Yes, that's mile marker 50. When you realize that you only have 50 miles left in a trip, it makes you a little sad and a little antsy. Part of you really wants to go ahead and finish up those last 50 miles -- I mean, c'mon ... it's just 50 miles! But part of you wants to relish the last part of your vacation, slow down, and smell the spanish moss.

By the way, don't smell the spanish moss. It doesn't really have a smell, and it's full of redbugs.

Instead, we slowed down a bit and took pictures of hay rolled up in the fields.

This is not something that is rare on the Trace. You can see fields just like this in Nashville, Collinwood, Florence, Tupelo ... you name it. You also see fields like this, because this is the land of cotton (where old times they are not forgotten):

Next thing we knew, we were getting off the Trace for Port Gibson. We were staying at the Oak Square Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

Twin beds mean that RandoGirl can get her Zzz's when I sleep-spin. This is an unpleasant habit I have on multi-day rides of pedaling a bicycle in my sleep.

Unfortunately, our room was not quite ready for us when we got in. Since we were hungry and thirsty again, we went into downtown to get an early dinner. This proved tricky, since everyone kept telling us there was no restaurant in town. Fortunately, RandoGirl saw this visitor kiosk:

This is where my southern gentility kicks in.

The kiosk pointed us towards the pizza place in town. The pizza was hot, and we could afford it. They had chairs to sit in, and tables. By not wasting money on decor, comfortable chairs, and good tables, they would be able to focus on their core business model, and will hopefully eventually be able to learn how to make good pizza.

After, we went to the real hot spot in town -- Piggly Wiggly. I got a few Diet Cokes, a pint of ice cream, some chips, and some candy bars for tomorrow. As Piggly Wiggly's go, it was one. By not wasting shelf space with lots of strange groceries that people might not want, they were able to focus on core staples ... like Diet Cokes, ice cream, chips, and candy bars. And the cashier did a great job passing my items over the bar code reader, taking my money, and giving me change.

Bless Port Gibson's heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Confessions of a Garmin (Edge) Addict

RandoBoy has graciously permitted me (RandoGirl) to write today's blog entry. After all, it is time I carried my load. RandoBoy (RB for short to keep me from typing it over and over) developed the itinerary, made our reservations, got the bike ready, etc. My contribution thus far has been showing up, pedaling hard, staying as still as possible (so as not to rock the monster bike RB is steering) and navigating using the Garmin Edge GPS computer -- and that is where the trouble began ...

After breakfast at the French Camp B & B (which was not as filling as it could have been because the motorcycle group/gang got there first and ate all of the good stuff), we hit the trail. Our goal was to be out early in order to complete our 93 mile or so trip to Jackson before rush hour there began. We almost made it ...

While it was not raining today, it was foggy. The kind of fog that makes you wonder if speeding cars will see your bike in time. We had our headlight and tail light on and, thankfully, the few vehicles we saw in the morning gave us a wide birth.

The fog cleared shortly before we reached the exit for Kosciusco. They have a nice welcome center that we promptly bypassed. We took a back road into the main square, looking for some hot coffee and a snack. I have learned over the years that many of these town squares will have only a few shops open as they struggle to revitalize. The fast food joints and other places to eat are mostly on the bypass roads or major roads that bikes do not enjoy. This was the case in Kosciusco. We had pulled up in front of the one restaurant in the square and discovered it did not open for an hour. We were looking around dejectedly when the owner of the restaurant came out and said he could tell we needed a cup of coffee and invited us in. He and his staff were great.

We drank our coffee (which they wouldn't let us pay for), then stopped by the pharmacy for tape for RB's broken sunglasses. They gave us tape, but also wouldn't let us pay. What more can you ask for? We finished up in Kosciusco by finding the main four-lane, stocking up on beverages and getting Subway sandwiches for lunch later down the road.

Once we left Kosciusco, I discovered my affliction. Yesterday, my focus on the Garmin Edge and its data was helpful as we worked to "getterdun". Today, it was pathological. I was fixated on the mileage ticking away, the speed we were making, the gradient (today it was up 1 or 2 percent, flat or down 1 or 2 percent -- we only had a couple of 5-8 percent hills) and the time of day. I soon realized that I was missing some beautiful sights -- trees, fields, wet swampy areas like the one below, etc.

