Monday, April 6, 2015, Fly from Reston to Nashville

It has been several years since we've visited family living in Nashville. We've also wanted to ride part or all of the 444 mile long Natchez Trace Parkway for several years. We decided to take an early spring trip to do both, spend a few days in Nashville and ride the Trace. We would fly to Nashville with our Bike Friday folding bikes, assemble them there and then rent a car and drive the bikes and our gear down to Natchez, MS and then ride back to Nashville on the Trace.

The Trace was a major wilderness trail used by Native Americans and herds of large animals for many years. During the late 1700's and early 1800's boatmen who floated their goods along the Mississippi to New Orleans or Natchez returned on foot and horseback to Nashville and points north via the Trace. The Parkway was built starting in 1937 to commemorate the original Trace route. It was finally completed in 2005. The Parkway generally follows the old Trace. Located on soft wind-blown loess soils, in some parts the old Trace has been worn several feet below the adjacent ground.

My sister Sandy picked us up after our short non-stop morning flight from Dulles to Nashville. We were pleased to learn that a new REI store was located not far from brother Dick's house so we stopped there to pick up a patch kit and spare 20" tube. We had a good dinner with family.

Tuesday, April 7, Nashville

I thought I had reserved a car for that afternoon to drive to Natchez the next day. Unfortunately the reservation was for the following afternoon and there were no one-way rental cars available. After some checking around we found a Chevy Equinox at a nearby Enterprise. Plans for dinner that night with the extended family were modified after we learned that my nephew would undergo emergency appendix surgery that evening.

Wednesday, April 8, Drive from Nashville to Natchez

Fortunately the surgery went well and we started on the long 9-hour drive to Natchez. The drive gave us an indication of the length of our upcoming bike ride. Had we taken on more than we could handle this early in the riding season? While we rode all winter, we hadn't done many longer rides and we had an ambitious itinerary with several 60 and 70 mile riding days ahead of us.

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Loading Bike Fridays into rental carNatchez-Vidalia Bridge over MississippiStarting our ride in Natchez, MS

The Natchez Grande Hotel appeared to have been recently renovated, located downtown on the water. I decided to return the rental car and wanted to get there before it closed at 6pm. We unloaded the car except for my bike. When I arrived at the rental place I realized I didn't have the pedals. Fortunately they were in the hotel, but by the time I returned to the rental place it was closed so I used the night drop. It was a hectic start to the trip.

We had an OK dinner at Biscuits & Blues, breaded eggplant, shrimp, oysters, and a salad. Since we planned to burn lots of calories in the coming week we splurged and split a Natchez Beignet, basically deep fried pastry dough with ice cream and sweet sauce. Enjoyed our walk back through town after dinner, admiring the impressive civic and church buildings and then a short walk along the upper banks of the Mississippi River watching a long barge being pushed by tugboat pass under the lighted Natchez-Vidalia bridge.

Thursday, April 9, Natchez to Port Gibson, 47.6 miles

It felt good to finally be riding. I realized that the dry run we had taken really was dry; I didn't have the 2 full water bottles I was now carrying and I had under-estimated the amount of additional gear I would need for the 9-day trip. The bikes with loaded panniers seemed very heavy, especially riding the rolling terrain during the first few miles of the trip.

Riding the Trace takes some planning. The only services or lodgings located adjacent to the Trace are around the two large cities, Jackson and Tupelo. While the parkway map is very informative regarding park resources, it contains no information about locations of nearby markets and restaurants. The best resource we found was Natchez Trace B&B Reservation Service run by Randy.

Randy's website contains an incredible amount of up-to-date information about bicycling the Trace. There is no charge for the B&B reservation service. We used the itinerary planner to enter our origin and destination (MP 0 & 444), the number of days we planned to ride and our min and max miles we preferred to ride each day. Shortly after submitting the form Randy called to confirm our entries and give us a draft itinerary. With a slight modification, that's what we ended up using for our trip.

