Riding The Natchez Trace

The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle.

So is finding it with your phone’s GPS.

Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there. He gave fairly complex but sensibly clear directions and within 10 minutes, I was driving a ribbon of highway I never knew existed – two-lane blacktop through forest and cotton fields and deep ravines, 444 miles of it, from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. No commercial traffic. No houses or businesses. And on the day after Labor Day, virtually no people. I missed the first 40 miles of it, though, thanks to accursed Siri.

I’m not sure when or how the seductions of technology overwhelmed my common sense. I know why, of course: Technology makes things easy. So easy that I didn’t bother to take 2 minutes to consult the Nashville inset of my handy AAA Tennessee map to trace a route from my daughter’s apartment to the start of the route, just a few miles away. And, since I didn’t do that, it took far too long to realize that Siri was sending me astray. Without a glance at a map, I had no orientation, no way to realize, “hey this road leads dead away from where I want to go …” Siri, the harpy – with her frantic remonstrations to Proceed to the route! and Take a u-turn at the next lethal intersection! I mean it! Do it! NOW! – was thus retired from service for the duration of this trip. Not all who are lost are wandering. Some are just lost, slavishly obeying their phones.

The Nachez Trace, like many American routes, started as an Native American trail, then became a highway of conquest (historical markers note the expeditions of Coronado and DeSoto), then a pioneer trail, then a road to market, etc. Today’s it’s maintained by the National Park Service and is popular with bicyclists, who – as an ill-timed bike ride in baking midday heat demonstrated – co-exist just fine with passing car traffic, sparse though it was on the 250 miles I drove down across the northwest corner of Alabama and into Mississippi.

I would never have known it existed had I not consulted an old-fashioned map before departing on this trip.

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