On the march
Day 3: Advancing on the capital
Monday, June 4
Start: Port Gibson
Counties: Two (Claiborne, Hinds)
Miles: 66 on the day, 117 overall
Time out on the bike: 8 hours, 30 minutes on the day; 14 hours, 42 minutes overall
Before we reach the swank, we pedal through the rank.
Our hosts in tiny Port Gibson, they of the Trump campaign signs, warn us explicitly over breakfast not to take the route I have mapped out for us through south Jackson. It’s dangerous, they say, citing gang violence and general depravity. Our night’s lodging, however, is in downtown and getting there by tandem is a necessity.
(I realize now options available to me I did not consider during planning, namely that I could have stayed on the Trace and the adjacent bike trail now available along some of its most traveled portions on the way to the northern suburbs. We could have stayed there and taken a ride share into downtown for our tours of the Capitol and other public buildings set for the next day. Still, there’s something for staying in the heart of the city, an advantage we shall see as the high point of today’s ride.)
To start, we take a circuitous route out of Port Gibson that includes walking through the lawn of the Park Service maintenance building on the Trace.
The early morning canopy is enchanting and the early ride is delightful, if already languid in humidity. An early discovery is the disconnection between historic sites along the Trace and on-the-ground reality.
“It’s not a waterfall. It’s not even a creek,” Avery observes as we pass signs marking roadside spots of interest: Owens Creek Waterfall, in this example.
Today’s heat does not creep, it arrives fully formed at 10:30 as we pedal into the former Choctaw Nation.
It’s on full blast. The Trace continues its upwardness, though gently. This changes almost as soon as we leave the Trace onto Mississippi Highway 467 at MM 79 as the pavement curves on a steep incline. We walk it, then roll into town on increasingly civilized roads, lanes, and streets until manicured lawns, street signs, city parks, and finally, stores appear. Avery is patient with my photos of the courthouse and I orient us toward Picante’s, a Mexican restaurant in a strip shopping center with a sushi place and a coffee sandwich shop.
Picante’s is the very best meal of the trip. So far. Avery have tacos. I have enchiladas. We vacuum up tortilla chips and salsa and gulp down Coca-Cola like hummingbirds. We sit in the AC among a dwindling lunch crowd. Our waiter is solicitous and attentive after we tell him we are on the tandem, how far we have pedaled today and how far we will pedal in days to come.
After lunch, we continue further inland, off-Trace, and through south Jackson. Our first 7 miles or so on Raymond Highway is exceptionally pleasant on what is best described as a country lane. Houses become more frequent. Lots become smaller. Fences transition from enclosing cattle to restraining dogs. Then, we encounter the bane of the cyclist, the road detour. The extra mileage is not awful, the hills are significant, but perhaps on a grade more forgiving than what we would have faced on the original route. When we complete our de-tour, we are in town. There is traffic. There are hills. There are signals. There are two lanes. There is relative humidity mixed with high temperature to produce an energy-sapping, enervating soup. It is high stress for the captain and high intensity for all concerned.
We steer through heavy traffic on two shoulderless, winding, hilly lanes alongside a volume of cars that chokes two lanes and bunches at lights when the lanes are five across. Additional lanes are welcome, but they come deeper in the state’s largest city in what appears to be the deeper and deeper reaches of its poorest quarters. Potholes yawn open. Glass shards sparkle along the gutter. Detritus of all varieties and remarkable sorts collects along curbs and at gaping grates. Catcalls rain down from sagging pedestrians.
A turn here, a turn there, we pass beneath the interstate and through brief desolation in the bright afternoon light. Soon we are skirting the battlements raised up against the encroaching poverty, protecting the citadel of academia. A further turn and we negotiate a roundabout – those great harbingers of transitions between poverty and the front lines of the urban class divide. We pass unmolested through a security gate and roll onto the brick-paved quad of HBCU life in the summer. There are few on campus.
On the other side of JSU we circle around another roundabout, another frontier, and immediately over the tracks under elevated lanes of car traffic and into downtown proper, heralded by the bus station and followed by the rising edifice of our Jazz Age hotel, done up anew and recently gilded in the style of the Trumpian era: American Gaudy.
Sweat runs rivulets down the contours of our spine. An arduous day on the bike is over. We idle in the valet zone, crane our necks upward and contemplate our safe arrival at the gates of this benighted place.
“This is the fanciest place I’ve ever stayed,” Avery says, revealing more about being 14 than the relative swankiness of the place.
Here we are. Pedaling is done, not only for the day but the next as well with a break for gawking in the capital yawning ahead. Tonight, we order pizza from a Jackson joint, eat it in our separate beds, watch Stanley Cup hockey and make videos about our adventure.
Enjoy the day’s video offering, Episode 2, here.