As we neared Jackson, I saw ant hills around every 40 feet or so on the side of the road, a dead armadillo and many spider webs (complete with large creepy spiders). Then above Jackson, we saw:

The lake above Jackson was beautiful. We stopped on the side of the road, spread out our towel/blanket, ate our snacks and just enjoyed the view. RB rested his arms and hands that were a bit painful/numb from steering the monster bike (the bike is not a monster because of how it performs, just how heavy it is with all of our stuff).

Back on the road, we soon left the Trace for the 9.3 miles to the Fairview Inn. It was some of the scariest miles I have ridden. We were in rush hour traffic on a four-lane highway most of the way. At one point, we went through a series of traffic lights that had steep hills leading up to them -- try that on a fully-laden tandem! I must say, however, that the cars behaved very well. At one point, I suggested to RB that we might have been better served just going to the Red Roof or Comfort Inn that were closer to the Trace. However, when I saw our room, I conceded I was wrong:

Yes, that's a bidet next to the toilet:

The bath was great (especially with the Epson salts we bought on the way to the hotel). RB and I had a lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant and soon retired for the night. I would give you our stats for the day, but I am working hard to stay a "cured" Edge addict. (Suffice it to say, we have completed over 450 miles at 15.5 mph or so.)

Tomorrow is a shorter day (60 something miles), but with forecasts of thunderstorms. Stay tuned.


Well, as I mentioned in the short morning entry, the weather sucked today. That officially made today "Gitterdoneday" -- where you wrap everything in plastic, tuck in, and keep the pedals turning over just as fast as you can. We rode 93.8 miles averaging 16.2 mph, into an often stiff headwind.

We got 'er done, though.

After a decent breakfast at the Marriott Courtyard, we left just before 9 am, allowing us to retrace the prior day's route to the Trace, though some rather quiet Tupelo neighborhoods. By getting on the parkway after 9 am, most of the rush hour was over and the traffic was just tolerable.

Of course, it was raining ... a fine drizzle that had us soaked within a couple of miles. We had turned on all of our lights and were wearing bright yellow jackets with reflective piping. You'd would have to be out of your mind on heroin not to have seen us.

We stopped at mile marker 241 -- about 20 miles south of Tupelo -- to leave something to commemorate Ester Hageman, the Dutch journalist who was hit by a driver (allegedly out of his mind on heroin) and killed earlier this month.

Pretty forlorn, huh? Our offering of Honey Stingers was the only thing there, and I frankly feel that the Tupelo Cycling Club should be ashamed of this. Even if Ester was not a member of their club, she was a two-wheeled cyclist, and this is something that happened on their turf, and on their watch. If they want to make the Trace safe around there, the Tupelo Cycling Club probably needs to show a little more activism regarding things like this.

By the way, I'm going to post a link to this on their Google group list, as soon as the moderator approves me. RandoBoy doesn't talk about people behind their back ... unless they're bigger than he is.

Soon afterwards, we entered the Tombigbee National Forest again, and rode for 20 miles with no towns. Finally, 40 miles into the day, we turned off on Hwy 8 and went into Houston for lunch. The sign coming off of the Trace said it was four miles, but we measured it closer to three by the time we got to downtown. We did not at first notice the McDonald's north of downtown, and so ended up at Saxon's.

The food was pretty good -- definitely better than McDonald's would have been -- but it would have been nice to sit indoors, where it was probably warm and dry. By the time our sandwiches came, we were shivering -- so we scarfed it all down and quickly mounted up to start pedaling hard and get warm.

The trucks on Hwy 8 quickly had us missing the quiet of the Trace, and once on it we knew that we were not leaving until we hit French Camp. We only made short stops to stretch our legs, use the green door, and to film narratives.

The rain started up again a few miles after that -- a driving deluge that soaked what parts of us had become only mildly damp again, and made us work for every forward mile. We counted down the last miles of the "200s" up to the following rainy marker.

Then it was hammer thru the wet, until we finally reached our cabin at French Camp.

Inside, the place is obviously made for sleeping.

There were even two more beds upstairs.

RandoGirl could not wait to get out of her wet clothing and hang things up to dry.

We quickly showered and put on dry clothing, and then headed over to the Cafe for dinner. By then, look at what the weather had done.

