The Natchez Trace: A Bicyclist’s Paradise… The 10,000 Mile North American Bicycle Tour

The Natchez Trace between Natchez and Jackson Mississippi.

I don’t think there is a place along the Natchez Trace that isn’t beautiful. I traveled on it for 370 miles of its 450 mile length.

This is my fourth post introducing new followers to the type of tales they can find in my blog. Way back in 1989, I did a solo 10,000 mile bicycle tour of North America. While the journey predated blogging, Peggy and I retraced my route three years ago. Traveling out of California, we crossed the US following a southern route, went up the east coast into Canada, headed back west through Canada to Minnesota, and then finished our tour following a northern route back to California. This is a chance to visit much of North America and hear tales about my bike trek. Want more: Here’s a post from Canada. Scroll forward or backward for the rest of the story:  https://wandering-through-time-and-place.com/2016/09/28/

A large, yellow mutt came wagging his way into my camp. I’d unpacked my gear, set up my tent, and taken off my shoes and socks. My toes were celebrating their freedom.

“Well hello big fellow,” I said to the dog, glad for the company. He sat down beside me and worked his head under my hand, demanding that I scratch behind his ears. Then I was required to pet the rest of him. I had just worked my way down to his tail when he rolled over and insisted on equal treatment for his tummy.

I provided an initial scratch but my coffee water had started boiling. “Priorities,” I told him, “the petting zoo is closed.” Apparently this meant it was play time. He leapt up, grabbed one of my socks, and bounced off about 15 feet.  “Hey! Bring that back,” I urged. Fat chance. He put the sock down, backed off a couple of feet, and started barking.

I finished pouring the hot water into my coffee filter and got up, tiredly, to retrieve my sock. It had been an 80-mile day and I really didn’t want to play ‘chase the dog around the yard.’ I pretended that I didn’t care, that I wasn’t going for the sock, and that I was terribly interested in a large bullfrog that had taken up residence in the swimming pool. The pool hadn’t been cleaned since the previous summer. It made a great pond.

The dog didn’t buy it. He dashed in, grabbed the sock and ran off across the yard. “Okay, you win,” I declared while picking up a stick. “How about a game of chase the stick?” The dog cocked his head and increased his wags per second. I tossed the stick and off he dashed, leaving my sock behind. I quickly bare-footed it across the lawn and grabbed my sock.

“Ha, ha, Mr. Dog,” I called after him while waving the sock about enticingly. To compensate my new friend for his loss, I played tug-of-war with the stick. We growled at each other appropriately, all in good fun.

It was early to bed. I had completed my trip from Alexandria by biking through the city of Natchez and was now camped about a mile from the beginning of the Natchez Trace.  I was eager to get up the next morning and start my 370-mile journey up the fabled Parkway through Mississippi and Alabama into Tennessee. As I zipped up my tent, the big yellow mutt did three dog turns outside the door and plopped down, making me wonder where his home was. I was hardly in a position to adopt a pet. Besides, he was well fed and wearing a dog tag.

My last memory before going to sleep was of the bullfrog singing to his lady-love. “Chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum, chug-a-rum.”

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

Peggy and I drove through Natchez on a Sunday morning and pretty much had the historic section of the downtown to ourselves.

Historic building with balcony in Natchez, Mississippi.

This historic building in Natchez came with an attractive balcony.

Downtown Natchez, Mississippi on a quiet Sunday.

The colors captured my attention here.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

Old lamp posts adorn the historic part of Natchez.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

The city is known for its antebellum mansions.

St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was busy with its Sunday service so I didn’t go inside.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is located in downtown Natchez, Mississippi.

It was quite impressive from the outside, however.

Natchez has an interesting history. Once the site of a major Native American village, its initial contact with Europeans goes all the way back to Hernando de Soto in the mid 1500s. He wandered through the area searching for gold to steal, the primary occupation of Spanish Conquistadores. By the 1700s the French had entered the area followed by the British, the Spanish again, and finally, in 1795, the Americans. Native groups in the region included the Natchez, Chickasaw, Yazoo, Cherokee, and Creek, as well as the Choctaw further to the north.

