Adventure, New Orleans, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure

Kayaking the Mississippi River at New Orleans

They say the waves will knock you over, the currents will kill you dead.

But this afternoon I’m picking up a kayak and putting it in the Mississippi River, there to cross wind, waves and shipping lanes from New Orleans to Algiers Point.

When I started my adventure over 1800 miles ago I vowed I would only advance myself using the power of my own body. That means paddle, pedal or walk. A bicycle took me this far but you can’t bike on water (not this far from my native Wisconsin).

And the thing is, the bridge here ain’t built for bikes.

That means there’s only one way across. And today’s the day.

One of our neighbors on the crossing. Photo by Drew Jacob.

What About the Ferry?

There is a free ferry from Canal Street to Algiers, and I’ve taken ferries before.

When I completed the last 80 miles down to the end of the river I used ferries and it was not cheating. That was because I went as far as the road goes on this side of the river before using one to cross over; everything on the far side was bonus. Plus, I reasoned, I’ve been on both sides of the river and crossed it many times by bicycle (on bridges). Technically, I’m on the far side of the river from where I started—I’ve already crossed it on my own power.

But as I depart these sacred banks that logic’s feeling thin. I’m about to go 8,000 miles using my muscles; why skip the few thousand yards that lie before me? Can I really live with that when this is all a distant memory?

Probably not.

So, no cheating! The ferry is a tempting option, but this time it’s not a bonus to my planned route. It’s in the way of my planned route.

I have to cross the Mississippi River on my own power.

Hazardous Voyage

Today’s expedition would be impossible without the intrepid Jessica Broome. You might remember her as the wingwoman who put up with me on the road to Venice. She had never biked more than 10 miles at a go and suddenly she torpedoed 160 in just a couple days.

We’ve reserved a kayak for two.

(Once we get across, we’ll go to the Dry Dock Cafe where we had our first date; then back to the water for the return voyage.)

The thing is, Jessica has no idea just yet if she’ll actually be sitting in that second seat or not. Her kayak experience is limited, and the people of New Orleans are doing everything they can to scare us out of our plan. Some of the hazards (and solutions) include:

  • Strange cross-currents near obstacles like dams or trees (we are not boating near such obstacles)
  • Strong winds that can kick up serious waves (kayaks are built for this; point the nose into the waves and paddle hard)
  • Undertows that pull you under, never to be seen again (unless you are wearing a life vest, which we are)
  • Giant ships (these follow the marked shipping lanes and I have crossed shipping lanes before; it’s just like crossing a street but slower)

Don’t let my parentheticals fool you: I’m intimidated by the waves we might face, and the wind will make paddling hard. Jessica is going to make a spot decision whether she’s in that boat or not, and I’m just as happy to see her waiting for me on the far side (via car) as I am to have her as my co-pilot.

I’m used to people warning me I’m about to die. There’s something in human nature that makes us repeat these things. Only the worst stories are covered, only the tragedies stand out; the dangers then become our gospel.

When one woman who has never paddled told me I couldn’t make it by kayak, she didn’t have the slightest air of doubt: she was sure she was schooling me. How do you respond to repeated, exaggerated, and well-intentioned alarmism?

Biking on water. Once again Jessica proves me wrong.

Biking on water. Once again Jessica proves me wrong.

A Preview

I don’t actually get on my bike and leave New Orleans till Saturday. When I do, I will take the ferry across the river—because I’ll know I already crossed that segment on my own power. Saturday will be a day for a morning sendoff party, a bicycle parade to escort me to the ferry dock, and 60 miles of hot, humid wind in my face as I zoom toward the town of Houma.

For today, let’s hope the weather cooperates: Plan B is a midnight bike ride over a freeway bridge. I’d prefer the 40 foot waves.

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Adventure, Bicycling, New Orleans, Spotlight, The Great Adventure

The Jessica Version

This is a guest post by Jessica, who accompanied me on the final 80 miles of my ride down the Mississippi River.

