November 23. Bayou La Batre, Alabama to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.
Thanksgiving Eve started in Bayou La Batre, Alabama 130 miles from New Orleans. I knew if I did a long day of spinning my feet in circles today, I could get to New Orleans early in the afternoon tomorrow. I was tired of waking up and having to ride a long way. In New Orleans, I would get to take three or four days off from Blue Bicycle. I was really looking forward to exploring New Orleans, sleeping in a bed, watching live music, eating good food, and seeing other people my age.
I got on the road early and pedaled west. I was on the Adventure Cycling route at first, but at Grand Bay I hung a left onto highway 90 towards the coast. The Adventure Cycling route continued inland. I’d meet up with it somewhere west of New Orleans. Before leaving Grand Bay’s city limits, I stopped at a fruit stand and bought some satsuma-like fruit. They peeled like satsumas but they were the size of navel oranges. I paid a couple bucks for seven of them.
I would be on highway 90 all the way to New Orleans. It’s the road I had been warned about for it’s small shoulders, congestion, high speed limits and poor scenery. It started out being really pleasant.
That changed when I crossed into Mississippi. At the state line the smooth asphalt ended. On the Mississippi side, the road was cracked and rough. At first there was no shoulder. A few miles later a shoulder appeared, but it had grass was growing through it in long cracks. I couldn’t go for five feet without riding over a crack.
After a few miles of pounding over cracks on the shoulder a frontage road appeared. I rolled off the shoulder and through a grassy ditch just as another bicycle tourist rounded a bend on the frontage road. He was on his way back to Naples, Fla., from New Orleans. “I rode through the french quarter and turned around,” he said. Like all the other cyclists I met, he said to stay on highway 90 the whole way to New Orleans, even though it’s bad.
The 1.5-mile-long Ocean Springs bridge brought me from Ocean Springs to Biloxi, Miss. Did I mention there are a lot of bridges along the coast in the South? The whole region is low and swampy, requiring lengthy bridges to make transportation more efficient. Some of the bridges are daunting on a bike. The south is flat, so the bridges are the biggest hills. Also, they’re really windy and there’s no place to pull over. A few times I found myself thirsty, tired and riding into the wind in the middle of a long bridge and I just had to keep grinding along until I made it to the other side. The longest bridge of the trip was four miles long, which isn’t a long way to ride a bike without stopping. But the fact that I couldn’t stop made it difficult mentally.
Biloxi is on the eastern end of a beautiful 24 mile beach. It felt sunny and warm to me but not to the locals, so the sandy beach was empty.
Highway 90 runs parallel to the water for the length of the beach. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but the people honking and yelling at me detracted from the experience. The quality of the road didn’t match the quality of the beach. The whole 24 mile-long-stretch was a four-lane divided highway with no shoulder. I rode in the lane, but soon got frustrated with being honked at and yelled at. I yelled back and waved my middle finger at someone, but eventually gave up and got on the sidewalk.
The sidewalk didn’t have ramps up to it. When I got to the end of each block I had to ride off a curb, across a street, and then up another curb. This would have been a pain in the ass even without 50 pounds of gear. There was also an occasional drift of sand covering the sidewalk. I could ride over the short and shallow drifts, but the long, deep ones forced me to get off and push my bike.
After giving up on the sidewalk, I rode a few blocks inland to pick my way along residential streets. I’d find a street and ride for half a mile or so, but they always dead-ended, forcing me to back track. This was very slow going.
Between picking my way through residential streets, riding slowly on the sidewalk, and riding as fast as I could on the highway to a soundtrack of angry motorists, I eventually reached the east end of the beach.
That’s where I met Scott. He was shirtless and smoking a cigarette in his yard when I saw him. “Where’s home?” he said. I told him, and we talked for a while. He kept inviting me inside, but I told him I had a long way to go before dark. But when he offered me a sandwich I couldn’t resist.
I ate a turkey sandwich and some chips while he told me about his traveling days. After high school, he left Mississippi with some friends and spent a summer traveling the states and sleeping on floors.
Scott spoke quickly and incoherently. His words were clear but they didn’t makes sense. He told me about a business he’s preparing to start. The purpose is to provide some kind of assistance to bloggers. He was really excited about the domain name he bought, but he didn’t seem to have a clear idea of how the business would work. A cool domain name was enough of a success for him, and he was sure it would be successful (I’m not going to embarrass him by mentioning the domain name, but it’s really bad).
Scott said when his parents got home he could borrow their van and drive me to Buccaneer State Park, the campground I was heading for. I declined because I wanted to ride and I didn’t want to hang around until his parents got home.
Eventually, I made it out of Scott’s house. I pedaled across yet another long bridge and found Buccaneer State Park. The park is named after the french pirate Lafitte, who used the land as a hideout in the late 1700s. Now, it’s mostly inhabited by RV’s.