Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Day 961 - Brewton, Alabama

I said my farewell to Bill and Erin, they had made me very welcome. They were heading off to see family, so my stay in New Orleans had been too short really, but I left well before I could get bored with the place, if fact I really like it. I took St Charles Street and made my way to the Downtown area. St Charles Street is the grandest street and home to those people who are dripping in dollars. Half way down the Mardi Gras route joins it. During Mardi Gras strings of beads are thrown into the crowd, it’s a sign of friendliness, but plenty don’t make it into the crowd and get stuck on the power lines or in the trees leaving some of them decorated like Christmas trees, there were beads everywhere. I cycled around the French Quarter, it felt so different to the previous day. Now the crowds had gone, so had the good weather, it was cold and overcast, the place had a completely different feel to it, at times I hardly recognised it as the same place. I headed out on route 90, a much quieter road than when it enters the city from the other side. I was soon leaving the houses behind, the traffic too, I had the road almost to myself. I rode along the narrow peninsula between Lake St Catherine and Lake Pontchartrain, once prime land for expensive properties, but this too has taken a hit in the hurricanes. New houses were being built, all of them raised way above the ground on high stilts, but the wrecked jetties clearly showed the forces that had passed though the area. Some people have spent a lot of money in building these houses, but surely it is only a matter of time before the area takes another hit, the hurricane season lasts about 6 months of the year. It seems a big risk to me, the insurance companies would probably agree. Before long I was crossing another bridge and entering into the state of Mississippi, where the open marshland and inland waterways gave way to pine forests.

At 6am I was woken by the sound of a vehicle right beside the tent. Somebody got out, I waited for them to speak, but after about a minute they drove off. The problem with heading east all the time is that the mornings get lighter earlier and earlier and the evenings darker. At 6am it is already light, but it is as good as dark at 5pm. I rode through more pine forests, then some more swamps and finally reached the beach. The sand is so white and fine, across the other side of the road more houses are being built. Some plots have the tell tale concrete bases that again reveal that this area was also hit badly by Hurricane Katrina. The Hurricane forced water towards the land and it was that excess water that caused the levees to be breached in New Orleans, but here there are no levees, the sea level just rose and caused floods up to a quarter of a mile inland, though here it receded quickly after the storm, but the exposed properties took a big hit from the winds too. Further along there was little evidence of damage, but plenty of evidence that those living here are not short of a dollar or two, every house was beautiful, it was all very picturesque. I passed through the larger towns of Gulfport and Biloxi. Casinos are going up like there is no tomorrow. It became state law that the casinos had to be built on water and had to float and were therefore mobile. The idea was that when there was a hurricane warning they could be moved onto the inland waterways, but when the need actually arose they couldn’t be moved as the bridges could not be opened as everybody was using them to evacuate the cities. Good planning eh? So the rule no longer applies and they aren’t hanging about, I guess they are building them quickly before the law changes again. I stopped at a pharmacy to try and get something for my sinus problem which I can’t seem to get rid of. They suggested some medication, then asked for ID. The only ID I have is my passport, I handed it over, then after 5 minutes of form filling which I had to sign, I was allowed to buy the stuff. It’s worse than the UK. I was going to get some paracetamol as well, but I didn’t think it was worth the hassle. I had had enough of the main road, I took a smaller road inland, I hoped it would be quieter for the night.

