Triplogue - Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida

April 21, 1997, St. Francisville, LA to Franklinton, 96 miles

Now that we’re East of the Mississippi, everything looks, sounds, tastes and smells of The South, with all of the cliches intact.

Our day off in St. Francisville had been a necessity, and went by way too fast. Yesterday morning was spent in a futile search for brunch. We walked all over the small, Disneyesque town by the banks of the Big River, admiring the perfectly restored antebellum buildings, the old cemetery, and the towering trees. We found three restaurants in town which obviously catered to tourists, but all of them were mysteriously closed on Sundays, so we ended up at Sonic Burgers on the highway outside of town, where Mars raved about the lime squishee. The afternoon was devoted to laundry and f.t.p.’ing. By the pool a young Southern belle was sunning next to a baby alligator in a cooler. Her fratboy hubby and his loud pals came by later with another tiny gator. Apparently they had found them next to their roadkill mom and planned to raise them for a few months before releasing them into a bayou, but the way they were handling the poor reptiles, I’d be surprised if they survived the day.

Gloria, who drove us to the ferry two days ago, had told us that St. Francisville was in the hilliest part of Louisiana, to which we laughed since we hadn’t seen a hill in days. But nearly a hundred miles of riding up and down and up and down have convinced me that she was well-informed. Thankfully, Louisiana’s Hill Country is much tamer than its Texan cousin; I didn’t have to use my granny gear once all day, perhaps because the tailwind we were blessed with fairly blew us up all the hills.

Today’s first stop was at Oakley Plantation, where John James Audubon and his young male assistant (the guide informed us that they shared a bedroom, and we only saw one bed in it) spent a few months, making prints and tutoring the owner’s daughter. The house, its "dependencies" (like the kitchen and the slave quarters) and the grounds were in exquisite shape. On the tour with us was a group of demonstrative French people who were very impressed with our feat; they made a big point of poking at my quads and glutes and told me of their plan to rent a motor home in Phoenix after touring the South.

From here the road wound through verdant canopied roads, past columned plantation homes and tarpaper shacks. The air was heavy and moist, carrying the sounds of birds, crickets and frogs. The overall impression of Southerness was almost overwhelming. In Norwood we stopped for lunch. Fred ordered what is likely to be his last chicken fried steak for a while: it looked like pounded, breaded placenta. A gregarious blond guy at the table next to us expressed curiosity over our route and told us how to pronounce the names of the towns we were to pass through on the way to Franklinton.

By the time we reached Chipola (accent on the second syllable, provoking us to dub it "Shithola"), all evidence of Southern opulence had disappeared. Most houses were trailers, with multiple autos on blocks in their front yards and lots of mean barking dogs ("forty acres and a mule territory," my brother noted). But the scenery was still gorgeous and the road a dream. At mile seventy-five came Tangipahoa (which we’d forgotten how to pronounce by the time we reached it), more a ruin than a town. Lots of nasty dogs and sullen-looking little black kids. The last twenty miles were especially hilly, just when we were ready for the cycling day to be over, but the gorgeous quality of the light and the perfect rolling pastures more than made up for the pain.

Franklinton isn’t much to get excited about, but it is probably the biggest town we’ve been in since DeRidder. Coming into town, our welcoming committee consisted of an asshole in a blue Cadillac Sedan de Ville with Louisiana plates WXJ I45, who thought it clever to lay into his horn for the several minutes he drove behind us. We’re now lounging around our fleabag motel, wondering whether we should take a mini-break in New Orleans tomorrow…

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Fred and Mars toy with the idea of running a plantation

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A light southern breakfast -- pass the gravy

April 22, 1997, Franklinton, LA to Gulfport, MS, 96 miles—guest rider/writer Mars

A day for the olfactory sense. The above-mentioned fleabag is good indication that most of this part of the country has been soaked in stale, stinky backwash for a good, long time. Our motel room was no exception. Since our impression of Franklinton was less than favorable, we decided to pedal 20 or so miles to Bogalusa for breakfast. (A personal profile note of interest: Bikebrat Fred has the metabolism of a hummingbird and cannot operate effectively without frequent ingestion of high-energy foods. Fred also admits to being cranky, and even fell while stationary in front of a few amused rednecks. "I don’t like riding before breakfast," he explains.) We woke to a thick, threatening sky, with wind pushing dark clouds in various directions. Since towns are now few and far between, we have good reason to be fearful of getting stuck in a storm with no shelter.

While en route to Bogalusa, I held my breath several times passing some ripe roadkill at various stages of decomposition. Everything smells ripe. The air is sweet with honeysuckle and cow dung. The ever-present ditchwater smells like ditchwater, but worse. Are we in India?

