Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
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Spin along for posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Day 1: Trace Apace, a tandem tour of Mississippi


Saturday, June 2

Start for the day where the ride will end: Pontotoc County, Mississippi

End for the day where the ride will start: Adams County

Miles: None by bike


She might have mentioned the seizures before we were speeding down the highway with her behind the wheel.

School ended Thursday.

On Friday, I drove us to Tupelo in an un-airconditioned vehicle with the tandem perched atop it.


First thing upon our evening arrival at Moon Lake Farm we took the Santana off the roof, rolled it into the screened lake house, and arranged our bags strategically around the upstairs room to best allow me to paw at their contents and ponder arrangements.

Next morning after my first serving of grits and Avery’s first bacon flight we placed in rank the bicycle bags next to the tandem and piled all else back into the vehicle. The car would stay here, 10 kilometers west of Tupelo, while we went south to Natchez. Our shuttle was scheduled to arrive this day, proprietess/founder/chief Downtown Karla Brown behind the wheel. She pulled in around 10:30 a.m. The tandem slid into the van, both wheels still quick-released in place, front first and without a hitch. Luggage comprising left and right panniers, handlebar bag, rack trunk, helmets, shoes, and water bottles took up only a fraction of the cargo room.

If it didn’t go with us now, we wouldn’t have it. If it did go with us now, we were pedaling it back 300-plus miles or leaving it behind.


Downtown Karla needed little goading to slip into her patter, a practiced, clanking-cutlery Rotary lunch on the second Tuesday of each month at the Heritage Cafeteria retelling of her oft-told tale. If I interrupted her, she’d begin again once she’d responded to my question with a precise repetition of words, cadence, and intonation from whence she’d left off. It was disconcerting and comforting at the same time hearing about her years-long hike across one way then the next, up and down in an idiosyncratic pattern of perfect forgettery while Downtown Karla recalibrated her position in the tale.

She delivered us safely and timely, if a bit circuitously. This last was minor and in service to her larger business model slash main grift. DKB runs a progressive protection racket, a shakedown of kindness. Downtown Karla Brown put the pro in quid pro quo. She trucked in referrals as her B2B strategy and relied on the passengers to supply the liquid assets to keep her afloat.

Thus we found ourselves at The Tomato Place on U.S. Highway 61, for instance. The place was charming. The sandwich was fabulous. The vegetables gave a good accounting of themselves on display, but we certainly weren’t going to be hauling produce 300-plus miles back up the Trace

Thence to Natchez on our Downtown Karla-led odyssey, by way of a preview pass through Port Gibson and a very practiced narrative about its many frankly shabby churches and synagogue.


On down Highway 61 we went and were delivered to Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast, a property on the market for something north of $1 million. Across the street another former plantation turned inn was for sale. This one, according to Downtown Karla (who, for all I know, would have gotten some referral fee if I had whipped out a check on the spot) could be mine for $7 million and change. We will never know.


In the open sauna along the Mississippi – and we never put eyes on Old Man River, not one drop of it, during our entire trip, it now occurs to me, and that seems an outright shame here in July on my couch – we pedaled an unburdened tandem eight blocks into the historic district of this old town. The cathedral of the Holy Roman Catholic Church thrust its spire into the golden hour evening. A shuffling drunk hoboed along the sidewalk. Two blocks down a tangle of oak tree limbs covered up much of the Adams County Courthouse and its Greek revival columns. We found it after I mistook the Presbyterian church, basking in the evening glow, for the county courthouse.


This slip led to discovery of the U.S. District Courthouse for the Southern District of Mississippi in its own blocky, brick and stucco Greek Revival style, though that thoroughly fails to tell the tale. The Feds have only had a renewed presence back in this southern Mississippi outpost since 2007 when the judiciary moved into the building first occupied in 1853 and variously put into service as an opera house, a school, American Legion hall, library, and pageant venue. The structure made it onto the  National Register of Historic Places in 1979.


Fading light and hunger took us to the Malt Shop, a drive-in dive replete with yellow fluorescent lights clashing with neon signage, picnic tables in the heat and a circling brood of running vehicles awaiting delivery of bags of burgers from the harried staff. We were rewarded with delicious cheeseburgers and thick shakes, but punished by sapping heat and buzzing flies. We rode home in the dark, marked by our powerful lights front and back, sated and a bit uneasy with the full length of our ride ahead of us and no experience, no success, to buoy our hopes.

Tomorrow. On Sunday morning we begin the adventure in earnest, each pedal stroke getting us closer to success and each revolution an opportunity for discovery and wonder.

We made movies on our trip. Watch the first one here.



















Mon, July 9, 2018 | link          Comments

Monday, June 11, 2018

Natchez Traced by the numb burrs

Mark it down as done.

