Day 20: What Happened After New Orleans?

 

‘Twas Memorial Day, and throughout New Orleans,

Tourists were hungover, in bed with their dreams.

But out in Arabi, inside the school called Camp Hope,

30 stirred at 5 am, fighting internal clocks that said, “nope.”

They slapped on their spandex, ate biscuits, said bye,

and wondered how three days’ break had affected their thighs.

Then hopped on their bikes and into the streets.

It was a labyrinth; we got help from the sweeps.

At 90 degrees and over 90 miles,

I’d be lying if I told you this day was all smiles.

I biked over the levee with Sarah Woodcock,

 

sometimes we just rode but at others we talked.

Our path took us past churches, food banks, and Cargill’s grain elevators,

but it took three gas stations ’til one that didn’t say, “no bathroom, laterz.”

Then rain began falling, clouding my eyesight,

and pushing me off the road with its windy might.

Rob stopped the van to point us all to a gas station

so we could hatch a plan to get across this part of the nation.

We would all cross the Mississippi together in line,

in neat rows of two like in Madeline.

So Rob got in the van and drove slowly behind us,

protecting us from cars and blaring “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

But right before the bridge, my buddy got a flat.

Melissa yelled, “stay on the road,” so I left Christina behind,

“Ohana means family” stinging in my mind.

The bridge was hard: it was steep and fast.

But those who rode around me cheered me on, making sure I could last.

On the other side, we had lunch the second

and I waited for Christina to make her ascent.

Then she, Kevin Nguyen, Sarah Jernigan, and I

set off to complete the final 20 miles.

We raced against the sunset to make it to our host

Biking so fast that my lungs felt like toast.

We rode into the gym of an old local school,

total miles: 101. Feeling: pretty cool.

A rinse with a hose and an early bedtime.

We had made it, at last, to Plaquemine.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Day 20: What Happened After New Orleans?

  1. Elliot S. says:

    Hey Jenna

    Love the blog! Some familiar looking pictures. Texas will be great. How many times have you asked yourself “The Question”?

    Ride on!!!

    Elliot

    Like

  2. Elliot S. says:

    Jenna – By reading your blog I can tell that you have definitely asked yourself “The Question”.

    Below is a chapter from from a book I am writing about my biking adventures. It is unedited but I think you can relate. Enjoy the weekend! Ride on!!!

    The Question

    “The unquestioned life is not worth living” – Socrates

    I have read many long distance biking blogs and have noticed that the authors of almost every blog, at some point on their journey, ask themselves some variation of what I like to call “The Question”. Once you ask yourself The Question, you don’t tend to ask it again. It’s a question that you need to get out of your system, and once it’s asked you realize it doesn’t really have a specific answer, so no need to ask it too many times. The Question usually doesn’t hit you on the first day, or first week of your journey – you have too much adrenaline flowing through your veins. The Question usually gets asked when you are way out of your comfort zone, when you are riding through some extraordinary weather, or feeling severe pain.

    “The Question” hit me on the tenth day of our trip.  We had spent the night before in Diamond Head Mississippi, a typical small town in the Deep South.  Things had gone pretty well up until that point. I had survived an emergency root canal in Pensacola Florida several days before. We had figured out how to fix flat tires. We were settling into a routine, and were clearly getting stronger, the physical aspects were manageable, and the topography was fairly flat.

    Looking at the Adventure Cycling maps the night before we noticed that there were not many lodging opportunities for long stretches in the days ahead. The thought of sleeping in a tent had no appeal to us and we were willing to alter our route to avoid camping outside, besides, we didn’t have a tent with us, yet.  Also, as we got farther away from civilization it was unclear where we could get food and where we would cook that food at a campsite given that there were restrictions on lighting fires because of the severe drought affecting the southern tier of the country. We also needed to shave some mileage off the trip to have a chance to complete the journey by August 14th – when I needed to get back to work.  So we decided to go off the Adventure Cycling trail, and take I-10 from Mississippi into Louisiana – a more direct route with many lodging opportunities – a win/win, or so we thought.  

    We had been on I-10 the previous day, and aside from the noise of the trucks, the shoulders were fine – wide and in good condition.  On that tenth day however everything would change.  

    As we left Diamond Head and got onto I-10 the shoulder got progressively worse – the condition of the pavement deteriorated and the shoulder got narrower to the point where we were drafting 18 wheelers five feet to our left while riding on a trash strewn, bumpy stretch of road.    
      
     I have always been sensitive to noises of all kinds. Even minor noises like the buzz of a florescent light bulb can drive me crazy. Needless to say drafting trucks going 80 miles an hour on I-10 was really difficult. I had my Iphone bracketed onto my handlebars and was listening to my playlist (without headphones) as loud as I could.  Most of the time I couldn’t hear the music over the sound of the traffic whizzing by, but anything I could do to cut through the noise and focus on something other than those giant tires spinning like tree saws  to my left was a welcome distraction. About three miles from the Louisiana border was one of the two low points of the trip (the other was a long day ending in Comfort Texas – a great name to end a tough day).  

    We were biking on the debris infested and broken pavement of the shoulder of I – 10, when all of a sudden the shoulder pretty much disappeared. Directly in front of us was a long overpass, about two miles long, crossing high over some marshland as the shoulder quickly narrowed to less than 12 inches.  It was about 8am (rush hour) with what seemed like bumper to bumper traffic cruising at 80 mph.  We had to get off our bikes since there wasn’t enough width to ride, plus there was a thirty foot drop over the low guardrail to our right.  We gingerly walked along the slightly elevated curb that supported the guardrail while hunched over and walking our bikes to our left, on the lower 12 inch shoulder.  As we walked across that overpass, that was the moment that I asked myself “The Question” –

    So exactly how did I get here?

    Because The Question comes directly from your soul, what I was really asking was – How the hell did all the cosmic forces since the universe was formed billions of years ago, line up with all my ancestors who had probably transversed most continents over the last 5000 years, put me on this overpass in Louisiana (of all places) with my only son, at this exact moment?

    Later that evening Coby told me he thought it was a really cool day and wanted to blog about how he could have stuck out his tongue and easily touched one of those speeding trucks – ahh, the joys of youth.  My overwhelming thought at the time was that it would be ok if I didn’t make it back to Stamford Connecticut, but it would not be ok if Coby did not make it back.  I didn’t sleep well for several nights after that incident, partially because of that thought, and mostly because I could not get the haunting sound of the trucks out of my head.  

    From that day forward if we had the time, and especially if we were going off the Adventure Cycling trail we would use Google Earth to get a detailed view of the roads we would be traveling on the next day. Using Google Earth you can literally see the road you will be riding on, whether there is a shoulder and what condition they are in. Although we usually didn’t have a choice of how we were getting someplace, it did give us a heads up as to what we were headed for.

    Fortunately that day in Louisiana ended well on a beautiful quiet bike path – thanks to some kind ladies in the Louisiana tourist center, (See Chapter ___) and our journey became increasingly quieter as we progressed.  

    Despite the inherent dangers in the solitude of west Texas, with no cell phone service, vultures circling above, and rattlesnakes chirping in the grassy shoulders below, I always appreciated that quiet, compared to the busy highways and rush hour traffic on I-10 in Louisiana or a big city like El Paso.

    “The Question” in many respects is a rhetorical question, but once you ask it, if you keep going, you will know that you are probably already in “The Warrior Zone”.

    Like

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