Bogalusa, a relatively thriving metropolis of 14,000, is obviously industrial, and centered on what was formally the largest paper mill in the country. We tried the first breakfast place into town and entered a desolate and again stinky little place with nobody in sight but Bob Barker on the blaring TV. It smells as if the carpet was flooded and never dealt with… mildew to the tenth power. Two ladies emerge and say they’re between meals—try "The Boxcar." Their contorted directions, which include no street names, but many red lights and train trestles, somehow lead us easily to a quintessential diner. The Boxcar is a train car with maybe five tables. This is truly a family-run operation—two brothers own the place and their infirm mother seems to hang out just for moral support, or a cheap nursing home. They are extremely friendly and genuinely interested in our trip. The owners pull all of their customers into the conversation ("y’all gotta get a bike and go to Florida with these boys!"), and before you know it, everyone is either helping us with route planning, offering us words of encouragement or just staring at us slack-jawed, in utter disbelief. The breakfast is huge—two full plates of food each. We all are given grits, whether we asked for them or not. The extremely tentative waitress ("Y’all done with your ice?") tells us that she doesn’t eat that grits crap and is unable to tell us what grits really are. If anybody out there knows what they are, tell us!

As we leave Bogalusa, which we have cruelly and incorrectly dubbed "Bogusloser," there is an anti-climactic bridge-crossing into Mississippi. The meteorological advice offered at the Boxcar and our own built-in barometers (my knee) tell us storms are on the way. Our original intention was to go some 40 more miles into the heart of nowhere and camp tonight, but A+F are relative newbies to the camping phenomenon and opt not to be deflowered in such nasty conditions. Our travel advisor at the Boxcar said that there aren’t any hotels near where we were headed (Wiggins). A decision needed to be made quickly. At the first town in Mississippi, appropriately called Crossroads, we decided to turn south toward the coast for protection from the storm, despite paying the price with a raging wind out of the southwest. (Side note for Blues fans—I believe that this is the "Crossroads" that legend Robert Johnson sang about. Since my historical point was lost on the brats ["who’s Robert Johnson?"], I thought I’d throw it into cyberspace).

The scenery is still lush, stunning, and stinky as the miles into the wind get tougher. We trade off miles breaking the wind and watch the odometer carefully. The brutal humidity drenches us and fluid intake is at IV level. Our next country store stop doubled as a butcher shop, where we quaffed Gatorades ‘n stuff and received still more directions. The garbage from the butcher was stacked in flimsy boxes by our bikes, and we offered various theories on what was the source of the worst smell of the day. Not pretty… Cleanliness is not a big priority down here.

Our minds become focused on getting to the coast before the storms do. The promise of many beaches and casinos in Gulfport seems to motivate us a bit and takes the edge off of our nerves and tired legs. En route, though, we stopped through butt-ugly Picayune and Kiln, the hometown of Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre. Even Andy, ambivalent to professional sports, feels his Wisconsin roots emerge and remarks on the spiritual nature of our Packer pilgrimage.

The final miles into Gulfport were very easy and light-hearted. We gleefully pedaled along the ocean toward the tall Grand Casino, arguably the best hotel in Mississippi. The last smell of the day is that of ourselves, which must not impress the bellboys in front of the hotel. We are coated in sweat, sunscreen, road detritus and fatigue. After another 90+ mile day, we relished the luxury of our room, tasty dinner, blackjack tables and clean shower.

April 24, Gulfport, MS to Dauphin Island, AL

Our Gulfport R&R felt justified as we watched the Weather Channel documenting the severe thunder showers and tornado warnings that were pummeling our intended route. Gambling was obviously not the right distraction for me. My cash card demonstrated its unwillingness to be party to this type of debauchery. It seemed to be incompatible with all the machines in the casino. Proving my ATM card correct I lost a "Ben", Marty dropped the same. Andy was our sole winner walking with over a hundred smackers. The experience reminded me of the taxi driver I had a few years ago in Las Vegas. She asked, "Are you a gambler?" When I said no she said "Good! Look around you; this place was not built on winners." Most of the folks in the Gulfport casino were retirees hypnotized by the flashing lights and deafening noise of the slots. The din and distraction of these vile machines give me the shivers.

Took the opportunity of our downtime to hit the local bike shop. Rode there on Seigfried (my bike) without my packs. Odd to ride the beast unburdened. Felt clumsy and unstable pedaling without sixty pounds of gear. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to appreciate riding this way again? Gulfport drivers menaced me en route to the shop by driving too close, cutting into my path and not yielding right-of-way. When I finally arrived at the local Schwinn depot I was greeted by a most unknowledgeable shopkeep. He pacified his ignorance listening to a Christian radio station and told me he had found this vocation recently. He had taken over the shop from his lessee a few months earlier and had no experience bicycling or running a shop. After giving him a few tips on what products he might consider carrying I rode off with what I could find from my shopping list.

