Archive for July, 2007

Resting

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

I just got back to Pearl River after two days at my nephew’s beach house on Perdido Bay in Alabama. 

 

I ate too much, drank enough, and helped build a 10 x 16 foot addition to his dock.  No biking. 

 

This morning my sister and I went for a ride on the St. Tammany Trace.

Robin is driving down tonight, and we’re going to drive back home on Friday.  It’s going to be odd to be back in MO after all this time.  Today Gerry and I ran some errands, and I drove part of the way — it felt odd, and suddenly I realized it had been almost two weeks since I last drove a car. 

 

MO2NO Day 9: Pearl River, LA to the Cafe du Monde

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

After a great dinner of grilled shrimp and pasta, we all turned in early at Gerry and Ralph’s house last night. This morning I had planned to sleep in until 6, but my body didn’t get the message, so I woke up at 5 AM anyway. I was having a cup of tea and reading yesterday’s Times-Picayune when Ralph and Gerry came out of their room wearing identical T-shirts:

In our MO2NO shirts

Yes, they’d made these up in my honor. I was touched, although apparently still a bit bleary-eyed. Anyway, we had breakfast and I got ready to go, and they loaded up the pickup to follow me.

My route took me in on US 90, where I took this lovely shot of the Pearl River:

Taken while I was going the wrong way

Unfortunately, I wasn’t supposed to cross the Pearl River again, and a few mile further east it finally hit me that I’d turned the wrong way on 90. I think I was so caught up in the excitement of riding without the trailer and going fast that I just wasn’t thinking very clearly. So I turned around, adding about 8 miles to the day’s ride. Eventually, though, I did get in touch with Ralph and Gerry again, and finally I came into New Orleans and turned down Elysian Fields Ave (Champs D’Elysees, for you Francophones). Here I am on my victory lap:

On Elysian Fields Blvd.

A couple of miles down the road is the French Quarter, and my final destination, the Cafe du Monde.

Victory at the Cafe du Monde

Gerry and I ate beignets and had cafe au lait while waiting for Ralph to park the truck. When he got back, we walked up onto the levee by the Mississippi, where the real awards ceremony began. Not only had they made the shirts, they gave me two Tour de France hats, including a Credit Lyonnaise cap that you can only get by going to the parade before the finish of the Tour. Then there was the stuffed lion, and kisses from a podium girl*.

With a podium girl

Finally, we celebrated with champagne.

Champagne on the levee

All in all, a great morning, and a great ending to a great trip. In case anyone hasn’t already had way too much of this expedition, there will be more posts to come — we did a bit of touring the Katrina devastation in the New Orleans area, and I also now have photos from the entire trip, which I’ll start posting in a few days as a day-by-day recap, with a few new anecdotes to go along.

Final stats: 738 miles, 9 days, one sore ass.

Thanks to everybody who helped out, including lots of good people along the way, and especially Derek and Patrick at Cape Bicycle, Ralph and Gerry for putting me up and making a big fuss, and particularly my lovely and understanding wife Robin for enduring my absence** for all this time.

*Yes, it was like kissing my sister.

**Okay, maybe not such a big sacrifice, but she’s had to find her own meals.

MO2NO Day 8: Columbia, MS to Pearl River, LA

Friday, July 20th, 2007

I finally managed to leave late enough to take advantage of the free hotel breakfast, so I ate a bagel, two little danishes, and a biscuit with syrup on it. Lots of carbs. Then, it was off to the road again.

Having ridden an extra 30 miles yesterday, I had a shorter day today; only 75 miles, and that almost entirely flat. It was easy riding, but it did turn out to be somewhat stressful because of traffic. The road from Columbia south didn’t really have a shoulder to speak of, and it was heavily traveled by trucks loaded with either pine logs or pine chips for making paper. It’s true, when one passes you get a flood of Christmas memories, as that’s another situation marked by the smell of mass pine-tree-icide. On the other hand, these guys are in a serious hurry to get somewhere, and I learned fast to get out of the way if it was going to be at all difficult for them to pass me.

