Journey Report: Chicago to the Gulf Coast. Down through the center
of Illinois to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers,
southeast across Kentucky and Tennessee towards Tupelo,
Mississippi to join the Natchez Trace. Along the Natchez Trace
to Jackson, then west to Vicksburg, then south to Natchez and
along the Mississippi to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and
Biloxi/Gulfport. I stayed with relatives for a few days, rode
back to New Orleans and stayed there for a couple of days, then
boarded the "City of New Orleans" Amtrak (with my bike) for the
return to Chicago.
I'm fat, fifty-two, and I smoke, but I met many people who were
at least as odd as I am, even though I think I'm pretty straight.
I rode alone. The total number days on the road was 23, and I
probably averaged around 50-70 miles per day, with an average
speed around 10.5 MPH. (If they start shooting bicycle racers, I
don't need to worry!)
(If you really want to see what I looked like, check
here for about a 50K picture.)
The actual trip itinerary looked like this. . .
Day Date Miles Stopped at
# per day
1 Thu 3 Jun 110 Peru, ILLINOIS
2 Fri 4 Jun 50 El Paso
3 Sat 5 Jun 100 Springfield
4 Sun 6 Jun 50 Hillsboro
5 Mon 7 Jun 50 Lake Carlyle
6 Tue 8 June 60 Murphysboro
7 Wed 9 Jun 80 Cairo
8 Thu 10 Jun 55 Fulton, KENTUCKY
9 Fri 11 Jun 80 Jackson, TENNESSEE
10 Sat 12 Jun 77 Ripley, MISSISSIPPI
11 Sun 13 Jun 50 Tupelo
12 Mon 14 Jun 75 Mathiston
13 Tue 15 Jun 75 Carthage
14 Wed 16 Jun 70 Jackson
15 Thu 17 Jun 75 ?? (past Vicksburg)
16 Fri 18 Jun 70 Natchez
17 Sat 19 Jun 80 St. Francisville
18 Sun 20 Jun 45 Baton Rouge, LOUISIANA
19 Mon 21 Jun 85 LaPlace
20 Tue 22 Jun 65 Slidel
21 Wed 23 Jun 70 Ocean Springs, MISSISSIPPI
Tue Fort Pike, Louisiana
Wed New Orleans
The ride itself. . .
I started out on a cool note; the temperature for the first few
days was in the 50's-60's. In fact, I had the long pants and
jacket on until Springfield. I'm a warm-weather rider, but found
the cool is better! However, I ran into some storms, and into a
stiff south headwind that lasted for four of the seven days in
Illinois! For at least two days, the wind was directly into my
face at about 20-30 MPH. This can get very discouraging quickly.
Someplace in Illinois, during a storm that I was riding in, I
fell off the bike, across the highway! This was my own fault, and
was due to carelessness going from the gravel shoulder back onto
the road. I almost lost my glasses, slightly twisted both wheels
on the bike, and bent the front derailleur gear. Fortunately,
there were no cars on the road, but it points out the importance
of wearing a helmet.
I paralleled Route 51 down through the center of Illinois, with a
slight detour west to go through Springfield, our capital.
Unfortunately, I was there on a Sunday, everything was closed,
but I did get to ride around the Capitol Building, visit
Lincoln's Tomb and the Lincoln Garden and a few other tourist-ey
Just prior to Springfield, I cut a tire, about two miles outside
of Clinton. I had to unload the bicycle, store everything in the
weeds, and patched the tire as best I could, pumping it up to
only about 40 pounds or so. I rode carefully back to Clinton,
bought another tire but used the same tube, returned to pick up
my stuff and was on my way. However, this blew about 2-3 hours
The upper two-thirds of Illinois is great bike riding country.
It's flat, the roads are laid out in a rectangular grid, and you
can't get lost and it isn't necessary to ride on the larger
highways. At the bottom, however, there are a few hills. None
were walk-up hills, but they did require effort. I was riding a
plain-vanilla 10-speed Schwinn bicycle. On the plus side, there
was always a town within 20 miles or so. As a matter of fact, on
this whole trip I don't think I ever travelled more than 40 miles
or so without coming across a watering stop, town, or some
I spent some time in Cairo and at the park located at the
confluence of the two rivers. This I found fascinating. I
continued my trek, crossing over the Ohio into Kentucky, which
was about the same hilliness as Illinois. It took me seven days
to reach Cairo, and I was beginning to get discouraged, thinking
that I had bit off more than I could chew, and wouldn't make it
to the train on time.
