I spent Thanksgiving in Leroy Percy State Park. Having no network access of any kind (not even voice cell-phone service), and no mileage goals, I wrote the following in my journal:
I’m thankful for one of the most relaxing days I can ever remember. I’ve had the campground essentially to myself and I’ve been enjoying perfectly clear blue skies, light breezes, and temps in the low sixties all day. With conditions like this, it’s hard not to reflect on the six weeks since I hit the road.
It’d be easy to get hung up on the hardships I’ve endured in the 1,880 miles I’ve covered so far: the general lack of cell-phone service (yay Sprint), the failing freehub in Iowa, the excruciating knee pain in Missouri (I’m on my third bottle of ibuprofen), the pair of new-before-this-trip Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires destroyed in Tennessee, four days of torrential rain, not to mention the countless saddle-sores from too many consecutive days of primitive camping with less-than-ideal hygiene.
But that misses the point of this trip: all the amazing people I’ve met. How complete strangers have given me money just “because I’m travelling”, given me a cup of coffee and timely advice on the next stretch of the road, or bought me a meal, welcoming me into their home with a warm shower, dinner, a warm place to sleep, breakfast the next morning and even offered to wash my clothes for me.
I’ve learned that the most amazing things happen only when conditions look the most desperate, but only if I’m open to the possibility and humble enough to accept the help, which usually comes in the most unlikely form.
The great thing about traveling is learning to expect nothing and accept everything with a smile.
Friday, 25nov2011: Leroy Percy State Park to Chotards Landing Resort. Although the resort had suffered heavy damage from the spring flooding, like so many other places I’ve seen, they are open and allow tent camping for $8. The showers sadly are not currently operational, but they do have working flush toilets and there cold beer for sale.
Saturday, 26nov2011: Chotards Landing Resort to Vicksburg MS
I stopped at “Yore Store” in Eagle Lake MS and talked to Ronnie, the owner for an hour or so. After a lifetime of driving OTR trucks, he’s an interesting guy, with lots of stories.
As I entered Vicksburg I passed Jim’s Cafe and had the best ribs I’ve had yet: meaty and tender, every bit as good (maybe even better!) than Rendezvous or Central B-B-Q in Memphis.
Continuing into downtown Vicksburg the rain resumed, and I ducked into Highway 61 Coffee House, where I met a group of young men canoing and/or kayaking the Mississippi to New Orleans. While I was busy catching up on email and listening to live music, they were trying to figure out who owned the loaded touring bike locked up out in the rain. At 5PM the coffee shop closed, but I still hadn’t figured out where I was going to spend the rainy night. Unlocking the bike outside I finally met my fellow river travelers, who were couchsurfing with someone in town. They invited me to a bar, where we could “happen” to meet their host and see if he had room for one more, but the owners of the coffee shop, Daniel Boone & Leslie Silver, had seen my plight, invited me in, and then offered to let me spend the night. And fed me a feast of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, and four kinds of dessert. Then they invited me to watch a movie with them in their home theater: Drummond Will (which was, IMHO, hilarious). Not only are they amazing and kind people, they have a presence that’s indescribable. The coffee shop superb, too, and they have an art gallery on the second floor. If you’re ever in Vicksburg MS then you need to stop by and say hello, the coffee shop & art gallery are just icing on the cake.
Sunday, 27nov2011: Vicksburg MS to Rocky Springs National Park Service Campground on Natchez Trace. It rained all day, but I finally reached Rocky Springs National Park Service campground on the Natchez Trace (flush toilets and free camping).
I also reached another milestone: 2000 miles.
Monday, 28nov2011: Still raining, so I took a rest day at Rocky Springs Campground. Mended holes in liner gloves, looked at route plans, read and tried to stay out of the rain.
Tuesday, 29nov2011: Rocky Springs Campground to Grand Gulf Military Park near Port Gibson. As I was leaving Rocky Springs, I met Steve & Debbie, a retired military couple who were enjoying the scenic Natchez Trace.
Fuel at Ace Hardware, and then a double bacon cheeseburger & “potato logs” at the gas station/cafe next door. Groceries. Wifi @ library. Grand Gulf Military Park Campground. $3 admission, then $5/night camping. I stayed two nights (total $13). Be sure to find the campground host, Ranger Jim, on your way in, because he WILL wake you up at 11PM otherwise (he said they’ve had lots of ride-offs). I thought I gave him a $20 bill, and thought it strange when he returned with change of $13. Giving him the extra $1 back, I crawled back into my sleeping bag and forgot about it. The next morning, however, he showed up with an extra $20 bill that had stuck to the first. He also said the $3 admission fee was one-time, and a second (consecutive) night camping would only be $5. The park was nice enough that I decided to take him up on it. I could have easily spent a week (or more) exploring the park’s Civil War museums.
I found the Trangia alcohol stove works much better on denatured alcohol (very hot, with little soot) but it’s much thirstier than the Whisperlite.
Wednesday, 30nov2011: Grand Gulf Military Park, Port Gibson.
Met Terry & Mike at Sonic. Terry is a volunteer board member for the Mississippi River Trail Commission, and knew Bob Robinson, author of the Mississippi River Trail Guidebook I’ve been using.
On returning to the Grand Gulf Military Park I explored the museum a little (not enough), and met Bud, the director. He insisted that the evening was going to be so cold that I needed firewood for a camp fire, and then he proceeded to help me load it into his pickup truck and haul it to my campsite. Deciding it didn’t look like enough, he then went and got me a second load. For free! So I enjoyed my first two campfires of the trip. If you’re in the area and even slightly into Civil War history this is a must-see; the staff are wonderful, too.