January 16, 2021 – January 26, 2021
This is a bonus Travels With Toohey History Moment. Something that has always interested me about Mississippi and Alabama were that they were close to being mirror images of each other. This got me thinking about why? My research found that both states were a part of the Mississippi Territory which extended west from Georgia to the Mississippi River, sort of like an unincorporated part of Georgia. During the process to grant statehood, the large plantation owners lobbied to have two states, slave states, which as crazy as it sounds now, was actually a controversial political issue back then complete with powerful lobbyist. They granted two states with the intent of giving equal parts land to each state which must have been tough given the curvy nature of the Mississippi River on the west side of the territory. The obvious is that it gave the slave based agricultural industry more legislative power in Washington. Interestingly though, Mississippi became a state in 1817 and it wasn’t until 1819 that Alabama became a state. There you go.
Our drive to the Mississippi coast was along a northern loop through Alabama and around Mobile Bay. This route had us pass through a section of the city of Mobile where we both commented on the similarities between it and Savannah based on the large stately homes, old oak trees, and coastal port feel. We left Mobile though without much more of a look and headed south west rolling towards the Magnolia State. We passed through several small towns before pulling off the road at the Mississippi state welcome sign, where we got out and did a little dance, a celebration dance, as this state is the last state Lysette needed to have been to all 50. YAY!
Now feeling markedly more jovial with her accomplishment, we moved along, continuing our route on highway 90, passing through Jimmy Buffet’s hometown of Pascagoula and then Biloxi where we were met with the giant casinos sitting beach side. While trying unsuccessfully not to give them a look, we continued to follow highway 90. This stretch of highway is a four lane road running along the coast with beautiful beaches hugging big open water on the south side and commercial and residential development on the north side. For most of the drive, it doesn’t give the impression of a laid back beach community, but more an anywhere place with all the common franchises, strip centers and box store tenants. Many of the original homes are gone from past hurricanes leaving the concrete infrastructure of foundations and sidewalks to remind you where they once sat. The large oak trees remaining had us wondering about the past owners as they likely sat beneath them on a large porch watching the Gulf of Mexico sunsets.
We continued to follow highway 90 with all the traffic lights along the way which had me dreaming of traffic circles, roundabouts. There were enough stop and goes along here to wear out an old clutch or the old left leg of the old driver having to clutch. These stop and go lights made the remainder of the drive long and if it weren’t for the sights of the beach over the east bound traffic, mentally tough.
We would later learn the major destruction was mostly from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most of the media attention from this storm focused on New Orleans and the levee breach that flooded large numbers in New Orleans neighborhoods. However, it was this area sitting to the east of the eye, which took the heaviest direct hit from the storm with a 27 foot high storm surge that reportedly flooded inland up to 6 miles. The results are still evident 15 years later.
Buccaneer State Park – Waveland, MS
We moved along the coastal highway making one jaunt inland to the town of Waveland to buy some groceries before back to the coast and the Buccaneer State Park. We received our pass with little instruction and headed to site No. 151 in the loop called Royal Cay (Key).
As we were setting up camp, our neighbors, best described as two good ole country boys, came over to tell us to listen out for the rocket engine test that will happen soon. Apparently we are near a launch facility for a NASA contractor who will be testing an engine with three rockets and it will as they said, “rattle the trailer”. On time, the sound of the rocket engines roared while simultaneously one of the neighbors yelled in a loud voice from the other side of his trailer, “here it goes!” These guys and their families would turn out to be good as gold reminding me of how wonderful folks in the Deep South truly are.
With temperatures in the upper 50’s to low 60’s forecasted and loads of sweet sunshine, we set off morning one for an early Sunday long run. We headed out of camp then turned left, east along the beach. The first mile has a narrow concrete bulk head along the water that was decent for running and falling about 5 feet if you weren’t paying attention. After about a mile it turns into a full on beach front walking, running, roller blading, and bike path. Along the southern view are beaches, sand, and mud depending on the tide and to the the north are large spots of land with mostly newer homes and still some land sitting with no home reconstructed after the 2005 hurricane. We ran several miles out before deciding to turn left, north, back into the neighborhood and loop back towards camp. This was a good idea, we discussed houses, lack of houses, wondered about living in an area like this and all sorts of stuff. We eventually made it back to the main drag along the beach where we hucked a right, west towards camp.