Blogs/TraceBlogB.jpgAvery and I completed our ride on the Natchez Trace last week. We pedaled up from Natchez to Tupelo. We hauled ourselves and all our stuff up under our own power. One day – Wednesday – was perfect in every respect on the tandem. Each of the other five days had various degrees of difficulty.

I’ll have more in store, but for now, two notes only.

Blogs/TraceBlogC.JPGYou’ll note on the home page of the blog links to the short videos Avery and I made each day of the ride. We made ourselves laugh.

Second, a few numbers from the ride:

735 photos shot

328 miles pedaled

37 hours, 2 minutes spent in the saddle-ish

6 days of pedaling

51, 66, 8, 71, 83, 48 daily miles logged Sunday through Friday, respectively

12,225 feet of elevation gained, or 2.3 miles on the week

21 cyclists encountered on the Trace (6 more cyclists seen on the Tanglefoot Trail)

7 days in a row I ate grits for breakfast

7 days in a row Avery ate bacon at breakfast

1 pair of cleats failed (1 pair of replacement cleats hauled along and swapped in)

16,750 calories burned, according to the spurious calculations of my cycling app

36.5 mph, top speed recorded

145,735 Blackeyed susans passed

0 mechanical failures, including zero flat tires

Mon, June 11, 2018 | link          Comments

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Crooked letter, crooked letter, eye

It must go back to the whole em-eye-crooked letter-crooked letter-eye thing. That's certainly memorable.

Blogs/NatchezTupelo301Elevation_edited.jpgNext, I'd have to say the Interstate rest stops made the most lasting impression. They were fancy all-brick affairs, very welcoming indeed. In my memory, there were antiques in these roadside attractions and my parents noted the paradox of Mississippi's poverty and this splendor by the highway.

Blogs/Highway61.JPGFinally, for childhood impressions, were the roads themselves. Some landscapes and the roads through them are starkly and immediately recognizable. The pine-lined distinctively brown chip seal asphalt of Mississippi’s portion of Interstate 55 is one. On the way to New Orleans I recall marveling at the long stretches of macadam to the horizon in a tunnel of towering trees. This was Mississippi.

The more I read, the more Mississippi appeared. Shelby Foote – his narrative histories of the Civil War, but his fiction as well – Eudora Welty, William Faulkner. Mississippi was brutal and brutalized, rich in history, poor in resources.

Jackson, Biloxi, Tupelo, Vicksburg, Oxford, Tunica, Pass Christian, Gulf Shores. All of these names are evocative of extremes and as rich in meaning as the acts of some are bereft of humanity.

We’re going to roll through this Mississippi of my mind, my memory, and my imagination and see how it compares to what’s there on the ground beneath our tires. The only thing for it is to pedal on.

Sun, May 27, 2018 | link          Comments

Francis Baily never had it so good

All I’ve got left is trepidation, with nothing to occupy my mind but worry and no solace to be found in pedaling for a week.

While I await the start of our tandem ride across Mississippi, I find it comforting to think about Francis Baily.

Blogs/DuckPotatoTandem.jpgOn July 4, 1797, he left Natchez and the Mississippi River, taking off overland toward Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry. (Just because I made up that last bit, don’t doubt the truth and historical accuracy of the quotations following. This is the real deal.) He was on horseback and with a dozen or so others, but his journey was considerably more challenging than what we’ll face on our bicycle ride.

For one thing, I won’t have to convince someone to slaughter a beef and turn it into jerky as Baily did before his expedition left town. Nor will I have to requisition a batch of hard tack.

Blogs/Yakima.jpgMy chief concern is the possibility restaurants and stores where I think we’ll eat chicken fried steak and drink iced tea won’t be open. I’ve set out the whole itinerary with the aid of Google maps – Baily had to put up with slow dial-up Internet access and a wonky Netscape UI. After our second 50-plus mile day, we’ll take an Uber to the ballpark. There were a few more concerns for the English Baily’s group. I know this because “Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America” was published posthumously, recounting his travels to Antigua, New York, down river to Pittsburgh and New Orleans and then back up the Trace, an ill-defined wildlife trail and Indian Path.

“We were obliged so to manage our daily journey that we might arrive at a plantation in the evening where we were likely to get pasture for our horses: and even this was not always to be had. And when we did arrive there, a poor hut was our only shelter, and we were obliged to unpack our horses ourselves, and turn them into the pasture; and if we could get a mess of mush and milk, some fried bacon, or some fresh meat of any kind, it was as much as we expected, and for this we were charged enormously high.”

We’ll be staying at bed & breakfasts with hot showers and soft beds. We’ll have grits, and eggs, and baon, and steaks, and pizzas, and burritos, and hamburgers to eat. Baily would take what he could get to eat and go sit out in the woods because the houses were so nasty.

