Monday–October 27, 2003
Location–TN100, Percy Warner Park
Dan Sheltowee Rogers and Dennis Artful Dodger Ham, dear hiker trash friends from way back, and for the longest time, both have urged me to go hike the Natchez Trace National Historic/Scenic Trail. So, finally, after their continued urging, I’m here to begin this journey.
Earlier today, Darrell, a friend since childhood (and a fine pilot), flew me in his private plane from the little airport in Eldon, Missouri, across the mighty Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, above Land Between the Lakes, and in just a little over two hours we landed at a little airport near Nashville. By mid afternoon, I’m standing below the state capitol, where Darrell bids me farewell – and I’m off, heading southwest on another fine adventure.
The afternoon is spent trudging along busy Nashville streets as I loosen my legs, thence to head down TN100 on my way to the Natchez Trace Parkway entrance southwest of Nashville. At dusk, luck brings me to a peaceful, expansive roadside park where I find a secluded spot back by the lake to pitch for the evening.
Tuesday–October 28, 2003
Location–Garrison Creek, Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace is rich in history. In the official guide to the Natchez Trace Parkway, published by the National Park Service, much is written about this old trail. It’s a story…of people on the move, of the age-old need to get from one place to another. It is a story of Natchez, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians following traditional ways of life, of French and Spanish people venturing into a world new to them, and of people building a new nation. At first the trace was probably a series of hunters’ paths that slowly came to form a trail from the Mississippi over the low hills into the valley of the Tennessee. By 1785 Ohio River Valley farmers searching for markets had begun floating their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez or New Orleans. Because they sold their flatboats for lumber, returning home meant either riding or walking. The trail from Natchez was the most direct. Growing numbers of travelers tramped the crude trail into a clearly marked path.
Today I begin tramping it too – along a beautifully paved and manicured corridor, the Natchez Trace Parkway. One of the places of interest, and just before entering the Parkway, I stop for breakfast at the neat old Loveless Café. This is a pretty famous place, at least as Nashville goes, and as country music goes. For, on the walls here are to be found rows and rows of autographed photos – of some pretty famous people. Among them: the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ray Stevens, Marty Stuart, Brooks and Dunn, The Judds, Charley Pride, K. T. Oslin, Jimmy Dean, Patty Loveless, Minnie Pearl, Kenny Rogers, Mark Chesnutt, Floyd Cramer, Billy Ray Cyrus, Donna Fargo, B. J. Thomas, Brenda Lee. Around and around the walls the pictures go, and around and around I go, lingering and having a fine time, as the locals look on with amusement.
On the Parkway now, the quiet solitude, the absence of traffic, a pleasant departure from the noise, bustle and confusion of yesterday immediately impress me. Large trucks are not permitted here, and there are no restaurants, no gas stations, no commercial activities whatsoever. Historic markers and rest areas have replaced these usual roadside “attractions,” along with acres and acres of manicured meadows, rolling and undulating along and beside. I make good time, hiking at times, straight down the Parkway centerline.
By late evening I reach Garrison Creek where I’m able to move away and set up camp. It’s been a pleasant, peaceful, although drizzly day. My legs are very tired, but I think they’re going to come back under me just fine. Thank you, Lord!
Wednesday–October 29, 2003
Location–Shady Grove, NTP
About two this morning a buck begins snorting near my tent. I run him off, but he comes back, snorting louder than ever. About the same time, a bunch of coyotes start howling across the ridge. That lasts for over ten minutes before they finally settled down. As I drift in and out of sleep, I can still hear the deer snorting and pawing around outside my tent; must have plunked down in his plunking down spot!
Yesterday was iffy, cloudy, misty, then partly cloudy and drizzly. Today dawns perfectly clear, a little cool, but the makings for a perfect day.
Locals say the peak for fall color was last weekend, but there are still splashes of reds, yellow and orange all about the countryside. It’s a beautiful fall. As I hike south, the Parkway winds back and forth across the Old Trace. It’s really quite amazing how after 200 years, the old road is still quite visible.
On the Natchez Trace map, which Dodger loaned me, at Shady Grove, he’d written “great cheeseburger.” So, to the Shady Grove General Store I head. And that great cheeseburger? Well, Dodger was right; I have one, too! Lots of fine places to set camp. I find a sheltered spot and pitch for the night.
Thursday–October 30, 2003
Location–Meriwether Lewis Memorial, NTP, thence to Hohenwald, Tennessee
I’m up at daybreak to another beautiful, cool, cloudless day, to head back over first thing to the general store for eggs and biscuits. On the Parkway now, it’s a climb, where the road meanders along the ridge, generally trending SSW. The Old Trace tended to stay pretty much directly on the ridge, with the Parkway following a short ways down. So, as the new road zigzags back and forth, from side to side on the ridge, it keeps crossing the Old Trace. Driving, or even bicycling, one would probably not notice the old roadbed at all, but walking along, and knowing where to look, its presence is ever so evident.
