The Iron Piggy’s latest run was a quick 10-day thing down to New Orleans and back, 3,688 miles. I’ve been home for a month now, since April 30, just getting around to writing up the road report. But I’m more on-the-ball than British Petroleum. The Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, the night before I left Rhode Island. As we speak, the hole it drilled in the bottom of the Gulf is still spewing oil.
The ride amounted to five days down, two days there, three days back, and nine nights under the stars. A few nights there were storm clouds between me and the stars but I was warm and dry and snoozed away through the lightning and thunder. Camped one night in Maryland, one in Virginia, two in Georgia, three in Louisiana, one in Missouri and one in West Virginia.
On the way south, the plan was to stick to the back roads as much as possible, so I ducked off the slab in Virginia and rode the Skyline Drive for 100 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway for another 450 or so after that, down to North Carolina.
Pretty groves here and there, between mountain views.
I camped in Fancy Gap, VA at the end of Day 2. There was just one other tent camper there, happened to be a biker. Same bike as mine, Harley Road King. An ’02, mine’s an ’04. Good guy, Mickey Dobbins of Columbia, SC. He was testing some camping gear for the Hoka Hey challenge ride on June 20, Key West FL to Homer, AK, 14,000 miles up and back. Live long, ride far, brother!
Big rain in store that night! And the next day, too.
I intended to pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway south of Nashville and ride that for 450 miles to southern Mississippi, near the Louisiana line. But it was not to be. More good luck! I would have been in Mississippi on April 24 when a swarm of tornadoes came through. Ten people died in and around Yazoo, MS, right along my route. I had held up in northwest Georgia because it stormed hard overnight on Day 3 and the forecast was for thunderstorms on Day 4 as well. So I hunkered down in my tent for two nights, snoozed, ate, snoozed, did some writing, snoozed, uploaded photos to Facebook, snoozed…
For two stormy nights, I saw Georgia through Brook Benton’s eyes.
I feel it’s rainin all over de worl…
Interior shot at the local 5-star hotel, Calhoun, GA.
Lazy doorman split early again.
You can’t get good help these days.
I complained about somebody tramping muddy boots through my office.
Dawn on Day 6, Bayou Lacombe, Louisiana.
I opened my eyes, looked up, was amazed to see God’s thumbprint on my tent.
Then all of a sudden He spake and said, “Dig it, look how big My thumb is.”
My closest neighbor in Bayou Lacombe.
He was one determined cockadoodle-doodler.
Coyotes and whippoorwills sang me to sleep every night, this guy woke me every morning.
Here he is with his harem.
Bayou Lacombe is across the water from New Orleans, on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain. I went there to see Cajun Mike Smith, a reporter I knew in my Providence Journal days. He works overseas now, AFP bureau chief in Lagos, Nigeria. Based in Paris before that, Trinidad before that… He comes home to Nola every April, before the weather turns hot. I made a point to get there this year, get the tour from a native, avoid the tourist traps.
Got there on a Sunday evening, had all day Monday and Tuesday to hang with Mike, split for home early Wednesday. But I saw quite a bit in two days. We did the Bourbon Street thing, heard some jazz at Preservation Hall, toured the Lower Ninth Ward, where you can still see houses with the “1 dead in attic” hieroglyph that rescuers spray-painted on the front walls.Mike and I had a fantastic buffet lunch at a Creole restaurant in Treme, Lil’ Dizzy’s. You have to be a native to know where it is. Gumbo, fried chicken, smothered okra, bread pudding… I didn’t eat again for 24 hours. Wasn’t even a little hungry for dinner that night nor breakfast the next morning.
The women who work there had more fun in an hour than I ever saw anybody have in 26 years in the newspaper game. They danced and sang along with the radio as they worked, tending the buffet, waiting tables, running the register, just really living their work day. They had the joie de vivre, all right, spontaneous and genuine. Wonderful to see. Thank you, Cajun Mike, for the real-life tour of your city, the great Who Dat town that will rise again, despite being kicked in the teeth by Katrina and now again by BP.
My last night on Bayou Lacombe, full moon rising.
Didn’t want to ride back to Rhode Island the way I came, so I followed the Mississippi north to the Ohio. That took me through Arkansas, Missouri and a bit of Tennessee and Illinois before I cut east in Kentucky. While riding I-55 North in Mississippi I saw a tornado path from the week before. The twister had cut through a forest, obliterating everything within a 75-yard track. It cut right across the highway and kept going. Thousands of trees up to a foot in diameter were snapped off eight or ten feet above ground. And no debris anywhere. It probably ended up miles away. Awesome destructive power, a jaw-dropping sight. So much so I was a good half mile down the interstate before I thought about stopping to grab a photo. Wasn’t about to walk back. Oh well…
Somewhere in Missouri on Day 9
Two-lane crossing on the Mighty Mississip
Quite a tall span, big shipping on the river below.
Lots of nice roads to ride on the Mississippi,
along fields and levees, forgotten little towns….
The Mississippi from the Kentucky side, a few miles south of its confluence with the Ohio. Lewis and Clark stopped here on their way west along That Dark And Bloody River, in 1803.
There was a Fort Jefferson here at the time.
Headed east, across Kentucky
Day 10 dawns in West Virginia. Some rain overnight, then a pleasant sunrise
By dumb luck, I missed the tornadoes on the way down. Now I was running north just ahead of the floods. I’m sure you all read about Dixie being under water. Those torrential rains were just a day behind me. I wanted to get home to Rhode Island on Day 3, even though I had ridden well out of my way in Arkansas and Missouri. That meant a long day in the saddle, more than the usual 500 or 600 miles.
Day 3 was an 812-miler. It was already dark when I was riding north along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, my home state. Still had a good 250 miles to go, but the Iron Piggy’s big heart was beating strong, breathing in, breathing out, she said hang on, Moe, I’ll get you there. We rode twisty Route 209 north along the Water Gap, crossed into New York on I-84, cut southeast on the back roads of Connecticut, grabbed I95 north in New Haven and rolled the last 100 miles home.Tony DePaul
Cranston, Rhode Island, USA
May 30, 2010