Jessica

Jessica

5.21.13: 

This weekend Drew had to ride the final 80 miles of his trip—the Mississippi actually goes past New Orleans to Venice, LA—the southernmost point in Louisiana, gateway to the Gulf! He kept trying to plan this trip with his friends and had trouble planning it. I made a list: Trail mix. Power bars. Baby wipes. Tubes. Tent. Tarp. Sleeping bag. 1 pair clean socks. 2 pairs clean underwear. 1 clean t-shirt. 1 long sleeve t-shirt. Sunscreen, bug spray, water.

The trip started Friday night, when I dropped my bike off at Drew’s house and we geared up: two saddle bags for me and four for him, plus the tent and air pad strapped on the back. I had been sicker than ever since my 90 minute practice ride on Wednesday, but was bound and determined to go.

I cabbed it to “Rogue Chateau” at 7:45 am Saturday, already knowing that if I showed up at 7 as planned he wouldn’t be close to ready, and we left a little after 8. It was 9 before we left New Orleans, though, since Drew had to stop at a hardware store and get pliers and fix his bike (I bought/made fingerless gloves I thought I might want) and adjust his front panniers half a dozen times and stop at New Orleans’ own “end of the world” (in local parlance). Finally we were on the bridge towards Chalmette and feeling ok.

Nine miles in I got my first flat. Drew will boldly hold a lane against traffic and assert that bikes should be treated just like cars. I’m wimpier and ride on the shoulder, and he told me later that “that’s where all the shit from the road ends up.” I ran over a little piece of glass. Luckily a few weeks ago Drew had given me a crash course in how to change a flat tire so I was not completely clueless, but it took the two of us an hour, which included replacing the ruined tube with the same ruined tube Drew had thrown down on top of the new tube I had taken out of the box, trying in vain to use his hand pump, using my iPad to watch a Youtube video about said hand pump, being offered a foot pump by a funny guy mowing his lawn nearby, who didn’t want to talk to us but left the pump in the bed of his truck, yelled “HEY!” and pointed at it.

Finally we’re back on the road, gunning it (ha!) towards Plaquemines Parish. 22 (or according to them, 10) miles before the Point a la Hache ferry we’re flagged down by Greg and Gina Meyer, a sweet local couple. She’s an ambulance dispatcher and he sells drinks at the movies (he said at the movies, Drew points out, not the movie theater—which may explain why he has cases of water, soda, and Perrier in the back of his truck). He offers us all three, and we gratefully take several waters and talk to him about Hurricane Isaac, which for them was worse than Katrina. I’m semi-desperately hoping they’ll offer their bathroom, but they don’t; they do give us their phone number, in case of emergency, which I take. A few miles later, we flop down on top of the levee and I find a log to pee on. Then we eat some trail mix and chug Greg’s water.

We press on to the ferry, which we’ve just missed. We wait for about 25 minutes until it comes, then 25 minutes on it in the (blessed) air conditioning. Drew passes out with his head in my lap—he’s appalled that the heat and effort (we have a 9 mph headwind) are getting him so bad, but I remember that while I have a $300 dad-funded Trek, he has a free 40 pound steel bike loaded down with gear.

It feels like we’re the only passengers, but when we get off on the West Bank a line of cars is getting off as well. One slows down and I hear “Jessica? Is that you?” It’s Joel, who I vaguely know from LaunchPad, and his girlfriend Toy, who I met once. They’re fascinated by our trip, take some pictures, and give us some chocolate chip cookies. Joel also gives me his cell number and promises a ride back to New Orleans if we need it. They offer us the “emergency water” in the trunk of their car, but, convinced (thank to the Meyers) that there’s a donut shop right around the corner, I tell them “You might have an emergency!” Although Toy seems ready to drop out of life and join Drew on his adventure, Joel seems antsy, and they head off on their afternoon excursion to Port Sulphur, 10 miles down route 23. Instead, we’re the ones with the emergency: almost out of water, and miles of nothing but a headwind, cars whizzing by us at 55 mph, and a trucker whose WHOLE WHEEL, not just the tire, came off. The truck is sitting lopsided on the shoulder and we realize how lucky we are to not have been there when the whole situation went down.

