My first ride in the bayous of Louisiana was this amazing race in 2010. Before the race, I had dreams of winning. By the end of the race, I was happy just to have finished. My best shot at winning the race came in 2012 where I won the $100 KOM (you physically grab the $100 bill) by being the first up Blockhouse Hill. But two flat tires later, I saw myself sprinting for second place against two teammates from another team. Instead of strategizing for third place, I tried (and failed) to beat them both finishing one spot off the podium in fourth place … somehow both my best AND most disappointing finish.
Let’s go back to Blockhouse Hill and fast forward a couple years to 2014. Even by this point, the lure of the early season race wasn’t just the race itself but also the chance to ride in such a uniquely beautiful and mysterious area. In 2014, I “American Flyered” my ride by finding and racing a barge on the Mississippi River on Cat Island. My pre-ride took longer than planned, so I ended up riding down Blockhouse Hill in almost pitch-black dark without a light.
Finally, let’s look at 2016, the last year that I was able to do the race. That race report has a selfie of me with an alligator (taxidermied at a gas station), and I was wanting to stop at that same gas station on this ride … but I couldn’t remember which one it was, and I ended up picking the wrong gas station. Still, I got to talk to this cool local who was hanging out at the gas station and recounted a story of having to walk from Natchez to Woodville (it’s about 50 miles) and sleeping on the side of the road. I would use this story as motivation later for when I was desperately sleepy outside of Maplesville … more on that later.
There are about 3,250 counties in the USA and its territories. One day, I’m pretty sure I would like to ride in them all. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but I’ve ridden in over 500 counties already … so maybe? While I still determine the feasibility of the larger task, I’m working on riding all the counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. I noticed a nearby “hole” in Mississippi (see annotated map below) which I could reach on a 350 mile round-trip ride from home in Birmingham, and set out a couple Tuesday’s ago on said ride. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire fairly early in the ride, which I also realized would have me riding into the sunset on the way out AND into the sunrise on the way back in.
The flat tire was all I needed to cut short the ride and head home. This was a great decision as it led to this 913 mile adventure a couple weeks later that I wouldn’t have otherwise done! I had named the route I was following on the abandoned ride “mscounties”, but as I planned out this more extensive adventure I named the three routes (instead of 1) to “rouge1”, “rouge2”, and “rouge3” – which also indicates the change in motivation for the ride. Instead of just filling in some missing counties, I was now going to fulfill a long predicted dream of riding to St Francisville, the start of Rouge Roubaix. The longer adventure helped with the Mississippi counties, too. Instead of four new counties, I ended up riding in twenty new counties in Mississippi alone, two new counties in Louisiana and zero new counties in Alabama since I’ve already ridden in them all!
It was a dark and stormy night … and day … and another night
We’ve had rather unsettled weather in the South over the past couple weeks with round after round of storms. The most recent was a series of tornados in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on Saturday. I had a hard time figuring out the timing for this ride because of the storm systems and other obligations, but one of the plans was to leave Saturday night after the storms. That didn’t work out because of a work meeting I had on Tuesday, which I wouldn’t have made it back in time for.
This meant the earliest I could leave was Tuesday because of the meeting, but it was going to be close on the timing with the Bakers Dozen race coming up on Saturday. Also, the problem with Tuesday is that it marked the arrival of the next round of storms. It looked like if I left during the storms on Tuesday night, I could make it to Vicksburg right about the time the next storms arrived there, but I would need to leave early enough on Tuesday evening to make it, which made it tricky with the Birmingham / Tuscaloosa traffic on roads I had been planning to ride much later in the night.
So that’s what I did … left Tuesday night at about 8:30PM in dry weather for the climb up to the top of Vestavia Drive. It was quite foggy at the top, and by the time I made it the half-mile over to Highway 31 it had started to rain pretty hard and continued raining for about 20 miles into Bessemer. Then it stopped and didn’t rain again literally until I got my first flat tire just outside of Durant, Mississippi about 225 miles later, but more on that later. First, we need to talk about parties, chickens, and tornados.Continue reading