RandoGirl and I couldn't decide if it was ironic or not -- in spite of what Alanis Morisette might say. But we laughed about it anyway, and knew that ultimately it did not matter. We had faced the elements and "got 'er done."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not Raining ... Now

You ever get those nights when you wake up repeatedly and look out the window to see if the ground is wet? Welcome to sleeping before a long ride that you have no choice but to take ... regardless of the weather.

Finally you give up and go get some coffee and write a blog entry. Then, in the lobby of the hotel, the fellow behind the desk tells you to be careful out there, and you get to talking about how fast and crazy people drive on the Trace here. He tells you there's a story in the day's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, over on the table, and you go read "Man, 58, indicted in death of cyclist."

The guy who allegedly ran over Dutch journalist Ester Hageman, Wendell G. Blount of Calhoun City, was reportedly driving under the influence of morphine. He's in jail on federal charges, as the Natchez Trace is federal property.

We will be riding past mile marker 241 today. I plan to leave an empty Gu pack as a memorial.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sweet as Tupelo, Honey

I like bed and breakfasts. Hotels have beds, and most of them even offer a "breakfast" -- if that's what you want to call a selection of mass-produced muffins and bagels, cold cereal, instant oatmeal, and maybe a waffle machine. If I wanted waffles, I would let Donkey come live with me.

And the beds at bed and breakfasts are usually not all that more comfortable or plush than beds at hotels -- the rooms are just prettier, and the comforters are downier, and the pillows ... ah, the pillows.

But the breakfasts! Ah, yes. The breakfasts are usually so good that they ruin the bed, because you spend the night constantly waking up, rolling over, looking at the clock, and muttering under your breath, "Hurry, Mr. Sun ... Rise and bring forth a magic day filled with that glorious breakfast." And then RandoGirl hits me with a pillow, again, and tells me to stop waking her up.

But even RandoGirl was glad to break yon evening fast this morning at The Limestone House.

Best pancakes ever!

Nontheless, regardless, and irregardless, we had to be on our way early to bike 93 miles to Tupelo, so we rolled out before 8:30 into the morning chill. Leaving the rolling hills in Florence and getting back on Hwy 14, we made a quick stop about seven miles from the Trace at a Peddler's One-Stop.

You can't read the yellow sign there, but it says that the store is closing this week, and that everything must go. They still had Gatorade and a few candy bars to sell us, but the shelves inside were getting bare, and the lady at the register (who said she's been there for 36 years) looked really sad as she tended to the final customers. It was clear many of them were stopping by to check in one last time and say goodbye. Another bit of Americana fading away.

A few miles after we got back on the Trace, we crossed the Tennessee River.

A barge was working its way down from Muscle Shoals and the road was fairly empty here. The day was starting to warm up to a decently comfortable level, and life was good.

It is axiomatic that any time you cross a creek or river, you must climb. The climb out of the Tennessee River watershed was very long -- probably about five miles -- but extremely subtle, with grades mostly between two and five degrees. We only had to get off the big ring a couple of times, and that was mostly due to the fatigue from the previous few days of riding.

Not long after, we hit the next state line of the trip.

For lunch, we stopped in Tombigbee. Since there are no stores or restaurants in the state park, we went to Patty's Place. Out front, there was a fellow driving a tractor, talking on a cell phone.

To be honest, the engine was off. I don't think International Harvester has bluetooth.

At Patty's, Patty herself sold us a couple of hamburgers, some cokes, and chips. She told us that she and her husband had just bought the place, although they had been going to the state park for years. Her plan is to soon put a deck on the back, serve more food, and have her husband play the guitar back there. She was also taking a poll as to whether she should extend the store's hours to 9 pm. We voted yes.

Back on the road just after noon, we crossed over the Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway.

It's kind of hard to see, but just past that bridge is a huuuuge lock. This waterway connects the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee River, so that barges and boats can get from Florence to Mobile, AL, without having to go all the way to the Mississippi River. It is really cool.

The burial mound at the state line was pretty cool, but the Pharr Mounds were awesome. While we were stopped here, a fellow drove in and started to put together a rubber-band powered airplane -- not just some little balsa wood deal, but a big kevlar plane with a four-foot wingspan. I would have loved to stick around and see him fly it, but we did not want to mess with Tupelo traffic.

After five hours of fast riding, we were getting tired, and had to stop one last time about 10 miles from our hotel. RandoGirl prostrated herself facing west towards the Old Trace, but just to stretch out her back and tightening hamstrings.

