Bicycling the Natchez Trace

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Back in the early '80s I took a solo bicycle tour down a portion of the Natchez Trace from Tennessee into Alabama. I didn't keep a journal on my down-and-back bike tour, but I have a few vivid memories:

— Singing to myself as I pedaled along a little-used two-lane road through beautiful rolling countryside;

— Camping twice at the Meriwether Lewis Memorial, the site where the Virginia explorer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound;

— Taking detours around unfinished sections of the Trace. On the way back some locals directed me to the Trace right-of-way where the road was under construction and consisted of just packed dirt and bulldozer tracks. I didn't save much time by taking this shortcut as I had to push my Fuji touring bike up hills and over ruts.

— Finding an out-of-the-way campsite along the Trace in Alabama near some Indian mounds.

That 444-mile route, designated as a National Scenic Byway, has been open all the way from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, for quite some time now, and I'd like to bicycle the entire stretch.

Biking the length of the Trace

Twenty-one members of the Natchez Bicycle Club did that on a recent Monday through Saturday tour. The group rode about 80 miles a day, sleeping at motels along the way. The club used a race-car trailer to store bicycles and provisions for the five daily rest stops, reported The Natchez Democrat.

The America's ByWays website notes that even though the Natchez Trace is designated as a bicycle tour route, there are no bicycle lanes on the road or the bridges. However, no commercial traffic is allowed on the road, which is described as scenic and safe. Something really cool: five bicycle-only campgrounds are located on the route.

The Trace has a long history. It started as a trail through the woods for Native Americans connecting the lower Mississippi River to salt licks in what is now Tennessee. Later, Mississippi keel boaters who floated their rafts downriver would return to North along the trace.

Natchez Trace maps are available for download from the National Park Service website. Also, Adventure Cycling Association uses the Natchez Trace for a portion of its Great Rivers Route.

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