Eventually we decide to start knocking on doors—who’s not going to give water to a sweet young couple who have been biking for 50 miles? We see a sheriff’s car in front of a mobile home and I knock on the door (“You’re cuter,” Drew points out). No answer. We wander around the small cluster of trailers and see two guys getting out of a truck and hear what sounds like a small party. Indeed it is a party, at least after we get there: We ask to fill our water bottles, explain what we’re doing, and get invited in for crawfish with a family who never tell us their names. From what I can gather, it’s a grandma, her daughter and the daughter’s husband and their daughter, another woman and a passel of grandchildren. We go to town on their crawfish and accept more cold water for the road. Bless those people forever.

They tell us about the donut shop too, but we never see it. In fact we don’t see much of anything in Port Sulphur (we’d been promised thrift shops), except St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which looks deserted. We press on to Empire, where we find the Empire Inn—almost exactly 60 miles from New Orleans. We’re pretty thrilled to shower and bike another mile (“Before the bridge!” our friendly innkeeper Danica assures us) to Dad’s, where an overworked young waitress ostensibly assisted by a drunk guy called Twig serves us burgers and beers. Christina at the next table hears us talking and sits down at our third chair: “Are you guys cyclists?” She too is from New Orleans, and full of advice on where to ride. “People down here aren’t used to seeing cyclists,” she warns us. In New Orleans, it’s different, and she calls it the most bike friendly city she’s seen—compared to New York, Illinois, and North Dakota.

We return to the Empire Inn for a sweet night of sleep and sweet slow morning. The headwind is still going strong, but power bars and trail mix take us the remaining 20 miles—in about 8 hours. We can’t find an open restaurant (it’s Sunday), but we still manage to make a lot of stops—first to buy a white t-shirt for my poor sunburned shoulders, then to sit under a tree and eat apples and cashew butter. We’re cornered by a toothless “spiritual advisor,” who asks if we have any questions about the Bible and seems unphased or not understanding when Drew explains that he worships the gods of nature.

More riding. I realize I’ve left my sunglasses 6 miles back under the tree, but it’s cloudy and I don’t fret. We stop at a gas station where a confused guy and a clerk who “has a bad case of being 19,” according to Drew, tell us that there might be somewhere to eat in Venice but that “we have food here!” We don’t want their hot dogs or gas station pizza, so I use the bathroom and we press on. Our destination is the Venice marina, and a fisherman tells us we’re on the right track, but when we get to the very promising restaurant at 2:52, they tell us the kitchen closed at 2. As a very pissed off Asian guy storms away, we ask for beers and if they know anywhere we can camp.

The manager, Brad, says something about his friend’s condo and gets on the phone. The waitress, Kristen, is from North Carolina and on her fourth day of work. She tells us that if we want to ride back up to Empire (not bloody likely!) she lives in a trailer park there with cabins available. She’s cooking a feast tonight if we want to come by—here’s her number. She was going to bring home these two plates of shrimp but since she’s cooking tonight she won’t eat them so we should have one. In fact she’s going to put it in the microwave right now. We beg her not to, insist that we want to hold out for a full meal. Brad’s friend’s condo isn’t really an option (they stopped letting people stay there after some groups of drunks trashed it), but another restaurant is “just a mile and a half” around the bend.

A mile and a half? Maybe. Clearly no one ever goes to this place except by boat. We make it, though, and fortify with po boys and fish and boudin egg rolls and cheesecake, plus two more beers for Drew.

He really wants to get to The End Of the Road, so we go. We pass Haliburton signs, and a few trucks pass us, but mostly we’re alone, walking our bikes down gravel roads, riding through a few inches of water, spotting a dead alligator by the side of the road…until finally there’s a sign, “Gateway to the Gulf,” southernmost point in Louisiana. Pretty fucking proud of ourselves, though I’m getting freaked about the night riding we’re going to have to do if we don’t get a move on—it’s almost 7 (he’s not wearing a watch).

In addition to the end of the road, he wants to make an offering by the end of the river, so I’m drafted into taking some pictures of that, which are surely disappointing.

Drew makes offerings at the end of the Mississippi

Disappointing?

I really want to camp. I want to be tough and hardy and besides, we’ve hauled this damn tent for 80 miles (I took it today, since it was a short day). Nowhere looks great, but it’s getting dark quick, so we pick a spot on the river side of the levee, which is not too quiet and not too cool, but fairly hidden, except from the trucks on the service road who keep driving by as we hustle to put up the tent and get in it, away (hopefully) from the swarming mosquitoes.