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Emerald MoundMount Locust restored "stand"Port Gibson B&B

Emerald Mound, a Native American ceremonial site, is one of the largest mounds in the U.S. and was the first major tourist attraction on the Trace. "The mound was built by depositing earth along the sides of a natural hill, thus reshaping it and creating an enormous artificial plateau. Two smaller mounds sit atop the expansive summit platform of the primary mound." The mount was "a ceremonial center for the local [Native American] population."

I wanted to see the mound even though it meant riding about a mile off the Trace. Riding out of Natchez was fine with very little traffic on State St to the Parkway. Traffic on the Parkway was very light, and most motorists were very considerate. The gently rolling terrain was not so gentle as we mostly climbed from MP 0 for several miles off and on.

Kerie didn't seem to be in a great mood as we rode to the mound along a rutted gravel road. What I didn't know was that she wasn't feeling well. At one point she stopped and was bent over looking at the ground. I thought she was looking at something in the grass until she suddenly vomited. She wanted to keep riding but she stopped several times to be sick along the way.

We rested for a few minutes at Mount Locust, a restored "stand," one of the many inns that were located about every 15 miles along the old Trace, the average distance travelers walked in a day. We met a couple from Charlottesville, riding the Trace as part of their quest to ride in all 50 states. They were returning to the inn where we planned to stay that night where they had left their car. The couple working at Mount Locust were volunteers from Ohio who ride adult trikes back and forth from the visitor center to their camper parked nearby.

A little later we passed a couple riding against traffic, she with flip flops and headphones and large backpack, he had a large backpack, large crate on the back, basket, and plastic bags on handlebars. They thought it was safer to ride that way and didn't want our advice.

The wildlife we saw either had wings or was roadkill except for the occasional turtle in the road, a couple of which we assisted getting across. Saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly across the Trace, lots of butterflies, a dead armadillo and a few dead snakes.

Kerie looking white and clammy, managed to continue riding all the way to the Isabella B&B. Bobbye the innkeeper called us at mile 35 saying she heard from the couple from Charlottesville, who we had met earlier, that Kerie was sick and did we want a ride. Kerie said no and we kept slowly, steadily riding to the inn.

Knowing we hadn't had lunch, Bobbye prepared two grilled cheese sandwiches with chips for me and ginger ale for Kerie. We met a retired lawyer from Arizona driving a rented truck home from Virginia with some of her furniture. She was afraid of heights and was trying to figure out how to get over the Mississippi River bridge which seemed to have become her nemesis. She planned to hire someone to drive across the bridge. Others were encouraging her that she could do it ("just look straight ahead, it will be OK.")

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Our room at The IsabellaPort Gibson home built from flat boat woodSteeple pointing skyward

Port Gibson is known as the town spared by Grant during the Civil War because it was "too pretty to burn." Those days are long gone but some beautiful buildings remain. Before dinner I wandered around town and took a few photos in the evening light. There were no restaurants in town other than the fast food places. Bobbye was kind enough to lend us her car so we could drive to Best Wok for OK vegetable fried rice that we brought back to the inn, Bobbye bringing out plates and silverware.

Friday, April 10, Port Gibson to Ridgeland, 62 miles

Good breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and grits. For a small fee Bobbye also fixed us sandwiches for lunch. Fortunately Kerie was feeling much better and was able to eat a full breakfast. The bridge lady planned to drive 3 hours out of her way to use a more rural bridge over the Mississippi with little traffic, hoping it would be less stressful.

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Rocky Springs rest stopStanding lunchClinton Visitor's Center

As would be the case throughout the week, the forecast was for rain. From weather radar it appeared that a front would move through around 9am. We waited for a little while but decided to start and try to make it to Rocky Springs before the rain hit. As we were making our way back to the Trace, walking our bikes around a maintenance office just outside Port Gibson, we put on our rain gear just as the rain increased a bit. As would also be the case during the week, we barely got wet and soon we shed the rain gear .