As for the Natchez Trace, its beginning goes back 10,000 years and was probably tied to buffalo travelling along ridges doing buffalo things. Since these broad, heavy animals make good trails (think of them as early day bulldozers), Native Americans were soon using the routes for trade and travel between large communities.

The next stage in the Trace’s evolution was brought about by river trade in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Kaintucks, boatmen from the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys, loaded flatboats with merchandise and paddled downstream to Natchez or New Orleans where they made handsome profits for their goods. The challenge was that you don’t row a boat up the mighty Mississippi. The boatmen had to hike or ride horses home. They sold their boats as lumber and made their way back to Nashville via the Natchez Trace

It was an adventure. There is a reason why the Trace became known as The Devil’s Backbone. It was crawling with highway men eager to separate the Kaintucks from their newly earned wealth. And that assumes that they could even get their money out of Natchez where cheap whiskey cost a fortune, hot love was based on cold cash, and cut-throats came by the bushel.

The development of steamboats in the 1820s changed things dramatically. These boats with their large, steam-driven paddle wheels could travel upriver. Boatman no longer had to hike or ride horses back to Nashville while fighting off thieves.  Gradually, people stopped using the Trace and it faded from memory.  But not totally.

In 1903, the Mississippi chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took on a project of placing markers along the original route. In 1918 the precursor to the Natchez Trace Association was created with the rallying cry of “Pave the Trace!” Work on the Parkway was started in 1937 and in 1938 it became a unit of the National Park system.

When I rode my bike out of Natchez in the spring of 1989, the Trace was mainly complete and had become something of a bicyclists’ paradise. (Today it is considered one of the top ten bike rides in America.)   To start with, there was no commercial traffic. No 18 wheelers would be whizzing by me. Nor were there any commercial properties or billboards, just lots of beautiful woods and small farms. Campgrounds and restrooms were located conveniently along the way.  Frequent rest stops featured local history. I was free to ride along and enjoy the scenery.

But I did have two responsibilities. The first was to persuade the large, yellow mutt that he wasn’t going with me. It started with a discussion in camp that I thought he had understood. Where I was going was dangerous for doggies. It was dangerous enough for me. About a mile from camp I chanced to look back, there he was, about 50 yards back. I stopped and waited for him to catch up, all a waggle. “No!” I said forcefully. “You cannot go. Go Home!” The tail stopped wagging. Two sad brown eyes accused me of horrendous deeds. Ever so slowly, he turned around and started back, tail between his legs. I felt terrible.

The second chore was more pleasant— rescuing baby turtles. Bunches were migrating across the Trace outside of Natchez. Each time I came on a crowd, I would stop, climb off my bike, and give the little tykes a lift across the pavement. I knew that there would be more coming along behind but I must have transported at least a hundred,undoubtedly saving them from being run over.

Following are several photos of the Trace from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi that I took during the route review Peggy and I did this past spring.  In my next blog we will make a slight detour to the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi where a good friend lives and then head up the Trace to Tupelo and visit with Elvis.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Views along the Trace were constantly changing from being forested to open.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Pine trees became common around Jackson, Mississippi.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

Rich farmlands border some of the Trace.

There are a number of barns.

There are a number of barns.

These trees had yet to leaf out.

These trees were just beginning to leaf out. I enjoyed the silhouettes they created.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

Numerous exhibits featuring the history of the Trace provide interesting breaks along the way.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

A number of the stops, like this one, include original sections of the trail.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

The Park has also rebuilt traditional fences similar to ones that the pioneers who lived along the Trace would have built.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

A final view of the Trace for today. Many more will be included in my next three blogs.

 

 

Three Billion Shots of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey… The 10,000 Mile North American Bike Tour

 

"It's the water" is a frequent claim of those who produce alcohol. All Jack Daniel products come from Cave Spring shown here. The spring produces 800 gallons per minute.

“It’s the water” is a frequent claim of those who produce alcohol. All Jack Daniel’s products start with water from Cave Spring shown here. The spring produces 800 gallons per minute. I should have it talk to our five gallon per minute well.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you are out bicycling around North America. For example, today I am going to talk about visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.  It comes at the end of this post. But I thought I would start with a little whiskey math for fun.

