After a few days in the exciting and frantic streets of New York City, we are now back in the country, reflecting and planing our route (the final leg of this season’s traveling). It has been a whirlwind last few weeks as we’ve passed through big city to big city.
We immersed ourselves in the bike culture and varied bike shops in Philadelphia and were amazed to find the diversity of cyclists in the city.
The day we left Philadelphia, the NE was experiencing record rain. Rivers were overflowing their banks. We hit a stretch of road that was underwater and had to reroute.
Fortunately, the canal tow paths that we were riding into Lambertville, NJ didn’t overflow and were passable. However, the Delaware was running unusually high and fast.
We had a close encounter with a falling tree! It still strikes us as ironic that after 9000+ miles of road riding, it was a tree on a gravel road that almost hit us.
We stay with Laura’s cousin and spend a few days eating and relaxing in New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ – two cute sister towns separated by the Delaware river.
Cuteness abounds in New Hope!
On our way to New Brunswick, we stop by the Princeton campus and thoroughly confound students and locals with our vagabond looks. Un-ironic sweater over the shoulder wearing was prevalent, as were popped collars. We are in strange country, friends.
We met up with the folks at CycLab, Princeton’s very own bicycle co-op. They took us on a mini-adventure around campus and ate at one of the hallowed eating clubs on campus.
Just outside New Brunswick, we stumble upon a cemetery and find the grave of Laura’s great-grandparents.
In New Brunswick, we stayed with Zack, a reader, fellow bicycle tourist and researcher who has been studying the effects of hurricanes in Mexico. We go to a place called Stuff Yer Face, a great local eatery that specializes in strombolis and good beer.
From New Brunswick, we take a train into “The City” and find ourselves in the madness that is Manhattan. We experience something like shell shock as we try to navigate through the traffic.
We ride over the varied stretches of new bicycle infrastructure in New York, including the Williamsburg bridge.
We spent our first night in New York in Queens, someplace we’ve never been. Our hosts take us to one of their favorite eateries in they neighborhood that serves Bosnian food. The food is dense, grilled sausages and potatoes and a spinach pie – it all seems perfect for the crisp evening.
Reluctant to leave New York so quickly after traveling all this way, we change plans again. We spent an afternoon exploring Brooklyn and the surrounding environs.
Through the magic of the internet, we get help from BrooklynByBike and @noneck, and put together an impromptu presentation in Williamsburg. Despite the short timing, we get a great enthusiastic crowd that asks some probing questions.
After our presentation, we get a visit from some critical mass riders! We move the venue to the street and talk to some riders and answer questions about bike touring. Somewhere in there, we are handed a “Times Up” sticker and our bikey evening in New York is complete.
We say goodbye to our hosts in Brooklyn. We know Becky through her parents who we stayed with in Durham, NC. It’s a small world and the internet is making it smaller.
On our way out of NY, we decided to cross the Brookyln Bridge, along with thousands of other tourists. It is slow going, but the views coming into Manhattan were great. There are people from all over the world walking on the bridge and it reminds us how unique this place is.
We decided to stop by one last bike shop before we leave the city. It is a very stylish bike shop in Tribeca called Adeline Adeline that specializes in Dutch bicycles and accessories.
We hopped a train at the iconic Grand Central Station to get out of the city and into the country.
We’re in the Hudson River valley now in the small town of Garrison, NY. It is beautiful here. The colors are changing and there is a definite chill in the air. From here, we are riding east to New Haven, CT then north to Boston. Winter is coming and once it arrives, it will be the temporary end of our traveling for this portion of our journey. If you are along our route and want to meet up, send us an email!
A couple weeks ago, we hopped on a train out of Durham, North Carolina, and got off in Baltimore, Maryland. Instantly, everything was different. No more South, with its slower pace and overgrowth of kudzu. In Baltimore, we found colonial-era buildings and a snappier attitude. By skipping over Virginia, we effectively skipped over the transition between the two locales.
