Steinbach to Nashville, Tennessee

October 6-7, Steinbach to Cedar Rapids, Iowa
October 7-10, Nashville, Tennessee, (Artist’s Flair VRBO house)

Okay, here’s the “trip report” of the Nikkel Family Cycling Trip we took last October. I did NOT blog on this trip (to protect the innocent, i.e. participants), but I have a few photos and feel the need to at least post SOMETHING about what turned out to be a very fun adventure. One more to strike off my “bucket list”.

This was a “Nikkel Family” trip. This was a “cycling” trip. This was a “music” trip. The plan was for Linda to fly to Manitoba and then join Walter and Angie and me on a drive down to Nashville. We would spend a few nights in Music City, USA checking out the honky-tonks in the home of country music, and then get on our bikes and cycle the 444 miles down the Natchez Trace, a National Parkway from just south of Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi, just north of New Orleans. The parkway is a federal road, top speed is 50mph, no commercial traffic, no access ramps, just a lovely paved two-lane highway with mile markers every mile and occasional roadside parks. Much of the road is lined with trees on either side. There are gently rolling hills, mostly at the north end, and it gradually descends as it follows the Mississippi down to the Gulf. Along the route we would pass through the northwest corner of Alabama, not far from Muscle Shoals, the home of so much fine R&B music. And then into Mississippi, through Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. We hoped to hear some ‘authentic’ blues music as we worked our way down to Natchez. That would be the end of our 444-mile cycling trip. It would be a 3-hour drive from Natchez down to New Orleans. Our sister Irmy would meet us there and the five of us would spend a long weekend taking in some jazz and cajun music. From there it was a 1650km drive back home, with a couple of stops along the way.

So that was the plan. And that’s what we did. Check out the photos below.

'Sue Beer' -- a toast to my missing cycling partner
On the porch of our VRBO house in Nashville, celebrating what would have been Rudy and Sue’s 42nd wedding anniversary, with a delicious and aptly-named Tennessee craft beer.
Southeast USA RoadMap
After a 2-day drive down to Nashville, and 3 nights visiting the honky-tonks, we began the 444-mile cycle down the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Cycling: Nashville to the Alabama border

October 10, Fall Hollow Campground (garden shed!) in Fall Hollow, TN
October 11, the Collinwood 355 Motel in Collinwood, TN
October 12, the Red Roof Inn in Muscle Shoals, AL

Nashville to Alabama Map
Nashville to Alabama route

After several days and evenings enjoying the bars and bands in Nashville, on Thursday morning it was time to begin the bike ride. We drove the van down to the official start (or end, if you’re starting in Natchez) of the parkway. Mile 444 was near the “Loveless Motel”. We parked the van and went in for breakfast. A busy place! Then we took 3 of the bikes out of the van and ‘assembled’ them. We stopped for a photo beneath the motel sign and we were off.

Here we are at the Northern Terminus of the 444-mile parkway. All set and ready to go!

Walter would take the first shift driving the ‘sag wagon’. We arranged that one of us would drive the van for half the day, usually about 25 miles. That would be our lunch stop, and then another person would drive the second half of the day.

The weather was great! While it had been 34 degrees or even hotter the previous week, our cycling days were about 23 degrees. Great for cycling. And the roads were in excellent condition. Winds were light, and on a few days there was a gentle breeze at our back, helping us along.

We encountered several armadillos and turtles beside the road.

Along the road there were signs indicating points of interest along the way. We stopped to check out this small creek.

I had hoped that we might see the fall colours in October, but it appeared that this year fall would come in November. Nevertheless, the scenery along our route was great. There were regular roadside pull-outs, some with picnic tables, some with washrooms. And there were attractions along the way, usually not too off the main route.

At the end of our first day of cycling we arrived at the Fall Hollow Campground. This was the only lodging we had booked ahead of time for the entire cycling trip. It turned out to be quite a disappointment — our “bed and breakfast” turned out to be more like a large wooden ‘garden shed’. The bathrooms were in a nearby building, with codes that got us in, but no towels or shampoo or soap. And the tiny building had a small fridge, a microwave, a bunk bed and a “loft” bed squeezed in just above the entrance door.

