Chapter 8 Mississippi and Alabama
In the morning our campground neighbor, Wendell, offered us coffee, however we were packed and ready to bike over the Mississippi border. It was an easy day of riding ending on the Gulf of Mexico and camping at Buccaneer State Park. We picked a beautiful secluded site far from the entrance of the campground, past the multiple RV camping areas, and in the primitive tents only camping spot. How were we to know that on the other side of the wooded area was the familiar train tracks, again with all its rumbling and whistle blowing? Buccaneer had been totally demolished by Katrina and at our site you could see pieces of a boat stuck high up in a tree. Walking around the campground we noticed our neighbor had an elephant statue outside his tent. What an unusual thing to take on a camping trip! That night the trains went roaring by, waking us up throughout the night. When leaving the next morning we met our neighbor, Tom, a retired firefighter, who told us the elephant statue was given to him by his daughter who had purchased this symbol of good luck in India and now Tom carries it with him wherever he travels. Once again Mary and I found ourselves talking about firefighting, life in general, and the advantages of camping.
Another state under our belt
Onward to Biloxi! After traveling a bit we stopped for breakfast #2 at a café where we met Gregg. Gregg has a motorcycle shop and his passion is restoring old Harley Davidsons. We mentioned that after we left New Orleans we passed a long line of motorcycles going west and many of the riders waved and smiled at us as we waved back. Later that day as we were eating our lunch off the side of the road the motorcyclists passed us again going the other way and it seemed as though they were looking for us because many spotted us and waved again. Gregg knew of the ride and he would have been riding with them that day if not for another engagement. Although our modes of transportation were quite different we shared a love of the road and the experiences that come with traveling.
After our meal we rode towards Biloxi along a bike path with large affluent houses to the left of us and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico to the right. This path went all the way to Bev’s and Earl’s, aunt and uncle of friends of ours, who are in their 80’s. Their house to had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. During our stay they shared pictures of the destruction of this deadly storm where houses in their neighborhood, including theirs, were reduced to piles of rubble. They had evacuated before the storm hit and when they were cleared to return it was hard for them to know where they were because all of the familiar landmarks in the city they had lived in for years were gone. Katrina was a direct hit to this area with water levels at 24 feet above normal. Scientists agree that climate change, with its increasing number of intensified hurricanes, will continue to challenge our society. If this is our future we need to plan to allocate resources to mitigate and rebuild adding to the increasing throughput process. Earl and Bev were such generous hosts feeding us delicious and bountiful dinner and breakfast, along with offering a warm and comfortable bed to sleep in and hot showers. Stormy weather was in the forecast and they begged us to stay another night but we headed out and rented a motel room at the end of the day.
A series of storms was moving through the area and the weather forecast indicated a severe storm hitting late the next day so we were up early and out on the road. It was a long distance to Dauphin Island where we had connected with a Warm Showers host. Although the host was not there he offered for us to stay under a house built on stilts and through phone calls we were able to know the address so we were set for the night, if we made the miles. Traveling was uneventful as we entered Alabama except we felt the headwind was getting stronger as we rode along. We arrived at a 3 mile bridge connecting the mainland to the island which had a very steep part in the middle that allowed boats to pass under. Unwilling to charge ahead we pulled over and discussed our options, which were none, for about 30 minutes before starting to ride over the bridge. As we crossed the bridge the wind picked up making riding slow and difficult and when we reached the steep part our speed was reduced to 3 mph. The headwinds were so strong we had to pedal downhill on the other side. Then with the steep part behind us there was still ½ mile to go to reach the island, yet as we pedaled the land didn’t seem to be getting closer. Finally, reaching the other side we dismounted our bicycles and Mary said,” I need a drink”. I agreed completely and we hopped back on our bikes and headed to the only open bar in town. The bartender served our drinks and asked if we were tourists and when we told him about our bridge crossing he let us know the winds were blowing at 30 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph. A local sitting at the bar entered the conversation and asked where we were staying and after we let him know he showed us the weather radar on his phone and said, “You’d better get going, you have less than one half an hour before the storm hits”. Looking at the radar there was a lot of red in the picture so we finished our drinks in a hurry, mounted our bikes and headed to our accommodations. We scurried down the island and after we found the spot we raced down to look at the Gulf then raced back to the house quickly because rain was just beginning to fall. There was a wooden platform under the stilt house and a tarp had been tied to posts to block the wind, so we tucked our tent in right beside it making for a cozy, somewhat wind free zone. Then the full storm started to hit with strong winds and rain. We were cooking our dinner when we saw a faint, little light coming towards us out in the rain. It was Andrew, a twenty-five year old engineer from Germany, who was crossing our country east to west by bicycle. He had arrived on Dauphin Island by ferry earlier that day and he set up the wind block for his tenting comfort before going out to explore. We offered to move our tent but he said he would clear a space in the closet where he had stashed his belongings instead. We shared our dinner and talked well into the evening. Andrew had made some of the components on his bicycle, including a uniquely designed generator which charged his lights and devices and he had also designed and fabricated his gas stove. Our conversation mostly centered on matters of sustainability and it was heartening that this young man was so familiar with these issues.
Everyone slept well that night with the sounds of the rain pouring down, the waves crashing on the shore, and the winds howling through the dunes. We woke to grey but clear skies and after sharing coffee and conversation we headed off in different directions. It was Andrews turn to cross the 3 mile bridge and we were headed to the Fort Morgan Ferry. The crossing was a delightful change of pace as was the quiet roads and small fishing towns that lined the Gulf of Mexico. Storms, some with tornado warnings continued to pass through, and after a day of riding, sometimes in the rain, we spent the night in a motel in Gulf Shores. It was our last full day in Alabama.
Our experiences in Mississippi and Alabama involved the increasing number and intensity of storms. We saw pictures and the aftermath of what it was like to live in the area after Hurricane Katrina and then we had to plan our trip around the severe storms which were passing through. This coastal area is so beautiful, however, I wonder if access will become limited due to storm intensity. Are all the numerous roads and bridges vulnerable to climate change, and will we have the resources to insure the infrastructure remains?