Now we are in Philadelphia, reeling a bit from the enormity of the city, and the density of this whole region. It has been several weeks since we have set up our tent, as camping options are dwindling before our eyes. We laugh about how we camped through the bitter cold of last winter and the sweltering heat of the summer, but now that it’s fall and the weather is perfect for camping, we’re in an area (and on a trajectory) where camping isn’t as viable an option. But it’s all about the choices you make, and right now we’re choosing to explore this dense region and its varied cycling cultures.
Philly has been a delightful surprise for both of us. If we stay out of Center City and all its downtown-y madness, you can almost forget how big the city is, because it feels like a string of little communities. West Philadelphia, where we have spent most of our time, is full of old buildings and small restaurants and a vibrant, diverse population.
And the cycling is pretty fantastic! The roads may be extremely torn-up, the paint may be chipping away from the striped bike lane markings, the drivers may be crazy and only looking out for themselves, but it doesn’t make the city any less bike-able. For the most part, Philly is fairly flat. The blocks are short and the streets are narrow and crowded, which tempers the speed of most drivers. There are some incredibly great bike shops. And, most importantly, when we’re out on our bikes, we’re not the only ones. We hear that the city has had a cycling boom in the past couple years, and it shows. Yesterday, when I saw a mother riding in the street, with her two young daughters also riding in the street, it made it that much more clear how accessible this city truly is for cyclists.
We leave Philly tomorrow (Friday) and head to New York City (via my cousins in NJ). We’ve been working to nail down a presentation in the city, and we’ll let you all know when we get the details figured out. We’re hoping to spend a week or so in the area, so let us know if you’d like to meet up, or if you’ve got space to host us. And if anyone has any brilliant, lesser-trafficked routes into the city from the west, please let us know!
If you’re a reader in Philly, we’d love to meet you! We didn’t get a chance to set up a presentation this time around, but we still would love to talk touring and bikes! We’re staying near Dock Street Brewery (which also happens to be right next to Firehouse Bicycles) and thought it would be the perfect location for an evening of beers, bikes and good conversation.
Where: Dock Street Brewery
When: Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 6pm-8pm
Why: Drink beers and talk bikes.
Here’s the Facebook Event page…please RSVP so we’ll know how many tables we’ll need to commandeer! See y’all/yous on Wednesday!
Everything is closer together in the East coast. In the West, we could travel days and weeks before reaching a city of any size. In the East, things are a lot more compressed. We’ve been a little remiss about updates, there has just been so much going on, so here are a few snaps from the last few weeks.
We led a successful overnight bike camping trip in Durham and turned some people on to the joys of bike touring (even super short ones!).
We met Jack and stayed with his family for a few days. He’s a bike commuter and an active bike advocate in Durham.
After hopping a train from Durham, we found ourselves instantly in the East coast. We rode around Baltimore for a few days, getting use to being in dense urban areas again.
We met some folks involved with the Baltimore bike scene and chatted with Tommy Nash, a budding frame builder and part of the Baltimore Bicycle Works worker-owned cooperative.
We took a day trip into Annapolis and stopped by Velo-Orange headquarters.
Then we took a long series of rails to trails conversions and made our way slowly to Philly.
We rode through the beautiful rolling hills of PA.
On one of the rails to trails, we run into some readers who generously take us in for the night. We have a great time talking about adventure and travel.
We stayed with Megan, a reader and energetic entrepreneur, who also happens to be a bike advocate way out in the middle of nowhere PA!
More riding through scenic rails to trails.
We’re now in Philly. We’ve banged out 115 miles in the last two days (which is a lot for us) and are tired. We’re hoping to set up a presentation, do some exploring and get my iPhone fixed (it bit the dust). If you’re in Philly and want to meet up or help us out with a homestay for a day or two, zip us an email!
We’ve just come back from dinner with some new friends after our presentation at Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville. We weren’t quite sure what the turnout was going to be, since we only got about 8 people to confirm on Facebook, but we were pleasantly surprised when we counted over 50 people! Here are some snaps from the evening.