Traffic began picking up about here, and we knew we were getting close to Tupelo. Finally, we started seeing exits, and then the Garmin told us to turn right. So we did.

I had plotted a circuitous route to our hotel trying to avoid traffic, and the series of roads worked like a charm. After a tricky left turn across North Gloster Road into the parking lot of the Marriott Courtyard, we were done.

In Florence, we had begun hearing scary talk about nasty weather for Tuesday. As soon as we were checked in, I took a shower and drew a bath for RandoGirl. But, just like a randonneur, she was already preoccupied with the next day's ride.

It does not look promising.

We were also very excited, as we were pulling in to the Marriott, to notice that there was an Outback Steakhouse right there! Sure, it's boring and ubiquitous, but sometimes you want the comfort and simplicity of the tried and mostly true.

And sometimes you just want a good margarita.

Firenze ... Alabama?

When we planned this trip in August, we knew that there was a chance that it could be cold during the last week of October. We just didn't think it would be 34 degrees.

But you take what you get when it comes to weather, and it's almost never what you think you want. And of course sometimes what you think you want is not what it turns out that you really want, and almost never is it what you really need. This is never more so than when it comes to pizza, nor is the basic premise with which I opened this paragraph: You take what you get. And with pizza, as with biking, you nontheless voraciously consume it until you lay back, replete, in pain, regretting that last slice/20 miles.

Sweet (burp) pain.

We had an early breakfast Sunday morning at the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast. Bill and Kay Jones had a full house, with another couple down from Nashville for the weekend and a family of four up from Alabama. They had plenty of food, though, and of course RandoGirl and I stoked up for the long day ahead.

We were on the road before 9 am, freezing as we headed down Ridgetop Road to Hwy 412. From there, we went to probably the toughest climb of the day -- the ramp up to the Trace. The sun was just hitting the dewey grass, as in the picture below, setting steam rolling over the road.

I had expected the fall leaves to be less colorful as we headed south, but they were still incredible today. As the day went on, a few more evergreens began to pop in with the oaks and maples, lending a verdant contrast to the yellows, oranges, and reds.

We reached Collinwood just before noon, very ready for lunch. The last time I had been here was on a RAAM training ride in spring of 2008, and there had been a couple of restaurants next to the Wayne County Visitor's Center that were getting ready to open. I was really looking forward to trying one of these, and was deeply saddened when RandoGirl and I passed by the now dark stores -- closed, dusty, with some scattered furniture inside. Victims of a tough economy, or just bad business ideas in a town that seems willing to only support a couple of places to eat.

Basically, Collinwood has two dining options for the cyclist touring the Trace. There's a convenience store that offers fairly fast junk food -- burgers and fried chicken -- as well as Gatorade and Cokes and candy bars. This place is very popular with motorcyclists on the Trace, who can fill the tanks on their bikes while they fill their bellies. The other choice is a "meat and three" called Chad's, which is where most of the locals seem to eat.

We've done both before, and since there was nothing more interesting we chose Chad's this time. If nothing else, it's fun to see something that used to be common in this world -- a pay phone. Of course, it didn't work.

On Sunday's, the buffet is the only choice. The meat was sliced pork or chicken fingers, and the vegetables were the usual suspects -- green beans, corn, hominy, and peas -- cooked southern style. They also had fried okra, a small salad bar, and white cake with chocolate icing. We ate quickly, surrounded by the post-church crowd decked out in suits and ties and dresses, all of them giving us disapproving looks, as if spandex was clothing "of the devil."

Back on the Trace, we were soon to the Tennessee/Alabama state line, where I filmed a little video. You may have to turn up your speakers to hear what I'm saying.

About 15 miles south, we turned onto Hwy 14 for Florence. Since we were no longer on the Trace, we began to be hounded by dogs again, although these all seemed to be mostly phoning it in (probably not using the pay phone at Chad's, of course). Their barks were less "Grrr" and more "Meh," and we just laconically told them to go home as we rode past.

Soon we were navigating downtown Florence, trying to find The Limestone House. We stayed here before about two and one-half years ago, but still got lost. Finally, we passed it and RandoGirl and I both simultaneously called out, "There it is." Weird that we could think that we would miss it, since the front is (aptly enough) white limestone.