Good day of riding with a tailwind and we both felt good and made pretty good time which was amazing given how sick Kerie was the day before. Lunch of peanut butter and jelly and smoked turkey sandwiches made by Bobbye. Ate our first sandwiches standing up at Rocky Springs as rain threatened, then later we finished our lunch also standing up at Dean Stand since the picnic table was wet. Saw a red-headed woodpecker at Rocky Springs then a couple of Meadowlarks in an ag field. Saw several white herons nesting high in trees in a swampy area.

Talked to a young couple at Clinton Visitor's Center just south of Jackson. Mason and Rachel had been on the road for 9 months, cycling in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Most recently they had flown to LA and were riding Adventure Cycling's Southern Tier route, which I had followed from San Diego to St. Augustine in 1999. They were now headed home to Indiana. Earlier that day I had seen them in downtown Port Gibson where they had stayed at the fire station. Here's an interview with them at a bike shop in Silver City, NM where our group stopped during our trip in '99.

One of the highlights of the day was when a pickup truck slowly passed us with a dude hanging out the window with an energy bar in each hand saying they just finished riding the Trace and they wished us well.

As we approached Jackson, traffic slowly built then increased significantly about 10 miles south. Most motorists were very accommodating. Only one motorist passed when cars were oncoming, forcing them to slow to avoid a collision. Around MP 96 a paved trail parallel to the Trace begins although there's no connection to the Trace. The agency building the trail ran out of funds so the approach from the north abruptly stops.

Having studied this on Google Maps we knew where to look for the end-of-trail barrier. We scrambled across the grass to reach the trail where we saw several cyclists riding to the end of the trail then turning back toward Ridgeland, the suburb just north of Jackson that was our destination for the night.

After crossing I-55 we took a connecting trail toward our motel for the night, Home2Suites. The nearby restaurants across I-55 are not accessible on foot. Took an expensive taxi ride about a mile to reach Biaggis, a very crowded Italian restaurant, for dinner.

Saturday April 11, 64 miles Ridgeland to Kosciusko

We left around 8:45 after a typical continental-type breakfast at Home2Suites. We continued on the parallel trail to Ross Barnett Reservoir overlook where we stopped briefly. Shortly afterward we saw Mason and Rachael again at Cypress Swamp where I took several photos; a lovely place.

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Leaving Ridgeland at the reservoirWorld travelers Mason and RachelCypress Swamp

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Riverbend rest stopChicago cyclist headed to New OrleansGood to see the
3-foot passing sign

The Trace followed the shoreline of the reservoir for several miles. It was a beautiful day of riding, especially after the rain and overcast the day before. We did have a headwind almost all day which made the last half of the 60+ mile ride a bit of a grind. Lunch places were too far away so we stopped and had oranges, energy bars, and gorp at Robinson Road. Also stopped at Riverbend for a snack.

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Lunch at Robinson RoadRed Dog Road photo for
our friend Red Dog Mom
One of the rare sharrows,
outside Kosciusko

Only one large motorhome came close to us, honking as it passed, with two bikes hanging off the back of the towed car. It seems that nearly all large motorhomes were towing a vehicle, often an SUV. 99,9% of motorists were very respectful. Saw a lone sharrow and Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign as we got to the Kosciusko exit.

Maple Terrace Inn was our destination in Kosciusko. Built in 1912 it is on the National Historic Register. There was a separate shed for bike parking, with two racks, a pump, some tools, and lube.

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Maple Terrace InnBike storage at the innOur room

We had dinner at a popular Kosiusko restaurant, Frenchie's. Didn't see any non-meat entrees so I had several sides; mac and cheese, cole slaw, collard greens, and sweet potato fries. It was prom night and Frenchie's was out of several menu items. Later I took a short ride at dusk to pick up Subway sandwiches for lunch the following day.