Using American measurements, a barrel of Jack Daniel’s whiskey contains 260 bottles, or fifths, of whiskey. A fifth contains 17 shots. This translates into 4,420 shots per barrel. That’s a lot of drinking. But consider this: Our guide told us that Jack Daniel’s is the leading distributor of whiskey in the world. This means the company needs to have a lot in production at any given time. It also means they need to have a lot of whiskey in storage to allow for aging and for keeping up with demand.

The company can store 40,000 barrels on site. That used to be enough. No longer. The guide told us that Jack Daniel’s now has 11 buildings off site that store 60,000 barrels each.  Doing the math, I came up with 700,000 barrels. Here’s the fun part— that comes to over three billion shots of whisky. Bottoms up!

An illustration at the Jack Daniels Distillery showing one of its on-site barrel houses.

An illustration at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery showing one of its on-site barrel houses.

Barrel House No. 1 at the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, TN.

A view of the actual barrel house in Lynchburg.

I left you at Tishomingo State Park in northern Mississippi at the end of my last blog, recovering from my close encounter with the tornado. I could have used a shot or two of Jack Daniels then! But I had a ways to go to reach Lynchburg, including another 60 miles of the Natchez Trace. My Trace portion included a short 30 mile ride across the northwest corner of Alabama and another 30 mile ride into southern Tennessee where I picked up US Route 64. Along the way, I crossed over the Tennessee River, admired some blooming Dogwood, and stopped for a final view of the original Trace.

The Tennessee River as see from the Natchez Trace bridge across in in Alabama.

The Tennessee River as see from the Natchez Trace bridge in Alabama.

We were a little late to capture the Dogwood along the Natchez Trace at it's best, but even here it adds its own beauty along the road.

We were a little late to capture the Dogwood along the Natchez Trace at its best, but even here (on the left),  it adds its etherial beauty to the scenery.

The Natchez Trace was used so much during its heyday of the early 1800s, it cut deep grooves in the ground.

The Natchez Trace was used so much during its heyday of the early 1800s, it cut deep paths into the ground that can still be seen today.

I had travelled 359 miles on the Trace at this point and only had another 10 miles to go before I left it. I would miss its beauty and tranquility.

I had travelled 359 miles on the Trace at this point, and only had another 10 miles to go. I would miss its beauty and tranquility.

As I approached US 64, a sign informed me I would be heading toward David Crockett State Park and following the Trail of Tears.

My last sign on the Natchez Trace.

As I approached Route 64, a sign announced I would be following the Trail of Tears and heading toward David Crockett State Park. I had learned about Davy as a kid by watching Fess Parker’s 1955/56 television program at Allen Green’s house. I still remember the theme:

“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee— Greenest state in the land of the free— Raised in the woods so he knew ev’ry tree— Kilt him a be’ar when he was only three— Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!”

Being a want-to-be woodsman at the time, how could I forget such stirring words? Crockett was a genuine folk hero, however. In addition to his mythical knowledge of trees and killing bears at a young age, he served in Congress and adamantly opposed Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Policies. Disgusted with Washington politics, he headed off to Texas where he was killed at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

It was President Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy that led to the tragic Trail of Tears, another dark spot in America’s history. Of all the Native Americans in the East, the Cherokee were among the best in adapting to the coming of the Europeans. They had intermarried with settlers, become farmers, and even created their own constitution for self-government. But none of this was enough. The American settlers on the frontier wanted their land.

Jackson and Congress aided them in their efforts by insisting that the Cherokee move. To achieve this, the military gathered the Cherokee into stockades and force-marched them 800 miles to Oklahoma. The journey was particularly hard on infants, children and the elderly. An estimated 4000 died along the way, nearly a fifth of the Cherokee population. It was because of this, that the Cherokee named the route the Trail of Tears.

On a much less significant level, I shed a virtual tear or two myself on leaving the Natchez Trace. I was leaving the commercial-free tranquility of the National Parkway to return to the world of crowded roads, fast-moving traffic, and ubiquitous 18 wheelers. I would also be dodging my way through towns and cities. On my way to Lynchburg, these included Lawrenceburg, Pulaski, and Fayetteville. Although the distance bordered on 90 miles, I figured I could make the trip in a long day.

