Adventure, New Orleans, Road Logs, Sea Kayaking, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Crossing the Mississippi

We’re almost caught up on old road logs. This is a short one, but reflects a crucial day in my Journey. I had paddled the length of the Mississippi and was almost ready to head west—but with all the ferries I’d taken over the river, it was time to prove I was still doing this under my own body power, even where the river is wide.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 (Day 355)—Crossing Day

I rented a kayak and paddled across, tagging a lamp post on the far shore. That’s where I’d later pick up my bicycling, taking any accusation of cheating out of the equation.

People often ask if I carried the bicycle with me on the kayak. The answer is no. The point is to do each leg powered by own body, not to carry extra equipment.

I also paddled back across, but that part’s not included in the official tally. 6 miles.

Map 1. 3.0 miles cycling.

Map 2. 3.0 miles kayaking and walking.

Total traveled this leg: 6.0

Total traveled since Day 1: 2,082

My hope is to have the Texas road logs up soon, and thus be ready to dive into the new ones for the trip across Mexico when I start it in a few days. I owe you guys an update on that, too—coming soon!

Check out other road logs or help make the next adventure a success.

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

Road Log: Journey to the End

Lately I’ve been catching up on old road logs. So far I’ve gotten up to arriving in New Orleans and the various events that transpired there. But New Orleans isn’t the end of the River, and eventually I had to set out and cover that last 80 miles.

This story has already been covered in detail in the Journey to the End of the World, but I never did chart our route and miles. Here they are, for anyone interested.

Saturday, May 18, 2013 (Day 316)

Departed New Orleans and headed down the East Bank nearly as far as the road went. Crossed by ferry and continued on. I made a decision to use the ferry since I had already crossed the Mississippi under my own power multiple times and would later do so again. In other words, using this motorized boat during this leg saved me no sweat and cheated me out of zero miles. 64.3 miles.

Map Part 1.

Map Part 2.

Distance covered by ferry is not included in the mileage.

May 19

Reached the end of the river, or more accurately, as far as you can go on dry land. Made offerings. Grateful. 38.1 miles.

Map Part 1.

Map Part 2.

Monday, May 20 (Day 318)

Retraced the whole distance back up, but returned via the West Bank instead. I didn’t know it at the time but early in the day I broke my 2,000th mile. I was pleased as punch anyway. Multiple ferries, beautiful tail wind. Much celebrating at the end. 79.8 miles. 

Map Part 1.

Map Part 2.

Map Part 3.

Map Part 4.

Total traveled this leg: 182.2

Total traveled since Day 1: 2,076

I’ll have more road logs up soon. Until then, check out the past ones or help out the next leg of the Adventure.

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Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: Dubuque to St. Louis

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

The Giant and me on the lift in Dubuque. (I also pedaled up this hill.)

Since I’m getting back on the road, it’s long past time to finish the road logs from the first leg of my journey. This one covers the period from limping into Dubuque to reaching St. Louis.

(The Adventure Log last saw our young writer bicycling into Dubuque, Iowa with a damaged brake. That was over a year ago—the dates below are 2012.)

Day 66 – 70 (September 10-14, 2012)

Stayed at Jack’s beautiful house overlooking the Country Club on top of the hill in Dubuque. I found Jack through Couchsurfing but he turned out the be an old friend of Urban Haas. When I arrived he was conducting a board meeting for the art museum in his living room. Once I showered up I joined right in. Jack also introduced me to many great new friends, and I met a stunning woman named Lauren. Pushed out my stay here to get writing done.

I could picture myself living here. Dubuque is a great town and Jack is a wonderful friend. “Reclusive Dubuque author” is now my backup plan.

A man named David repaired the Giant. Brand new front brake. If there’s such a thing as a Bicycle Monk, David is it.

Nights are cold! Jack wanted me to stay the weekend to attend an art event, but I want to push on.

