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May 19th, 2012

The Tape Finally Ran Out In Louisiana

Back in 2007 Tony and I flew to Pennsylvania and did a long bike trip through New England.  It was the first trip we'd done where we were in totally unfamiliar territory, and we used our Harley-Davidson Road Atlas to plot a trip.  But how would we figure out just how to keep those directions straight?   Well Tony came up with the idea of a yellow sticky note stuck on the inside of the windshield.  In theory that should have worked, but the sticky was never strong enough to stay on in the cross winds of a bike at speed.  So, he came up with the idea of using removable Scotch tape to hold it down.   He ran across the street from where we were parked to a Staples and bought a roll.  It worked, and for whatever reason, that roll of tape has been in my saddle bags since then and I've used it on every trip I've taken where I needed to map out directions.   It's been there for 5 years now, but today, in Morgan City, LA as I was writing the final directions into the New Orleans area tonight, it ran out.  
I still have plenty of yellow sticky notes, and I still use my HD Road Atlas as if it were a Bible.  But the tape has finally reached the end of its roll.   Time to find a Staples.

The sun comes up early over the Gulf, and I woke up about 6:45am and stumbled downstairs to the breakfast room to map out the day's ride and to eat.  I wanted to try to get to New Orleans today, which would be a bit over 300 miles, and the longest day on the bike so far this year and this trip.   It takes some time to build up stamina to stay on the ride for that long.  As I wheeled my two bags out the door a gentleman sitting on the bench under the portico smoking said "Now just just how in the hell are you gonna get those two bags up on that bike?"   I said "watch this!"   I strapped them on, easy as could be with as much practice as I've had, and he was duly impressed and said so.  He asked where I was headed and where I was from, and I got the usual bug-eyed response.   He lived north of New Orleans on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain he said, so I showed him my route in the atlas to see if it made sense and he said, "you have all the time in the world, so go for it!"  He was familiar with some of my route, but not with others and said it should be good.   So I swung my leg over the bike and headed out.

Traveling through Galveston I saw some things I didn't see  the night before  - mainly some gorgeous old Victorian mansions along the main highway out of town just North of the Seawall road where I was staying.  I wish I had had the time to learn the history of the town before I left.  There's definitely a story here.
The main highway through town is TX-87 and it leads to a ferry dock at the end of Galveston Island.   Most folks come to the town via the Interstate 45 bridge, but you can still get to the island via a ferry that leaves every 30 minutes to and from Point Bolivar on mainland.   It's a small boat, and Texas State Ferries is hardly Washington State Ferries, but it's a nice pleasant run, and just like back home, folks flock to the deck to watch the crossing.
Once on the Bolivar Peninsula, it was a quiet drive across the marshes and up towards Port Arthur, Texas.   This area is just full of oil, gas, and chemical refineries.  Miles and miles of them, along with tankers traveling the waterways and the Gulf, and shipyards making giant oil rigs and other mechanical gadgets.   There's a huge bridge over the waterway that divides Texas from Louisiana which felt like the incline on a roller coaster up, then a nice glide down to a sign saying "Welcome To Louisiana".   That's one more state ticked off on my list.

The grasslands and bayou of this area are, in a word, monotonous.  Flat, flat, flat. LA-82 is sign posted as "Louisiana's Outback -Creole Nature Trail.  All-American Road."  Well it sounded interesting anyway.  Not a lot of wildlife other than cranes and other birds, and a few dead alligators, and lots of bugs.  It was also warm and I started to bake a bit on the bike.  I'd slathered on tons of sun screen, so I wasn't burning, but it was still hot, although the wind off the water made it relatively cool, except when I was stopped.  Like the 10 minutes I had to wait for a small ferry.   It's only a five minute crossing across a bayou that has a lot of large ship traffic, but would be too difficult to build a high bridge.  It's just outside the town of Cameron, LA.   This crossing had me and two big huge trucks that were or had hauled some sort of oil refinery equipment.
 
