Day Sixteen

Clinton, MS to Delhi, LA

I had big plans for today, so I got up early and left the Clinton Inn before 9 AM. It felt good to get an early start for once, and I made good use of it by covering the most miles of any day so far. I started out heading southwest toward Raymond. I wanted to get on the Natchez Trace Parkway for a bit, but Microsoft Streets & Trips mistakenly routed me where I didn't have access to get on. In Raymond, I stopped for a Coke and headed northwest on SR 467. I crossed the Trace, but I had no need for it then. Missed photo of the day: a campaign sign to elect Judge DeLaughter. " You plead not guilty? Ha, ha, ha, ha..."

SR 467 was a pleasant, fairly smooth ride, surprising for Mississippi. I began to think that maybe all the bad roads were in the eastern half of the state.  When I rejoined US 80 in Edwards, I found out that I was wrong--there were bad roads out here, too. It wasn't quite as bad as on my first day in the state, or maybe I'd just grown used to it. There were some neat old bridges on 80, and heading into Vicksburg there were some dilapidated motel courts that must have been something to see in their time. I had several dog encounters, none of them dangerous. The best was when a yellow-white dog came bounding toward me. " Stay!" I shouted, pointing a finger for good measure. The dog practically froze in its tracks!

In Vicksburg, I stopped to take the obligatory Mississippi River pictures, then went about trying to get across the thing. The Vicksburg  Visitor's Center near  the bridges beckoned. The US 80 bridge was closed in 1999, so the only crossing is on Interstate 20. Not only is this dangerous, but it is illegal as well. I asked the sweet young lady  at the visitor's center, Lea, if she could call me a taxi. She said she could, but that sometimes the security guard at the bridge would let bicyclists cross it depended on who was working. I gave it a shot. I knocked on the door, and eventually someone opened it--a sour-looking man with a beer belly the size of a rear pannier. I could tell by the look on his face that there wasn't a snowball's chance in Hell that he was going to even think about letting me cross. Thanks for nothing, you big old lunkhead.

Fortunately, Lea was far more helpful. She not only called me a taxi, but she served up free Coke, too. I was going to miss this state. People were generally very friendly (bridge trolls excepted), and the motorists were polite and understanding, even in the cities. Although some of the roads were rough, others were actually pretty decent. The taxi, driven by a black woman, came a few minutes later. I put the bike in the trunk (Vicksburg doesn't have station wagons or minivans for taxis like some Chicago companies--Lea called them all  and asked), and I loaded my panniers into the back seat. It was the first time I had been in a car since February 25.

When we got to Louisiana, the driver pulled over in a restaurant parking lot. My door wouldn't open--she had to get out of the car to let me out. I guess it's good that we didn't go off the bridge and into the river because I never would have made it out. Anyway, it was there at the first exit that we met the Louisiana welcome committee, sitting on the steps of the  restaurant. " Git outta he-ah, black b*tch!" My blood boiled, and I couldn't imagine how she felt. I felt awful for putting her in this situation. I unloaded my bike.  He spoke again: " Git outta he-ah, black b*tch!" His buddy laughed. I apologized to the woman and got my things together. I gave her $15 for the ride, quite a bargain considering that it would have cost me at least an extra night's motel if I had avoided Vicksburg to get to the nearest bridge where I could cross on my bike (60 miles south to Natchez, as the crow flies). I hurriedly went about putting on my panniers as the man continued to occasionally shout, " Git outta he-ah!" I only fastened as much as I had to and pedaled away on US 80. A mile down the road, I stopped and attached everything properly, a good thing since the pavement was really rough. This was my first encounter with  overt racism in the South, and I hoped it would be my last. Louisiana was not off to a good start.

I had heard that Louisiana had good roads, so I was disappointed. But then I thought, " Who would want to invest in good roads for people like him (the man at the restaurant)?" I looked at the swamp alongside US 80. " Someone could throw a body in there and no one would ever find it," I thought. I replayed the event in my head, wondering what I could have done differently. In the end, I decided that my best move was just to ignore him and get the Hell out of there, as I had done. Not only was I a stranger to the area, but being on a bicycle, especially a road bike, is the most vulnerable way of travel. Anybody with a car can end a cyclist's life with a flick of the steering wheel. With The Gauntlet still on my mind, I did find some pleasure in creating an alternate chain of events as I imagined myself as  Clint Eastwood. Needless to say, in my version, that delta redneck wouldn't be harrassing any more black women.

If anything good came out of the experience, it was that my anger propelled me to Tallulah in short order. In fact, I was far enough ahead of schedule that I decided to ride on to the next town with a motel, Delhi, twenty miles away.

Drivers usually gave me plenty of room, but those first Louisianans had spooked me somewhat and I never felt safe or comfortable on the road.

In my motel room (Days Inn again), I tried to plot the fastest way across the state that I could find. Unfortunately, my options were such that I would either have to do some pretty long days (as long as today) or a short day. With a storm front looming on the horizon, I decided to play it by ear. If the weather looked good and I felt fine, I would shoot for Ruston (73 miles). Otherwise, I would settle for a 45-mile day to West Monroe.

It was evening before I realized that I had eaten no solid food all day, just Coke and orange juice. I typically have a hard time finding anything appetizing during the day, and it's something of a miracle that I don't bonk (run out of energy) all the time. I will have to be especially careful of this as I head west and services become less frequent.

Totals for the day (not including taxi miles): 76.06 miles in 5:53:45 for an average of 12.9 mph.

Click here to see today's photos.

Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.