Day 43(Tuesday, May 31):Dauphin Island,AL to Pensacola, FL–57 miles

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….


Day 42(Monday, May 30):Biloxi, MS to Dauphin Island,AL–71 miles

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!

Day 41(Sunday,May 29);Waveland to Biloxi, MS–29 miles

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

A 5:26am start–our earliest yet.
I am functioning on minimal sleep; Joe got a phone call at 9 last night; it upset him enough that he needed Alka Seltzer after trying unsuccessfully to get back to sleep. His phone rings yet again at 10:45pm and wakes the whole room up; this time he does not answer. He is soon snoring and sleeping soundly; I am awake and remain so for the next two hours.
Joe is up at 4am to use the bathroom; again at 4:15am. That’s the end of my good night’s rest. I should have napped at the same time Joe did yesterday; instead I checked maps, weather, motels and wrote the blog. Oh, well…a little bump in the road of life.
We have not even left the parking lot when Joe stops abruptly. He needs the tools; his seat is suddenly loose. So, in the predawn light yet another riding day begins anew.
The wind blows steadily from the southeast at 15mph. It’s a good thing we planned on easy mileage today!
In less than 4 miles we arrive at the Bay St. Louis Bridge, a new and very biker friendly causeway; the bridge has 6 foot shoulders to the left and right of the four vehicle lanes, but we don’t need to use those as there is also a dedicated 10 foot wide bike path. This is a whole new world.
We reach another new bridge; Joe is in the traffic lane; I note that there’s a bike path on the side. Joe disagrees, “There is no bike path”. My new(I am a slow learner, remember) response, “Sure, of course you are right,” and I go forward on the bike path. Joe can ride in the road; it is his choice. He follows me on the path.
For the rest of the day we ride along the Gulf, water on our right, the remnants of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation on our left. Other than the omnipresent new Waffle House Restaurants every mile or two, I am surprised at how little reconstruction there is; at how few changes in the two years since I was last here on a bike. The majestic windswept oaks remain as a reminder of the stately past, but little else.
I am nervous about motel availability on the beach during a major holiday weekend. Mid-ride at 6:45am I call for motel reservations-and receive a goose egg on the first three tries; then a smoking room, but not ground floor. Stairs with a bike are not an option; nor is a smoking room until I am really desperate. The prices are shockingly steep:$149 a night. I keep on calling and ask for names of smaller mom and pop places nearby; the iPhone seems to ignore them. I get a name– Edgewater Inn; I call them. After a long delay, yes a nonsmoking ground floor room is available, but not until after 3pm. The price is better; we take it– our odds do not look good for finding another room. Joe is not thrilled at the prospect of being filthy and homeless in the heat and humidity until 3pm… I visualize us in the tent in an RV park, if we are lucky….yes, we will take the room. Joe is still saying, no, wait. I am not a gambler; again, yes, we will take the room. As extra insurance for my sanity I ask about a safe place to store the bikes until the room is ready. Another yes.
The iPhone tells us 19 miles more. We ride on, have breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Waffle Houses; I order off the Dollar Menu; Joe has his favorite: grits and eggs over easy. Life is good. I get a phone call; our room is ready at 9:00 am; someone checked out early. Lady Luck is on our side after all!
We are in our room and cleaned up by 10:15 am, even though Joe drove by both the Casino and the Inn on the way here. The twenty foot tall signs were not obvious enough. He makes a few more comments about my inability to read maps. Please remember Dear Readers, Joe also has an iphone and therefore he logically has the same mapping ability…..Enough talk of maps; time to explore!
We go next door to the Treasure Bay Casino to see what’s up; we ask about rooms and sure enough it is both fully booked and more expensive. Off to Hooter’s for Joe’s Guinness and my wine(yes, correctly spelled– no whining here!). We played the room reservation odds and won!

Day 40(Saturday, May 28):Mandeville, LA to Waveland, MS–49 miles

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….

Day 39(Friday, May 27):Denham Springs to Mandeville,LA-75 miles of riding….

