It isn't often that nine people spend 16 days together and still like each other at the end. This last trip that my husband Joe and I took was an exception.
We started thinking about doing a trip on the Natchez Trace Parkway about two years ago. It seemed like a dream then. Really? A 440-mile bike ride - could we actually accomplish that?? Well, lots of thinking and planning determined that, yes, we could actually accomplish that.
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs from close to Nashville, Tenn. down to Natchez, Miss. It is a two-lane highway with a 50 mph speed limit, and no commercial traffic. The Trace offers intriguing stopping points including waterfalls, many scenic overlooks, signboards at pull-offs describing the Civil War battles that took place, and other historic information, such as the grave site of Merriweather Lewis (Lewis & Clark), a Confederate soldier burial ground and The Sunken Trace - an area of the old Trace that collapsed.
The 'Natchez Nine' at the Belmont Hotel in Belmont, Miss. In the top row from left to right are: Gene and Karen Barry, and Roger and Betsy Kalter. The bottom row is Judy and Joe Baker, Elin Jones, and Steve and Ann Simonton.
Nine of us chose to go on this great adventure: Elin Jones, who proclaimed, "We have to go this year. I'll be too old next year!"; newlyweds Karen and Gene Barry; Roger and Betsy Kalter - Roger our best storyteller, and Betsy our best photographer; seasoned bike riders Ann and Steve Simonton; and my husband Joe and I. We laughed a lot, learned a lot - about each other and of course the history of the area - and ate a lot (you tend to do that when you've ridden four to six hours a day). So by the end we felt like a family.
We averaged 37 miles a day for 12 days. A couple of days were under 30 miles, a couple of days were 55 to 60 miles. We decided to take a car with us so our bikes wouldn't have to carry all of our gear. One or two people took turns each day driving to a stopping/lunch/snack point and made sure the rest of us were OK. Five of us camped where there were camping areas close to the bed and breakfasts the other four of us stayed in.
One of the smartest things we did was take advantage of a service offered by Natchez Trace B&B Travel. Randy Fought with the Natchez Trace B&B Reservation Service got us our B&B reservations and helped us with all of our planning - maps, restaurants, camping areas, landmarks to see, etc. It was invaluable! (natcheztracetravel.com)
Amazingly, it only rained for 10 minutes on one day; we only had two flat tires and one broken spoke for the entire trip. We did have a bunch of sore shoulders, necks, arms, legs and especially rears. But no matter what hurt or got numb, we kept on going, because at the end of that day was a shower, a meal and a bed or sleeping bag, and many pleasant thoughts from that day - and the phrase "car back" echoing in our heads.
And so we traveled. Each day a new opportunity. Seeing some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Some of the highlights included: Peacocks - 17 of them at one B&B; meteor showers on clear nights; extremely friendly people (southern hospitality does exist); turtles attempting to cross the road and sometimes not making it; an armadillo that definitely did not make it across the road; mushrooms of many shapes, sizes and colors; Indian burial mounds; a large variety of beautiful, colorful wildflowers; butterflies zig-zagging across our path; big beautiful old farm houses turned into bed and breakfasts - we got to tour them and learn all about their history; and a stone wall made of 8 tons of stones and built by one man in memory of his American Indian great-grandmother, who was forced to leave Alabama as part of an exile program called the "Trail of Tears". It was almost inconceivable that one person could do all that. At 86, he's still working on it.
Someone asked me while we were planning this trip, "what is your motive for doing this?" That was easy. There is so much to see in this beautiful country of ours. Yes it takes time, effort, planning and money to travel, but it enriches your life many times over. When you return from a trip like this you feel as if you've achieved a new level of growth, and made your life more meaningful. You have stories to tell and new thoughts to share.
So get out there and take a life-enriching trip. Feel that sense of accomplishment. Enjoy life one new mile at a time!
Judy Baker lives in Marietta.