Thunder, thunder, thunder…
Horizontal palm trees, torrential rain, two metre visability and whipping sand… ah the Gulf Coast.
Though the temperatures are finally too high for freezing, once again the elements are pitted against us.
(Bad weather follows me. I went to Ayres Rock in July, 2007 and there was snow for the first time in recorded history. Rubbish.)
We are meant to be on the road today but the severe weather warning has put us off. It was the Tornado Watch that did it.
Luckily, tommorrow’s forcast shows sun and tailwinds so – though it means we have a couple of 200km days in a row - it seems worth it. Previous experience has shown that going 5 miles an hour, soaked to the bone, receiving an all over exfoliation, loses its excitement quite rapidly.
Anyway, it gives me chance to catch up on here and so… back to last week and Louisiana.
We hit the road from Lafayette early and headed straight onto the interstate. Though we have been cycling on these intermittently it began to dawn on us that it might not be such a great idea. Sadly there was nowhere else to go.
Busy roads and miles of thin bridges doesn’t make for the most relaxing pedaling but it was above the swamps so – if you cycled with music on, looking away from the traffic- it was pretty awesome…
Eventually though, we hit a bridge too far (no shoulder, no way of crossing the lane of lorries and no hope of survival). Standing daunted at the side of the road it was only seconds before the roadside assistance arrived. And – after only a slight admonishment for our presence on the motorway – we were packed into the back of a van for the last three miles to Gulf South Solar.
As founder of the Louisiana Solar Energy Society, Jeff had kindly answered my email and had welcomed us with open arms, energy bars, steaming mugs of coffee and extra solar panels.
Truely the stereotype of southern hospitality could not be more accurate.
After trying out his electric bike, meeting the team and chatting with Mark, who heads up the local cycling group, we headed straight to… pint night!
The next day, after more cake and kindness, we were waved off on our final push to New Orleans.
Here we were meeting Niall and Marian, our lovely friends from G24, we stayed in LA.We had also been put in touch with Maite and Lee, the brother and sister-in-law of Ann we had met the previous day. They had offered us a place to stay.
It was a wonderful long weekend.
We drank a few too many cocktails (absinthe? Marian…), checked out the French quarter, jogged the levee, saw some aligators, went for beniers at Cafe du Monde, were taken for an amazing long ladies lunch (with 25c martini’s – and Jamie), checked out the carnival masks, costumes and music, saw the Saints win, given a fleur de lis and taken to visit the Make it Right Foundatation.
The Make it Right Foundation was set up to rebuild the Lower 9th area of the City after hurricane Katrina. Established by Brad Pitt (who sadly was not around at the time), it is also being built sustainably. Gulf South Solar have provided solar panels for many of the homes.
It is a fantastic project but covers only a corner of the work needed to restore a city after such an incredible catastrophe.
Four years later the area still provides a stark reminder of the destructive power of the elements.
Finally dragging ourselves away from Lee and Maite’s (thanks guys – it was so brilliant) we hit the road once again. This time heading to Biloxi.
And – after only a small blip (I was in charge of directions) all was going well.
Well, that is, apart from the fact that I had started to feel a bit queasy.
We stopped at Fort Pike for lunch.
I couldn’t eat.
My stomach was in my throat.
Back on the road to Biloxi progress was not much better.
We stopped for me to lie down and to check what was up ahead.
Nothing for 30 miles.
3 miles of excruciatingly slow pedaling later we stopped again.
I had no energy.
I tooka sip of lemonade.
We were still 27 miles from Bay St Louis but feeling marginally better with nothing in my stomach, we plodded on. As soon as we got there I headed straight to bed and Jamie went out for supplies.
The following morning (and a packet of jelly babies later) I dragged myself up.
Overnight, another storm had hit.
The rain was torrential.
We hung out for it to stop and then scooted off into the mist. Jeff had put us in touch with his brother, Kevin, who lives in Mobile and who had offered us a place to stay. We were also going to visit his son’s school to speak about the trip.
Things did not go quite to plan…
Twenty minutes later the rains began again. Even stronger than before.
Despite wearing waterproofs, we were soaked to the bone. The wind was driving against us, we couldn’t see the road ahead and the cars could not see us. Pedaling on the beach front we got stuck in sand drift after sand drift and Jamie got a puncture.
Four hours later, we had only gone 25 miles.
