Posted by: rustymccain | May 1, 2011

A Dry Run

A “dry run” is probably always a good idea. Gail, Ray’s wife, who is as equally supportive as Mary Ann, came up with the bright idea that we give our setup a trial. This probably will end up being the single best idea of this trip.

We decided to take a trip about 60 miles down the Natchez Trace, pulling our B.O.B. trailers with all our gear,camp at Meriwether Lewis Park, then return the next day. The girls decided to drive down and stay the night with us.

Since I had a Friday off, we were to meet at 10:00 at the Trace Bike shop and begin our trek. My work schedule has been really rough, so I have had a minimal amount of preparation. In addition, I tend to be a minimalist anyway. So, when I arrived at 10, I had never even hooked my trailer on to my bike, I hadn’t attached all my water bottle cages, I was poorly packed, but packed down to a minimal bag. Ray on the other hand is the King of Preparation. When I got there, he looked like Jethro Bodine in the Clampett truck. I couldn’t believe how much he had packed, including 3 spare tires for his trailer (tires, not tubes!) He had all kinds of things in his trailer, including a huge plastic container of stuff. Things were stacked about 6 feet high. To top it off, he had a big roll of toilet paper in a plastic bag, bungeed to the back of his trailer.

My prep included getting Scott to trim my skewer and what I thought was 10 minutes, turned into an hour. Ray is never worried about what we are doing, he is worried about what is next, so I could tell he was ready to get on the road and was fidgeting about. I felt bad being so unprepared and holding up the show, but I finally got ready and off we went. Keep in mind that we have to average 60-70 miles a day with one day of rest on this trip. After five minutes, I was thinking, “Houston, we have a problem”. The Trace begins with a big climb of a little over a mile. The wind was really blowing in our faces. Though I have ridden 60+ miles hundreds of times, I didn’t know if it was going to happen this day. Ray’s ship was listing in the water. We got to the top of the hill and he said, “I have to stop!”. We had made it 2 miles! We pulled off into a rest area. Scott had told me that the trailers were easy to turn over. I had thought that the klutz who told him that just didn’t know what the hell he was doing. As soon as I got off my bike, I tried to turn around and sure enough, my trailer and bike went to the ground. Ray gave a bit of a chuckle at my calamity, but before he could stop laughing, his trailer, toilet paper, rocking chair, kitchen sink and all, went over. The next thing I knew, Ray looked like one of those cartoon characters, bent over his trailer, things flying out right and left. While he didn’t throw out much, he repacked to the point that his trailer looked a little more like a submarine and a little less like the Mayflower. The big blue plastic box was still on the ground. I asked what he was going to do with it. “Leave it here.” We both hoped out loud that we wouldn’t see a report on TV soon about the FBI bomb squad blowing this strange box up found on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Ray felt much better after his re-packing, so we headed back into the 20 mph headwinds. But, before we did, I called Mary Ann to announce that we had made our first rest stop at mile 2! We ended up going 7.5 miles in the first hour of riding. At this pace, we would be able to cross the country in time to see the 2016 Olympic games. The ride was really tough. The Natchez Trace is very hilly, the headwinds beat us up and our trailers added more than we thought. And Mr. Minimalist ran out of food before our next stop at mile 40. I had totally bonked. Ray kept offering food, he had plenty. However, I refused it. I felt morally compelled to refuse it. He was prepared, I was not. I decided to pay the price and learn a lesson. Bonking is not a good idea. Ray kept getting stronger during the day. I kept getting weaker. The last nail in my coffin was when a couple of guys passed us a few miles after our rest stop at mile 40. They started up a long hill, and I just couldn’t let them do that to us, screw the trailers. So I gave chase, caught them and passed them on an empty tank. Ray had to be laughing at my ego. He had to nurse me along the last 15 miles. And yes, they did pass us back.

We finally pulled in to Meriwether Lewis. The cruelest part of the journey was that the last mile was straight uphill and took what seemed to be an hour for me. Then, though the park was right off the Trace, the campground was another mile or two in. Ray pulled into the first campsite. He said, “Is this good?” Before he finished “good” I had said “Yes”. We looked around and couldn’t see the bathhouse. Ray asked if we should try to get closer to one since the girls were coming. I just looked at him with a blank stare, unable to muster the courage to ride another 200 meters. He said, “I’ll go look.” I dutifully said “OK” and got on my bike for the excruciating 200 meter last leg. We found a campsite and started making camp. I had most everything that I needed. However, not to worry. If I mentioned something I might need to pack for the trip, Ray had it. He had a hatchet/hammer, a cot, camp chairs, even a coffee percolator. I think if I asked for a 1978 Ford Pinto, he would have pulled it out of that trailer! I needed to clean up a bit, so headed to the bathhouse for a warm shower. The campground was beautiful, but a free campground. Thus, the bathrooms did not have showers, nor warm water. So I gave myself a sponge bath. Due to the temperature of the water, certain areas remained unwashed. File that in TMI, but I’m just giving the facts. Anyway, I was still hurting. Then Gail showed up. The Angel of Nutrition! She had brought enough food for a wedding party and Ray and I greedily and gratefully consumed most of it.

Mary arrived and made the evening even better by bringing all the stuff we needed for S’mores. The evening turned out to be a perfect night for her first time to ever sleep outside. We all had such a great time, just enjoying nature and a warm fire. At some point, Ray mentioned that the girls could take our trailers back with them the next day, since we had accomplished our goal of seeing what it was like to pull them. Yeah, right, you know what he was thinking. I acted as if I was just thinking about it, but inside I was so happy that we were on the same page. The conversation also turned to the whole idea of camping. As a result, we now have reservations at hotels for the first 11 days, have packed up our trailers and have decided to give panniers a try! While this might sound like capitulating, we both think it is the only way to go, given the time and distance we have. If we were going 30-40 miles a day and had no time-table, I would be all over the trailers. But now, I think we have a much better chance of success.

We were able to have a great experience on the way back. We rode about five miles and saw a campground that Gail had seen driving down. They serve dinner and while we found they don’t generally serve breakfast, they do feed people they have there in a B and B. Since we hit them at just the right time, they fed us whatever they had left over, and we had a great little breakfast, making a great memory. That memory, I hope, will be repeated dozens of serendipitous times on our trip. We’ll see. We haven’t left yet and we have some great, fun memories stored away already. Life is good.


  1. Decided to catchup on the beginning of the trip since the Ann Arbor News had the story on July 4th, I think) The start was hilarious. Will catch more tomorrow (July 8th) You both have wonderful wives. Ain’t women great. Rita

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