The young Cajun guy who was working as a deck hand allowed me to park the bike in "the lil cubbyhole" as he said, near the pilot house so I could sit in the shade for a bit.  I asked him if there was a place to eat in town, and he said, "just one.  They have great catfish."  It's called GG's (gotta love that name right?) and its on the East edge of the town he said.   "Hard to read the sign, but lots of cars, you shouldn't miss it".  The sign was pretty  much non existent, hand painted on the side, but the restaurant was easier to find than understanding his Cajun/Southern accent, coupled with my existing hearing issues now exacerbated after hours of bike roar.   To say GG's was a hole in the wall would be an upgrade.  It was essentially a derelict Fifth-Wheel trailer as a kitchen with an attached aluminum car-port with screens around it for an eating area.   But I was hungry, and brave, and figured a local knew what they were talking about.
I was not disappointed.  In fact I've rarely been disappointed when locals recommend "interesting" places, especially in the South.   I've joked that I should do an eating tour of the South one time, but I'd gain 100 pounds in the process.  The Catfish and Shrimp lunch was fantastic -- fried with "creole" seasoning, and a huge ice cold sweet tea.   My black friends all complain that they get "the 'itis" after lunch on hot days, i.e. get sleepy.  I think we white folks get it too, as I rested in the shade in those rocking chairs for a spell before getting back on the bike and heading east into the swamps and bayous of Cameron Parish.

"Parishes" here are the equivalent of Counties every where else.  It think it must have to do with the prevailing French, Catholic, and Spanish influence of the early settlers.  Each town has a small Catholic church -- Saint Margaret of the Sea, Saint Paul of the Water, Sister Mary Handupme -- or something or other.   All have a cemetery too -- and with the ground being swamps more or less, the graves are all above ground in large marble tombs.   I kept hoping to run across Chinquapin Parish and find Melin and Ouiser, and Clarisse and Anell, but alas, there was no "Truvy's" on my route today.  According to IMDB, the setting for "Steel Magnolias" is a non-existent Parish, near Shreveport. 

Between Cameron and Abeville there was more of a whole lot of nothing.  It almost reminded me of the barren unpopulated areas of the far West.  Occasional stilt houses, little to no traffic, no gas stations or stores, and when I did see one, the characters outside seemed like the cast from "Deliverance".  I kept speeding on through.   The dead alligators by the roadside were also a bit unnerving.   Made me wonder if I stopped to rest if I'd get eaten.  I remembered my conversation about the route this morning, and the guy said "it's like going back to the 1950s along there" and he was right.

In Abeville, I picked up US-90, the first "major" road I'd been on all day.  In parts it was like a freeway, and in others, it wound through the country like a back road.  It had cooled off considerably and it was a joy to ride.   I figured I'd make it to New Orleans and so I pulled off in Morgan City to look at my Holiday Inn app on my iPhone.   I thought it might be fun to stay in the French Quarter, but there was nothing available, so I booked a Holiday Inn Express on the West Bank, and headed back down US 90.
It's always a challenge to find one's way on a bike in a strange big city.  Fortunately in this day and age of smart phones with GPS and such, you can write out pretty good directions.   When it gets dark or you miss a turn, well then it gets fun.  I got closer to New Orleans and traffic was heavier, and it was getting dark, I missed a turn or two and got lost several times, and very frustrated.   I've often said, one is never lost, one is just someplace one has never been before.  And you never know what you are going to find when you are.  I happened to wander past what appears to be a staging area for Mardi Gras floats. 
I cursed up a storm, but eventually found my hotel.  It was a long 386 mile day, and I was sweaty, tired, and had about a half inch of sun screen baked onto my arms it felt like.   It's kinda sad that here I am, alone, on a Friday Night on the outskirts of New Orleans, and I'm too tired to go find a cool place to eat, so I ordered Chinese delivered and took a long hot shower.   My party days are long past I'm afraid, even in a town like New Orleans.  Must be gettin' old.

The End of The Road

I love the End Of The Road.   The spot where you can go no further.  EoR towns are always fascinating collections of people who can't simply get any further away from the rest of us, but still need to somehow be connected. 

LA-23 runs down into the Mississippi River delta from New Orleans, and I decided that since I was here, I should drive the 75 miles down it to the end town, a place on the map called Venice.  And since the round trip would be 150 miles and I'd end up back in New Orleans and only able to go a hundred miles or so further, I figured I should stay another night and see some of the city.  I found a room near the French Quarter and so I set off from my hotel on the outskirts of town and headed south on LA-23, figuring I'd amble down and eat lunch in Venice and turn around and come back and go to my hotel downtown.

