My Better Days
This section of the trip was my favorite so far. It started out with a bittersweet moment, leaving Chet and Michelle’s house in Pensacola. Getting to know them and the kids was an unexpected treat. Also their hospitality is top-notch, I have rarely come across people so welcoming in my life. Although we aren’t really “related” in the traditional sense (Mom’s Brother’s Wife’s Brother), I’m happy to call them family. We visited their son’s tiny house construction site, went to a seafood restaurant on the Pensacola Bay, swam in the Gulf of Mexico, and had lots of good conversation. I also went to Gulf Coast Cycles and Tri to get my chain-stretch checked, brakes adjusted, and buy some tire boots to patch a small hole in my tire’s sidewall.
The only good thing about leaving Pensacola was the adventures that unfolded afterwards. The bittersweet-ness quickly turned into pure sweetness as I got down to the coast and Perdido Key. There were actual bike paths! In my pedal-powered convertible I hit 10, 15, maybe 20 miles an hour; breathing in the salty air, I felt ALIVE. I went through Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, and all the way to the end of the sandy point to the Fort Watson ferry. Along the way, I met a guy who has been bike touring for 23 years, traveled some 200,000 miles, and was a pastor. Funny how I had heard about him in Marion, KY 2.5 weeks before that. Once I got to the ferry, I met two ladies who were coming back from the Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores (one who was really intoxicated). I told them what was going on with my trip, where I came from, where I sleep, what do I eat, why am I doing this, all the standard questions. When I told them I was going to the campground, they enthusiastically invited me over, even though they were on a family vacation.
When I got to their house, we drank some beer, then they took me out to dinner, and we went over to the other house where we drank more and played a card game called Euchre (pronounced Yuker). It was a heck of a good time, they are a pretty hilarious and rowdy group. At their house, they gave me a bed to sleep in and the house on stilts was so close to the water I could hear the waves from my room. I woke up at 6am feeling hungover, watched the sun rise and the shrimp boats pass, dolphins surface, sea-birds dive, took a quick dip in the Gulf, drank coffee, ate breakfast, and rode out feeling amazed at how blessed I am.
The ride to Vancleave was very scenic. Especially the bridge off of Dauphin Island, I really enjoy crossing bridges on a bike because they make me feel like I’m really getting somewhere new, or breaking boundaries or something. That afternoon I got to Vancleave and met the Firemen there who let me camp behind the station. I ate dinner and sat in on a training session about fire detection and hydrants and other things. As soon as 9 o’clock rolled around though I was too tired and took a shower and went out to my tent to go to sleep. I woke up feeling sore, three 70 mile days in a row does that to me.
I took a rest day at the Haas Cienda Ranch after deciding to stick around for the Free Fair in Franklinton (the Fair was three days away and I was only 50 miles away). Also because I was sore and needed a day off. The Ranch was nice, an RV Park surrounded by cow pasture, with cows, horses, and a donkey roaming around behind the fences. I spent almost my whole day in the McDonalds, reading my book, journaling, and eating. I pitched a tent and lo’ and behold there was a #Supermoon that night- I wish I had a nicer camera to capture how beautiful it was!
I decided to stick around for the Washington Parish Free Fair in Franklinton because I heard it was the biggest free fair in the world. The small town of 3,500 people shoots up to 200,000 on the weekend during the fair. This town is obsessed with the fair. I rolled into the campground on Monday and was invited to stay with the owners, to keep me from being bothered by drunks or ran over by a truck, I set up my tent in a corner surrounded by trees and was able to use their bathroom and shower if I wanted to. The fair started on Wednesday, it was centered around farming, religion, art, and food. There was also the Midway with a bunch of rides, where the carnies heckled you to shoot a basketball or throw darts to win stuffed animals. My favorite part of the fair was listening to the Baker Family Bluegrass band. They played really well, so I bought a CD after their performance to show some support. Most of the day I just walked around and tried not to look too out-of-place amongst the country folk.
After listening to Mark Lowry (Christian singer/comedian) give a hilarious performance I really enjoyed, I was intercepted by a girl handing out tickets to a Dinosaur/creation “adventure movie.” Intrigued, I went into the trailer where I was shown fossils and then a movie about Young Earth creationism theory…I wanted to argue but didn’t, just shook my head and walked out, I don’t know what to believe anymore.
On my way into Franklinton I met a felon, who told me that he murdered someone ‘execution style’ and was never convicted. Our conversation didn’t start with that, or I may have never agreed to check out his property. He was an older guy, later telling me he was 72, riding on a beach cruiser with backpacks strapped to it like panniers, just getting his mail by the road. As I was riding by, I stopped and said hi and we talked about the normal ‘where you coming from?’ ‘where you going?’ things. He told me he has 100 acres and that there was a recent flood that tore up his beaches on the creek and invited me to check out his property. He was a genuinely cool guy, an ex-Merchant Marine, who explained everything with a chuckle followed by “know what I mean?” He told me about his old campground, his travels around the world, yacht and sailboat-hopping (he could pilot any ship), hitch-hiking around Asia and Europe, killing pirates while defending container ships. He likes smoking pot, and was convinced that every cop in town knew who he was but was too scared to bother him. About his murder trial? You just don’t want to ever mess with this guy’s family. He invited me to camp at his place, I honestly considered it, as soon as I left his property I had a major change of heart and decided it was alright to never see him again.
