Even though I’d made plans to spend a week cycling with friends in Mississippi, I had no idea what I was getting myself into—in a good way!
Let me back up just a little…
After Sersie and I had such a great time in Atlanta, I drove to Birmingham, Alabama for two nights where I attended team camp with a few members of my bike racing team, Nunchuck Bunnies. The Sunday morning we departed, I did a 48-mile solo rode at Oak Mountain State Park, showered in the park, and hit the road to Mississippi.
Mississippi, often referred to as “the Sip,” holds a very special place in my heart. I lived there for eight years, went vegan there, started bike racing there at the age of 42, quit my corporate career, and made so many wonderful lasting friendships that it really is my second hometown. It was in Mississippi that I learned about the Daniel Fast way of eating that transformed my life for the better.
Back to the story about cycling with friends in Mississippi
I arrived in Jackson, Mississippi mid-afternoon on Sunday. I returned the rental car at the airport, then my dear friends Leslie and Arree picked me up and we went over to Babalu’s for an early dinner. During dinner, I told them I wanted to get in as much riding as I could that week. You see, I currently live in a remote area of Washington state—on an island—where there isn’t much of a riding community. That means I often ride by myself or on a bike trainer in my basement. Knowing what an amazing cycling community metro Jackson has, I wanted to soak it up as much as possible. And that I did!
Leslie and Arree graciously allowed me to stay at their home while I was in the Sip that week. Since I was on vacation and they were still working, I adapted to their riding schedule. This spring, Arree had started a cycling group called Soul City Cycling—a rapidly growing group of cyclists bringing diversity to cycling and improving the health of Mississippi’s communities. This group is an affiliate of The Major Taylor Association. Before we turned in for the night, Arree told me to be ready for a ride early Monday morning. “We start at 4:45 a.m.,” Arree informed me. I said, “Wheels down at 4:45 a.m.?” He responded, “Yep!” Alrighty, I thought to myself. So, I mentally backed into the time I needed to wake up and be ready. I decided 4 a.m. was good. I showered, put on my pajamas, set the alarm on my phone, and went to bed.
After waking to the annoying sound of my alarm, I jumped out of bed and got myself ready for my first full day. Arree was a wonderful host. He had my bike ready to go, with fully charged lights on the front and back—so I could see and be seen by motorists. I attached my little Garmin computer and then Leslie, Arree, and I headed out. We rode 20.7 miles and were done before 6 a.m. when the sun was just starting to rise.
That evening, I’d made plans to ride with my friend, Denise. We agreed to do a group ride that happens every Monday evening at 6 p.m., weather permitting. Another friend of mine, Reesheda, was wanting to get back into cycling after a long hiatus. She met us there and we rode—it was an out-and-back route. We had a little hiccup on the way back and a very kind fellow-cyclist named Rik helped us out. While the ride didn’t go as planned, I ended up with 21.8 miles, spent some quality time talking with Denise, got Reesheda back on the bike, and made a new friend in the process.
Wheels down at 4:45 a.m. again! Leslie decided to sit this one out. I think that’s because she knew what Arree had planned for me. It’s affectionately called the “Ring of Fire,” and having done it, I can see why. When you ride it—and try to keep the same speed before getting to the Ring of Fire—your quads are burning like crazy! And we did it twice: counterclockwise and clockwise. It’s hilly as all get-out here in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m used to hills, but there’s nothing like doing a hilly loop at a healthy speed when it’s spooky dark outside. Of course, we crushed the Ring of Fire both times! That ride ended up being 20.3 miles. Again, we were done before 6 a.m.
After my ride with Arree, I did a 3-mile run before the Mississippi heat got too unbearable.
Wheels down at 4:25 a.m. Wait, what?! It was earlier because we were meeting Charlie, D.I., and other cyclists at the Old Craft Center in Ridgeland, Mississippi for a “zero dark thirty” ride on the Natchez Trace. So we had to drive there too, which meant we had to be up at 3:15 a.m. so we could leave the house by 3:55 a.m. We had a great paceline going on this ride. What does that mean? It means we took turns being out front, or “pulling.” We would each take one-mile pulls and then rotate to the back of the line. This allowed us each to enjoy the benefit of drafting. Drafting just means you don’t have to pedal as hard to maintain the same speed as you would if you were riding solo or in the front.
Overall, it was a terrific ride. We ended up with 27.4 miles. It was so great seeing D.I., and I’m bummed I didn’t get a picture with him before we parted ways. I’m also sorry I didn’t get to see Mayor Gene McGee either, but he was out of town that week.
After this ride, a quick shower and breakfast, I headed over to Reesheda’s house and we completed a 4.5-mile run/walk on the multipurpose trail in Ridgeland.
