When I was 19 or 20, I worked the summer on an earth-fill dam construction job, part of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. My daddy worked for the Corps of Engineers, so I worked construction jobs in the summer, when my friends were working at Rexall Drug, or at the country club.
One day, I lucked out and got assigned to be the flagman at the road crossing, where the earth movers were bringing fill dirt across the highway. It was not a glamorous job, but it beat hell out my usual job pushing dirt with a shovel.
Just before lunch time, I was surprised to see a bicycle coming down the road. Tishomingo County, Mississippi was not a place that you expected to see an adult on a bicycle, particularly 25 miles from the nearest town.
It so happened that I had a machine coming toward the crossing, so I flagged the cyclist to a halt. I walked over to him, and struck up a conversation as the earth mover rumbled toward us. There wasn't a car within sight, in either direction, so I figured I could pass the time of day, for a while.
I was pretty impressed to find that the guy on the bike had left Natchez, a few days earlier, and was following the natchez Trace toward Nashville. The route was not complete, at that time, on the Parkway, and he had been forced to detour around one of the gaps in the Trace. So, he ended up at my crossing, that day.
After a few minutes, the way was clear, and I sent him on his way. But, he stayed in my mind, that day, and for years after. Even though it was not a normal, accepted thing, in the culture around me, his trip had caught my imagination.
Now, 30 years later, I have yet to do a multi-day self-supported bike tour. But, that day will come. In the meantime, I've made a few journeys of my own through the past couple of decades.
And, I thank that unidentified Mississippi bike tourist, in 1980, who helped set the bike pot to simmering.