Setting up for the event. We had a stack of free Adventure Cycling magazines to give away. A lot of the folks seemed new to Adventure Cycling so it was a great way to spread the word about bike touring.
We also got some great gear from Klean Kanteen to give away, including a pair of steel pint glasses, insulated Kanteens and water bottles. We did a quiz on bicycle safety and the law and made people work for it. In addition to Klean Kanteens and Adventure Cycling memberships, we also got some REI gift certificates to give away!
Mike Sule from Asheville on Bikes talking about some upcoming bicycle events.
Caroline, the event coordinator for Malaprops was stunned (so were we, in fact) at the turn out.
Laura watching our year long slideshow with the crowd. We still get a kick out of seeing our old photos from the beginning of the trip. It reminds us how lucky we’ve been to be able to travel like this.
That’s it for now. We’re both pretty tired but will post more about our stay in Asheville soon. Thanks to everyone that came out tonight, it was a great crowd!
We’ve been on the move, pedaling at break neck speeds (not really) and are in North Carolina! We’ve passed such beautiful country that we have fought (and won!) the urge to just blow by it all. We’re not just stopping to smell the roses, we’re putting them in our mouths. Some snaps to catch ya’ll up.
We met lots of great bikey people in Chattanooga. This is a portrait of Quint, who I stumbled upon at a cafe one morning. He had just purchased some bike racks for his favorite coffee shop and was there to figure out their placement with the owner.
As we moved through East Tennessee we stumbled upon a Mennonite farmer’s market! Here are some folks unloading the watermelon into the side of the market.
Laura crossing the Hiwasse River.
The interior of the awesome lodge we stayed at in Tellico Plains. The manager, Toni, a transplant from Louisiana was super friendly and welcoming. If you’re ever in Tellico Plains, we highly recommend the Mountain View Cabins!
While at Tellico, we partake of a local food gem – the Tellico Grains Bakery! Stuart, the owner, is also an avid cyclists and has ridden the Great Divide Route. The food there is spectacular and is easily the best place to eat in town.
We also met up with some readers and talented artists, Allen and his wife Cathy. Allen is a sculptor and potter and Cathy is a painter who paints fluid abstracts inspired by water and nature. We visited them at their beautiful home in the mountains around Tellico, climbing up a bumpy gravel road!
Bumping along Wildcat Road.
While at Tellico, I got a fair amount of fishing in!
As we left Tellico, Toni the manager from the lodge gave us some hand picked vegetables after reading Laura’s post on food. She was just plain awesome.
The gift of food was quickly put to use.
From Tellico, we hoof it up the Cherohala Skyway. It was some serious work after being in the flatlands for a while.
We get a most AWESOME surprise when one of our readers, BIll, finds us at one of the overlooks and gives us some dessert and water!
Nothing sweeter than eating strawberry shortcake while climbing a mountain on your one year anniversary of traveling.
Amazing views from the Cherohala.
We are all smiles at the top.
After the Skyway we stumble upon paddling mecca – the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
We then roll to Bryson City and have a great presentation at Bryson City Bicycles!
We explore the sights and sounds of Bryson City. I went fishing (no photos) and Laura takes a pottery class at Pincu Pottery with our awesome host Raquel!
That’s it for now. We’re enjoying our time in Bryson and will be heading into Asheville, NC soon. If you want to connect while we are in Asheville, send us an email!
After our great stay in Nashville, we hit the road again, excited to explore more of Tennessee, sad to leave behind all the great new friends we’d made. We decided that, since we’d had such a long break, we should take it easy getting back in the saddle, and plan some short mileage for the first few days. Then, we kept with the shorter-mileage days, because the countryside was just so beautiful that we kept running across great places to stop and stay.
