Tootie and I have been staying at our New Orleans retreat. I had been cycling around New Orleans but wanted a brief change of pace. Hattiesburg MS looked to have a lovely rail-trail just over a hundred miles away. On a random Monday I drove up by car for a day trip with my bicycle in the back. There was heavy traffic leaving New Orleans but once over the Twin-Span Bridge the last eighty miles from Slidell LA to central Hattiesburg on I-59 were a breeze, barreling on I-59 through the piney woods at seventy-five miles an hour.
I had never bicycled in the state of Mississippi. Yes, the word “Mississippi” holds a certain cachet. Mysterious. Maybe even dangerous. There are many novels and Hollywood movies. I had heard of the movie Mississippi Burning; the song by Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddam”. On the other hand my impression this day on the bike path; for better or worse, Mississippi is America.
I was to discover that Hattiesburg (population 46,000) is a relatively new city. It was founded in 1884 as a rail hub and center for the lumber industry, named after a woman named Hattie, its real estate developer’s wife. Now Hattiesburg is a college town, home of the University of Southern Mississippi.
Where to park my car in Hattiesburg? One block off the main street in a nice older neighborhood I found a municipal dog park called Central Bark. It looked the perfect place to leave the Ford for a few hours. I pulled out the bicycle I have been keeping in New Orleans, my Surly Long Haul Trucker.
From Google Maps I knew that the bicycle trail started about a mile away. I cycled through this older but prosperous looking neighborhood of Hattiesburg.
I cycled through a poorer neighborhood before finding a spot where the bike trail crossed the road.
The Longleaf Trace is a forty-four mile long paved trail on a former rail line that runs from Hattiesburg MS northwest to Prentiss MS. I did an up and back of the first eighteen miles, to Sumrall MS and back. My ride is the blue line, the black line is the trail as it continues northwest.
The trail is unusually well maintained. During the first portion it had overpasses and tunnels as it passes through the University of Southern Mississippi campus.
I passed a mid-century modern dormitory on the USM campus.
Further on I saw Hattiesburg suburban sprawl including at least one gated community. The University is already on this west side of town.
The bike trail continued through the woods. It was very quiet out here, peaceful, really.
Even many miles out the trail has benches and picnic tables. I stopped for the peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich that I had brought. I could enjoy the silence and do some reading, The New Yorker on my Kindle.
Further on I passed what looked like a horse farm
I had chosen the town of Sumrall MS (population 1,400) as the turn around point. I got off the trail and biked around town. I got the feeling that the prosperity of the college town of Hattiesburg has spilled over into Sumrall MS. For a very small town Sumrall had a picture framing shop and a graphic design store plus two restaurants.
There was a barbecue place that was closed on Mondays but a Mexican place that was open. I thought about stopping for a taco but passed. Instead I turned around and biked back to Hattiesburg.
In downtown Hattiesburg I noodled around a little by bicycle. It joins my list of American cities where the tallest building in town was built in the boom of the 1920’s.
I biked back over to Central Bark and loaded the bicycle in the car and drove home to New Orleans. I wanted to be back in time for dinner. I do like Hattiesburg and the Long Leaf Trace. I will be back.
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