Dennis, a motorist who stopped yesterday to give me a fresh pear, stops again today and offers me another. Nearing the end of the day a fellow pulls off to enquire about my journey. He offers to bring me a spaghetti dinner later.
A crisp new dollar bill laying on the ground, along with a fine spaghetti dinner, my favorite – both birthday blessings for the birthday boy, 65 today.
Friday–October 31, 2003
I arrived Meriwether Lewis Memorial just at dusk last, where that great explorer and expedition leader took his own life. He was on his way back to Washington to clear his name as to accusations of misuse of funds as Governor of the Louisiana Territory. At Grinder’s Stand, on October 11, 1809, he placed his pistol to his head and his long gun to his chest and killed himself. The narration on the wall in the reconstructed old log building describes the place as “melancholy.” It is, indeed, melancholy. Lewis was 35.
I had planned on pitching in the woods near the Memorial, but there was no phone. There was supposed to be a phone, and I wanted to make a few calls, but alas, no phone. So I hitched a ride into Hohenwald.
This morning, as I head for the local drugstore for some film, a roll of adhesive tape and a shaker of foot powder, a young lady comes running up to me from across the street. She says, “I know you, we’ve met before, aren’t you the Nimblewill Nomad!” What a coincidence – we have met before, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Glory Aldridge was northbound on her Appalachian Trail thru-hike and I was headed across the continent. Glory lives in Lobelville, just a short distance from Hohenwald. She’s only nineteen, but has already thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Next year, she plans on completing the triple crown of hiking by thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail. When Glory accomplishes this feat, which only a select few have achieved, she will become not only the youngest woman to have hiked all three National Scenic Trails, but also the youngest, period! We have a grand time talking trail. After I get supplies, Glory drives me back to Meriwether Lewis.
The Parkway weaves a ribbon back and forth over the remains of the Old Trace the better part of the day, as the ridges begin giving way to the valley of the Tennessee. It’s another blue-perfect day weather-wise and I am grateful. Seems that whenever I shoulder my pack the clouds and rain soon come to visit. However, the weather on this trek has been spectacular, basically cloud-free, cool, no wind – and tomorrow will be the first of November!
Saturday–November 1, 2003
Location–Sunken Trace, NTP
I’m out and going (another beautiful day) at quarter to seven. At ten, a little pickup pulls up behind and stops. It’s Glory, and her younger sister, Glory. Yup, both have the same name. They’ve brought me a bagel breakfast, complete with hot coffee, from McDonald’s. Glory said yesterday that she’d like to come out and hike some with me, but I really hadn’t expected to see her, but she’s here, with her daypack and a big smile.
As we hike along, we have a great time remembering many mutual friends. The blue-blazin’ hobo hiker trash from hell, like Pirate, Wee Willie, Baltimore Jack, Lone Wolf. Also Jingle and Mother Goose. Glory hiked with Jingle on the PCT and met Mother Goose on the AT. Mother Goose was hiking the Eastern Continental Trail from Key West to Cap Gaspé and was on the AT at the time.
We detour into Collingwood for lunch and a phone. Back on the Trace, we make it to a section called “Sunken Trace” and pitch for the night.
Sunday–November 2, 2003
Location–Colbert Ferry, NTP
The moments of interest today are two, crossing the state line into Alabama, and the mile-long bridge over the Tennessee River. Glory hikes with me to SR20, then turns to hitch back toward Hohenwald. We had a grand time hiking together. I wish her success in her Triple Crown endeavor.
I’d planned on hitching a ride into Florence, but there was little traffic. Settled for a trip to the nearby Quick Mart for re-supply.
It was dark by the time I reached the other side of the Tennessee River Bridge.
Monday–November 3, 2003
More coyotes last night. They carried on for better part of fifteen minutes before letting me go back to sleep. Made a side trip into Dennis for burger and fries – and email. In the evening, I find a clear running little trickle in a culvert pipe and stop to take a bath and wash my stinky clothes. Treated some water and pitched nearby in the woods.
