June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
We had an enforced late start today; the first ferry off the island is at 8am. After a 35 minute, 10 mile ride, viewing oil platforms in every direction, we begin our real riding day. One of the oil platforms was in water only eleven feet deep; yet they drill down over 12,000 feet for the necessary fossil fuel.
On the mainland side we pass by pentagon shaped Fort Morgan, completed in 1834; some scholars consider it the finest example of military architecture in the New World. Next up 20 miles of windswept, sandy terrain with pastel colored, raised houses everywhere. It seems to go on forever; we take more breaks than normal. We started this ride at 9am; on a normal day we would be already looking for a motel. Not today, not yet.
In Gulf Shores we make the acquaintance of Charles Blackwell. He is an avid bicyclist, currently sidelined some days due to cancer. He tells us of the Flora Bama roadhouse, one of the most famous cultural landmarks on the Gulf. Guess what: John Grisham used it as a location in his book and eventual film, “The Firm”; Jimmy Buffett, the songwriter from Pascagoula, based his song “Bama Breeze” on it! It may even be in the 1960 film “Where the Boys Are”! Charles purchased his house specifically to see the touring cyclists cruise on by and to help them if he can. We are sorry he could not ride with us today and we wish him the best of health in the future.
To make a long story short, there are no motels after crossing into Florida on the Gulf. Alabama is chock full of places; I had suggested Joe pick one. We rode on. We make more stop at the state line. My iPhone says no motels for 20 miles; I figure it’s wrong. Well, the little Ouija Board was right. Huge, new multistory buildings that are all condominiums. This is our introduction to Florida. I do see the Flora Bama; however, Joe does not slow down for a better view or for a visit. We do stop at a gas station; concept confirmed– there are no motels around here. She suggests stopping at a real estate office to check on nightly rentals. We do: $250 a night, security deposit and a cleaning fee. No thanks, we will ride another 20 miles in the heat to Pensacola. The ladies were really nice and gave us a cheer as we left the office.
We are on our way yet again. Joe goes straight, rather than waiting two minutes for me and turning at an important intersection. He doesn’t answer his phone. I wait and eventually follow him on this new “Joe’s unmapped version”of the route. The new road narrows; the shoulder disappears entirely and there is heavy traffic. This is the netherworld of bicycling. If this is Florida, then I do not think I can make it for another 500 miles. My feelings are confirmed by a truck trailering a boat going by so close I run off into the grassy, soft shoulder. I gather my courage and get back on the road; thankfully the next drivers are more considerate. At the next intersection, we switch roads, driving a longer, though safer, distance to the closest hotel we can find–8 miles away. We luck out– there are shoulders the whole way.
We have choices on the route tomorrow; another week and we should be in St. Augustine basking in the Fountain of Youth, conversing with Ponce de Leon….
May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
We are out of Biloxi before dawn breaks–5:20. How can it already be hot at this hour of the “night”?
The streets are empty; neither cars nor people disturb the early morning quiet.
I see the historic Biloxi Lighthouse, built in 1848 and one of only two left out of an original total of twelve, purportedly the most photographed structure on the Gulf Coast. Of course I stop to snap a few frames.
Before we know it we are across a few more biker friendly bridges and in Ocean Springs. Joe stops, points to a sign, and says we are on Highway 398. Yes, the sign is green and white, but it is the gas price, not the road number. It’s early, 6:15am; life should get better…
We cross the Singing River, named for an Indian Legend. Supposedly the whole Pascagoula tribe walked arm in arm, singing, into this river, rather than be subjugated by the adjoining Biloxis. One may be fortunate to hear their song if one listens closely. We are now 25 miles out as we pass through Pascagoula, home to Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest employer in the state. We see what appear to be Navy destroyers at the mouth of the harbor.
This morning we thought our day could be 25, 50 or 70 miles. We feel fine at 25 miles and continue on.