By about 8:30 I had reached the Louisiana line — my first state boundary since Day 3. While behind me there was a bit “Mississippi welcomes you” sign, Louisiana didn’t splurge for any of that stuff — just a marker for Washington Parish*.

The road, although it had a new number, was still pretty much the same. Actually, a bit better in a paradoxical way. Mississippi highway 35 was recently paved, with a wide paved shoulder that was completely unusable for me because a) as usual, it was strewn with gravel, broken glass, old auto parts, and dead armadillos and b) it was separated from the right-of-way by a spoke-breaking rumble strip. Louisiana highway 21, on the other hand, hadn’t been repaved in a good while, and the paved shoulder was full of cracks with weeds growing in them, but it was obviously done before the rumble-strip edict came down, so I was actually able to swerve onto it to dodge log trucks.

Eventually I came to the charmingly named Bogalusa, and my map showed another road parallel to 21 just to the west. So I rode through the middle of town in search of that road and something to eat. I was looking despairingly at the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut when suddenly I went through a cloud of donut scent. I looked back and saw the Donut Palace. There were loads of pickup trucks, always a good sign. I ordered a ham-egg-cheese croissant and a donut from the guy behind the counter and found a table. At the table next to me were three middle-aged to old men, talking loudly, and after a while I went over and asked if they could give me directions.

They were happy to; of course, they didn’t recognize “Highway 1075,” but after some discussion they came up with directions to “Avenue F,” which from the description was clearly the one I was looking for. Then we talked a while about my trip, and road conditions, and the log trucks. One of the guys was a retired executive from Great Southern Lumber company, and they explained how the log truck guys are paid by the load. I’d guessed that from watching them drive. Bogalusa once had a huge lumber industry, but they cleared out all the good lumber trees by the 1930s. After that, they went into paper, which can be made from smaller trees, and the company does a 20-year rotation of tree planting and harvesting so that they never run out. Some lumber harvest has come back too, after some decades of more careful forestry.

An odd thing — after 1 1/2 days in west Tennessee and 4 1/2 days in Mississippi, I hadn’t seen a single home flying the Confederate flag. In one partial day in Louisiana I saw two. Of course, the Confederate flag is part of the Mississippi state flag, so maybe they don’t feel like it’s necessary.

Anyway, 1075 was a nice respite from the log trucks, and when I got back to 21, it was at the St. Tammany parish line — the parish where my sister Gerry lives. I made it into Pearl River without incident. After a shower, a beer, and a light lunch, I’m feeling vaguely human. Only one more day to go, and that’s a short one — the victory lap into New Orleans and Elysian Fields Boulevard.

*Due to its French Catholic heritage, Louisiana calls its political subdivisions Parishes instead of Counties. One of many ways that Louisiana, unlike most of the US, preserves some regional identity. Hot sauce is another.

Pain

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

I promised a discourse on pain, and now seems like a good time to deliver it. The thing about riding a bike 600+ miles in a week is that there is going to be some pain. What I’m doing is finding ways to vary the sort of pain.

1) Muscle pain. This actually hasn’t been much of a problem; I just keep revising my speed goals downward. If I use a gear that allows me to keep a pedaling cadence around 80 or more, my legs, etc. feel fine. If I get tired, I slow down.

2) Hand pain. In my standard position on the bike, my hands are carrying a fair amount of my weight, especially when my hydration backpack has the full 3 liters of water in it. I can vary hand positions on the bars, but to really give them a rest, I have to use the aero bar and rest the weight on my forearms instead. This fully tucked position, though, tends to lead to

3) Lower back cramping. This can be alleviated by sitting up, but that causes hand pain (see above). It actually can be best alleviated by sitting up completely straight and riding no hands. This is only a good idea on really smooth, straight roads with no traffic or wind. Also, when you sit up like that, it puts all your weight on your butt, leading to

4) Butt pain. In part there’s not much to do about this except lean forward and take weight on your hands. That is, for the deep tissue pain. I’ve also had some trouble on this trip with skin abrasion on my butt, i.e. saddle sores. I finally did come up with a solution for these, which is to put moleskins on my butt. The only serious drawback to that is that later you have to pull them off, which leads to

5) Brazilian Butt Wax pain. It’s brief if you pull them off fast.

