Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fall Colors, Winter Weather

More new VIDEOS this week.

12/22/11 Natchez State Park, Mississippi

I am sitting in a cabin beside a lake in the middle of Natchez State Park, Mississippi. Rain is pouring down outside, and showing no signs of letting up. The power was out when I woke up this morning, and has not returned. The forecast for today looked wet starting about a week ago, and all of the meteorologists' predictions came true. I think that Pete and I will make at least a short ride mid-day, but we will be soaked as soon as we leave the shelter of this place. Riding in winter is a different game.
Pete arrived in Jackson around 4 pm two days ago, and we met up that night at his hotel to plan and prepare. After a pleasant plane ride, Pete picked up the used bike that he had purchased from a local shop, and rode to the hotel in the rain. He packed light, and his clothes dried quickly, so his first ride in the rain was not a big deal.
Pete and I played Ultimate Frisbee together in college, and have been adventuring together after college a few other times. He mentioned his interest in joining me for part of the ride while we were both attending my friend Greg's wedding in Minnesota. I am very glad that he made the trip, and it is already being very enjoyable to have a partner on the journey.

Yesterday, we spent nearly the entire day on the Natchez Trace Parkway. This fabulous stretch of road runs from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS for 444 miles of scenic beauty. Impeccably maintained by the National Park Service, the parkway is lined with tall grass and native trees for several hundred yards on either side of the road, providing a continuous habitat for animals, and a continuous beautiful view for cyclists and motorists. There are no stop signs or stop lights along the full length, and roads that cross the parkway are routed underneath or over, depending on the geography of the location. Stops along the way are filled with history from Native American times, through European settlement until the civil war, then the Natchez Trace stopped being used for practical purposes. Now, the speed limit is 50 mph, the traffic is light, the grade is easy, and the pavement is smooth. It was a beautiful, though long ride, here to Natchez State Park. Natchez, MS was apparently home to over half of the millionaires living in the United States before the start of the civil war. Many of the large homes and mansions from those days have been converted into bed & breakfasts, and are preserved for historic and tourist purposes. Pete and I plan to stay in one of these tonight.
Pete rode 99 miles on his first day out, which is no small feat for anyone. We decided to make it a long day due to the predicted poor weather the next day. It was a good choice. Aside from a minor side-track into some nasty mud at the start, we made good time pedaling through the changing leaves, the hanging lichen, and the trees covered in ferns and moss. The temperature was perfect, with intermittent cloud cover, hardly any wind to speak of, and plenty of daylight hours, having made an early start at 7 am from the hotel. Today will be a different experience entirely.

12/23/11 Natchez, MS to New Roads, LA: 90 miles

Another long day. The wind was at our backs and we made the fastest per-hour time of the trip so far (15 mph). Pete is much less sore from the first day's ride than either of us imagined he would be, and we had a good ride in cool weather. Birds, swamps, levees and miles of smooth, empty pavement filled our day. We passed several hydro-electric locks in side channels of the Mississippi, with brown waters swelling up in foamy currents from their down-river ends, and vultures swirling about overhead. We saw large flocks of white Pelicans, several Great Blue Herons and lots of juvenile vultures.
Natchez and New Roads are both old plantation towns, with brick buildings and old houses built with columns and bay windows and colonial architecture. In Natchez, we stayed in one of the old homes which had been immaculately restored by the owner, taking over 25 years starting in 1978 to restore the building to its colonial glory. The owner was amazingly easy to get along with, and his B&B was a delight to stay in. We spent a few hours touring around historical Natchez, had a good southern dinner with catfish and biscuits, and had a good night's sleep.


I attended a catholic mass this morning with Pete, who is catholic and attends church every Sunday. The singer, clearly appointed by the church, was absolutely amazing. Her voice filled the large hall with beautiful, pitch perfect opera, and was quite inspiring.

We are staying on the Louisiana State University campus, which may be the nicest part of Baton Rouge. Last night, we had a long soak in the hot tub outside the University Hotel, which did wonders for our sore legs. Tomorrow, Pete and I will attempt to make the ride to New Orleans, weather permitting. We are looking forward to a few days of fun and relaxation!

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