However, Kentucky is less than a day's ride - at this point I
crossed the small section of the state in 5 hours riding time
(OK, so it took me 9 hours to do it - lots of rest stops!)
In Tennessee, the hills seems to abate somewhat. They got
shallower. By about the center of the state I was back in my
favorite territory, flatland! I picked up Route 45, and visited
the town that has white squirrels. I never saw a white squirrel
before, but now I have.
Between Ripley and Tupelo there isn't too much distance, and the
next motel after Tupelo was pretty far. So I had a short
distance and a full day. I took some back roads, got lost a few
times, and saw some different areas. In fact, on the whole trip
I saw a lot of poverty, but also a lot of opulence as well.
Sometimes close to each other! Eventually, I found my way to
Tupelo where I spend the night.
Somebody who reads this newsgroup recommended the Natchez Trace,
and I'm very grateful to them. It's a great place to ride! It's
essentially flat, a federal parkway. It's a two lane road, but
like an expressway, there is controlled access. No commercial
vehicles are allowed, and the speed limit is 50 MPH for the cars.
There is very little traffic. (One day, between 8:00 and 8:30 I
counted only 5 cars passing me in the same direction!). There
isn't any speeding, because a speeding ticket along the Trace is
a federal offense, and a mountain of time and paperwork to take
care of. So nobody speeds. And since the traffic is so light, a
good deal of consideration is given to cyclists.
Tupelo to Mathiston was a good day's ride, but after Mathiston you
can stay at Kosiusko (too close) or Jackson (too far). I skipped
Kosiusko but couldn't make Jackson, so I got off the Trace and
went to Carthage instead, later re-joining the Trace. There are
signs along the Trace, but sometimes you have to travel a couple
of miles to get there. There is very little in the way of
civilization or towns along the Trace itself.
However, there are many, many scenic areas and rest stops. There
are explanatory signs, explaining the geology, the history, the
significance of the area and the Trace. And there are mile-
markers, so you usually have a pretty good idea of where you are.
Another photo opportunity, this one is
about 75K or so.
At Jackson, the trace is interrupted. You're supposed to get off
at the exit for Route 51. I continued, and found myself on
Interstate 55! I got off that as quickly as I could, went into
downtown Jackson. It's mostly government buildings. I headed
west and found a motel.
The next day I set off along Route 80 (which is the 'old road'
that parallels the expressway). At some points, it was simply a
Along this road, I came across the hated "Road Closed - Bridge
Out - 4 miles ahead" sign. What to do? I took the road anyway,
risking an 8 mile waste-of-time. The bridge WAS closed, but not
out. It wasn't safe for vehicular traffic, but perfectly OK for
a pedestrian or a bicycle. As a bonus, there wasn't any traffic
on the road, I had it all to myself.
I arrived in Vicksburg, toured the national military cemetery,
and headed south. Somehow I miscalculated the distance between
potential motels and spent the night along side the road, in the
weeds, in the tent. Those Clif Bars aren't delicious, but they
do stave off starvation. I also found out that you can take a
reasonable shower and get satisfactorily clean using a single
water bottle - if you're careful. You should have two bottles of
water (I did) so you've got something to wash down those darn
Clif Bars with.
By the time I got to Natchez, the front derailleur mechanism
finally broke - but there's a great bike shop in downtown Natchez
that took care of it for me, right away, and for a reasonable
price too. I felt like I was getting lucky, having all this at
I left Natchez for Baton Rouge. I travelled Highway 61 for the
most part. About this time there was a tropical depression that
settled someplace over Texas, and the weather wasn't really
conducive to bike riding. It had been raining for several days,
and it was continuing to rain. I was forced by the rain to quit
early, and stayed in the first motel I came across - a mistake
since it was a La Quinta Inn and cost me $55 for the night, the
most expensive motel of the trip! Moreover, it was during the
Chicago Bulls playoffs, and I think every room in the motel had
it on! This was ameliorated somewhat by a restaurant across the
street that served an excellent prime-rib sandwich. It didn't
taste quite like what I was used to - and I think I was
introduced to Cajun cooking.