The nights are cold again, though it has allowed my new sleeping bag to reveal its real qualities. Sometimes I am nice and snug during the night but have to get up for a pee, then I am surprised to find that the tent is either frozen or frosted. I set off in the morning on nice country roads passing through swamps and over rivers, heading through the villages of Wade and Hurley before leaving Mississippi and entering Alabama. The road changed to the 56 and I continued towards Mobile, then as I approached a turning to the right and 18 wheeler truck pulled out right in front of me. I swerved to the right to go down the turning he was coming out of, but his backend of the trailer was rapidly eating my valuable road space and the inevitable happened, I hit it side on and went crashing to the ground. Thankfully the truck stopped otherwise the rear end would have gone over the bike. The driver jumped out and yelled “Haven’t you got brakes on that thing?” to which I should have retorted with “Haven’t you got eyes in that thing” but instead opted for the more obvious “What the fuck are you doing, why did you pull out right in front of me, where was I supposed to go?”, “I didn’t see you” he replied “Well why don’t you try looking?” I said angrily “I did look, but I was looking for cars, I wasn’t looking for bikes”. Well that is very reassuring. The guy in the vehicle behind came over and said “He was totally in the wrong, you should call the state troopers. These truck drivers are always doing that and getting away with it”. I didn’t see the need but he added “Well by law he has to fill in an entry in his drivers log”. “I haven’t got it with me” the truck driver added, so to keep within in the law that I know nothing about the state troopers were called. About 10 minutes later an ambulance and two fire vehicles arrived, the ambulance woman came over and asked if I was ok, “I am fine, I just have bumps and bruises on my knee and elbow”, “Well let’s go over there and we will check you out”, so I went into the ambulance and sat in a nice comfy chair and she took my blood pressure “It’s a bit higher than normal, but so would mine be if I had just been hit by an 18 wheeler. Here, sign this”, “What is it?” I asked “Oh it’s just a form for you to tell us that you are ok”. I thought the idea was that they would tell me that, so in view of the fact that it didn’t seem a very thorough check I hinted they might check the bits that hurt by rolling up my sleeve and saying “Can you spare an antiseptic wipe for this?” to which she replied “Ooh, I wouldn’t do that, you will start it bleeding again. Here sign this”. I signed it. Based on the time factor alone it would appear to be a bigger health hazard to buy a packet of Sudafed than it is to collide with a thumping great truck! Wow, what can they put in that stuff? I am beginning to understand why people are so reluctant to have a National Health Service here, they don’t want to lose that quality care. I left the ambulance to be questioned by the fire guys “Are you from England?”, “Yes, I am”, “Where from?”, “Oxford”, “How far is that from Norwich?”, “About 150 miles, why?”, “Oh I used to live there for about 7 years, my parents were in the forces and hated it there, but I loved it”, “I used to live there too and I still support the football team.” I replied “Any idea how they got on against Wycombe Wanderers yesterday”, “Sorry, I don’t know”. I guess he can’t have loved it there that much then. They all departed together, safety in numbers. I think they were all a bit disappointed. Having answered a call saying a cyclist had been hit by an 18 wheeler they were at least expecting to have to scrape a few bits off the road. About 15 minutes later the police eventually arrived and wrote a report based on a very brief chat with both of us. Half an hour later he gave us the paper work and said we could go, but not before he had told me how to fill it in “Where is says vehicle, here, you put bicycle“ then after a little pause he said it pronounced and very slowly “B-i-c-y-c-l-e“. It seems that in a world where the car rules, where you have drive through restaurants, drive through banks and valet parking so that never have to use your legs, then if you have a bike you are assumed to have no job, no car, no life and to be as thick as two short planks. Oh heck, reading that back, that’s me! As the truck pulled away the officer returned to me and asked “Where on the truck did you hit? And where on the road were you when you came off the bike”. These were the first questions I had been asked but he did tell me that the driver had said he hadn’t been looking for bikes. I am sure in the UK if he had said that he would have been done for driving without due care and attention. I would love to have read the report, I guess it was something like “The big truck hit the cyclist. Thankfully the big truck and the driver are ok”. I think it is probably a good insight to what some people here think of cyclists. Two hours after the incident I carried onto into the large town of Mobile. Another example of how un cycle friendly it can be here would soon show itself. There were no provisions for either cycle or pedestrians to cross the river, I had to go to a bridge 3 miles north and the only way to reach it was along the freeway! But I got across without being stopped by the police again, then crossed another couple of bridges spanning about 7 miles to reach Spanish Fort. I called in at a gas station and was offered a free coffee without having to talk my way into it. It was getting dark, I had to turn it down, I really didn’t have time.

