David Freeze: It’s not always about the miles when bike trouble, hurricane surface

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 29, 2021

Editor’s note: David Freeze is riding from the West Coast to the East Coast along the southern border. Email him at david.freeze@ctc.net.

Day 32

I went to bed last night in Amite City, Louisiana, thinking I might have to wait for Eric from Skinny Wheels to overnight me a couple of things by UPS. Things didn’t come together early, but they did by 9 a.m. and I was soon on the way to Hammond, just 18 miles away, with the bike repaired. A complete recap appears in today’s Gotta Run column in the Lifestyles section.

I got the bike repaired and even got directions from the owner of GrayCat Cycleworx. One culprit was a piece of glass in the rear tire. Following some bike adjustments, I left around noon with a plan to get to Franklinton by late afternoon. I used state routes 1065, 442, 40, 1062, 45 and 16. The only real town was Loranger, the home of Texas Rangers baseball player Wade Miley.

Just 40 miles for the afternoon, but plenty of rolling hills and off and on rain. One really heavy shower pretty much soaked me, but then my dri-fit stuff dried quickly. Several more times, the same cycle was repeated. Rain was falling pretty hard when I got to Franklinton, but not once did the rain jacket come out. I am staying in the Liberty Inn tonight, next door to a low-price grocery store and Dollar General. The nice room includes another couch, so that’s hard to beat as a way to relax at night while writing and planning.

Today, much of the talk was about the approaching hurricane and when it will make landfall. Most say the heavy rain will likely be Sunday, so my plan is to get farther east and then figure out what to do based on later weather forecasts. I hope to cross into Mississippi late morning on Friday, then into Alabama late Saturday depending on the track of the hurricane. Altogether, I should spend about two days along the gulf in Mississippi and Alabama.

Jason Ritchie asked me a couple months ago if I didn’t realize that hurricane season in the Gulf was when I would pass through. I didn’t think much of it, but I don’t mind it at all if I am safe and dry. There seems to be just one more challenge after another.

With that said, uncertainty and challenge together make things interesting. bet it happens again.

Day 33:  Gathering information ahead of Hurricane Ida

I had a friend years ago who wanted to be in a real hurricane, but probably just once. My only personal experience was with Hurricane Hugo. No one believed what destruction it caused.

Looks like I will get at least a version of being in a very powerful hurricane. Hurricane Ida is heading quickly to the New Orleans area. And it has places like Hammond, Louisiana, squarely in its suggested track. Hammond is where I got my bike fixed yesterday morning. Hurricane warnings extend to the Pearl River, Mississippi, area where I crossed into Mississippi this morning.

The good thing is that I am now 95 miles east of New Orleans, after a 63-mile day today. Thinking I needed to push east as far as I could was on my mind today. I am in Wiggins, Mississippi, about 5 miles north from Perkinston where I intended to spend the night.

Now it is likely that I will spend more than one night here. Maybe several, depending on how the storm tracks and the timing. I just called the motel that likely would have been my next stop in Gautier, Mississippi. The owner says they are shutting down and will reopen tonight or Monday for power workers only. So, my trip, at least in that direction is on hold.

I just saw pictures of massive evacuations from New Orleans, expecting as much as 140 mph winds. And no one wants to be inside the levee system because of the storm surge. I will be hunkering down in the Western Motel in Wiggins, maybe for a couple of days.

Here is what has already gone through my mind. I have seen the Mobile, Alabama, Gulf as part of the Underground Railroad ride. I am just a long day’s ride from Alabama. The next state, just a day or day and a half more east, is Florida. I have been contemplating skirting north of any Mississippi and Alabama damage and rejoining the projected route somewhere in panhandle Florida.

On one hand, it is exciting to be this close. I am on higher ground, in a solid building and well east of the projected landfall. I have two convenience stores in walking distance and I think also a Dollar General too.

