Day Seventeen

Delhi, LA to Ruston, LA

I left Delhi early with reservations for West Monroe, only 45 miles away. Along the way, I passed through Rayville, the " White Gold Capital of the South." A  woman made a left turn in front of me, close enough that I had to clamp on the brakes. I wish I could say that was my closest call of the day. Next up was  Start, " Home of Country Great Tim McGraw."

I stopped at an unusual gas station/mini-mart called Am-Or, for " American-Oriental," with a Thai restaurant next door. It was the type of place I would expect to find in a city neighborhood, not on the outskirts of Monroe, LA. As I came out with a Coke, I saw a man in his car parked near my bicycle. Hmmm, that's unusual, I thought, but at least he didn't look threatening. As I approached, he introduced himself as a fellow cycle tourist. Mike and I talked about some of the tours we'd done, and he gave me his business card in case I had any trouble. He said that Monroe marked the end of the flat delta and that I would be into rolling hills west of there. Actually, I thought the terrain was a nice change of pace from the hills of Mississippi. Mike said I should make it to Ruston, and I felt like a slacker for having made a reservation 30 miles closer in West Monroe. He also tactfully corrected my pronunciation when I said I'd started the day in Delhi. " Oh, you came from Dell-high today?"

Monroe was predictably congested, especially the bridge over the Ouachita River. Since there was no shoulder and the curbs were high, I decided it was best to just ride across on the sidewalk (one of the few exceptions I'll make to my " never ride on the sidewalk" rule is for a narrow or busy bridge). In West Monroe, I decided to go on to Ruston. I stopped at a gas station, made a new reservation and canceled the old one. My decision to continue could have been a bad one, though...

I was heading down a hill fast enough that I could coast, but not very fast, perhaps 17-18 mph. A road came into 80 on the right near the bottom of the hill. A pick-up truck was waiting there at the stop sign to turn onto 80. A navy blue car passed on my left as I was hugging the white line. The next few  seconds passed slowly, like an eternity. As the front wheel came past me, the driver began a right-hand turn! Uh-oh, I'd seen this movie before. I didn't like the ending the first time, but it could have been worse. I didn't want to find out. I clamped down hard on the brakes, but he was slowing down, too. I yelled something, the exact words lost. I was right on his rear bumper as he went around the corner.  I followed him through the turn just a few feet behind, made a U-turn and came around behind the pick-up truck to get back on 80. Every inch of me was shaking, even when I started riding again. When I was sixteen, I was in this type of accident with a white pick-up truck that was turning into a restaurant. He hit me, and I slid across the gravel. It took 15 stitches to hold my knee together. This time, if I had noticed what was happening just a few seconds later, my entire trip could have been endangered, or even my life.

While the hills were more scenic than the flatlands of the delta, they were also more tiring. Five  miles down the road from the near-disaster above, I was feeling pretty beat. The 80 degree heat was taking a lot out of me. Every hill seemed longer and steeper than the last, although I recognized that this wasn't really the case, just my mind playing tricks. Coming out of Calhoun, I started to recover. Some days are like a rollercoaster, going from exhaustion to strength and back again. A lot of it is mental, and  some of it has to do with body chemistry  fluctuation as well (blood sugar, electrolytes, hydration, etc.). Anyway, just as I was starting to feel better, two dogs came running out to meet  me. One cycling tactic for dealing with dogs (when yelling doesn't work) is known as the " bad dog sprint." As one might guess, this is basically trying to outrun the dogs. The problem with this tactic is that dogs can be pretty fast, especially over short distances. And after several hours of riding, one doesn't always have the energy to spare for a hard effort. Since these dogs weren't intimidated by my voice, I had to resort to a bad dog sprint. As luck would have it, the dogs were chasing me uphill--it seems to always work out that way for me. I got away, more likely because the dogs gave up than because of my speed (or lack thereof), but after 55 miles of riding, it drained my reserves. It was still 16 more miles to Ruston.

After I got  through Choudrant, the last seven miles to Ruston went quickly. There's a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel effect that always makes the going easier when my destination is the next town on the map. I rode into  Ruston on Georgia Avenue. I thought to myself, hey, I've ridden across Georgia. A mile later, I turned onto Alabama Avenue. Hey, I've ridden across Alabama, too.  Yes, there was also a Mississippi Avenue in town,  but I didn't have to go there. Soon I was turning onto Tech Drive near the Louisiana Tech stadium. The  Super 8 was strategically located near two pizza restaurants and a Waffle House. I checked in and flopped on the bed. I'd covered a lot of ground over the past two days, but I was really wiped out. I decided that Saturday would be a rest day.

I had a very good dinner at the Waffle House. I had forgotten how good simple scrambled eggs & cheese could be (this was a Friday during Lent). One of the waitresses, Amy, had a distinctive voice that sounded very much like that of one of my friends. It was uncanny. She probably thought I was some kind of stalker because I couldn't help but look at her every time I heard her speak.

Totals for the day: 72.72 miles in 5:51:42 for an average of 12.4 mph

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Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.