I’m in the tent. I’m bitten up. I’m hot. I’m miserable. I’m made more miserable when Drew points out that this, to him, is “kind of swank.” I lay quietly, try to cool down from the inside out. Finally I state my case. I really want to camp, really don’t want to spend another $80 on a hotel, but more than that, I want a shower. I want to get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s 80 miler.

We give it up. We ride the mile to the Venice Inn (owned by the same people who own the Empire Inn) and explain to Melissa at the front desk that we biked down from New Orleans and would love a room.

The AC is already on and I feel better immediately. A cool shower reveals at least 42 big bites on my back, legs, and ass, but a Benadryl puts me right out. In the morning they’re calmer. Drew snoozes as I bustle, but we’re on the road by 8, laughing about what we might find in the tent: a bum, sleeping? Another dead alligator? Will it be open? Did someone come to prey on us and find the tent empty? Will we hear about ourselves on the news later?

None of the above. The tent, dirty socks, and accompanying mosquitoes are right where we left them. We pack it up with the quickness and hit the road back to New Orleans.

Two hours down the road is Alice and Woody’s Restaurant. We make a quick stop to retrieve my lost sunglasses (right where I left them under that tree), but otherwise hold out till then and I’m so glad we did. Bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns for me… French toast for Drew, with extra bacon and plenty of coffee. The waitress thinks we’re nuts but keeps the ice water coming.

We pedal on and on. We unintentionally manage to miss the hellish bridge (not too long but a crazy steep grade that had Drew walking his heavy bike on Saturday) and ride down some back roads. I stop to pee and Drew picks some wild blackberries…not ripe yet. We pass one house and hear, “Hey! Remember me?” It’s the toothless spiritual advisor from Saturday. We keep going, fight off a dog or two, and eventually have to get back on 23. It’s as un-fun as we remember, but I suggest that we try to make the 1 pm ferry. We kill it on that road, and the tailwind helps, but even though my watch says 12:58, we see the ferry pulling away.

Another one’s not far behind it though, and we make our first ferry crossing of the day. On the other side, we stop at the Plaquemines Parish courthouse, which was burned down in 2002 by someone wanting to destroy the records of his past case. Gina Meyer told us about it and I talk to the woman in the post office, which is set up in a trailer behind the courthouse and is sweetly, blissfully air conditioned.

The ruined courthouse.

The ruined courthouse.

I have a little snit because Drew wants to stay and take more pictures, so we ride separately for a little while. We talk it out and I’m glad, because it’s a long ride before the next ferry, at Belle Chasse, where we choose the smoky but air conditioned cabin. A mom with two bad little boys is in there and I hear him express amazement at my lifesaving, wonderful, amazing Camelbak: “She got water in that bag!”

We get off the ferry right as a woman getting on finds her car won’t start. She’s already on the boat, with a long line behind her, so Drew helps push her.

We realize it’s only 11 more miles to Algiers and we’re thrilled—until we see the miles. First, a traffic-packed main street we can’t possibly ride on, so we hit the sidewalk on the other side. Then we turn on to a less trafficked but fast road, only two lanes which is actually the worst because people can’t always pass you. We haul ass on that road and get off it as fast as we can, only to find that next is another ridiculous bridge—not quite as steep as the one in Empire (at least we never have to get off and walk) but long…it’s got to be at least a mile up. We make it and I’m thrilled. I love the feeling of conquering a physical challenge.

A few more meandering miles to the Algiers ferry; the road we’re supposed to take leads us to a “No Trespassing” sign at a port, but one gate is open. No way to exit, though, so we double back through some not-too-nice neighborhoods. And finally, there we are, at the Dry Dock, site of our first date back in December. After some disappointing spinach salads, Drew orders a burger and I hit some shrimp scampi, plus the most delicious beers ever.

We contemplate dessert but decide instead to push back to New Orleans for chocolate chip cookies. On the ferry, the decision is made to buy cookie dough at Rouse’s, hit the Rogue Chateau for a final tag, then ride in tandem uptown to get my dog Nola, eat cookies, drink champagne, and call it mission accomplished. After a pleasant morning and breakfast at Coulis, we part ways, and I have to remind myself that plenty of people come into your life for a reason or a season, and there is so much to be learned from this one…

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Adventure, Bicycling, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

Journey to the End, Day 3: Who Beside You?