Carolyn Waterman, who owns this B&B with her husband Dan, came out to greet us, and we soon had the bags off the bike and up in our room. She even let us keep the Co-Motion in the sun room, all cozy and tucked i for the night. I think I even saw a mint on her handlebars.

We, on the other hand, had the Edison Suite, which Carolyn told us her kids used to call the tree house. It overlooks the huge backyard, with lots of windows and a great bed.

Here's the sitting room.

Afterwards, we had a great dinner at Ricoletti's downtown. RandoGirl had the chicken marsala, and I had a huge dish of pasta. It was too much to eat, and I now feel bloated .. although the five diet cokes probably contributed ... but it was what I thought that I wanted. You takes what you gets, but you darn sure takes what you ordered, and if you don't pay for it you have to wash dishes. I ordered a long bike trip, so now I have to go massage RandoGirl's back.

There are worse ways to pay for your dinner.

Trace Trek -- The Wrath of Dog

You spend the whole week planning, packing, and preparing ... and you still end up busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest the morning that you leave for vacation. Which makes you wonder a number of things: Why did I bother? How could I have done this better? How do you win a butt-kicking contest, anyhow?

Regardless, RandoGirl and I finally got to Bill and Sametta Glass's house about 9 am Saturday, having tweaked some things on the panniers and racks on the bike, loaded everything up, and dropped the RandoDog off at the kennel. The weather was a little drizzly, so we sat with our friends and have muffins and coffee for a while. By the time we finally unloaded the bike and got everything ready to go, it was 10 am, no longer raining, but still chilly.

Bill rode with us down to Leiper's Fork on a Surly that he has built up for touring. It was a little breezy, with a wind that was mostly in our teeth, and traffic was a little heavy as we headed south. But the further we got from Nashville, the fewer cars there were.

We figured out that the people in the cars were probably enjoying the fall colors, which explained why a few of them passed us rather closely -- distracted drivers trying to get a cell signal so they could text to their boyfriends pictures of the trees that they weren't seeing. Meanwhile, RandoGirl and I were enjoying nature in all its glory: The colors, the smells, the cold, the wind ... the good, the bad, and the ugly (well, there wasn't much ugly).

After Bill left, we headed down to leave the Trace at Fly, going to the store there.

As I've mentioned, Mr. Fly is back at the store. He has about another 10 days of radiation therapy, and they had to remove his stomach, but otherwise it seemed like business as usual there. All of the middle-Tennessee regulars were sitting around the pot-bellied stove in the back of the store, and Mr. Fly was having a good old time in the front. RandoGirl and I were still full of muffins from our late morning with Bill and Sametta, so we didn't get sandwiches.

Continuing down Leiper's Creek, thru Water Valley, and then on Snow Creek over to Greenfield Bend, our route picked up a few more hills. We've been having trouble with the shifting on the Co-Motion, and found that the chain would jump on the middle ring. Once or twice, that kept us in a bigger ring than we liked. At one point, just before She-Boss Road, four dogs came out to chase us near the top of a long, ill-geared climb. Maybe that was the ugly.

We stopped where Greenfield Bend crosses the Duck River to eat some crackers and peel off some clothing, since the sun had come out and the climbing was warming us up. The river was about as high as I've ever seen it, but looking beautiful.

We cut over from there to Cathey's Creek, which is a lovely, gently rolling road that goes thru fields of wheat and corn. This road also takes you to Keg Springs Road, which takes you in turn to Keg Springs Winery.

We had been here before with friends on a previous trip, so we knew a few things going in. One is that you do not want to try to pedal a fully loaded tandem all the way up their driveway. Another is that the blackberry wine sounds fruity and tastes fruity to begin with, but really grows on you.

There was a party going on on the deck there, with live music and people looking very comfortable sitting next to cozy heaters, but we were worried about cooling down. Thus, we tasted a couple of wines, bought a bottle of our old favorite -- yes, the blackberry wine -- and were on our way.

Here's a picture of me showing off my legs. It wasn't really warm enough to be out like this, but I didn't want to hunt through the panniers for the knee warmers.

Fortified with wine, we returned to Cathey's Creek Road and started climbing. We had figured out how to get the front derailleur to let us into the small chainring, and that was good. Once on top, we rode along rolly Ridgetop Road and down the long driveway to the little cabin at the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast.

It looks even more cozy inside.

Home is where we hang your helmet ... or lay it, in this case.