That afternoon, I met up with my play dad, Mike Cobb. Mike is a special friend, and the one I unloaded on when I was wrestling with what to do with my career. Back in 2016, I was at a crossroads concerning my job and what I was feeling called to do. He was a patient listener who also helped talk it through with me. After lots of prayer and meditation to hear God’s voice, I quit my job in June 2016 and started my graduate studies in nutrition.
I met Mike to ride the Shiloh route in Rankin County. It’s a hilly route with beautiful countryside scenery, and a few loose dogs. We were planning to do 50-ish miles, but our ride got cut short when a huge storm rolled through. It was so bad! High winds and horizontal rain—I couldn’t see three feet in front of me. I had to ride with one hand on my handlebar and the other covering my eyes like a makeshift visor. We rode a few miles through that hellscape before we found a barn belonging to a guy Mike knows. We took cover in that barn while we waited for the storm to pass. We were completely soaked! But we had some quality time to catch up on the goings-on in Mississippi and in our lives.
After about 20 minutes, the storm had mostly passed, and we got back on the road. We didn’t quite finish the route Mike had planned for us, but we knocked out 45 super-fun miles.
Wheels down at 4:45 a.m.! We had a bigger group and a longer route on this day. We were able to take turns pulling in a paceline, a necessity especially on the busier two-lane roads. It was great meeting and riding with Blaise, Jake, Denise, and Cedrick. I ended up with 28.2 miles on this ride.
After riding with this awesome group, I went to meet up with my dear friend Laura (an ultramarathoner who wrote a beautiful and inspiring children’s book called Ladybug Run) where she was gearing up for a HIIT workout in the community pool. Those light foam weights are brutal underwater!
Thursday evening was a treat! It’s the weekly Soulshine Ride, which got its name because some people will hit Soulshine Pizza after the ride. Everybody and their mama shows up for this ride! Since the group is so large, it typically breaks up into three, four, or five smaller groups. Our group was about 15 riders. I was meeting Denise there, along with David, Allison, and Lisa. Arree was taking the lead with the specific route that included the “Ring of Fire” again. Yay! We rode 24.9 miles, and hung out in the parking lot afterward.
Wheels down at 4:45 a.m. one last time. It was me, Arree, Derek, Charles, and Reginald aka “Doc.” We left from the Costco parking lot in Ridgeland. Once we got past the traffic lights, this ride went at a nice clip. Towards the end of the ride, Arree took a long hard pull, then I was up front. I was pulling when we approached Highland Colony. I learned it’s where the riders like to launch an attack (or sprint). My legs were already burning when the sprint started. I tried to chase, hung on for a couple seconds, and then dropped back. I just didn’t have it in me. It was so much fun! We powered through 20.6 miles.
Afterward, I drove through Starbucks to grab an oatmeal and decaf soy latte, and made my way to meet my friend Kirk for my next ride.
By this time, I was feeling the effects of all that riding! But there was no way I was stopping now. Kirk is a badass and my brother from another mother. He’s an environmental consultant by trade, and a very talented photographer and cycling enthusiast in his spare time. Kirk had a route mapped out for us. I think he was anticipating a tough time keeping up with me. But that was not the case. He literally pulled me the entire route! By the end I was wiped out. We knocked out 23.7 miles.
When I got back to Leslie and Arree’s house I took a shower, ate a big lunch, took a nap, and then got up to ride one last time. That evening, I did a 13.9-mile recovery ride with Reesheda.
What a fantastic vacation in Mississippi. I rode ten times in five days and logged 274 miles. I got to visit with dear friends like Janne and Larry Swearengen with whom I enjoyed a wonderful vegan lunch at Bravo! in Jackson. I got to see my favorite chef, Matt Mabry.
I spent some time with Ann Somers and Bob Potesky, owners of the pet store Chipper & Coco. I was also happy to see Alison Harkey, a dear friend and badass cyclist, as well as Martha Hooey from Mississippi Baptist Health Systems. And I also got to visit more with Reesheda my last night in Mississippi, and we had an early celebration of her birthday.
While my time in the Sip was well-spent, I wish I’d had a little more. I didn’t get to visit with everyone I wanted to see. I also wanted to do more cycling and go to some other places I used to frequent. The whole trip reminded me that I’m grateful to have adopted the Daniel Fast way of eating, and for doing so while I was living in Mississippi.
I’m reminded that all of this—my entire epic week in Mississippi—had everything to do with me changing my diet. Specifically, because I changed my diet years ago a whole new world opened for me: cycling and racing, a ton of new friends I would have otherwise not met, a new career allowing me to help others extend and improve the quality of their lives, the ability to author a few books, and being in on the co-creation of Daniel Fast: A Bridge to Healthy Living and Daniel’s Plate. Who would’ve thought that changing what is on the end of my fork would transform my life so much?