The Chase on the Natchez Trace: Searvogel Says Hi to Ridgeland



Wednesday morning I woke up with work on my mind. I needed to answer emails, write blogs and transcribe notes from the Bike Summit, and I wanted to start work on scheduling the League Certified Instructor training class. I vowed to spend a minimum of 10 hours catching up on my work.

So I grabbed a cup of chai latte and sat down at my computer at straight up 8 a.m I opened my computer, looked at my email inbox and witnessed my to-do list fly out my window!

A message from Alicia Snyder, Kurt Searvogel’s crew member, said Kurt was in Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace, and heading toward Ridgeland!

AAAGGGHHHH!!!! So much to do! So little time!

If you’re new to the Crooked Letter Cycling blog, Kurt Searvogel is vying to break the 74-year-old highest-annual-mileage record: 75,000 miles in 365 days. To catch up on Searvogel’s story, check out these blog posts:

Kurt Searvogel Seeks to Topple the 75,000 Mile Record
Chasing Godwin’s Record
February Update

I called Alicia, who told me Kurt was at Mathiston, about 100 miles north-northeast on the Trace. Kurt would be riding at a pace of about 20 mph, so I had five hours before he would arrive at Ridgeland. I wanted to round up a handful of followers to greet Kurt as he came through.

I admit it: I am totally obsessed by this challenge. All of the ultra-endurance cyclists out there understand my obsession. All of us know that when a cyclist of Kurt’s ability, attempting the ultimate insane distance mileage record ever, rolls through your town, you have to drop what you are doing, call in sick if you have to, and go track that rider down! The feat that he and British cyclist Steven Abraham are attempting is too crazy not to want to be a tiny part of.

The first person I contacted was City of Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee.  Most everyone in Mississippi knows McGee, the cycling mayor — the mayor making Mississippi bike-friendly. Just as quickly as I sent the email, McGee replied: Let me know when Kurt is getting close.

The second person I contacted was Mina Thorgeson, director of sales with the Ridgeland Tourism Commission. She and I have been collaborating on cycle-tourism for Ridgeland over the past year.  She got busy getting together a Ridgeland goody package for Kurt and Alicia.

The next step was to contact as many cycling Facebook groups as I could, alerting them that Kurt would be biking the Natchez Trace and giving approximate times he’d reach each city. I knew that with such short notice, and with the fact that it was midweek, it would be difficult to amass the crowds Kurt deserves greeting him along his course.

By 11 a.m., I was too antsy to sit around. I decided to go chase him down. I drove—yes, I drove—north on the Trace to River Bend at mile marker 125. He was not there. But I didn’t to wait long before I saw the big white van coming toward me! Alicia, cheerful as always, was smiling brightly as she pulled in next to me. We waited only moments for Kurt to arrive.

Kurt riding the recumbent on the Historic Natchez Trace.

Kurt riding the recumbent on the Historic Natchez Trace.

Kurt was on the Bacchetta CA2 recumbent. He has become quite adept at riding the stick bike, and he looked very comfortable on it as he rode toward us. I noticed he looked slightly lopsided and puffy; apparently he was stung by a wasp the day previous. I got a hug and a picture and away he rode.

Attempting an insane distance record does not exempt you from a wasp sting!

Attempting an insane distance record does not exempt you from a wasp sting!

Alicia and I had a few minutes to talk about Kurt and their amazing adventure. She mentioned the highs and lows of the trip. It is a constant 24-hours-a-day quest.

Life does not stop for Kurt while he is riding his bike. He is fortunate that he can even fathom committing to a feat of this nature. He had to stop riding long enough to finalize his income taxes while he was in Little Rock last week. Kurt has supportive family members who understand that the record is important to him.

Alicia said that, over the last 69 days, she and Kurt both have realized how important sharing the road—cyclists co-existing with drivers—has become. As Kurt continues hammering out the miles, he hopes to spread the word of this importance. Twice now since the beginning of his record attempt, he has been hit by a car—both times while he was riding on a bike path, both times by distracted drivers not coming to a full stop at the stop sign at a cross walk. Fortunately for Kurt, neither accident caused physical damage.

Bikes may use full lane/Change lanes to pass

Share the road sign found on the Natchez Trace near Kosciusko Mississippi

Alicia and I discussed how much Kurt enjoys having someone to ride with or come out and greet him. He must keep up his speed, but he welcomes riders who can join him even for a little while to break up the lonely miles.

Dody Ogletree of Clinton was able to get this great photo of Kurt when she found him on the Trace near Raymond MS

Dody Ogletree of Clinton was able to get this great photo of Kurt when she found him on the Trace near Raymond MS


Before long, Kurt had a sizable lead on us. We got in the vehicles and drove to meet him near Ridgeland. I alerted McGee and Mina of Kurt’s estimated time of arrival.

Michelle Williams, Kurt Searvogel, Mayor of Ridgealnd Gene McGee, Mina Thorguson Ridgeland Tourism

Michelle Williams, Kurt Searvogel, Mayor of Ridgealnd Gene McGee, Mina Thorgeson Ridgeland Tourism

We all managed to meet at the Choctaw Boundary, mile marker 108 on the Trace, where Kurt grabbed a sandwich and some caffeine. We had time to take a couple of pictures with Kurt, and he was off again—100 miles more before he would call it a day.

Kurt receiving the Ridgeland Tourism goodie bag!

Kurt receiving the Ridgeland Tourism goodie bag!

In my excitement to tell my story, don’t let me forget to give you the latest update on the HAMR challenge:

According to the Ultracycling website, as of March 20, Steven Abraham had ridden 79 consecutive days and had amassed 15, 157 miles. He was riding at an pace of 14.6 mph. Searvogel had ridden 70 consecutive days, having started January 10, and had accumulated 14,080 miles. His average pace was 19.2 mph.

Both cyclists are riding strong and show no evidence of slowing down. Follow Steven Abraham at his website One Year Time Trial and Kurt on Facebook.

Also, according to the UMCA website, a third contender will enter the HAMR challenge April 11.  Miles Smith, who lives in Victoria, Australia, will race in the 50-59 age category. Phil Bellette will be Miles’ crew chief.

The opening blog video showing Kurt on the Natchez Trace is just a glimpse of the national park.  Yes, the Natchez Trace is a 444-mile-long national park, designated as a bicycle route. The Trace starts at Natchez and ends in Nashville, Tennessee. I am fortunate to have the Natchez Trace right out my door.

As it is a National Park, commercial traffic is not allowed on the Trace, and the speed limit tops out at 50 mph. Many organized bike rides take place on the Trace every year, including the Natchez Trace Century Ride in Ridgeland; the Heatwave Classic Triathlon, the Gary Holdiness Memorial Lil Mountain Ride in Kosciusko; the Cyclists Curing Cancer Century Ride in Clinton; and many more. If bicycle touring is on your bucket list, the Natchez Trace is perfect for solo self-supported camping and credit-card touring. If you are going to be heading through Ridgeland, give us a heads up. You may just receive your very own welcoming committee!