Mississippi Mountain Biking
By Joey Lee
Photos by Abe Draper
Remember that feeling you had when you first rode a two-wheeler without training wheels? How much fun it was to pop a wheelie, race through puddles, jump curbs and skid on the dirt? I bet you even made ramps out of found objects and caught some major air, if only in your mind. You want that feeling back? It’s easier than you think. Grab a mountain bike and head out to one of Mississippi’s many off-road bike trails.
Mountain biking has been one of the most rapidly growing sports in the country for many years now. And as more people get mountain bikes, more trails emerge. Not too long ago Mississippi only had a handful of trails. Today, no matter where you live in the state, you’re not very far from some excellent off-road adventures.
I recently conducted an incredibly un-scientific poll to discover some of the best trails in the state. The results, as you can probably imagine, were geographically biased. The people on the Coast preferred Bethel, the people in central Mississippi liked the Ridgeland trails, the people up north liked the Clear Creek trails in Oxford, and so on. But the trails mentioned most often are as follows:
• Clear Creek in Oxford
• The Nox just north of Louisville
• Tuffburg in Hattiesburg
• Mt. Zion in Brookhaven
• Clear Springs in Bude
• Bonita Lakes in Meridian
• Butts Park in Jackson
• Bethel Trails in Biloxi
• Elvis Presley Park Trails in Tupelo
• Ridgeland Trails in Ridgeland
Each set of trails has something unique that people find intriguing, making it an individual preference. One thing that is common among all the mountain bikers I’ve talked to is the importance of “flow” to a set of trails. Unfortunately, the definition of “flow” is as varied as the people who ride.
“Flow, fast singletrack, flow, good down hills, flow, technical sections, flow, berms and jumps,” said Shane Easterling of Brookhaven when asked what makes a good trail. “For more examples of flow, see Mt Zion, Ridgeland and Clear Creek Trails, all have great flow!”
What I’ve determined is that if a trail has good flow, you don’t have to put a whole lot of thought into riding it. Good flow offers smooth corners and jumps, and obstacles are spaced to allow you to get in a good rhythm. The various sections of a course need to link up well and everything should feel natural and should be easy to follow. One rider I talked to said, “You can tell when a trail is flowy because the whole time you’re riding it, you have a huge grin on your face!”
Variety is another thing riders look for. They like to see a lot of different kinds of terrain, and most of our trails in Mississippi have good variety offering everything from tough climbs to fast downhills and flat sections to technical singletrack.
“A variety of terrain makes for good mountain biking,” said Jeremy Polk, owner of Revolution Mobile Bike Service. “Flat isn’t as much fun as going downhill at 30 miles per hour, rewarding you for going up a hill. It puts a smile on your face every time.”
Trails made specifically for mountain biking are another plus in people’s criteria for the best places to ride. “What I look for in a trail is one specifically planned and designed with mountain biking in mind,” said Brent Futrell of Biloxi. “With mountain biking we like a flowing [there’s that word again] trail without hard stops and starts. We’d prefer it not be chewed up with a lot of loose sand and dirt and with good drainage so it’s not super muddy. Tight, narrow, twisty technical features like logs, rocks, trees and water crossings are always enjoyed.”
“A trail has to have a little bit of everything,” said Mark Murphy of Biloxi. “I like more technical trails, I’m not a very good climber but I can ride the flats and downhills well.”
Mountain bikers prefer dirt over the paved roads of the state for a variety of reasons. Jeremy says, “It makes you feel like a kid again, it takes skill, takes good conditioning, it’s a full body workout and trees don’t try to hit you like cars do.”
In just a few years, Mississippi has gone from having only a small handful to well more than a dozen good mountain bike trails. If you’re looking for a full-body workout that will have you feeling like a kid again, get your bike and head to one of these trails, and get ready to have a smile on your face on the downhills.
For more information about mountain biking in Mississippi, visit msmtb.org.
