From Natchez to New Orleans, aka Get on the Sidewalk

So, it was early November, I was in Natchez, Mississippi, and it was time to start thinking about how I was getting home. Flying was not an option. I had made that promise to myself before I left, and I was standing by it. At this point, the thought of riding all the way back home to California seemed not too crazy. Clearly, I would want to stay south, given that we were rapidly marching our way to winter, but that would also mean that Texas stood in my way.

Desert gas station
A forgotten desert gas station like this haunted my imagination.

Many people I met told me stories about some famed, fearless, formidable cyclist who finally met his or her match in Texas. Snow in the Pyrenees, armed guards in Korea, obstinate passport stampers in Brazil – none of these things could stop the steady pedaling of a touring cyclist the way the vast boredom of the dry Texas desert could. Broken, exhausted, driven to lunacy by the solitude, the touring cyclist in Texas puts in that phone call. I was obsessed with imagining the receiving end of that phone call. The phone rings brightly, perhaps playing a cheerful ringtone selected for the spunky traveler. Maybe Queen’s Bicycle Race. “Oh fun! I wonder how the adventure’s going!”

“Hey! Where are you? How’s it going?”

A long pause, then a rattled sigh. “Get me out of here,” spoken in a small, weak voice, caked in dust, tinny from its long travel from some pay phone at a lone service station where a rusty sign creaks in the faint breeze. “I just want to go home.”

Well, I shook off these grim notions and decided to take one thing at a time. Before thinking about Texas, I had to think about New Orleans. So much more fun to think about New Orleans!

Kitten and tent
Kitten being a pouncy little thing with razor toes.

And so I continued on my journey south. I stayed at a cute little campground where there were four little kittens who were convinced that I had set up my tent for them. I spent the evening using my water bottles as squirt guns to keep them from pouncing all over it. Little kittens, of course, are a weakness of mine, but we couldn’t have their little claws ripping my tent to ribbons, could we? Still, they were awfully adorable, and mama cat was always nearby keeping an eye on things.

To get to Baton Rouge I just zipped down on 61. Things were pretty flat, so the miles were just flying by. In the later afternoon, just outside of Baton Rouge, I stopped at a gas station for a cup of coffee and to ask about possible campsites. Apparently, my reputation had preceded me. As I was parking my bicycle the owner of the gas station rushed out and asked if I was the girl from California traveling with “that other guy.” Since I’m not traveling with anyone I immediately replied no, but it turned out that indeed I was the girl from California he was talking about. A cyclist I had met earlier had decided that we were together, even though we weren’t, and had told this gas station owner all about how we were going to New Orleans and then were going to plan more trips. That was a bit creepy! Anyway, he told me that there was a campground coming up in about ten miles, so I went off in search of it.

Crossing into Lousiana
Welcome to Louisiana!

Maybe it was the flat ground that threw off my distance estimations, because before I knew it, I was in the middle of the congested traffic of Baton Rouge. Somehow I had managed to just fly past any campground that I should have seen. Now I found myself in a pickle. There was no bike lane, it was getting dark, and the cars clearly were completely unfamiliar with having to share the road with a cyclist. As soon as I could, I got off the road at a Days Inn. I was happy to pay for a hotel room if it meant not dying.

Without a doubt, Louisiana roads and traffic are the worst that I have dealt with so far. Of course, it takes a lot of money to maintain roads and bike lanes and secluded bike paths, all of which make cycling much more enjoyable, and we all know that Louisiana has had more pressing matters on which to spend money. But what really made matters miserable was how ridiculous the drivers were. Louisiana is the only place where I got hollered at by drivers to “get on the sidewalk.” Get on the sidewalk?? Fascinating suggestion. I was under the impression that the sidewalk is for, y’know, walking.

Jazz performance
Betsy on the flute!

Anyway, when I arrived in Baton Rouge, there were threats of some big storms coming through. Kevin, of Portland-to-Boise fame, quickly got in touch with some friends of his in the area. That way, I could have a couple places to crash while waiting out the rain. I might have protested this, but knowing that there was a cyclist out there who believed that we were traveling to New Orleans together, I was kind of happy to lay low for a while and let the distance between us grow. Besides, Kevin’s friends were a ton of fun to hang out with! Being a musician, Kevin got me hooked up with some great musicians in Baton Rouge! I got to go to a jam session, I saw his friend Betsy perform, we went to a jazz club late at night (way past my normal bedtime, I could barely stay awake), it was so much fun! Plus, I was there for the game between LSU and Alabama, which apparently is a big thing. The rain never really materialized, but I had an amazing time in Baton Rouge, thanks to the hospitality of wonderful people.