Tuesday–November 4, 2003
Location–Near Donivan Slough, NTP
First thing out this morning I get a shakedown by the Park Security. He’s waiting for me at the Mississippi state line. “How you doing,” he asks. “Fine, David, (his name tag reads David Henry), I’m up straight for another day,” I says. Wasting no time, he continues, “You stay in that culvert pipe last night?” “Why, no,” I reply. “There’s water there, I got some water.” “Well,” says David, “You got the local’s all riled up this morning. One called just a few minutes ago, and another one flagged me down right on the road. Said they saw a bearded, long-haired old fellow, looked like John The Baptist, coming up out from the pipe.” “I slept in the woods, didn’t stay in the pipe, just got water there,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. “Okay,” said David, “then go ahead and tell me your story.” Before he got back in his patrol car, I guess we must have talked better part of ten minutes. David was a park ranger in the Shenandoah a few years ago. He enjoyed reminiscing those times – some of his best days as a ranger. Before he left he told me he knew right away that I wasn’t trouble, what with my hiking sticks and gaiters. “Knew you were a long distance hiker, right away.”
I want to make it into Tupelo tomorrow evening, so I bang out the miles today. Another great day, cool, only a slight breeze – and kind traffic.
Wednesday–November 5, 2003
Location–Tupelo, NTP, Ramada Inn
It was getting dark, and I was tired, so skipped rigging my tent fly last. Not a cloud in the sky, perfect calm – no problem, right? Wrong! Along about four, I’m not sure, it began to rain, just gently, apparently, to begin with, because it didn’t wake me. When it really started pouring (no matter, all my stuff was already soaked) I finally woke up, to scramble around in the dark trying to rig the fly. By the time the deluge subsided, I got the fly halfway up. I knew better, I just knew better – never seem to learn. Now, I can lug along an extra three or four pounds all day – all my soggy stuff.
I manage a couple more hours of sleep, then roll out to get cranking. I’m on the Trace a little before seven. Hard to make good mileage days when the days are so short. Need to do around 25 today to get into Tupelo. Looking forward to a nice hot tub, then a fine steak and baked potato.
Just north of Tupelo, on the Old Trace, there are 13 Confederate gravesites. I pull off to pay my respects.
The Tupelo Visitor Center is a fine affair. Lots of displays, plenty of history about the area, the Trace, and the people. I spend a good hour looking around. The ranger on duty draws a map to help me along to the motel district, and by four I’m checking in. A long, hot day.
Thursday–November 6, 2003
Location–Near Chickasaw Agency, NTP
Bought buns, bologna, chips and cookies at the neat little store just past Black Belt Overlook (Di’s Pontocola Grocery. Made some sandwiches. I’m sending this email from there.
Don’t know if I’ll take the time to go into Mantee tomorrow or not – or Mathiston Saturday. I might just beat it on south to get to Jeff Busby by Saturday evening. There’s a store and phone there.
Friday–November 7, 2003
Location–Near Line Creek, NTP
The weather continues to hold for me. Another cool, partly cloudy day for hiking. Finding reliable water is becoming a problem. If you’re in your car, or even riding a bike, there are rest stops with toilets and water at convenient intervals, but when walking, it’s good to have a water source more often than every twenty miles or so. So – into the culverts I go for water.
In the evening, one of the security fellows stops to chat with me –and offer me some water! Great to meet Luke Johnson. He tells me about the Trace Cafe in Mathiston and the Best Western Motel in Kosciusko.
Saturday–November 8, 2003
Location–Near French Camp, NTP
This is the second day I’ve been able to hike without any tape on my feet. The tarmac and off-camber shoulders rip the feet, but they’re coming around. It’s great to have my legs coming back under me again also. I turned 65 the end of last month. Another great hiking day – lots of traffic, but used to that.
Sunday–November 9, 2003
Location–Kosciusco, NTP, Best Western Motel
Arrive in French Camp just as breakfast is being served at French Camp B&B. Keith and Deborah Collier invite me in. I accept! A lovely place, good food. Another clear day, but hot. I make it into Kosciusco, a 24-mile day, a little after four. Good Mexican restaurant, great motel.
Monday–November 10, 2003
Location–South of Red Dog Road
Talked with bicyclists this morning, Phil and his friends Phyllis and Mike. They’re doing the Trace.
Really enjoyed talking with Terry Johnson, big black man who runs cleanup along the Trace. What a peaceful countenance, a happy man.
Sean passed me this past weekend as he was driving to Tupelo to visit his folks. Stopped to talk to me. He has Chris Townsend’s book. Just bought a new Slumberjack sleeping bag. Going camping in Cheaha/Talladega National Forest in Alabama next weekend. Gave him one of my cards.
Pulled off in Thomastown for lunch. Great little cafe, Thomastown General Store and Restaurant. Post office right across the street. Mailed film and heavy wool gloves home, along with other unneeded items.