This was quite an interesting road in many respects.  First of all, it's a divided four lane and made of concrete. It was built for considerable traffic.  Almost freeway standards, but very much older, and after I left the fringe of New Orleans, it was almost desolate.   This was mid morning on a Saturday and there was no traffic.  I'd drive for miles and see no other cars on the road.   I passed houses yes, and while many were abandoned (I'm guessing post Katrina disaster) and there were more than a few new mobile homes (FEMA trailers?), there were no people or cars on the road.  No people outside working in the yard.  No people sitting on porches, washing cars, playing in the yard, hanging laundry to dry.  No one.  No dogs running around.   No cats.  There were no visible people.  There had to be, there were cars in the driveways, the laws were mowed, the occupied houses neat and tidy.   If there were people, they were shut up inside out of the heat, which wasn't bad -- about 85, and not humid.  Occasionally I'd pass a car going the other way, but hardly ever.   I even passed a handful of what looked to be airport style long-term parking lots.  They had helipads, and I expect were where workers on the off-shore rigs parked and were flown out for their tours of duty.  But no people.

And there are abandoned places all over.  Gas stations, homes, buildings, and stores -- including this entire whole grocery store, and this gas station, complete with pumps.   These pumps pre-date Katrina and have been abandoned longer than that, so I'm not sure what's going on there.
It was very surreal, and in a way quite unnerving.  As you can see, here was this huge nice smooth road, four lanes with a median, and nobody on it, yet I could see people lived here -- the homes were lived in, cars in the driveway and all -- but not a sign of life.   And there was industry too.  Lots of oil and chemical plants -- steam rising from them, and machinery humming, cars in the lots, but not a sign of anyone working. And among it all, scattered along the highway, were these abandoned places.

I took this one while riding along at 60mph so it's blurry, but ahead of me you can see a rise for one of the bridges over a channel of the river.  It's kinda like approaching a roller coaster, going up and up and up -- a great view all around, and then heading down again.   These bridges are a highlight of this run because everything is so flat, that elevation gets you a fantastic view.
As I watch the miles roll down, I'm anticipating the End of The Road, and what kind of view or spot there might be to mark it.   I'm expecting something at Venice -- the town the map says is where the road ends.  And with a name like that too!  Well the imagination runs rampant.   A nice place to eat, a historic boardwalk, some old buildings.   But no.  Like everything on this road, it seems to just fade away.  The "town", if you can call it that, was nothing more than a cluster of refineries, boat yards, chemical plants, and that abandoned grocery store.  There was no place to eat, not even a convenience store.  And once again, not a single solitary soul.  There were cars, and I saw a few cars driving, but the only person I saw was a sad looking teen age girl walking up the road in shorts, a halter and flip flops, carrying a suitcase of Bud.   She came out of one of the driveways and walked down a side road.  That was it.

The road kept going though, and I followed it as far as I could.   It was rather pretty though, once one got past the junk of the refineries and what constituted a town.  On both sides of me were the river, with plenty of green grass and some trees -- some white Cranes flew away as the bike rumbled past.   The river was so wide you couldn't really call it a river.
And there was even a bit of water running across a low spot and I drove through it, splashing the bike with water from the Mississippi and the Gulf.  She's also dipped her toes in the Pacific at Ocean Shores, WA, and I splashed a cup of the Atlantic on her at Key West.  I had figured out by now there was not going to be anything to mark the end of this road -- not like the bollard at the end of US-1 in Key West.   And as I rolled up, there it was.  The end.   And appropriately it was signed "Dead End", and marked with some rather severe warnings about it being "Private" and not to trespass.  It ran for about 20 yards and then ended.  I could see a junky moored boat on one side, and the river on the other, and that was it.   Thus the end of the road.  Once again I'd come as far as I could go, and now it was time to turn around and head back.  This is as far away from Seattle as I'll come this trip.  On a map you can see it -- that far tip of Louisiana that juts out into the Gulf.  
Now I head for home.   There is a part of me that wants to follow the Mississippi all the way up to the head from this point -- somewhere in Minnesota.  Then I could turn left and ride home.  I'd miss Salt Lake and I know I'd catch hell for that, but I'm thinking about it. 

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