A torrential downpour outside of Pulaski persuaded me otherwise. It wasn’t enough that the rain was flooding the road 3-5 inches deep in places; I managed to get a flat. I pulled off the highway, retrieved my waterproof emergency blanket, put it over the top of me, and proceeded to fix the flat, while somehow getting 100 gallons of water down the back of my neck.  (I am exaggerating, of course. It was only 98.) Although I was traveling east, my sense of humor went south. I grabbed a motel room in Pulaski and dried off while watching reruns of reruns on TV. Unfortunately, Davey Crockett wasn’t included.

US Route 64. As I have noted earlier, many of the two lane roads I travelled on in 1989 have become four-lane highways, often rerouted.

US Route 64. As I have noted earlier, many of the two lane roads I travelled on in 1989 have become four-lane highways today, often rerouted. Nice shoulder, though.

Limestone walls, such as this on US 64, are common on Tennessee Highways.

Limestone walls, such as this on US 64, are common on Tennessee Highways.

I have always found old barns interesting because of their character and photogenic quality. There were several along US 64.

I have always found old barns interesting because of their character and photogenic quality. There were several along US 64.

Another example.

Another example.

In Fayetteville, I left Route 64 and picked up Tennessee 50 toward Lynchburg.

In Fayetteville, I left Route 64 and picked up Tennessee 50 toward Lynchburg. Note the old windows in the red building. Some have been bricked in.

I easily made it into Lynchburg the next day and, in fact, biked on to Manchester. I did make a quick detour into the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, however. Peggy and I made a much more thorough visit on our route review this spring and were given an excellent tour of the facility. Here are a few things we learned.

A view of the "Company Store" in Lynchburg, Tennessee where you can even pick up used whisky barrels for planters.

A view of the “Company Store” in Lynchburg, Tennessee where you can pick up used whisky barrels for planters.

A sculpture of Jack Daniels with his foot resting on a barrel. The state was located on a rock. It's title was Jack Daniels on the Rocks.

A sculpture of Jack Daniel with his foot resting on a barrel. The statue was located on a rock. It’s title was Jack Daniel on the Rocks. Cave Spring is behind him.

Jack was either born in 1846, 49 or 50. People are still sorting that out. At a relatively young age, he was taken in by a minister and taught how to make whiskey. Does this make it God’s will? (I know, I am going to be struck down. BTW, don’t expect to be served any Jack Daniel’s in local restaurants. Lynchburg is located in a dry county.) By 1866 or 1875, Jack was operating his own distillery and using water from Cave Spring shown at the top.

A view of the creek leading out from Cave Spring. Again, note the lime. It adds interesting qualities to Jack Daniel's, and also serves to take out the iron that would give the whiskey a bad taste.

A view of the creek leading out from Cave Spring. Again, note the lime. It adds interesting qualities to Jack Daniel’s, and also serves to take out the iron that would give the whiskey a bad taste.

The creek as it makes its way through the distillery.

The creek as it makes its way through the distillery.

The primary ingredients for Jack Daniels. These are ground up into a mash, water from Cave Spring is added, and the concoction is boiled. It is then put into a fermenting vat where yeast is added creating alcohol. The alcohol is ten distilled and begins it journey through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal.

The primary ingredients for Jack Daniel’s. These are ground up, water from Cave Spring is added to make mash, and then the concoction is boiled. It is then put into a fermenting vat where yeast is added creating alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled and begins it journey through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. We were taken on a tour where we witnessed the process but weren’t allowed to take any photographs.

The whiskey would be a bourbon except for the fact that it is filtered through 10-feet of sugar maple charcoal at a drip-drip rate, a process that takes a week for the drop to make it from the top to the bottom. Its journey removes impurities from the alcohol. The whiskey is then put into oaken barrels that have been scorched on the inside and is aged for four years. The barrels are made on site and only used once. Tasters determine when the brew is ready. Whiskey from several barrels is blended to produce the distinctive Jack Daniels taste such as that found in Jack’s most famous blend, Old No 7.

Rick oven for turning the sugar maple wood seen here into charcoal.

Rick oven for turning the sugar maple wood (ricks) seen here into charcoal.