I see Joe talking to a bicyclist up the road a bit. Please meet Mr.Coleman Wingate, American Vet, originally from Virginia, now living in Pascagoula, and biking to the local Walmarts to do daily shopping. I secretly visualize him as a Walmart greeter; his bicycle is a vision of red, white and blue, festooned with 5, count ’em, 5, American flags and plastic baskets in equally patriotic colors. The crowning touch: blue duct tape holding the bike seat together. What a perfect character to run into on Memorial Day! Coleman, thanks for the memories!
Next stop: Bayou La Batre at 50 miles. The town fits in nicely on the Coast2Coast Film Tour: it was a featured setting for the 1994 film “Forrest Gump” and the book of the same name. Gump’s friend Bubba hailed from here and Gump lived here awhile while working as a shrimper. Yet one more film fact emerged; in April 2005, Disney Studios launched a secretly built pirate ship, the Black Pearl, out of the village, in order to film sequels to “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. Not bad; this is getting to be fun.
We are not yet tired, though, and after a stop at the local friendly Waffle House for “the usual” we are on our way again after making motel reservations for the night as we now have a final destination. I will save Room Reservation Roulette for Saturday nights when the game is at its most exciting!
20 more miles to go.
Oh, I forgot, we are now in Alabama! We are on the Scenic Alabama Coastal Access Route;
there are even some rolling hills.
We keep hydrating, but somehow Joe has a headache he can’t shake; now it’s a sharp pain behind his right eye. We are still 12 miles out, but thankfully a country diner, the first we have seen the whole day, is a few hundred yards off. We stop for the AC and the ice cold drinks. Within a few minutes Joe both looks and feels better.
We are off yet again. Soon we see a seemingly endless causeway and adjoining bridge, over Mobile Bay, which connects Dauphin Island to the mainland. I see the island!
We are now settled in at the Gulf Breeze Motel, preparing for yet another day.
Tomorrow we take the ferry to Fort Morgan and then…. Yes, Florida, here we come…
For the diehards amongst you: A really obscure film reference: in the 2004 Coen brothers(second mention for them on my film tour)black comedy “Ladykillers”, starring Tom Hanks, the main character Mrs.Munson says her neighbor is going to the Costco(nonexistent) in Pascagoula.
Tom Hanks also seems to be racking up some points on the Film Tour!
May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Are we living the good life or living la vida loca…which is it, perhaps both??
5:45am and the air is already claustrophobic, close with mugginess and humidity. The mosquitoes hover, anticipating an easy meal. We elude them as we have a gift in front of us: the Tammany Trace, a 20 mile paved bicycle route along the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, through the LaCombe Bayou, Fairview-Riverside and Fountainbleau State Parks and finally the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. It is a symphony of sounds as we travel under the cool, shady canopy of the tall trees enveloping the trail. Again, a treasure; this is the first dedicated bicycle trail we have seen since the Canal Path in Phoenix.
The path ends too soon for me; we are back on 190, looking for both a donut shop and a way around I-10.
The donut shop is surprisingly elusive; nonetheless we bag our prey–an apple fritter for Joe, a cake donut for me. Our next turn: a right on Endeavor Street in a few hundred feet. Joe, in front of me, just keeps on pedaling; I reel him in and we are back on course as I drag Joe through one of my now notorious shortcuts– this one is a double whammy as it is through a residential neighborhood with meandering streets, though only one turn is involved. I am trying to get us to(surprise!): Shortcut Highway 190. How aptly named! Joe stops and talks to a couple walking their dog about my course: their reply, not a problem, just go a few more blocks. Joe still does not trust the situation as we are going west, not east. The good news: it’s only for one block!
We are now on 190 again. Joe is at least stopping at every main intersection, though he does question my choice to continue straight on 190 when the two other arms of the “Y” behind us are also labeled 190. So we have three roads all numbered 190; I trust my choice; Joe is pointing to the one going in a northwesterly direction. I don’t think so, but I thank him for showing me all the signs.