May 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

On the road again, (cue several bars of the familiar country melody), just can’t wait to get on the road again….thanks to Willie Nelson….
Early morning and Joe, like a homing pigeon turns south from the motel. However, 190, the mutually chosen route, is north. Thus begins Day 39. Joe stops after a few minutes: “Where is 190? We have already gone one mile.” At the next block we see signs and turn onto 190; it is busy with oncoming morning rush hour traffic; the road surface, luckily, is new with a serviceable, though narrow shoulder. Joe does not like it: “How much longer on this road?”, is his refrain at every stop. 25, 17, 15 miles; then the road worsens- no shoulder and even I am annoyed by all the overloaded logging trucks. We alter our path to Route 22; hopefully matters will improve. We pass through Holden on this deviation and see an overflow of cars at a gas station; let’s go in and see what’s up. I find Joe inside, to the left of the main entrance, in a room full of tables,which in turn are full of men. “Joe, it looks like you found yourself a good ol’ boys club. Do any of you guys work?” There are guffaws all around and they start reeling off one Boudreaux joke after another just like the trooper told us about yesterday. Then the preachers get in a few Catholic-Baptist-Pentecostal jokes, the religion of the protagonist changing depending on who does the telling. It was great. Real live Coonasses in their natural environment. Unbelievable! Seriously, they were great and wished us safe journeys; the preacher even gave us an extra blessing as he rolled by beside us in his car. Thank you all!
We arrive at our destination in a timely manner despite an unfortunate delay and a 10 mile total detour due to us both missing seeing a sign. Joe was far in the lead, nonetheless he feels the responsibility is mine….So be it. It’s our first navigational error in 2,000 miles, so in reality not a big problem–and we got to see another great bridge!
We are now in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The town was established in 1834 by “New Orleans-born Frenchman”(???) developer Bernard Phillipe Xavier de Marigny de Mandiville on former agricultural lands. By the mid 1800’s Mandeville became known as a “popular summer destination for well to do New Orleanians wishing to escape the summer heat.” Daily steamboat traffic began between Mandeville and New Orleans in the early 1900’s; the town then became a popular weekend destination for the Victorian middle class as well.
Bands played music as the ships crossed the lake and at the pavilions in town; Mandeville thus became one of the first towns outside of New Orleans where the “new jazz” was heard. Two of those original buildings still exist-Ruby’s Roadhouse, in continual operation since the 1920’s, and the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall, opened again in 2000 as the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall.
The town was in the Relocate America Top 100 places to live for five years in a row from 2005 on.
We have just returned from
a walking expedition of the town; it is one oak tree festooned with Spanish moss after the next, the quintessential vision of Louisiana. I may not leave. We checked out our dinner locale for tonight; a former boss of Joe’s from the City of Chicago, David Williams, is driving, with his wife Marsha, up from New Orleans to join us. (Today’s photo op features Joe flanked by David and Marsha). The restaurant, Juniper, is housed in a 100 year old structure, formerly a bakery, and features Creole cuisine. Yes!
Tonight we sleep in a 150 year old house, now a B&B, the C’est Chez Nous, three houses from the lake shore. Is this the vacation part of our trip Joe?
On our walk we met numerous people; Joe feels he brightened all their lives. The individual I will remember the most: Lilly, proprietor of Bano’s Food Store since 1945.
On another note,I’ve figured out why all the loose Louisiana dogs: it gives them a fighting chance against the gators! Thus far I must report no live gators, snakes or other things that go thump in the night. Thank Goodness !
In reality, dogs are a minor disturbance here. Hopefully, I haven’t jinxed us with that statement.
We are thoroughly enjoying Louisiana. Too bad it isn’t as large as Texas; we already move on to another state tomorrow. Yes, I know, this adventure seems to have picked up some momentum after we left the dry grasslands of Texas. Onward and upward. Ready or not here we come!

More press!

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Thanks to St. for covering our ride! Our final destination is St. Augustine, FL. Read the article here.

Day 38(Thursday, May 26):Livonia to Denham Springs,LA–65 miles

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 “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…

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    We are two intrepid travelers: Joe Harrison, age 73, of Apple River, Illinois and Susan Fenn, age 55, of Anchorage, Alaska. We plan on riding from San Diego, CA on the Pacific Ocean to St. Augustine, FL on the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 3,160 miles, through extremes of both terrain and temperature. The purpose of the ride is to raise money for cancer research. Joe’s late wife and Susan’s mother both died from breast cancer. Please follow the daily updates on this newest adventure. Your generous support would be appreciated.