But Andra Watkins, in Not without my Father, tells you in step by step fashion how she walked the 444-miles of the Natchez Trace Parkway – with her father as support, gadfly and super book salesman. If you want to learn about the Natchez Trace, go to the national park website. But if you want a sometimes funny, sometimes sad, always entertaining memoir about parents and their middle-age children, you’ll love Not without my Father.
The Natchez Trace which goes from Natchez MS to Nashville, TN, hasn’t been walked since steamboats became safe and cheap, about 1820.
President Jackson brought back his troops from New Orleans to Tennessee after the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815. Andra is the only living person who’s walked the whole road.
She got the idea as a way of publicizing her first novel, To live forever: An afterlife of Meriwether Lewis. Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died on the Trace. Was it murder or suicide?
Andra walks fifteen miles a day for six days and rests the seventh. But the Trace isn’t the A.T. She’s walking on a road and it’s hard on her feet. It’s a flat trail, which sounds great to us mountain hikers, until you realize that the repetitive motion stiffens her muscles; she wakes up stiff and goes to bed stiff. The junk food made her sick.
But all of that, though difficult, is nothing compared to her interactions with her father, mother, and female friend of the family. They’re out there supporting her with rides, lodging and fried chicken while constantly telling her to quit. What was she thinking, taking all those people along? The real hero of the story is her loving husband who stays back and goes to work every day, sending Andra supportive texts.
It would be tempting to compare Andra with Cheryl of Wild but they’re very different. Cheryl had big psychological problems, which she worked out while on the PCT. Her internal life made her book a best-seller, not her hike. I thought the book was more like Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Called Again about her record-setting hike on the A.T. Jennifer also had a support team that she had to deal with but with a lot less drama.
Andra understands the budget challenges facing the Natchez Trace. She encourages readers to support the Trace and donate to the park. Thank you, Andra!
She’s on her way to becoming a national writer. Right now, she’s on a national book tour, getting great publicity. I wonder if she’s already been to Asheville. I could learn a lot about marketing books from her.