From Nashville, we headed east toward Percy Priest reservoir. Our plan was actually to get to Cedars of Lebanon State Park, but the day was hot and we were seduced by the idea of just camping by the reservoir. From Nashville, we followed the Greenway out of town. For miles and miles, we were able to ride along this beautiful, wooded multi-use path – and we enjoyed the shade and the quiet. The Greenway ends at the dam, and you climb a hill out of the parking lot. Directly across the street is a visitors center, where a lovely young ranger told us all about camping options on the reservoir. We ended up at the Anderson Road campground, just a few miles SE of the visitors center. The campground is rustic, but we found a delightful spot right on the water, where we enjoyed the sunset that night and the sunrise the next morning.
From Percy Priest, we headed south-ish, along Hwy 41, to Murfreesboro. For the most part, Hwy 41 is a perfectly fine road, and traffic only gets heavy and unwieldy as you get into town. But, we lucked out, and spotted another greenway on the right side of the road, so we hopped on it and enjoyed a quiet, shady ride into town. Actually, before we got into town, Russ indulged in some urban fishing, since the greenway follows several rivers and creeks. We puttered around Murfreesboro that afternoon, and decided to just stay in town that night.
The next morning, we continued down Hwy 41, which continued to be a fine travel road. Just north of Manchester, we turned into Old Stone Fort State Park. We wanted to get into the park early in the day, since it was Friday and we wanted to make sure we got a spot. And it turned out to be a good thing that we pedaled so quickly, because that afternoon and evening were full of rainstorms that pummeled the area. We strung up our tarp porch and sat underneath it, as the rain came down so hard and fast that it created rivers through the forest around the park. (If you don’t believe me that it was that crazy, check out this video.)
In the morning, we woke up to a soggy, humid campground, and decided to head down the road a few miles to Barton Spring campground on Normandy Lake. The manager at the campground promised to make space for us, even if all the sites were full, and Russ was itching to fish some more. The country roads out to the lake were fantastic riding and we soared up and down the hills. Camping at Barton Spring made us realize that it’s actually summer! The place was packed full with families, swimming, picnicking, boating. It was an experience we hadn’t had since last summer! While Russ caught and released tiny fish after tiny fish, I sat under a tree and read, and jumped in the water whenever I started to get too hot. That night, we walked around the park and mused about the sheer number of people and the variety of humanity that was camped there.
From Barton Spring, we meandered south through the town of Tullahoma. We passed the George Dickel distillery, but couldn’t get a tour since it was Sunday morning. We figured the nearby Jack Daniel distillery would be closed too, so we skipped it as well (although, we later found out that Jack is open on Sundays, go figure). We rolled into Tims Ford State Park around noon and stopped to rest and find out about camping in the area. When we discovered they have a small restaurant with ice cream at the marina in the park, we opted to just stop for the day and continue to enjoy the feeling of being on summer vacation. That afternoon, another storm blew through, so we tightened our tarp porch and kept our fingers crossed that our tent would continue to hold (which it did).
In the morning, as it continued to drizzle, we debated staying another night at the park. When I realized that we didn’t have enough food and the small restaurant was closed on Mondays, we decided to mosey down the road a bit. The constantly changing weather was also getting us sick, so we opted to ride into nearby Winchester and get a cheap motel room. While I rested and tried to get well, Russ set up the computer in the only space in the room with wifi… the bathroom sink.
From Winchester, we were determined to finally log some miles and get into Chattanooga. We headed east along Hwy 41, moving slowly (since I was still feeling sick). When we reached the small community of Sewanee, we stopped for a bit of a break. We chatted with the guys at Woody’s Bike Shop, and ate lunch at Julia’s. Then, as it started to rain again, we took Joe (one of the guys at the bike shop) up on his offer to stay the night in town. That afternoon, after the rain had subsided, Joe took us on a hike out to a hidden waterfall. And that evening, we ate dinner with Joe and his roommates, Jerre and Charles.