Lastly, the main thing that actually helps all of these for me is taking breaks. Early in the day I can ride for a few hours straight without one, but by midday, I need to stop every 30 minutes, get off, walk around a bit, stretch, etc.

Of course, not pulling a 50+ pound trailer would ameliorate all of these sorts of pain. As I find when I leave it in the hotel room and ride to the library to post.

Day 7: Ridgeland, MS to Columbia, MS

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

“Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me … you can’t get fooled again,” as a certain smooth-tongued orator once put it.

But in fact, you can get fooled again, it turns out. Today was supposed to be a sort of moderate day, about 75 miles from Ridgeland to Monticello, MS. There I planned to camp at the Atwood Water Park. A quick quiz: when you hear “water park,” what comes to mind? Cabell suggested “a water slide,” but she wasn’t thinking minimalist enough. I’d say at a minimum, a pool. Atwood Water Park consists of some acres of sandy pine woods that have apparently just been bulldozed to clear out most of the trees, so they could put in some RV hookups, a baseball field, and a boat ramp for access to the Pearl River. Not exactly what I was looking forward to as I pulled into Monticello under a pounding noon sun.

So, I called the aforementioned Cabell* and had her look up hotels in the next town, Columbia, and made a reservation. This tacked about 30 miles onto the day, so I rode something over 100 in all. When I came into Columbia about 3:30, a bank sign said it was 97 degrees. I think they often put the thermometer on the asphalt in the parking lot for those things, but it was indeed hot.

The day wasn’t all bad by any means, though. I decided last night to revise my route, get up really early, and ride straight through downtown Jackson on the way south. This saved some miles, and was actually not bad at all. I got to see the state capitol, and since I started at 5:15 AM, the traffic was nonexistent. BTW, there will be a photo of a cannon.

Furthermore, in Monticello after I’d decided to continue on, I stopped at a convenience store for some Gatorade, and asked the girl at the cash register how to get to MS 587, the road I planned to take. She asked a guy who was buying cigarettes, and a big discussion ensued about the best way to ride a bike to Columbia. The upshot was that I should take River Road, which wasn’t even on my map, but the girl said she lived on it and that it was a) shorter and b) safer on a bike. With some misgivings, I did it.

She failed to mention c), which would have sold me on this road all by itself: there were so many trees on both sides of the road that for most of 20 miles I was riding in the shade. It kept crossing a good-sized creek with a gravel bottom and sand bars lining it, and at one point I was able to walk down and wade in the stream for a while. Idyllic.

Anyway, now I’m clean and ready to find a place to eat. You know, for all the camping I’ve done on this trip, I could have saved a hell of a lot of weight by ditching my tent, sleeping bag, backpacking stove, and mess kit, and just carrying a credit card. I’m thinking in future I’m going to travel lighter unless there are camping destinations that are guaranteed to be worthwhile.

* One of the stupidest questions I’ve ever found myself asking: “Cabell, can you get to a computer?”
to be a sort of moderate day, about 75 miles from Ridgeland to Monticell

MO2NO Day 6: Kosciusko, MS to Ridgeland, MS

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Since I’d already reserved a hotel room in Ridgeland, I didn’t change my plans, even though I’d ridden 30 miles of what should have been today’s ride yesterday.  I just let this be the short day.  So, I set the alarm clock for 6 AM, since I figured I had time to sleep in a bit, and dawdled around a little getting ready.  Finally I had the trailer all packed, so I took it out on the sidewalk in front of my room, and then brought out the bike, and then… discovered that my back tire was flat.

Not a problem.  I brought two spare tubes.  I took off the wheel, took out the punctured tube, felt around on the inside of the tire until I found a sharp piece of flint that had come through.  I got that out, installed the replacement tube, which has been riding around in my underseat bag for ages, and started inflating it.  Hmmm.  Can’t get the CO2 pump to work.  Tried a new cylinder — I brought spares.  Still won’t work.  Damn.  Okay, I have a hand pump also, so I pumped up the tire.  Pssssssssssssssssssst….

