Harry on his Bike

Days 43-46

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Day 43.   Monday, October 16
     The dew was heavy the next morning, and I packed a tent that was
as wet as if it had rained. I'd try to remember to pull it out for drying
a rest stop during the day. (I didn't.)
     During the 17 mile ride to Opelousas I looked for a place to buy
breakfast, but with my usual luck. On entering the city I saw a garage
with a couple of mechanics drinking their coffee, so I stopped and asked
where was a good place for breakfast. They agreed that it would be best
if I stayed on the highway through town and ate at a truck stop I'd come
to. How far? Six miles. That translates into only about a half hour, so
off I went. I exited the town after biking nine miles without seeing any
truck stop, and the next town that the highway went through was another
28 miles. I'd never make it that far without some food, so I stopped and
ate an apple and a granola bar. No sooner did I round the next turn than
there was a big truck stop, so I had a second breakfast.
     The highway had a wide shoulder, but was littered with short pieces
of sugar cane, dropped by the many overloaded trucks that were constantly
passing me. Along the road were fields of cane, at various stages of growth
and harvest.
     One of the obstacles a cyclist must constantly be alert to is roadkill.
Sometimes I wish I had a copy of a book that was reviewed in Bicycling
Magazine a few years ago, entitled Our Flattened Fauna, a Guide to
American Roadkill. With this book I could have identified some of the
messy remains I've met on this trip. I've probably seen at least 30 species,
some of them rather large. I've become adept at spotting a large roadkill
ahead and holding my breath as I pass it, taking into account the wind
direction. Evidently the highway people do not remove the roadkill, since
some deer (from my careful analysis of their state of decay) had been
there for at least three weeks. In some states if a car hits a deer the
driver may claim the deer, as partial compensation for the inevitable
damage to the vehicle. (Jan Leno had a line on this: instead of fast-food
it should be called not-fast-enough food.)
     A very common roadkill since west Texas has been armadillo. 
They are not always killed by being run over, but by their habit of jumping
straight up when startled. At night they wander onto the highway, a
truck will pass over them, they are surprised, they jump, and are done in
when the undercarriage of the truck hits them.
     The range of the armadillo has been increasing northward in the last
50 years, and I speak from personal observation. I grew up in northern
Oklahoma (Bartlesville), and there were no armadillos within at least
200 miles. But on my cross-country ride in 1994 I saw armadillo roadkill
near Bartlesville, and as far as 40 more miles north.
    My goal for the day was Baton Rouge, for a reasonable daily distance
of 75 miles. I hoped to get a motel room close to the Casino Rouge which,
according to my internet poker-information site, had a card room. Around
3:30 I crossed the Mississippi River  and entered the capital of
Louisiana. I'd bought a city map, and the casino I was looking for (a
riverboat) was on my highway, 190. When I reached it I could see that
there were no motels anywhere near, but I figured I could at least pick
up a chip for my collection.
     I pedaled in, searched near the main entrance for a spot where I
could lock my bike, and found none. So I went to a side entrance, and
locked the bike to a metal railing. I entered the building and headed for
the riverboat. I hadn't gone 30 feet before a security guard holding a
phone asked me if that was my bike outside. I said yes, and he said
I couldn't leave it there because it was blocking the emergency exit.
Well, if the panicked customers fleeing the building ran out the door
and then made a 90-degree turn to the railing so they could jump over
into the Mississippi I guess it was blocking them. So I went back to
the bike (I'd been gone not over one minute) and there were three more
guards figuring out how they could remove this menace. "No motorcycles
on casino property" said one guard. "This isn't a motorcycle. It's a
bicycle", I said. "No motorcycles, no bicycles" was his reply. "Then
why do you have a sign pointing to motorcycle parking?" (That parking
was too isolated for my comfort.) "No motorcycles, no bicycles" was the
response. I decided I didn't need that chip for my collection and biked
     I followed Highway 190 for miles through Baton Rouge, expecting to
find a motel. Finally I spotted one, but it was pretty sleazy looking, even
by my rather loose standards. I'd decided to pass it up when I noticed
a cop car in their parking lot, the police having been called to some
altercation. They seemed to be wrapping up their business, so I waited
until they were about to leave and then asked them if there were any more
motels down the street. One of the officers replied "I take it that you
would prefer to stay at some place where you are likely to wake up in
the morning?" I said that would be nice, and he said "Then you don't
want to stay at this place." They said I'd probably have to go all the way
to Denham Springs (another 12 miles) to find the next motel.
     And they were right. But I finally came to one, and got an adequate
room. No sooner had I wheeled in the bike than a tire went flat and it
started to rain. Perfect timing, and, since I'd picked up some orange
juice on the way, my miseries were minor.
