Greetings from the Road:
I made it out of Nashville on Thanksgiving around noon for my cross country adventure. As I peddling up the entrance ramp to the Natchez Trace Parkway on the 1972 Raliegh Racing bike that was gifted to me by my old best friend, Robbie Pickens, who had been gifted it by another old friend David McDowell and, I thought, “this is not so hard!” But only a couple of hundred yards down the road the burn set into the legs and the heart pounded furiously and the lungs gasped for air and I thought, “what the hell was I thinking.” But it was too late to turn back, I had 65 pounds on my back loaded into Mike Shaw’s classic vintage external frame hiking pack that obscured my view to the rear, a problem that I will solve before venturing off the Trace. Middle Tennessee is beautiful country, I realized the rolling hills are part of my heritage, they are in my DNA, the Taylor family, as I have been told, is Middle Tennessee Antebellum Aristocrats, “blue bloods, my grandmother Taylor would say. But, middle TN is not the kind of terrain that one should start a long bike ride with no training, loaded with 65 pounds of gear and 25 pounds of Jamie Givens cooking around your waist accompanying you. As my legs burned and my heart pounded, the decision that I had made was really setting in, how was I going to make this long journey if I can’t get a half mile out of town. I kept telling myself that the first mile is the hardest, then the second came and it was harder, the third still harder; my panting was so loud it echoed off the hills.
It was mile three that the body succumb to the mind and began to ease a bit. I continued on knowing that there was no way I would make the mileage planned for the first day, from Nashville the Natchez Trace did not have a camp ground before Shady Grove at mile marker 407, I was only at mile marker 440 when I realized this was not going to happen. Of great concern was where I would stay if I would not make the camp ground, being a novice adventurer I had no clue as what to do, but I assumed something would turn up. Another 3 miles down the road a fellow biker, named Steven, rode up behind me and ask where I was going, I told him California, reviewing my gear he laughed and told me he had done many long bike trips down the Natchez Trace and that there were not many campgrounds. If I didn’t make my destination I could easily ditch off into the woods and set camp, he explained the rangers never checked further than the view from their cruiser, “but, do not let anyone see you go into the woods.” I took this nice bit of information kindly as he wished me luck and speed off on his fancy mew racing bike with matching helmet and racing “togs.”
To make things easier I peddled on the downhill and flats and walked uphill with the bike; I must have gotten on and off the bike fifty times the first day, also very difficult considering the weight. The next stop with water was Garrisons Creek at mile marker 427, impossible for me now to believe, I actually made there. It had taken me three hours and I was exhausted, I refreshed and set back out to attempt to make the campground at mm 407. The rest stop was at the bottom of a large hill, so I walked the bike up the hill halfway and realized I was spent, that was all that could be gotten out of this 51 year old overweight body for the day. I decided to take Steven’s advise and ditch off the road out of site and set up camp. I was still walking the hill thinking that I couldn’t walk anther foot when a ranger drove by in his cruiser and waved, I took this as the sign to ditch off the road. Although I was on the side of a hill, I had to stop then and there. I crossed the road and walked the bike up the side of the hill and found a nice spot out of view, hide my bike under the leaves, pulled out my sleeping bag and got in. I slept fitlessly that night in the open air, but with great joy looking at the clear sky full with stars. I would smile and laugh aloud thinking of the long adventure I had chosen to undertake.
The next morning I was up early and went back down the hill to the Garrison Creek rest stop where I freshened up, eat a bit and prepared for the day. On a picnic table sat a pair of Shimano biking shoes that had been left behind. I thought of taking them and looked at the size, they were 10s, almost my size. I tried them on and the fit was good, but I decided someone may come back for them. As I was leaving a couple pulled in to use the restroom, I said hello and went on my way back up the same hill as the previous day. As I was walking the bike they pulled up beside and said, ‘you left your shoes.” I thought at this point they were not going to put them back and considering their obvious lack of exercise they would not use them and said, “oh, thank you.” I did not realize how a pair of proper biking shoes increases efficiency, nice gift from the universe.
