Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post 023 - Southern Terminus

Day 20 - Saturday
Lost Springs Campground, Mississippi to Chinhut State Park, Louisiana

Last Day on Natchez Trace. It's a beautiful, quiet road. The last night in the campground was filled with cicadas. They drowned out all other night sounds. It was easy to just allow their chorus to be radiant background sound.

The National Park Service is trying different ways to serve the public and save money too. One way is to not staff the Park. Just put up a sign saying it is first-come-first-serve and free. This has worked for me.

Mississippi towns near the Trace pay it no mind. There is an absence of tourism. There is an absence of good, no any, places to eat. In one sense you want the small towns to stay true to themselves, but when you enter one that is deep in poverty you want to say to the two women behind a counter, serve bacon and eggs along with your deep fried chicken, and for God's sake, add a few tables and chairs.

Speaking of God, He, She, It is well represented in every town and berg in the south. Not only is every denomination represented, but every variation on each Christian denomination is here too. Some churches are ornate, others very simple. Some are made of wood, others of stone. You get the feeling none are built on sand.

I have not mentioned two animals along the way, turkeys and turtles. Turkeys in the Blue Ridge and along the Trace were plentiful and many shades of golden brown. They foraged along the roadways and with startled looks scurried out of the way when they hear me coming.

I had two turtle saves. That is I stopped and carried two turtles across the road. One was small, about the size of a softball and the other was the size of a Thanksgiving turkey platter. Both thanked me with a deep bow into the recesses of their shells.

I arrived in Natchez, MIssissippi. It was the port of call for boatman floating their wares down the River. From here they walked back north creating the Trace. Natchez sits on a bluff, far above flooding waters. It hosts a National Cemetery dating back to the Civil War. The city cemetery is a beautiful resting place too. I've been seeing many cemeteries in my travels. Many are not fit places to honor the dead. Commercial civilization is encroaching, overrunning some resting places. The small cemeteries in Louisiana in rural communities were mostly above ground and barren of vegetation, unfinished and raw. I've been repeating this sentence over and over in my head, "Where do we bury the dead?"

I crossed the Mississippi River between Natchez and sweet Vidalia, Louisiana. The town gives its name to one of its major crops. This was the southern-most point in my trip. As soon as I could, I got off the busy highway and took a 4-digit county road along the river. To my great surprise and joy, the road ran along the top of a levee. The crest was just wide enough for two lanes of paved road. It was smooth and unused. Unused except for the occasional farm vehicle coming my way. The farms here are vast. The crops varied. The machinery to make it all work is large too. They all have very large wheels and multiple sets. The lowlands are wet and they need to drive through it all. Farmers would slow down to let me creep by along the edge of the road. They would all wave and have a kind word. A dense line of tress lines the Mississippi. then there is some thick grass and then the levee. On the opposite side are endless farm fields. This went on for some miles as I snaked my way along the levee, it following the meanderings of the River. Then a sign appeared: Pavement Ends.

The road swooped down off the levee to a farm field and into a thick layer of tiny reddish gravel. It varied in depth from zero to 12 inches. It was nearly unmanageable to drive through. I had to pick a rut and stick with it. I slowed to 10 miles per hour. The bike skidded one way and another. I kept my feet outstretched, not to keep the bike from falling over, but to give myself a chance to hop out of the way when it did.

It was clear that as the road became soggy more and more gravel was poured on it. The big-wheeled machinery could manage it. It was insanity for a motorcycle. I kept going. I did not fall and eventually made it to a paved road. Lesson learned: 4-digit county roads in Louisiana can be paved or unpaved. Do not use them. Use only 3-digit roads.

The flood plain of the Mississippi is vast. This is lowland country. The water table lurks just below the surface. The soil is rich. It produces a cornucopia of crops.

I zigzagged my way up Louisiana to near the Arkansas border. The 3-digit roads were wonderfully smooth and very lightly traveled. There were many long, long straights, presaging what is to come in the Plains. In a town with the wonderfully ironic name, Waterproof, I met two boys, Jessie and Keshawn who were inquisitive and fun. They gave me a short tour of there very poor town. The entire Main Street is boarded up except for the Post Office and Sheriffs' Department. Despite that, the kids were upbeat. I wished them well and headed out to the highway.

I spent the night in a State campground that not only cost more than the National Parks, but, as the Camp Host who came over to my site told me, had fearsome hungry raccoons and ticks. No raccoons bothered me and ticks just come with the woodland territory. They did have showers. I could use the electricity at my site, so I recharged my iPad.

One last note. I sunburnt my arms the other day. Now I am riding in long sleeves until I buy a jar of sun blocker.

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