Day 70 (September 14)

Headed out bright and early (ha) with a plan of using a freeway for the first time. When I entered the freeway I was overwhelmed (even though it was light traffic). It was very uncomfortable being out there, and I sought a way out—but there’s no parallel route. But I ended up liking the freeway. I stayed on even after there was a parallel. Smooth, flat road and I had a tailwind!

I wrote: “[These] 80 miles were some of the most pleasant biking I’ve ever done. Being on the freeway was meditative.”

Arrived Davenport to stay with Dustin, who lives on the entire top floor of a former apartment building, converted into his print shop and home. He gave me my own studio apartment! We had a great time out over beers and I got to see giant bus decals printing out on his machines. Got very drunk off just two pints. 71.0 miles.

Map

My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

My host, Jack, in Dubuque.

Day 71

Departed a little reluctantly. Not recovered from yesterday’s bike ride, beer really hit me, and the thought of Jack’s great house is still a tempting memory. Plus, Davenport & the Quad Cities seem like a fun little metro (twice as much fun as the Twin Cities, Jack!). I wish I could explore. But headed south, still seeking to beat the cold nights.

Just a block from Dustin’s studio is an artist’s house with amazing metal sculptures out front.

Long ride, lots of odd turns to get around natural features. Mostly country, but started off with spectacular view on the bridge over the river in the Quad Cities.

Arrived Monmouth, Illinois just after suppertime. Cruised nicer neighborhoods in hopes of finding someone who would suggest a place to stay. A woman walking her dog ended up putting me in touch with her Methodist church, leading to one of the single best experiences of the trip (see below).

Really intrigued that towns in this area of Illinois all have a central plaza, often with a roundabout! Great Mexican restaurant near this one (they doted after I ordered tacos with onion, cilantro and lime instead of tomato, lettuce and cheese) and a local Mexican market too. Could buy quality hot sauce if needed. 69.4 miles.

Map

Day 72

I stayed for the Sunday service. The pastor, John, is a great guy. All my hosts here have been amazing—it was truly uplifting to meet such supportive and open minded people.

Eventually I headed out, and Pastor John promised to put me in touch with a Methodist minister in the next town who might put me up.

I blessed the Church and its people before I left.

High spirits gave way to a tough day (first one since Dubuque). My first flat tire of the trip. Took forever to change, practically forgot how. Fellow cyclist in a pickup truck pulled up and offered help, but I’d already knocked on a door and begged use of an air compressor (having troubles with portable pump). He informed me this section of Highway 67 chews up bikes. Really rough pavement.

(Drew’s note: Although this was my first flat tire, it would not be my last—from here out they were incredibly common, often one a day or more.)

Approaching Beardstown quite a vista. Crest a hill and below is a river then the town. There was a magical moment, on top of the hill in a wooded area, where I “caught up to summer” heading south: the temperature of the air abruptly changed, and it smelled like summer flowers again, not autumn. Catching up to summer on a bike! I stopped and thanked the gods, the living universe for such a moment.

Arrived evening in Beardstown, IL. Mosquitoes just coming out as I arrived.  Pastor Bob offered to put me up at a motel(!). He checked me in and said he’s going to meet me for breakfast in the morning. 72.9 miles.

Map.

Day 73

Today’s weather promised thunderstorms, and I wanted to stay another day. Didn’t want to burden Pastor Bob’s congregation—offered to camp out, or do chores and stay in his garage. He insisted to put me up another night at the motel. Very generous.

At breakfast he made clear the reason he’s being kind is to convert me to following Christ.

Accomplished a great deal of writing. There were some thunderstorms, but not bad. Had lunch at a cafe around the town square, explored town a bit.

Went to a hardware store as well. As I left, someone shouted at me. It was a young woman on her break from Pizza Hut. She saw my bike and wanted to know about my trip. She invited me to have dinner with her and her fiancé.