Someplace after Baton Rouge, I crossed the Mississippi River for
the first time. I went west (or was it south of the river? Why
cross the river? To get to the other side, of course!) I
thought I crossed a border into another country! This is a
fascinating area - and one I'm truly sorry I didn't have much
time to explore. Even the language was different.
I had taken a ferry across the river, and intended to ride about
20 miles to another ferry. However, the second ferry was closed
for the day and I was directed to the Sunshine Bridge crossing.
After this, the next ferry was about 50 miles; there just aren't
that many places to cross the river. However, I was stopped by a
state cop - who said I couldn't cross the bridge. I (politely)
complained, was sent to the administration building - and they
drove me across in a pickup truck! This worked out well, because
the bridge was high.
Again, because of the weather, I was forced to stop short of New
Orleans. I stayed in LaPlace. (Yes, as a northerner, I
pronounced it wrong; remember, this is French-Cajun territory!)
The next day, I continued into New Orleans, had lunch and rode
around for a couple of hours and left New Orleans about 2:00 PM
or so, riding route 90 across the coast. I had to ride about six
miles away from the highway to Slidel, where I spent my last
night on the road. From there, I had a west wind at my back all
the way to Biloxi! Highway 90 is flat, very scenic, but the road
must be shared with cars.
Shortly after Pass Christian, the beach starts - a beautiful
white sand beach that stretches for miles. The sand in the
street was a little obstacle, and there were intermittent
sidewalks and parking areas to ride on. However, in the urban
areas that stretch along the coast the road was congested. This
is now worse, because of the casinos that have been built in the
area. (I tried to pay for the trip by playing Texas Hold 'Em in
the 3 & 6 game, but after five hours I was only 75-cents ahead,
so this didn't seem to be worthwhile.)
I arrived at my sister's house on the 21st day. By this time, I'd
put on over 1500 miles. I spent about five days with her and her
husband, riding around the area of course. I explored the Gulf
Coast National Park in Ocean Springs.
Although the ride back to New Orleans was only about 100 miles, I
couldn't make it in one day. I stopped and camped near Fort
Pike, the back-door entrance to Lake Pontchartrain. In searching
for something to drink, I came across an operation where they
unload shrimp boats. I spent a couple of hours learning how the
shrimp industry works. Fascinating.
The boat I saw had about 1400 pounds of shrimp, in the hold and
covered with ice. This is shoveled out, by hand, with what I
would call a coal shovel, onto a conveyor belt. This dumps into
a tank, where the ice melts in the water, then the shrimp get
loaded onto another conveyer into a scoop on a scale, then
put into 100 pound containers, with ice. These are shipped
by truck to where they are peeled. They take three pounds of
shrimp, count them, and divide by three to get the count. The
shrimp I saw were "70/80" meaning there are 70 to 80 shrimp per
pound, somewhat on the small size. I have no idea what the
price is the shrimper gets, and how the market is established.
It was a family-run operation, very friendly and open. I'm
trying to find out about shrimp, and they wanted to know
about my bike trip!
The next day, I arrived in New Orleans and checked into a motel
(La Petite Motel) which was near Broad and Tulane. Some wouldn't
call it a good neighborhood, but the price was right. It was
only $25 night, and the French Quarter was much, much higher.
Besides, I was only a 15-minute ride from the French Quarter
anyway. So you can do some sightseeing 'on the cheap' even in a
place like New Orleans. The bed worked, the shower was hot, and
the air conditioner cool. By this time I had ridden over 1700
miles. It was a great neighborhood. I did take a Grey Lines
tour of the city.