The company uses the 1866 date for its beginning, thus making 2016 its 150th Anniversary. To celebrate, it has produced a special whiskey called Sinatra Select. What, you say? Turns out that Frank was a great friend of Old No. 7. He always had a bottle within easy reach, whether he was singing in concert or on a TV special, flying on an airplane, visiting with friends, or in almost any other conceivable situation.  He was even buried with a bottle.

It is possible to obtain a bottle of single barrel select whiskey that hasn’t been blended. In fact, Jack Daniels wants you to buy it by the barrel for $10,000 each. The Master Taster or the Master Distiller will personally meet with you to provide a tour and help you in your selection. The company will even put your name up on its Single Barrel Wall of Fame. I walked around and checked out who was buying barrels. I found some particularly amusing.

If you choose to put down $10,000 and buy a barrel, it will be bottled up for you. You also get to keep the barrel.

If you choose to plop down $10,000 and buy a barrel, it will be bottled up for you. You also get to keep the barrel! Our guide uses the display as a leaning post. On the right, behind the bottles, you can see the Wall of Fame for people who have purchased a barrel— or more.

The Marines from Camp Pendleton seemed especially thirsty Each barrel on the plaque represents a barrel the Marines purchased. It's amazing how much a 'few good men' (and women today) can consume.

The Marines from Camp Pendleton seemed especially thirsty. Each barrel on the plaque represents a barrel they purchased. It’s amazing how much a ‘few good men’ (and women today) can consume.

This has to be all about quality control, right?

This has to be all about making sure that Jack Daniels meets state standards, right. A lot of testing has to go on…

Okay, I don't get this. These folks are Mormons, and, as far as i know, Mormons don't drink! I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that Jack learned his trade from a minister. (grin)

Okay, here’s my last photo for today. I don’t get it. The majority of folks in Utah’s government, as far as I know, are Mormons— and Mormons don’t drink! Hmmm.

NEXT BLOG: I visit some beautiful waterfalls. An 18-wheeler misses me by about 6-inches while going over 60 and teaches me how to fly. I have a nose to nose confrontation with a humongous dog. We end the day in Dayton, Tennessee where man took on monkey in the infamous Scopes Trial.

 

Hiding Out from a Tornado on the Natchez Trace… The 10,000 Mile North American Bike Tour

The Pharr Mounds on the Natchez Trace were built around 2000 years ago.

The Pharr Mounds, ancient burial sites, are one of the most interesting views along the Natchez Trace. They became almost too interesting for me when a tornado roared through the area.

I left Tupelo with dark clouds hanging on the horizon. Nothing new here, I thought. It was a rare day when I didn’t see something threatening to pounce on me from the sky. Usually, nothing happened. Or I’d get caught in a downpour or two and dry off.  Why worry? Down in Texas I’d dodged a few hail storms and tornadoes, but dodged is the operative word. Besides, the weather is supposed to behave like that in the Lone Star State. I would have been disappointed without pavement-melting sun and golf ball size hail stones. Where would the stories be?

I was ten miles up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo when a driver flagged me down. “There’s a serious tornado warning on,” he told me. “You should consider getting off the Trace.” I thanked him for his concern. My alarm level climbed up the worry meter a few degrees. But it wasn’t a massive leap. I’d save that for when I spotted a flying cow. Besides, there wasn’t a side road where I was. And when I found one, who’s to say that my detour wouldn’t take me toward a tornado instead of away from it. So I biked on.

At mile marker 286.7, I came on the Pharr Mounds, one of the most interesting sites along the Natchez Trace. Eight large burial mounds cover some 90 acres. Built by hunter/gatherer tribes in the area some 2000 years ago, the mounds range from 3 to 18 feet in height. Artifacts found in the mounds suggest the builders were part of a trading culture that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

One of numerous arrow head looking signs along the Natchez Trace that announce historic sites.

One of numerous ‘arrowhead’ signs along the Natchez Trace that announce historic sites.

This photo of the Pharr Mounds site provides a perspective on just how large the site is.

This photo of the Pharr Mounds’ site provides a perspective on just how large the area is. Note the mounds in the distance. They are up to 18 feet tall.