The run was followed by a healthy breakfast, conversations with neighbors about things to do in Louisiana, and then a bike ride. We set off but only after placing Toohey, now exhausted and gimpier from the morning run, in the back of the Tacoma to protect the assets. Our ride started same as our run, along the beach path. Our goal was to ride it until it turned into North Bay Rd leading us through the waterside town of Bay St Louis. We passed through the small town popping with people then crossed highway 90 at the foot of the long bridge over the bay and rode until we got to the dead end at a boat ramp. We then turned back with a full on head wind all the way home. We detoured a bit to ride the back roads of Bay St Louis to see the residential side and really liked the old place. It had a laid back, small town feel with history and tourism and older houses so there must have some protection from the storm surges as the town sit further back in the bay. There were small shops, restaurants, and lots of churches. A quaint town with a great feel.
Hattiesburg, MS – A Family Reunion
Move day, move day, grand ole set up, and groove day. We hitched it all up and set the momentum towards our next stop. But first we chose to take a slight westward direction into a small area of Louisiana because of information folks had told about several small towns along the northern rim of Lake Pontchartrain. The towns we wanted to see included Slidell, Mandeville, and Covington based on what others said and information we read.
As we entered the area we stopped at the town of Mandeville where we found a park that runs in front of the lake. We parked the rig, walked Toohey, did some push ups, and wandered a bit. The park was lined with a concrete wall a few feet high that dropped down to the water about 6 feet. As you overlook the large body of water you could see the bridge, actually the longest bridge over open water in the universe, connecting the north end of the lake where we were to New Orleans. We left there driving through a neighborhood of historic homes then through lots of traffic to the small town of Covington. With no real knowledge of things to do besides gawk at the nice little downtown area, we continued on.
With this short stint into Lousiana now behind us, we found our way back into Mississippi enjoying the small country roads, agricultural feel with gentle rolling hills. This brought on the discussion inside the cab of how we always enjoy the next spot, the change of scenery from mountains to beach, coastal to plains to the farm lands, we enjoy the change and always get excited seeing the next thing.
We entered the Paul B. Johnson State Park, grabbed our camp packet then a quick set up on site No. 71. The site sits up high, (Mississippi high) overlooking the lake. The land drops about 25 yards from the road down to the the lake. The graded flat camp site where the home sits is protected from the drop by a retaining wall topped with a wood frame and wire fence around the lake side to try to prevent late night falls. The scenery of the lake was as awesome as it could get at this park.
We showered, changed, greeted a few of our neighbors before setting off for our evening activities which include a stop at a grocery store for provision and a dinner with a cousin and his family who live in Hattiesburg, MS.
He is the middle son of three boy of my dad’s sister. They grew up in Decatur, Alabama and now the oldest and younger live in Atlanta suburbs and this one here in Hattiesburg. He married his wife who grew up in Hattiesburg and they have a son who is grown, married, and living in Jackson MS. They have two daughters with the oldest in her final stint to become an RN and the youngest, a junior in high school. Both, as we would find, are poised adults who are engaging in conversation, polite, fun to share company with, and are as beautiful and athletic as their mom.
We met at an Italian restaurant called Tabella’s which just happened to be right next to the grocery store we chose to shop. He, his wife, and youngest daughter attended this event and it was great to see them. They all are healthy and happy bringing lots of good energy to the table where we ate and talked until we were the last remaining diners left inside. The conversation was easy and fun and we left looking forward to spending more time with them.
The plan for the next day was for a bike ride along the Longleaf Trace which is a rails to trails path leading out from Hattiesburg by the Southern Mississippi campus. We met cousin and now oldest daughter, for the ride. Much like dinner, the time with them was easy, great conversation flowed, and an enjoyable ride out and back along a section of the trail. The only wildlife sighting was a large doe that sprang across the trail in front of us but an enjoyable ride. Oh, and we also enjoyed seeing a small tiny house community and some funky car images used on the signs indicating street crossing.