On the last day, I checked out of the motel, rode to the train
station. For $5, they gave me a box and within 15 minutes I had
removed the pedal, adjusted the handlebars, and had the bike
packed away and a claim check in my hands. I checked as luggage
the sleeping bag and tent, and two of the bike bags. I carried
two bags onto the train. The train ticket, one way, from New
Orleans to Chicago was only $115, and I had reserved a sleeping
compartment, which included meals, for another $108 or something
like that. What a way to go! I would highly recommend this to
anybody. It was like having a videotape of the trip, only
playing it backwards at high speed. From the observation car,
the train track looked like a bike path: long, narrow, and
completely surrounded by foliage. The only problem is the train
moves too fast (compared to a bike) and they won't stop the train
to let you smell the flowers.
The train left at 2:30 PM. At 9:30 AM the next morning I was
back in Chicago. It took another 15-minutes to unpack and re-
assemble the bike, load the gear, ride out of the door of the
loading dock like I owned the place. The ride up Milwaukee
Avenue in Chicago to home was only about 8 miles.
The people. . .
I met some fascinating people along the way. My acquaintances
(from Chicago, of course) were concerned about my safety. This
concern is the least of your worries, if you're planning a trip
like this. I ran into absolutely no trouble, no threat of
trouble. At no time did I feel any concern about harm being done
to me. In his book, "The Traveling Cyclist," Wallack theorizes
that a bicyclist poses little or no threat to anyone, and hence
this non-threat allows others to lower their defenses. I think
there's something to this.
I had a routine flat someplace, and stopped along a bridge to fix
it so that I could lean my bike against the rails. During this
brief interval, no more than 15 minutes, two pickup trucks
stopped and offered me a ride or help. I don't remember where
this happened, but it could have been anyplace.
During a storm, I stopped in a barn approaching Carthage. It was
a shop where they repair diesel engines. I was offered the
opportunity to camp out there on the couch, or to ride into
Carthage with one of the men.
Approaching LaPlace, I again was running out of daylight, and had
about 20 miles to go but only 10 miles of daylight left. I asked
the driver of a pickup for a lift, and promptly got a ride 1/2-
way to my destination.
Someplace in a hilly area in northern Mississippi just before
Tupelo, I went through an extremely poor area, and stopped in a
general store that seemed to exude poverty. Yet the proprietor
would not take any money for my Gatorade, and insisted I take
along another one for the road.
There were countless instances of this happening.
I met a man who had ridden a horse across the US a couple of
years ago. He was waiting at an intersection in Cairo, because
he saw me riding - and wanted to talk. He wanted to know where I
was from, and where I was going. It turned out we had a mutual
acquaintance - a co-worker of mine! He turned out early to buy
me breakfast the next morning. I'm planning on sending him a
copy of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which he
hasn't read yet.
There was a woman holding a sign "Will work for food" near
Springfield. She wanted to bring her three kids up from Texas.
I asked her when she last ate ("Yesterday") and offered to give
her five bucks to eat. She didn't want to take it from me! She
insisted I couldn't afford it, that I needed it for myself.
Looking at myself objectively, I suppose I looked like a homeless
person. My bicycle was nothing special. I did finally convince
her I was on vacation, had a good job, and could certainly afford
to give away a lousy five dollars. I had a good laugh at myself
because of this minor incident.
Then there was the Colonel who was a successful businessman and
maintained a suite at a motel in Tupelo. He and I discussed the
War Between the States in the afternoon. Later on that evening,
he found out who I was, what room I was in, and called me up "to
offer some southern hospitality, and I even have a clean glass
for you." We stayed up until the wee hours discussing history,
which slightly delayed my departure. He wanted me to wait, skip
Jackson ("It's fulla whores and politicians, and you can't tell
the difference.") and said "Let's throw the damn bike in the
trunk and we'll go on to Vicksburg." He offered to pick me up
along the Trace if he came across me. I promised to find out
where General Sherman is buried for him, so if anybody has this
information, please email me. ("He stole our gold and raped our
wimmen. I wanna know where the sum'bitch is buried so's I can go
piss on his grave!")
There was a young man riding a kid's bike someplace west of the
Mississippi River. He worked the sugar cane fields, and his
truck broke down. During our 8-mile ride into White Castle, he
told me all the ways to catch and cook crawfish. He offered to
take me into the swamp that night to catch frogs. He asked where
I was from, and when I told him, he said "Tell true, now!" - an
expression I'd never heard before.
