Once again, I did a bike tour and then took forever to post pictures and details (sorry Don!). I squeezed in an 8 day bike trip over my spring break this April and had to hit the ground running once school got back into session (IEP season, for anyone familiar with special education!).
The Natchez Trace is one of two National Parks in the US known as parkways, that runs 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to just south of Nashville, Tennessee. The two-lane parkway roughly follows the Old Natchez Trace, a north-south corridor packed with history, from prehistoric geology and animal migrations to Native American cultural sites to war of 1812 and Civil War battle history; Elvis and Oprah were also born in towns along the Trace. Many people opt to drive the length of the trace; compared to biking it that seems absolutely miserable to me. There are ample camping spots to hang a hammock, interesting historical and informational markers about every 5-10 miles, long stretches where you hardly see any cars, butterflies and wildflowers to keep you company, and an oxygen chamber of trees to keep you pedaling asthma free (which sadly can’t be said for my commute back home).
Want to ride the Natchez Trace? Follow these simple steps:
1. Ask your dad to do the ride with you, because your friends all have children or normal jobs, and your friendships will only survive up to 48 hours around each other with no shower, but family is forever.
2. Plan your route, or at least request/download maps from this website, and then have your dad plan the route because if he figures out the mileage per day, he can’t blame you when his legs hurt by dinnertime.
3. (optional) Laminate the long and pretty awesome park map that comes in your information packet, because you’ll be looking at it every 5 miles to remember which historical marker is next (there are so many).
4. Figure out if you’re going North to South or vice versa, then change your mind fifteen times as you sort through the logistics of getting to/from Natchez/Nashville. We finally settled on a one way rental car from Greenville to Natchez and having a very wonderful person drive from Greenville to Nashville to pick us up. This put us going from mile 0 to mile 444, with lots of scenic vistas and rolling hills the last few days. In shoulder seasons you have more RV migration traffic, but there’s no way I’d do this in the summer (in April, our highs were around 90 every day).
5. Make sure you have road bikes, panniers, camping supplies, and comfy saddles. We brought our eno hammocks because we had them already; I had an eno rain tarp which we used the one night of our trip that it rained very lightly (we really lucked out on weather); the first two nights it was cold enough to skip the bug net but after that the lows were around 50-55 and I needed mine (mosquitos love me). Other camping items on our packing list were a compression sack sleeping bags, inflatable sleeping pads for insulation, a couple changes of clothes (washed clothes most nights), bike repair items, bandanas, stove, fuel, mess kit, and a ton of food. All of this fit into 2 waterproof ortlieb panniers and 2 water resistant axiom panniers, as well as 2 trunk bags on rear racks of our bikes. Front panniers help distribute the weight better, but we didn’t bother with front racks so we made just the rear racks work. I never weighed our equipment but if I had to guess, we were probably around 45-50 lbs of baggage per bike.
6. Make sure you’re comfortable putting in a lot of miles per day, and practice setting up camp; we averaged around 55-60 miles per day with some shorter and some longer days (shortest was 36, longest was 74). It’s possible to go inn to inn, but you’ll have to go off the trace to find lodging. Camping is easy and accessible (we stayed at Rocky Springs the night before we dropped off the car and after the first day of riding from Natchez, Jackson (hotel), Kosciusko, Witch Dance, Tupelo (hotel), Colbert Ferry, and Meriwether Lewis. All the campsites had restrooms with running water, grill areas and picnic tables. Unlike when driving an RV or car, we didn’t have to worry too much about finding an official spot with a parking space – as long as it had a picnic table and was reasonably close to the facilities, we just wheeled our bikes over and set up camp. Several campsites we had all to ourselves anyway, since there are a number that don’t have RV facilities and are intended to be biker/hiker sites.
7. After you ride, keeping making your bike-it list, but also make a plan. Don’t say someday. Go forth and ride!