Man in Motion
Story Shannon Bardwell | Photograph Luisa Porter
After retiring from the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot, Tom Tait took a job with the U.S. Customs & Border Protection chasing drug runners over Texas, New Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico. He also piloted Air Ambulance services and served in the Army National Guard. While Tait’s heart has always been drawn to high flying adventure, he was looking toward a settled civilian life. He had entered into talks with Eurocopter when he was called up for a nine-month duty in Iraq.
When Tait returned, Eurocopter offered him a position in Texas or Columbus, Mississippi. He and his wife, Robin, chose Columbus.
About flying Tait says, “I get to see the world like most people never do. It’s amazing. You look at the universe and think, ‘God created all this.’”
Tait shows a photograph of himself in a cockpit surrounded by gauges. “Robin knows this look,” he says. She says, “It means he’s happy.”
Life was settling down and he picked up former interests. Being a cyclist on and off his whole life, he bought a bike and began riding for health and pleasure. This time he’d see the world at ground level.
Then Tait got a message, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…,” and of course he did.
At 61 years old, Tait was piloting missions in Africa supporting the U.S. Army Special Services Green Berets. “There are no finer guys,” he says.
Tait found himself living in a tent, eating food prepared over charcoal fires and following guys who cut paths with machetes through the jungles of the Central African Republic, the Congo, South Sudan and Uganda.
“I knew it was for a short time and it might be my last real adventure. I took a chance.”
Nowadays Tait is back to bike riding, cutting a 30-mile circuit through western Lowndes County out near the airport. As a new challenge he began riding the Tanglefoot Trail near Houston, with a goal of completing the 44-mile trek from Houston to New Albany.
Tanglefoot Trail is a Rails to Trails Conversion path that curls through Chickasaw, Pontotoc and Union counties and is the longer of the two such trails in the state. Rest stops dot the way. Trails meander through the countryside and wooded areas, while other parts go right through downtowns.
There are places to eat that welcome bikers, like the Two Toots Whistle Stop in Houston, and places to stay, like Miss Sarah’s Inn Bed & Breakfast in New Albany. But for Tom Tait there will be no stopping.
Having conquered the 44 miles Tait says he’d like to ride the 177-mile route from Columbus to Memphis and maybe do a European bike ride.
Though Tait has no intention of giving up his long distance bike riding, he’s found himself back in the air again, flying for Nicholas Air private charters. It’s pretty unlikely this intrepid cyclist has seen his last real adventure.
TANGLEFOOT TRAIL FAST FACTS
• Tanglefoot is a 43.6-mile asphalt bike and pedestrian trail
• Located in the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains
• Settled by the Chickasaw Indians
• Explored by Hernando de Soto and Meriwether Lewis
• Elevation level range 319’ to 441’ above sea level
• Scenery includes mature hardwoods, kudzu tangles, cotton and soybean fields, pastures and wetlands
• Towns include New Albany at the north end, Ingomar, Ecru, Pontotoc, Algoma, New Houlka and Houston at the south end
• The Trail Bike Shop is located in Pontotoc
• tanglefoottrail.com | 662-489-2415