Sunday April 12, Kosiusko to Houston, 75 miles

This was to be our longest ride. After two 60 mile days we were at our limits, with sore butts and feeling tired. Fortunately the morning rain that was forecast didn't occur and it was a pleasant, mostly overcast day that cleared in the afternoon. Had a nice tailwind and we made good time. Very few facilities along the way. Ate half of our Subway sandwiches standing up at a turnout near French Camp which was closed as were the restrooms. Then when we wanted to finish lunch at Jeff Busby the picnic area was a quarter mile uphill and there was no place to sit near the restrooms. To top it off the restrooms had no soap. Ended up stopping at a bridge where we could lean the bikes and sit on the bridge and eat, with cars passing a few feet away.

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French Camp, closed on SundayAnother standing "rest" stopKerie in her Scottie jersey

Pileated Woodpecker, startled by the beating wings of a huge buzzard next to the road as we passed, couple of hawks. Live copper-colored snake in the road that raised it's head as we passed. Water Moccasin dead in the road.

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One of several
Old Trace signs
The Old TraceHalfway Milepost

Took photos at MP 222, the halfway point. Had a pleasant ride from the Trace to the inn with little traffic and it was nice to see some diversity compared to the forested landscape of the Trace. Only one dog gave chase.

Our destination in Houston was Bridges Hall Manor where Innkeeper Carol greeted us at the door. The bikes were parked on the knick-knack crowded porch and Carol helped us carry our bags up the stairs to our room. Enjoyed watching tv for the first time, catching The Good Wife and Mad Men. Dinner at a good Mexican restaurant, No Way Jose, shrimp tacos .

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Bridges-Hall Manor roomDinner at No Way JoseSome of the china collection

Monday, April 13, Houston to Tupelo, 44.4 miles

Once again the day started with a wet forecast and a light mist. Good breakfast of potato soufflé, eggs over hard, grits, fruit, and great biscuits with peach or plum jam. Carol gave us a couple of biscuits and jam for the road. We were again on the bikes by 8:45; there was no hurry to get going since this was a short day. We had rain gear ready but the misting had stopped by the time we left. Never really got rained on all day. A few times the mist got heavy but that was it. Good road surface, slight tailwind, enjoyable ride. To ease the pain of a sore butt I tried using a moleskin which has a strong adhesive on one side and slim felt on the other. It helped ease the pain a bit but it was hard to remove at the end of the day.

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Overcast ride to TupeloHilton Garden Inn
Note the detergent box
Walking next door to dinner

Spotted a Blue-winged Teal, two Kingfishers, and several buzzards, one perched over the carcass of a dear. Helped another turtle off the Parkway. Other than the biscuits, we hadn't packed lunch. We arrived tired and hungry in Tupelo around 1:30 and headed to a local bike shop, Bicycle Pacelines, located about a mile north of the Main St, exit to buy some chain lube, energy gels, and energy bar. Owner said the section north of Tupelo is more scenic than the southern section but hillier.

From the bike shop we took Jackson St into town and most drivers were considerate except for one who squeezed by and shouldn't have, right in front of a cop who ignored him. Then took Park to Main where we stopped by CVS for butt cream and more moleskins. Trying to beat the rain we headed to the hotel, Hilton Garden Inn. We had a ground floor room near the entrance. Showered and walked next door to Fairpark Grill for good honey-crusted salmon with vegetables and rice with wasabi drizzled over all and a Southern Pecan Brown Ale that tasted great.

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Fairpark GrillElvis' birthplaceElvis almost had a twin

Later walked to a nearby convenience store for drinks and to get change for the washer and drier; we did our first and only laundry of the trip at the hotel. While Kerie did laundry I rode a ghastly stretch east on Main St that was being torn up, so I could visit Elvis' birthplace, a small, simple home. Returned to Fairpark Grill for a dinner of salad and shrimp bisque and another beer.

Tuesday April 14, Tupelo to Belmont, 42 miles

We awoke to the usual weather, cloudy with the threat of rain. At breakfast we took a couple of bagels and cream cheese for our lunch. Quiet ride from the Hilton Garden Inn along neighborhood streets all the way to McCulloch which had fast traffic but we only rode a short stretch to the Parkway entrance around mile 263. At the Parkway Visitor's Center we watched a short file about the park.

