New Orleans

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 26, 2005]
I should have known better than to write you folks after having a bad day... my friend Joni once told me that "The only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you choose to end the story." By writing when I did, I left you with the impression that things are going badly, when really I just had a lapse in my usual good fortune!

I rode into Baton Rouge Sunday morning and got to church well before the 9:30 service. I introduced myself during the first service and then settled in to socialize during a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the youth (teenagers), who recently attended the Houston Rally. I attended many a "rally" (conference) in Texas when I was their age, but never as far south as Houston.

I met a lot of interesting people during the breakfast, and eventually I was introduced to a couple who had done some bike touring of their own. Richard and Holley biked around Italy and Cuba recently and have traveled all over the world. Their son Webb is a 1998 Carleton College graduate with a couple post-grad degrees, currently living with his folks between careers. They invited me to stay the night at their house, which is very large on an even larger lot, in an affluent neighborhood near the university.

Richard is a professor emeritus of physics at LSU, about a half mile from their home. Holley is a family doctor working for a nonprofit clinic that is suffering from "founder's syndrome," so she's been reading up on the phenomenon trying to find any tips that could help her and her coworkers cope.

I spent the afternoon researching my route through New Orleans and Mississippi, while Richard and Webb watched football on TV and Holley rehearsed her role as lawnmower-pushing chicken for a local Mardi Gras parade.

I left their house shortly after sunrise on Monday, having planned a couple possible routes for the day based mainly on where motels were available. One route would have me cross the river on a ferry and stay the night in Donaldsonville, which is only 1/3 of the way to New Orleans from Baton Rouge. The other route stayed on the east bank and took me as far as LaPlace, about 2/3 of the way to New Orleans.

The choice between the two routes wound up being made for me because I missed a turn! So although I battled fatigue all day -- probably thanks to something I ate the day before -- I took the longer route to LaPlace.

My instincts told me that US-61 would be a great road to ride between the two cities, because the parallel I-10 would carry all the heavy traffic. Richard counseled me to follow the River Road instead. I compromised and did a little of each during the course of the day.

Route 61 turned out to be very pleasant in my opinion, since it had wide, smooth shoulders and little traffic. It led through about 15 miles of scenic bayou, but with few bridges; mostly infill so that the road -- shoulders and all -- was several feet above the swamp.

The River Road, on the other hand, was windy and had no shoulders and very impatient drivers, and many of the refineries smelled bad. Some of the oceangoing ships that dock at the "Port of South Louisiana" are huge! It's hard to imagine how they can navigate the twists and turns of the river, let alone turn around 180˚ for the return trip, especially when equally large ships are coming the other way. I rode up on top of the levee whenever possible to get away from the traffic, and that was a lot of fun, but the road there was gravel, and I had to keep coming down to pass under the pipelines and conveyors that link the industries on shore to their docks.

When I entered LaPlace, I asked some locals where I could find one of the half-dozen motels. They soberly directed me to a place that was absolutely appalling... I turned around so fast in the parking lot that I slipped in the gravel and capsized. There were guard dogs all over the place, and the doorknob on one room appeared to have been removed with a shotgun! It took me an hour and a half to find another motel with a vacancy, but the room I got was fabulous... bigger than the two-bedroom apartment I shared in Minneapolis, and the walls were periwinkle, and there was a caged raccoon habitat just outside my door.

I was in no hurry to join the rush-hour traffic on US-61 Tuesday morning, so I watched two Buffy reruns over breakfast. I followed 61 through some more scenic bayous -- riding on generous shoulders all the way -- until I reached the suburb of Jefferson. There I joined the River Road for a while and finally got up on the levee, where a paved bike path took me most of the way into town.

Once in New Orleans, I had some trouble finding good roads to ride to the Jackson Avenue ferry terminal, but I got there without incident. The ferry ride was brief but exciting: in the strongest part of the current, the boat had to point at 45 degrees just to move in a straight line. It's hard to imagine that running a free ferry every 15 minutes can be more affordable for the city than putting in another bridge with a sidewalk and/or bus route, but I guess it is.

I had an easier time getting back into New Orleans from the state park Wednesday morning than I had getting there Tuesday night, because the road had a paved ditch on the eastbound side, and I was able to ride in that. I took a different ferry into downtown from Algiers, where many of the Mardi Gras floats are made.

I arrived downtown on Canal Street, which is a wide boulevard with streetcar tracks down the center, newly restored after being removed 50 years ago. I saw another bicyclist riding down the streetcar right-of-way (which I learned is called "the neutral ground" for historical reasons), so I tried that and found it much easier than riding in the lanes of traffic.

I made a beeline for the central library and spent an hour online before meeting the only person I know in New Orleans for lunch. Phyllis was doing a telephone survey of library bookstores about eight months ago and interviewed me regarding the one I was assistant-managing in Minneapolis. I mentioned that I'd be passing through New Orleans, and she told me to look her up, and I held her to it, though of course she didn't remember me! She took me to a seafood restaurant off Bourbon Street.

During my hour on the computer, I got an e-mail from my mother about the premier episode of Nova ScienceNow, which had a feature about New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes. I missed the episode on the air, but I was able to watch it there on the computer! It included footage of some sights I'd already seen, and some others that I saw during the stroll to the restaurant. It also made me very glad I didn't pass through here last August!

By the time we got back to the library it was already 2:30, so I headed straight out of town to a campground that's more conveniently located than the state park. It's even on a bus route -- I'll see if they can accommodate my bike! I'll do some more sightseeing tomorrow without my trailer and head out of town on Friday.

Q: National Wildlife Refuges do indeed allow hunting by definition. One of the Fish and Wildlife Service's main directives is to conserve and provide a place to hunt and fish.

A: I stand corrected! I should have known, since the Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense prefers to fight on the offensive, and the Department of the Interior is in charge of externalities, naturally wildlife refuges would be places where wildlife can be killed. I apologize for the confusion. ;-)