People were getting gasoline all day today. I left Franklinton, Louisiana, at first light today, following State Route 20 to Bogalusa and the Mississippi border. Then the same road became shoulderless in Mississippi and changed its name to State Route 28. It ended at Wiggins this afternoon after lots of rain and some wind. Oddly, when the rain started, the headwind stopped. I got two great grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and onion as soon as I arrived.

I am in a good place that seems safe as far as I can tell. I will visit the Dollar General for a few things and get some kind of good breakfast, while at least I know I have a good roof over my head.

Aug. 29, is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Late Saturday or early Sunday is the projected landfall of Ida. I am about to ponder some important decisions, maybe eat and sleep a little more over the next day or two. But you can bet I will move forward as soon as possible. In fact, I think I will ride down to Dollar General now and check the convenience stores for an area map.

This trip has plenty of drama and is certainly interesting. Stay tuned for the latest!

Day 34: Bettering my position, but too restless to sit still

Last night, I decided if I woke up to nice weather in Wiggins, Mississippi, then I was at least going to consider moving farther east. I got up to what I think was a pretty much full motel, and the owner had already tried to convince me to stay at least a couple days. I watched the Weather Channel and confirmed that New Orleans was still Hurricane Ida’s target and that the same nice weather was also along their coast.

I went early for a couple breakfast biscuits and a map, along with a few things from Family Dollar, not Dollar General as I understood.  I got the biscuits and not much else. The clerk at the first convenience store showed me an empty rack for maps, “Where they used to be.”

So I talked to another customer who recommended going to Lucedale, Mississippi. I called the two affordable motels and the largest one’s owner took some interest in what I was trying to do. Surprisingly, he owned another Western Motel. But he thought that it was unlikely that anyone would leave with the forecast. I told him that I didn’t feel good about pedaling his way unless a room was available. The owner asked, “What time can you be here?” I told him 1 p.m. if all went well and we hung up.

I hurriedly packed up and start pedaling directly east on State Route 26, surprised that there were no rumble strips over the 35 miles. Part of the scenery was a pine-filled DeSoto National Forest. I found out in the afternoon that Wiggins used to have the world’s largest pickle-producing factory.

When I started, at almost 9 a.m., there was very little traffic. By the time I finished at 12:55 p.m., the traffic on my side was almost constant, car after car with Louisiana plates. I had seen the photos of the logjam of traffic leaving New Orleans earlier in the morning.

The constant traffic was very polite to me, giving me plenty of room except for a couple tractor-trailers. I said several prayers that the owner would have found a room for me. I walked in and he said, “Can you take a smoking room? It doesn’t smell bad. And there won’t be any rooms until this is over. Nobody left this morning.”

Here is what I gained by going 36 miles farther east. Siri says now that I am 141 miles east of the projected landfall at New Orleans. I got a better room, on the second floor. I didn’t get a convenience store to eat from, but got a huge Walmart two-tenths of a mile away. There is always a tradeoff, this time just a little bad. My connectivity is very poor. Wi-Fi is weak and neither Verizon nor AT&T has a decent signal. By using my phone’s AT&T hotspot, I think I can get messages out.

Post nighttime editor Paris Goodnight says there is always at least some good, so here are the best things: I have a big picture window to see the wind and rain coming. And I have used Walmart so far for the supplies I need for a couple days here. Most businesses are already closed or closing by tonight, so I plan to go back and get the things I need until Monday morning. Including the Road Atlas that will help me make up a new route to Florida from here. By the way, Walmart was packed like Christmas Eve. I got ice cream, pine air freshener for the room and a new friend in the cashier who asked why I was in Lucedale.

By riding some this morning, I feel better about finishing this ride safely. And I am excited about seeing some of the effects of Ida. I will also have my route planned for a spectacular finish in St. Augustine, Florida.

Ida was predicted for landfall overnight, but Sunday should have lots of rain and increasing wind. Most of that will have passed here by Monday afternoon if the hurricane remains at its current speed.

The book that comes out of this adventure is going to be like no other! I expect to have plenty to tell in the next few days, so thanks again for the support and communication!