From there we moved the reunion party to a really interesting restaurant called the Birdhouse Cafe with Chef Katie Dixon. This restaurant sits in the show room of a furniture and appliance store on the west side of town and features the most amazing fresh food entrees, acai bowls, and smoothies. From my heart to your table is her tagline and she met that with every ingredient she prepared and we consumed, and we consumed it all. Dishes were all made to order using the freshest vegetables, produce, and proteins. Though it was Chef Katie’s energy that was amazing as she worked the kitchen and floor with an amazing smile and sincere southern charm. And if this wasn’t show enough, then tune into the episode of Master Chef with Gordon Ramsey where she was a finalist in season 7 and Food Network star in season 14. But what I found most impressive while reading her bio was the mention of her work to promote a healthier Mississippi MS UProot Campaign. Now there is something I could get my heart around.
As if the experience couldn’t get better, our cousin’s wife did the nicest thing and gifted us an autographed copy of Chef Katie Dixon’s cookbook so we can be inspired to prepare wonderful campsite meals using her recipes.
With systems now full of the best fuel Hattiesburg had to offer, we set off to find a rather unique attraction to the Mississippi landscape. Red Bluff is a deep gorge created from erosion in the middle of no where, about 30 miles west of Hattiesburg and near the town of Columbia. (By the way, the route passed by the entrance gate to Brett Favre’s ranch.) Not knowing much else about it, but intrigued nonetheless, we set off. We drove through wonderful farm country, along cypress bogs and pine tree strands until the road elevated to a summit where we saw a metal barricade blocking an abandoned road. We had been told that the gorge was a relatively new phenomenon that had actually taken an existing road so we knew we were on it. We found a second right turn that took us to a dead end with several other cars and trucks parked. We got out and set off down a dusty wide trail, passing a few young people who were themselves returning from deep inside the gorge. The trail quickly opened to the upper edge of the landmark. Along the top western side was the old road bed, some of it still hanging on. The deep ravine was truly an oddity to see here, lined with colors and dirt formations typical to the Utah desert versus Mississippi. The trail followed the ridge around to the left, possibly the north side of the ravine with a steady drop. With no management of the area, the trail was gnarly, with lots of varying ways to negotiate each turn, with numerous exposed roots and sandy drops. The other issue with being a place with no management is the heaps of trash that has been tossed along the trail. Shame on ’em.
We passed a rope tied to a tree that dropped through a cut in the edge obviously down to the bottom but with Toohey and the unknown of what lies beneath, we decided on the more conservative approach and continued down a trail following the ridge. The trail eventually dumped us out at the intersection of a railroad track with a small stream passing beneath it and the likely culprit of the erosion upstream.
There were a couple of young girls sitting on the tracks contemplating what was next for them or just wishing for some quiet time. We stood and talked to them a bit before another young couple walked up from the river side of the tracks and told us the Pearl River was a 5 minute walk downstream. So we decided to head to the river following the stream. We mucked in and out of the water, Toohey mostly in the water before finding the beach along the river. There was another couple there, he with a long red beard, tight t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, her with lots of unfinished tattoos, but both making us feel a bit like we were intruding on their space as they immediately left.
We spent some time there tossing sticks into the river for Toohey which he greatly enjoyed. Cousin, an avid outdoors man and nature lover, commented on how this would be a great spot to find wood ducks in the morning. He also took the time to share with us interesting knowledge on the longleaf pine such as how to differentiate between them and the loblolly pines. The longleafs were where the money was made in the area. These trees grow with all the limbs and growth on top giving an incredible product when harvested based on the clean runs of potential lumber that can be milled from them with the best examples being straight telephone poles. They can be identified as they have no lower limbs, are straight and tall with all the limbs and greenery on the top, sort of like the seed pods of the dandelion or a funny Dr. Seuss Character.
We continued our day working back up stream, passing over the railroad tracks and continuing upstream with the goal of the end of the canyon. The stream walls cut deeper and deeper as we progressed until we finally were out of the stream and hiking over loose sand, beside debris such as tires and a partially covered ATV that certainly played victim to the quick erosion. The land formations started becoming more interesting with colors and shapes as did the large amount of garbage left for us to enjoy. But we eventually made it to the end and the place was spectacular.
The colors, the striations of earth were simply amazing to see, from the brittle sands to the gunky clay, it was a smorgasborg of sites to stand and ponder right here in the middle of Mississippi
Our goal to get out was to find the rope we had seen on the way down with the fall back to go back downstream to the railroad tracks and follow the ridge trail. But the rope had some adventure and intrigue to it, so we put our attention there. At one point we each went a different way to see if we could locate the access point, edging over roots, down trees, and dirt cliffs. We eventually found the rope which really wasn’t required to move up to the outer edge but certainly is a nice touch for the dramatic.
