Today’s top speed of 23.4 mph was reached about two miles before the bridge into Simmesport. Given that I am carrying 65 lbs of gear, I was proud of being able to hit that mark; also, thankful that the dog that was chasing me topped out at about 22 mph. “Cujo” saw me from across Hwy 1 and started barking the moment I came into range. I glanced at him casually and he responded with a look that said, “bring it on”. And, he did, like a hairy black and tan Tomahawk missile. This dog was relentless weaving in and out of speeding cars and trucks to get at me. After ¼ mile he was within striking distance of my foot, so, I threw a rock at him. I missed, but luckily he stopped to sniff it and I was able to get away. Not the kind of encounter you want at the end of a long day in the saddle.
I left St. Francisville in the late morning. It was a difficult convincing myself to get moving and leave this unique place. After a scenic five-mile ride, I turned a bend in the road and there it was – the Big Muddy. I’ve driven across it many times, but never had the chance to give it more than a 60 mph side glance. So, it was nice to pull into line with a dozen cars and trucks, wait for the ferry to arrive and watch the barge traffic flow on the water. (NOTE TO W.C.C. – do not read the next sentence.) I’ve always wanted to kayak the Mississippi from its headwaters to New Orleans – maybe my next trip?
After disembarking on the west side of the river, I rode toward Simmesport facing a vigorous headwind. I stopped at a Wal-Mart in New Roads and purchased a patch kit for my Therm-a-Rest pad and then found a gas station to ask for directions. The woman behind the counter referred me to one of the locals for help. He was stout, grizzled and grey with an impossibly thick Cajun accent. I showed him where I wanted to go, and in an animated voice he stuttered directions at me with spittle flying out of his mouth, but the only thing I could understand was: “Yus wouldn’t want to do dat” a phrase he repeated every few sentences. I thanked him for the help and found a patch of grass to sit down while I deciphered what was the “dat” he was warning me of. Eventually, I gave up and started riding north eventually finding the route.
But the wind continued unabated. Looking at the map, I found a short cut that could shave 20 miles off my route. As I road in that direction, a man driving a truck going in the opposite direction waived me to a stop. He explained that the road was dirt and used only by local farmers. More importantly, the ferry across the Atchafalaya River was not running. But for this kind gentleman, I would have had a 40-mile round trip ride to nowhere.
Despite the wind, it was a beautiful ride. Much of the route followed the Mississippi. Large dirt levees were visible built up from years of silt and flooding. In his book, Control of Nature, John McPhee explains how the Army Corps of Engineers has battled the Mississippi for decades in an attempt to control its course for purposes of commerce and agriculture. When you see the size of some these natural levees, you understand the Corps, despite their best efforts, will always be overmatched.
When I hit Inis, I stopped at a food mart to grab some lunch. As I sat outside and ate my Cheetos (orange food is healthy –right?) a man in a purple LSU sweatshirt stopped by and started asking me questions about my ride. Strangely, he represented that he was with the Louisiana Office of the Secretary of State and flashed a badge in his wallet to prove it. He was a nice enough guy who was incredibly interested in what I was doing and offered to do anything he could if I needed help. Sometime later, when I was back on the road, he pulled over his truck, jumped out with his hand wrapped around a cold beer, walked back and invited me to a pig cook out with his friends – “some REAL good ol’ boys”. I gave the idea long thought before declining. I still had a couple of hours of riding ahead of me in order to reach Simmonsport, which had a campground and hotel. In hindsight, I should have opted for the pig roast.
When I arrived in Simmonsport, I rode to the Yellow Bayou Civil War Park – a city run campground. In reality, it is just a run down local park that abuts the highway. No camping sites, no facilities and… no quiet. I backtracked into town and found the hotel. It’s a “gem” that will forever be remembered by me as “Motel Hell”. The room smells as if it were used for nicotine testing and is so filthy that I’m sleeping on the bed in my sleeping bag. The owner was surprised when I asked for a towel. And, there is either a domestic disturbance, rap party or drug deal happening next door. I’m sure I’ll find out when the police eventually arrive. It’s going to be a long night.