Biking the Trace (Jackson to Natchez) A Ride through History
By Joey Lee
Long before SUVs and family sedans cruised the modern highway that connects Natchez and Nashville, pre-historic herds forged that ancient trail from their grazing areas in southwest Mississippi to the salt and nutrient-rich soils of central Tennessee. Later, Native Americans, European explorers, and eventually early settlers followed the well-worn trail, dubbed the Natchez Trace, to take their goods to market. Today, the Trace is a National Park and is among the top ten bicycling routes in the United States. Avid cyclers from all over the world, dream of coming to trek the Trace. It’s a national treasure that is literally in our own back yard.
My bike and I have logged thousands of miles on the Trace, but they’ve all been out-and-back rides, beginning and ending at my house. One thing I’ve always wanted to do is take a weekend and ride from Jackson to Natchez, stay the night and then ride back the next day. Of course, to entice my wife to join in, we’d look at staying in one of Natchez’s many fine Bed & Breakfasts or historic inns. In fact, Natchez is known as the bed and breakfast capital of the South, with more than 40 Antebellum and Victorian venues offering the beauty and ambience of bygone eras with all the modern comforts we’ve come to expect.
The distance from Jackson to Natchez ride is about 100 miles if you get on the Trace in Ridgeland and about 90 if you enter near Clinton. And yes, that’s one way. But don’t let the distance deter you; it’s definitely worth it. The scenery is as stunningly beautiful as it is varied. You’ll experience long, sweeping curves through rolling hills, swamps, hardwood forests, farmlands and massive pasturelands. You’ll want to keep a camera handy because along with the scenery, you’re bound to see a lot of wildlife. I’ve seen deer, turkey, fox, hawks, water birds, turtles and even a snake or two.
The Trace closely follows the original trails that ancient animals, including the American Bison, made in their migration between the grazing pastures of central Mississippi and the salt deposits of the Cumberland Plateau. Native Americans eventually began following this trail and improved it to make it more friendly for human foot traffic between major villages. The route is often circuitous, going around most of the larger hills, allowing the first animals, and later humans who walked the Trace, to avoid steep grades. When you ride the Trace, you’ll definitely thank our ancestors for their wisdom in selecting the less strenuous path.
The trail eventually became a popular trade route. It was a way home for weary traders, many of whom had drifted on flatboats loaded with goods down various rivers to New Orleans, selling everything, including the logs they’d used to construct their rafts. Then, they would follow the Trace to head home on foot, to places as far away as Pennsylvania. I “Mapquested” the route and it’s about 1,200 miles! When you think about that, biking 100 miles on a nicely paved road doesn’t seem too hard.
Eventually steamboats, stagecoaches and railroads made the Trace somewhat obsolete for passenger and trade traffic, which is actually a good thing because it meant the trail remained relatively undeveloped and unspoiled. There are still many sections of the original footpath visible from the Parkway.
President Roosevelt signed the legislation to create the Parkway in 1938 and construction began in 1939. Today, the Natchez Trace is 444 miles long and begins (or ends, depending on how you look at it) in Natchez. It’s designated as an All-American Road commemorating the Old Natchez Trace.
One thing I’ve come to love, and hate, about the Trace are those pesky mile markers. They start in Natchez at zero. On a good day, when your legs are strong and the wind is at your back, they’re awesome and seem to fly by, but on a bad day, it seems that they’re just mocking you. But, they are a great way to tell how far you’ve gone, how far you have to go, where the historic sites are and how far it is until the next water stop.
There are many historic and scenic sites along the Trace and the section between Natchez and Jackson is no exception.
Emerald Mound, located at milepost 10, is the second largest Mississippian period ceremonial mound in the United States and the largest mound along the Trace. It provides a glimpse into the lives of the ancient people who lived along the trail. The mound covers nearly eight acres and was used for about 350 years by prehistoric Native Americans, precursors to the Natchez Indians.
Mount Locust, at about milepost 15.5, is the last remaining inn (called a “stand”) on the Trace. This station is open year round, except on Christmas, and rangers are available from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Mount Locust provides a glimpse into what those traveling the Trace might have experienced at road side stands.