Bri and Phil were amazing hosts. We had a delicious home-cooked dinner at their trailer home outside Beardstown (they gave me a ride, which I appreciated between the rain & coming home late at night). Bri is quite a chef and made chocolate lava cakes for desert! They’re great music fans and travel everywhere for music festivals. They organized their own music festival near Beardstown & it made money in its first year.

They also explained to me the tension in Beardstown between longtime white residents and a growing Mexican immigrant population.

Day 74 (September 18)

Headed out a little wistful, but well rested & full of happy feelings. Also excited about getting close to St. Louis. Decided to do a 100 mile day to reach a Couchsurfing host family just outside the city. Was extra excited because this was the first time I’d be staying with a family with kids.

Really liked the town of Jacksonville, Illinois. Another central square/park, and there was even music playing over public loudspeakers in the town center. Stopped at a diner, Norma’s North Star Diner—first sighting of hot sauce out on every table in a (white-owned) restaurant. Welcome to the South! Also stopped at a bookstore, Our Town Books.

(Drew’s note: sadly I no longer remember what book I got there, though it may have been the Nietzsche book I regretted buying for a long, long time. Or the Søren Kierkegaard book that I’d wanted to read ever since hearing a podcast reading of The Expectation of Faith from my hammock in Wisconsin.)

Also found out there are two bicycle shops (!) in Jacksonville, couldn’t find one but stopped at the Village Cyclery which was right on my way. Very helpful staff, got my tubes and learned more about how different size tubes can fit the same tire (within reason). Also straightened out my portable pump, though it never did end up being very good.

Then a long, trance-like afternoon of biking that was just delightful. Had some fun with my shadow on Seiler Road just outside Godfrey, IL and enjoyed the casual pre-sunset ride that comes with being on time for once.

Somewhere around there I biked my 1000th mile!

My hosts in Bethalto, IL are an amazing family. The two teen daughters are “unschooled” and as far as I can tell it worked. Two bright, innovative socially-adjusted kids and two proud parents. They put me up in a den/guest bedroom and fed me an amazing spaghetti dinner that I was more than ready for after (almost) a hundred mile ride.

Really wish I could’ve spent more time with them. 95.3 miles.

Map.

My shadow.

My shadow.

Day 75 (September 19) – Arrival in St. Louis

Started off extremely excited about today’s trip. Should have been easy—mere 40 miles—and I was enticed onward by a beautiful vision: arriving early afternoon to a house where my host was preparing a big gourmet meal, plus wine, for me and two other new Couchsurfing arrivals. I couldn’t wait!

But this became one of my most hated days. What could’ve taken 5 hours or less turned into a long, frustrating day thanks to a 14 mph headwind, bad trails and getting lost.

To start with I accepted directions from non-cyclists without double checking them. I was eager to get started and it seemed like an easy trip. This cost me.

The wind was so strong, and the commuter traffic so heavy, that I was exhausted in the first 2 miles and stopped to rest outside a church.

I passed what I’m told is one of the best local burger joints in the St. Louis area. I didn’t go in because of the great meal awaiting me. Later I regretted this, but I guess if I had wasted any more time I might still be out there.

When I eventually found my trail I had gone miles out my way, but figured that at least with an actual bike trail the rest would be easy. I was wrong.

I spent most of the day fantasizing about a scathing public letter I could write to the idiot(s) who designed the Confluence Trail. If you’re reading this go eat broken glass.

