By Lisa Huddleston
After hearing good things about biking on the Natchez Trace, Chuck and I decided to give it a try. We headed out on Saturday morning with coffee and donuts and drove the hour-long route to the beginning of the park with anticipation. It was a beautiful day, and we were looking forward to a great ride.
Happily we weren’t disappointed. We quickly found the parking lot his brother had told us about and unloaded our bikes. There were cars with bike racks all around us with other riders coming and going frequently.
As soon as we hit the Trace, a pack of bikers came roaring by us on the other side of the road. They were flying and the noise of their bikes was unexpectedly loud. I was a little intimidated and, yeah, embarrassed as I pedaled slowly uphill. But I was glad to be there and humbly kept climbing.
Speaking of hills, the Natchez Trace has some loooooong ones–I measured a particularly tough one at over a mile long. I was really thankful for the many speeds on my modest, blue Trek, and I liberally used the lower ones on this route. All in all, we were doing great (Chuck kindly trying to keep his speed down to my pace.)
Then we saw it. Birdsong Hollow Bridge. Wow. Have you seen it? One thousand five hundred and seventy feet of graceful, white ribbon stretched across a 155 foot drop between green hillsides. Beautiful … and terrifying.
Chuck has never liked heights, and although I don’t have a specific fear of it, crossing the bridge caused my stomach to tightened in a knot. Riding over it was really pretty easy. Infrequent traffic, shoulders that were pretty clean. But the railing’s top sat below our hips. And the terrible sucking pull of the drop wouldn’t let me relax. Know what I mean? The same siren song that tugs at you at the top of the Grand Canyon was there. I hummed and tried to ignore it, but it was there all the same. I knew, and it knew it I knew.
On the way out I noticed the sign at the beginning of the bridge telling travelers that there was hope and giving a number to call “day or night” should they want to talk, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I hadn’t yet crossed the bridge. On the way back I read the same sign on the other side, and it hit me with deeper meaning. People jumped from this bridge. My imagination took my body flying right over the rail as I considered the overwhelming fear of falling 155 feet very quickly to a very broken death. I tingled all over at the thought and pedaled carefully and quickly across, safely making it to the other side, back to the parking lot, and eventually home.
But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. What would make so many people willingly step or leap off that terrible ledge? In June 2011 when a group added the suicide prevention signs, the number was up to 14. Incredible! Did they change their minds as soon as their bodies left the safety of the concrete? Did they too late grab at the air for a hand-hold on life? Ugh. I can’t stop thinking about it and grieving for those lives lost.
And those thoughts cause me to savor our ride more than usual. Our journey that day was very good. I was humbled in many ways and also happily affirmed in others. We were in a community of travelers who cared enough to ask how we were when we stopped to get water. I had a husband who adjusted his speed to keep pace with me. And I had been provided with the needed equipment to climb the long hills. And, yes, these facts have wonderful parallels in the other arenas of my life.
Humility, community, love, and provision. For these and other blessings, O Lord, make me truly grateful. Amen.