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.