A bit further he stops again; I ask if everything is okay. Joe states he is not going to continue on a road that goes west. My response, “What are you talking about? We went over the map and 190 runs in a southeast direction….” Joe points to a yellow sign showing an upcoming right curve. I say, “That’s just a little curve; see there is another sign for a left curve in a few hundred yards.” Boy, this navigating business is hard when Joe is cranky; riding the bike is a piece of cake in comparison.
We come to 90 and turn East. I see a sign for New Orleans Honey Island Swamp Tours. You want to go, Joe? No; we continue on, my vision of seeing a real, live alligator, dissipating as the miles roll on by. Maybe I will pass this way again in another life…We are in the middle of a really big swamp– the only way across: I-10 or Route 90. Joe confirms this with a touring motorcyclist; Joe seems to remain mistrustful of my navigational expertise.The motorcyclist, Terry, has both a website and a book of his travels. He tells us of meeting a fellow adventurer, a man, running the circumference of the Continental United States. Yet another wonder on this trek of ours! We travel on yet again; Joe, trusting Terry’s words of wisdom about my route, seems reinvigorated Joe also seemed to be eyeing the motorized wheels with a bit of envy, if you care to ask me. I can’t change either the roads or the swamp; the route is not straight; perhaps they picked the driest, highest land. Time to point the bikes east again and be on our way.
I see a huge sign: Welcome to Mississippi–Birthplace of America’s Music. Yippee! We are really going to complete this incredible journey. Thirty minutes later Joe says he does not feel well; he feels fuzzy. So that is what this is all about; he is not feeling up to par and the morning is rough on him. We stop at the next gas station; we cool down and hydrate. We roll on; Joe stops again in a few miles, unheard of for him. Bugs have been swarming around us; I am even more surprised at the sudden stop in the rest area. He sits with his head down; I get him a cold drink from my rear trunk, which thankfully keeps fluids cold for the six hour rides.
We reevaluate our position. The first possibility for a motel is 14 miles away; we remain in the middle of the swamp– there has been nothing for the past 10 miles. There is nothing ahead for the next 14 miles but sun, heat and humidity. I ask Joe if he wants to lie down for a bit on the shady bench and recover some. Again, a no from Joe, so no choice but to move on. I say let’s stop at the next, now elusive, gas station for another cool down and more rejuvenating fluids. It seems to take hours for the swamp to end and signs of humanity to appear.
Finally, another service station. I motion to stop; Joe’s eyes are glassy; he asks where we are. His reactions are slow. I simply say, “Turn, water, now”. No choices here. A liter of fluids, salty crackers, the act of sitting down and the air conditioning seem to help. I remove Joe’s helmet from his head; anything to cool him down. I check the iPhone; the motels in Waveland are 2 and 3.5 miles away. We pick the closer one as there is a Walmart for food and fluids close by. We arrive at the Coast Inn; Joe nods off even before taking a shower.
It is now several hours later. We’ve eaten lunch and gone grocery shopping. A bonus: Joe gets a haircut and a beard trim– he looks and feels like a new man.
So have you heard of Waveland, our home for the day? Sadly, it was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the whole town was virtually obliterated by the 26 foot storm surge and the accompanying winds. Incredibly,this is the second time a hurricane has devastated the city; Camille landed here in 1969. Both of these storms were in August; rest assured we will be safely out of the area by then and though the “For Sale” signs on beachfront acreage look appealing, we will pass.
3:30 pm. Joe is napping. I think a short day’s ride to Biloxi is in order tomorrow. Blackjack or Roulette anyone….
May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
Thanks to St. Augustine.com for covering our ride! Our final destination is St. Augustine, FL. Read the article here.
May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today was full of wonderful surprises: great people, great roads, great bridges and that great big river, grown to mythical proportions in our minds over the last two weeks.
We leave early; we start modifying the route within a few hundred yards. Joe sees a sign for New Roads, sure why not; it’s in the general direction.
Joe stops at the town of False River to chat with Trooper Thibodeaux for a spell. Besides giving some nice directions, Trooper T imparts both history and anecdotes to us. False River,is so named as this 22 mile long oxbow lake, was once the main Mississippi. It truley looks like a false river. It is lined by plantations from the 1750s and gorgeous homes, one area is called the “Million Dollar Mile”. This quiet country route is s great way to start our day.
