Pushing to New Orleans
With support from North St. Bags
It was, fittingly, on the last day of our hell tour that we in some way got our acts together. The alarm went off at 4:30am. We started moving at 5am and were packed and saying goodbye to our quiet, Mississippi beach before first light. The cool air welcomed us with open arms. "Cool" air is relative here, as its in the lower 80s. But lower 80s isn't upper 90s, and maybe I was starting to get condition to the Mississippi atmosphere, but it felt down right pleasant. Today was going to be a cakewalk. Just a quick eighty miles from the town of Gulfport into New Orleans, our endpoint for this fun adventure we stupidly decided to do. Eighty felt like nothing, as this was the all-paved, bike-laned, westerly-winded route that would be so flat- just the flattest, smoothest, easiest eighty miles anyone could imagine. The idea that any challenges lie ahead of us seemed, in our carefree minds absurd. Without further foreshadowing, let's get to what happened.
Our early pedaling is not alone. We find ourselves joining the flight patterns of other cyclists, though our stinky, dirty cotton shirts and filthy, loaded down bikes fine counterparts to their lycra and carbon. Everyone is stoked on everyone else. We're just happy to have found ourselves in the flocks. As you can imagine, these are the first other bikers we've seen since coming down here.
We leave the coastline. It's super sad. But from the coast we head into the bayous and swamps of southwestern Mississippi. Surprising not a single person reading this, with our entrance into the bayous we are reunited with intense humidity. I debate making the joke about our warm welcome into the swamps, but neither of us packed a drum set to perform a rimshot accompany. Just one of the sacrifices of bike touring, you know?
Help A Fellow Traveler
These roads ain't too kind to those of us who happen to go less than fifty miles an hour, so when you see a buddy in need do what you can. After all, you wouldn't want to get stuck in the middle of a road, desperately crawling to try and make it out the other side.
The point where we too
to make it out the other side
That stupid turtle had it easy. Just a few short miles down the nicely paved road topped with a layer of steam, we hit the worst of it. Thick, wet, unforgiving clay. It loads up on our tires until a layer grows so thick it touches our frames and brakes. Suddenly we have a major problem.
This adventure supported by
North St Bags
Ridiculous. In a quarter mile bike weights have doubled. Our trendy, treadless, gravel-couture tires simultaneously have zero grip and spin in the wet clay, yet pick it up by the pound and fling it onto our bikes, our bags, and us. Riding turns to walking, until finally our front wheels just won't spin. Marsh surrounds the roads, offering no sticks to try and push the mud out and free up the tires. I turn my bike around and push it backwards with a little more success. We can hear car tires on the (paved) road a mile ahead of us. See, here's the thing about swamps: it's not like there's an intricate series of gridded roads for us to just hop over to if the one we're on is slightly challenging. So we push. We carry. In desperation I reach my hand in and pull out handfuls of mud. New Orleans is fifty miles away.
Skipping past the cusses....
Nice. It is agreed that if we find another dirt road, we're turning the hell around.
We're on the side of the road for a good long while. I found a chunk of electric cable. Piles of softball-sized globs of mud slowly surround our bikes as we poke, prod, and bang on different parts to clear things out. They are a disaster. We're desperate to do whatever we can to get the wheels to spin freely. I pour chain lube on both our drivetrains to try and alleviate the sand coating everything. It makes a thick lube/sand slurry, the benefit of which over a dry, sandy set up is arguable. But whatever. Wheels spin, kinda. Gears shift, kinda. Who cares about brakes anyway? We get back on road. My hands are covered in mud, and I keep catching myself too late in the process of using them to wipe sweat off my face. I am at peak charming. Who thought it would be a good idea to go do this?
So I'm riding my bike, right? Feeling the effects of waves of crap flowing over me. There's this wild mix of exhaustion, dehydration, and anxiety that, were I not in the zen motion of pedaling a bicycle, would make me go catatonic. But the bayous though. You know how being around a calm person makes you calm? The steadiness of the bayou is a lot like that. Knowing that everything is ever slowly doing what its supposed to be doing.
