Best day, ever
Day 5: Best day cycling, ever
Wednesday, June 6
Counties: Four counties (Hinds, Madison, Leake, Attala)
Miles: 71 on the day, 196 overall
Time out on the bike: 7 hours, 53 minutes; 23 hours, 26 minutes overall
Draw near while I sing the praises of this day on the tandem bicycle. It is filled with wonder and ease, surprise and delight, speed and mystery.
Early to rise, early to the Cracker Barrel. We arrive even before the rockers are out front. Our table is at the window for a closeup view of an employee encircling our tandem with rockers.
Biscuit and pancake fuel inside us, we pedal up wide suburban streets already busy in the morning commute, but mostly contra to our direction of travel. It is hilly to a disheartening degree, and steering in traffic stress-multiplies the effort of the inclines. Once we are on the Trace-shadowing bike trail it is a beautiful early morning of slanting light and ground-rising steam-fog along the still hilly path. Soon we climb into the open expanse of the trail’s terminus and parking lot, overlooking Ross R. Barnett Reservoir. For all its unbeautiful and clunky name (I do not want to look up Mr. Barnett’s story. I am much happier imagining his story in rich detail), it is indeed a beautiful lake. The Trace here follows its shore for miles of flat, winding, breeze-swept coastal road.
Timing and spacing are concerns today, have been a known concern from earliest planning days. Little offers itself within easy pedaling distance for stops or meals or services. The plan, such as it is, still requires forays of some non-zero distance away from the Trace proper to seek the few opportunities available.
Our first swing takes us down Ratliff Ferry Road to the putative Ratliff Ferry Trading Post. It is not trading and there is no sign of life where the road ends at the edge of what is the upper reaches of the reservoir and the last bits of the Pearl River as its muddy waters transition from riparian to lacustrine.
It is a beautiful day, flat and temperate. I have in mind our water supply not because we are in crisis, but because I know the road ahead and I am not confident we will find ready access to chilled water. Down the road a bit we pull off at the Choctaw Nation boundary. A self-sagged group from Wisconsin is in the pull-out, a group of an older couple and what appears to be a family of parents about my age and grown-ish children, perhaps college students. The young woman rides a mountain bike. A van and trailer pulls up, the group’s SAG wagon. I ask and am provided ice water from the orange insulated water cooler.
On we go, through the shaded canopy of each copse, sometimes deep enough to hold its own coolness, and successively pass into leas of swaying grass aswim in blackeyed susans up swales and down banks from tree line to shoulder. I trust the level flatness only so far as the next curve, until I can see down the next stretch and prove it goes on just as flat. My fear of an ascent stays ever ahead. Our pedal strokes are even and smooth as I gear up onto the large chainring and our pace increases to match the mechanical advantage.
We do leave the Trace at mile marker 135 and take Mississippi Highway 16 west. Even in this short 1-mile jaunt the logging truck traffic intimidates. Our destination is a gas station and convenience store called Michael’s 16 Deli. It is exactly as I expect. Pedalers cannot be choosers and Michael’s 16 Deli is lunch.
Then there is magic. Whether it is magic on its own or magic borne of necessity matters not because magic it is. Michael’s 16 Deli is poorly lit. Its bare concrete floor is stacked with 50-pound bags of dog food and cattle feed. There are coolers of soda and beer and milk and water. There is Hunts Brothers Pizza. There is a hot cabinet shelving pizza slices and corndogs and French fries and other brown food. I ask for a corndog and mac ‘n’ cheese to be fetched and Avery orders fried chicken. We both get bottles of soda, me a Coke and Avery a Dr Pepper. We sit at one of two booths, each posted with a handwritten sign restricting occupancy to a quarter hour to keep us from perching here all day long.
It is the best lunch of the trip, even better than the delicious Mexican lunch in Raymond. We do not think about the food. We eat the food.
There was a French restaurant in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania 17 years ago, not Mississippi now), a prix fixe place, where I ate what had heretofore been the best meal of my life. It was quiet and drafty in an old house in downtown Philadelphia and there were vegetables served pureed and in what seemed at the time to be half vegetables and half butter. It was a highlight meal served with elan, in good company and warm beside a fireplace on a chill and blustery evening.
It is pushed from the top of my All Time Meals heap.
The corndog I eat at Michaels 16 Deli near Farmhaven, Mississippi, and Coca-Cola I drink from a plastic bottle (it is not, perhaps, as chilled as it should be) is now in the No. 1 spot of best meals in my life. Avery eats all his fried chicken, a breast and a leg. His fingers glisten and smudge his own bottle of Dr Pepper. We fill our insulated bottles with ice and water from the fountain and wish good cheer to the proprietess or manager, her staff, and various loiterers and hangers on and customers.
In good cheer we pedal back to the Trace and on with this wondrous day. The flatness, the meadow followed by woodlot repeated through the afternoon. We pop off the Trace at Kosciusko and head in to the town square. We arrive at the President’s Inn and circle the square and get a serenade of pop music from lightpost mounted speakers. Brittney Spears and Otis Redding and NSYNC and Doobie Brothers pipe through the afternoon air around the lovely courthouse.
A key to the building is in the mailbox, in an envelope with my name in script. The conditioned space is high ceilings and broad floors. A full kitchen is replete with granite countertops and a big ol’ stainless refrigerator.
At the evening we meander through charming Kosciusko’s neighborhoods. Wide lawns and tall pines feature. We see a bouncy house. Old Trace Grill is exactly right, capping a wonderful day with a banquet of chicken-fried steak with white gravy and mashed potatoes and crisp green beans or a hamburger, fries, and shake. We pedal at leisure in the gloaming, back to the square and its soundtrack of pop music.
By acclimation we agree to today’s perfection and rest in anticipation of tomorrow, our longest day.
See the wonders for yourself in the video for the day, Episode 4 here.