We lingered in Sewanee in the morning, stopping for coffee on campus. Then, we headed down Jump Off Road toward our last camping stop before Chattanooga. If you’re in these parts, we really recommend Jump Off Road. It’s heavily wooded, which provides delightful shade on a hot day, and the traffic volume is extremely light (just don’t take Snake Pond like Google Maps suggests). We chowed down on some burgers at a local (and left-over from the 60s) fast food joint in South Pittsburg, then continued down Hwy 156. We naively followed Google’s travel advice and discovered that you really can’t cross the Tennessee River along Hogjaw Road (it’s a dam that was closed to traffic following 9/11). So, we ended up putting in a few more miles getting to our destination that night, Marion County Park. This would be a wonderful campground (right along the water, beautiful views), if not for the fact that I-24 (and all its traffic) is only a few hundred yards away. We did our best to ignore the sounds of cars and trucks, and focused on the water and groups of geese wandering around.
From Marion County Park, we followed Hwy 64 around the peninsula by the river. Given that it looks like it’s right along the river, we thought it would be fairly flat. It is not. But the serious amount of climbing is truly worth the stunning views. The traffic volumes were also quite light along this road, and we always had two lanes in our direction or a wide shoulder whenever we had to climb. Hwy 64 brings you into Chattanooga from the West, where you skirt the edge of Lookout Mountain and the remnants of a 60s tourist culture. And before we knew it, we were in downtown Chattanooga, getting ready for our presentation that evening. Thanks to everyone for coming out and to Outdoor Chattanooga for hosting us! We’re now greatly looking forward to exploring the rest of the city!
We’re updating from a motel room in Winchester, TN. We’ve left Nashville and haven’t been exactly exploding out of the gates as they say. Nope. We’ve been meandering through the Tennessee countryside, camping at various lakes and rivers (I’ve been getting a fair amount of fishing in). We’ve been getting rained on (see video below) and are hunkering down in a cheap motel finding leaks in our sleeping pads and pillows and catching up on the Interwebs.
We are about two days away from Chattanooga and maybe a week from Asheville, NC. If you’re from Chattanooga or Asheville and want to host us or set up a presentation, please email us. We’re really excited to visit these two cities, since we’ve heard that they are such great cycling towns! Send us suggestions of what to see and do while we are there!
We ran into a blog reader at Halcyon (hey Kim!) yesterday and it dawned on us that we should mention we are in Nashville – NOW! We’re planning to take the next two weeks off to rest (and hopefully celebrate Laura’s birthday in town where there is ready access to good beer and food) and hopefully do some work to keep the trip going. So Nashville – we need your help!
A Place to Stay
We’re staying with some fine folks at the moment but don’t want to burn them (or any of our hosts out). So if you’ve got a spare room or a spare couch that we can stay for 2 or 3 nights – let us know! We’re super low maintenance and friendly – honest! Send us an email.
Put us to Work
I’m a photographer and specialize in portraits and food. So if you need some new family portraits shot in a fun documentary style, or if you own a restaurant and want your menu and advertisements to pop – email me!
Come to our presentation!
We’re doing a presentation at Nashville Bicycle Lounge while we are in town. If you’re interested in what it takes to go on a bike tour or what its like to leave everything behind and vagabond for an indefinite amount of time – you should attend!
Date: Saturday, June 26, 2010
Time: 5:00pm – 7:00pm
Location: Nashville Bicycle Lounge
Street: 961 Woodland Street
The Natchez Trace has a great history. A one-time Native American foot-path that became a travelers highway and mail route as the US expanded westward, the Natchez Trace eventually fell into disuse with the evolution of river steamboats until it wound up in the hands of the National Park Service and became the parkway that we know now.
The Natchez Trace is a beautiful road – and, if you haven’t already traveled along it, you should make plans to come visit. Heavily forested on both sides, the Natchez Trace is a two-lane road (one in each direction). There is no shoulder, but the entire parkway has been designated as a bike route, so cars are relatively used to seeing cyclists (and, we found, they’re fairly content to just go around and give you a wide berth). The pavement is smooth almost the entire distance and commercial traffic is banned, so it’s an extremely pleasant riding experience.