And after the End, what is it like? How do you get back?

One of the magic places on the way back.

One of the magic places on the way back.

The Levee

The last leg of the Mississippi River was behind us. We had biked all the way to the end, made offerings in a lonely place, ignored a sage perhaps; we were done. And it was dark, or damn near.

We planned to camp on the levee. I have written before about the problems with illegal camping, but down here was different—we were far from any farm, any house, no one was bothered, no one could find us.

We could lie where we pleased.

What pleased was the nearest, flattest, driest, quietest place we could find, with “nearest” leading the compromise. It becomes a scramble when the sun is low—I remember these days well; Jessica was about to be initiated.

Venice is built outside the levee. We crossed back over to the protected faux-basin of lower Louisiana. We took a side road that followed the levee, a high rampart above us. I spotted what looked like a service road and we went to investigate.

Below the levee’s crown was a flat spot. It was protected from view, it was grassy, and it was high up—zero danger of flooding and little of gators. The breeze helps reduce mosquitoes, though that’s a joke: you’re in a swamp, son.

We hauled our gear up by hand, to lighten the bikes. Then we hauled the bikes.

As with an air pump earlier, we had never before used the tent we’d brought. It’s actually an ingeniously designed piece of gear, but in sweaty dusk by lamplight and ear-buzz I would have welcomed something a little less ingenious, a little more familiar.

The tent went up.

Sweatbox

Inside was a nylon oven. Sweat threw itself from every pore. Itchy legs, dirty clothes, fever skin, exhausted limbs. Rationed water.

I got ready for bed.

I looked over at Jess. “How are you doing, Broome?”

She looked straight ahead. “Give me thirty minutes.”

It was the voice that brings men ulcers: the am-not-happy voice of a woman. But she was self contained. She neither complained, nor blamed, not pretended to be well: she asked for thirty minutes.

I nodded, said nothing, and gave her the time.

This is miserable, I knew. Not the trip as a whole—the trip I adore. But there is a certain malarial fatigue that happens when you race the sun to camp. You arrive exhausted, stressed and worried; you must then do physical work by little light in unsavory conditions. When at last you get into your cocoon you’re wired but deflated. You tremble, you toss around wishing you could sleep.

In 1,900 miles I had many nights like this. I never grew to like them, but I grew to manage them.

The person beside me was experiencing her very first one.

Thirty Minutes

I’ve been reading a book by Ed Stafford, the first (known) person to walk the entire length of the Amazon (thanks Sharla!). The biggest barrier to Ed’s trip, every day, was tension with traveling partners: guides, friends, locals. Learning to handle the psychological and social aspect of the adventure was far more critical to his survival than knowing how to deal with snakes, spiders or caimans.

Likewise, as I prepare to kayak the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve spoken with a wonderful doctor who’s done the same. His words about travel partners echo Ed’s perfectly.

And that was my only concern with bringing Jess (or anyone) along: we get along great, but how about under pressure?

The answer, it turns out, was not bad.

Jess calmly listed her thoughts in no particular order. Thoughts like:

  • She did not want to give up if camping out was important to me.
  • She was hot and miserable.
  • She wanted to be able to say she had camped on the levee.
  • She knew she could force herself to remain in the tent all night, uncomfortable as it was.
  • She was worried that if she slept poorly our final day of biking would suffer.

I listened to all points and suggested we go to a motel.

On the way we got lost in the fog.

Checking the phone (map) I turned us around. Jess asked me several questions: how we missed our road, why we needed to turn, how sure I was, etc. These are reasonable questions. Finally I had to answer:

“Right now my body’s tired. When my body’s tired my mind gets tired. I really need to not answer questions right now.”

She understood and we continued in silence, successfully reaching the motel.

After coffee and showers, I said: “Jess, I feel like we both did something mature tonight.”

She nodded: “I’m really proud of us.”

Ferries! (I did not make us late.)

Ferries! (Me not making us late.)

Tail Wind

All of that was the night of Day 2. Day 3 deserves little mention, because it was so simple.

