The Inaugural Natchez Trace 1500k

Ride Report by Dave Thompson:

Are you looking for a long ride on a well maintained road? Do you want to ride where there aren’t any trucks, where any traffic nicely gives you at least three feet or more of space? In fact, do you want a road where the occasional car seems like it’s out of place, like “why is that car on my bike path?” Are you looking for a relatively flat ride where you never have to move out of your large chainring?

I’ve got the ride for you! You need to ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The NT 1500 is an out and back on the parkway with a few very short jogs off to get to Controls. Starting in Nashville Tennessee and turning around in Natchez Mississippi, there are no services on the parkway itself, nor are there intersections – only on and off ramps. Except for those Controls, you’d ride the entire thing without ever seeing a stop sign, a traffic light, a convenience store … you get the idea. There are restrooms with potable water and we made full use of those.

The scenery has a sameness for the entire ride. You cross a couple of large rivers, lots of creeks and over many crossing roads. Trees are well back from the sides, think 50-100 feet in general, and the roadsides mowed. Yes, that’s 450+ miles of mowing in either direction! Now that would be a full time job!

There is also some limited farming in some areas, mostly hay. Elevation never gets much over 1000 feet so there are only a couple of vistas to take in.

We saw some deer, wild dogs, armadillos (mostly road kill), but not a lot when you consider the length of the ride.

Only once did I switch to my small chainring and that was close to the end on the return leg, a grade that I hadn’t noticed as I descended. One other time I had a passing thought of shifting down but the hill on the road in Tishomingo Park to the Control was so short that it wasn’t necessary. Most of the grades that you encounter on this ride are 4% or less; in fact, there’s a lot of 1% that didn’t even register on my Garmin, which treated it as “noise” in total ascent even as the elevation changed.

Only about 22,000 feet of climbing registered on my Garmin over the 1500 km. Ridewithgps counted it as 36,000 — it counts all that low grade stuff. A lot of that climbing is on the first 60 miles which of course is the last 60 miles as you return.

The ride is broken up into, roughly, 450 (French Camp), 300 (Natchez), 300 (French Camp), 225 (Tishomingo), 225 km (finish).

The ride is setup with a long first day. I thought that was going to be a long one but didn’t realize how flat the parkway is. Leaving at 4am, Jerry and I arrived at the French Camp Control around 11:30 p.m. Sleeping was in cabins with several bunks. I went to sleep immediately, as usual; Jerry was disturbed by the noise of other riders. We were middle of the pack coming into French Creek. We got up at 3:30 and were rolling around 4am. 20 miles down the road there as an off-parkway store marked on the cue sheet and we stopped there.

The night control was at Natchez, the almost-halfway point, 750 km give or take. The return leg is very slightly longer because of the off route controls. We arrived at Natchez numbers 10 & 11 of the 55 or so riders. 6:30 p.m. at the Control, we left 7 hours later at 1:30 a.m. A 7-hour night stop is a record for me but Jerry needed the sleep. This Control was a motel and we slept soundly.

On the way back, my mental plan was to stop at French Camp and sleep for a few hours and do the same at Tishomingo. That mental plan was one that had developed along the way. That’s where the drop bags would be. It didn’t work out that way. We arrived at French Camp at 4:30 p.m. (?) but weren’t able to get any sleep. We were alone in the cabin but it was hot. I can’t sleep when it’s hot. We rested for almost the planned three hours but were obviously short on sleep when we left at 8:30 p.m. We found an open convenience store at an intervening control and rolled into Tupelo just before 5am. They opened the M.C.’s at 5:01 a.m. and we lingered there for an hour, catching a few minutes of sleep.

No, we didn’t see Elvis … he was sleeping.

I was sure that Jerry would want to rest for a long time at Tishomingo, the last night stop, but he was ready to get this over with as well. Besides, it was only 9:30 a.m. when we arrived in Tish! We’d taken a few 10-minute naps along the roadway or at the aforementioned restrooms, immediately falling asleep and awakened by my phone alarm.

Leaving Tish at 10:30, we arrived back in Nashville just before 11 p.m., just under 91 hours on the ride against the 120 hour time limit. We were numbers 4 & 5 of the group. We returned at noon the next day to check on the drop bags and only three more people had arrived in between.

The downside to the sameness, of course, especially at night, is that you can get bored. On a more typical ride going through small towns, even if everything is closed up late at night, there is something to see. The Parkway just goes on and on. I have to confess that the last 40 miles was tough mentally; I needed it to be over and the miles just crawled by.

The planning, support and execution were excellent. We were well fed and housed. If I were doing this again, I’d make an off-parkway motel booking between French Camp and Tishomingo for the return leg. Tupelo might have been a good location, or before. A couple of hours of good sleep at that point would have actually shortened the ride. We wouldn’t have needed the naps on the roadside and we would have been riding faster. To a certain extent you get into a sleep-deprived crawl and you roll along and have to remind yourself to up the pace – yes, pedaling does make it go faster!

Obviously Jerry and I were the outliers. We arrived late Friday night while most everyone else arrived 20-24 hours later on Saturday. Just as obviously, I enjoyed myself.

What a crazy “sport”! No more this year!

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