The Pharr Mounds north of Tupelo, Mississippi cover some 90 acres.

Another shot that provides perspective on the size of the area.

Flowers growing on the Pharr Mounds along the Natchez Trace in Northern Mississippi.

A close up of the flowers that added color to the green grass.

A group of model airplane enthusiasts were flying their toys over the huge field. The planes were big ones with wide wingspans. I stopped to watch the action and check out the mounds. I became a little concerned when the hobbyists had a hurried discussion, brought in their planes, packed them up, and took off— quickly. Ah well, I thought, climbing back on my bike. But something wasn’t right. The sky had turned an eerie color. I looked at the clouds; they were circling, ominously. Now my alarm level made its massive leap, even without the flying cow. “Oh shit,” I thought.

I hurriedly looked around. The Pharr mounds had a sturdy looking restroom. I had just peed there. I might be peeing there again, real soon, having it scared out of me. The bottom half of the facility was made up of a rock wall. “Okay, Curt,” I commented to me, “this is your port in the storm.” The restrooms had a further advantage of having a covered porch. I could stay outside, be protected from the weather, and watch developments. If necessary, I could scurry inside and duck. I made myself comfortable and waited for the show.

A bright flash of light lit up the sky, followed instantly by an earth-shaking rumble, followed seconds later by a flood causing rain. Noah would have been impressed. The rain didn’t have the good sense to fall straight down. It came at me sidewise, drenching my thoughts of a dry porch. I love a good storm, but this one was becoming worrisome. “Well, Blue,” I said to my bike, “I think it is time to head inside.” I couldn’t be sure, but I think Blue responded with something like, “What took you so long?”

Sopping wet, Blue and I made a beeline for the bathroom. It was dry inside, even warm in comparison to the porch, but I could hear the storm tearing around the building. It sounded like a monster trying to smash its way in. And then it was calm, uncannily so. The monster was gone. Except it wasn’t. In the distance I heard a rumbling sound, like a herd of buffalo seeking revenge, coming for me. I almost lost it at this point. I pictured myself on the floor, snuggling up to the base of the toilet, and holding on for dear life while the roof came off and my bike took off like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Here I am, standing next to the restrooms that provided me with shelter in 1989. Peggy took this photo when we retraced my route this spring. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Here I am, standing next to the restrooms that provided me with shelter in 1989. Peggy took this photo when we retraced my route this spring. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I don’t know how long the roaring lasted: seconds, a few minutes, forever? I do know that it grew louder and louder— and then it was gone. The roof was still on; my bike was still there; and I had missed my close encounter with the toilet. I opened the door for a tentative look, not knowing what to expect. The sun had the nerve to peek out from behind a cloud. A few branches were on the ground. That was it; I had dodged the herd of buffalo (or tornado?) that came roaring through. A celebration was called for, and lunch.

I returned to the porch, retrieved my backpacking stove and boiled up a pot of water for tea and soup. The celebration part involved adding a generous dollop of 151 proof rum to the tea. I almost added another one to the soup. I was half way through the tea when a car pulled up. A woman piled out.

“Did you see a tornado?” she asked excitedly. “There was one just down the road!”

I figured “just down the road” was far too close. I finished my tea and soup, visited the restroom one last time and rode on to Tishomingo State Park, which is near the Alabama border. My ride up the Trace was nearing its end. Fortunately, I’d be there to enjoy it.

Tishomingo State Park on the Natchez Trace.

One of the campgrounds at Tishomingo State Park is located on this beautiful lake. I stayed here during my bile trip and Peggy and I have stayed here twice since.

Peggy toasts my avoiding the tornado.

Peggy toasts my avoiding the tornado. Had it carried me off, I wouldn’t have met her at the end of my bike trek.

Being an absolute sucker for reflection shots, here are three more from Tishomingo State Park:

A reflection shot at Tishomingo State Park along the Natchez Trace in northern Mississippi.

Tishomingo State Park near the Alabama border in Northern Mississippi.

I will conclude with this one I took as the sun set.

I will conclude with this one I took as the sun set.

NEXT BLOG: I finish up my ride on the Trace and cut across Tennessee to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg.