We had a tail wind. We had different priorities for pace and schedule: fellow adventurers warn that this is the biggest source of contention. To her, we had reached my goal and the mission was over; get home quick. To me, we’d found one magic place at the end of the river and there were many more to discover.

We worked this out, doing mature things.

We pedaled 80 miles in a grand day, sailing on an 8 mph tail wind and strong legs. We crossed three ferries so we could follow the prettiest roads; in Algiers we faced our toughest traffic, conditions that left me with a pounding heart and an iron grip on my bike. Jessica handled it with a cool head.

We also crossed this bridge:

Highway 407 Bridge

“Report a Problem.” Problem: THIS BRIDGE!

After a rain shower and a gated dead end we reached the Dry Dock bar and restaurant (site of our first date) beside the Algiers Ferry. (For non-New Orleanians, that means one ferry ride from home.) There, no one cared about the miles we had gone or the dangers we had faced. We were just two more people with too many requests for our overworked waitress. Her adventure occluded our own.

Beer, salads, and too much food; an oddly comfortable ferry ride; a jaunt through the Quarter; coming full circle at Rogue Chateau; and 3 more miles back to Jess’ place for champagne and cookies.

This is the first leg of the Great Adventure. The first leg of a dream, a prophetic dream come true; the first leg of wresting Fate, of choosing Fate, of lightly holding Fate.

This is what it is to seek the heroic life.

This is the last part of a series. You can also read Day 1, Day 2 and reflection 2.5. Better yet, you can even read Jessica’s version.

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Adventure, Andre Sólo, New Orleans, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The Crawfish Chronicles

This is an excerpt from the Wandering Dragon.

Picture by Wandering Dragon.

After having been in association with this guy for over four years, I can honestly say that he is the most cunning, determined, and foolhardy person I know… I have come to New Orleans to see him and symbolically “send him on his way” across a vast unknown that most of us would fear to tread.

He questions religion, belief, even experience, and yet sees the need and the usefulness for things like magic, ritual, and community, and does his best to ensure they reach those who need them. It’s like he wants you to believe in what you believe because you really believe it, and not for any other reason or self-serving excuse.

In his article Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations, my friend and brother the Wandering Dragon (Mauricio) goes on to paint a picture of me as traveling philosopher that is at once embarrassingly accurate, and touchingly astute. This article was published weeks ago, and I hesitated to share it: would it be too self-serving? But he knows me (and my ideals) better than just about any human alive, and what he wrote keeps strumming chords in me.

If you want to get a look at what I do, and why I live, from the inside out—I don’t believe anyone has ever captured it this well.

Wandering Dragon is a blog of many topics, and you never quite know what you’ll find next. But I hope you’ll take a look at Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations and leave Mau a comment or a question—tell him what you think, and dig for a little more.

Thanks brother. And thanks to all who follow me on this crazy adventure.

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Adventure, Bicycling, New Orleans, The Great Adventure

Journey to the End: Barbarians Take Showers

Afternoons such as these are rare, rare in the life of humanity. Afternoons where you survive first by the strength of your own good body, second by the warmth and cheerfulness of fine companions, third by the kindness of those you’ve just met, and only last, only a distant last, by the money earned through hard work—which you give freely without a hesitating thought.

Such afternoons are rare.

Drew and Jessica at the End of the Word. Photo by Jessica Broome.

Drew and Jessica at the End of the Word. Photo by Jessica Broome.

On July 4, 2012 I began my journey. I bathed in the waters of the sacred Lake Itasca, I swam to her center and made my sacrifice, a dear friend watched on the shore, I waded in the stream Mississippi and I bicycled away.

1,700 miles I was alone on the road.

Saturday I set out again, now to cross the final 80 miles and see the end of that little stream, that little creek. She disgorges 12 million hatboxes of water each minute I’m at her side. In Minnesota I crossed her in four careful steps.

This is the story of that final 80 miles from New Orleans to the end of the Mississippi River (part 1).

Day 1, Heat Stroke

Jessicais my companion. When Jessica declared she would come along, I was happy—and cautious.

“80 miles is a long day on the road. What’s the furthest you’ve ever biked?”

On my advice, Jessica tried a 20 mile ride along the levee. That night she was painfully ill; a day later she did it again. Well, Doctor, welcome to the Great Adventure.