On the way back to blue-haired zombie land I had cause to declare butthead driver of the week. This car drove off an empty road onto the shoulder directly next to me and began to try to push me off the road knowingly and then sped off. Foolishly, I sprinted to catch him at the next light. I was so furious I could scarcely breathe. I rapped on his passenger window and the driver’s mother rolled down the window. Two deep breaths and I reeled on him "What were you thinking? Would you have driven that close if I were your son, daughter, brother or friend?" "You did come awfully close honey," added his mother. I capped it off eloquently with "You are a loser!" which made me feel better especially since he didn’t "cap" me with a gun or run me over after I rode away.

I changed our chains, cleaned our drivetrains and then spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning the grease from under my nails. We had a big evening planned and I intended to look my best. The woman who answered the phone at Joey’s, the club we were to go to, told me that we were only five miles away. After 12 miles and an $18 cab fare we arrived. Luck was with us. Wednesdays are "drink and drown night." D&D means that you pay admission, are given a cup and can drink as much as you can until midnight for free. Nothing could appeal to Andy’s parsimonious side more. I had a few beers while Andrew tried to satisfy the second "D".

We played pool with some sharks and lost badly while a lawyer from USX tried to pick up on Andy. Mingling was fun. We met a gargantuan drag named Simone who stood 6’5" barefoot and was the same height as the Eiffel Tower in heels and her wig. I had visions of a cartoonish end for her if she were to get too close to the overhead fans. Everyone seemed sort of drunk or stoned and the music blared so loudly that I too began to feel dizzy. I left Andy there to pursue D&D to its fullest and retired to our hotel. On the way back the talkative driver told me of all the benefits the Casinos were bringing to the community.

The morning came too soon for all of us, especially Andrew. Our trip began on a busy coastal four-lane number without a shoulder. Andy’s new chain was giving his derailleur heartburn and his bike would not stay in gear. Mechanical problems, hangover, and riding conditions all taken together marred poor Andy’s riding experience. After a few stops and tense moments his bike was finally functioning. Mechanical failure would be one of this day’s themes. The sky was dark and threatening, traffic obnoxious and the roads were poorly surfaced. Mars saved the day by navigating us onto quieter roads and by lunch the sky began to clear. An unexpected diversion came in the form of a big dead bear by the side of the road, which bore an uncanny resemblance to a rug after being picked clean by buzzards.

Lunch was a revelation. It was on this leg we discovered the ultimate fast food lunch, Wendy’s Pita Pocket; tasty, caloric and healthy all packaged together. Difficult to order in the deep south without a laugh. Seems their accents make "Pita" sound like "Peter", and when our hostess barked our order of "Peters" to the kitchen everyone in the queue had a chuckle.

Quieter roads, sunny weather and favorable riding conditions made the afternoon more palatable than the morning. We stopped to snack at convenience stores in small towns where Mars experimented with new incarnations of his favorite junk food flavor "Blue raspberry." We contemplated where in nature the elusive blue raspberry occurs while Mars tried it in "Now and Laters", taffy, gum, Gatorade and countless other forms.

As we approached the coast the wind became stronger and Andrew’s rear tire began to fail. It was a slow leak so we would stop every few miles to refill it. Finally as sunset began to approach we decided it was time to change it. Readers who have traveled or lived in areas plagued by insects know that just before sunset is prime feeding time. "Nit-Nits" or noseeums descended on us as soon as we stopped. I stopped working with Andrew to replace the tire to pull out our bug repellent but it was too late. We had already been chewed to bits by the little buggers. Mars opted to pedal on rather than be eaten alive. Unfortunately the changed tire failed once again after only a few miles and we had to change it again receiving the tidings of the little nasty gnats again through our industrial strength "Deet".

All day we had had visions of camping on a deserted beach on Dauphin Island. We imagined a peaceful beach and idyllic sunset sipping cocktails as we watched a full moon rise over the Atlantic. The second tire change altered that vision. Andy and I envisioned our entire bodies covered with insect bites and convinced Marty that we should seek a Motel. We did watch the sunset over the Atlantic, and Andy and Mars did manage to find a margarita, so some of the fantasy was realized. As a bonus our other vision came to life as welts rose on my legs, arms, neck and scalp all courtesy of my friends the nit-nits.

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Living it up on the "redneck riviera"; boat in background is actually a casino

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Alien homo invades bastion of straightness; subject of the next X-Files?

