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Buck30 - Other Trail Journal - 2020

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Brian (Buck-30)
Begins: Oct 30, 2020
Direction: Southbound

Daily Summary
Date: Fri, Nov 20th, 2020
Start: Nashville
End: Natchez
Daily Distance: 450
Trip Distance: 450.0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 729
Journal Visits: 871
Guestbook Views: 13
Guestbook Entrys: 0

Natchez Trace Summary

Natchez Trace Summary and Planning Notes

I didn't keep a public journal for this hike since well, there's not a whole lot to write about a 442 mile roadwalk. But it is a National Scenic Trail (NST) so I figured I'd jot down some thoughts as I'm sure someone will eventually find this useful, well maybe. I'm not going to write about the history, you can Wikipedia that but basically the Natchez Trace is an old Native American route that turned into a white settlers route which eventually turned into a Parkway. Why is it a National Scenic Trail? I have no fucking idea. Whoever thought a 442 mile road should be a NST is an idiot. Let's see, you can walk from Mexico to Canada on an 18" wide singletrack trail through an incredibly beautiful landscape (PCT) or you can walk a road for 442 miles. Those don't really seem to be in the same category. We actually have an entire other category called National Historic Trails that the Natchez fits perfectly into so I have no idea why it's a NST.
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Anyway, there's nothing I can do about it and finishing all 11 of the NSTs has become a little project of mine and the other 10 are perfectly enjoyable to walk so I can suffer through 1 long roadwalk. The Parkway is actually quite scenic, it's just that it's a paved road with cars. Here's a bunch of random facts and thoughts that might be helpful:
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I consistently read that the Parkway is 444 miles except the first milepost from the northern start is 442. So that's weird.
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The Parkway starts south of Nashville in a suburb called Pasquo. You can Uber there for like $ 25 from the city. It's at the intersection of Highway 100 and there is a Shell gas station to get dropped off at. The southern end is Natchez and has more limited transportation options. There is an Enterprise car rental. If you are going a long way the best bet is to do a one way rental to another closer city (like Jackson, Alexandria or Baton Rouge) and then pick up another cheaper rental or fly. Otherwise the Natchez Enterprise has like a $ 300 drop fee for longer distance rentals. There's also a bus, Delta bus lines/Greyhound that goes to Baton Rouge or Nashville.
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You need a permit. Google it and you'll find an email to email the park ranger. It's a blanket permit mostly for gatherings and activities but also for walking the Parkway. It's $ 50 and gives you the legal right to camp off the road, that's the main benefit. There are Park Rangers driving the Parkway and they will make sure you have one although I think they'll work with you before kicking you off. But just get it in advance. I actually only saw 1 ranger the whole time but he did ask if I got the permit and seemed relieved that I did.
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The Parkway is basically a narrow 2 lane road with no shoulder. Literally no shoulder. The white line is 1 inch from the grass. There is always a grassy verge though usually like 50'-100'. Even mowed though it's mostly soft and lumpy so not fun to walk on for long distances. Traffic is not crazy but there are still plenty of cars and trucks. No commercial traffic is allowed but the locals heavily use the Parkway. I bet 50% of the traffic are actually locals and not tourists and they tend to drive fast. Probably 80% of the time a car will just move over and I stayed walking on the pavement edge. The other 20% of the time there was 2 way traffic and I had to step off into the grass. You do have to be careful and I found it annoying to listen or check behind me to see if a car was coming and I'd need to step off. A few times a day no one was coming from behind but the car coming at me just wouldn't move over. Not much you can do but step into the grass, or get hit. Just some jackasses, usually seemed like locals based on the car/truck type.
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Generally the Parkway doesn't have a ton of cars but the walk into and out of Tupelo was really really busy for me. Ridgeland/Jackson was better even though it's a big town as there is a bike path you can take instead for 10 miles. Heather also hiked the Natchez and seemed way more Zen than me. She said she barely noticed the cars and was in a nice zone out the whole day listening to podcasts.
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Camping is pretty easy. Especially if you are a sound sleeper and don't mind road noise. The NPS on average has about a 500' corridor. That's it. That's not very wide. Outside this corridor is private property and ranges from farmland to forest to swampland. I'm a bad sleeper so I usually walked like 800' off to try and make it a little quieter. I was mostly on private property forest I guess but I never saw anyone. The Parkway quiets down at night but there are plenty of intersecting and nearby state highways that can be loud still. The forest can also be a bit jungly at times so getting off can be a pain if you are trying to go far like I was. But if you are only going like 100' then it's pretty easy going.
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Resupply is easy. The previous entry has a list of everything I know of very close to the Parkway. There is literally nothing on the Parkway. No houses, no shops, no gas stations, nothing. But there are a bunch of places 1/4 mile to a mile away. Fewer than you'd expect for a long roadwalk but plenty.