Yeah, the spare tube had a leak.  I took it out and put in the OTHER spare tube.  Then I pumped it up with the hand pump, put the wheel back on, went in and washed grease off myself, repacked the trailer (that’s where the second spare tube was), and got on the road.  8:04 AM.

The trip down the Trace was uneventful; I’ve ridden most of this section before, in the Natchez Trace Century.  At one stop I was looking at some of the Old Trace when a group of motorcyclists pulled up.  They were very interested in my bike and trailer, and wanted to know about the clipless pedals, and so on.  We had a nice chat; they were also going to New Orleans, but I think they’re likely to beat me.

I got to Ridgeland (a suburb of Jackson) about 1 PM, and pulled up to the Comfort Suites.  I stayed there last March for the Natchez Trace Century, and I’d made a reservation for a 1st floor room a month ago.  Naturally, this gets you nothing.  They were full, and the manager asked me if I could possibly go to the Comfort _Inn_ just down the road, owned by the same company.  Being a good sport, I agreed.  Okay, I was grumpy, but I agreed.  He assured me that it was 1/4 mile down the frontage road.

This man should ride my bike pulling a trailer that “1/4 mile”.  It was at least a mile — btw, my bike computer has quit; I think there’s a bad connection in the wiring harness — and I was seriously grumpy by the time I got there.  They didn’t have a first floor room; the woman at the counter helpfully got me a second floor room, although once you’ve got the bike on the elevator, it doesn’t make much difference.  Anyway, I got in.

Afterward I left the trailer and rode the bike to the local bike shop, Indian Cycles, which I’ve visited before.  I bought another tube, and a new pair of gloves with lots of padding in the palms.*  Then I went to a Seafood Restaurant that turned out to have Chinese owners, where I got 2 Pan Trout and shrimp fried rice to go.  And now, I’m going back up to my room, where the beer I bought at a convenience store has been chilling, and I’m going to eat my Chinese seafood.

*I’m going to write a little essay about the varieties of pain one experience on a long bike trip, but not just now.

MO2NO Day 5: Davis Lake to Kosciusko, MS

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

This was my first full day on the Natchez Trace. The Trace was a foot and horse path used in the early 19th century by traders, trappers, and settlers moving SW from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS on the river. Parts of the old sunken road are still preserved, and the National Park Service maintains a two-lane highway along the entire route. It’s closed to commercial traffic, and there are historical markers, nature trails, and picnic spots every 5 miles or so the entire way.

This was supposed to be the second shortest day of the trip, as it’s only a little over 50 miles from Davis Lake to Jeff Busby campground. The latter is maintained by the National Park Service, and I was envisioning sybaritic delights. Pool? Sauna? Nightclub? What I wasn’t envisioning was that they wouldn’t even have showers. The prospect of sitting in my sweltering tent, covered with old sweat, while the rapidly approaching thunderstorms pounded the place just didn’t appeal to me. So, I decided to ride the 30 miles to the next town.

Kosciusko, MS is named for a Revolutionary War general from Poland, and is the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey. It’s also the home of a Days Inn that looked damn good after I’d come the last 3 miles in a heavy rain. Once I was showered, dry, and rested a bit, I wanted food. On the way in I’d seen a Mexican restaurant, and as the rain had let up, I walked over.

At last, a dining experience with no linguistic difficulties. The waiters and I understood each other completely. We were all speaking Spanish the entire time, and I didn’t detect a trace of Mississippi accent. I wound up eating an enormous platter of fajitas, and to my pleased surprise (on the web this county had been listed as dry), cerveza! Afterward I was so stuffed that I could only lie in bed and watch TV and digest.

Oh, and I called Hannah and sang “Happy Birthday” to her answering machine.

MO2NO: Day 4 (continued)

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

I left the New Albany library and rode to the Faulkner Museum. It’s closed on Mondays. I did get a pic of the house where he was born, although I’m not sure it’s the original. I then rode down to Pontotoc on a very busy highway. Pontotoc is where the Chickasaw and Choctaw signed the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and gave up all their land. Then they went to Oklahoma.