Trooper T further tells us about all the French family names here in Cajun Country; he rattles them off so fast, even I cannot keep up. He says the folk here refer to themselves as Coonasses, that it is not meant to be derogatory. He says just ask anyone and they’ll have a joke about some Devereaux or Beaulieu and his wife Marie, fishing in some Louisiana swamp…
Another trooper pulls up; we are all laughing. Trooper T gives us advice on how to find the new John James Audobon Bridge: “You’ll be crossing over the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere, in flooding of historical proportions, over the third largest river in the world, the mighty Mississippi.” He mentions a man traveling by horseback around the world who got a trooper escort across the old Highway 190 bridge a while back. Yes, we could have gotten an escort; too bad we didn’t know this yesterday. Honestly, this is a better adventure.
About that bridge:At 2.44 miles, the John James Audobon Bridge, is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It opened on May 15, 2011, earlier than planned, due to extreme flooding on the Mississippi River, which rendered the ferry unusable. It is the only bridge between Natchez and Baton Rouge, a river distance of 90 miles. Furthermore it is the only way for us to get across the Mississippi using our own power for miles and miles.
Thus the detour.
We are on our way again, asking more people about the bridge that has no signs to find it…we are now riding parallel with a huge dirt levee and suddenly we see the bridge. We drag our bikes across a dirt ditch near the construction site(easier than backtracking to the real road access) and cross this engineering marvel. It is so new, opened by emergency 10 days ago, there are only a few cars crossing with us and workers are still finishing last minute touches. Yes, there is water everywhere. Worse, the bugs seem to live on this side of the river; they swarm on us even as we stop to view the immense river below us.
We are now on Route 61, the birthplace of the Blues. First, a stop for an emergency can of Off! Begone bad bugs!
We cruise into Baton Rouge, unprepared for the crush of traffic.
Joe and a car have a difference of opinion; Joe signals with his arm and expects the car to let him in, but the car ignores him. Joe goes down, luckily he is not hurt. Through the whole trip I ride more cautiously and conservatively, stopping at every merge area, looking for oncoming traffic, before continuing. Maybe Joe will try my methods? No, at the next merge, it does not look to be the case, he continues to ride directly in the path of cars.
We stop for Soul Food; I figure this and cool fluids are a remedy for the situation. We have 14 more miles; I found a paragraph that made the motels around here sound mysterious; however the reality is way too many pawn shops for me.
Excerpted from Abandoned Baton Rouge.com “Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, also known as the storied Highway 61, is famous for its sketchy motels. Sketchy motels are an essential part of our cultural heritage: that’s where nearly all the murdering and philandering and all sorts of untoward business goes down. Just look at every movie from No Country For Old Men to…well, almost every other movie ever.
It was at one of these Airline motels a little further south, Sugar Bowl Courts, where Jimmy Swaggart met with disgrace in 1987, along with his ladyfriend the prostitute. They don’t still exist in the numbers they used to, but kind of shockingly, these mom & pop motels do still exist in this era of chain hotels and motels.
A few such establishments have already appeared here on Abandoned Baton Rouge: Ten Flags Inn and The Bellemont, the latter which you can see in happier days above. All of the historic “before” postcards in this post were found online or otherwise by Ken Freeman and posted on his website dedicated to remembering his hometown, Alexandria Retrospective. After he contacted me recently, the historic postcard section about Baton Rouge on his website gave me a new idea for finding sites for this blog: work backwards from historic photos and their addresses. Seeing those motel postcards prompted me to make a trip to Airline and see what was still standing.
The exercise reinforced a lesson I’ve been learning: seek and you shall find.”. End of excerpt….and on to other pastures.
I try to coax Joe to go a few miles farther; the winds are with us. No, he is done for the day.
So I write this from the cool comfort of a brand new motel in Denham Springs, watching Nadal at the French Open…
Bye for today…