The Sunken Trace, at milepost 41.5, is one of the most photographed sites along the Parkway. The trail appears to be sunken several feet in this spot, the result of erosion caused by the thousands of travelers navigating this path throughout the centuries. Hiking here you can easily imagine what it was like to walk this route hundreds of years ago.
A half-mile walk from milepost 54.8 brings you to the abandoned town of Rocky Springs (and a picnic area with restrooms and a campground). Rocky Springs was first settled in the late 1790s and grew from a place travelers would stop for water, taking its name for the water’s source. In 1860, the town had about 2,600 people. The Civil War, yellow fever, destructive crop insects and poor land management killed the community. Today, all that remains intact is the Methodist church. You can hike a short loop trail to see remnants of the town.
There are many places to stop and sit in the shade, let your legs rest a little and refill your water bottles. The Park Service has water available at miles 15.5, 17.5, 54.8 and 89; but there are also many other places to pull off and refill, or visit a convenience store and get a cold drink. Miles 8, 30.4, 37.7, 79, 87, 89 and 93.2 offer those.
Biking this leg of the Trace is a grand adventure, which offers great riding and beautiful scenery by day, and numerous options for historic accommodations and delectable dining at night.
So what are you waiting for? There’s really no excuse. The Trace is one of the most beautiful cycling routes in the country and it’s right here in our own backyard. Just get on your bike and experience the ride that people from around the world only dream about.
Top 10 reasons why the Natchez Trace Parkway is an excellent bike route:
1. National Park Service designates the entire parkway as a bike route. Numerous signs instruct cars to share the road with bicycles.
2. Commercial traffic is prohibited.
3. Maximum speed limit for cars is 50 mph.
4. Motorized traffic is generally very light except around Tupelo and Jackson.
5. No stop signs or stop lights. Access on and off the Trace is via on/off ramps which means no need to worry about cross traffic.
6. Scenery is awesome. Instead of utility poles and buildings, the Trace is lined with forests, farmland, creeks and beautiful vistas.
7. All along the Trace through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, historical and nature attractions offer interesting breaks and rest stops.
8. Restroom facilities on the Trace are available about every twenty miles.
9. Numerous side trails take you past Antebellum and Victorian homes, sunken roads, civil war battlefields and southern towns.
10. There are many “cycling friendly” bed and breakfasts located along and near the Trace.
For more information about the Natchez Trace Parkway visit www.nps.gov/natr/.
Far too many trees have given their all for self-help books to be published about breaking bad habits. All too often the bad habits we so desperately want to leave behind were engrained in us at a young age, and the earlier we learned them the more difficult they are to shake. On the other hand, the good habits we develop as young children are likely to stick with us into adulthood. It’s not rocket science – good or bad, eating, exercise and lifestyle patterns established when we’re kids have a long-term effect on our overall health for the rest of our lives. The take-away: start early promoting good habits with our children, like regular exercise, and save them a lifetime of mitigating unhealthy behaviors.
By encouraging your children to exercise every day, you can help them maintain a healthy weight and help prevent diseases like cancer later in life.
According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids need to be physically active to stay healthy, but 50% of boys and less than 34% of girls 12 to 15 are adequately fit. Kid’s that are unfit are at greater risk for cardiovascular and chronic diseases, cancer and psychological disorders. And that’s not all – 80% of overweight children become obese adults.
In its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, the CDC recommends that kids under the age of 6 enjoy natural physical activity like running, jumping and skipping each day, and that kids 6 to 17 exercise at an intensity level high enough to raise their heart rate for at least an hour, five days a week.
A good example. Your children watch and mimic your habits, good and bad. Model the behavior you want to instill in your kids. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they’re more likely to be active and stay active throughout their lives.
Born to move. Our bodies were designed to walk, run, jump and climb. Encourage your kids to spend more time walking, running, biking or skating as opposed to spending countless hours playing video games, surfing the web or watching TV. It’s even better when you join them.
A family affair. One of the most successful ways to positively impact your child’s exercise habits is to make it a family activity. Volunteer to coach his or her sports team. Train for and participate in a fitness event as a family. Take family hikes. Spend down time playing tennis, basketball, bad minton, golf or other sports together.