Tuesday–November 11, 2003
Location–South of SR43, NTP, Ross Barnett Reservoir
Along with the Natchez Trace National Historic Trail, there is also the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. This is a hiking trail that parallels the parkway, through the woods. Today, I hike a section of it. It’s good to be off the road, in the woods again, but the traffic hum of the parkway isn’t far away. The hike along the Ross Barnett Reservoir is very picturesque. It’s good to have my legs under me. No tape on my feet today. It’s another perfect hiking day. I feel strong. This is a great hike.
Wednesday–November 12, 2003
Trail Mile–379 mm87
Location–Clinton, Mississippi, NTP, Clinton Inn
I hike some more of the NTNST this morning. The trail winds up and down, around and along the narrow corridor that is the Natchez Trace. The blaze marking the Trace Trail is a dollar bill sized white paint mark on the trees along – hmm, what does this look like! I’ve had to take water from the culverts running under the highway again today. There are just not enough water sources along the Trace for the hiker.
Late in the morning, I meet Charles, NT Park Security. He gives me good info about the construction zone, the unfinished section of the Trace around Jackson. I decide, as Sheltoweeand Dodger had already suggested, to hike the construction zone. It worked out great. There was some activity near the beginning, just past I-55, but after that, I had the rest of the area to myself. No work or traffic at all. I arrive at Clinton mid afternoon, in good shape. Another perfect hiking day. Twenty-eight bucks at the Clinton Inn – and Captain D’s right across the street. Life is good!
Thursday–November 13, 2003
Location–NTP, north of Lower Choctaw Boundary
Another perfect hiking day, clear and cool. The info Charles gave me has turned out not to be so great. The new boulevard in Clinton that he drew on my map didn’t go where he showed it to go. I ended up farther east, a whole I-20 exit east, of where I thought. So this morning, instead of crossing I-20 and heading back to the Parkway, the road I take over I-20 goes pretty much south. After a mile or so, I began realizing that I wasn’t where I thought I was. I stopped at a gas station to inquire. Find out I’m miles from the Parkway. Best bet now is to hike it on into Raymond, some eight miles, then cut back over to the Trace from there. All in all, I only ended up about three miles out of my way. Not so bad. I’m back on the Parkway by eleven.
I can tell I’m getting south. Lots of familiar plants I haven’t seen for a long time, like cabbage palmetto, ferns, sweet gum, and elephant ears. Also hear the drumming of a grouse.
Water is a real problem again. The few rest areas have no toilets, no water. I have to take water again from drainages running under the Parkway. Treating the water with chlorine may kill what bugs are in it, but it doesn’t make it look any better.
Friday–November 14, 2003
Location–Port Gibson, NTP, Great Gulf Inn
The day starts quite cool, but the warm southern sun quickly takes over. Another bright, clear hiking day.
The highlight of the day is a section of the Old Trace called Sunken Trace. It’s a deep, eroded section, cut into the ground over the last two centuries. Take lots of pictures. Arrive tired but happy in Port Gibson around three.
Saturday–November 15, 2003
Location–NTP, Loess Bluff
Port Gibson is a beautiful old southern town, many of its dwellings pre Civil War. This little city was apparently spared the burning of the south. There must by a hundred buildings on the Register of Historic Places.
It’s another near-perfect hiking day and I’m making good time with no effort. My legs, feet, and back are finally into the hiking mode; what a blessing.
The featured attraction today is an old original Stand, the only one remaining of the many wayside inns that dotted the Trace during its heyday. John, the resident ranger, gives me the tour of the old Mt. Locust home. It’s hard to imagine that a wood structure could survive for over 200 years, well, 25% of it at least, and still be standing. Thanks, John, neat place.
I hurry along to get three more miles in for the day. I rig my fly over my tent tonight for sure, as the forecast is for early morning thunderstorms. Looks like I won’t quite make this whole journey without my poncho.
Sunday–November 16, 2003
Sure enough, six o’clock sharp I can hear the thunder start – off in the distance. I’m up and break camp quickly, and none too soon as the sky opens in a deluge. I get my pack on and don my poncho just as the skies open. In no time, though, my feet are soaked. This is an old familiar feeling! I guess doing the whole Trace without rain just wouldn’t have been fair.
By eight, the Natchez Trace Historic/Scenic Trail is history. The rain continues as I hike US61 on into downtown Natchez. A tour of the old district, including a walk down Canal Street, then a stop to snap one last photo, the US64 bridge over the Mississippi. I turn then, and head for the bus station – and the long ride back to Missouri.
Sheltowee, Dodger, it’s been a great hike, just like you told me it’d be. Thanks! It’s sure been fun following your footsteps.
Silver Threads Among the Gold