Mojave Trace

Day 6: Carrie Nation memorial ride through the Mojave Trace

Thursday, June 7

Start: Kosciusko

End: Houston

Counties: Five counties (Attala, Choctaw, Webster, Clay, Chickawaw)

Miles: 83 on the day, 299 overall

Time out on the bike: 8 hours, 54 minutes; 32 hours, 20 minutes overall

Today we rise early, the fruit of negotiations the day before and a 6:45 a.m. Central Daylight Time breakfast service. The meal is sumptuous and our start is auspicious. Long shadows of first light bid us farewell at the square.

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Heat awaits later in the day, the forecast tells us. This morning’s fresh light burns off an inversion fog that belies the humidity we face. In this morning our light slants through thick stands of pines pulsing coolness of the night out to the road.

Upward we ride. French Camp hews into sight and under our wheels, immediately adjacent to the trail. Here a compound sprouts on the conceit of re-creating an old outpost, a former inn. We arrive at the break of 9, too early it is evident for the restaurants, gift shop, and museum to be open for business. We pee and roam and soon return to the road and the steady ascent in elevation and temperature.

We climb out of a valley I do not realize we are in. It is a steady ascent and we walk a steep section of it. It’s early to walk. I am ready for lunch a half hour before the Trace’s mile markers are. We leave the Trace at mile marker 205 and head east on U.S. Highway 82 in Mathiston, toward Starkville. At the very busy Traceway Café we get treated as the outsiders we are by the slack-jawed, jowly locals serving and eating bad food in foul moods in company of people they all have known since they were born into this misbegotten landscape that somehow manages to make adjacent Alabama look Edenic as they stew in listless lives highlighted by seven fall Saturdays each year when they get to clang cowbells enthusiastically.

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Lunch sucks.

After lunch is worse.

Back on our route we pedal through a moonscape of downed timber and shadeless new, black pavement of an 8-mile section of tornado damage Avery cleverly and accurately (and pityingly) describes as the Mojave Trace. It is hot. It is windless. It is steadily uphill. Avery puts his head down and pedals without further comment. The return of trees, and shade, is welcome, but our energy is sapped by the long miles of sun beating down and the many miles to go.

We slog on, clipping the very corner of Clay County before entering Chickasaw County. It is not any cooler in mid-afternoon. Exit at Mississippi Highway 8 to pedal 5 steep and harrowing miles into Houston.

Our destination is a welcome pile of dark and deeply air conditioned kitsch. The proprietess of the bed & breakfast is gone and her aide de camp/washer woman sires us through the chock-full o’ tchotchkes halls and stairways to our room. We are the only guests this evening, so we have the run of the place within sight of the courthouse.

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After restorative showers and changes of clothes we venture out to a Mexican place two blocks away. Our Chickasaw waitress brings us chips fresh from the bag and salsa straight from the jar. I eye the dinner crowd and inventory the tabletops, so I know the answer when I ask while ordering: Can I get a beer?

Chickasaw is a dry county.

I am afraid to ask if women are allowed to vote.

Avery and I soberly decide to skip the Trace on the morrow and head straight up the Tanglefoot Trail, a rails-to-trails path that starts two blocks west of our current position. Thus we will skip a highway ride back to the Trace, miss out on Tupelo traffic, and remain on a flat, shade-dominated path and back-door route – at least while Tanglefooting it –  to our vehicle at the starting point.

But that is tomorrow. And tonight the Capitals win the Stanley Cup. Avery and I rush the square, flip three vehicles, and set them ablaze in a vodka-fueled celebration. It is possible I turn off the TV, read a few pages of Faulkner and turn over in exhaustion.