Midsummer in Mississippi isn’t nearly as refreshing as a steam bath. The air is downright stagnate.
Our motorcycles produced a bit of current as we lulled along the Natchez Trace Parkway at the legal 50mph speed limit, which is not sufficient to bring up a cooling breeze in those conditions, but the limit is strictly enforced. My companion K and I craved a break in the shade.
Administered by our National Park Service, The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive without traffic signals, akin to the Blue Ridge Parkway in that regard, but it travels through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. The scenic overlooks highlight 10,000 years of North American history.
We turned in to an overlook at the Pharr Native American burial mounds,* where two bikes were already parked under the trees. I always enjoy meeting other travelers, especially when they’re on motorcycles. I want to know where the good roads are, what’s a good regional dish to sample, and what spots to put on my wish list for another journey.
The two Texas bikers were headed home; they’d arrive the next day. One of them casually referred to the other as “Squirrel Man,” which of course begged an explanation. What ensued was a moving story of what it’s like to foster a baby squirrel whose mother was killed by the family dog. The sacrifices Squirrel Man endured to keep the little critter alive (they eat ten times a day) were touching. As I recall, he even missed a family reunion. Ellie May Clampett (right) of The Beverly Hillbillies fame could not have done a better job.
Next time you see a burly biker and make a snap judgement, just think: you might have just met Squirrel Man.
Just as that story concluded, two other bikers pulled up. One was riding solo to Brazil for a PhD program; the other had just sold everything except what he could carry on his bike and was headed for a new life in California.
Here’s the part where I could encourage you to take up traveling so you, too, could meet such interesting people. Truth is, they’re all around us every day. The motorcycle is just a friendly intermediary. I don’t know why I’m so reluctant to reach out to people in everyday life, yet do so readily while I’m on the road. I’m working on that.
I promise, today’s a good day to meet an “interesting person.” They’re all around us, if we just reach out and smile, instead of being self-absorbed. Maybe today you’ll start by simply smiling at a stranger in line at the grocery store. If you do, please let me know how it turned out.
*Pharr Mounds are located on the Natchez Trace Parkway (milepost 286.7), about 23 miles northeast of Tupelo, Mississippi.