.. Or how I converted to living in the now and accepted that eventually, I too, will die…
I headed out, late, as usual, from Seller, Tennessee and started off on US Highway 45. The shoulder was nice and wide like most US highways.
Once I’d hit the Welcome to Mississippi sign, the shoulder became packed stone set about two inches lower than the main roadway.
No problem, I can work with that…
South of Corenth, Mississippi the packed shoulder tapered off and I was left with anywhere from between six and eighteen inches of space to the right of the white lane line. This was also a space I was forced to share with persistent rumble strips.
Since it’d been another day of all rain I was damp after only a couple hours into the ride. My strategy today was switching out of my boots and into my sandals. That way at least I’d have dry, warm footwear at the end of the day.
After three and a half hours, my pruney feet and soggy socks were number to the first metatarsals. I pulled off the road and was preparing to dig through my bag to change into new dry socks when I looked up and saw a man coming towards me. I stepped back and he held out a bag of snacks and water. He introduced himself as Michael, a fellow Cyclist, from the Booneville area. He offered me the food and water and I thanked him. He also offered a ride and advice about local routes. We chatted for about twenty minutes about the local cycling, Michael’s employment at the Caterpillar plant as an engineer, and just general South North things. He was incredibly helpful and generous. Thank you again, Michael!
I’ve got a few minutes of shoulder of death footage on the GoPro to share at a later date when I get WiFi. The most dangerous part occurred between Saltillo and Tupelo because not only did I have about eight inches to work with, but the traffic increased at least three fold.
You can browse what the road looked like using Google Street view…
Imagine riding that “shoulder” for over four hours today. I don’t have to imagine it because I did it. Insanity. Based on my anecdotal evidence from today, I believe the majority of Northeastern Mississippi drivers also have no regard for cyclists. Routinely the left lane was completely open and still cars would pass me in the right lane at over seventy miles an hour… All day. I got used to the cars, but the semis were always a surprise.
After it had gotten dark, the shoulder hadn’t improved, and the traffic had become constant, I finally gave in to the weariness of trying to focus on staying between the divots in the asphalt and the edge of the paved surface. I pulled off the road and checked my map. I saw that I’d just passed the Natchez parkway which was supposed to be the highway to heaven for cyclists. So I proceeded to look for a way to reach the overpass to the Natchez. The ditches were soft and flooded with water due to the three inches of rain the area had received in the last twenty four hours. I discovered a break in the fence that separates the road right of way and an empty field near the Natchez, so I pushed my bike through the brush and into the field. I immediately found the field was even more saturated with rain than the ditch, so I abandoned the bike and scouted the tree line on the far side of the field on foot. Unfortunately the trees were shrouding a swollen creek, so I abandoned that plan and returned to the bike. Standing the bike up, I discovered that, in the fading daylight, I’d inadvertantly left the bike leaning against a giant mound of dirt that houses thousands of ants. I ignored them and pushed the bike back through the muddy water towards the highway and the Natchez parkway overpass.
When I reached the overpass, I could see a freshly mowed hill through the trees. Unfortunately, I could also see a four foot with multiple runs of barb wire along the top.
I removed my panniers from the bike, tossed them over the fence and then lifted the seventy pound bike halfway over the fence and then tried to push the rear over, but I snagged a pedal in the overgrown vines that enveloped the rusted barbwire.
I stepped on the fence and climbed over and then gave my bike a tug and broke it free from its entanglement.
After pushing the reloaded bike up the embankment, I hopped onto the bike and road to the house of my warmshowers host, Rufus.
I met his dog, Lucky, took a shower, and we went out to eat and grocery shopping. We chatted about life in the South, Tupelo, and each of our life experiences while Rufus made cookies and I repacked the bike.