We found our way back to the Tacoma for the ride home. Our take on the place is it is a unique feature. The place and the other folks we saw there seems to appeal to the young looking for someplace to be and act young. The litter is a huge problem but the site is quite spectacular to see if you look past it and worth the trip if you are in the area. Next time we’ll bring a garage bag and do little bit to help clean up the area for future visitors.
When we got home, tired from the full day, we took time to set up the awning for the forecasted rains. We sat in the camper and enjoyed a nice quiet evening before heading off for a good long night of rest.
The Desoto National Forest is a spot of land I had pinned ever since we knew we were coming to this area of Mississippi. The initial research was on camping in the area but we quickly learned most of the camping and hiking options were shutdown due to hurricane damage. But given a day to explore outside of Hattiesburg, we chose this area. Surely we’d see good forest, wild rivers, and hopefully some local wildlife while driving small, dirt roads.
The morning was one of our slower starts where about mid-morning we donned running gear to run the campground. The clouds were thick and a slight spitting of water from the sky would hit us occasionally. The Canada geese were noisily doing their thing, the ugly ducks with the nasty red growth looking thing along their beaks swam around us, and the other campers were getting their day on, a few out walking, but mostly they were inside their large rigs. We set off on our run with Toohey on his mandatory 6 foot tether. The size of this park is pretty remarkable allowing us to turn back around the halfway point on the road to get the desired distance. The slight rolling hills provided some extra effort but in the end, we were glad we started the day off with something to help keep us moving.
We left camp around noon to explore the national forest. The quickest entrance to the forest was about a 20 minute drive south along Highway 49 then into and out of the town of Brooklyn, MS. Brooklyn had a small downtown where most businesses appeared closed or shutdown. We saw an old metal bridge that once provided access across the Black Creek that ran by the downtown along Old Highway 49.
Our drive took us out Ashe Nursery Road where we started seeing National Forest signs and the quintessential National Forest Service Roads. Bingo. From here the navigation gets sketchy as we just didn’t pay that much attention to numbers and whatnots. We hucked a left on a dirt road for a slow drive into the small intersection town of Janice, MS. Along the way the roads were lined with healthy pines including the Longleaf variety that my cousin had pointed out the previous day. We spotted some of the smaller, younger ones and captured photos to share with him. These single stem small trees remind me of a bottle washer with their stem and long pine needles all sticking out from the top. Or maybe a Dr Seuss character.
We progressed on finding Janice, more forest service roads, many with access points to Black Creek, several small campgrounds that were all closed, a hiking trail that looked promising but closed as the sign said due to hazardous conditions. We spent some time at Moody’s Landing which has a long white sandy beach along the river great for Toohey to chase some sticks and roll in the sand. The back drop along the outside curve was colorful with a mix of big green leaf magnolias, maybe some kind of laurels, and a green moss along the steep bank walls.
The National Forest provided a great way to explore the afternoon, several possible boondocking opportunities for those interested in saving $20 – price for state park, and a fun way to see another side of the state of Mississippi.
The evening was simple, we hung out at camp, had a video chat with some friends back in Golden and an early night to bed as the rains came.
Friday morning was a wet one but the rains lightened up with only a few drizzles. Our plans were to run into Hattiesburg early for Lysette to give blood and to pick up some provisions. We also wanted to see the historic downtown and the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum display in the alley behind the Saenger Theatre that my cousins told us about. We found a great parking space and the three of us started walking the downtown. We saw a few square blocks of older 19th and early 20th century buildings with banks, government, and small restaurants. There was a small but loud demonstration of two women plus one bull horn occurring on the courthouse steps but we never were able to ascertain what all the fuss was about. After a few blocks we found the Pocket Museum.
The city block long installation included colorful fiber wrappings around existing city structures like concrete poles. They wrapped meter boxes and used corners and holes along the buildings to place things. There were cat figures dressed in garb perched atop structures, small painted plastic figurines doing everything from attending a wedding, skiing down a white PVC pipe, and mountain biking in a small hole of damaged brick. They painted interesting and fun images along the alley and made the place a great area to meander and look about. Our cousin, part of the Junior Auxiliary Crown Club, an organization of high achieving 10th, 11th and 12th graders, participated by creating origami dresses in a small window display. This was Toohey’s favorite of all. It was a fun and interesting attraction that we enjoyed participating in as the audience.
