Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Insidious Natchez Trip Plan

As I mentioned yesterday, RandoGirl and I will begin biking our way down the Natchez Trace this coming Saturday. Our goals are:
  • Go all the way -- we're starting from just above the northern terminus of the Trace, and ending just below the southern terminus.
  • Be self-supported -- our friend, Jeff Bauer, is picking us up in Natchez to drive us home (thanks again, Jeff!), but we are otherwise on our own. We have to carry everything we will need with us.
  • Be comfortable -- while we own tents, sleeping bags, and so forth, we don't want to have to sleep in them, much less carry them. We will sleep in comfy beds in good hotels every night, and have at least one full meal every day.
  • Research -- we will be hosting a 1000K on the Trace in the fall, so our local Regional Brevet Administrator, Jeff Sammons, wants me to scope things out regarding stores and control locations.
  • No riding thru the night -- this ain't no brevet.
  • No riding more than 100 miles in a single day -- see above.
  • Have fun -- this means we stop when we want, either to admire the view or just take a break, see the cool things, and generally have more of what normal people consider a "vacation."
With these goals in mind, here is the plan I came up with.

Day One -- Ridgetop (66 miles)

We will start from the home of our friends Bill and Sametta Glass, just north of the top of the Natchez Trace. It's good to have friends in high places, and Bill and Sam live at the top of McCrory Lane, which most cyclists in Nashville know as one good, tough climb. They also have a big yard, so we can leave the RAAMinator there for Jeff to pick up during the week.

Our first stop will be the store in Fly, owned and operated by Mr. Wilson Fly. For those who read this blog regularly, Mr. Fly is back at the store and doing much better after his battle with cancer. It will be good to visit with him, and he still makes the best $1 sandwich in Tennessee.

After Fly, we actually we stay off the Trace for a few miles. I would feel guilty about this, but we have biked this stretch so many times that skipping it on this trip is entirely justified. Besides, the route we will take instead (down Leiper's Creek road thru Water Valley, up Snow Creek, and then over to Greenfield Bend) is just as pretty and takes us to our next stop at Keg Springs Winery.

Here we will take a break and drink a little of the local wine, then buy another bottle before heading back down Cathey's Creek Road and over to the little town of Hampshire. We will make a brief stop for Gatorade for the next day's travels, and then do the last few miles up to the Ridgetop Bed and Breakfast. RandoGirl and I have reserved the little log cabin there, and plan to sit in front of the fireplace, drink the rest of our wine, and perhaps have some cheese, crackers, and beef log.

I think that this properly sets the tone for the trip.

Day Two -- Florence, AL (81 miles)

After enjoying Kay Jones's excellent breakfast (killer french toast), we will head back to the Trace. Once there, amenities are again scarce (which is why we stopped in Hampshire for Gatorade the day before -- see how smart I am?) until we get to Collinwood, after about 42 miles. We will stop for lunch there, either at one of the small restaurants or just grabbing something quick from the convenience store.

Back on the Trace, we will continue down into Alabama, finally turning off onto Hwy 14 just before the Tennessee River and riding about 12 miles to Florence. This night, we will be at the The Limestone House, staying in the Edison Suite. RandoGirl and I stopped here on a spring break trip on our old tandem a couple of years ago, and found it a very pretty and nice town. There was a great Italian restaurant within walking distance of the Limestone House, and hopefully we can have dinner there.

Day Three -- Tupelo (93 miles)

Today starts a couple of long days as we head to a part of the Trace that is new to RandoGirl and me. Having driven this section of the Trace before on a RAAM training ride in 2008, and from looking over the maps, however, I know that this is a section on which our ability to be self-supported will be tested.

Our plan is to stop at one of the stores on our way back to the Trace, so that we have enough fuel to get to Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi, about 45 miles down the road. There is no store in the park, so we will probably go north on Hwy 25 for a mile towards the town of Tishomingo, where there is a convenience store. Hopefully, we will also be able to spend a little time in the park, as well.

From there, it gets pretty empty again until Saltillo, just north of Tupelo. I want to avoid the Tupelo traffic, as I have been told that both cars and trucks in Tupelo use the Trace as a major highway, disregarding the speed limit and ban on commercial traffic. Our hotel -- a Marriott Courtyard on North Gloster Street -- is just off one of the first Tupelo exits, so hopefully we can make it thru this last portion of the day unscathed. Once in, we will probably walk to a restaurant, and may try to do some laundry that night. Not as much fun as a plush B&B, but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Day Four -- French Camp (95 miles)

Another long day, made even longer by having to find a way out of Tupelo that doesn't involve the Trace. My plan is for us to continue south from our hotel down Gloster, which has a good shoulder and lots of traffic lights. Perversely enough, I figure that this will keep cars off of it, at least by the time we get on it (just after 9 am). After passing thru the suburb of Verona, we then take smaller roads to get back on the Trace near County Road 506.

After passing thru the Tombigbee National Forest, we will stop for lunch in Houston after 40 miles. This should set us up for the long ride down to our next overnight in French Camp ... although we could stop in Mathiston if we need to.

French Camp is a boarding school right on the Trace, with cabins (we have one of those reserved) and rooms at the lodge. They supposedly bake excellent bread there, you can get dinner at the cafe, and the breakfast is reportedly killer.

Day Five -- Jackson (90 miles)

Our first stop this day will be Kosciusco, where we will grab an early lunch. I also hope to ask a local how to pronounce the name of the town.

From there it is a long ride to the Pearl River State Wildlife Management Area and the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, just north of Jackson. Again, I have been told to avoid the Trace in Jackson, so we will be getting off near Ridgeland, onto Old Canton Road. From there, we work our way through a series of neighborhoods into downtown Jackson and the Fairview Inn. We may dine at Sophia's there, or see what is within walking distance. Either way, after three days of 90 miles, I plan to eat.

Day Six -- Port Gibson (61 miles)

We start to slow down a bit here, but I think we will be ready for that.

After working our way down a series of quieter roads back onto the Trace, we go about another 40 miles to Port Gibson, where we will be staying at Oak Square. There are a number of restaurants within walking distance -- everything from fast food to good seafood. It will also be nice just to stroll around town and look at some spanish moss.

Day Seven -- Natchez (44 miles)

Our shortest and simplest day, since all we have to do is get back on the Trace and head south a few miles. We might get off route a bit and stop at Natchez State Park, and we will probably stop at the visitor's center at the southern terminus. Then, we will head over the Mississippi River -- just so we can say that we crossed the entire state -- before coming back to downtown Natchez and our hotel, the Natchez Manor Bed and Breakfast.

Natchez is a very historic city, so I plan to walk down to the river, look around, and buy some souvenirs for the folks back home (no way I was going to buy them earlier and have to tote them a few hundred miles). We will go to Under the Hill, which was supposedly one wild part of town back in the day, and try to find the sand bar where Jim Bowie was shot ... twice!

Tomorrow: What We're Bringing.


  1. Sounds like a good trip. I own the Natchez Trace Bed and Breakfast Reservation Service. Most of the B&Bs that you are staying at are part of our network. You will certainly enjoy them all.

    As for markets along the Trace we have a list organized by milepost and how far they are east/west of the Trace. See:
    Hope that helps.

  2. Sounds like great fun! I am jealous - oh, wait a minute, I will be there, too.

    Thanks again, Jeff B!

  3. An excellent site! I believe that I would recommend in the future that anybody considering this trip visit your site first, and let you book the lodging.