Day Twenty Six: Natchez to Laplace, LA, mostly by U-Haul

So we went out to dinner tonight in a ten foot U-Haul truck.

The restaurant, Frenier Landing, was on Lake Pontchartrain, a couple of miles from the motel where we are staying, next to some swampland, and the night air was humid and heavy. We were amazed by the size of the dragonflies there; they looked like small birds. Dan had gumbo with alligator sausage and I had a delicious crab salad with remoulade, and no one really seemed to look twice at our vehicle as we climbed out of it, though I thought it was sort of hilarious.

We took yesterday off after twelve days of riding. It was Dan’s birthday, and we had a lovely room for two nights at the Dunleith Inn in Natchez. After breakfast we had a tour of the inn and visited some other historic sites and had to do mundane things like laundry, and then had an opportunity to reconsider our 240 mile or so route into New Orleans again, which we have changed several times. While talking this through, it became clear that one of us was ready to be done with biking, and the other was not. So we worked to figure out a compromise.

We decided that leapfrogging ahead through Baton Rouge would get us past the many miles of rural roads without services in rural Mississippi and Louisiana on the route, as well as getting us past some expected storms, and would let us finish our ride into New Orleans along the levee. So when we woke up this morning we immediately started making phone calls. First to the one car rental agency in town, Enterprise, to see if they had a car or SUV that we could rent (answer: no, they had nothing available until Saturday), then to Downtown Carla Brown’s shuttle service (answer: no, she was in Nashville delivering some cyclists doing the Trace but she could take us to Brookhaven to get on an Amtrak on Friday), and then to the Rock and Roll Taxi service (answer: yes, they would take us to Baton Rouge after 4 o’clock but could not take our bikes). So then we started considering other options…and U-Haul seemed pretty attractive. They offer one-way drop off, plus enough space to fit a couple of bikes in the back of their trucks, and there are lots of U-Haul offices in the region. The lovely woman at the Natchez U-Haul, Linda, said they had a truck available and quoted us a price and after breakfast in the Dunleith Castle we loaded up our bikes and rode out to highway 61.

Unfortunately, Linda discovered she was wrong when we got there… there wasn’t a truck that we could take without messing up other people’s plans. She was really apologetic and started making phone calls in between people coming in to pay bills and Fed Ex packages (the other part of the business) to see if she could find another truck for us, and eventually found one about 15 miles west in Ferriday. To get there, we would have to ride across a bridge that was under construction. By this time there was an older guy sitting at the other desk behind the counter (who looked like he could be Joe Biden’s brother), and he kind of quietly suggested that he didn’t think they were letting bikes on the bridge, and said he would check with the U-Haul in Woodville, about 35 miles south on 61. He found they had a 10 foot truck we could rent, so now the trick was to get us there before they closed for the day. And then he very kindly offered to drive us there…turned out Mike was the owner of the business and had a pickup and could take us and our bikes there in between some lawn mowing and other duties. His sidekick was a 15 year old boy who was wide eyed and quiet and watched as we strapped our bikes to Mike’s trailer, then came along for the ride.

It was a very pleasant trip, a beautiful wooded stretch of highway 61 that would have been a challenge on bikes only because there wasn’t much of a shoulder to ride on, and Mike had lots of stories including one about finding a still in those woods when he was a kid, and his dad called the police to let them know, and they smashed it up, and his dad later turned the barrel into a coffee table. The U-Haul office was in a small fitness center next to a Sonic Drive In and we got our gear and bikes out of the truck and profusely thanked Mike, who didn’t want any money for driving us though we persuaded him to at least let us pay for his lunch.

The rest of the day was spent driving down highway 61 in our big old truck, listening to NPR, stopping at the state line, drinking sweet tea under a giant oak tree in St. Francisville, and looking out at a landscape with sugarcane fields and refineries and lots of truck stops and strip malls. We drove through a torrential rainstorm and were sort of glad not to be on our bikes, though I confessed to Dan that missed it, I missed the intimacy with the landscape that is part and parcel of traveling by bike.

Tomorrow we will be riding along the river again…looking forward to it.