A sad story: there was a young lady I met in New Orleans, who had
an addiction problem. She owned two dresses and one pair of
underpants. I had to give her a bath, because she had injured
her arm. I was washing one dress of hers, when she came into the
laundromat and told me "I've got a $50 date which I can't turn
down," kissed me goodbye, and I never saw her again after that.
When I checked out, I gathered her meager belongings, packed them
in a bag, and gave the doorman a couple of bucks to return them
to her. I bought a heating pad, an Ace bandage, and some other
stuff I thought she might need, and put that in there too.
Before the train left, I called the motel, but she had not as yet
picked up her stuff. I won't know how this story ends, I only
knew her first name. I hope she's OK.
These are only a few; there were many more.
The Highways. . .
The actual road/route is an important consideration, and
something you can't always tell from a map. The following is
really only generalizations.
Highway 251 or 51 south through Illinois is variable. At some
points there was no riding shoulder, but most of the way there
was one. It varied between six inches and a full three or more
feet. South of Champaign-Urbana it was almost a full lane width,
but this was along a four-lane highway, not the most fun to ride.
This was pretty much the same in Kentucky.
Route 54 to Springfield was no bargain. At times there was no
shoulder and the road itself was in need or repair.
Illinois Route 271 was a mixed blessing. More narrow and little
shoulder made it difficult to ride. However, it goes through the
Shawnee National Forest, might be more scenic. I expected it to
have less traffic that I remember. It was good, but not great.
Route 45W through much of Tennessee was OK riding. I really
don't remember much about the road, but I wasn't complaining in
my notes about it, so it couldn't have been all that bad.
The Natchez Trace I described earlier; although a narrow, two
lane highway without a shoulder the no-truck rule and the 50 MPH
speed limit and the lack of traffic far outweigh any
disadvantages. By all means, take it if it's going anywhere near
where you want to go.
Mississippi route 80 parallels Interstate 20, so it's an ideal
road because it carries local traffic only. However, parts of it
may be closed, parts may run on Interstate 20. You may need to
find your own way between sections of it.
Generally speaking: The Mississippi highways are smooth and well
maintained, but there is NO shoulder. The Louisiana highways are
in poorer condition, but the main highways always seem to have a
shoulder. Between the two states, I'll take Louisiana for
Through no fault of my own, I did precipitate an accident. The
scene: an uphill no-passing zone on Route 61 about 10 miles
north of Louisiana. No shoulder, only weeds. Not even much
gravel. I saw and heard a large truck behind me, obviously
slowing down because of me. I decided that discretion was the
better course, as this was near the crest of the hill, and pulled
of the road and began riding in the grass to allow traffic to
clear behind me.
Suddenly, I heard a roar and the sound of a vehicle in the
underbrush on my RIGHT! I glanced behind me and saw an 18-
wheeler carrying long pine trees in the culvert, moving fast but
slowing fast too. Just as the truck stopped, about 50 feet
behind me the trailer tipped over, spilling the logs but the cab
Traffic stopped in both directions, on the uphill side. The
truck I heard was a gasoline tanker and it stopped too. The
driver of the log truck was obviously upset. I didn't approach
too closely but I could hear his sing-song complaining but
couldn't understand the words! However, I did understand one
word he was saying: "bicycle." Frankly, I didn't know whether to
perform a base body function or lose my eyesight. The driver of
the gasoline truck said to me, as we walked back to the logging
truck, "It wasn't your fault; that guy was going to fast and
following to close."
I left. I rode quickly, but I don't think I was running away.
Needless to say, the next few miles were enervating, to say the
least. I was riding more in the weeds than on the road. I
almost kissed the ground when I got to Louisiana and saw the
The gasoline truck driver caught up with me the next day, in
Baton Rouge where I was sitting out a downpour under a bridge.
We exchanged names, I gave him my address and phone number
because he made an official report to his company. The entire
fault was that of the driver of the logging truck; nobody was
injured and the only financial loss was suffered by the logging
truck. But - it could have been worse.
So, route 61 in Louisiana isn't bad, particularly where there is
a wide shoulder.
Following the River was fun. I followed the roads that followed
the levee, even if they weren't the highways shown on my map.