In truth, the Natchez Trace isn’t much different from a lot of country roads that we’ve ridden along – quiet, low traffic volumes, helpful and friendly people. But there’s something that makes the Natchez Trace a destination, and it has been great to meet other touring cyclists headed up or down the parkway (although not nearly as many as we had hoped).
Services are fairly frequent, but require some advance thought, as there is nothing right on the Trace and very little that is visible or signed from the parkway. The National Park Service produces a map of the entire parkway, with picnic areas and campsites marked, and mileage markers noted. Separate lists are available online and at each information center (and often the restrooms along the Trace) that tell where camping and services are available off the Trace.
Lodging runs the gamut and is much more plentiful than we imagined. The National Park Service has three designated campgrounds along the Trace. They each have restrooms and water (but no showers), and camping is free. The National Park Service also has five designated bike-only campgrounds along the Trace. For the most part, these are just picnic areas where it has been deemed okay for cyclists to stop and camp (again, for free). All but one (at milepost 408) have restrooms and water within easy walking distance. If you get off the Trace, there are private campgrounds scattered up and down the length of the parkway. Quality of services varies, but they’re a great way to get a shower, and we haven’t paid more than $7 per night per person. And, finally, there are opportunities to stay indoors. Besides WarmShowers hosts, several towns along the Trace have motels or Bed & Breakfasts. Not all of them are listed online, so be sure to ask around.
The entire length of the Natchez Trace is 444 miles, from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. We hopped on the Trace just north of Jackson, Mississippi, thus missing the first 100 miles. But we have loved what we have seen and hope that you all will get a chance to experience it as well.
Leaving Jackson, Mississippi, the Natchez Trace parallels the Ross Barnett Reservoir for almost 20 miles, and you get beautiful views across the expansive body of water. You also pass a number of swampy areas, including one with a long wooden walkway that allows you to wander into the middle of the eerie stillness.
That first night, we opted to stay at Ratliff Ferry, a small private campground just a half mile off the Trace. Tent camping is $5 per person per night, and they have a small grassy area with picnic tables and a fire ring, all set apart from the RV section of the campground. Their showers are less-than-stellar, but they have a small store that’s open daily and a bar/restaurant that’s open on the weekends. The campground is located right along the Pearl River, and if you go down to the water’s edge at dusk or later, you’ll see lots of alligators slowly drifting through the river.
From Ratliff Ferry, we continued our north-ward trek. There are lots of historical sites along the Trace, each with a large wooden sign that tells you what’s important about that area. These make for great stops when you’re on a bicycle, because you can pull right up to the sign, read the information, get a swig of water or a snack, and easily be back on the road. Some roadside stops have short nature walks that can also be a great diversion. We stopped at the small picnic area of Holly Hill on that second day and waited out a thunderstorm that had rumbled through. Then, we continued on to Kosciusko, where we had arranged a homestay. The word had reached us of great WarmShowers hosts there in town. And, while Donna and Gary were out of town while we were passing through, they graciously allowed us to stay at their house, connecting us with their housekeeper.
From Kosciusko, it’s a quick 20 miles to the small community of French Camp. Founded back in 1812, French Camp is only a quarter-mile off the Trace. The old buildings have been restored into a gift shop, café and museum, and there is a Bed & Breakfast on site as well. If you go through this area, we highly recommend eating at the café. They menu is small, but their sandwiches are fantastic. They bake their bread fresh every day, and you can buy a bag of their coffee in the gift shop.
From French Camp, we headed up to Jeff Busby, one of the three National Park Service campgrounds. At one point, Jeff Busby had a gas station with a mini-mart and wifi, but it has all been shut down now. But the campground itself is beautiful. We met up with three kids who had just finished their junior years in high school and who were touring the Natchez Trace before other summer commitments. We spent the afternoon and evening chatting with them and another tourist that rolled in later in the day.
