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Advice Needed for Natchez Trace Riding

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Advice Needed for Natchez Trace Riding

Old 01-12-20, 06:24 PM
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Advice Needed for Natchez Trace Riding

Im lining up my tours for 2020 and Ive had Natchez Trace on my list for a while. My super sag wife and Ive talked about it and shes game for giving it a go this spring!! Woo hoo!! Having her drive really helps with the logistics, plus shes extremely experienced sagging for us on the Blue Ridge Parkway and my cross country ride. Shes a little rusty since its been a few years but Im hoping she can pick it up again pretty quickly!!

We are thinking about riding it the last week in April. Except for the unexpected possibility of severe weather, would the temperatures be okay for that time of the year?

We live about a days drive from Nashville so the plan would be to drive over and start riding the next day. What are folks thoughts about riding North to South vs the other direction?

It looks like the total distance is 440 miles. I havent looked at the elevation profile but my guess is its not too hilly? Is that a correct assumption? My typical ride around the house for 100 miles is about 4000 of hills. Im thinking Natchez should be less than that.

With it being 440 miles and assuming its not too hilly, Id like to see if I could ride it over 4 days averaging about 110 miles a day. Is that schedule too aggressive?? I guess I could add a day and shorten it to about 85-90 a day if needed. 85-90 miles is what I averaged on my XC ride but I was probably in a little better shape and a few years younger. I did do 6-100+ milers in a row on that trip though.

For those in the area or have ridden it, did you find tourist spots, restaurants or B&Bs youd highly recommend?

We have the option to camp but initially Im thinking well do lodging of some sort along the way. It just removes the element for in climate weather and saves time setting up stuff and packing back up.

Now to figure out which bike to ride!

Any thoughts and input from the 50+ folks would be appreciated.
Ride your Ride!!
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Old 01-12-20, 06:58 PM
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I rode the Trace in early November 2014 from North to South, 9 days of pedaling over 12 days. I was 62 at the time, and rode/ camped with Pierre from Montreal, whom I met at the first water stop south of Nashville. He was 31. We rode 30-75 miles per day, and that was plenty for us, hauling our own luggage, camping gear, etc. Dude, slow down and look at the scenery. If it's raining, pull into a KOA or B&B after 30 miles and rest. Btw, it's relatively more hilly in Tennessee than in Mississippi. Also, prevailing winds are generally from the southwest, which is why.....I'm planning to go south to north in late April with my fiancee, inaugurating our first unsupported tour, and hope to make 50-60 miles each day (unless we need 75 miles to get to the B&B and a rest day). Fully supported touring is a fine vacation, but if you want the thrill of being totally self reliant, rent a car to your starting point, and again at the other end. If your wife doesn't pedal, give her the week off. 100 miles per day sounds like nothing but work, er, I mean pedaling. Which is fine, because I love pedaling, but there are things to stop and see along the way.
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Old 01-12-20, 08:19 PM
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North to South, the first 100 miles are 6400 feet. The next hundred is only 4000 feet. IMO, the northern 100 miles are the most scenic.
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Old 01-13-20, 01:58 AM
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Not sure if you have spent any time in that part of the south, but the other argument for slowing down a bit is that there is a fair bit of history and scenery to look at along the way. NC is one of two states I've not been to, so cannot comment, but the parts of TN you will be traversing are really quite beautiful. Maybe relax the sched a bit and live a little. Just my take.

The other obvious massive potential issue in that part of the world in the spring is of course--weather. Again, not experienced NC, but where you will be riding, the weather in those months can be literally cataclysmic. Absolutely psychotic, torrential, end-of-the-world thunderstorms and ightning. Tornadoes. Rode two out in Nashville. Not fun. It can be sooooo bad. You must have a plan for getting out of the weather and quickly, if need be. Do you have radar on your computer or phone? What's the plan if a bad cell moves your way suddenly?

I did my surgical residency at Vanderbilt and ran marathons while I lived in NashVegas. I got caught in a bad T-storm in Percy Warner Park one Sunday. I stupidly hadn't checked the weather. Moron. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Lightning everywhere. I thought it was The End, but alas, it was not my time.

So, I guess, what I am saying is, do all your usual bike prep stuff, but also, think like a commercial pilot. Weather, weather, weather. Oh--and have an awesome time!!
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Old 01-13-20, 11:09 AM
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April is absolutely prime time for severe weather, but that usually only takes half a day to blow through. My advice, therefore, is to go ride and leave yourself an extra day or two to hole up in bad weather. And check the weather forecast before you head out in the morning; the forecasters will always highlight bad weather ahead of time (usually they'll predict the end of the world 12-24 hours before it actually arrives).

April is prime weather for riding, except for when it's not. You can expect light breezes, comfortable cycling, trees budding out and azaleas to start blooming the end of the month.