From Pontotoc, I headed south on a very hilly and picturesque road toward the Natchez Trace. I was looking for someplace to replenish the stock of Gatorade, and climbing a steep hill, I saw what looked to be a gas station/convenience store. The sign said “Hilltop Grocery.” Inside, a thirtyish guy was behind the counter, while a preteen girl lounged in an easy chair watching TV. Sure enough, lots of Gatorade. And there at the counter, wrapped in plastic wrap, a stack of home-made fried peach pies. I couldn’t resist. The guy at the counter told me that his mother makes them. We talked a bit about my trip, and then I went out and started putting the Gatorade into bottles in the bottle cages. The girl came out and asked if I wanted some ice, and I went back in and they gave me ice for all the bottles. Very nice.

Fifteen miles down the road, a sign in a yard said “Tomatoes”, and I stopped and walked up into the yard. The old man was sitting on a wheelchair/scooter, and I picked out a couple of tomatoes. We talked a bit about his knee operation that went bad, and how he gardens with the scooter, and then he wouldn’t let me pay for the tomatoes. Another encounter with the good people of Mississippi.

Finally I got to the Trace, and my stopping point for the night, Davis Lake. I’d reserved a campsite, and it was gorgeous. Right on the water, beautiful view. When I was setting up the tent, an older guy in a cowboy hat came by, said “Hi, neighbor.” We talked a while, and he invited me to dinner with his group — which turned out to be home-made barbecue, and I cut up my tomatoes and made an olive oil/balsamic vineagar dressing for them.

The guy’s name is Elbert, and he’s a retired trucker. We talked a good while. He does mission work in Kenya, and has made four trips so far. He was swatting flies, sitting there by the lake, and he said, “You know, in Kenya they won’t swat the flies. The more flies you have, the more cows you must have, and the more cows you have, the richer you are.”

Later I played bingo with several of his group — they’d brought a little plastic bingo set, and a bagful of prizes from the dollar store. I won a plastic squirrel. Eventually it got dark and I went to bed and read some Faulkner.

MO2NO: Day 3 1/2 -ish

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Sorry about lack of post yesterday; it was Sunday, and the library in Holly Springs was closed.

Yesterday I left Brownsville and headed south on TN 76, which goes straight south a long way, eventually reaching Moscow, TN., where I headed west a bit before taking Slayden Road south. At Wolf Creek, just west of Moscow, there was a historical marker, so of course I stopped. “Battle of Moscow”. The Union was holding a railroad bridge across the creek, and Confederates attacked. Although there were a lot of Union casualties, the Confederates were repulsed, and later the Union troops moved into Moscow, where they burned all but two houses. Then at the bottom, the sign says “continued”. So I pushed the bike up a bit, and there on the back: “African-American Troops at the Battle of Moscow.” Apparently a lot of the Union troops that won that battle were black, and they were later commended for their bravery under fire. I just thought it was an interesting segregated historical marker.

There wasn’t a sign to tell me I’d entered Mississippi — the pavement on Slayden Rd. changed color from brown gravel to gray, and got a bit poorer. I wasn’t sure, and a quarter mile up the road I saw a kid picking up trash while another guy mowed the shoulder, and as I went by I said “Is this Mississippi?”

“Yes, sir!”

Ah, politeness.

The road to Holly Springs was pretty hilly, and I’m getting slower as I go along. Nevertheless, I got there about 1 PM, and rode around the central historic district. Everything was closed for Sunday. For that matter, the Marshall County Historical Museum, advertised on signs on every approach to town, appeared to be permanently closed, its lawn in need of mowing, and the building up for sale. I did get some pics of antebellum homes, though, and I saw Ross College, which I believe was the first black college founded in the south, in 1866.

I then went to WalMart, McD’s, and a convenience store. I thought I was never going to communicate what I wanted to the girl at the McDonald’s. I think she found me just as hard to understand as I did her. “I’d like a grilled chicken sandwich with no mayo, to go.”