The jump from 20 miles to 80 in a day is a nasty one, but as far as I was concerned she had the right spirit. Worst case scenario we fail completely; then in a week, try again. So we began.

We left on the dot of “seven o’clock ish,” which is to say 8:45 after numerous spot repairs, delays and adjustments. In other words we maintained the same stringent schedule I’ve held myself to since Day 1.

We paid our respects at “the End of the World” and crossed the metal-cage bridge out of the city that care forgot.

There are two sides of the river, the East Bank (through Bernard Parish) and the West Bank (through Algiers). The East Bank is longer but prettier, and after 46 miles the road ends. That’s the side we took.

(For the love of the gods don’t ask me for maps.)

10 miles in we got a flat; a stranger loaned us his pump (better than the one I brought). 25 miles in, a man yelled for us to stop and get cold water. His home, and miles of parish around it, looked like they’d been bombed from space; he told us calmly that Hurricane Isaac was—and I quote—“far worse than Katrina.” Did you see that on the news?

Near the end of those 46 miles is the Pointe a la Hache ferry, the last crossing of the entire Mississippi River. I decided a long time ago that taking the ferry is not cheating—in this specific case. That’s because I’ve crossed the river by my own body power many times on the Adventure; I could’ve stayed on the West side if I’d wanted. In any case I went to the farthest bikable point on the East side, ferry free; if you’re a purist, consider everything else gravy.
Jessica was rock solid. Myself, I had a hard time.

I was disappointed that my body didn’t handle the heat. It was used to this, once. By the ferry dock we were low on water and I had heat stroke.

Then my companion got her first lesson in car owners’ many failures; the town “just across the ferry” (to drivers) was twelve miles away. We could expect no gas stations, and maybe even no houses. The situation was dangerous.

In the shady den of the ferry I laid on a steel bench, the cool metal leeching sunshine right out of me. I fell into a sickly sleep that lasted thirty minutes, and seemed more like three—I barely stumbled outside to make offerings when the boat finally moved.

How do you handle heat exhaustion? Jessica once asked me what I learned on my Adventure. My answer was:

Above all I learned to pass calmly through hardship, and take delight in small pleasures.

Both lessons conspired to save me. After my rest I felt dizzy but improved; ready at least to foray out in hopes of a house with a spigot. There are few options, and I accepted them with a shrug—if it became an emergency I could rest in shade while Jessica went ahead.

And small pleasures! One of the cars on the ferry turned out to be two of Jessica’s friends. Complete coincidence, and of course they had no water with them—but they had cookies. They gave us nearly a dozen, and we ate them slow-like, careful of our tummies. But the sugar and the fellowship perked me right up, and I was ready to go.

The West Bank 

The far side brought new adventures. The road there is a high speed highway, shade is lacking, settlements far apart.

When at last we saw houses, we stopped for water. That was 7 miles after the ferry.

Did they give us water? Yes, but I hardly noticed: they invited us in for a full blown crawfish boil. It was two branches of a black family and I suspect they’ll be talking about the crazy dehydrated white people for a long time. They were very gracious, very generous and extremely helpful in telling us what lay ahead. I ate more crawfish than I should have, and never regretted it.

And this bears mention—Jessica and I set out with the best of digital technology. We had a map and forecast at all times; we knew the route, the ferry schedules, the distances involved. We had full access to apps that show local restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, and of course Wikipedia with its info on local towns. All of that was useless.

Jess said it well:

We would’ve done just as well with nothing but a paper map.

I’d say she’s right. Seeing the roads and route was useful, but Google didn’t know about any local businesses and we were riding blind into the unknown. We really had no clue if our final destination (Venice!) would be a picturesque resort town full of fishers or nothing but refineries.

It ended up being a place we couldn’t have begun to imagine.

Dad’s

We weren’t headed all the way to Venice on Day 1; after the crawfish boil it was evening and we knew we wouldn’t get that far. But we were refreshed and in high spirits, plus the sky cooled down. We made a very clever decision:

We would go till we found a motel. 

Locals indicated that might be around Buras, a good 20 miles more; I heartily endorsed the plan.