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Bicycles May Use Full Lane signFuller Center ridersAnt mound at Pharr Mounds

Managed to avoid rain all day even though the road was wet in several spots. Relatively short day so we didn't hurry. Originally we had planned to ride from Houston to Belmont, a 75 mile day but we decided to break it up into two shorter days and we were glad we did. A fund-raising ride of about 35 riders passed us going the other way on their 90+ mile day. They were riding for the Fuller Center, raising funds and working on a housing project along the way. At Pharr Mounds we talked to a couple of their riders. Thought we might be offered a snack by their crew to supplement our bagels but they didn't seem to even notice we were there.

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Clearcut on road to BelmontChecking into the Belmont HotelInside the hotel

White herons, gar (with long snout), large turtles, Cliff Swallows. Fields of yellow flowers, tall red flowers. RV driver honked and begrudgingly moved into the other lane. At mile 293, just after Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway bridge we turned right to get to CR 2. Just after turning off the Trace a large logging truck approached so we got off the road as there was a curve ahead. Fortunately that was the only logging truck we saw on the 9 mile ride. Nice but hilly ride to Belmont. Passed a huge clearcut area at the top of the ridge; we didn't see any logging trucks because they had already cleared out the area.

We were the only guests at Belmont Hotel, a large old hotel next to the train tracks. Belmont is over 90% white and a large percentage of Hispanics. Had dinner at a very good and crowded Mexican restaurant, Costa Oaxaquena, located across the street from the hotel. We topped off the meal with an ice cream cup from a small stand nearby.

Wednesday April 15, Belmont to Collinwood, 60.22 mi

I was up early to get sandwiches from Subway for lunch. Had a slightly surreal breakfast that was set out for us at the hotel, but we saw no one the entire time. Yogurt, cereal, juice and a pop tart. From Belmont we had a 10 mile ride back to the Trace along country roads with some steep climbs, past a mix of shacks and middle-class houses. Several dogs gave chase along the way. Saw two Pileated woodpeckers, goldfinches, meadowlark, turkeys, hawk with snake, chipping sparrow.

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Leaving BelmontTrace selfieReady to cross the Tennessee

Lunch at Colbert Ferry at MP 227, picnic table and restrooms. The last few miles were a grind. No place to rest so we kept riding. Stopped at the Collinwood Visitor Center and got a free cookie and directions. Miss Moneta's Country Cottage is a small, very neat and clean house amidst other similar houses in town. Bikes are stored in the storage shed. After showers we walked to Chad's Family Restaurant for a good meal of grilled shrimp, baked potato, green beans, and hush puppies. Kerie had catfish, sweet potato, beans, and hush puppies.

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3/4 point mile markerCollinwood Visitor CenterGood smoothies at Dragonfly

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Miss Moneta'sFormer train stationDinner at Chad's

After dinner we walked to Piggly Wiggly for breakfast food as it is not served at the cottage, although there were some supplies for making oatmeal, etc at the cottage. Also bought subs for lunch tomorrow at the Exxon Hasti Mart. Drivers all seem to be in a hurry, speeding throughout the town including on quiet residential streets. We rocked on the porch for a while before turning in early. Our schedule on bike tours usually matches my preferred schedule of getting to bed early. It's also the schedule of rural America.

Thursday April 16, Collinwood to Fall Hollow, 35 miles

Rain and cooler this morning as we load up for the ride to Fall Hollow. The last of a front is moving through at 8am so we waited until 10 when the worst of it passed. We donned our rain gear anyway as it looked threatening. Once again we never did get rained on while riding that day.

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Rainy morning at Miss Moneta'sRiding the old TraceFlower on the old Trace

As the owner of Bicycle Pacelines had said, this northern section of the Trace has a bit more variety than the southern section and is very scenic but also has more hills. We did see more trash on the roadside, but the restrooms seemed cleaner and had soap.

