The Next Cycling Mecca: Mississippi (?!)

When I started this blog a little more than seven years ago, I anticipated that I would write about cycling in addition to wine. I never really thought about how much I would write about each topic, as I preferred to let it occur organically.

Well, that was stupid.

With only a few exceptions, this is a wine blog, and I am fine with that. Looking back now, though, it seems clear that I was never really going to write about cycling for a couple of reasons:

  1. I never had plans to write about pro cycling since I am far too old to cover athletes half my age and a third my size. Besides, I have a pretty good friend that was a rather accomplished professional bike racer and he (and his wife) would give me constant grief if I wrote about professional bike racing in any way (they would call me a “chamois sniffer” which is not a compliment in any way).
  2. By the time I had started this blog (2012), I had also given up bike racing myself. Sure, I did the occasional time trial race, but my days of winning (or even coming close to winning), were long gone. My mass-start racing “career” had come to an end about a year prior when a medical condition rendered racing (or more precisely, crashing—an all to frequent occurrence in bike racing at every level) potentially life threatening.

So, who would want to read about an aging, tall white guy who rode his bike around the block a few hundred times to justify the fact that he consumed a bunch of wine that he pretended to know something about?

Precisely.

No one. Not even my mom.

That brings us to Mississippi.

Like most writers, I presume, I get sent a lot of press releases and requests to cover any number of products, regions, or causes with nothing other than the email as incentive. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for handouts, but when the only information I receive is what you wrote and sent to me, there is absolutely no chance that I am going to do anything other than delete your email. And I delete a ton of emails.

Sorry.

The Natchez Trace is 444 miles long connecting Nashville Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi (it also includes a bit of Alabama).

Back in the summer of 2017, though, as I was wearing out the delete key going through my mail, I came across a brief (only 31 words long) email that asked if I would like to came and take a trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway and provided a URL.

I decided to investigate.

As it turned out, one of the people who worked at the Natchez Trace promotional board was a fan of my blog and wanted to see if I would be interested in riding my bike either all or a part of the 444 mile long National Park that extends from Nashville, Tennessee down to Natchez, Mississippi.

Um, yes!

Before I received that first email, I had never heard of Natchez Trace, much less had any inkling of its historical and cultural significance, or even had the first clue as to how it is pronounced (it rhymes with “matches” in case you were wondering).

As schedules (and weather) turned out, I was not able to ride my portion of the Trace until this past October, but it is clear to me that the Natchez Trace should be on every cyclist’s bucket list. More information on the region in general and the Trace in particular, in posts over the next few weeks, but here are a few of the dozens of pictures I took of Natchez, Mississippi the night before I was to start my ride on the Trace….

I drove from Houston to Natchez, so most of the drive was in Louisiana, once I hit this bridge, which spans the Mississippi River, I was out of Louisiana and in Natchez.

I had driven across the country’s longest river a few times, and each time it provokes a sense of wonder.

I got there just before sundown, with enough time to take a quick ride around town and snap a few pictures.

Natchez, Mississippi is a jewel of a town, dotted with antebellum mansions…

…that were largely owned by rich northerners (who planted in Louisiana), who used them as locales for parties. The fact that there were so many northern (at least part-time) residents, spared the city from being burned by the Union Army.

St. Mary’s Basilica was started in 1842, and completed in 1882.

There are signs throughout Natchez that the city still struggles with its Confederate past…

…and only recently has started to confront its pivotal role in the slave trade…

…as the second largest slave market in the country (behind New Orleans) operated for thirty years in Natchez.

Sunset on the Mississippi is pretty spectacular.

That night, I had a tour of the town after dark, which included a stop at the Magnolia Grill, where I had to order the Shrimp and Grits, right?

Poor lighting, but stellar food.

I then hit Smoot’s which is referred to as a “juke joint” meaning, basically, that it appears as though it could fall down at any given moment.

That night, a local southern rock band was playing, and the bassist from the Natchez-based Bishop Gunn was there to jam with them. I met the other members of the band in between sets.

Before heading off to sleep, I went “Under the Hill” one of the oldest sections of the town, right on the banks of the Mississippi…

…where there was more music to be heard.

I hope to publish much more about Natchez and the Trace next week. Stay tuned!

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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