     I had been so busy looking for a motel that I didn't pay any attention
to eating places. As I was checking in I asked the man where I might
eat and he said "Oh there are many many places close by." So after
cleaning up I started walking. The rain had quit but waited until I was a
couple of blocks from the motel before starting again. I walked and
walked and got wetter and wetter, and after several blocks finally came
to a Mexican restaurant, run by a friendly Chilean named Maria. There
I had four huge glasses of iced tea (Maria finally gave up and just brought
me the pitcher) and the delicious "Maria's chimichanga". A good meal
to end a good day.

Day 44.   Tuesday, October 17
     I fixed the flat before dawn (another truck-tire wire) and was biking
when the sun came up. The rain had stopped hours before and the road
was dry. After a couple of miles I came to a small cafe and decided to
depart from the usual hashbrowns. Years ago I worked one summer in
Louisiana and learned to like grits. Grits are just a type of cornmeal
(hominy) and are rather tasteless unless doctored up a bit, and I had
found that with butter, salt, and pepper, they were pretty good. The only
problem is that I hadn't seen butter for weeks---all the restaurants I'd been
in would serve some sort of spread. I'd seen at least five different brands,
and I didn't like any of them. So I asked the waitress (a girl of about 19)
if they had butter. "Oh, yes," she said.   I elaborated: "I mean real butter.
You know, that stuff that comes from cows." "Oh, yes," she reassurred
me. So I ordered grits with my eggs, and out came the order with a couple
of small containers of "Real Churn Spread". "You said you had butter", I
whined. "That's butter", was the reply, accompanied by an are-you-blind
rolling of the eyes. Recognizing that to her generation anything that is
yellow and can be spread with a knife is "butter" I didn't complain further,
and since the label said it was made from soybeans and vegetable oil I'm
not sure I'd want to see that cow. No more grits for me.
     I followed rough shoulderless Highway 190 for over 20 miles, frustrated
by the knowledge that I was paralleling Interstate 12 with its wide smooth
shoulders. Finally I decided that I'd bike it until the cops kicked me off,
so I rode the two miles south and got on, noticing that there was no sign
forbidding bikes (which I would have ignored anyway). Finally I could
relax, not being forced to constantly monitor overtaking traffic. I biked
for over 40 miles, pulling off once at an exit where I bought a Burger King
whopper and a "senior tea" (unlimited refills for 25 cents). Around 4 I left
the interstate and went a few miles south to Slidell, looking for a motel.
I saw a sign for the City Motel, but there were no instructions on how to
get to it, so I stopped at a garage to look at their yellow pages. It was on
2nd Street, so I asked the two mechanics how to get there. They hesi-
tated, and then one of them asked what I was looking for. I said the City
Motel. There was more hesitation, which I interpreted as "Why would you
want to go there?", but they explained how to go the ten blocks.
     On arriving, it didn't look as threatening as the one the cops warned me
about in Baton Rouge, and I was pretty tired, so I went in. The clerk was
behind a thick glass barrier. I found that the cost was an acceptable $26
and asked to see the room. That surprised him, but he came out the side
door and showed me to a room off the courtyard behind the office. It had
no phone and no remote, but seemed clean enough. I asked him where
I might eat supper and he gave directions to some places about six blocks
     This motel made clear some of the problems faced by owners of the
cheaper motels. Unless a certain minimum price is charged, the motels
become homes for transient workers and their families. A cycle begins:
the motel cannot collect enough to adequately maintain the facility, the
residents adopt a casual attitude towards reasonable care, the rooms
become grubbier, the residents take even less care, and the motel can't
charge more because people wouldn't pay it.
     Although I never felt threatened, this was definitely not located in the
high-society part of town. Since I was still full from my whopper, and I
had some orange juice, and my panniers still contained some emergency
groceries, I decided to stay in the room rather than go out for supper.
I was mainly worried about the safety of the bike during my absence,
since the lock on the door didn't seem very sturdy, and the parking lot
was populated by shady-looking characters who couldn't help but notice
if I walked away from the motel.
     But there was a door chain, and I didn't feel insecure. I slept well.

Day 45.   Wednesday, October 18
     I wanted to get to Biloxi, Mississippi, for two reasons: 1) Biloxi had
free AOL access, and I was behind on sending pictures to Barry, and
2) I wanted to play poker at the Grand Casino. So at dawn I left the
room and wheeled the bike to the office to retrieve my $5 key deposit.
The clerk was not the same fellow who'd checked me in. This guy had
cuts on his head and face that suggested he'd been in a fight the night
before, and if he won I wouldn't want to see the loser. But he was
pleasant enough, and gave me my five dollars together with clear
directions on how to get to Pearlington, just across the Pearl River
in Mississippi.