From Jeff Busby, we rode most of the day with the other tourist we had met the night before. We all stopped in the small town of Mathiston to get some food, and discovered (again) that almost everything is closed on Sunday mornings in Mississippi. We had to skip the grocery store and go to the Subway at the gas station instead. That night, we opted to camp at the bike-only campground at Witch Dance. It’s a lush, green picnic area with restrooms and water, and you’re allowed to pitch camp by the tables across from the restrooms. It’s a beautiful spot, but feels a bit like camping at a rest area.
The next morning, we were up early, tired of the heat and humidity. We had decided that we would spend two nights in Tupelo, to rest up and cool off. There is actually a bike-only campground on the Trace outside of Tupelo, behind the visitor center. You can either pitch a tent or roll out your sleeping bag on one of the plywood bunks in an old wooden cabin. We plunked down for a motel room with A/C. Tupelo is a neat little town, with a downtown area that feels like it’s on the verge of a comeback. There’s a great coffeeshop, an artist co-op and a small gallery, along with a farmer’s market three days a week.
From Tupelo, we headed up to Tishomingo State Park. Tishomingo is about a mile off the parkway, and the campsites are set alongside a small lake. The showers are fantastic, even though the bath house looks pretty shabby from the outside. Russ spent the afternoon fishing in the lake, while I set up shop on the picnic table. We set up the tarp over the table and hid under it as a series of thunderstorms passed over us throughout the afternoon. That night, a large and very slow-moving storm rumbled through the area and soaked everything. And a pair of raccoons took advantage of the situation and broke into our M&Ms and tortillas.
In the morning, tired from the storm and chasing raccoons, we got up slowly, tried to dry out some things, and decided to ride a very short day. We crossed the state line into Alabama and headed up to Colbert Ferry, a picnic area and boat launch along the Tennessee River. We met several friendly bike tourists that day, but none were planning to camp where we were. We spent the afternoon down by the river, and wished that we could pitch camp there instead of the designated bike campground, which is hidden in a small circle of trees off the road and away from any of the facilities. Due to the storm the night before and the high humidity, we felt as if we were sleeping in a sauna, and we spent the night listening to the water-logged trees groan and creak and fall down around us. None of them fell on us, thankfully, but we didn’t sleep particularly well, regardless.
We had planned to get up early the next morning and ride all the way up to Fall Hollow, where we knew we would find a shower. After crossing the Tennessee state line, we stopped in the small town of Collinwood for lunch. Other cyclists that we had met had raved about the buffet lunch at Chad’s, so we had to check it out for ourselves. We stopped first at the visitor center and discovered that there was lodging in town! The folks who run the hardware store also own the building around the corner, and they converted two storefront spaces into motel rooms. One of them was open for the night, and we took it (cutting short the long day we were dreading, and reminding us why we love having an open-ended trip!). After a shower, we wandered over to Chad’s and devoured the buffet. Fried chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, fried squash, turnip greens, white beans, cornbread, and cake – all delicious. While we were diving into our first plate, a father and 11-year-old son on their second bike tour stumbled into the restaurant also. We shared a table and chatted with them over lunch, swapping stories and tips. Stuffed from the buffet, we made our way back to our room, and rested for the rest of the afternoon. While it was a little odd to stay in a converted storefront, it was a great space – complete with a computer and internet, coffeepot, microwave, refrigerator, couches. It would have easily accommodated four people. (Later, we discovered that Collinwood also allows cyclists to camp at the city park, and you can shower at the fire station.)
In the morning, as we were rolling out of town, we stumbled into the Tour de Wayne, an annual bike ride that area cyclists put on. They had 60+ cyclists come out for a variety of rides, and it was great to see other bicycles on the road! Twenty or so miles north of Collinwood, there is a section of the Old Trace that you can drive along. It runs north-to-south only (one-way), and is a narrow and winding road not recommended for RVs. It was a beautiful little stretch, and we recommend you take it too!
