The other way to spell Mississippi

crooked letterIt’s not just M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i.

Try M-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-humpback-humpback-i.

And if you want to take it to another level, the letter i becomes “straight letter”.

Honestly, I’ll stick to the regular alphabet.

But did you ever hear the joke “what has four eyes and goes south”? (If I wrote it as four i’s, it would give it away). It’s the Mississippi (and don’t get all smart on me and say it’s five i’s with River).

Posted in bike ride | Leave a comment

The Natchez Trace and round the rez — but no alligators in sight

natchez traceWe started the day with a beautiful 35-mile ride around the Ross Bartnett Reservoir in Ridgeland, a suburb of Jackson (the state capital). Blue skies, lots of sun and water on one side all the time means it’s a ride that’s pretty hard to mess up.

We began on a bike trail along the Natchez Trace, a route I’ve always wanted to ride. The whole thing is 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville, so this ride was just a tiny bit of it. (Add the full route to the bucket list — starting from Natchez since you’re more likely to have a tail wind.. and you build up to the foothills of the Appalachians.) One pleasant surprise is that there’s a separate multi-use path for the first bit, starting at the Craftsman Guild of Mississippi building and keeping us away from Jackson commuting traffic. On the Trace itself, there’s just one lane in each direction — and no shoulder. When we were on, traffic was light, so it was just fine.

bartnett reservoirThe “round the rez” loop is one the locals do.  You get off the Trace, of course. The route we followed looks pretty much like this — a mix of trails, shoulders/bike lanes and road. Hills? Nothing like the Sourlands back in New Jersey! (And I’m on a borrowed hybrid, not my road bike.)

Here’s something that surprised and impressed me about Mississippi: A local said that when she started riding in 2000, there were all of 4 miles of bike trails in the Jackson metro area. Now you can ride from the northern side to the southern side of the metro area on trails and bike lanes, and other communities are connecting to the bike network. Ridgeland, where we stayed, has a mayor who bikes and who has realized that multi-use paths/trails, not bike lanes, are the way to go, even if they cost more, because they serve more people.

While biking the loop, we saw lots of fishermen out on the water, many of them close to the rocky shore where the white perch seem to hang out. I’m told you can sometimes you can spot an alligator. Not this time.

Posted in bike ride | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

43 miles on Mississippi’s Tanglefoot Trail

bikes and butterfliesThis is a rail-trail that stands out for doing the most basic of amenities incredibly well — shelters with running water and real toilets (and even outlets to recharge your phone). Don’t laugh — I have been on many longer trails with almost no bathroom facilities and where water fountains are scarce. Oh, and they’ve got tool stands in some spots for when you need to do a quick repair.

Who does that?

downtown new albanyThe day’s route was straightforward: get on the Tanglefoot Trail at New Albany, the birthplace of William Faulkner and home to a vibrant downtown (the bakery comes highly recommended, but it didn’t open until 10 a.m. and we’d already had a hearty breakfast anyway), and head south to Houston 43 miles away. There’s an infrequently used rail line within sight of the trail head — maybe one day it will become a rail with trail that can extend the trail another 20 or so miles north to Ripley?

train and bike

Why is it called the Tanglefoot Trail? William Faulkner’s great-grandfather started the rail line and one of his engines was named … Tanglefoot.

The scenery varied — sometimes water, sometimes woodland, sometimes pasture for beef cattle, sometimes industry. The route, like most rail-trails, was essentially flat. We went through many small towns, some of which had seen much better days and others that had a decent population (4,000 if you counted every dog to 8,000 or so). You could find hotels and B&Bs not far from the trail — or in the case of this one, just off the trail. A couple of towns had supermarkets within sight of the trail.

And I was impressed with the number of rest stops (uncovered), rain stops (covered) and whistle stops (much more elaborate covered stops with water and clean flush toilets, plus wooden owls near the rafters to scare off birds — apparently it does help.). In the town of Pontotoc, where a third of users access the trail, the mayor has big plans to expand an already large whistlestop to offer RV and tent camping nearby (and more, including a large pavilion with a commercial kitchen). Private developers are betting on the trail too — not far away, a developer has cleared the land and is planning to install a number of cabins for travelers.

tanglefoot advocatesHats off to some of the enthusiastic advocates!