My knee had been hurting all night, it hurt when I lay down, it hurt even more when I walked, I wondered if I would be able to cycle. The whole of my right side ached too, but my sinuses were clearing so it wasn‘t all bad. Strangely I felt perfectly ok when I was cycling, it is when I get off the bike that I have problems, but I would much rather it was that way around. I am sure in a couple of days all will be fine. I rode through back roads to Bay Minette, then rode through pine trees, the swamp has been left behind, at least for a while. It was a cold day, it never really warmed up, I didn’t remove any layers of clothing all day, even my gloves remained on the whole time. Whenever I stopped people said how cold it is for cycling, but like with my knee, it is much better when cycling rather than stopping. I tucked myself in for the night amongst some trees to try and stay a little warmer and reduced the condensation. The wind was picking up, still, it is January.

As I cycled through New Orleans I heard some manic shouting, for some reason I thought it was aimed at me, though I never heard my name. I looked around but couldn’t see who or where it was coming from, beside I knew nobody here and for a change wasn’t doing anything stupid. I have just had a mail from Justin, the cyclist I stayed with in Prescott, Arizona, it was him. What a shame I never got to speak to him, I love little coincidences like that.

With just over two months left on this trip I am beginning to think of home more and more, especially on the cold mornings when it is well below zero when I start cycling and my hands and feet become painfully cold, then I just wish I was home. On days like that I look at the map and New York seems such a long way off, odd that because when I looked at the same map when I was in San Francisco it seemed so close. I still remember the basics of the quote from the Alchemist though which was words to the effect of “the closer you get to fulfilling your dream, the harder it will become”. How true.


pedalpanam said...

Glad you are OK!
I love those coincidences as well, it is a small world...

aoiffe said...

You had an extraordinary escape,and it wasn't the idea of your bike going under the wheels of the truck that made my hair stand on end. I think you are being looked after.

Home is just as cold, probably worse, I don't think cycling would be possible here at the moment, uless you can strap a bike to a snow board.Blighty is in a big freeze, and we are all so happy cos we can moan about the weather have 24hour news about the weather and special programmes on the BBC about the 'big freeze'.

Ms. Frances Morantes said...

Well John I guess we can call this incident a Near Miss.And yes He is Watching over you.The weather up ahead is not going to get any better so this might delay your ETA. I WILL BE PRAYING THAT YOU HAVE BETTER DAYS.We do have Hospital's here in America that will give you First Aid Care and will bill you later for there services.Take care and God be with you .Ms,Frances Morantes

caff said...

That was a scary read that time Kiddo but you managed to make me laugh when you said your right side is hurting but hey your sinuses are much better. Very glad and relieved you came to no harm.
Temperatures here make for pretty scary cycling - it fell to -17.7 in Benson last night and they seem to think tonight is going to be even colder!! Keep safe :-)

jac said...

Scary moment! It really brings home to me how safe it is to cycle where there are lots of other cyclists.
Take lots of care and watch out for those trucks!

caff said...

Since your visit to Austin and staying with the music family I'm frequently hearing music from Austin on the radio! :-) said...

Wow John: glad you scraped through the truck incident okay. Some drivers have strange ideas about road usage. But the good thing is you are alive.

Keep 'em up for the last legs. Thinking of you from a stinking hot Santiago de Chile.
Sonya x

cyclebum said...

John, you're a good blog writer. Much better than most. You're one tough, determined guy. Love blogs by Englishmen posting their impressions of American.

Linked to you thru a post on Crazyguy by 4 fellows who met you in CA.

I had a very similar close call with a big truck on a recent tour. Intersection, right turn, etc. No damage to me or bike. Could easily have ended like yours, or worse.