Friday, October 23, 2009

Natchez Trace VI: The Road to Jackson

There are 61 miles of nothing between Port Gibson and Jackson. That's a bit unfair, perhaps you know more about trees than I do.

At least I had the wind at my back. I decided to bypass the one stop light town of Raymond, known as the site of a skirmish that was one of the last road bumps on Grant’s inexorable drive to Vicksburg. I doubted the lunch counter on the square was worth the two mile detour, and couldn't be sure they would even serve me. It crossed my mind that the woman who told me her restaurant was closed, inexplicably, for dinner on a Saturday night did so based on my dark complexion, greaser mustache and the Spanish lettering on my El Salvador jersey. That border control agent in Laredo had questioned me Spanish, after all.

I hadn’t looked at the map carefully and didn’t think to stop and fill up my bottle at the one rest stop I’d pass. So I went without water for the last 25 miles, dripping with sweat under the afternoon sun. This last third of the ride was one of two dangerous stretches for bikers on the Trace. The parkway straddles the city limits for 20 miles where it is used as a throughway for Jackson residents. It took all my energy to keep a straight line on the shoulder as a steady line of impatient SUV’s and trucks sped past. I had been spoiled the first day when I was saw less than ten cars per hour. Those drivers were not in a hurry as they too were here for the scenery, and almost all of them noticed me in time to pass on the other side of the double yellow.

The man at Western Auto had warned me about this stretch near Jackson and another that ran through Tupelo.

“It is not what this road was meant for,” he said.

With each vehicle that approached from behind, I would look back over my shoulder until I saw them drift to the center and only then would I yield the two feet I kept between me and the white line. This last minute shift to the curb spared me the worst of a passing camper’s strategic release of its gray water. They only managed to douse my shoes.

I called Rube when I got cell phone reception near the city. My legs were rubber and I did not trust myself to navigate any more city traffic, especially when that city is the capital of a state where motorists are awarded as many points in the road kill game for smashing a bicycle as for running down communist hitchhikers. I was relieved when he offered me a ride. I walked my bike down the embankment at mile marker 101 to Millennium Mall we where we agreed to meet.

I gulped down a two-liter water bottle on a bench outside a boutique and watched the women of Jackson circle the discount racks. I saw a couple of the bikers from Oak Square on their way to the mall. I was annoyed by how spry they looked. This sentiment must have been plastered on my face because one the guys made the others pick up my bike so they could all comment on how heavy it was compared to their carbon fiber jobs. They wished me luck and said we’d be running into other the rest of the way, but I knew better. That was the last time I would catch up with any racing shirts on my ride north.


Unknown said...

I just spent a good hour browsing through your blog - it was so fascinating. I finally had to give up because it was past my bedtime. But thanks!

I happened across it because I live in Natchez and look out for posts about Natchez.

BTW, those are not Confederate flags flying - that's the MS state flag. It happens to include the Confederate flag and has since the 1800s. We tried to change it a few years back and it failed miserably. Even the blacks voted against it. Go figure!

Bill Wilson said...

Thanks Casey Ann. Old traditions die hard, especially when they are attacked by outsiders. So I am probabably not helping the cause.