There was little traffic for me, and I figured that since the river
goes to New Orleans, I really couldn't get lost. I may have travelled
more miles than necessary by doing this, but I really was out riding anyway.
The roads on the west side of the river were as friendly as the east
side. Be careful of the Sunshine Bridge, and remember that all
the ferries may not run full-time and I don't think any of 'em
Route 61 goes into New Orleans, and intersects with Route 90
along the coast. Again, this Route 90 parallels Interstate 10,
but the traffic was heavier. This wasn't a bad road either. But
perhaps because of the environment I wasn't being a critical
The accommodations. . .
After a week of travel, I finally admitted that I hadn't really
planned this trip too well. "Just go south" wasn't enough. I
don't encourage over-planning either, though. So I devised the
3:00 PM Think about motel
5:00 PM Plan for motel
6:30 PM Start looking for motel
Inasmuch as this was around the solstice, I had maximum daylight
and could play it a little fast and loose.
I did have a sleeping bag and a bike tent. I had planned to camp
out more, but I'm a city-boy and the convenience of the plastic
credit card lured me into a bed, shower, and air-conditioner.
At only one point did I fail to find satisfactory accommodations,
between Vicksburg and Natchez. The sun went down, and I camped
in the weeds. It wasn't all that bad and I'm glad I took the
tent and bag, but this trip could have been made without taking
The dump-of-the-trip award goes to the Best Rest Inn in
Springfield, Illinois, which cost $25, had the maximum number of
roach traps, had the door open into an alley, and had discolored
walls too. I slept like a log.
The following evening, I had the best of the trip! A restored
1900's hotel in Hillsboro, Illinois. Really nice. There were no
smoking restrictions, yet I felt compelled to go outside to
smoke! It was only $30.
The Best Bargain was the City Motel in Cairo, Illinois. $18, it
was clean and large too. Yes, it was somewhat run down but
certainly adequate. I think the price was really $20, but the
innkeeper gave me two bucks off because I was on a bike! Nice
people. The motel is on the south end of the city, about two
blocks from the Ohio river and a mile from the park and border.
The most expensive motel was the La Quinta Inn in Baton Rouge.
It was later, raining, and I wasn't being too selective. I
almost passed out at the $55 tag, but I accepted it. It really
bothered me though.
There were other motels that should get at least an honorable
The City Motel in Slidel, LA was worthwhile. $25, it was in the
historic district. Clean and nice. I enjoyed it.
The Trace Inn in Tupelo, but because it was next door to
Russell's Beef House, where I had the best steak in my life.
La Petite Inn in New Orleans. I mentioned this earlier. Cheaper
than the alternative, and perfectly satisfactory to me.
I camped at Lake Carlyle, Illinois (state park, showers, $6) and
also at Camp Greenwood near St. Francisville, LA. (Private,
showers and laundry, $12). Camping was an experience. I should
have done more. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.
I found I could set up camp in about 20 minutes, but the
following morning it took at least 60-90 minutes to break camp
and prepare for the days riding. However, the morning
preparation time even at a motel was longer than I though it
would be. Just throwing things in the bike bag and taking off
isn't a good idea.
Other than the one weed-camping incident (which was my own fault)
I could always find accommodations. But perhaps not when I
wanted them. A nice motel at 4:30 PM stops the day's travel and
perhaps too early. Riding at night, looking for a motel, isn't
very pleasant either.
The Historical Significance. . .
In the Spring Semester of 1993, I took U.S. History, 1400's to
Reconstruction. I didn't plan it this way, but it was very
fortuitous. This should almost be a prerequisite for the trip!
I was never much interested in the Civil War - now I think I'm an
I'm not even sure where, but I came across a cemetery. Two,
actually. One side of the street was military, the other side
regular. Rows and columns of the standard military headstone.
About 18 inches wide, maybe 2 feet high and rounded at the top.
And they were all engraved "Unknown." These were from the
1860's. Don't we ever learn?
There is still evidence along the Trace of the rich native
American history. Not recent, though. They all got the boot
when somebody wanted the land for cotton. ("Trust me, Chief.
You're people will really love Oklahoma!")
