Take two bikes, add eight days and compound that by four hundred miles and what do you have? Many metaphorical lessons on life and one amazing memory for two Fodrenites.
Wade Thompson and Anne Welch, friends and cyclists active in Jackson’s bike scene, have now had a week to reflect on a journey from Mississippi’s capital city all the way to the Big Easy, all on two wheels.
While the plan had been coming together for about a year and half, one big decision made their late July trip imperative. Welch received her acceptance letter from Georgia Tech’s city and regional planning master’s program, so it was now or never.
Using mapmyride.com to establish a route, the pair set out from Thompson’s north Fondren home on Saturday, July 12 on the trip. Day one began with no complaints, full of adrenaline and excitement. By the time they made it to the Natchez Trace, they had already ridden 25 miles.
The planned trek, which followed the Mississippi River Trail from Rocky Springs to New Orleans was mostly flat. At nine to nine and a half miles per hour on a loaded bike weighing in at 85 pounds, Thompson called it an intentionally slow kind of ride, one that’s not too taxing.
And that worked out for both riders. While Thompson and Welch had intended to take shorter training rides prior to this trip, neither had ever ridden more than 40-45 miles in a single day. “On the first day, we easily did 45 miles,” Thompson said. “We did 55 miles the next day and 65 the day after. I think every single day, we rode the furthest we had ridden in one day. There was a curiosity there — to see if we could do it.”
Friends for some time, Thompson said he and Welch were able to get along well. “We needed that ability on this trip,” he explained. “We’re both easy going and we’ve traveled to play in bike polo tournaments. We knew we traveled together well.” Welch said she wouldn’t have made the 400 mile journey with anyone else. “I’m glad Wade was the friend who went with me,” she told. “It’s not something you can do with just anybody and this trip solidified our friendship.”
By Saturday, July 19, after seven days on the road, camping in hammocks and eating food from their backpacks, the two had safely arrived in New Orleans. They stayed with friends, finding a soft place to sleep, showers, food and the normalcy of civilization. “Glorrrrious,” Welch laughed.
Thompson said he felt at the time he could do another week’s worth. “We had had a day and half to goof off, so I was ready to go again,” he said of his strength after some down time. “Once I got on the train (heading back to Jackson) and took a nap, I was tired.” By the next day, Thompson was taking a half day off from work to catch up. “The slow burn catches up with you slowly.”
Welch went on to Atlanta by train, seeing her soon-to-be home which gave her time to reflect on the trip. “I was proud of what I can do,” she said. “It’s a big physical feat to ride that far so I’m proud of myself for setting this goal and completing it. It was a good life transition, to have this big adventure before I go off and try to be an adult.”
For Thompson, the trip has him looking forward to other adventures. “I can bike for a week and survive,” he laughed, thinking about what he’s learned. “It got me wondering about other trips and tours – thinking about the next one – how long it might be and where it might go.”
Despite the physical and mental challenges, both called the trip very relaxing and meditative in some ways. They also called it a good life lesson. “The journey is what’s enjoyable,” Thompson said. “It was never about the destination. It was about getting there – and doing it in this weird and unusual way.”