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"I am just going outside and may be some time"

Posted Nov 23 2009 7:38am
As Christmas rapidly approaches, so does my 50th Birthday (Dec 5th) and beyond that '2010'.
'2010' might be 'Next Year' but the formidable Cheshire Cat is only four months away (March)
The MS 150 is in five and so is the Natchez trace (April).
After that there will be other sportives.
I have also decided to do the 'Hotter than Hell' again (August).
After last years 'Cooler than Hell' I am obliged to go back really - to see what all the fuss is about.
I must say we could do with a bit of Hotter than hell here, I would even compromise on a glimpse of the sun, rather than an assorted varieties of grey.
Although I have started light training I realise that I will soon have to abandon the warmth of the Gym and the camaraderie of spinning classes and venture out onto the open road.
I keep threatening to take the bike out but find myself intimidated by driving rain which has recently also contained sleet.......yuk.
In the summer cycling is so easy, it takes me 5 minutes to get ready.
At this time of year its a logistical nightmare. I have to think about gloves, hats, extra layering and keeping dry. By the time I am ready I have eaten into a good chunk of daylight time and look like a cross between The michelin man and the Pillsbury doughboy
Breakfast has also changed from light yogurt and granola, to porridge ensuring that I receive some internal warmth before I venture outside. Like Captain Oates. on his fateful antarctic expedition, however in my case I cant wait to get back !!!!!!
I now have the heating is now on all day and in about three weeks it will be the shortest daylight day of the year.
Anyway a bit about the Natchez Trace
The Natchez Trace is a four hundred forty-four mile National Park, so to speak. It's a highway administered by the National Park Service stretching approximately from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez Mississippi. For thirty-two miles it nibbles a little on Alabama. The highway has only two lanes and no shoulders. However, no commercial traffic is permitted - no trucks, and traffic most times and places is light. In the areas around Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi, the traffic was notable, but not all that intimidating. Paralleling the highway are nicely manicured grassy areas extending in places several hundred feet to stands of coniferous and deciduous trees. Additionally, many points of interest pop up along the way with placards explaining various aspects of the area's history. It's surely not one long grind to get over with as quickly as possible. Savor it as you ride.
History - what was The Natchez Trace? The answer dates back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. Enterprising men in places upstream, like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, would load rafts with merchandise and float them down stream. They followed rivers such as the Ohio to the Mississippi. Continuing downstream on Ole Miss, the rafters would find a port where their merchandise was needed. They'd off load the cargo, sell the raft's timbers for home building, buy a horse and ride back north so they could repeat the scenario. Natchez was a popular end point for many of them. The roadway on which they began their journey back north was none other than The Natchez Trace.
Initially, The Trace, as many early roadways were called, was a path beaten down by Native Americans, followed by French and Spanish settlers. However, traveling via The Trace was not without its trials. Unfriendly Indians, bands of thieves, floods, thigh-deep mud, disease bearing insects and few amenities were all possibilities if not probabilities along this "super highway." Then, with the introduction of steamboats, circa 1812, transportation methods changed, and The Trace fell into disuse.
The United States government saw merit in preserving this history and in the late thirties began construction of the highway, as we now know it. It's still not complete. There is a twenty-six-mile discontinuity in the area around Jackson, Mississippi. (Download map from the website.) Let's hope that it's completed by the time you try it out.
When riding The Trace, you'll be pleased that there are no billboards. You will see segments of the original Natchez Trace, an original house, Indian mounds, the grave site of thirteen unknown Confederate soldiers, a cypress swamp, meandering streams, waterfalls, modest rivers like the Duck, huge rivers like the Tennessee and the Tenn - Tombigbee Waterway, farm land, French Camp (where sorghum is made in the Fall), miles of trees, wild flowers and flowering shrubs, the delightful fragrance of honeysuckle and (on Saturday and Sunday afternoons) the heavenly bodies sun bathing on the beaches of enormous Ross Barnett Reservoir.
If what I've described gets your juices flowing a little, you may want to check out their website. Use your search engine to locate "Natchez Trace Parkway" where you can download maps and find extensive information. Alternatively, e-mail, phone or write to the National Park Service for a packet of material that they will send at no cost providing information on public transportation, The Trace's campgrounds (no charge, but no hot water or showers), restaurants and bicycle shops not far off the highway, a very useful map of The Trace telling where all the interesting points are along the way, sites of drinking water availability and lots more.
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