By Dennis Thompson
In April of this year, a group of eight cycling friends rode 444 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace. As we learned along the way, the Trace (a French word for trail) has been used by animals and humans for thousands of years as a north-south route through this part of the country. It had its high point from 1790 to 1820, when settlers from Ohio walked back home after delivering their goods to the Gulf area via boat on the Mississippi River. When steamboats came into use, they no longer walked, and the trail fell into disrepair.
Today, the Trace is a National Parkway, part of our national parks system. It is a 500 foot wide beautifully landscaped swath of land which passes through southern Tennessee, a corner of Alabama, and a big diagonal through Mississippi. There are historical and scenic stops along the way, including Native American ceremonial mounds, 200-year old cabins, antebellum mansions, Merriweather Lewis’s death place, swamps and ponds.
For us, this was a cyclists’ paradise! The gently rolling two-lane road has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour; commercial vehicles are not allowed, and bicycles have the right of way! There are no stop signs or cross-traffic; cars pass over and under, or merge with curved ramps. We rode 40-50 miles a day (we took turns driving our rented van) and stayed in motels and historic B & B’s in little rural towns, as well as Jackson, Natchez, and Tupelo (Elvis’s birthplace). We ate a little too much Southern food, but it was a most memorable trip for all of us!