April 25, Dauphin Island, AL to Pensacola, FL, 60 miles

I wanted to cry when I went out to pack my bike after a night of near-comatose slumber. The rear tire was flat again –the third one in fewer than ten miles of riding. Mars and Fred insisted on just pumping it up so as to make the ferry to the Alabama mainland, where they planned to have breakfast. A fresh tube and coffee would have to wait.

We had anticipated a leisurely 50-mile ride along pristine beaches all the way to Pensacola, but as soon as we hit the road it became evident that we would be riding straight against a serious easterly wind. Waves washed over the deck of the ferry as we pouted and stood slantways into the gale. Fred pumped up my tire during the crossing, but it was flat again when we reached the other side, where I pushed my bike into the lee side of a closed restaurant for yet another round of repairs. I was beginning to feel like Sisyphus, and imagined running over my ungrateful mount with a steamroller.

Coffee and food at a nearby restaurant helped change my mood some. It was in a yachty sort of place, with all the other customers talking about fish. One old guy came up to us and questioned us about our trip, and told us he was a cycling enthusiast too. With geeky joy he told us all about his three bikes and the componentry he had equipped them with himself. He said he’d have to sell all of them now though, since a car accident had permanently damaged two of his vertebrae. Then our waiter told us that his mom’s boyfriend had spent over a year riding his bike through Latin America, subsisting entirely on nuts and fruit he found by the roadside.

By the time we had finished our meal, it was nearly noon and we’d ridden all of four miles. There were over fifty miles of slow riding to go. We resorted to the "kilometer system", switching off windbreaking duty with every kilometer post. Yes, Alabama surprised us with its unlikely embracing of the metric system, plus the best roads (and paths!) for cycling we’ve seen in any state. Still, every kilometer seemed like ten. In order to keep my momentum, I told myself that if I stopped pedaling for so much as a second, we’d be blown back to Texas. After passing through the town of Gulf Shores, we pedaled along the sea coast, which is revoltingly overdeveloped. For several miles we rode with an older cyclist with an odd riding style that reminded me of a frog. We didn’t get a chance to talk to him, though, since conversation was futile with the howling wind. He turned around at the Florida border, for reasons which would become apparent to us later.

We decided to stop at the Flora-bama Lounge and Package Store to grab some grub and check out the scene. Preparations were being made for the biggest event of the year in these parts: The Annual Mullet Toss. It was scheduled to take place the next morning, and apparently involves flinging fish for fun and profit. When we queried the bartendress exactly where the event took place, she told us that the fish were thrown "from Florida to Alabama." We learned that the guy who usually wins practices all year in earnest, and that many thousands of people attend. If Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth, the Florabama is probably the straightest place on Earth; even Mars felt uncomfortable there. The only decorations were beer advertisements, and the clientele tended towards drunken frat boys in baseball caps and big-haired bimbos encased in tube tops, trapped in an eternal Spring Break. I can’t remember ever feeling more like an alien. Our cycling gear was obviously not acceptable attire, and no one so much as smiled at us. So much for Southern hospitality.

The prospect of biking the remaining twenty-five miles into Pensacola was not very attractive, especially with the knowledge that we’d be sharing the shoulderless road with returning clientele from the Flora-bama. We made it somehow, though, rolling into town just in front of the first in a series of thunderstorms that would keep us off the road for the duration of the weekend.

April 28, Pensacola to Crestview, FL, 62 miles

We thought about building an ark it rained so hard and long. Instead we broke down and rented a car, the first of the trip. We were suckered by Enterprise Rent-a-Car who advertised a rate of $14.95 per day that somehow worked out to be $27 after all the fine print. We felt fleeced for about two seconds until we recalled how big Pensacola is and how few, far between and expensive taxis were.

It was a typical BikeBrats weekend. We worked on bikes, saw some movies, explored nightlife and generally relaxed. My relaxation was mandatory. I caught a nasty cold. In the movie department we were three-for-three. They were all terrible. Kolya was an overly sentimental child exploitation movie. We all imagined the Academy members saying "oh, the kid is so cute; we have to give it some sort of an award. Gross Pointless Blank and the Saint were so bad they don’t even deserve comment.

Mars’s departure was a blur; I vaguely remember saying adios before dawn on Saturday. We will miss his wit, writing, stamina and terminally great attitude. He is officially welcome to join the Brats anytime. Another Brat encounter, albeit short, began just as this one wound down. Our dear and wild friend Susan N. joined us for a wacky night on the town. She was escaping a difficult domestic situation: a mother-in-law visit (her girlfriend’s mother).