A focus on fun. Kids are more likely to keep exercising if they’re doing an activity they enjoy. Turn on music and have a dance party, or pack in lots of walking during trips to the zoo, park or miniature-golf course.
The more the merrier. Invite your kids’ friends to join the fun. Including friends and neighbors in family activities benefits everybody, and it’s much easier to make physical fitness a regular part of your child’s life when it is combined with time with his or her friends.
A gift of fitness. Bicycles, scooters, skates, soccer balls and other sports equipment, even active-play video games make great gifts that promote physical activity. Activity-tracking apps and devices are also great choices for older kids.
Time out on screen time. Limit your child’s time spent in front of a computer, tablet, phone or TV, but offer an appealing alternative like joining a local recreation center or after-school program, or taking dance or karate lessons. Check with your local parks and recreation department about youth sports teams.
Take it on the road. Make great vacation memories by keeping up your emphasis on being active. Plan your family vacation around activities your family enjoys or would like to try, like hiking, off-road cycling, kayaking, camping or paddle boarding. Activities you try on vacation might even become the hobbies your family will enjoy for years to come.
Being active not only puts kids on a path to a physically healthy adulthood by establishing good fitness habits early in life, physically active kids also are more likely to be motivated, focused, and successful in school. And mastering physical skills builds confidence at every age. Some of the important benefits of being active from a young age follow:
• Strong muscles and bones
• Healthy weight
• Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
• Better sleep
• Better outlook on life
Making exercise a family tradition reaps even more rewards: you all benefit from a healthy lifestyle; you spend more time together as a family; and you give your children a strong foundation for healthy living for a lifetime.
Plant a garden or buy local produce. Growing a garden is such a fun and rewarding way to spend some time with your family. It’s the ultimate in knowing where your food is coming from and it will save you money. If you don’t have the space for a garden, plant a container garden or consider banding together with other families in the neighborhood to develop a community garden. To find out more about community gardens and if you have any in your area, visit https://communitygarden.org.
If you don’t have time for gardening, farmers markets and produce stands are a great place to get fresh and local produce. When you buy locally grown products you are getting fruits and veggies at peak nutritional value, eliminating the carbon impact of transportation and packaging and helping the local economy.
Plan More Meatless Meals Raising animals for food requires a lot of land, fossil fuel, water, and feed, so cutting back on some of the meat you eat is a good way to reduce your environmental impact. Reducing your meat consumption may also reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Drive less. Make a family commitment to drive less and either walk or ride bicycles more. When doing errands that require a car, plan out an efficient route so you can accomplish more in one trip and avoid backtracking. Driving less will help save at the gas pump and, walking and/or biking more can improve your physical health.
Turn off Water and lights. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth. Limit shower times. If you must water your lawn avoid overwatering and watering in the daytime when it will quickly evaporate. Enjoy the long days of sunshine. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Reducing the energy used in your home helps the environment and your utility bill.
Plug energy leaks. Weatherization isn’t just for wintertime. On average, homes that are 10 years or older will have duct leakage of 27% or more. That means you’re likely paying to cool your attic. Sealing your ducts and insulating your home can cut your energy bills by up to 35%.
You can also save on your power bill by closing curtains and blinds on the sunny side of your house during the day, and use ceiling fans to feel cooler without having to crank down the air conditioning unit.
Get out of the kitchen. Summer is a great time to grill out and it’s a delicious way to keep from heating up the kitchen. Be sure to practice grill safety by keeping your grill at least 10 feet from your house; clean your grill regularly; check for gas leaks; keep a spray bottle of water handy to dowse flare-ups and avoid charring your food. Don’t forget to follow safe food handling methods to prevent food-borne illness (www.fsis.usda.gov).
Recycle more. If you aren’t recycling all of your plastics, cardboard, cans and glass, make that a priority this summer. Check with your city to see what things can and can’t be recycled through your local service. Make it a habit to think about packaging when purchasing an item – can it be recycled? Is there an alternative product that doesn’t require as much (or any) packaging?
August 19th 2022
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