Last Fall, I had the opportunity to ride my bike along the Southern portion of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444 mile long National Park that stretches from Nashville, Tennessee, across the northwest corner of Alabama, and down to Natchez, Mississippi.
Arriving in Ridgeland, after riding just over eighty miles, I had one goal: find my damned hotel. My legs were tired, for sure, but I was feeling surprisingly good with the exception of my tutus, which was pretty much on fire. I just wanted to get to the hotel and out of my bike shorts.
Over the several decades that I have been riding and racing, I would not compromise on bike shorts. Without getting too graphic, I would spare no expense to protect, well, “down there.” Sure, there were times that the money I spent on high quality bike shorts should have probably been used for, I don’t know, rent or food, but when you spend a 10-20 hours a week in the saddle, comfort in the nether regions is paramount.
But even great bike shorts have a limit. On the day that I rode from Natchez to Ridgeland, Mississippi, that limit was about 63.2 miles. At that point, my buttocks (and another area fairly close to my butt) had decided that it was enough. Thus, the last 20 miles of the ride were largely spent standing up, trying to avoid contact with the saddle at all costs.
When most people in my situation saw that 100 mile marker, they would have been relieved, knowing that the ride was over and they would soon be in a shower, taking care of the parts of the body that are not usually mentioned in polite conversation.
For me, though, I knew that I still had some work to do. Even though the kind folk at VisitRidgeland.com assured me that the SpringHill Suites (my hotel for the night) were not even a mile from the Natchez Trace Parkway, they didn’t realize that I have a horrible sense of direction—I could get lost in a phone booth.
Sure, the fact that there is GPS on iPhones has certainly changed my life for the better, but this is the guy who led his tour group up a rather steep climb for about 12 miles only to find the road end at the top, requiring us to turn around, descend, and then climb up another steeper alp to get back on the route—a route that was supposed to be spent entirely in the valley.
Yeah. I did not get a boatload of tips on that particular trip.
So I knew that given a missed turn or seven (even though it was a “straight shot” from the Trace to the hotel), the “less than a mile” to get there could possibly become seven or twelve (luckily, there were no alps in the region, or so I was led to believe).
My tour of Ridgeland was brief, surprisingly, but I liked what I saw: a fairly modern town with wide avenues, plenty of shops and restaurants, and quite cycling friendly. It certainly did not have the historical charm of Natchez, but it did have an energy that I did not find in the town along the Mississippi River.
The long-time mayor of the city, Gene McGee, has been a fervent supporter of the town, promoting business as well as an outdoor lifestyle. Several residents of the area, during casual conversation, brought up (unprovoked) the fact that Mississippi always ranks near the bottom when ranked by almost any health statistic. They would quickly add “but Ridgeland is trying to change that.”
With outdoor activities nearly every weekend, a vibrant restaurant scene, nearby Barnett Reservoir, and of course the Natchez Trace, it seems as though it just might be the case.
I eventually found my hotel, made my way to my room, pealed off my cycling gear, flinging it about the room, and immediately got in the shower. As it was getting late, I quickly dressed and headed out for dinner. Conveniently, there was a French restaurant, Anjou, within walking distance (there was no was I was going to ride my bike again that night).
There was a decent, although not extensive, wine by the glass selection, and the menu included escargot and duck. And just as I walked in, my Philadelphia Eagles were kicking off against the hated Giants. Perfect.
At half-time, I made my way back to the hotel, with every intention of watching the second half of the game in bed. I’ll let you guess how that turned out….