Here are some thoughts on the trail:

  • It’s a levee top trail. For some reason urban planners love putting bike trails on top of levees which means most urban planners don’t ride bikes. When you’re on top of a levee it means the biking is hard no matter which direction the wind is coming from. Put the trail below the levee on the river side for a prettier view, an automatic windbreak and less noise.
  • The Confluence Trail is paved, like all good urban bike trails. (Road bikes can’t use gravel trails, and road bikes loaded with gear—like mine—get flat tires quickly on gravel.) Unfortunately, the paved trail suddenly turns to gravel-only once it reaches (of course) a secluded stretch with no side-roads to turn on. You guys are assholes.
  • There are signs with about 40 “rules of the bike trail” in 12-point font every quarter mile or so. Really? Could we have spent that money on pavement?
  • At one point, without signage to guide cyclists, the bicycle trail just disappears into an industrial park. Seriously, look at the map link—it’s the part a little ways north of where I cross the river, where my route literally makes a loop around some giant warehouse. On top of the lack of signs to guide you through/around this, the whole area is covered in NO TRESPASSING signs and dire corporate warnings of what happens to people who go there without a tanker truck. I for real yelled curses.
  • A section of the Confluence Trail has serious, scary-looking potholes. The Transit authority was kind enough to put out orange cones to mark them—except they didn’t use weighted cones, so in the strong wind I was stuck weaving around sink holes while dodging mobile cones.

Did it all fighting that headwind, but when it takes an hour to advance just 2 miles on an urban bike trail, the wind’s not the only thing wrong.

One nice thing about today was reuniting with the Mississippi River. Since Davenport my route cut away from her slightly, the main road being straighter than the winding river. (This had troubled me at one point and I considered taking winding roads to stay closer to her shore, but glad I went the way I did.) I made offerings when I reached her.

It was neat to see the Confluence, where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. At this point I’ve seen the Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri Rivers (and crossed two of them) as well as the Mississip.

Once across, the trail remained poorly marked in the city, more getting lost. It was great though to bike right past downtown St. Louis and the Arch. I’ve been up the Arch but never got to admire the city from bicycle before.

Finally, more than 5 hours late, I reached Laurie’s house after 6 pm. I’d been calling her throughout the day to update her and she was very understanding. She said this has happened to other bicyclists who have come to stay with her.

We had a terrific meal that began one of the best experiences of my trip, but that’s a story for next time…

49.3 miles (nine of them unnecessary).

Map.

Total traveled this leg: 357.9

Total traveled since Day 1: 1067.0

The miles I count include all biking intended to carry me forward on the trip (including longcuts and getting lost) but excludes lots of local biking around the areas where I stay. I try to make the maps match the exact, actual route I took but sometimes Google doesn’t cooperate. The result is that sometimes I conservatively adjust the mileage from what Google says.

You can also see the other road logs:

Minnesota Log

Wisconsin Edition

More coming soon.

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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, The Great Adventure, Travel

Day 2: The End of Time

Blocked.

The End of the World is exactly like the Zone.

Not the End of the World in New Orleans, that strip of land for late night parties at the city border. No, in the marina of Venice, Louisiana – the final city of the Mississippi River – there is a sign.

“End of the World: 1/2 mile.”

We were at the end beyond the end.

And it looks it. We had taken our time that morning in the motel, we had drifted merrily along the road, fighting a stiff headwind and stopping for scenery and pictures. We hadn’t found restaurants so we sat under a live oak near Buras, LA. There we had apples and almond butter.

But by the Venice area we were hungry. It was late afternoon. A man at the gas station suggested we try the marina; otherwise the gas station itself was the last hope for food.

Cautiously, we bicycled into Venice. That city is past the levee, a lamb on the altar of Flood. We biked up and over the final dyke of southern Louisiana. From that small height, we had a view.

A view of four dozen smoke stacks, twice as any metal-girder towers, a hundred proud cranes at odd angles; I don’t know how many ships.

Use your imagination, friend, picture it: an entire small twentieth century nation, washed hurdy gurdy onto the shore of the Gulf, clinging to Louisiana’s postern with the promise of shrimp, crawfish and oil.

We entered in silence. The road seemed never to go through a town, rather to hint at one. Every side-lane could have been the route to a village, or simply a delivery road for semis. There was no one to ask, no human – only the raptors of industry. Deserted lots, deserted roads, empty boats, empty hangars. One road had a sign: Chevron. Another: Haliburton.

