Hills! Hadn’t had any hills the first two days and early this morning I get them. Rolling hills are fun because I get to go 28mph and then 8mph and then 28 and then 8. I cruise through downtown Jackson, Louisiana. How many cities named Jackson are there? More than cities named Buffalo? What the fuck? Anyway. Jackson LA has got some nice architecture and a mural of a train on the side of their fire station. Maybe I’ll compare it with Jackson, MS and report back.
So as fun as they can be, hills can also suck because as soon as I cross into Mississippi I hit a bumpy downhill and pop a spoke – the kind you can hear over Gil-Scott Heron’s ripping of Nixon in “H2O Gate Blues”! I had 25 miles in by 930ish and was well on my way to getting onto the Natchez Trace. But that spoke set me back a few hours. Welcome to Mississippi!
Still frazzled about the prospect of popping another spoke and finding my ride becoming a hitch hike, I pump my brakes 3 miles downhill to the state welcome center. The guy at the info desk is nice and has some fantastic free ice water. I ask about bike shops in Natchez, and he offers me this:
Side note: what is more meta? The fact that he simply googled “bike shop Natchez MS” and I used an iPhone to take a photo of these search results OR the fact that the lone actual bicycle shop in Natchez is called Western Auto? And is either an example of irony? I can never tell.
I go back outside, eat some string cheese, check my mileage and decide to K.I.M. Those next 35 miles are some of the toughest miles I’ve ever done! Route 61 from Woodville to Natchez. Two lanes in each direction with a one foot shoulder, with 6″ of that being a rumble strip. I’m not risking another spoke – and traffic was Sunday afternoon level – so I decide to stay out of the rumble and take 33.3% of the right lane. The few motor vehicles out here are clearly on their way from church to the bar (or the casino, or the brothel, or something) because they simply must pass me at 75 mph. Most actually do move over to the left lane, so I hope they find whatever they’re looking for. A few give me the 3″ pass treatment and almost knock me over – I hope they lose all their money and burn in an everlasting hell of gonnorhea.
The real concern however is that I’m now smack dab in the middle of an everlasting hell of midday heat index on a stretch of almost 30 miles with not even a tree to duck under. No stores or gas stations to go into. There was a church being built, but they were literally putting the roof on as I pedaled by. Just grass and fences. Nice looking roof though. My legs are turning to rubber way earlier than they should be. I should stop. But it’s even hotter when you stop without any shade. I push it. Push it. Real good.
Finally I find an oasis in the form of a dollar general. Gatorade and trail mix. All of it please. I think everyone in that motherfucker saw it on my face. Still got another 9 or 10 miles to Natchez. I look up Western Auto and – like 90% of everything around here – it’s closed on Sunday. Now I’m thinking about what the hell I’m gonna do once I get to Natchez. I can’t hit the Trace. I have to stay nearby and wait for that bike shop to open tomorrow morning. I don’t want be stuck out on a trail without services if another spoke goes kamikaze.
I knock out those last grueling miles and head inside the supermarket nearby the bike shop to cool off and get more Gatorade. It’s just too hot to sit around outside, even in the shade. I’d normally just ride til the sun sets and find somewhere to pop up the portable palace, but now I can’t do that. There’s no Warm Showers hosts anywhere. Its like 3pm and I’m considering a motel at this point. Coming back outside a couple of people strike up a conversation with me about my bike and the heat. I share my situation and they point to the motel next door. I ask if it’s the cheapest one because I don’t need a pool or hbo. They instruct me to cross the street and check the one tucked in the back. I head over and hand the kid working reception my credit card. $40 well spent before I even see the room.
Holy shit. Room 146. Welcome to Patel Hotel Mississippi!
The stench of cigarettes from the 80s and 90s hangs in the room like this is Las Vegas. Paint peels from the ceiling and walls and the carpet sinks in multiple spots. I’m pretty sure some sort of sex work is happening next door. Maybe it’s drugs deals. WhatEverthefuck. I’ve got cool air and running water, let’s make it happen. I pop the power button on the remote and what’s the first thing to pop up? White bisexual threesome porn on channel 41. Bare back Bible Belters! Awww shit. Who knew?
The production value sucks though. Plus I’m more focused on how I’m starting cramp up so I chug the Gatorade (which I really hate) and finish the trail mix. But I’m still hungry as fuck. The heat has subsided but I’m right at the edge of that suburban zone and it’s getting dark – no way I’m making it into town to the one open bar/restaurant. I head across the street back to the grocery store – and that’s when I go fancy with my dinner.
Then, I broke a Spork in some peanut butter. Not as crucial as a spoke, but really – what the hell?!
Hopefully I’ll get this spoke tomorrow morning and get moving. With its lack of billboards and commercial traffic and stores, the Natchez Trace is calling me!