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The rural south is pretty poor and if you haven't been before you are probably in for a shock. The Parkway is kinda like this 500' protected corridor Disneyland. It's mostly forested and feels very comfortable. The moment you leave the Parkway to go to a gas station a 1/4 mile away it's like you are on another planet. I'm not saying it's dangerous or the people are bad. It's just different if you haven't been to the south before.
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Water is good and bad depending on your standards and I guess rainfall/time of year. I have very low standards and other than Tennessee, I thought there was a ton of water (TN follows more ridges so water a couple times was farther apart). The couple accounts I had read had hikers complaining about practically dying of dehydration so I don't know. There are a lot of creeks and then there are a lot of culverts that have kinda slow moving creeks. I drank a lot of these. Some people probably won't want to do this but I hate carrying water so I'll drink almost anything. There is also a ton of farmland so the water is probably fairly polluted. But the Parkway rest stops are very far apart and trying to only fill up from there and towns is a terrible idea. Also, the water can be quite hard to get at times. A lot of the creek and culvert banks are eroded and a challenge to get down to. Or a lot of the water in Tennessee was under bridges which can be a huge pain. I honestly had no issues but I think others would probably disagree with me.
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There aren't a lot of hiker blogs. There is Nimblewill from 2003. There is this guy Cambo on Trailjournals from 2016 and Constantine has a series of Youtube videos from 2020 that are good to get a feel for the walk. With a deep Google I noticed a few more people have probably walked the Parkway but not many. A lot of people do cycle the Parkway though and they are fun to briefly chat with as they roll by.
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I'd recommend the Guide to the Natchez Trace Parkway by Tim Jackson. It has a lot of good history, notes things along the way and especially the rest stops/water. I got the Kindle ebook. Otherwise I just had a GPS track in Backcountry Navigator which obviously wasn't really for navigating but I used my own mile markers when planning resupply and the topo maps/satellite view were helpful when scoping out camping for the night.
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Have a lot of music and podcasts lined up! I'm ok at roadwalking but this is really excessive and the boredom got to me by the end of each day.
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Watch your feet!!! If you've never done a long roadwalk before then there's like a 99% chance you are going to overdo it and injure yourself. The hard pavement and completely repetitive footstroke takes a huge toll on your feet, legs and body too. If you normally hike say 20 miles a day on trail with elevation you probably think you'll be ripping 30s on flat pavement. But most likely not so unless you are really prepared for it. Otherwise you'll do 2, 30s and be in excruciating pain. So just be careful and be prepared.
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There is like 99% cell phone coverage the whole way.
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The ideal season is proably Spring and Fall. Summer will be brutally hot/humid and I think winter might be a bit chilly, especially the northern parts. Just check average temps and pick your time. I did it in November which was about perfect but every year is different. I was having a beautiful record 82 degree day and the same day a year ago was a high of 48 and a low of 20. So I guess it varies. I also had to delay my start by 2 days when a tropical storm dumped inches of rain on Nashville.
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There are actually about 60 miles of trail paralleling the Parkway split into 5 sections. Unfortunately the NPS sucks and barely maintains or cares about these trails. Some of it is literally abandoned. My previous entry details these sections. Bad NPS!
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Tennessee is pretty hilly and about 100 miles. Alabama is about 40 miles across the NW corner and Mississippi is the remaining 300 miles. After Tennessee it's pretty flat the whole way.
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There's not much wildlife other than whitetail deer and lots of hawks circling overhead. Some coyotes too. And vultures for the occasional dead animal. The more obscure animals you usually only see dead on the road like armadillo and snakes. There is surely plenty of wildlife, you just don't see a lot of it while walking on the road.
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I'm not the type of person to say things are especially dangerous or weird for female hikers but I wanted to mention that Heather had a number of issues while doing this hike on her own. And Heather really never has issues and never feels like hiking solo is dangerous. On a daily basis she had at least a dozen cars pull over to ask her if she needed a ride. While some of them were well meaning, many of them were sketchy men who were either condescending, sexist or made sexual inuendos. She had 1 especially sketchy encounter with a trucker who pulled out his penis which is pretty scary when the road is pretty quiet and remote and she happened to not even have cell reception at the moment. Her experience is in contrast to mine where on my entire 20 day hike I had a grand total of 2 people stop and ask me if I wanted a ride. So that's just an fyi, even Heather was starting to feel really uncomrotable and pissed off.
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In summary, the Natchez is really quite pretty but I'd never recommend anyone to walk 442 miles on paved roads with cars. Ride a bicycle instead.

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Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Other Trail is located off the beaten path, somewhere between the soles of your feet and your imagination.

 

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