I spent the night last night in Vicksburg MS, after riding from Houston and making some national park stops along the way. I'd arrived in Vicksburg in time to get the stamp at the visitor center and to ride on through the park to the U.S.S. Cairo display and get that stamp as well. It's a good thing I'd been able to do that, because the weather forecasts for today were looking very grim.
My route would take me up through north central MS to catch the stamps at the Natchez Trace Visitor Center in Tupelo and to proceed north to Corinth MS and to Shiloh National Battlefield in TN. This area of MS and TN will be under severe weather alerts from about 1:00 PM onward. They are predicting possible large hail, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms. With this in mind, I did not sleep well at all! Because of that, I was up early the next morning, whether I wanted to be or not!
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It was very foggy in Vicksburg this morning at 7:00 AM, a heavy, misty fog that settles on everything it touches, including my faceshield. I headed east on I-20 to I-220 around the west side of Jackson, then north on I-55 until I reached US-82 near Winona. This would be the last I would see of any interstates for a couple of days. Much of this trip is routed on secondary and smaller roads. 40 miles down the road I picked up the Natchez Trace near Mathiston. I would be facing 60 slow miles north toward Tupelo, obeying the posted 50 mph speeds, more or less.
Because of the heavy cloud cover, the flowering trees and wildflowers were particularly brilliant, standing out against the dark backdrop of wet bark and green underbrush. The hardwoods were just starting to show their spring green and the grasses were bright green. The dogwoods along this stretch of the trace were in beautiful blooming form, their characteristic white flowers seeming to float in the air unsupported. I began to see red bud as I got a little further north and their bright magenta blooms grew richer and deeper the further north I got.
There were many wildflowers in bloom; whole fields of mustard-yellow flowers, road shoulders lined with little deep-red button flowers, clusters of pale blue flowers...no doubt there would be many more varieties blooming in the next few weeks. I noticed many butterflies, too, and hoped that none committed suicide on my front fairing.
Yesterday, while riding through Vicksburg National Park, I saw some rustling just off the roadway and a wild turkey burst out of the underbrush and began flying right toward me. She immediately saw her folly and, in a very ungraceful flapping of wings, she narrowly averted disaster for both of us and plunged back into the bushes. Today I saw another female turkey, a beautiful specimen, sitting up on a slight rise about 30-40 yards off the roadway. She was like a statue, standing perfectly still, her neck and head gracefully extended, and looking quite regal.
The heavy overcast skies stayed dry, thankfully, as I neared the Visitor Center on the Trace. However, I was also watching the clock and calculating how far I'd get before the rains began. The magic hour was 1:00 PM...that was when the storms were expected to move into the area. I got off of the Trace just north of Tupelo, got gas, and picked up US 45 north to Baldwyn for the Brices Crossroads Visitor Center.
I had planned to stop at Corinth to get a stamp at the Interpretive Center but decided to skip that stop in the interests of making sure I was off the roads by 3:00 PM or so, when the severe weather alerts were supposed to begin. So I got onto TN 22 and headed north to Shiloh National Military Park. Last time I was here, was 3 years ago, late in the day, too late to take the drive. This time I took the time to do that drive before stopping at the visitor center to get my stamp.
I sat on a bench and tried to call an MTF friend who lives in Paris TN and who offered me a place to stay for the night. While I waited for my cellphone to "boot up" I ate a Hostess cupcake (road food!), washed it down with water, and called it lunch.
No cell phone signal! Crap! By now it had started to sprinkle, so I quickly got my gear back on, got on the bike, and headed out of the park. The further up the road I got, the heavier the rain became. By the time I reached I-40 it was coming down in a deluge and I could see lightning bolts hitting the ground around me and see white flashes overhead. With all the wind and rain noise in my helmet I couldn't hear the thunder but it no doubt sounded like a war out there!
My GPS was routing me onto a narrow little two lane road - TN 77 - that rocked and rolled over the countryside, following every little nuance of earth, and took numerous random 90 degree turns around imaginary obstacles. This was not fun in the pouring, blowing rain! The severe weather advisories were popping up on the screen of my GPS; no sooner would one clear and another would appear. When I would touch the icon, a long list of locations would appear and the map showed me right in the thick of it.
I did finally reach the outskirts of Paris and found a badly needed gas station where I could fill up and then go inside and try to call Bill again. Success! He answered the phone! I told him where I was, and grabbed a napkin and borrowed a pen from the counter clerk so that I could write down the directions to his house. A left turn, then a couple of lights, then a right turn, then another right turn....now I'm running out of room on the napkin. And the wet cuff of my jacket is getting the napkin wet, and the moisture was starting to wick up to where I had written the directions down, threatening to obliterate them. It was a few too many turns to keep in straight in my head without written directions so, when Bill offered to just come and get me, I gratefully said, "Please!"
Since there was no sense in both of us getting wet, I went back out to my bike, got my helmet and gloves back on and pulled away from the gas pump, vacating it for the next customer, and pulled around to the entrance to the gas station to wait for Bill. I was so glad to see him and to follow him back to his house, where we got my bike parked and covered, and got me inside and out of my wet riding gear.
It was a nice visit with Bill, his wife Susan, and his daughter Ellen who came over later with her cute puppy Sam for a sort visit. On the way to dinner, Bill showed me his beautiful new offices and Susan joined us for dinner at the Olive Pit.
Tomorrow: We meet with Phred and Jimmie and head out for Ft. Donelson, Land Between the Lakes, on our way to Grand Rivers for lunch with the MTF Lunch Bunch.