Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New Natchez Trace Tour

Just back from scouting our new, improved tour in Mississippi. We've done a Natchez Trace tour in the past, but that was years ago, and before the National Park Service finally completed the entire parkway. Now, all 450 miles of it is free for us to bike on. No commercial traffic, strict enforcement of the 50mph speed limit and no services along the entire historic route. It's truly beautiful.

I started keeping a list of the wildlife I saw: turkeys, bobcat, deer and armadillo. Even a lone burro on the side of the road. Now how southern is that? A northern girl like me -- I found myself falling in love with the South.

The Trace is so full of history, Choctaw Indian mounds, relics of slavery, battlefields of the civil war. It's all there and it's fascinating. And I'm someone who regularly slept through high school history classes. We even get off the Trace to visit the National Military Park in Vicksburg. It was a cold, dreary day when we visited, and it seemed fitting. A fitting tribute to the 20,000 men who died in the war in that area. I felt I finally understood this important piece of American history.

And then there's the South of today. We stopped at a small country store to make sure we were on the right road. A bag of potato chips was 30 cents. 30 cents! Where else can you buy anything for 30 cents? We were quickly questioned - we certainly weren't from there. What were we doing? Where were we going? Where were we from? Just then, a rancher walked in, cowboy hat and all. He knew everyone but us and began filling them in on the status of his sick calf. A city girl like me. I can't wait to go back on my bike - I'll be leading the tour this November. I'm psyched!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Back from Hawaii

I'm still trying to recover some of the sleep I lost while on our Hawaii tour last week. If flying from the East coast as I did, jet lag is inevitable, but worth it. There were 19 of us in all...where do I start? Should I tell you about our hike after dark to see red lava flow down the mountain and into the ocean? We took our flashlights and walked half a mile on a trail marked with white reflectors across hardened lava from 3 years ago. At the end of the trail stood a friendly ranger ready to answer all of our questions, along with his telescope. Not too many people get to see live lava flow during their lifetimes. It was pretty amazing. And it wasn't even on our itinerary.

But maybe I shouldn't start there. Maybe I should talk about the snorkeling at the Place of Refuge Bay, the body-surfing at Hapuna Beach or the hiking through the Kilauea Crater. But it was a bicycle tour afterall. I can tell you about cycling past hedges of huge poinsettias, patches of small wild orchids, and fields of neatly lined guava trees. We stopped at a macadamia nut factory for free samples and a smoothie stand where they use their own home-grown tropical fruits. Bicycle tours are about eating afterall.

Linda got the prize for cycling all 84 miles up to Volcano National Park. Marilyn got the prize for never quitting, until darkness set in and we had to make her get in the van. Debbi and Karol rode to near darkness, but were two of the few to make it the whole way into Waimea a couple days later. It was the first time Karen had ever ridden on a road, having been only on bike paths at home. It was Nancy's tenth tour with us, and we didn't even realize she liked Diet Pepsi (not Coke!) until halfway into the tour. Luckily she brought Catherine and her trivia questions (it was the sea lion!) and Kathy and her good deputy stories with her on this tour. Thanks to Roseanne for her help in grocery shopping, Sarah for helping unload the luggage, Cindy for finding our way on the Volcano hike. Special thanks to Michele, Cathie and Pat -- all out of their "comfort zones" for their first-time tours. They all did great - especially because we all learned that Hawaii isn't flat! To JoAnn for her cheery disposition, even walking up some of those hills and to Gloria for helping us keep it all in perspective, as she's now on her way to Alaska! And extra-special thanks to Marla for NOT losing the van keys, and to Laurie for making work seem a whole lot more like fun.

It was a great tour, not only because it was Hawaii in November, but because I met some great women. I can't wait to go back and do it again!