After strapping the bike shoes and continuing up the hill a ranger pulled up behind me, he said, “you haven’t gotten too far;” it was the same ranger I had waved at the day before when I ditched off the road. I told him I was going to California and had just started, he said, “a bit old for that aren’t you.” TJ was his name and he offered to take me up the road and I took him up on it, he took me to the campground mm 407 where I had intended to stay the night before but was unable to get there. He dropped me off and told me if I wanted to continue he would have his partner watch for me as I headed south. The campground was dull and it was only 10am, so I decided to go for the next campground at Meriweather Lewis Park National Park, mm 386. I had made it 15 miles the day before and felt that I could make it the 21 miles to the campground.
Again, it was difficult an the burning in my legs was intense, but I told myself that it was not speed but endurance. I meet a trucker out for a jog and walk a long incline with him, we talked about the economy. He peeled off at the rest stop at the bottom of the hill and I took a short break for water. It was only four miles down the road and I was already exhausted with 17 to go. I soldiered on until my legs gave out at the Hohenwald exit at mm 391, I only had 4 miles to go but I could not make another step. I took off my bag on the side of the road and waved down the first car that came by. A kind gentleman named Peter agreed to take me past his exit to Meriweather Lewis Campground. I set up camp for the first time. There were four deer hunters from East Tennessee just down the road that offered some fire wood. I enjoyed the evening resting and sitting by a nice fire. I decided to stay the next day as it was going to rain and I thought I needed the rest. That night the hunters, Cal, Randy, Jackson and DJ, invited me for a venison dinner. It was one of the best meals I have eaten in years.
I took of the next day, today, on my bike feeling great but a bit confused. It was cold and I was thinking more about the weather then where I was going. I accidental left out the wrong exit on highway 20, as I biked I knew it looked odd for the Natchez Trace, but it was not for four miles that I asked an older gentleman putting up his large Christmas lawn decorations where I was. He explained that I was on the 20 and would have to go 4 miles back to get back to the Trace. He ask where was going and where I was from and told me that he had a brother in Nashville at Baptist Hospital with throat cancer. He told me he would take me back but his truck wouldn’t start, the “carburetor was acting up.” I wished him and his brother well and went back the four miles to the Trace. I felt good today, the legs were not burning as much, the shoes gave me more speed and power and the hills had leveled out a bit. My time was improving and I was confident that I would add another 20 or 25 miles to the 8 that I had side tracked.
At my first rest stop at Jacks Branch, mm 376, I ran into Butch, the maintenance guy that had given me some paper to start my fire two nights before. We chatted, but he was going the opposite way and could not take my down the road. That was fine as I felt good, but the issue was the weather was changing, it was getting colder and was going to snow. There was not another camp ground until Colbert Ferry at mm 327 and there was no way I would make that today. But I biked on figuring I would ditch off the road for a cold night in the woods. The next water stop was at Glenrock Branch at mm 366, only 10 miles, I figured I could get my barrings there and make a decision what I would do. About three miles from Glenrock I was tiring, but would have made it easily when a small pickup top ahead and waved my forward. They ask where I was going and did I need a ride, of course, I said, in deep breaths, “as far as you can take me.” Mike and Linda took said they would take me to the Collinwood visitor center where I could get coffee, rest and get my barrings. As we drove we had a wonderful conversation, they moved to Holly Creek, TN from the Bay Area in California in 2005. As we pulled into Collinwood, there kind demeanor and friendly conversation urged me to ask if I could camp on their property for the evening. The not only said yes, they have offered a shower, wonderful meal and a comfortable nights rest indoors. We have had a long evening of conversation and I have found my new favorite dog breed. There hobby and joy is breeding Miniature Australian Terrier. I have found that these are a most wonderful breed of dogs, beautiful, smart and well tempered. Linda and Mike are studied and conscientiously breeders that treat there dogs with great love and affection. Linda is the Secretary of MASCA, Miniature Australian Sheppard Club of America. I encourage anyone looking for a new pet to consider this breed and one of their dogs, below is a link to their site. Currently they have three puppies looking for homes. (see picture attached).
They have offered to take me down the road tomorrow to Colbert Ferry, mm 327, where I will bike down to Tishomingo State Park at mm 305. This is the first campground in Mississippi and from there I will go to Tupelo, MS the following day.
Thanks for your emails and I will try to keep you updated as my trip progresses. (excuse the poorly edited writing, but not time). Much Love,