When Charleston author Andra Watkins launched her novel To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, she decided on an unorthodox approach.
She committed to walk the 444-mile Natchez Trace in 34 days.
The Natchez Trace is a 10,000-year-old road that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Thousands of years ago, animals used its natural ridge line as a migratory route from points in the Ohio River Valley to the salt licks in Mississippi. It was logical for the first Native Americans to settle along the Trace to follow part of their migrating food supply. When the Kaintucks settled west of the Appalachians, they had to sell their goods at ports in New Orleans or Natchez, but before steam power, they had to walk home. The Trace became one of the busiest roads in North America.
Nicknamed the Devil’s Backbone, the Natchez Trace was also one of the most dangerous places on the continent. Men banded together in packs to walk home, hopeful their numbers would discourage bandits and murderers. Sometimes, that worked.
Ross Barnett Reservoir
Others, it backfired.
Explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis & Clark fame, ended up in the latter group.
He died on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee. He was only 35. His death remains a mystery. Some historians believe he committed suicide. Others are convinced he was murdered.
Watkins is following Lewis’s footsteps. She is the first living person to walk the Natchez Trace as the pioneers did. Fifteen miles a day. Six days a week. Along the way, she is taking readers into the world of her novel. She reached the halfway point, 222 miles walked, on March 17. She expects to reach the terminus of the Trace—Nashville, TN—on April 3.
Readers can follow her trek at andrawatkins.com. Her novel, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook and Kobo.