The Gulf Spectrum

    As I fell asleep in the quaint little Bay Minette motel on Friday night, after a nice long shower and some light reading, I couldn’t help but feel optimistic about the coming day and how it would bring my path down along the coast and into a brand new state, Mississippi.  However, when I awoke the next morning, began folding my clothes which I had washed in the tub the night before and hung out to dry, and headed out, I was greeted by a vicious wind blowing directly against my intended course.  I plugged onward, heading Southwest towards Mobile, but only to meet true frustration as the gale force winds beat me backwards.  My progress slowed almost to half that of what it had been before and it was compounded by some remaining hilly terrain between I and the coastal flatlands.

    At some point while I struggled against the onslaught, I manage to overexert my right knee and began to feel relentless discomfort (bordering on pain).  Finally, I found myself crossing the long causeways leading across the bay to Mobile and saw the little city rising before me.  Soon I had approached downtown, and thinking that I should continue to follow US-90 (as I knew that it eventually led to New Orleans), I continued on.  Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that the alternate route, US-98, was in fact a shortcut underneath downtown through the Bankhead Tunnel.  As I went farther along my path, a large and quite steep bridge loomed before me.  Thanks to my uncooperative knee, the climb ahead seemed quite daunting, and intended to take the uphill very slowly.  Nevertheless, as I reached the pinnacle of the bridge, I began to feel my knee worsen, almost to the point that I could not go on any farther.

    Finally, I reached the top and then coasted along the descent from the bridge.  I very very slowly meandered along my route hoping that soon I would be passed Mobile and could begin looking for an early campsite.  Well, to my dismay, instead what I discovered was that US-90 suddenly joined onto interstate 165 and led directly back to downtown Mobile where I had just come from!  This was it, I had just about had it.  I decided that to go back and go over the bridge again was out of the question and instead intrepidly charted my course onto the freeway and away I went!  Yes, I felt foolish.  Yes, I was scared.  But thankfully there was a massive shoulder, the highway was almost deserted, and it was only a hop, skip, and a jump back to downtown on this much more direct route.

    I soon reached the exit ramp and quickly turned off to rejoin US-90 heading West.  I pedaled along at a discouragingly slow pace, but thankfully the road here became more of a local route with slower speeds and lovely live oak lined streets.  I continued on as far as I could (which wasn’t far at all, about another couple of miles) and finally spotted a motel where I could stop and let me knee recuperate (since finding a campsite here would undoubtedly be impossible).  Sadly, the establishment didn’t have the finest facilities or a very high level of hygiene, but hey, it was a place to have a shower and get off my torturous bicycle saddle.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening laying in bed, snacking and ardently losing myself in “Atonement” (which I’ve sworn to myself I’ll finish at some point this year…).  The next morning I awoke and hoped that my rest had done magic, but alas, blind optimism doesn’t always work.  Again, it proved to be a slow day, and at one point I actually dismounted and began walking my bike, fearing that I would now have to walk the rest of the way to Tierra del Fuego (and man was that gonna take a long time!).  But after a while I tired of this and at the top of a hill I got back on and decided that I must go on.

    Fortunately, the hills soon began to dissipate and allowed me to indulge myself in some low-impact coasting.  Soon I was in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  My riding went along uneventfully from then on, just painfully slowly, and by the end of the day I was approaching Biloxi.  Before I crossed the bridge over the back bay, I decided to stop and pick of a Muffaletta and a 40 of Corona to ease my troubles once I reached my campsite.  I popped the Corona into my water-bottle holder and within the hour had crossed into the Gulf’s casino capital.  Thankfully, right next to the Grand Casino there just happened to be an empty lot (then again, there’s a lot of empty lots on this part of the coast nowadays) and I pitched my tent among the huge RVs and walked out the the peacefully deserted waterfront to watch the sunset and eat my dinner.

    When I awoke the next day, for the most part I maintained a lethargic and leisurely pace as I pedaled along the gulf coast.  Most of the waterfront from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis was still a huge wreckage zone, but the sunshine, white sandy beaches to my left, and the sound of the lapping ocean waves was a great way to spend the day riding.

    I had intended to make it a short day and split up the rest of the journey to New Orleans, but I ended up overshooting the last bit of civilization and soon found myself in the swamps.  Somehow that didn’t seem like too wonderful of a place to set up my tent (a bit too moist & buggy for me), so I rode onward!  It was a long and drudging ride through the bayous and along the endless stretch of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake St. Catherine, but I did run into some extremely friendly fellow bicycle tourists named Carl, Dick, and LuAnn from Minnesota who were riding from New Orleans and heading to Pensacola, Florida.  After briefly stopping to chat about our travels we soon parted ways and I could almost taste the gumbo in the air (sadly, still 5 hours away).  

    However, by the time I made it to the beautiful crescent city, I was haggard, knees creaking like rusty hinges, and fried to a crisp by the bayou sunshine.  I wearily ambled along the old familiar streets from downtown all the way to the far end of the bend and Uptown.  But when I finally made it to my destination it was all well worth it, as my wonderful hosts Bill & Erin (whom I had met through warmshowers.org) welcomed me into their gorgeous home and soon thereafter had a sumptuous meal prepared for us.  I had soon showered, shaken off my sticky synthetic clothing for some comfy cotton, was fed and found myself happily dozing away in my comfy periwinkle victorian room… while visions of crawdads danced in my head.


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