The Adventure is often camp-outs and bush life, but that’s by necessity more than design. Given the option, barbarians take showers.

We lucked out finding the Empire Inn after just 12 miles, clocking about 60 total for the day. We got a discount rate—“because of the fishing tournament”—and found out the only nearby restaurant, a mile down the road, would close in just one hour.

These two bicyclists took the fastest showers you’ve ever seen, then raced on. We arrived just before closing at a great roadside eatery known as Dad’s (motto: “When you can’t go to Mom’s, go to Dad’s.”) I recommend it if you ever get down that way, but you never will.

Dinner was thousands of calories, including giant local oysters fried to perfection. We drank two beers apiece, which after a marathon bike ride amounts an amazing cocktail of buzz, joy and sedation. Completely sated, we chatted on the restaurant porch before wobbling half a mile back to the motel.

Both forgot to set alarm clocks, and quickly fell asleep.

Tomorrow I’ll cover Day 2, in which we attempt an “easy” 20 miles and discover that the Road to Venice has yet more tricks to play. If you want to ask for pictures, don’t; I’m a writer not an Instagrammer, and this log is worth more to me than a megapixel.

All other comments are greatly welcome. I like it when the story of the Adventure spreads, and the contact with readers is a big part of what keeps me going. Please share this post on Facebook or wherever you share fine digital paraphernalia. I’d love to hear your questions, thoughts or worries.

Update: You can read Day 2 here.

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Adventure, Bicycling, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, Travel

I’ll keep walking, walking at the end of the world

Photo by Chuck Coker. End of the Great River Road.

I have never seen the End of the World, but I met those who went there, and it is good.

The End of the World is in New Orleans. Did you know that?

More specifically it’s in the Bywater, a ramshackle neighborhood that used to be swamp and then plantations and only when the city really, really grew did it become actual houses. The Bywater is the ghost of Before the Flood and it is a town unto itself, a town of hand-built drum machines, lumbering vardos, secret gardens and working artists.

You know how the grinds settle out in good coffee? If New Orleans were a cuppa, the Bywater would be that last rich sip with the grit in your mouth.

And somewhere in that mouthful, right around where you make that wrinkled face, you can find the End.

It’s just a strip of riverbank. It juts past the levee, unpoliced, a place to smoke your hashish. That is the end of Orleans Parish; that is the end of everything.

Then fog, murky water, dragons, Arabi, chemical plants, bayou.

I tell everyone I biked the whole length of the Mississippi River. It’s a lie. New Orleans isn’t the end, though many an adventurer has stopped there for good. Siduri has a back door, and she says keep going. Go past the End of the World.

So Saturday I bike 80 miles. 

With me is this sly East Coast girl who’s never pedaled more than 20. In her words: “what’s the worst that can happen?” I like her accent, like Old Fashioneds and empires.

80 miles on a narrow road in a land of semi trucks, refineries and sun. There’s nowhere to camp, nowhere good that we confirmed; but there are places no one looks.

What do I do things like this? Why go into the unknown? Is there, as it feels like, some current in the land that gathers in these lonely spots? And if there is, why is it so hard to feel once you’re out in the thick of the heat, the sweat, the fear?

The journey may be gentle or ungentle. We might succeed or fail. Smoke and towers in the bayou, two hearts under the sun. It’s worth the sweat. Somewhere down there the road just stops, it stops, and I’ll see it, and keep walking, walking at the End of the World.

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Adventure, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, Vodou

You are at a river with Legba

O koto bouke, parenn se’m pote ouvre!

“You are at the edge of a river with Legba. The river is fast, it roars over rocks. You want to cross the river, but the current is too strong. You try to yell over the river, but the rapids are loud.”

“Legba hits you with his cane.”

“He hits you hard. Papa is not fucking around. He sends you reeling.”

“You fall in the water. The river washes over you, and you flail. The current is too strong! How can you swim in this madness?”

“You gulp water and air, a rock strikes you.”

“Sputter, scramble. Stand up.”

“The water is waist deep.”

Saut d’Eau waterfall in Haiti. Credit: YoVenice.com.

This is a dream a mambo had about me in December, as I crashed into bankruptcy.

In essence, the same story I told yesterday.

I stood up, Papa. I stood up and now I must go down the river.

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