     Although the road was narrow, two lanes, and had no shoulder,
traffic was almost non-existant that early in the morning, and I had
a pleasant ride past forests and occasional bayous.  I hoped to
have breakfast in Pearlington, which was about a half-mile off the
highway. On entering the small town I asked some men congregated
in front of a gas station if there was a cafe in town. They pointed across
the street, where there was a big sign that said "Grand Opening July 10".
Good thing I asked, for there was no indication of just what had opened.
     I was the only customer in this large room, and ordered "egg, sausage,
and biscuit", not knowing just what I'd get. What I got was a wonderful
surprise: a huge biscuit sandwich, with a filling of a fried egg and a big
Polish-type sausage. And, some pads of REAL BUTTER. It was so
good I ordered another.
     Another customer entered, obviously a regular since they brought
him breakfast without him saying what he wanted. He had noticed the
bike and began asking questions. His name was Bill Hanneman, and
he was currently building a house adjoining NASA property in the area.
Among the questions he asked was the usual "Why are you doing
this?" and I gave my usual "personal challenge" answer. A bit later
he said "Since you have a mission, you don't have time to do much
sightseeing, but are there any places you've seen that you'd like to go
back to later?" I said that Utah was perhaps the most appealing, and
then I asked if he worked for NASA, since his use of the word "mission"
suggested that. He said no, and said that he was a woodcarver, with
birds and carousel horses being his specialty. He doesn't have a studio,
since word-of-mouth advertising is enough to keep him busy. We had
a good talk---one of the few lengthy conversations I've had on this trip.
     I returned to Highway 90, which after a few miles became four-lane
divided for the rest of the way into Bay St. Louis. The two east-bound
lanes were separated from the west-bound lanes by a wide grassy
median, but there was no shoulder at all---not even a white line. So
my procedure is to ride about 4 feet from the right edge and constantly
monitor traffic approaching from the rear. As soon as I notice a vehicle
signaling or moving to the left then I move to the right, thus increasing
the clearance when I'm passed. This worked fine for all vehicles until I
met the driver from hell.
     I was watching the car in my mirror when she first honked. It wasn't
a "beep-beep-I'm-here" honk, but a "get-out-of-my-lane" blast. The blast
wasn't accompanied by the slightest movement to the left. If I moved to
the right and she maintained her course then she would pass too close
for comfort, so I kept my position, noticing that the left lane was clear
so there was no reason why she couldn't shift lanes. So she honked
again, longer. Her horn never said please, so I kept my position, and
made a sweeping wave with my left arm indicating she should go around
me. By now she was getting closer, and would have to either move left
(the left lane was still clear), or slow down to avoid hitting me, or knock
me into the next county. Since this last option was definitely a possibility
I never took my eye off her and was ready to dive for the ditch. But she
slowed down to my speed and then leaned on her horn for a full 20
     About the time when I was sure her horn was stuck she finally
realized that noise alone was not going to get me to move, and since
she wasn't happy moving at 12 miles an hour, decided to go around me.
But by then other traffic had approached from the rear, noticed an
obstruction ahead, and did just what she should have done in the first
place: they signaled, moved into the left lane, and passed without ever
taking their foot off the gas. But she was trapped, and I could see her
cursing clearly in my mirror. Finally she was able to pass, got in front,
and then slowed down. So I pulled to the left and began to pass her.
She didn't like that either. So she pulled alongside, leaned over and
rolled down the right window, and yelled "I'm going to tell the police
about you!" I said nothing, but my unconcealed laughter didn't improve
her mood. Her last act before driving away was to give me an obscene
gesture, during which she dropped her cigarette.
     There were no more traffic incidents during the rest of the ride along
the white-sand beaches of Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, and Biloxi. I began
to see evidence of the gambling industry of southern Mississippi. 
The only casinos with a poker room are (I believe) the Grand Casinos at
Gulfport and Biloxi. There were some reasonably-priced motels near
the Grand Casino at Gulfport, but I wanted to get farther that day so I
only stopped long enough to get a chip (with no trouble from security
when I locked my bike to a railing). I entered the poker room at noon,
just as a tournament was starting. The manager of the poker room
asked if I wanted to play in the tournament. I really like poker tourna-
ments (you pay some amount to enter, get X number of tournament
chips, play till you lose them, and the last remaining players get prize
money), but I didn't feel that my bike would be that safe for a couple
of hours. So I just bought my chip and ran.
     After another 10 miles I came to the Grand Casino in Biloxi, but
didn't stop to get a chip since I figured I'd be playing there that night.