Louisiana's Old State Capitol
Browsing around Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. And cocktails afterwards!

After a few days the storm warnings went away, and it was time for me to make my way to New Orleans. Lori was kind enough to hook me up with a hotel room for a couple days in the French Quarter, so I made my way there via River Road, which was a lot more pleasant to ride than the highways. I arrived there pretty early, before I could check in, so I pushed Lutz through the commotion of the French Quarter and gawked at everything as all good tourists do. Immediately I thought of beignets, so I went by Café du Monde, but there was a line that wrapped around the seating area, so I decided to come back later. I was dying to dive into the business of eating, but I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Lutz locked up somewhere, so I mostly just walked around and looked at the river with him until I could check in to the hotel.

Of course, once I did get into the hotel and was convinced that my bike was safe, I collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.

My first sazerac in New Orleans.

But I got up again before it was dark and went on a quest for dinner. The vibe of the city was intoxicating and I felt absolutely energized walking the streets, listening to all the music being played in the streets. I bellied up to a bar and ordered a sazerac and a sampler platter of New Orleans food – red beans and rice, gumbo, and stuffed crab – and enjoyed a lengthy conversation with the bartender. The sazerac was good, but I was on a mission to find the best sazerac. And so my quest continued, as I hopped around to different jazz clubs. With a break, of course, for beignets and cafe au lait, since the line was gone.

Beignets and cafe au lait
Powdered sugar. With beignets. And cafe au lait.

My second day in New Orleans, unfortunately, greeted me with a problem that I just did not anticipate. I couldn’t understand it, how could this happen to me? Of all days, when I happened to be in New Orleans? But it was true, there it was, this terrible thing had happened: I wasn’t hungry. Really, really not hungry. To the point that the thought of eating just made me turn green. I felt fine, I just didn’t want to consume anything at all. So I thought that it would be a good idea to walk. Just walk and walk and walk until I’m hungry. So since I wasn’t kept busy by eating, I was able to walk and think and check out what was going on with other people. I got caught up on Jared’s progress (the Amarrowca guy walking across America for Be the Match) and saw that he was fully committed to finishing his walk at a 5k run in Long Beach. I wondered if I could be there. I walked myself over to the Amtrak station and told them that I wanted to be in Long Beach on November 14th. The guy looked skeptical, but he checked to see if it could be done. And sure enough, if I got on the Sunset Limited early the next morning, I could make it! Decision made, I knew now how I was getting back to California. When he handed me my ticket, though, I got all choked up. It was an odd mixture of relief and complete grief to know that I was going to be back in California soon.

Ticket home
My train ticket. Being contemplated over a Blood Mary. Sounds a little like a Tom Waits song.

I walked away from the train station, still completely not hungry, and decided that my last evening in New Orleans should be spent doing something touristy. I walked by a hawker stand selling ghost tours and the like and decided to join in on the fun. I ended up purchasing a ticket for a history tour – a little more my speed than ghost nonsense – and decided I could at least get a Bloody Mary while I waited for the tour to start. I sipped my drink and stared at my ticket. The realization that I was going home was really starting to sink in.

Well, I wasn’t able to sit around and wallow in self-reflection for too long. I had a tour to go on! The tour was actually quite good. I enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot about New Orleans history and certain customs. There was also a sprinkling of ghost stories, but not offensively so. I met another woman traveling by herself who was in New Orleans for a conference and we shared a drink together. Then I got a text from my sister Cindy telling me that our friend Tom was in New Orleans! He was helping a friend drive a car across much of the country, and they stopped in New Orleans for just a little bit that night to poke around. Crazy that we were there at the same time! So we met up in Jackson Square, and now that it was something like 9:00pm, I was finally hungry. We ate amazing food and then Tom and his friend had to get back in the car and keep driving. I went to the Roosevelt Hotel to find the world’s best sazerac. It was indeed the best sazerac I’ve ever had, but before I ordered another I looked at how much I was paying for the world’s best sazerac. Once I saw that, I left and got a free hurricane at a nearby dive instead.

Early the next morning I had to be at the train station. Poor Lutz had to get stuffed into a bike box. I sat in my seat with my feet propped up and instantly felt awkward. And then we were on our way to LA.

Feet up on the train
This is how we travel now?

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