Cycling the Natchez Trace Parkway: Day 1

The Natchez Trace Parkway is part of the National Park Service (NPS), originally established in 1938, but not officially finished until 2005. The Natchez Trace began as a pathway traveled by Native Americans–the Natchez, the Chickasaw, and the Choctaw. During the early 1800’s, the pathway was cleared as a post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. According to the many historical markers, the road was used during the 1800’s by merchants who floated their goods down the Mississippi River, sold their boats for lumber, then walked or rode horseback on the Trace to get back home.

The Natchez Trace is 444 miles of asphalt paved road with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. The road is bicycle friendly with frequent signs letting motorists know that bicycles are allowed to use the full lane and reminding motorized vehicles to change lanes to pass cyclists. Commercial vehicles are banned from using the parkway, though we did see a few. NPS rangers patrol the parkway. The Trace is a greenway, without advertising. Mileposts mark each mile on the parkway’s east side beginning in Natchez, MS, at Milepost 0. Before leaving home, we created a milepost cue-sheet so that we could find food and wouldn’t miss “must-see” sights.

We began each day around 9:00am. Traffic in downtown Natchez was light on this Saturday morning. On our way to the beginning of the Trace, we met two cyclists, Mike and Debra, who were also heading to the Trace. They were in the middle of a trip from San Diego to Chicago, camping most of the way! Their bicycles were heavy with loaded panniers. We rode on ahead, but saw them several more times on our trip. Mike and Debra stopped to snap a few pictures for us at Milepost 0 of the parkway.

Natchez Trace Milepost 0
Natchez Trace Milepost 0

At Milepost 10, we stopped to see the historic sight of Emerald Mound, an eight acre site with ceremonial mounds used by Native Americans. The road to the mounds was gravel and after a short distance we decided to abandon our attempt to visit.  Skinny tires and gravel don’t make for much fun.

We stopped again at Mount Locust (Milepost 15.5), a restored plantation and historic stand.  Stands were inns or trading posts along the Trace.

Mount Locust
Mount Locust

We traveled about 86 miles on the first day. The Trace from Natchez to Learned, MS was not as flat as I expected, with rolling hills and lots of shade from pines and beautiful old oaks with hanging Spanish moss. For many miles around Port Gibson, MS, (Milepost 37) bridges were a little on the treacherous side.  The bridges were being resurfaced and asphalt had been ground off which made a bumpy and uneven surface for our skinny road bike tires!

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Hand on hip means that he’s coasting, waiting on me!

We stopped at Old Country Store in Lorman, MS (milepost 30) for lunch. Oh, my goodness, what a lunch! We had heard that it was on many lists for the best fried chicken anywhere and we are certain that those claims are valid! The restaurant is in an old general store and serves a buffet lunch. The family that runs the restaurant were super friendly and told us about the famous people who had visited. (We don’t usually take pictures of food, so you will just have to imagine how good it all was!) After lunch we rode on with plenty of fuel for the ride.

Old Country Store, Lorman, MS

Later in the afternoon, we came to an overpass at Milepost 72 that was to be our exit from the Trace for our first night at Harmony Farm’s bed and breakfast. Our directions were to go down the embankment to the road below, saving us about 4 miles. The grass was waist high in places. As we scoped out how and where to make the plunge, I made a sharp, slow turn and took a tumble and scraped my knee. The bicycle, with the added weight, was different from what I was used to and became overbalanced. We noticed some four-wheeler tracks and decided to use those as a path to descend.

Looks like a long way down!
Looks like a long way down!

We called Bill at Harmony Farm to let him know that we were nearby and to decide whether to stop for dinner before getting to the farm. He suggested that we come on the farm, get cleaned up, then use his vehicle to go back for dinner at Gibb’s Store. On our way, we met two men on horseback. The horses spooked and we almost saw a show! We came to a standstill; the riders said that the horses were young and had never seen bicycles.  Excitement!

Harmony Farm Bed & Breakfast was amazing! After this trip, we realized that bed and breakfasts range from pampering to very-basic, self-serve. Harmony Farm is in the “pampering” category! Bill told us that the bed and breakfast cottage was a “Katrina cabin”–those little mobile cottages that were used for housing after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. After people moved into permanent housing, the cottages were auctioned and Bill and Nancy bought one. It is about as perfect as can be!  It has one bedroom, a bathroom, a small kitchenette and living area, and a cute front porch! I loved the assortment of artwork throughout the cottage.  We thought we took pictures of the outside, but maybe we didn’t; the pictures are missing…so sad for that! We do have inside pictures; just excuse our junk that’s scattered about.

Inside cottage at Harmony Farm
Harmony Farm
Inside cottage at Harmony Farm

One of the highlights of this trip was the surprise that awaited us at Gibb’s Store in Learned, MS! Never in a million years would I have stopped at this store if we hadn’t been directed there and if there had been any other place for dinner. The restaurant is in the middle aisle of an old hardware store that, according to the locals, is still used as a hardware store during the day. The inside looks like a trip back in time–unpainted wooden walls with wooden shelving, a old scale for weighing produce or meat, a cast iron pot-bellied stove…amazing! As we took our place at a table with another couple, they immediately began asking where we were from and telling us about the area. Then, we noticed that the restaurant is cash-only and I had left my cash at the B&B. We placed our order for the most delicious steak we have ever eaten and Oscar went back to get the cash. While he was gone, Joe and “Puddin” from Bolton, MS, entertained me by telling me the history of Gibb’s Store, about their lives, and the employment in the area (a Nissan factory and farming).  When Oscar returned, the man at the adjoining table, another man named Joe, said that if he had realized why Oscar left, we could have written him a check and he would have given us cash. He then talked with us about the area and gave us his recommendations on the menu. The meal and the experience probably rank in my Top Ten eating experiences.  It was fun-fun and wonderfully delicious!

Gibb’s Store (the next morning)
Gibb's Store
Inside Gibb’s Store–so very cool!

Our first day of riding made up for our bad experience from the previous day.  The weather was great, the out-of-the way, super-cool food experiences were fantastic, and our accommodations couldn’t have been any better.  In hindsight, my only regret was that I wish that I had stopped to take more pictures. We were not sure how the day was going to go and I was a little afraid to make too many unnecessary stops.

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