As luck would have it, there were no motels within a reasonable distance.
I crossed the long bridge over the Bay of Biloxi into the town of Ocean
Springs, and found a nice-looking motel on the east side of town. NO
PETS said the sign, but when I was shown a room there was a cat on
the bed. The lady diplomatically showed me another (petless) room, I
moved in, and began tanking up on my orange juice.
     At the cafe next door I asked what "country fried steak" was, and
the waitress described it (I paraphrase) as a cheap piece of meat
beaten into submission, breaded, fried, and then topped with a white
gravy. "Oh, like chicken fried steak?", I asked. She thought for awhile,
and finally decided that the best answer would be a reluctant "I guess."
When it arrived I couldn't see any difference, but it was good. The best
part of the meal was the collard greens. When I commented on how
good they were, she said I should be sure to come back next week,
since "we always have collard greens on Wednesday". I promised her
that if I was in town I would.

Day 46.   Thursday, October 19.
     Even though Ocean Springs is only a few miles from Biloxi, it is out
of that AOL area. I was getting so far behind on sending reports and
pictures that it was beginning to keep me awake at night, so I decided
to go to Mobile Alabama that day, a distance of only about 50 miles.
Mobile has free AOL access.
     As always, I started early, stopping at a Hardee's for breakfast. It
was before noon when I entered Mobile and followed the narrow tree-lined
streets of Highway 90. I aimed for a tunnel, but on reaching it saw a
sign forbidding bicycles. So I followed the signs for Highway 90, and was
directed a frustrating extra 10 miles to avoid the quarter-mile tunnel. The
route had an upside: crossing a beautiful suspension bridge over Mobile
     By now I was in a motel-less region, and by following the Highway 90
signs I reached Spanish Fork. Although I'd biked 70 miles, I still felt
strong. I stopped at an Arby's for one of their great roast beef sand-
wiches and a fantastic jamoca shake, and as I rested I pondered the
wisdom of pushing on to Pensacola, another 45 miles. Since it was
only 2, and I'd been averaging over 12 mph, I figured why not and took
     I found out why not: hills. For the first time in many days I saw some
hills. Although my highest elevation was about 250 feet, the hills were
steep enough to slow me down, and there were plenty of them. Since
a climb at 5 mph and a descent at 20 mph (same distance) gives an
average speed of only 8 mph (my biking pal Doc's formula: twice the
product divided by the sum) I could no longer maintain my previous speed.
     As the hours passed it became apparent that getting to Pensacola
before dark would be marginal. I stopped only when I had to fill up my
bottles. I figured that Pensacola would be at the 115-mile mark, and at
105 miles I began to see cars with their lights on. It was almost dark
(and ALL the cars had their lights on) when I came to a shopping center
on the outskirts of Pensacola. Down the side street I saw a partially
obscurred sign:
Great! A motel! So I went into the big grocery store and got my orange
juice, returned to the bike and headed down that street. It was now dark
as midnight. To my horror, the sign said
and was a car dealership. I turned around and headed back to the safety
of the mall parking lot. There I met a woman walking towards the grocery
store. "Are there any motels nearby?" I asked. She thought about her
answer: "Well, there are some big ones over near the interstate [8 miles
away, which might as well be in Antarctica], and ...." She hesitated to
suggest what I was hoping for. "Are there any CLOSE motels?" "Yes,
there are several about a mile on down the road, but they ...."
     I knew what she was thinking, but she didn't know my standards, so I
thanked her and headed down the road. I pulled out my small flashlight,
and held it in my left hand pointing backwards when a car was approaching,
shining it forward to illuminate the road at other times. In a few minutes I
came to the first motel but it looked pretty grim, and she did say there
were "several". After another half-mile I passed a second one because
there was a better-looking one on ahead, but when I got to it I saw a
no-vacancy sign on the door (although the parking lot had very few cars).
So I returned to the one I'd just passed, which had a room, but didn't
have a phone. "Are there any other motels down the road?" I asked.
The owner evidently still hoped that I might take the room without a phone
so said he didn't know. I decided to gamble and took off again. Let me
think: She said "several" and I've seen three. Does "three" equal "several"?
I think of several as "more than three"---sure hope she does too. After
another half-mile that seemed like 20 I came to a nice motel at a
reasonable price with a phone. My sigh of relief was so loud and sincere
that if I had breathed it before signing the VISA the owner would have
doubled the price, and gotten it.
     Perhaps mainly out of relief, I felt fine. The 119-mile day didn't wipe
me out, and I felt that I was good for at least another 30 if there had been
light. The Shoney's restaurant across the street fed me a good barbecue
buffet. I then hit the sack; the AOL-work could wait till morning.

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