But, he had also ridden his bike to New Orleans and told me to go down to Covington (straight south) and hitch-hike over the Causeway bridge, so that’s exactly how I got to New Orleans. A guy named Louis picked me up. I got dropped off and followed the levee trail to where it intersected the road. By yet another stroke of luck, another cyclist asked me what street I wanted to get to and I followed him through the traffic. Like a personal escort into New Orleans!
It’s hard to put New Orleans into words right now. I saw street performers, art, sculptures, the French Quarters, Bourbon street debauchery, Audubon Park, rode/walked down Magazine Street. I don’t usually like cities but I really enjoyed New Orleans. It has a great feeling to it, and lots of history and culture too. Even though Bourbon St. smells like vomit in the morning and late into the night, there are so many hidden gems in that small city. It’s a shame that I didn’t stay longer but I was feeling anxious after taking all those days off to see the fair.
I got out of New Orleans around 1PM, expecting a 30 mile ride to Gramercy where I had a Warmshowers host lined up. But, apparently I made a mistake because it was a 60 mile ride and I didn’t end up getting there until about 7pm. There was a steady headwind blowing against me as I stayed alongside the Mississippi river up on the levee. My host, Dale, was a great guy. He was very enthusiastic about bike touring and has been cycling for 30 years now, and gone on many long distance tours. He rode with me for the first 20 miles before continuing in the opposite direction to go see his wife and kids at a fair and catch his son’s football game. He’s an electrical engineer at Shell and has ran a couple of businesses so mostly I talked to him about that, because I’d eventually like to run a business of my own.
From Dale’s house, I cycled to another Warmshowers host named Samson. He happened to be a student at LSU, studying civil engineering, and we instantly were buds. While he went out to tailgate, I hung out on the porch and drank a few beers and rode around the lake near campus, then got dinner at “the best Thai place in Baton Rouge” according to Samson and friends, called Rama’s. It was delicious food and my waitress was a hilarious Asian lady.
There were also two other cyclists camping in Samson’s backyard, one came from the North, the other from the West; it was strange that we all converged on this spot at the same time. We drank beer and swigged out of a Jim Beam bottle as LSU beat Ole Miss on the TV. Samson danced in his sparkly short-shorts that his mom made him and enthusiastically high-fived everyone during the game. We talked some politics #neverTrump, and about life in general. I had a great time meeting all the people in the house, finally hanging out with more people my age. The other cyclists included a guy named Max who was 25 and had cycled all the way here from Vancouver after touring in Japan, the other guy David was 61 and had brought his golden retriever in a trailer all the way from Minneapolis down the Mississippi river trail. Murphy was one lucky dog. It was such a good time hanging out with everyone, I didn’t take any pictures!
Last night I watched 22 Jumpstreet and CNN until I fell asleep on the couch at the fire station. Despite the alarms happening twice throughout the night, I slept like a baby. Today I’m getting a late start because this post took a long time to put together! Appreciate it!
The Logistics 10/12-10/24
Pensacola, FL-> Bunkie, LA
- 10/12: Rest day in Pensacola
- 10/13: Pensacola, FL -> Dauphin Island, AL = 68.5 miles
- 10/14: Dauphin Island, AL -> Vancleave, MS (Fire Station) = 71 miles
- 10/15: Vancleave, MS -> Poplarville, MS (Haas Cienda Ranch) = 69.5 miles
- 10/16: Rest day at the Haas Cienda Ranch
- 10/17: Poplarville, MS -> Franklinton, LA (RV park) = 49.5 miles
- 10/18: Rest day in Franklinton
- 10/19: Franklinton Free Fair!
- 10/20: Franklinton, LA -> New Orleans, LA (Warmshowers host) = 46 miles riding + 25 mile hitch-hike across Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
- 10/21: New Orleans, LA -> Gramercy, LA (Warmshowers host) = ~60 miles
- I toured the French Quarters and Garden District then did a lap around Audubon park before leaving.
- 10/22: Gramercy, LA -> Baton Rouge, LA (Warmshowers host) = 40 miles
- 10/23: Baton Rouge, LA -> Morganza, LA (RV park)= 52 miles
- 10/24: Morganza, LA -> Bunkie, LA (Fire station) = 53 miles
Total mileage = 509.5 (not counting rest days)
Total miles/day average = 39
“Riding days” miles/day average = 56.6