The National Cemetery at Vicksburg has a film about the battle
there, and keeps it in perspective to the rest of the war. It's
very well done, and accurate too. Jefferson Davis's last home,
Bouviar, is in Biloxi. After a few years in the can, they let
him out to retire here. He really wasn't a bad guy, in my
opinion. It's hard for a Yankee like me to try and see things as
he did, but I made the effort. I learned from this.
This whole territory was either claimed or fought over by at
least four nations: the Native Americans, the British, the
French, and the Spanish. Evidence of all of these cultures is
along the path.
The Linguistic and Cultural side. . .
As close as 150 miles south of Chicago, the language began to
change. One of my first observations: Near Chicago, the
waitress might ask "Would you like water?" but starting about
Springfield this changed to "Would you like ice water?" and from
that point on, "ice" was always appended to "water." In the
lower half of Illinois, there was an accent that I had a hard
time coping with. When you don't understand someone, you can say
"Pardon me?" once - but when you need to make them repeat
themselves a third or even forth time, it get's embarrassing.
I really enjoy a big, hearty breakfast. In the North,
you can get oatmeal. South of Champaign, you can get either
oatmeal or grits. South of Kentucky, you can get grits, but not
oatmeal. I like both, so I didn't mind.
Rye bread disappeared as an option at the Illinois border. From
then on, it was white, wheat, or a biscuit. No more rye bread.
In the deep south, I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and the
waitress asked me "Do you want that dressed?" Being a shy
creature, I said yes. Insofar as I can tell, this means
tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and mayonnaise.
In the Colonel's suite at Tupelo, his girlfriend said I really
should try BALD peanuts. Well, at least "BALD" is what I heard.
I had never heard of BALD peanuts. I asked more about the BALD
peanuts, hoping to learn. She said she makes her own, she balls
'em herself. I asked how. (At this point, I think she was
starting to think I was mentally deficient!) After several
minutes of conversation, she finally said "You just put salt in
the water, BALL it. . ." and it wasn't until then that I realized
the word was BOIL!
At the barn that I sought shelter from the storm just prior to
Carthage: it was actually a shop where they fixed large diesel
trucks. There were six guys sitting around a table, four whites
and two blacks. They were telling jokes about the Puerto Ricans.
They don't call it the "Civil War" down there; it's either the
"War Between the States" or the "War of the 1860's."
The funniest linguistic story was when my sister and her husband,
Les, planned on going to the Casino. Les knew that I was a poker
player. He asked me if I "wanted to go on a cow" with him. Once
again, I'm sure I either didn't hear correctly, or misunderstood
something. I readily agreed. The next day he brought it up
again, and acted as if we was imposing on me. In his words: "Are
you sure you want to go on a cow? I hope you don't mind." I was
cleaning and oiling the bike chain, and was preoccupied, but I
assured him it was no problem, that I would love to "go on a cow"
with him. Finally, he asked a third time. Enough is enough, I
bluntly ask: "Les, what in the hell are you talking about?"
"Going on a cow" is simply a partnership, where two people put up
equal amounts of money, but only one plays in the poker game.
They split the winnings or the losses. It's that simple. I had
done this before in my life, but never heard the expression
"going on a cow" and asked him where it came from. He had no
idea, it was a common expression. I asked him to see if he could
trace down the expression. He admitted that perhaps the word
"cow" was only the pronunciation, and had nothing to do with the
bovine animal. He had no idea; it was just a common expression.
What did it cost. . .
I had two weeks vacation, and I took a two week unpaid leave to
get the total of four weeks. I tacked on a couple of vacation
days at the front end.
I had $1000 in $50 travellers checks, and about $300 in real
money too. I came home with about $100. Since I know I broke
even in the poker game, I must have spent the rest. I didn't
stint along the way. I suspect if I had taken less, I would have
spent less. If I had taken more, I would have spent more.
I used the plastic for most of the motels, so I think I ran up
another $600-$700 on the plastic. I made a few phone calls using
the calling card. I haven't gotten all the bills yet. Somehow I
suspect I'm underestimating this.
The train ticket was about $225, including the sleeping car and
The philosophy that I learned. . .
