Friday, January 6, 2012

New Tires, New Temperatures, goodbye New Orleans

Several new VIDEOS this week.

Also a notable stat this week: I've passed 5000 miles on this trip! (see the "stats" column to the right for more info)

I am now staying with my friend Christian Butler, with whom I went to high school, but was better friends with in elementary school back in Lewiston, CA.  He moved to Pensacola, FL less than a year ago with his girlfriend Mikki after they both completed a masters degree in physical therapy at Sacramanto State.  They've put me up in the guest room of their apartment, on the third floor with an ocean view.  It is quite relaxing.  Tomorrow, Christian has the day off, and we will tour the town and go to the beach.


I'm sitting on Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the Gulf of Mexico, waiting for a ferry to get fixed so that I can cross Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. I arrived last night amidst a glorious sunset over the ocean, the first ocean sunset I have seen since leaving California. I stayed at the campground here, which is almost entirely populated by RVs and large trailers, but had a few tent sites tucked away in one corner, only one of which was occupied when I arrived. Feral cats roved in gangs around the campground, steeling scraps of food and licking leftovers. At one point, as I sat watching the end of “The Cove” on my computer while eating dinner, they stole the empty tuna can that was sitting on the other end of the table from me, which I had just emptied into my put of rice and lentils a few minutes earlier. I was afraid they might rummage around all night, so I did a good job of packing up all my food before going to sleep.
I awoke this morning to find a large, fresh bird poop on my tent, still green and wet. Most of it came off with a little wipe of toilet paper. As I was packing up, several people stopped by to inquire about my trip and offer encouragement. One man was adamant about insisting that if there was anything he could do to help me, I shouldn't hesitate to ask. Another man, upon hearing that the ferry wasn't running, offered me a ride in his truck up to Mobile, where I could cross the bay on a bridge, but I declined, hoping that the ferry will be fixed in time for me to complete my ride in the light, despite the delay.
Two days before New Years Eve, on the day that Pete flew home to San Francisco, I had moved from my friend Ted's house in the Bywater neighborhood to my friend Laura's apartment in Uptown. Laura's place is quite small, a one bedroom with a cozy living-room, kitchen and bathroom. It is a nice setup for one person, but became a little more cluttered when I moved my bike and luggage in. I was able to meet several of Laura's law school friends from Tulane University, where she has just finished her first semester. The first night I stayed, we all went to a local dive, Ms. Mays, where the special was $1 well drinks for students with ID. Trying to take it easy in a town like this is not easy with deals like that.

The next day I met Joann, whom I had couch-surfed with in Cape Girardeau, Missouri earlier in the month, on the south/west side of the Mississippi river around noon. Joann had been visiting some family who live south of the city, and had asked if she could stay with me at Laura's place over the new year, so she wouldn't have to drive in and out of that crazy place during such a crazy time. She had suggested that we go for a hike in the Barataria Preserve, which is swamp and bayou inside of Jean Lafitte National Preservation Area. We ate lunch at a great little cafe serving lots of earth-friendly food, and then drove 10 miles south in her Jeep to the preserve. We cruised boardwalks and raised paths through the swamps and marshes, spotting an alligator, two snakes, several vultures and a various assortment of other birds. Water Hyacinth, an invasive, floating plant, had clogged huge portions of the canals that Joann remembered being very clear on her last visit, 2 years ago. We then drove to another part of the park to check out a different swamp, and immediately upon departing the car, we heard lots of rustling through the dead leaves on the ground. Moving slowly to get a better look, we spotted an armadillo rooting around for food. After taking several pictures, we hopped on a path and proceeded into the swampy forest, passing at least half a dozen more armadillos along the way. They made so much noise crunching through the leaves that I think they didn't even notice our approach until we were 6 or 8 feet away sometimes. After several dozen more photos, we called it a day and headed back to the city.

That night, as well as on the night of New Years Eve, Joann and I wandered around the French Quarter, taking in the sights and sounds, dancing and making merry. Joann is a very talented hula-hooper, and brought a hoop with her during these outings, taking every opportunity to dance in the streets when she found a good rhythm or an open space. On New Years Eve, we attempted to find one of Joann's friends who was also supposed to be out hula-hooping, but we failed. We did find Laura, who was posted up near the main square with several of her law school buddies, listening to some live music and enjoying a few beers.

New Orleans, like Las Vegas, allows open containers to be carried in the streets. People walk in and out of bars and restaurants with drinks in hand, and the establishments that they frequent only support the habit. On New years eve, there were several evangelical Christian groups posted up in the middle of Bourbon street with signs about who is going to hell and the only path to salvation. Some of the young people volunteering for these groups looked simply scared out of their minds at the free-for-all that was going on around them. Beads tossed from balconies by strippers and their customers, drinks in every hand, flowing from every window and door, people dancing and laughing and kissing and dressing up in costumes, the ground littered with empty glasses, beads, puddles of alcohol and junk of all kinds. I'm not sure there's another place on earth that knows how to party quite so hard.

My favorite part, aside from the endlessly energetic atmosphere of fun and silliness, was all of the live music streaming from the windows of the clubs up and down the streets. We would walk for a while, hear some music that we liked, jump inside and dance for a bit, then jump back out to the street and continue to the next good music. At one point, Joann partnered up with a street musician who had a huge drum and a cymbal on which he was whacking out a frenzied beat, and she hula-hooped with him for while, drawing a large crowd. We watched the fireworks over the Mississippi at midnight, had a crazy good time, and made it home at a reasonable hour.

Since leaving New Orleans, I have been biking through bayou, forest, beach and beautiful neighborhoods. Joann and I camped together on the first night after we left town. She is on her way back to Missouri, and I am on my way east, so we found a campground just north of Lake Pontchartain to meet at for the evening. On the way in and out of Fontainebleau State Park, I rode along the Tammany Trace Trail; a bike path running 20 miles along the north shore of the lake. The park was peaceful, and we walked out on a pier over the lake to watch the sunset.

Two nights ago, I couch-surfed with Barbara and Bernie, a midde-aged couple in Gulfport, MS. They were extremely hospitable and generous, feeding me until I couldn't eat another bite, and talking about all manner of things. They have been hosting for not that long, but have had quite a number of people come through, and are enjoying their experiences thoroughly.

On the bike, I rode a boardwalk right on the sandy beach of the Gulf for about 15 miles, I crossed several bridges more than a mile in length (over bays and deltas), and I weaved through beautiful neighborhoods, straddling curved, swampy inlets filled with fishing boats and docks. Many of the houses here are on stilts made from treated wood posts (just like telephone poles), to prevent flooding during hurricane season. I am glad I am avoiding that season, and also glad to be able to enjoy the beauty of these places in the sunshine and calm weather.


Quick update: The ferry never got fixed, so I waited around until about 1 pm, and the nice skipper of the ferry talked some local fisherman into giving me a ride across the 4 mile channel.  Otherwise, it would have added 50 miles to my trip, and I wouldn't have had nearly as nice a ride!  I gave the guys $20 and rode through the sand and stilted houses right on the gulf coast, just as planned. 

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