I was designated driver and we did the Pensacola Bar crawl. We decided on a lesbian focus partly in honor of our guest and also for a little variety. The Red Carpet was a very entertaining mix of folks. Everyone from the hot bartendress who looked like a southern sorority babe to the drag queens seemed to be mixing and having a great time. From the carpet we moved on to underclothes. The Red Garter was our next stop. It adjoined a "titty" bar so the local military boys can go out to a gay bar and still remain in the closet. All they need do is enter the through the stripper venue and use the hallway that connects the two to walk into the queer bar. The jewel in the Pensacola homo bar crown (Andrew maintains that it is "the" best homo bar in the world – perhaps influenced by the Bartendress giving him free beverages all night) is indisputably the Riviera. The live band was doing an Indigo Girls cover as we walked in. Still, uncharacteristically, Andy raved about them despite his rabid dislike for the I-girls. The lead had a great voice and the crowd was so inspired they helped them break down their equipment and schlep it out to their truck. While we swayed to the rhythms of the band we met the most unusual couple I have ever met. Amy, a rather nondescript 24 year old white girl, works for the FBI and Allen, a very tall, handsome and distinctive African American is in the Marine Corps. The two live in West Virginia and decided to visit their families. Amy was spending time with her aunt, the Bartendress of the Riviera and Andrew’s benefactor, when we met them. Turns out that Amy had a revelation after they married, she liked girls as well as boys. Allen encouraged and supported her wishes and now she swings both ways. On this night Amy was trying to cultivate Allen’s potential switch hitting by playing matchmaker between Andy and Allen. Very little came of her brokering, although Andy did manage to deliver Allen’s first boy-kiss before the night ended.

While all this drama was going on, Susan and I managed to meet everyone in the bar who was demented by too much alcohol consumed. From the clueless dyke who misinterpreted my hello as a pick-up line, Rob who jiggled on the dance floor staring at himself in the mirror to Justin who announced that he was asexual for the last 2.5 years except for numerous one-night stands -- we met them all. Rick (the manager/owner?) was the victim of Susan’s BikeBrats sales pitch. She put her PR hat on and wouldn’t take it off until he agreed to take our picture, put it on his website, and link to ours. (Rick – wherever you are, send us your web and e-mail addresses, they got lost in the blur that was Saturday/Sunday)

My coach turned into a pumpkin as my antihistamines wore off and I staggered off to the hotel. I vaguely remember Susan and Andrew staggering in around 5am raving about the ultimate afterhours bar, Bedlam. Someone from the Riviera drove (an extra scary thought) them there though it was two blocks away. On the way there Rob the gyrator magically produced two six-packs, stuffed a few in Andrew’s pockets and explained that Bedlam permitted you to bring your own alcohol though they served none. They staggered into the bar to find the "Mecca" of Pensacola debauchery. Everyone from every bar, straight or gay, made their pilgrimage here to complete their weekend if they hadn’t had enough intemperance already.

Storms raged Sunday both in the sky and the poor heads of my companions. Somehow we managed to make it to breakfast at our new trip favorite (Waffle House) before 1pm. There we discovered a land stuck in time. Where Kraft pasteurized processed "Cheese Food" is still worshipped like the Oracle of Delphi. Andrew is a fan of the hash browns which can be ordered scattered, diced, chunked, diced, smothered and/or covered. The most entertaining part of the whole experience is listening to the waitresses pass the orders to the cooks who have refused to adopt the idea of being handed the orders on paper or electronically. The question we kept asking is how did they keep my smothered/covered/diced order from being confused with Andy’s "all of the above" order?

Bike riding? You’ve come to this site to read about riding? Pfffft! O.K., after computing until all hours Sunday night we returned the car, had another Waffle House experience, checked out of the hotel and set out. Andrew had another flat and had to change it just before we left. We hadn’t even left the city limits when he had another and was nearly in tears. A stop at the best bicycle shop of the trip remedied everything. The Bike Doctor, run by Mary and her husband, sold us a new tire and a few accessories. They even extended us the 10% discount reserved for bicycle tourists despite my perturbed demeanor. We finally hit the road just before two as I was losing my energy, my cold and the decongestants getting the best of me.

The only saving graces of the day were the weather and the wind. The black, nasty, pregnant and threatening clouds hovered around us leaving a patch of blue above us almost the entire (short) riding day while a stiff wind pushed our butts along at great speed. We arrived in Crestview after less than four hours of pedaling, checked into the unaffiliated Hilton Motel and called it a day.

(tomorrow we will ride through DeFuniak Springs and text discussing this will be in the next triplogue)

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Andy's new best friend Mary, who delivered him from tire hell

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