Many friends expressed bewilderment at my plans. After the trip,
I found that the betting was against my completing it. Many
people asked if could I endure it. They know I'm lazy, that I
don't like to exercise, that I don't like hard work.
Was it painful, hard, difficult? Kahlil Kibran says that "Pain is
the breaking of the shell to awareness." Literally, the trip was
a pain in the butt. Perhaps, though, it is through the minor
discomfort that the trip was more enjoyable. I saw. I heard. I
tasted. I felt. I smelled.
Would I go again? Once again, some Greek said that "You can't
step in the same river twice." I would go again, same
destination. I might vary the route a little. I certainly would
try and spend more time in some locations. I could never find
again the route I took. I would meet different people, see
different things. I would go in a different season.
(In June, Mississippi has the second-highest rainfall, over 8
inches. I didn't find this out until after the plans were made.
So the bad weather was partially my own poor planning.)
I learned that maybe life is really an excursion, a trip, an
adventure, a journey. You may take small rest stops, you may
even take a side-trip, as I did. There is one difference: you
cannot cancel the trip. You should know where you are, where you
are going, and have a reasonable idea of the route. You should
plan to find a motel or campground before the sun goes down each
Moreover, you never know what each day will bring. You're
slightly hungry, and come across a restaurant that looks
mediocre. Should you stop and eat at this opportunity? What if
the road ahead is empty for the next forty miles? What if
there's a delicious smorgasbord just up the road, with wine and
dancing girls - and you've just pigged out on McDonalds!
There may be obstacles. A small piece of glass embedded in the
tire wears a hole. The fat red line on the map turns out to be
potholes and poor patch jobs, the road from hell. The wind turns
against you, the terrain becomes hilly. Keep pedalling, there's
no other choice. If you stop, there's no place to sit and the
bugs will get you. Keep pedalling.
That's life, isn't it?
Even the word "lost" needs to be examined. There are three
facets: Where are you now, where do you want to go, and how do
you get there from here?
If you don't know where you are, you ARE lost. You must either
ride until you find a landmark, or ask somebody.
If you don't know where you want to go, you aren't lost, but
simply undecided. You don't need knowledge, you need to make a
decision. You might wish to have additional knowledge upon which
to base that decision, but you also may need to make that
decision based on the information you have. You give it your
The decision on the path to take isn't always clear either. You
might want to kill time, and take the scenic route. Time may be
against you, and you need to take the most direct route, even
though this involves riding in traffic.
Like all males, I have a difficult time asking directions. I'll
sit and study a map, in the hot sun, until I think I'm going
blind. Because of this, I wasn't meeting people. I found a
solution. When I know precisely where I am, and know exactly
where I'm going, and have a well-planned route, then I'll stop
frequently and ask, even though I don't need to! Stupid? Yes,
but it works for me. Find out what works for you, then do it.
Along the Trace, a couple of younger riders came up. Two college
kids going from Washington DC to Texas. They asked "Where are
you going?" and I said "Biloxi." They said "Oh, you must be from
Chicago, then." I was flabbergasted! How could they possibly
They heard about me as they stopped, at many of the same places I
did. So as you're travelling, you leaving ripples behind you,
traces of your presence. Others know about you and talk about
you and you aren't even aware of it! Think about it: haven't you
heard of others who have travelled the same path just before you
If you've read this far, let me advise you to GO FOR IT! Don't
just say "It'd be fun to try that, it sounds like he enjoyed
himself." Then do it. Burn this paper, or erase the file. Plan
your own trip. Forget mine. It belongs to me, and as much as
I'd like to share it with you, it's impossible. You can only
get a glimpse of it.
Along the road between Jackson and Vicksburg, I came across a
very impressive, large church. I climbed back from the road to
take a picture. Technically, the picture is accurate. But it's
a flat, two-dimensional picture. If you saw it, you might wonder
whatever would prompt me to take a picture of this church. It
would make a nice postcard but how does it fit into the album on
the trip? Well, you weren't there so you can't understand. I
see the same picture I show to others, but they cannot see what I
saw - and no camera or recording mechanism will capture it. I
could only bring home shadows.
Bob Kastigar - R-Kastigar@neiu.edu