Day 7: Desperate to be done, shattered it will end
Counties: Three counties (Chickasaw, Pontotoc, Lee)
Miles: 48 on the day, 347 overall
Time out on the bike: 4 hours, 40 minutes; 37 hours overall
Our stand-in host feeds us richly and abundantly – there is thick bacon piled high, cat-head sized pancakes, and a deep bowl of grits one part hominy for one part butter -- before we swing our legs over the top bar for the final morning of this ride. It is humid. We sneak out of town on the Tanglefoot Trail, a pleasant rail bed through a canopy of arcing trees above us and fencerows and tree lines and dirt roads alongside us.
We ride up the western edge of the Tombigbee National Forest, its boundary a mile and more to the east. This here is the Trace Unit, the more northerly of two islands of Forest land in the hill district of FaulknerPresleyana. With a little work this is an Edenic spot on the globe, but it’s so ruined, it’s so soaked in bad juju, so poisoned by the worst toxins human behavior ever devised. Redemption is available, but amnesia is not. It’s like stopping smoking. Mississippi can get better today, even after centuries of evil, if it quits racism today, cold turkey, and sets in on a regimen of exercise and humanity. There is no point to deny the deleterious and obnoxious affect of this vicious strain of violence against humanity’s better instincts.
This morning it is misty, ground-hugging clouds precipitating in its shifting vaporous form blown and whipped and spun like tropical moors. Here the specters of Dixie walk and float and stomp through pastures not so much contained but defined by fencing and posting.
What a delight is this ride with hops from village to berg to town (after the Trace threaded the unoccupied spaces between towns) and the warehouses and grain silos of railway glories past. There are plank bridges to thwicket thwack across as our pedal strokes keep us just ahead of chasing shadows. We roll past depots and through deep cuts covered in kudzu making bell runs at New Houlka, Algama, Pontotoc (threading the needle between Possum Trot and Nixon with Friendship amidships on the trail), and Ecru before veering off the Trail east toward our destination. It is steep and hot and bumpy. In the last few miles we climb to hit the city limits of Endville, an apt enough ville within shouting distance of this ride’s conclusion and no ridgelines visible ahead. The steepest inclines are behind us and at last we master the rollers and the art of acceleration at the nadir of the coaster ride to shoot us up and over the next hillock. Pastures open up and the flat road points us toward Tupelo until I recognize, from the opposite way around, Moon Lake Farm and our vehicle just where we parked it.
These last miles are a whiplash of paradox, desperate to be done and shattered it will end. I simultaneously want nothing but to finish and I never want it over. With means, we could roll on into eternity.
The deciding bit tipping me toward happiness is relief, the gratification that comes with the ability to finish up without incident, safely. In fact, all went as planned, as meticulously drawn. The audacity of it all, the privileged adventure and constructed mild hardship, is appalling in exactly the same measure it is a priceless experience between father and son. I won’t exhibit the gall to pick which is true nor to characterize the nature of it, to say whether it’s special or otherwise.
Riding through this swath – this veritable underbelly – of the Confederacy, along this portion of the Trail of Tears, amid these living ghosts of the terror-stricken victims of white supremacy and its violence against justice and natural law, it’s plain to see the wages of sin is not death, but misery unto seven generations. The inequity comes from who’s footing the bill. It is not the souls who pulled up a chair to the feast paying the price, not materially. I can surely hope there is a psychic cost, and to some extent – right up to where it becomes uncomfortably obvious I might start telling lies about where I fit in this story – it is a payable bill now due. Chances are fat this is wishful thinking on my part. A possibility exists, though, and some objective evidence more than suggests, the ongoing economic and physical health of all who now reside on this land soaked in very specific blood is indeed retarded in the past tense and restrained in the future tense in the extreme because of the rancid fruits of that soil, the blood debt growing up like an invasive vine, like wisteria and kudzu joined in an unholy Mendelian fever dream choking the life out of what could otherwise be a rich delta if understood and exploited sustainably and without human sacrifice for all those centuries when choices were made because of happenstance attributed in error to god’s ordination, the oh-so-distorted merit of white men.
All politics is personal.
There is a single, straightforward reason this bicycle ride is great. It is because Avery and I did it on our own and together. From Natchez to Tupelo we moved under nothing more than our own power. We did the whole trip seated three feet apart, our pedal strokes synchronized, and not an inch of forward progress nor centimeter of upward climb happened to just one of us. This day, and every day after, I can reflect on this trip and our effort in my memory. I can brag about it to people. I can talk to Avery about it.
We share this trip. We share this accomplishment. We share this memory.
We always will.