At that rate we would never get to Mobile until late and there was nowhere to stop beforehand. The idea of camping in the tropical thunderstorm was not all that appealing. Exhausted from the day before, I called it a day.
I slept some more and awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to get back on the bike.
Unfortunately, it was Jamie’s turn to feel bad.
He had been up all night with toothache.
Getting back on the bikes regardless, we stopped at the first dentist we saw. Fortunately they had space immediately. A couple of hours later he was fixed and feeling much better.
The sun began to clear and the afternoons pedal was gently rolling and relaxed. Despite the dental emergency we were making good time.
Time even for me to get a puncture without worrying too much.
Which was lucky as it took an age to locate the hundreds of metal shards that had attacked my wheel.
Jamie sunbathed while I worked away, shocking the passersby who could not believe his lack of chivalry. (We always fix our own punctures. And actually Jamie often ends up helping when I mess mine up.)
Many people stopped to check he was ok as it didn’t cross their minds that I could be doing the hardwork while he lay listening to music in the sunshine.
I deflected much of the consternation as he remained oblivious to the glares. Eventually, though, one guy got out of his truck to offer help. I declined with thanks and explained that I was fine.
“Well Mam, I have just one more question.”
“Why isn’t HE doing this.”
Jamie was lounging, eyes closed, singing along to the Beastie Boys.
I toyed with several responses but settled for something that would emasculate him even further in this gentlemanly region. Leaning in and adopting a conspiratorial whisper I explained.
“Well, he’s just not very practical. I just don’t want him to do it wrong…”
On the last leg in, Kevin called. He had been in touch with the local news station who would meet us on the road to do a story.
Half an hour later and we spied a camera on the verge. It was the man from Fox 10. We videoed a short interview and chatted to Stephen, a guy passing who was interested in our journey.
As we pushed off he called out to Jamie.
“Hey man, I don’t know how safe it is cycling round here. Do you want to borrow a gun?”
Such a kind offer but such a strange one for a us to recieve, Jamie responded as only an Englishman would.
“Erm. No. But thank you very much. You know, I would love to but – um – we don’t have much space in our bags…”
A few minutes later we pulled into Mobile and followed the GPS to Kevin’s house.
What a stunning home.
We were welcomed in and had a fantastic evening with his family eating fresh Mexican food and laughing. Right up until the time for our news debut…
We decamped to the living room.
9.15, not up yet but there was a good feature on dress code in a local elementary.
9.29, still no sign but there had been a big car crash.
9.38, the local council had an important ruling on pavement levels, obviously that would supercede.
9.52, well, there was bad weather and people need to know about the weather.
9.58, “and after the break last piece on some very adventurous people”.
(Finally our moment of fame and fortune was imminent…)
9.59.5, “Local men in Bejing brave the icy temperatures to take a dip in the river.”
They weren’t even in Mobile!?!?!
They were in Bejing.
Going for a swim.
We were cheated.
Anyway, the next morning we had been invited into school with Stephen and Walker, Kevin’s two sons, to speak about the trip in their morning assembly broadcast (they have a video link to announcements and the kids do them as a show – man- they never had anything so cool in my day).
We didn’t have much idea what we were doing but it was fun nevertheless and great to talk afterwards to two of the Forms.
Once again though, we had to drag ourselves away and move along. It was another beautiful sunny day and as the afternoon drew in we hit Florida and the coast.
Bring on the Sunshine State!
For the last leg of our solar journey, it could not be more appropriate.
Sadly, after catching a glorious sunset that evening, the sun has been a bit ellusive.
What there has been though is plenty of wind, fog and rain.
In case of any doubt, I can can confirm that the best place to be in the face of a storm, is not a narrow sand bank with nothing between you and the ocean.
Stunning though it was, it was not the swiftest riding either. The raging headwind was compounded by the sand that had been blown onto the road.
Many long miles later though we made it to Panama City Beach just before the heavens opened.
Which is where we still are.
(Well, Sunday is a day of rest.)
Fingers crossed the weather forcast is right. After slacking today we have some pretty big miles to do before we get to Gainesville on Wednesday.
It is very exciting though as our stop there is at the University of Florida who have kindly asked us to talk at their first SolarCycle week.
They are holding all sorts of events around solar power and cycling. Can’t wait.
Just 250 miles to cover first….
As ever, will let you all of the adventures we have along the way.