 

Mississippi Burning— Plus Elvis… The 10,000 Mile North America Bike Tour

I met this little fellow in a Natchez Trace Information Center in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He looked like he wanted to give me a hug so I decided to pass him on to you.

I met this little fellow in a Natchez Trace Information Center in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He looked like he wanted to give me a hug so I decided to pass him on to you.

 

“That boy is one tough son of a bitch.” –John Hamilton Carpenter

 

My friend, Morris Carpenter, picked me up in Jackson and gave me and my bicycle a ride to his home in Philadelphia, Mississippi. I’d be spending a week with him and his wife Marianna, the first major break in my bike ride. Morris and I go way back, all the way to 1961 when we were in student politics together at a community college in Northern California. Later, we both served as Peace Corps Volunteers in West Africa. I’ve written about that experience in my book, The Bush Devil Ate Sam. Our paths have crossed numerous times since.

Morris lives on Azalea Drive so I photographed one.

Morris lives on Azalea Drive so I photographed a bush of them.

When my first wife and I parted ways, Morris even got the kid, our 70-pound Basset Hound, Socrates. Morris was living in Maine at the time, working for the Penobscot Indians. He had kept Socrates for us while Jo and I had spent six months travelling in the South Pacific and Asia. When we had returned and Jo had decided that she wanted a more stable, middle class life than my love of wandering and work for nonprofits supported, I’d called Morris with the bad news and asked if he could keep Socrates for a while longer. “He’s my dog now,” Morris had declared. He had fallen for the lovable, stubborn hound.

Socrates' grand dad had been a Canadian and America champion, or at least his papers so claimed. To us he was just a lovable dog who kept me company on backpacking trips.

Socrates’ grand dad had been a Canadian and America champion, or at least his papers so claimed. To me, he was just a lovable dog who kept me company on backpacking trips. Those feet could move more dirt than a steam shovel. I sometimes had to file environmental impact reports on his digging. (Kidding.)

Now Morris was working for the Choctaw Indians as their housing director. He had picked up his expertise by rebuilding villages in Vietnam destroyed by the Viet Cong.  In coming to Mississippi, he had come home. His roots were deep. His mom and dad had moved from the state to Northern California in the early 40s where his father had gone to work in the lumber industry. Morris, like me, had been born in Southern Oregon. For a while, when his dad had gone off to fight the Japanese in World War II, his mom had moved Morris and his sister back to the small town of Conway, Mississippi to live with their Uncle Wilson. The community is approximately 25 miles west of Philadelphia.

Morris has now retired. When he worked for the tribe, their primary source of income was light industry. Now it is this Casino located just outside of Philadelphia.

Morris has now retired. When he worked for the Choctaw, their primary source of income was light industry. Now it is this Casino located just outside of Philadelphia.

Morris still had many relatives living in the area. I was invited to a gathering of the clan. They wanted to meet Morris’s friend who was so crazy he would go on a 10,000-mile bike ride by himself. We sat around drinking bourbon and eating delicious Southern fried chicken while I entertained them with tales of life on a bicycle. Afterwards, Morris told me that his cousin, John Hamilton Carter, had said, “That boy is one tough son-of-a-bitch.” Morris assured me it was a compliment.

One day he had taken me for a ride over to Conway to revisit his childhood home. While we were out and about, he had driven me by the earthen dam outside of Philadelphia where three young civil right’s workers had been buried in 1964. They had been killed by the Ku Klux Clan in cooperation with the local city police and county sheriff’s department. A Baptist preacher had orchestrated the murders.

The Pearl River as it winds through Neshoba County Mississippi. Authorities would drag the river for the slain civil rights workers until an informal told them about the dam.

The Pearl River as it winds through Neshoba County, Mississippi. Authorities would drag the river for the slain civil rights workers until an informant told them about the dam.

You see a beautiful, bucolic sight like this in Neshoba County and wonder about the prejudice, hatred and violence that once existed in the county.

You see a bucolic site like this in Neshoba County and wonder how such prejudice, hatred and violence could exist in such a beautiful place.