We saw one black fisherman, in this lonely place. I wondered if he was a phantom. The phantom told us the road to the marina. There, he promised, was food.

Well there are two marinas in Venice and both have a restaurant. They are on opposite sides of a harbor, and the near side was closed. The owner sold us a beer, but food was lacking; it took 90 minutes to get around to the other side.

There, at last, we ate. What should have been lunch was by now dinner, and when the last deep-fried platter was cleared away the sky was gold.

It was time to do our job.

Where is the end of my journey? One small catch: the road curves away from the river. That means there are two “end” points to choose from:

  1. The end of the actual road, which far from the river. You have to go past town to reach it.
  2. The farthest part of the main Mississippi channel that can be reached by foot. This is off the road before town.

I wanted to visit both.

First the end of the road. We turned left on the main road, the last jaunt of the whole Great River Road I’ve followed for a year. Much of it is gravel, and we walked the bikes. We forded a mud pit, then rode cautiously through a lake: yes, we did. The water floods the road often, there, and is infected with snakes, gators and a variety of chemicals. Once, I scared a fish on the road. Not long after we saw a gator—he was already dead.

Flooded

The flooded road.

This stretch also had more fishermen, these ones less like phantoms but just as quiet as we passed.

So what is the End of the World like? The road becomes dry again, then smoothly paved. It thinks it’s going somewhere. A gated entrance to a refinery. Fire hydrants. As if some movie director thought up a parody of the end of the universe and had it installed in the swamp.

Facing into the setting sun, we approached the mistaken sign, the sign that welcomes you to the “southernmost point in Louisiana.” It isn’t, but it’s as far as the road will take you. The road goes past the sign about 100 yards. Tar-smeared logs to the left; on the right, bayou.

And one heavyset man, smoking his cigarette at the End of Time.

“How’re you doing?” I asked.

He nodded his head.

Jessica at the End of the World.

Jessica at the End of the World.

Jessica and I sat on a log retaining wall, dangling our legs into swamp. It was perfect, the perfect picture of the End. Just at sunset, everything bathed in bronze, dragonflies around us, intense green river plants, living brown water, the stinging reek of tar, an ancient boat parked in the reeds.

To adventure is to make love to the world.

We had our moment, we took our pictures. This, to me, was the end of the first leg of the Great Adventure; this was what I needed to see. But all was not done, all not complete. I am a priest, you know, and I had a certain rite to perform.

When we biked away from the End, the heavyset man was still there, his smoke was still there, he watched us go, he watched us go away.

Back through the flooded road, back across the mud pit, back over the gravel, past one marina, past two marinas, all the fishermen driving away—driving away to where?—shrimp boats on trailers driving in, industry smoking in silence, a city that isn’t a city.

Back past Venice and back over the levee.

I returned to the bend in the road, the last bend in the whole road. We had biked past it that afternoon like it was nothing, and it is. I followed a track of gravel, weeds and barbed wire to edge of the river, the final reachable River if you haven’t got a boat.

After that she meanders some tens of miles through islands, coastal marsh and backwaters till she gives herself to the sea.

But here, she is river, she is the goddess Mississippi. I approached that final point, a dear friend watched as I knelt down, I placed myself in her water and I spoke to her.

Her source is a lake shaped like a triskele; I once swam to its center and offered a triskele. That was 10 months ago. Now I have followed her every inch, I have crossed her many times, I have slept on her bank, I have bathed in her water, I have eaten her food.

“May you be blessed.”
Offering made by the Wandering Dragon.

Offering made by the Wandering Dragon.

I gave her the offering that I brought. It was hand prepared by the Wandering Dragon. Thank you my brother, thank you.

One stubborn fisher watched as I threw it in, one fisher and one brave woman. And the gods, maybe the gods, did the gods watch too?

Plunk.

So it ended. So the first leg of the Great Adventure ended.

But there is much more to tell.

Journey to the End of the World 096

Update: Read the next part here

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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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