“Silicks?”

“Pardon?”

“You wone silicks?”

*pained grimace, intended to convey “I hate to be so thick, but I still can’t tell what you’re saying…”*

She sighed. “Whatchoo wone?”

Reading carefully from the menu to get the wording just the same: “a Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich, no mayo, to go?” This finally registered. Apparently she had been under the impression that I was ordering “Chicken Selects,” which are like chicken nuggets only made of chicken.

At the convenience store, another surprise: even in a wet county in MS you can get 24oz singles at a convenience store. So, I got a bottle of Corona and headed out to the country. Chewalla Lake, or as I like to think of it, Amanitaville. I never saw so many mushrooms, including scads of beautiful, bright red, deadly Amanitas, in my life. The lake itself was nice, with a small swimming area full of screaming kids. The “primitive” campground was completely empty and private, and I had my own private highly mildewed bathroom and shower.

Here in northwest Mississippi, it’s mixed oak and pine woods on red clay, and it reminds me a lot of home. South Florida, that is. Although you’d never know it now, where I grew up was once mostly sandy pine woods, and the smell of pines on a hot day takes me back to my boy scout days.

Anyway, I need to go look for the Faulkner museum now — I’m in New Albany, his birthplace. Can’t miss that. I’m reading The Hamlet on the trip, by the way. I still have another 50 miles to go today, so I should get on it — looks like rain.

MO2NO: Day 2

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

After posting yesterday in Tiptonville, I managed to find a Subway, where I got a footlong Subway Club, and then I stopped at a convenience store. I’ve learned to expect the worst when trying to buy beer in different states*, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that a) convenience stores in TN have beer and b) they have 24-ounce singles**. Better yet, they had 24-ounce bottles of Heineken. So I got one and proceeded on to the campground. There I was directed to the “primitive camping area”, i.e. where they put you if you don’t have an RV, way out on a little gravel track somewhere. Cheap, though. So I wolfed down my sandwich and wandered around the campground a while, chatting with the other campers. I was in bed by sunset.

This morning I headed south, and about 7:30 I passed bar that was plastered with signs about how they’ll call the cops on you if you start a fight, and you can’t drink outside because the sherriff is on their case, and so on… photos to follow. I think this is not the bar to go to while wearing Spandex shorts.

I stopped in Dyersburg for breakfast at a place called “Todd’s Cafe”. I asked a guy on the street where to find breakfast, and he directed me there. “They call it ‘Todd’s Cafe’, but it’s Foster’s Cafe,” he assured me. Anyway, I had eggs and grits and toast, and when I came out, there were two older black guys on the sidewalk. One guy asked me if I made the trailer, and I told him I’d bought it. Then we discussed my day’s mileage, where I’d come from and was going, etc. Then I showed them my map and asked them about roads to Brownsville. This led to a long, rambling discussion of different road names and possibilities. “Well, 210 turns into 412!” “210?” “210 is old 20!” “Well, you have to take 412, anyway! That’ll take you straight into Jackson!” (I’m not going through Jackson).

Finally I pointed out that I was planning to stop in Nutbush, which seemed to clear things up a lot. After that, the one guy said “Yeah, you’ve got it mapped out right, there!” He repeated this about twelve times, and also gave me directions on what to do after I got to Hills and Gates about six times, but it was all very friendly and actually turned out to be somewhat helpful when I got there.

I did get to Nutbush, birthplace of Tina Turner. It was a bit of a disappointment; I was hoping at least for some stupid postcards, but no luck. There’s a place with a big sign that says “Welcome to Nutbush: Birthplace of Tina Turner,” and it’s closed and out of business. That’s it.

Now I’m in the Brownsville Public Library, and I’m about to go get some food and head for my hotel. This is one of two hotel nights on the trip, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m sore from yesterday’s marathon.

* In Pennsylvania, for instance, it seems that every town has one enormous warehouse-style liquor store with a concrete floor and pallets of warm beer stacked to the ceiling, and the least you can buy at a time is a case.

** Which, by the way, fit nicely in a bicycle bottle cage.