The next day we continued down the road to the Alabama border. By now we had a bit of a routine: We would cycle for 4 or 5 miles and if there was a bridge with the standard concrete ‘rail’ we might stop, just to give our butts a rest and have a drink of water (or gatorade). After 25 miles or so it was time for lunch. On this day Angie took her turn driving the van after lunch. It fell to her to find us a place to stay for night, which turned out to be the exact opposite experience from what we’d had the night before. The 355 Motel in Collinwood was large and well appointed. It was more like an apartment on the second floor above a business, with a kitchen, a couple of bathrooms, and a large living and dining room. We were very happy, especially when moments after we had arrived and carried our bikes up to the big covered veranda in front of the apartment it started pouring rain. Serendipity!

We lucked into a great overnight stay in Collinwood, Tennessee — at the 355 Motel.

The next morning, after a hearty homemade breakfast and with the sun shining and not a cloud in the sky, we set off. It was only a few miles until we crossed the state line from Tennessee into Alabama. The Natchez Trace cuts through the northwest corner of Alabama so it didn’t take us long to ‘cross’ Alabama into Mississippi.

And that’s it for Tennessee! We crossed into Alabama.

Because there were no lodging options near our stopping point for the day (at Tishomingo State Park in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, just across the Alabama-Mississippi state line), we loaded up our bikes and drove the van back east into Alabama, to the city of Muscle Shoals where we checked in at the Red Roof Inn. We hoped we might tour one or both of the famous Muscle Shoals recording studios the next morning, but both were closed and so we had to settle for photos before heading back to the State Park and continuing our cycling journey.

Cycling: Alabama to Tupelo, Mississippi

October 12, the Red Roof Inn in Muscle Shoals, Alabama
October 13, Surestay Hotel by Best Western in Tupelo, Mississippi

Tennessee State Line to Tupelo, Mississippi map
Tennessee State Line to Tupelo, Mississippi (milepost-230-341)

Three miles south of the Tennessee-Alabama line, at milepost 338 on the Natchez Trace, is the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall. It was constructed single-handedly by a man named Tom Hendrix. His great great grandmother was a 14-year old Euchee Indian girl who was forcibly moved along with thousands of others to an Oklahoma reservation during the early 1800s. She ran away from the reservation and traveled alone all the way back to her homeland in north Alabama. The stone wall is Hendrix’s tribute to her and to all Native American women. When we stopped here Mr Hendrix’s son showed us around and told us the story of the wall. It contains 8.5 million pounds of rocks, all individually placed by Tom, and if straight it would stretch 1.25 miles.

After a short visit to the wall we continued on our way. About 10 miles down the road we came to the Tennessee River. Before crossing the big bridge we decided to stop for lunch.

We crossed the big bridge and cycled about 20 more miles until we arrived at the Alabama-Mississippi state border. Our cycle through three states included only about 30 miles of Alabama!

Just barely across the border into Mississippi we stopped at Bear Creek Mound, near milepost 309 on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The mound marks the spot where a village site was occupied as early as 8,000 B.C. About a thousand years ago migratory people of this area practiced limited agriculture. The nearby fields and streams offered an abundance of nuts, fruits, game and fish. These people shaped this mound and built a crude temple on its summit to house their sacred images. Nearby was what appeared to be a ‘cave’ — time for a photo before continuing on.


We arrived in Tupelo and checked into the Surestay Hotel at the north end of the city. We had just enough time to park our bicycles and take a short drive to the birthplace home of Elvis Presley, now a museum.


Cycling: Tupelo to Jackson, Mississippi

October 13, Surestay Hotel by Best Western in Tupelo, Mississippi
October 14, Oak Tree Inn in Eupora, Mississippi
October 15, Extended Stay America in Jackson, Mississippi

Just south of Tupelo to Jackson, Mississippi (milepost-230-341)
Just south of Tupelo to Jackson, Mississippi (milepost-230-341)

We stayed at the Oak Tree Inn in Eupora. We had supper at a small (but good) Mexican diner, Los Encinos, and did a few loads of laundry at the nearby laundromat. The next morning it was raining. The forecast was for steady rain all day. We decided NOT to get our freshly cleaned cycling gear all wet and dirty. Instead, we “cheated” and took a relaxing slow drive down to Jackson, Mississippi. A great stop just north of Jackson was the Cypress Swamp, with a short boardwalk that looped through and around it.