The three had been working to register black voters. Mississippi had passed a constitution in 1890 effectively blocking blacks from voting. Using law and violence, the state had maintained the status quo since. Supreme Court rulings in the early 60s had challenged such laws. College students from throughout the nation had been recruited by civil rights organizations to help out during Mississippi’s “Freedom Summer.” Many Mississippians had been infuriated with this outside interference in their state. Thousands had joined the KKK.

I had listened to recruiters for the effort that spring at Berkeley. The idea appealed to me but I had to work summers to pay for my education. While I was driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, the young people were killed. Several students at Berkeley, including Mario Savio, had heeded the call, however, and spent their summer in Mississippi. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley that fall had grown out of the University’s efforts to block students from participating in such efforts. I’ve blogged about my involvement in the protest.

A massive investigation by the FBI was ordered by the US Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy. The FBI designated the effort, Mississippi Burning. (The 1988 movie  Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe was loosely based on the 1964 incident.) Eighteen individuals were eventually charged. When the state refused to prosecute them, they were tried in federal courts. Seven were eventually found guilty and received relatively light sentences. None served more than six years.

Interestingly, in 2004, a multi-ethnic group from Philadelphia urged that the issue be revisited. As a result, the 80-year old Baptist minister and sawmill owner Edgar Ray Killen, who had avoided prison earlier, was charged with orchestrating the murders, found guilty, and sentenced to serve 60 years in prison.

At the end of the week, Morris had driven me back to the Trace and I had restarted my journey. He had watched me until I disappeared. “I was afraid I might never see you again.” he confessed. Morris thought what I was doing was too dangerous. If you want danger, I had thought to myself, try rebuilding a village the Viet Cong had burned down when the Viet Cong was still in the area.

This pull off along the Natchez Trace is known as Pigeons Roost for the thousands of Passenger Pigeons (now extinct) that once roasted in them.

This pull off along the Natchez Trace is known as Pigeons’ Roost for the thousands of Passenger Pigeons (now extinct) that once roosted in these trees.

There is nothing endangered about this pretty daisy (Fleabane, I think) that was growing at the site.

There is nothing endangered about this pretty daisy (Fleabane, I think) that was growing at the site.

We pulled off to check out these beautiful horses.

Peggy and I pulled off to check out these  horses.

While we were there, a bike tourist who was riding the Trace, Don Glennon, stopped to talk with us.

While we were there, a bike tourist who was riding the Trace, Don Glennon, stopped to talk with us. His outfit looked a little neater, more organized, and more waterproof  than mine had.

While Peggy and I were talking with Don, I suddenly felt several bites on my leg. Fire ants had worked they way up though a crack in the cement sidewalk and were rapidly moving up my leg. Much faster than it has taken to write this description, I was in the van and had taken by pants off. Nasty, nasty bugs they are! I had scars for weeks afterwards. The photo above is a fire ants nest.

While Peggy and I were talking with Don, I suddenly felt several bites on my leg. Fire ants had worked their way up though a crack in the cement sidewalk and were rapidly moving up my leg. Much faster than it has taken me to write this description, I was in the van and had taken my pants off. Nasty, nasty bugs! I had scars for weeks afterwards. The photo above is a fire ants’ nest.

A day later found me in Tupelo where Elvis Presley had been born. What better place for an Elvis-sighting? Maybe he still haunted the area. When I had graduated from the eighth grade in 1957, our music teacher had asked us to choose a song to sing at the ceremony. We had chosen Love Me Tender. Our choice was immediately squashed. Young women were already swooning at Elvis concerts and they squealed when he wiggled his hips. The older generation was going bonkers over this threat to our morals. We were offered a compromise: The Civil War era song, Aura Lea.  Presley had used the tune from the song for Love Me Tender.

BTW: Elvis claimed, “I’m not trying to be sexy. It’s just my way of expressing myself when I move around.” Um, yeah.

This road takes you to the Presley Museum in Tupelo that is located where Elvis was born.

This road takes you to the Presley Museum in Tupelo that is located where Elvis was born.

The house that Elvis was born in and where he spent his first years.

The house that Elvis was born in and where he spent his first years.

A bronze statue of the young Elvis with guitar in hand.

A bronze statue of the young Elvis with guitar in hand.

NEXT BLOG: I hide in a brick outhouse to avoid a tornado.