Day Seventy-eight, Date Sunday, May 17, 2009
Time in Saddle: 7:26
Distance for the Day: 67.08 miles From Waveland To Moss Point
Accumulated Trip Distance: 3452.74 miles
Altitudes: Starting/Ending 32’/8’, Highest: 38’ Accumulated: 247’
Speeds: Avg: 9.0 mph, Max: 18.7 mph
Weather: 70° no wind, mostly cloudy, rain off and on through the day
Woke up at 6:30am a bit after sunrise, broke down and packed away gear, took a sponge bath, and was ready to roll at 7:12am. Stopped at mini mart at 7:50am and got breakfast and supplies ($5). Decided to take the more direct route along Hwy 10 rather than the more circuitous cycle route that StreetAtlas suggested. I’m still not sure I’ll have enough time to complete this journey, so will err on the side of speed, more often than not. It was a rain day, today. Thunderstorms almost from the get-go; one cloud-to-cloud strike that had no delay – flash/crack! Good thing I was wearing my earplugs, or I might have jumped out of my skin. At the first downpour, I stopped under the eaves of a building and ate the other half of my Subway sandwich while waiting for things to lighten up, a bit, which they did after about 20 minutes. At 10:35am stopped in Gulfport at the Flying J for a cold soda ($1.75).
Finally hit the Gulf Coast – another first for me – I’d never seen it, before. There was a four lane road along a touristy length of shoreline, but it was very busy and had no shoulder, so I had to ride the sidewalks between the road and the beach. Sometimes, the beach sand would cover the sidewalk, so I had to gather extra speed before hitting these patches of wet beach sand to make it over them and not get stuck. I saw jet skiers out on the water, tearing it up and having fun despite the bad weather. The rain was pretty steady throughout the day. I hit the town of Gautier, and then Pascagoula; didn’t really stop for anything in these towns as I was already fed, watered and supplied. While Gautier did have shoulders on their main drag, it was pretty nasty, made of this pebbly material that felt like cobblestones, to me. I would stop under things every now and then, if the rains got very heavy. I was a little concerned about a bridge over the Pascagoula River I knew was coming up, but I need not have been: it was beautiful, with a separate path from the roadway that was smooth, wide, and concrete, clearly built for tourists, with benches every now and then for pedestrians to sit on. Nice. I began heading for the next really long bridge(?) I couldn’t quite tell from the StreetAtlas map what it was, because there was a route line overlaid on the map, so it could have been open water, an elevated roadway, or a sandbar for all I knew.
By evening (7pm) the stealth camping situation was starting to look grim. The vast majority of roadsides in Alabama have a short grass slope down to a wide, marshy or downright watery ditch, and then an impenetrable stand of trees and vegetation. Maybe if I had waders and a machete I could do something with this, but of course, I don’t have these things. Also, the mosquitoes in those places must be as thick as L.A. smog. On the other side of the roadway, I saw a small restaurant building that wasn’t operating, and pulled up next to it to see if I could use its tiny parking lot. It didn’t look very good, but at the moment, it was all I had. I pulled out my notebook to check the map, when a car pulled up with a couple in it who said, “If you stay out here, you’re gonna get wet!” And then, “If you want, we live just around the corner – you can stay with us.” Yes! I gratefully accepted, and followed them a few hundred yards down the side road and into a gravel drive. Yikes! The place was, to put it gently, a dump! There was junk and trash all over the place, and the porch in front of the house was crammed with more “stuff.” (Was that “Dueling Banjos” I was hearing in the background?) They suggested I roll my trike onto the last remaining five feet of free space on their porch (six, after they pushed back a cart loaded with stuff) to keep my gear out of the rain, and then invited me inside. Double-yikes! The first room inside was a disaster area, with clothes strewn about on the few bits of furniture and on the floor, and holes in the drywall where lighting fixtures or switchplates should have been. They took me into a side room that was a little more livable – a smallish room with a 26” television hooked to a DVD player which had a couple of large speakers attached. I’m afraid all I remember was the guy’s name: Billy. His wife (who was with him in the car) and father were there, and they were watching the last few minutes of the movie, “The Last Samurai,” with Tom Cruise. They offered me a seat, so I sat and watched the end, too. I was offered some pot (no thanks – you go ahead), and a chili dog from the restaurant up the road (that’s okay – I just ate), and some fruit punch on ice (I’d love some, thanks!) Everyone else smoked cigarettes, but a fan blew most of the smoke out the windows, so it wasn’t too bad. Billy’s father then switched the DVD to “Batman Begins,” so we watched that, and after that was done, he put in the DVD, “Sin City,” another good one! During all this, friends, neighbors, and other family would drop in; three small children came as well to chat for a bit, and when they left, the little girl (Eva) gave me a hug and a kiss. What a little darlin’! I finally broke down, and ate one of the chili dogs (pretty good, even if it was kind of cold and soggy). After Sin City, around midnight, we chatted for a bit, and then they shut down the generator(!), lit up some candles, and I was shown my bed, just a mattress on the floor with a blanket and pillow on it, in a room filled with heaps of clothes and two other mattresses on the floor. Hey, considering I was about to lay out my sleeping bag and bivvy sack in the parking lot of a failed restaurant that faced the highway on a night when it could still break out in rain, this was quite welcome. My clothes were still somewhat soggy from all the rain, but I was warm, and would mostly dry out during the night. I lay my sleeping bag out on the mattress and had myself a good night’s sleep.