One thing I’d like to know more about is more about the Native Americans — the Chickasaw tribe. And yes, I’d like to know about on-road routes to Oxford and Tupelo. Just in case I was making a bigger trip out of this.

fried lunchWe ate lunch in the tiny town of Algoma. Walk into the country store and it’s fried everything for lunch. I went for chicken on a stick (fried chicken, fried onion, fried pickle, shish-kabob style) and some fried corn-something. (Tomorrow, I’m sticking to just fried vegetables!) The place may not look like much, but apparently it’s quite the destination for cyclists. Plus they let you camp out in the pavilion they built (yes, with water and toilet). If it’s dinner time, you might want to hit Seafood Junction across the road that offers an all-you-can-eat seafood buffett.

Yes, it’s always all about the food.

Posted in bike ride, bike trail | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Hopscotching across the state of Mississippi

(It’sbreakfast concord inn(It’s always about the food isn’t it? Much nicer than my usual style!)

I’m getting away from a northern winter to join a small group exploring Mississippi on a bike. And no, this is not part of the East Coast Greenway.

Now Mississippi is a long state (more than five hours to drive from the state line with Memphis down to the Gulf of Mexico) and we only have four days, so I admit there’s some assists coming via a car. We’re going to skip some of the more obvious tourists sites (sorry Tupelo, Oxford and Natchez) and instead spend a good chunk of time on rail-trails you may not have heard of. And yes, the Natchez Trace.

As a northener who has spent less than 24 hours in Mississippi until now (and that was only in October), I was shocked to learn this deep-red state has a pretty new 43-mile rail-trail that opened all at once. Quite a feat! Then we hear that the time between the railroad abandoning the line to Tanglefoot Trail opening was just 10 years (eight years if you start counting from the first meeting), and we’re all stunned by the speed. Oh, and it’s asphalt, so a lot more expensive than crushed stone.My town struggles to just put in sidewalks along a road to the train station (we’re starting year 5 – it could happen this year for the first five or six homes.)  And before you ask, 80% of the money came from the federal government (grant). Someone knew how to push the right buttons.

I intend to find out the full story — but I’m already hearing about the trail’s economic impact.

So here’s the basic itinerary:

Day 0: I’m on a rental bike because I couldn’t deal with shipping my bike and then needing to ship it back. But the others have brought their various fold-ups and spend time after dinner reassembling their bikes at a beautiful B&B while I … chat (what a surprise!).

Day 1: 43 miles on the Tanglefoot Trail (New Albany to Houston).

Day 2: 35-mile loop involving the Natchez Trace Parkway from Ridgeland, a bike-friendly suburb of Jackson, the state capital. Then another 27-mile section of the Natchez Trace from Rocky Springs to Windsor Ruins (what a name for a town!). The Natchez Trace is run by the National Park Service and runs from Nashville to Natchez. Until now, it’s the only place I knew about biking in Mississippi, and it’s a 50-mph road.

Day 3: 16 miles around Vicksburg National Military Park (can I just say I love the National Park Service?) and then 41 miles on the Longleaf Trail from Prentiss to Hattiesburg

Day 4: 28 miles along the Gulf coast.

Total is 200 miles, and no coincidence that this is Mississippi’s bicentennial year.

Posted in bike ride, bike trail | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

That beautiful East Bay Trail!

This trail runs 15 miles starting in Providence, Rhode Island, along the Narragansett Bay south to Bristol. The East Bay Trail connects to the main East Coast Greenway route, and we rode 10 miles of it while in Providence in mid-November. It’s an old railway line, so it’s flat. Yes, there’s wind to offset that. You’re always near the water, but it also runs past a supermarket. How cool is that — being able to get groceries via the trail?

It felt incredibly busy with bikers, walkers and joggers on a late Friday afternoon. I’m not giving Veterans Day all the credit — a lot of us don’t get it off.

The photo I wish I could have taken: The shadows of us on our bikes against a golden backdrop of fading grasses and foliage to the east as the sun was setting in the west.