Our stop in Jackson was at the Extended Stay Hotel (not our best stop!). After unpacking our stuff we headed down to Hal & Mel’s restaurant where we enjoyed a pretty good dinner and some excellent live music.

Cycling: Jackson to Natchez, Mississippi

October 15, Extended Stay America in Jackson, MS
October 16, Isabella Bed & Breakfast, in Port Gibson, MS
October 17, the Grand Hotel, in Natchez, MS 

Jackson to Natchez (milepost-1-113)
Jackson to Natchez (milepost 113 to 0)

The next morning the rain was gone and another perfect day of cycling awaited us. We opted to drive down to the south end of Jackson before taking our bikes out of the van and starting our cycle. The morning rush hour traffic had some drivers choosing to take the Natchez Trace road to avoid traffic, but drivers who are in a hurry to get to work and cyclists who are ‘dawdling’ along checking out the scenery don’t mix. As soon as we were at the south end of the city the road was once again ours for the day.

Our stop for the night would be at a B&B in Port Gibson. Along our route we stopped to climb up a small hill to visit an old, but still in use, church and yard near Rocky Springs.

When we got to Port Gibson our hostess at the Isabella Bed & Breakfast greeted us with glasses of refreshing local beer, made with pecans. Delicious.

Next morning was also our last morning of the cycling part of the adventure. Tonight we would arrive at Mile “0”, the beginning (and for us, the end) of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

And that’s it! We’re done. We stopped for a group photo, although there was no one there to take it for us. So we improvised. And then we packed the bikes into the van one last time and drove into the city of Natchez.

Done! 444 miles, from Nashville to Natchez.

We checked into the Grand Hotel in Natchez. The hotel really was “grand” — right on the big wide Mississippi River, with Louisiana on the other side. We showered and changed, then had a celebratory beer. We walked the boardwalk along the river. The sun was about to set, creating a beautiful red sky as a backdrop to the big bridge just south of our hotel. A few blocks down from our hotel we discovered Smoot’s Grocery, a lovely little bar with a couple of guys playing blues and southern rock. Great entertainment. Too bad we couldn’t order a meal there. We found a very busy big restaurant not far from there and had our last dinner as a foursome. Tomorrow we were driving down to New Orleans, a just-under 3 hour trip, where our sister Irmy would be joining us for the weekend.

Sunset on the Mississippi River

The Big Easy

October 18-21, Saint Roch (VRBO house) in New Orleans, LA

We drove down to New Orleans and found our VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) house. We parked the van out in front and unloaded our gear. The bikes stayed in the van. There was a grocery store just across the street. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the French Quarter from our place. Sister Irmy had flown into New Orleans last night and checked into a hotel near the airport. She was exploring the downtown, having breakfast and waiting for us. She showed up before noon. We drove back to her hotel to retrieve her luggage. Our house had a couple of bathrooms and 4 bedrooms, a small kitchen out front, and a backyard which we shared with renters in the adjoining unit.

Beers in our backyard.
Beers in our backyard.

For the rest of the weekend we spent most of our time down in the French Quarter.

We discovered that there was a weekend music festival in one of several parks in the New Orleans downtown area. And it was a FREE festival, with lots of great music and assorted gift shops and big barbecues set up around the perimeter of the park.

Down at the riverfront we could enjoy people watching while listening to buskers play music.

Above: We moved most, if not all, of the perfumey sprays and candles from our house and stored them on the back steps until our departure. There had been an accident atop the Hard Rock Cafe construction site in New Orleans, which attracted some onlookers when workers (unsuccessfully) tried to move the cranes which were hanging precariously above a couple of streets below.

Above: Concerts, sisters, and a busker on the riverfront.

On the front porch of our house in New Orleans
On the front porch of our house in New Orleans

Memphis and the ride home

October 21, New Orleans to the Motel 6 in Memphis, Tennessee
October 22, Super8, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
October 23, Home!

Beale Street, the famous strip of music venues, clubs, bars & shops known for Memphis blues-music history. We went for dinner at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken nearby.

The next morning we went to the National Civil Rights Museum, including the Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968.

A quick stop for a photo outside Elvis Presley’s Graceland before setting off for home.

We stopped at the same Super8 in Cedar Rapids where we’d stopped on our first night of this trip. By the evening of October 23 we were home.

Home again, safe and sound. (at a dinner hosted by Tim and Alex)