We drove back to mile marker 338 on the NTP to see the Stone Talker. He is not listed in any tourist brochure or the AAA guide, but the locals told us not to miss his place. His real name is Tom Hendricks; we listened to his story and it was a good one....
Tom's grandmother passed down stories of her Yuchi (American Indian) grandmother to Tom and made him promise to keep the stories alive. He memorized the stories as a child, and some years ago he attended a multi-tribe powwow in Tennessee and met other Yuchi people. At first they did not believe his story, because his great-great grandmother was the only person known to have escaped from the Indian Reservation they were forced to walk to in the 1830s. She walked all the way back to her native country (now Lauderdale County Alabama), where she married an Englishman and became a well know medicine woman. He proved his heritage by speaking their language with them. The "grandmother" of the Yuchis at the powwow spent three days with Tom and he went home with a mission--his mission was to build a wall in honor of his great great grandmother, and this mission would take the rest of his life.
The wall is huge, spreads in all directions, and he is still working on it in his 80s. There are multiple passageways throughout the property with areas set aside for reflection. He has spent almost 40 years working on the wall every day (only 6 days so far that he did not work on it). He collects rocks in his pickup truck and lays them (without mortar) with only a wheelbarrow to help move them through the extensive rock wall maze.
He wrote a book about his great great grandmother's journey back home after the trail of tears (forced march to OK) and most of us bought the book; our group also bought a hand carved cross, a frog, and one of us is bringing home a hand carved Alabama limestone bird bath....
After spending time with the Stone Talker we drove to the point where we left the NTP yesterday, unpacked the bikes and started out, quite late for us, almost 10 AM. We fairly flew along the trace, with Fred, Tom, Ed, Stan and Barbara setting the pace at about 20 MPH. Ed and Diana were not far behind them.... Dianne and I managed 17.7 MPH and nobody saw Otis!
We stopped at the state line to take photos, and then found Bill at the overlook for the Tennessee River. We all had lunch there, and that slowed me right down... they all told me that potato chips were a good ride food. NOT! I had indigestion the rest of the day! At one point I thought I might not be able to finish!
We stopped at the Ancient Burial Mound--there are several along the trace from people who passed through here about 5000 years ago.
Soon we were at the Mississippi state line! Right after the Entering Mississippi sign was a sign telling us we were in the Mississippi Hills area. Uh oh... There were indeed hills, but they were not as serious as those we encountered earlier in the week. Bill was waiting with water and snacks every 20 miles along the way, and then parked at the turnoff to go to Belmont. Good thing too--there was no sign! The 8.8 mile route into Belmont was steeply hilly, a lot of curves... but the little traffic there was remained polite. When we got to town there were enough dogs worrying us that we decided to put the bikes in the trailer and drive back out to NTP in the morning.
We are staying at the Belmont Hotel, built in 1927 to accommodate the railroad men. The town has fallen on some hard times lately, but we managed to find a restaurant and a laundromat.... some of our crew ate chicken livers and fried whole catfish, but everyone was well satisfied.