Sunday, March 2, 2008

Welcome to Louisiana

I started the day having to jump on and off I-10 for an exit at time as there was some construction going on. When I got away from the highway I had a delightful morning, other than the wind being in my face again. The ride was like some I remember on fresh Spring mornings, complete with dew on the grass. It was exactly why I used to love riding on Sunday mornings.

Before long I entered Orange County, Texas and again, not to be confused with the Orange counties in New York or California. Orange County was the last county in Texas before Louisiana. I was starting to get into the bayou region. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to build the road through there. They must have had to truck in substrate to lay the foundation for the road.

My pleasant morning ride was spoiled by having to hook up with I-10 once again. To cross into Louisiana I had to get on I-10 to cross a small bridge. There was no real shoulder and at one point I had to ride in a lane of the highway. I would have been pissed off at me had I been driving a car on the highway behind me. On the deck of the bridge there were 6-inch expansion gaps. I was doing my best to try and jump them so as not to hammer my tires in the gaps. My plan didn’t work very well with the extra weight on the back of my bike from the gear. I had to go straight up the side of the bridge and be mindful of traffic while bouncing my bike across the bridge.

I made it over the bridge and into Louisiana. I was glad to be out of Texas. It took me nine days to ride across the state. The roads weren’t in great shape and the drivers were not very courteous. I chalk some of that up to ignorance, as they don’t expect to see a bike on the roads in some parts of the state. I had more near misses in Texas than in any other state.

My bike started making some funny noises, which I had attributed to the chain needing to be replaced and/or the beating it took to get over the bridge to Louisiana.

From a long way off I saw a tall bridge. The bridge seemed unnecessarily tall, like a camel hump growing out of the bayou. Little did I know, but that was the Lake Charles I-10 Bridge that I was told I would have to cross to go further east. I approached the bridge with some apprehension, like an indoor cat being let outside for the first time. I heard that it was the only bridge around for miles, but I didn’t want to believe it. I rode along the service road up until the waters edge. There was a casino in which I stopped to ask about other possibilities. The people I asked about crossing over the lake all had the same answer for me; I had to cross the bridge.

Looking at the bridge was like eyeing down a roller coaster. The longer you look before going on, the more anxiety that is created. Similarly, the first time I had done a tandem skydive I had lucked out. I was driving around New Zealand and stopped in the Lake Taupo airport to check on skydiving a couple of days hence. When I asked the details about going I was told, “we have a plane going up in 15 minutes and we have room for you." I didn’t have the few days to think about it, but rather just enough time to get suited up and watch a five-minute safety video before being taken up to 15,000 feet.

The bridge was big, scary and not in great shape. I was not like the idea of riding across the bridge in the least. I called my friend, Ken, who I was to be meeting that evening and told him that if he didn’t hear from me, I died on the bridge.

I went for it. I made it perhaps a quarter of a mile before rethinking my plan of riding over the bridge. The wind kept pushing me out in the lane of traffic and got worse as I climbed. I quickly jumped off my bike and climbed on a raised concrete section that was just wide enough for me to walk my bike on. I was in my bike shoes, which are not exactly made for walking along a bridge. All I needed to do was slip and dump my bike in traffic, or worse, stumble off the curb and tumble into traffic myself.

I got pummeled by the wind. From my vantage point I could see the sailboats in the lake getting pushed around on their moorings and hear the ropes clanking against the mast.

I had to hold the handlebars down on my bike firmly as the back of my bike kept wanting to pull down, trying to lift the handlebars up and tipping the bike in the gusts of wind. When I neared the top of the bridge, there were the large bridge pilings to contend with. When I would walk in front of one of the pilings it would block the wind and as I walked in passed it, a big gust would blast me. Also, whenever a big truck passed, it too would block the wind. Not only that, but the railing for the bridge was about 3 ½ feet high. Please do me a favor. Get out a tape measure and measure up three and a half feet from the floor. That was all I had protecting me from dropping off the side of the bridge and into Lake Charles.

Crossing the bridge I didn’t know if I looked like a penguin waddling along or more like an old man with a walker racing to the early bird buffet.

At least when rock climbing or BASE-jumping there are strict safety procedures to follow. Here I was some moron on a bridge hoping he didn’t slip. Just to add insult to injury, my bike pedal would periodically smack me in the ankle as I walked along.

Crossing that bridge may well go down as one of the dumbest ideas I ever had. When I stopped at the information center on the other side, the women working there gave me a finger waggling. Fortunately though, they gave me a Louisiana bike map as well.

In my short time in Louisiana I found that the state had drivers from both extremes of politeness. There were those that would wait to pass, only going when they were absolutely sure there was no car coming the other direction for the next 17 miles. Even then they would practically drive in the bayou on the other side of the road just to give me enough room. And then there were those that would yell at me as they passed. One guy even threw a cigarette at me.

The wind let up just a hair at 6 o’clock. It was the emotional lift that I needed to make it to Crowley, LA where my friend Ken would be meeting me. It was a nine-hour day on the bike to ride only 114 miles. Even though my legs held up, it is annoying to have the wind howl in my ears for that long. Every day the last week has been a battle. I haven’t had an easy day in some time. I didn’t do this trip because it would be easy, but a little break would be nice. Perhaps I just like to voluntarily submit myself to pain. At any point I could have given up, rented a car, taken it to an airport and flown back home. Those of you who know me realize that in my mind stopping isn’t an option.

I rolled into Crowley, LA at dark and the place was desolate. There was one bar that was open and I wasn’t about to go in there. Not in my bike clothes anyway. I rode around town a bit to see if there was a restaurant or someplace I could wait for my buddy, but I didn’t see anything. I did find a cop out on patrol who was able to give me directions to I-10 and numerous restaurants.

While waiting for Ken I decided to hit a pizza buffet. Ken showed up amidst a feeding frenzy. I downed 12 slices of pizza and had a few brownies for desert. All that for under 9 bucks.

It was good to see an old friend and would also be nice to take a couple of days off not being in a hotel. As you might image, in my lifestyle I grow tired of sleeping in a different hotel every night. I caught up with my buddy over a couple of beers and got to see his new baby.

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