Blogs/AbsalomAbsalom.jpgThere is no chance we’ll get lost. A distinguishing feature of the Natchez Trace Parkway is its limited access and no-turn progress up to Tupelo. The way in 1797 was much less certain. There are also bridges now, a decided advantage.

“The very next day, — Sunday, July 8th, — we began to experience one of those difficulties of which we met numbers ere we had finished our journey. A little dirty creek, which apparently one might almost jump across, opposed our progress. This creek, on sounding it, we found was not fordable; we were therefore obliged to unload our horses and swim them across. As to ourselves, there was fortunately a large tree lying across the stream elevated near twenty feet above the surface of the water; on this with tottering step we were obliged to carry our baggage, which we did after a deal of trouble and trepidation, whilst exalted on our narrow lofty bridge.”

For all my worries, I do not have to worry about the tandem galloping off with all our stuff, strewing it through the woods.

“As we were proceeding along upon (the path) this afternoon, with our packhorses quietly following, making in the whole a long string of between thirty and forty horses, by some unfortunate accident, the girths belonging to one of them gave way, and the pack slipping round under the horse's belly, he was so frightened that he set off into the woods as fast as his legs could carry him, with the pack swinging and knocking against every tree, like a dog with a kettle to his tail. The other horses seeing this, set off also; and in a moment we were left in a deplorable situation. Bereft of all our provisions and clothes, and deprived of every means of continuing our journey, we had no other resource but riding after them, and endeavoring to run them down. Some of these horses were laden wholly with dollars, the proceeds of the cargo which some of our party had taken down the river. As there was no time for hesitation, we sallied after them with all the speed imaginable, not regarding bogs or trunks of trees which were continually in our way.”

I appreciate Mr. Baily’s account. It makes me worry less how we’ll get along the paved and groomed Trace. It gives me hope we’ll not have to chase down and catch our bicycle. I revel in the fact I won’t have to sleep on a dirt floor along with the saddles and building supplies of our hosts

It took Baily and his crew until July 19 – two weeks and a day – to reach McIntosh, a spot Avery and I will reach in a bit more than three days of pedaling.

Thank you, Mr. Baily, for taking my mind off challenges and turning my focus to hot coffee and buttery pancakes. There is nothing for it but to pedal on.

Sun, May 27, 2018 | link          Comments

Monday, May 21, 2018

Just so story

It is satisfying to have things just so.


I’ve got the Choctawhatchee Chariot – that’s the nom de giro for my Santana tandem – right where I want it. In all respects, the bicycle we’ll depend on to get us from Natchez to Tupelo, is set up exactly as I want it. It’s got the right stuff in the right place and it’s turned up.

Could I spec out a tandem that would be jazzier, splashier, lighter with a tighter gear range? Absolutely. Comfort and security have much to recommend them, though. I am sure I can keep the Choctawhatchee Chariot running smoothly and effectively. I am certain of its durability and dependability.

I don’t wish I had a different drivetrain. There is no saddle I’d rather have. I’ve got the rack and bags I want to, and know I can, depend on.


The clinch bolt on the rear derailleur is stripped out and running without the missing washer designed to hold the cable snug. But I’ve got the unique replacement and the spare cable, literally, in the bag.

There is a bent spoke on the freewheel side of the rear wheel. That’s the only thing I would change.

Otherwise, it’s perfect.


There is an American-made frame, bottom bracket, hubs and seatpost. The seats and bags are British. The tires and rack are German. Japanese companies made the derailleurs, chain, and cranks. Yes, Italians are represented in the headset.

The bike is not too hot. It is not too cold. It is just right.

Talk to me June 8. I am confident I’ll say the same thing.

By then we will have pedaled three-quarters of the Natchez Trace Parkway’s entire length. The NTP is the National Park System’s seventh-most visited unit, with 5.6 million recreational visits in 2012. A National Park Service report concluded 5.7 million recreational visitors in 2011 brought $93 million in spending to communities near the Parkway. In the voodoo economics of these things, the report figured that economic activity supported 1,200 private-sector jobs. That’s in addition to the 140 FTEs within the $10.8 million authorized budget in fiscal year 2013.

We’ll be spending perfectly good federal scrip – our Georges, Abes, (most to the point) Andrews, and Benjamins are accepted even in rural Mississippi – as we eat hamburgers, go to baseball games, and visit public libraries.


I’ll also be hauling a heavy-duty combination lock along with us, a weight and volume I’d as soon eschew, so we won’t make any involuntary contributions to the economy of Mississippi.

The whole while we’re pedaling those 300-plus miles we’ll be confident of our ride, knowing there is nothing for it but to pedal on.

Mon, May 21, 2018 | link          Comments

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