Direction? There's 100 miles of 6% grades on the north end of the Trace. I'd plan on riding north, myself, and plan two days for the Tennessee portion. You'll get used to the longer daily rides before you cross the Tennessee River (in Alabama, naturally), and be ready for the hills. The day you're feeling really strong will probably be the day bad weather's coming in the afternoon, as storm fronts are preceded by S winds shifting to SW and W before the squall line arrives. Then you'll have 24 hours of strong N winds.

I don't know about the southern portion of the Trace, but services are sparse on the north end. Florence and Muscle Shoals are about 10 miles off the Trace, and that's the end of nearby services until you get to Nashville. You (or your wife) will be using some web searching talents to find restaurants and B&Bs near the Trace in Tennessee; it's often 30 miles to a small town.
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Old 01-13-20, 04:46 PM
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The Mississippi section will be quite flat, especially at the Mississippi end and you may find it somewhat boring. I would pass on the attitude of the people who live there as pointed out to me by a local poet. That is that "the very flatness promoted the ability to discern that which lies above or below the mean". In other words, the deep South is more subtle than most of us are used to. So take your time.
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Old 01-14-20, 10:55 AM
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I've ridden it twice, south to north in '16 in 7 days and north to south last summer in 4. You can do it in 4 but you won't be spending more than a few minutes at any of the 100+ cool sites along the way. I took longer on my first time because there was so much to see; the second run was me going home from a 3 month tour and I was in a hurry. Both times were loaded solo rides. Using Google maps "supermarkets/motels near me" will show you how close all the services are to the Trace, and there are plenty, often within 1 or 2 miles. I'd spend a few extra days so your wife can have some fun too, like Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo or the recording studios in Muscle Shoals. I recommend rolling through Port Gibson and the Windsor plantation ruins just south of there. Hills aren't terribly bad on the Trace; I never dropped out of my big ring this last NtoS ride. I also enjoy big mile days and either way you'll have a good time. Returning to the Trace after a side ride into town is always a joy, as the peaceful surroundings feel like you've left society behind. I don't recommend camping at Rocky Springs Campground as it is the last part of the Trace that has not recently been remodeled and it's in rough shape. Good luck!
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Old 01-19-20, 05:25 PM
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I've ridden the Natchez Trace Parkway in mid-March for spring break. I started in Nashville and headed south. It was cold and cloudy and by day 2 it was about 40 F and raining, some of the worst touring weather I've experienced. It was snowing and freezing rain just north. It was my only week for spring break so I just dressed as warm as I could and rode. I was staying in hotels, so as long as I had a hot shower and warm bed at night I was OK. By the middle and end of the week as I got south it was 60 F and sunny and felt great. I met other bikers along the way that were camping every night. I remember thinking, they are really stupid or really hard core. Bottom line is, its totally doable, just keep an eye on the weather, dress right and be flexible. Plus if you have sag support, you can just bail out any time if things get real bad. I think the NTP is more bike friendly that the Blue Ridge. Just as much seclusion, fewer hills and you don't have to go as far off the Parkway to finds services. Be careful around Jackson and Tupelo during rush hour and on the weekends, more cars. But most of the time you forget its not a bike trail because cars are so few and far between. Enjoy!
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Old 01-20-20, 10:15 AM
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Rode the 'Trace' in 1977, north to south and had perfect weather, zero wind, and one of the most memorable tours I have been on, mostly due to the beer cans chucked at us 'long hairs' from moving vehicles. lol. It really is a wonderful route to ride, and back then it was exceptionally lightly traveled by motor vehicles.
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Old 01-24-20, 12:29 AM
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I rode it North to South to North in 2014. Definitely hillier on the north end. They tend to be longish grades, not so steep. There are mile markers most or all of the way. In the hilly bits, I decided the uphill miles were long and the downhill miles were short - that was a pretty successful mind game.

One memorable moment was around dusk on the return. I was following another cyclist by 1/8 mile or so, just enough I could make him out in the fading light. I saw a coyote trot out into the road behind him, stop, lift his nose and sniff the air. When it heard me coming, it trotted away. I wonder what fresh randonneur smells like to a coyote. Makes me wonder what's going on behind me.

Trace miles are about the most stress-free road miles I've ever ridden. I think I clipped in at the start, turned on to the trace, and didn't make a turn or unclip a pedal until I needed water 60 miles later. No navigation, no thinking, the miles just tick by.

I can't help too much on hotels. I'm sure you know the Trace is a limited access road with little services. Small towns are generally just a bit off the trace.

I recall there are two segments with traffic to be concerned about - Jackson, MS is one, and frankly I forgot the other. Fortunately the traffic is concentrated at rush hour, so you might get lucky with your timing. If not, I strongly suggest pulling off somewhere and waiting a couple hours.

I found it delightful, and would like to ride it again. This time I'd stop and see some of the history, rather than riding it randonneuring style.
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