We spy a gas station in between one bayou and another, but for us there's no difference between this gas station and a holy temple. Air conditioning, electrolytes, chips, and sugar: all to which I pray. The cashier wants absolutely nothing to do with us. I don't blame him. Outside, sitting on the curb, I clean up with my bandana as best I can- it gritty with sand as well. The air is so stifling breathing feels hard. That's when we see two guys roll up on tiny motorcycles.
The guys chat us up on their way back out of the building. We tell them where we're headed, they agree that its not far. They ask us if we had been muddin'. We tell them yes, on accident. We ask if their bikes are easy to stunt on. They enthusiastically confirm. I beg them to let me ride one of their bikes. They gracefully decline. As a consolation, they agree to pop some more wheelies for the camera. While I'm sure they were happy to indulge, it wasn't exactly a 12 O'Clock Boys session.
I kick up a few miserable wheelies of my own for them, the front end bag weight not helping the matter. All parties walk away content with the exchange of stunts.
Wheelies: The Great Uniter
Okay, so if it seems like we're just dilly dallying now- you're right, we totally are. No shame, because we're like half way there and it's not even noon yet. In the avoidance of the hustle, we cruise. We blast music out our phones. We cross into Louisiana and leave two fingers in the air for Mississippi.
Only highways bring you into New Orleans. So while riding on 90 across the Rigolets we see a true piece of Louisiana history. Fort Pike, or as you may better recognize it as the ruins Beyonce walked amongst in the beginning of her Lemonade video. If somehow you can't immediately bring that scene to mind, I can't help you. Nothing else important happened here.
I wish I could have stayed and paid homage to the Queen Bee longer, but a sudden urgency had developed here in the last thirty or so miles from New Orleans. The wind had picked up, the sky grew dark. Out on the water, flashes of lighting draw our attention.
We pull into a marina that sells shrimp. Simultaneously, the clouds open up and a deluge of water blows in. We just barely make it under a corrugated tin roof. Around the marina, men run back and forth to try and get out of the downpour.
A guy who I think runs the shrimp shack walks in and sees our bikes leaning against the dock and us sitting inside. I ask if he's alright with us waiting out the storm in here. He's fine with it, and says "these normally blow through in twenty minutes." Yet, two hours later we're still sitting inside, watching the rain pound the earth around us. The proprietor is probably tired of us laying around his shop, but he's not exactly walking through the heavy rain to come kick us out. Not trying to wear out our welcome, we take the first sign of rain letting up as our cue to leave.
This is our road for the next twenty miles. I don't want to complain about our road being a tiny bit flooded in New Orleans because, uh, obviously it could be worse. I will say that it was a challenge, as much of this trip has been, because with the heavy water and high-speed highway traffic we were in a tight spot.
The sun comes out, we see a car break down, and the NOLA Skyline makes an appearance. It's a moment of jubilation. Cars honk then swerve around us, standing on their gas pedals, on this gigantic bridge. But who cares? We made it.
In the evening, we catch up with our friend Elyse who is letting us sleep on her floor, play with her dog, and shower oh my god shower. She shows us around the city, but coming back into a city is always a little jarring. Oh I can't be a sweaty, filthy, incoherent mess and walk into any establishment? Weird, but alright I guess?
We came from hell. But it's summer in NOLA and everyone's hyped. The heat of the day radiates off the pavement and off the bodies of everyone around us, but its oppression is gone. The weight of the experience is over, and although at 9pm I can barely keep my open. I catch myself thinking one thing while deep in a hella spicey tofu po'boy...
How am I going to even write about what we just went through?
Thank You For Reading
Sharing these stories is a lot of fun. You can keep 'em coming by picking up a couple trinkets from the store.
They're just little things, but they really do help keep everything around here going.