We stopped briefly at Meriwether Lewis park, a National Park Service campground and historical/memorial site, before heading on to our destination for the night, Fall Hollow Campground. Fall Hollow is a private campground just off the Trace (milepost 391). Bill and Kathy purchased the property four years ago and refurbished it. Now it’s a beautiful spot, right along a clear-water creek that’s a heavenly spot to wade in this summer heat. Tent camping is just $5 per person per night, and they love cyclists (in fact, they have a map with pin flags from all the cyclists that have stayed at the campground in the past couple years). This campground is a must (they also have two motel rooms), if you’re traveling along the Trace. And if you can, plan to stay here on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, because that’s when their restaurant is open for dinner, and you definitely don’t want to miss their cooking (we can vouch for the hamburger and steak sandwich!).
We were really slow to get moving the next morning, and spent some more time chatting with Bill and Kathy (who, by the way, are delightful and fun to talk with). We told Kathy about our plans to head just 18 miles up the Trace that day and stay at the last campground on the Park Service list. She was surprised to know that there was anything else in the area, so I made a quick phone call to be sure that it was still open. Sam assured me he was there and we were welcome, so we figured we’d stick to that plan (since the bike-only campground near the same location doesn’t have water available). When we got to the spot, we actually rode past it and had to turn around and look again, because there’s no sign or anything that would tell you that it’s a campground. Just a red barn with a huge patch of grass. Sam welcomed us and told us we could pitch our tent wherever we wanted, so we chose a shady spot under some trees. He opened his “campground” a few years ago, but hasn’t built any facilities, saying that “you have to crawl before you can walk,” and claiming that at some point he’ll make enough money to put in a bath house (for now, there’s just a port-a-pot). We thought he had his logic a touch backwards and you should “spend money to make money” and put in the bath house to entice more folks to stay there. But it was quiet, and Sam runs a bar out of the 200-year-old house on the property, so you can get a $2 can of Bud Light and sit on the ramshackle furniture outside.
In the morning, we were up as soon as the sun was, eager to get on the road and log some miles before it got too incredibly hot. As you make your way North, the terrain changes from flat and swampy in South/Central Mississippi to grassy, rolling hills in Tennessee. We decided that we much preferred the open feeling of the grassy hills of Tennessee, even if it meant more climbing.
We turned off the Trace to detour to the historic area of Leipers Fork. It’s a small village that’s become very quaint in recent years, with galleries and small shops. We stopped at Puckett’s Grocery for burgers, which they are known for (with good reason), and chatted with four cyclists out on a day ride. From Leipers Fork, we headed back to the Trace and rode the last short stretch of parkway. Just a few miles from the end, you cross Highway 96 on a very tall bridge. From the roadway, you can’t see the architectural wonder of the bridge, but there’s a view point just to the north where you can look back and take in the beauty of the bridge and the valley that it crosses.
A few more rolling hills and then a wonderful downhill finish and you’re done with the Natchez Trace. Unfortunately, there’s no sign saying that you’re leaving, just an unceremonious wooden fence and a “Jct Hwy 100” sign. We snapped a photo anyway, then bid farewell to the parkway, and headed down the road to Loveless (a Nashville institution) and on to our homestay in town.
The Natchez Trace was a lovely adventure for us, and we’re certainly glad that we rode it. It offers beautiful scenery and peaceful riding, even though you can feel like you’re in a sort of green tunnel, missing out on what’s just beyond the line of the trees. It’s a popular route for cyclists and, in some ways, we enjoyed it more than the Pacific Coast (which can be extremely packed with people and traffic). Although the Natchez Trace doesn’t seem to be nearly as big a draw for tourists as we’d envisioned (we met 10-15 other touring cyclists during our week and a half on the Trace), we highly recommend the route, especially if you live anywhere near the area. So open up your atlas and figure out how to get down here!