We wandered around the downtown a bit more, walking past the Coney Island Cafe which we had been told was an old greasy spoon of a diner but our goal was a late lunch at GrateFull Soul which was highly recommended. We learned through a Google search that GrateFull Soul was closed today as they were doing electrical work in the area and had all the power shut down. So we went back to the Coney Island Cafe.
The cafe was as advertised. It was old school with menus posted on the wall, hamburgers, curly fries, po’boy sandwiches, hot dogs… In fact, there were three categories of hamburgers, the sandwich, the regular, and the po’boy hamburger. We both went with the signature hamburger and an order of home cut curly fries and weren’t disappointed. The place is old, 1927 old. We sat at the counter across from the fat fryer, griddle, and prep area. The waitress presented us a special print of a painting done by a local artist when she learned that we had never been in before. The cook who was working in front of us told of how all the cooking equipment was original to the place which I doubt to factual, but still a fun story and good work on her part to make it more interesting. The staff were all friendly and the food was tasty. In return, we paid the bill and took away the added bonus of a days worth of Coney Island flavor and scent on our clothes.
We left downtown heading west. We had a few more stops before meeting up at cousin’s house later in the day. We stopped in the Optimist Park to walk and feed Toohey then set off for their house.
We were greeted by the same warm welcome we had gotten at the restaurant a few night before and the bike ride, but this time with mom, dad and both daughters. Their house was beautiful and a comfortable place to be. We went out back to see the backyard which is where the tour began.
My cousin is an artist whose talent is bringing wood to life. He blends his passion for bird hunting and nature with carving game birds, mostly ducks, but he also does turkey feathers, fish, other birds, and large bears. He works with wood of all sorts. He uses a variety of material to include hardwoods and best, driftwood he finds weathered along his hikes on the Tennessee River. As we moved from the back porch to his office he continued his passionate stories about his work. His stories of his creations are delivered with energy, smiles, and interest as he speaks passionately with as much detail as needed to deliver his vision. He has entered one major international competition where he took a first place blue ribbon in one category for a duck holding a small fingerling size bass in its mouth which sits atop his credenza. The credenza is filled with his work, each producing a story that is fun and fascinating to hear. He laughs as he presents from his display his other creation, a fly that he tied, suggesting that fish simply can’t resist it. He told the story of the trout he carved and displayed on the wall along with the rod he fished with on a recent trip to Montana with his brothers. His energy, the details, his passion for the wood he carves, and the image he produces through his stories is contagious. Wife cousin just smiles, laughs, rolls her eyes from time to time along with the daughters but the family’s love of him and his work is obvious.
The party moved to the den where we all sat and talked the history of Hattiesburg, how his family on the father’s side was big into the pine, timber industry of the pre-civil war days. He shared a book his father-in-law, a history professor at SMU, had authored and another book his uncle had written on the family’s businesses that stretched from Buffalo NY to the southern gulf coast. All interesting and engaging conversation.
Before we left for dinner, his wife showed us the bowl of fruit he carved her for her birthday. But before we knew it was the fruit he had carved we both thought it was the bowl with real fruit sitting in it. Wow.
Dinner out at the community club was great and the conversation easy, fun, and flowing. We then drove back to their house for a few rounds of ping pong, where my cousin a previous D-1 college tennis player at SMU held court and where he allowed me to feel like I could hold a volley with him. We greatly enjoyed our time with them. They are delightful, high energy group whose love of their life in Hattiesburg is easily spread to those around them. We can’t remember a warmer welcome and the giving of time more than what we experienced here. And when I asked if I could see his spoils pile from his carvings where he tosses his mistakes, I was gifted a carved turkey feather, not a mistake, that is amazing and looks like something I’d stop and pick up along any hike.
With all the time and gifts they shared with us we felt so much like consumers and not givers. Their generosity was amazing. All we could think of in the end was that they had wanted to see our camper. So, without a script (evidenced by my stumbling stutters and searching for words never found) we made them a video before we left the state park.
Thank you Hattiesburg cousins.
