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January 11, 2016

By meriwether, Jan 15 2016 01:56PM

My ride into the Big Easy was not so easy. It was only a ride of 30 miles from Slidell just north of New Orleans, but it was into a cold, pelting rain with a disagreeable quarter head wind pestering me, and temperatures hovering in the upper 40’s. I had to stop a couple of times to thaw out my ice cube like hands and feet . . . and to dry out all of me. One stop was at the Yellow Store - indeed quite yellow - which is attached to the High Tide Bar and Grill where a bowl of gumbo rejuvenated me - but only a little.

I made short work of Alabama and Mississippi when compared to the month plus I spent meandering the Florida East, West, and North coasts. It was a matter of a day or day and a half max for each state. A quick glance at the map reveals that both states don’t have a lot of territory bordering the Gulf of Mexico - Mississippi just a bit more than Alabama.

Upon saying goodbye to the Sunshine State, I crossed over into “Bama”, and immediately ran into a racist motorcycle jockey who looked the part. He was a friendly enough fellow, but one of the first ten words out of his mouth upon seeing my well laden motor-less cycle was the “N” word, made in reference to an African American cyclist he had seen pulling some kind of a heavy load. It was obvious he wanted to jaw a bit, but I said, “Have a nice day,” and rode off. Just don’t have time for those sorts.

It must be a requirement, too, for traffic engineers and highway construction types to leave their brains at the border with Florida, for once in Alabama I was greeted with the return of rumble strips smack dab in the middle of the berm where a cyclist needs to ride. Mississippi, on the other hand, was a bit of an unexpected and pleasant surprise, using more common sense on this cycling infrastructure issue.

Riding along Mississippi’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico coastline from Biloxi to Gulfport, the full fury wrought by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago is evidenced by the wide open spaces lining the shore. Centuries old stately mansions and grand structures were blown apart or washed away by the maelstrom of Katrina’s eye and her accompanying storm surge as she made her unwelcome landfall right at this location, devastating all in her path. Now . . . there are just wide open spaces of land where these historic homes once stood . . . often indicated with an attractive green marker explaining the history of the edifice that once occupied the place.

This is my third time down to New Orleans - I came down in 2006 a year after Katrina when devastation was still everywhere to be seen - abandoned neighborhoods in St. Bernard’s Parish with their empty homes marked with the telltale X’s and O’s indicating they had been searched for bodies. I worked with Habitat For Humanity for a week then on one of the many HFH homes under construction, staying at Camp Hope where you could meet people from all over the country who had come down to help. And then again in 2010, I made another trip down for another week long stint with HFH. In 2006 (or 2010 - can’t remember which) at the HFH community of homes known as Musicians Village, President Jimmy Carter walked right by me on the way to the Porta Potty, a couple of Secret Service Agents trailing behind him. There was a special celebration that day at Musicians Village with Jimmy Carter the special guest to help in the dedication of one of the homes (Pictured on my website under the “What They Do” tab: Both those weeks were exceptional experiences, so I’m happy to be back once again.

This time around my residence for three days was Camp Restore, a combination Lutheran Church and headquarters for mostly college and high school groups coming down for a week or two to put in some volunteer/service time and help in this decade long rebuilding of the Crescent City. The accommodations are dormitory style and meals are provided during the week. My bunkmates were all from Germany - not here for the rebuild, but active in some type of social service agency here in the U.S. A pretty good bargain at $25 per night, and a good place for me to venture out only a couple miles away to the Habitat job site where I volunteered on Saturday. As has always been the case, it was a fine group of volunteers with which to spend the day laboring away. I was working with another volunteer, Luiz, (Sp?) at the task of putting up the temporary storm boards that the home owner can place quickly over the windows when the next hurricane sets its sites on the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

I’m finding it harder and harder to ride off into these frigid morning temps in the upper 30’s and 40’s. Though it doesn’t take long to warm up, within no time you are soaked on the inside with sweat while the cold breezes attack from the outside. And as soon as you stop, the chill sets in, and then it is so difficult to get warm again until you work up another sweat - and the cycle continues. Which is why I stayed in New Orleans another day today as temperatures dipped to the mid 30’s. I’m residing at a nice little hostel in the Garden District, and this afternoon visited the National World War II Museum. I was there for only a few hours, but as always, could have spent the whole day. But in that time, I fought the War in Europe and defeated the forces of genuine evil embodied by Hitler and the Nazis. When I visited in 2010, it was just getting off the ground. Now . . . there is so much more to experience, and it is so well done! Highly recommend a visit to you all if you have not been. Chills up and down my spine several times and goose bumps aplenty were the order of the day.

And so now I’m looking westward once again toward western Louisiana and the Texas border - somewhere before I reach Houston will be the 5,000 mile mark.

So many thanks go out once again to some new and repeat donors to Habitat For Humanity and Save The Children in support of my ride: Tom Lammers, Beth and Bruce Miller, Jim Latimer, and Pat Hyde.

Proceeding On, one day at a time . . . as always, until that voice in my head says otherwise.

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