Instead I took these:

providence-bikes-on-a-bridge

providence-bike-by-the-bay

Providence doesn’t have a bike-share system, but it does have some cool architecture in its coming-back-to-life downtown. That peacock is pretty subtle.

providence-peacock

This guy isn’t.providence-indian

What a moon!providence-moon

And I’d like to be back for Providence’s WaterFire events, where these metal braziers (now used by this sea gull) are lit up. Sneak a peek under the nearby bridges — that’s where the wood is stored.

providence-water-fire

providence-water-fire-wood

Posted in bike ride | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Construction sites along the East Coast Greenway

trail-construction

I’m just back from the East Coast Greenway summit in Providence, Rhode Island. And while some participants couldn’t hold back on their disappointment over the presidential election, I prefer to focus on the inspiring developments I heard about.

There’s a huge amount of progress in creating the off-road network between Connecticut and Delaware in particular. Some of this is because the governors in both Connecticut and Delaware want the East Coast Greenway to be part of their legacy, as I’ve written before. So projects that have been in development are now close to the ribbon-cutting.

In Connecticut, almost 10 miles of trail will be completed this year and a minimum of another 20 miles next year. I saw many of those Connecticut projects on our long weekend there this summer (that’s where the photo is from), and hearing this makes me feel less disappointed that a Portland-to-Hartford ride will likely follow this year’s Calais-to-Portland ride in 2018, not 2017.

Bonus: a bridge over a highway is to be installed one Saturday night early next year (perhaps in April?) and since the road will be closed, why not celebrate there with a midnight street party? Plans are afoot, and I am waiting on the details.

In New Jersey, momentum seems to be building for two key projects, One is a much better route across the Meadowlands, from Jersey City to Newark, that will be called the Essex and Hudson Greenway. It’s gone from concept to the start of a feasibility study in less than a year, which is just amazing. The other is an off-road road from the Middlesex Greenway in Edison to the Raritan River in Highland Park, on the other side of New Brunswick. That would then link with the D&R Canal towpath. Middlesex County appears to be serious about this, so let’s see how long it takes.

Pennsylvania has 10 East Coast Greenway projects under construction this year (one of them is already done!), and another nine are in planning and engineering or ready for construction next year. One is the extension of the Schuylkill River Trail to Bartram’s Garden. There are projects planned in every county from the New Jersey line to the Delaware line, though I don’t know how much easier an off-road ride from Trenton to Philadelphia will become without more work.

In Delaware, there’s just been the groundbreaking for a trail close to 9 miles long connecting Wilmington to New Castle that will replace a hellish 9 miles of roadway.

A few developments away from the Connecticut-to-Delaware corridor:

  • Rhode Island voters just passed a $35 million green bond that includes $10 million for bike paths.
  • Washington D.C. has just about finished a 9-mile route along the south side of Anacostia River that the East Coast Greenway considers its complementary route. Still to work out is the link back to the National Mall. But when I look at the overall plan for the Anacostia River Walk, I understand the construction boom in Southeast that I saw from the highway on the way back from Raleigh. Trails are an ammenity and help bring economic development!
  • Florida is spending $25 million annually on trails, and East Coast Greenway segments are priorities.
Posted in bike trail | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final photos from North Carolina

This is (most of) the group as we gathered in Raleigh. No sign of the hurricane yet:

ecg-raleigh-group-shot

And where many of us went to dinner in Elizabethtown three days later:

ecg-elizabethtown-dinner3

ecg-elizabethtown-dinner2

ecg-elizabethtown-dinner1

Which set of wheels?

ecg-nc-which-bike

Dennis showing off his yoga skills on a bouncing “bonding board” at Cape Fear Vineyard and Winery in Elizabethtown:

ecg-dennis-yoga-skills

Chris’s bike matches the East Coast Greenway colors! (OK, also, Holiday Inn’s)

ecg-greenFor another perspective on our hurricane-shortened adventure on the East Coast Greenway, read this blog. The wind and rain is fierce in North Carolina today — we all know the ride had to end when it did. Here’s to sunshine next October as we head from the Wilmington area to … Savannah?

Once again, thank you to everyone who supported the East Coast Greenway through my fundraising efforts. I hope you’ll go enjoy your own bike adventure.

Posted in bike ride | Tagged , , | Leave a comment