Natchez State Park – Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez is the next and final stop in Lysette’s 50th state celebration. Our drive out was easy along mostly four-lane highways as there weren’t many options for smaller ones. As we drove along, we got a text message from a friend of mine who I grew up with in Savannah. He and his wife now live in Jackson, MS and I haven’t seen him in maybe 20 years. We had talked a few days before and were hoping to meet up. As it happened, he was on his way home from a hunting lodge in LA and would be passing through Brookhaven, MS about the same time as we were. He got there a few minutes before to scope out a place for us to stick the rig. He also had inside news a place to eat called Georgia Blue, appropriate for a couple of Georgia boys. We met up in the parking lot sitting between the restaurant and the rail line that passed through town. He and Toohey got a few moments together before we headed inside to eat, leaving Toohey in the Tacoma to protect the assets. COVID controls were good, tables spaced, and nicely done. We enjoyed a great late lunch with him, reminiscing about our days past, catching up, and just enjoyed the hour or so spent on this awesome chance encounter. We said our goodbyes and we were off again in our own directions.
We made it to Natchez State Park and set up with ease. We spent a few minutes talking to our new neighbor who was a joy, high energy, and traveling with his wife and old dog from Jackson, MS. This was their 3rd or 4th trip in their RV as they were getting use to their new rig and lifestyle. The remainder of the evening was dinner and time being together before setting off to sleep.
With overcast skies and a slight chance for more rain, we set off for a run through the park. This place is as wintery as we’ve experienced from the appearance of the surrounding forest. It is also a much more natural state park setting than some. The dense forest is majority hardwood deciduous trees leaving them appearing cold and wintery without leaves for the winter. There are pines scattered throughout but certainly not the pine forest we experienced from the coast up to Hattiesburg. The land is also more hilly which seems odd, but shouldn’t, as we get closer to the Mississippi river. There is a large lake behind us filled with muddy brown water and according to information on this park, has produced the record largemouth bass for the state.
Our run took us out of B-Loop then right around a few curves, up and down and couple of hills then past the office and group picnic sheet. From there we ran along the earthen dam responsible for the lake and to the other side where the cabins sit and a sign stating that we don’t come in unless you are a renter. We turned back and headed for home.
When we returned, we talked a bit with our neighbors and then set off for a drive south along the first 10 miles of the Natchez Trace into Natchez. The trace is a road constructed to follow a famous and, early on, important route for commerce and defense of the Mississippi Territory. What was a trail is now a paved road that stretches 444 miles from Natchez to Memphis and is managed by the National Park Service much like its popular twin to the north, the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The town of Natchez is another jewel of the area. An historic town built high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River where the pre Civil War population had more millionaires there than anywhere in the USA. The remaining homes are a grand statement to those times, stately, beautiful and many open for tours. We walked the high bluff which is some 50 feet above the water line, maybe more. The bluff front park is a long grassy park with sidewalks and old oaks. The bluff on the north end overlooks a casino sitting down on the river. To the south is a second smaller historical area called Under the Bluff and was the original commercial center when steam transportation along the river was king. It has since seen time as a place where blues musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis got his start and is now restaurants and bars.
We walked the historic neighborhoods and found them well kept and as historic as any seen along Savannah and Charleston. The downtown was smaller than those towns but equally rich in history. There were many spaces sitting unoccupied and many for sell signs having us wonder what that was about. But what remained were homes, law offices, restaurants and bars. One of my favorite landmarks was for the town’s 3 legged cat, Tripod. The City Kitty as the tomb stone suggest, was buried in front of the courthouse with a nice little marker for all to enjoy.
We left Natchez feeling like the Natchez Trace still delivers the goods as the town was charming and place we could definitely spend some time. We were there on a Sunday with mostly empty streets. We weren’t sure if that was normal or just a sign of the gloomy day and it being a Sunday afternoon in the south.
The state park sits about 4 miles from the closest access point to the Natchez Trace. All along the trace are historical markers and information pull outs. One such point is the Emerald Mound which is a historical Native American Ceremonial place that was constructed and used between 1300 and 1600 by the Mississippians, the ancestors of the Natchez. This same mound was our destination for the start of today’s bike ride, some 721 years later.
