© 2016 by Marisol Cruz.

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    Birthday Ride

    July 5, 2016

    Wide awake at 6 a.m., I begin my departure preparations.  

     

    Blog post published.

     

    Body showered.

     

    Backpack stuffed.  

     

    I hug my little brother goodbye -- poor guy -- I hated waking him up so early.

     

    As I walk to the motorcycle with my giant bag, I run into a nearby homeowner.  

     

    A man in his late 40s or early 50s.  

     

    Alex asked if it was hard to ride motorcycles.  I told him it was fairly straightforward especially after a safety course. 

     

    He asked me how I liked driving around New Orleans.  

     

    I scoff.  

     

    Not here, I said.  

     

    Not on these roads.  

     

    He agreed with my assessment.  

     

    Alex asked where I was headed.  When I told him what I was doing, he surprised me by saying, "I don't even know you, and I admire you."  

     

    I encouraged him to have a go at riding.  Granted I did suggest that he purchase a large life insurance policy.  

     

    "Oh, I've already got one for a million."

     

    He tried assuring his wife that he would be much safer on a pedal bike than in a car -- I found truth in what he said.

     

    Cars offer false safety.  

     

    And, based on the number of attorney billboards for accidents I've seen over the last 1000-miles I've ridden, there's no shortage of vehicular catastrophes.  

     

    I shook Alex's hand and said good-bye.

     

    My exit out of New Orleans and onto River Road was uneventful.  

     

    Before reaching it, I passed Audubon Park, some horse stables, then, I was on River Road.  

     

    My apologies.  I did not have time to take a picture of it; it happened too fast, and I had nowhere safe to pull over.  

     

    A bike path stretched above me (on my left hand side) while the right side of the road switched from commercial to residential zoning.  Then, River Road stopped and spilled onto Jefferson Highway.  

     

    I basically ended up on 48 (the only road directly adjacent to the Mississippi) through heavy industrial areas.  

     

    I passed an ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) plant along with vast refineries for Valero and Shell.  

     

    The refineries looked like something you would see in a sci-fi movie.  

     

    Haunting, yet strangely seductive.  

     

    Head-shakers.  

     

    Grotesque neighbors to those lush Southern plantations.

    Because I could not see the Mississippi River, at least where I was, I opted to jump on 61 north to St. Francisville.  

     

    At first, the route was rural.  

     

    Landscapes dusted with marshes and large agricultural tracts.  

     

    Then an Exxon-Mobile chemical plant appeared followed by a BASF polymer facility. 

     

    Baton Rouge approached, and commercialism advanced.  

     

    Jack in the Box.

     

    CC's Coffee House.  

     

    Daiquiri drive-thrus.

     

    Incessant traffic lights. 

     

    Speed limits reaching up to 65 mph followed by a traffic light every quarter mile.  

     

    Drive fast for two minutes and come to screeching halt.    

     

    Huh?  

     

    At least the roads were somewhat smooth (in certain areas).  

     

    Passing Baton Rouge, the topography began to change.  Trees seemed to quadruple in girth and rolling hills became more prevalent.  

     

    Even the air smelled crisp and fresh.  

     

    Signs for downtown St. Francisville appeared without warning.  

     

    Luckily, I was able to cross a few lanes over (due to light traffic) to make my left into town.

    I drove through this quaint little place with a historic home road and ogled all the diverse architecture.  

     

    Georgian, Greek, Roman, and Renaissance Revival homes.  

     

    As I approached a bend, I noticed a sign to Cat Island, so I took that gorgeously shaded rural road into what seemed like nowhere.  

     

    I crossed a few one car bridges.  

     

    Then, I approached a tiny newly constructed concrete bridge located just above a creek.

     

    In that tight space, I turned the motorcycle around and headed back.  

     

    The trail had not ended, but I started to get hungry.  

     

    Dehydrated, too.

     

    I ended up at a BBQ place:  The Francis Smokehouse & Specialty Meats.  

     

    I knew I was in the right spot when I saw four Louisiana state troopers come in after me to order food.  

     

    Twenty-minutes into my brisket, chicken, baked beans, cole slaw and garlic bread platter, the place was abuzz.  

     

    My only confusion was the 90s background music; it conflicted with the decor, the location, and the culinary genre.  

     

    I ordered way too much food, but since it was my birthday meal, I wanted to make sure I had a little bit of everything.  I even purchased some "to-go" jerky. 

     

    While there, I heard neighbors being introduced to new neighbors; I saw folks dressed in scrubs and suits enjoying their lunch break; I saw a hyper-cool teen couple walk in and out (the line was too long).  

     

    I became acutely aware of accents, too.  

     

    I lingered for over an hour.  

     

    I was close to the Tunica Hills Campground, so I had no need to rush. Plus, I had missed the impending rain despite the clouds threatening faces at me.  

     

    I finish most of my meal, and ventur back out in the heat and humidity.

     

    More sunblock on my arms and hands.  

     

    A state trooper advised me to be careful -- I had not realized there was a maximum security prison (Angola) nearby.  

    After fueling up at the gas station (located next door), I make my way to the campground.  

     

    I was less than 15-miles from my destination.  

     

    Although I considered calling ahead, I took my post-holiday chances.  

     

    With 10-miles to go, dark clouds swirled and danced around me.  I could tell they wanted to burst, but could not and did not -- at least not on my birthday.  

     

    I was thankful I had made it to the campsite... DRY.  

     

    Another win!    

     

    Brenda had space!  

     

    She had an air-conditioned small A-frame available.  Meanwhile, I ran into a young family from Slidell who were on their way back home. They had two young daughters and another on the way. (The husband had helped me push my motorcycle out of a precarious, mucky spot.)    

     

    Following a brief introduction to everyone, Brenda directed me to the A-frame.  It had not yet been cleaned, so I decided to pitch in by sweeping up the floor and removing the old bed sheets and pillow cases.

     

    When the cleaning woman arrived,

     

    I helped her make the bed, and we spoke for a little bit. She loved the area and the schools.     

     

    I walked around the campsite and found the rigged outdoor shower.  

     

     

     

     

     

    As I settled in, I remembered a nearby convenience store.  I drove to it to pick-up something sweet.  I found some delicious prepackaged pecan pie, and I devoured it along with a container of milk.  

     

    Because I was tired from the busy day, I crashed right around 8 p.m.  

     

    Apparently, Brenda had stopped by to give me my key, but I had already fallen fast asleep.  

     

    I had a hiking day planned at the Clark Creek Natural Area -- less than 10-miles from the campground.  

    Until we meet again, my friend.   

     

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