Rode on a short, narrow, mostly paved section of Old Trace Drive around MP 376, with some short climbs to 3 overlooks. It's a one-way road that parallels the Parkway for a couple of miles. Lunch was at Jacks Branch, another rest area with restrooms and picnic tables, some along the creek banks. Ate our Hasti Mart subs and chips. While there we met a guy who was riding from New Orleans to Santa Cruz. He's between jobs and decided to ride for 2 months, returning to his former home. Like most of us riding the Trace, his friends think he's crazy.

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Lunch at Jacks BranchMeriwether Lewis MonumentAt the Lewis monument

Stopped at the site of Merriwether Lewis' death and burial. He likely committed suicide when traveling by horse from Louisiana (as governor) to DC on the Trace.

Not long before we arrived at Fall Hollow campground we were passed several faster riders who turned out to be mostly from Colorado. They were followed by a driver in a rented RV. I missed our turnoff but as we passed it Kerie asked me to check the directions. Fall Hallow is adjacent to the Parkway. The Colorado group was sitting in front of the office, waiting for the RV. I'll admit to feeling a little smug knowing we had everything we needed in our panniers. The Colorado gropu had hoped to rent the two rooms at the campground but were disappointed that we showed up for our reserved room.

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Fall Hallow Campground
Colorado cycling group
Amish lawnmowerCyclist visitors from
around the U.S.

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Fall Hallow kitchenHush puppies, fries,
and fried catfish
Evening walk along the stream

Bill the proprietor is very friendly and a bit of a collector. As his wife Kathy said, "People give him things and he puts them on the wall." Bill is also the restaurant cook. The restaurant is open Thursday-Saturday; we had whole fried catfish, hush puppies, fries, and coleslaw.

A young couple was camping nearby. They've been riding for 29 days without a break, and they had also wanted to rent a room for their rest day. They started in Miami, rode to Key West (during Spring Break), took the ferry to Ft Myers, then started on the Southern Tier route to Mobile where they headed north on the Underground Railroad route then to the Trace. They planned to head to St. Louis and will ride the Katy Trail then head to Kansas or Nebraska. We hope to ride the Katy this year.

Friday, April 17, Fall Hallow to Nashville, 63.1 miles

Good breakfast at Fall Hollow with the other cyclists; biscuits, eggs, potato casserole. Got on the road at about 8:45 as usual. The rain held off again all day. The route was hillier toward Nashville with some long climbs. Several rest room stops along the way but not when we wanted to stop for lunch after about 30 miles. Ended up at a nice spot beside a stream where we ate the ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and apple that Bill made for us at Fall Hollow for a small fee ("I'm not fixing you sandwiches, I'm fixing you lunch").

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Some of the Colorado
crew ready to leave
Overlooking Fall Hollow CampgroundNear the end of the Parkway

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Kerie wanted to be sure
I got a photo of Sheboss Place
Tobacco barnGordon House built
in 1818.

Took a photo at the large Trace sign a few miles from the end of the parkway. The final milepost that we saw was 442 where we took a photo. The final couple of miles of the Trace were a bit anti-climatic. We stopped at Loveless Cafe for a drink; the place is more of a tourist trap than I expected.

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Why can't most bridges
be this attractive?
Another sharrow near NashvilleDouble Arch Bridge over TN 96
in 1818.

Trace sign composite

We planned to ride to my brother's home in Brentwood, about 10 miles from the end of the Trace. The first half of the ride was not pleasant, along Sneed Rd, especially at rush hour on Friday. Most motorists were considerate but there was a long hard climb along the way and motorists were passing a little too close. We were glad to reach the bike lanes along Hillsboro despite the fast traffic. The last couple of miles were along quiet back roads.

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Last milepostLoveless Cafe near the terminusArrival in Brentwood

Despite the weather we had a great trip. Riding a total of 500 miles this early in the season was a major accomplishment for both Kerie and me. Kerie was able to overcome her illness that could have easily ended the trip on the first day. Having Randy of Natchez Trace B&B Reservation Service develop our itinerary and handle the lodgings was very helpful. Randy even called us during the trip to see how things were going. I highly recommend riding the Trace. I hear it's pretty in the Fall and maybe it's drier then too..