The ride started with clouds and some sun breaks as we pedaled along the rolling hills leaving this place. The roads into the park are quite frankly a disaster with almost no smooth surface and potholes deep enough to swallow us whole. We crossed over highway 61, then through the intersection with the trace as we advanced along the potholed road to the mound. The roads passed through small country farms with modest homes, and dilapidated buildings, pastures with horses and borrows, and finally to the parking lot next to a large grassy mound. The 8-acre structure has a small gate and path with access to the top where there are two other smaller mounds at either end which according to the signs, would’ve housed other small ceremonial structures. It was neat to see and think of the folks that lived and celebrated stuff here.
From there, we headed for the smooth black top of the trace where we turned our front tires north and started pedaling. The first effort was easy as it was a long slow grade downhill, and with the speed quickly running us out of gears, we coasted for much of it. We’d stop at all the turnouts to read the information. Somewhere around the 14 mile (we started at 10) marker we pulled a brodie and headed home. The effort a bit different now being more uphill. We rolled into camp to release Toohey of his duties just before a few rain showers passed.
We both showered, had some down time, and chatted with our new neighbors from Minnesota. We shared our memories of time spent along the Lake of the Woods and North Shore and as it would have it, their son owns his own bait and fish shop in the Lake of the Woods near where we camped. We talked about the ice houses used for ice fishing, which they have one, and they continued to share stories of winter camping and fishing on the lake. We learned the resorts plow roads on the lake and that they have stayed 8 miles out on the lake. It all sounds so interesting and something I feel should be experienced first hand.
Later, we made a run into town to fuel up the small propane tank used for cooking and a quick stop for a few groceries to get us through the next morning before heading back to camp. When we returned, our Minnesota neighbor walked over to invite us for a Walleye breakfast at their camp before we go. The invite was around their enjoyment for cooking and stories, so we accepted.
The rest of the day was spent walking the camp, looking for any wildlife around the brown lake which we saw little. It rained a bit and we hunkered down. The big rains would come in the early morning hours of the next day, with heavy downpours, lightening, and thunder. All this on top of an already wet saturated muddy camp.
We woke to calmer skies. With this being a move day and breakfast with the neighbors, we got the rig as ready as possible before heading over at 9AM for some food and conversation.
First the food. They prepared a traditional shore lunch, for breakfast. He described this as something a fishing guide would do while fishing the Lake of the Woods for walleye. The meal consisted of white potatoes cooked with bacon and onions, pan fried walleye, and baked beans. He substituted a ham and bean stew for the baked beans but it was all extremely delicious. He also offered up Bloody Marys made of tomatoes and herbs from his garden home in Minnesota.
If the conversation was as good as the food then we were in for a real treat. We learned so much about this family, he having retired from Jenni-O Turkey products and she, a Guardian at Laden (represents children in abuse and neglect cases in the court). They have a brew of children and grandchildren living from Georgia to Minnesota with one having the love of the Northern Minnesota Lake of the Woods enough to have purchased and run a bait, c-store, and liquor store mostly supporting the resorts and fishing industry along the lake. They shared stories and photographs of their ice house, their lake cabin, adventures with their children and grandchildren, their history of black labs which they had two currently in the RV. One of the most colorful stories was of their friend who lives in Savannah, who was a major player with the Culinary Institute of America and based on their stories of him, is an extremely smart, funny, and interesting person with whom to dine.
The hour or so spent sitting at the table with these two was rich and terrific, to meet a family that is solid, giving, and interested in living life. They have an incredible attachment to their home whether it be Minnesota, where they raised the children, the cabin, time spent ice fishing, or the people with whom they share their RV. We enjoyed the meal and conversation with them and hopefully will stay in touch along both our journeys.
With breakfast over, we hitched up the rig and rolled out of camp, through the town of Natchez and over the bridge providing access across the Grand Ole River into the state of Lousiana.
Our time in Mississippi can be summed up in relationships with family and friends. The beach and gulf were nice but it was the time spent reconnecting with cousins in Hattiesburg that was very special. And having them share their life with us made Hattiesburg shine. Being able to see an old friend for lunch who I hadn’t seen in years as we both passed through a small town in Mississippi some 10 minutes apart, was great. The lunch we shared at Georgia Blue was perfect and the conversation was like a soap opera having us back to normal in minutes. Then, the new friends we met along the way, other campers who we’d strike up conversation with to having a shore lunch with our last neighbors. Mississippi will ring the family and friendship bell in my memory.