Posted by Sharon Schendel on Oct 27, 2019
Author Andra Watkins with one of the many pictures she took along the Natchez Trace
Andra Watkins, author of several books that have appeared on the New York Times best seller list (and a Rotarian), began with a dream to be an actress. Her family reacted with horror at that aspiration, so she took a safer path to be an accountant. She left that job in 2008 to form her own consulting business, which was doing well until the 2009- a year in which she saw the economy crash, her business fail, and the first digit of her age change to a 4.
That year, Andra was inspired by Stephen Ambrose’s book “Undaunted Courage”, a biography of Merriweather Lewis, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who was eventually governor of the Louisiana Territory. Andra wanted to write a novel starring Lewis. Again, her family was doubtful and thought she should get a real job- writing was just a hobby.  But her husband was in her corner and supported her efforts to write the book.
Book written, Andra went to launch it, but had trouble convincing any agents that the book would have broad appeal.  She hatched the idea of walking the Natchez Trace, a 10,000 year old path first forged by animals that later became a road. But the Trace now is not designed to be walked- she need a wingman.  Friends declined, and expressed skepticism given their assessment that Andra had minimal athletic inclination. 
On March 1, 2014, she began her journey, with the goal to reach Nashville on April 3, 2019, when author Ann Patchett, owner of the independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, agreed to host Andra and publicize her book.  On the third day, the weather was 20˚ and sleeting. By the second week she was in agony with every step, but the physical didn’t compare with the mental challenge of being with her eventual wingman- her 80 year-old father.  At mile post 135, her dad forgot to come pick her up.  A few days later, around mile post 160 she was violently ill with intestinal distress and hadonly three squares of toilet paper left (the Trace has few facilities within a mile of the route)- she resorted to Gatorade for the clean up job.   
At one point during her walk, she collapsed in a field and laid there, exhausted. So focused was she on the misery and the agony, that at least 15 minutes passed before she realized that she was surrounded by thousands of daffodils. The experience in the field taught her that we’re often too focused on the minor pains of life to notice the amazing in the every day.