Oprah Winfrey is made of the dust of the Natchez Trace. The Devil’s Backbone. Maybe that’s why she’s so tough.

image from forbes.com

She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. A town of just over 7,000 people, it sits west of the Trace in the central part of the state. Right where the Mississippi Hill Country starts.

As I approached the 200-mile mark on my 444-mile hike of the Natchez Trace, I walked through swamps for several days to reach the hills. The federal road is raised, but I imagined the boatmen who walked the Trace in hoards. Sloshing through mud and muck, their leather shoes paltry cover compared to my high-tech athletic wear.

Maybe those indefatigable spirits imbued a few Trace people will iron wills.

I wandered around Kosciusko’s center. A town with no stop lights. The courthouse its central feature. I tried to imagine Oprah playing outside a boarded up laundromat. Going to the tiny library. Wondering about the Revolutionary War general for whom her hometown is named. Dreaming of where an ancient roadway might take her.

If she followed it.

She’s not the only woman who took the Natchez Trace to follow her dreams.

If you are new to this 444-mile trek of mine, the Natchez Trace is a 10,000-year-old road that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Throughout history, animals used its natural ridge line as a migratory route from the Ohio River Valley to the salt licks in Mississippi; Native Americans settled along the Trace to follow their migrating food supply; and when the Kaintucks  had to sell their goods at ports in New Orleans or Natchez before steam power, they had to walk home, making the Trace one of the busiest roads in early America.

To launch my recently-published novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, I will be the first person of either sex to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. March 1, 2014 to April 3, 2014. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. One rest day per week. I will spend each night in the modern-day equivalent of stands, places much like Grinder’s Stand, where Meriwether Lewis died from two gunshot wounds on October 11, 1809.

I am taking readers into the world of the book. You’ll see the places that inspired scenes and hear the backstories of different characters, with running commentary by my father, who’s tagging along with me, just as Merry and Em do in the book.

Click here to see the best photos from my Sunday rest day: Andra Watkins Tumblr

You know you like FREE. Tweet, Facebook, type and review your way to Charleston, South Carolina in the To Live Forever Journey to Charleston Contest. The more you enter, the better your chance to WIN. Click here to find out more: Support My Aching Feet.

Finish my novel before I’m done walking. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is available in paperback and e-book formats at these outlets: Click to Purchase To Live Forever.

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