Winding west along LA-14 (for some reason signed the "Zachary Taylor Parkway") was remarkably different than yesterday's foray to the deserted Mississippi River delta. It was a quiet, pleasant, and warm morning, with little traffic on a nice road. But this time, there were signs of life along the way. People were sitting on front porches, or mowing lawns -- and they would wave at a passing biker. The rural (mostly Baptist) churches all had full parking lots. There were produce stands selling fresh veggies. There was life here, unlike that deserted almost zombie-like region I was in yesterday. It made me smile.
I woke up fairly early with a crick in my neck from having slept funny, and blisters on my feet. Apparently motorcycle boots aren't the best for tromping around New Orleans' French Quarter. I figured since I was in town I should experience it. About all I can say is that it's like a cross between the Las Vegas Strip at night, and London's SoHo district after the shows get out. My friend Joe McDermott commented on my Facebook page that my description was accurate, except that "Vegas and SoHo have more class." He was right. Drunk and very drunk people wandering about, everyone drinking still. I saw more than enough boobs to last me a life time. I got hit on by drag queen prostitutes, and almost stepped in a few puddles of barf. I guess I'm getting old as I was back in my hotel and asleep by 1am.
I got a bit lost leaving New Orleans -- big cities are tough to navigate sometimes. But I headed out more or less Northwest and across the causeway over Lake Ponchartrain. It was a pretty drive, albeit on a freeway, so I was glad to exit off and head West on LA-14 which runs across most of the top of the "L" that is Louisiana.
It felt good to be on a quiet two-lane running through an endless string of small towns. In Franklinton I stopped for gas and some water and as I was filling up a mini-van pulled up. In the car was two ladies and a man who got out to get gas and the older of the ladies got out and said "I need to walk a bit". She walked past my bike and asked how I was and where I was going. I answered Washington State as I always do, and she said "I have relatives up that way on my Grandma's side...." and proceeded to tell me about them, but couldn't remember where they lived. We talked of small towns and back roads when they asked how I was heading and she said that she "hated living in cities". By this time I'd filled up already and was washing my windshield, and her son-in-law had filled up their mini van, but she was in full chat mode. She went on to say she'd "moved up this way back in 1958. My husband was a merchant seaman, and I said to him, 'one day you are gonna come home and I'll be gone, so you'll have to ask my sister where I went.'" I asked her, "did he find you?" And she said "sure enough, he asked my sister, but he never came up more than a few times...." And so it went while I drank a bottle of water, and her impatient son-in-law waited for her to finish.
I motored a bit further but soon found a produce stand advertising "Creole Tomatoes". Now I loves me some good tomatoes, fresh from the vine, warm in the sun. Not the round slightly reddish colored balls with no taste to them that you get in the stores these days. I'd never heard of a "creole tomato" so I asked. Apparently they are native to Louisiana, and were with out a doubt, the most flavorful things I'd had in ages. I had about half of one as a sample, and the nice farm wife said she'd sell me a few, but where I'd put 'em on the bike I have no idea. I did buy one though and just ate it like an apple, the juice running down my hand. Damn was it good.
However, it didn't fill me up, and about a half hour later in a small town called Greenberg, LA, I saw a small restaurant in a strip-mall called "Chicken Hut". I had been craving some good ole southern fried chicken -- I mean it was Sunday after all and isn't that a traditional Sunday dinner? So I got off the bike and wandered in to what appeared to be the gathering of the "Help" in the movie "The Help". I was the only white person, and the only male in the group of women who obviously had just come from Church. I figured this must be good chicken. I ordered two breasts, baked beans, and of course sweet tea. (I'm realizing this blog is sounding like a foodie post anymore, but damn if the food in the South isn't good, and I swear I'm gonna gain 20 pounds).
I found a single open table, and I don't think I scared the ladies any as they paid me no mind. CRUNCH!!! Oh my, that was crunchy, tasty, juicy chicken -- I would have to say "Minnie Approved", as it was just like on The Help. It seemed as well that I was not the only man here either, as a teenage boy came out and asked if it was my bike outside, and I said "yes". (Here we go again I'm thinking to myself.) He asked where I was headed and I said "Seattle". "Wow, that's like the opposite corner" and I said, "indeed it is -- I actually rode that once a few years ago, Key West to Cape Flattery." However, he asked me a question no one else had, which I have to give him big points for. "What's been the most exciting thing you've seen on your trips?" That one took me a second to think about -- truth be told, I'd never even thought about it at all! I'm not out on the road for the "excitement", but I didn't want to disappoint him, so I answered the only thing that came to mind quickly "the sunrise at the Grand Canyon." I asked him if this was his family restaurant, and he said yes, and that he was born and raised here and outside of visiting his family in Lexington, KY, he'd never been too far from Greenberg. I'd like to think maybe I offered him some inspiration.
I turned North on US 61(signed "The Blues Highway) and headed into Mississippi. This was a four lane, although still lightly traveled. Through fewer towns, but an equal number of churches. They do wear their religion on their sleeve in this part of the country -- and I thought we Mormon's were bad. Lots of billboards calling folks to repentance, or making anti-abortion statements, and reminding us that "Jesus Saves", or that women shouldn't wear pants. Literally. I don't know if this is saying they shouldn't wear anything in church, or what all, but it's a serious exertion indeed.
US-61 rolls North along the East bank of the Mississippi, and it curves and ducks through the rolling hills. It's great fun at speed, but it got quite hot, and I needed some shade about 3pm. That chicken back in Greenberg had made me sleepy as well. I kinda wished this place was open, but it wasn't. I think resting in the cool of Mammy's skirt would have been nice for a while, sipping on some sweet tea. Methinks this was not her natural color, or perhaps she was inspired by Michael Jackson. Or it wasn't very PC anymore. Who knows.
The last stretch of today's ride was along the Natchez Trace Parkway. It was the highlight of the trip today, and in fact, the trip since I left Houston. This road is part of the National Park Service, and it commemorates one of the first "National Roads", the old Nachez Trace, from Nashville down to Nachez on the Mississippi. It was first designated by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. The road was smooth, no traffic, and wound through the countryside. The temperature had cooled off by 4p and it was a joy to ride. Especially since I was a bit burnt. I'd used the last of my spray on sun-screen this morning, and figured I'd pick up a bottle at a Walgreens, or CVS or Rite Aid along the way, forgetting it was Sunday in the rural South and nothing much was open. I didn't find any open drug store at all the entire way, and I must have run through the only towns in the South with out a Wal Mart.
I sat back on the bike and just let it glide. The cool air in the shade felt fantastic. It's roads like this that one looks to find, but rarely does. Like the Blue Ridge Parkway that Tony and I rode a part of back on our corner to corner ride in 2008, I only was able to ride part of it -- from Nachez to just outside of Vicksburg. It continues on up another 375 miles to Nashville. Too bad I have to head the other way.