Wednesday 12 November:
After our day of rest, we have another long day in the saddle with potentially a lot to see and a total of four states to cross. It is also another day hugging the Gulf of Mexico through a number of communities which were all adversely impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
Our day started in a civilised fashion though, with breakfast at the nice cafe just down the road from the hotel; it was only the hour that was uncivilized: we were there at 7am, which I’m guessing is not the norm for tourists to New Orleans.
The day is overcast but reasonably bright and a bit cooler than the past two days – not bad for motorcycling. Kickstands up at 0800 and we set off through the suburbs of New Orleans, which is very picturesque with traditional wooden houses, many of them rather large and grand. As we worked our way into the outer reaches it became more like the outskirts of any US city.
We head off back on route 90, passing through Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. This is the largest urban wildlife refuge in the US, with 23,000 acres of fresh and brackish marshes located within the city limits of New Orleans.
Route 90 takes us along a narrow strip of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, which due to coastal erosion is actually no longer a lake but part of the Gulf of Mexico.
A very impressive bridge took us over the Rigolets Strait, where we stopped for a break and some photos.
We continued through Pearl River State Wildlife Management Area then another bridge took us once more across the meandering Mississippi River and across our first border of the day into the state of Mississippi, where we stopped to take pictures and affix the first Suicide Jockey sticker of the trip*.
Route 90 continues: we pass through Shoreline Park and Bay St Louis, where we cross another bridge, this time over the Bay of St Louis, which is the name of the shallow water estuary as well as the city. The bridge is very long but flat, so less impressive to look at than some we have crossed.
Once on the other side it is clear that we are now near the sea again as fine white sand covers the verges of the road. We continue hugging the Gulf of Mexico shore, through Pass Christian, with it’s harbour and then through Long Beach, which was originally an agricultural town proclaimed to be the radish capital of the world, but now its living comes from tourism. This is hardly surprising as it has beautiful white sand beaches and the dark blue of the Gulf of Mexico. There are more of those picturesque wooden buildings on Stilts and long thin piers jut out into the Gulf. There was some sign of rebuilding in the odd place and some of the piers were damaged, but whether this was the work of Katrina or normal wear and tear was hard to say.
A clear blue sky would just about make it perfect, but it wasn’t bad as it is – it made me weep to rush on past without stopping for photographs: I could have spent days here.
Long Beach pretty much runs into Gulfport, the second largest city in Mississippi with a population (in 2010) of 67,793. It is also home of the US Navy Atlantic Fleet Seabees, the navy Construction Battalion (CB, get it!). We clearly just skim the edges of it because, although the buildings increase in size slightly it doesn’t change that much.
Passing south of Big Lake and Mullett Lake (no dodgy 1980s hairstyles in evidence, so presumably we are talking fish here), we get to Biloxi, which was the third largest city in Mississippi until Katrina but has now been knocked into fifth place. The beachfront lies directly on the Mississippi Sound and it is home to the Keesler Air Force Base. It is also home to a good number of casinos, including a Hard Rock Casino, and the buildings are definitely larger and more corporate here.
Another bridge takes us over Biloxi Bay and into Ocean Springs. The Biloxi Bay Bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the current bridge, which is 95 feet high and supports six lanes of traffic, was completed in April 2008.
Ocean Springs sounds like something of a bohemian place, with a reputation as an arts community and with a number of ethnic restaurants, something that isn’t too common in this area. However, to appreciate this you obviously have to once again get away from the freeway as from our vantage point it was hard to see the join with Biloxi, and the streets increasingly become like ‘anyplace USA’ with all of the usual big name hotels and franchise restaurants.
Once again we pass through a watery landscape as the Pascagoula River flows out into the Gulf of Mexico at Pascagoula Bay. There are a number of large lakes, some with names like Big Lake and Marsh Lake, others more imaginatively titled like Lake Catch-em-all. After crossing two bridges we arrive at the city of Pascagoula, although the ‘anyplace USA’ landscape doesn’t change. Throughout this stretch we saw more sets of traffic lights than we have encountered since LA, which slowed progress somewhat.
Pascagoula has a population of around 22,200 and is a major industrial city since the Second World War transformed it from a sleepy fishing village into a shipbuilding city. The name means “bread eater” and is taken from the Native Americans that populated the area. The Pascagoula River is also known as the Singing River because legend says the Pascagoula tribe chanted and waded hand-in-hand into the river, drowning together rather than allowing themselves to become enslaved and killed by an enemy tribe, the Biloxi. It is said that on still summer and autumn evenings, the sad song of the Pascagoulas can still be heard near the river. The river is signposted as the Singing River, but as we crossed the bridge I didn’t hear any singing over the sound of the Harleys.
The road begins to head inland, crossing another border into Alabama: Lynyrd Skynyrd country. Again we stopped to take pictures and add a Suicide Jockeys sticker to the sign, which had bullet holes in it. I would be disappointed if it didn’t!
As we pass through Alabama we begin to see cotton fields: first with the cotton still growing and later picked and packed in great round bales similar to hay bales. This was interesting to see as cotton is an exotic crop to us, but it is also unsettling due to the historic link to the slave trade, a connection reinforced by the signs pointing to the ‘plantations’
We passed through Grand Bay (apparently famed for the production of pecans, peaches, satsumas and watermelons), Theodore and Tillman’s Corner, passing through Mobile and onto I10 to pass across the top of Mobile Bay. This is definitely a big city with high rise buildings and the usual Tangle of overpasses and freeways.
Mobile takes its name from the Native American Mobile tribe that occupied the area. It is the third most populous city in Alabama with the 2010 census showing a population of more than 195,000. It is Alabama’s only saltwater port, the twelfth largest port in the US. At various times it has been a colony of France, Britain and Spain.
I found the name amusing: I saw a pick-up bearing the sign ‘Mobile Lumber’, and I thought ‘well it would be wouldn’t it – it’s in a pick-up truck’. I also thought it would be funny to open a shop selling landline telephones and call it Mobile Phones just to confuse people.
We joined Route 98 heading south along the east coast of Mobile Bay before turning east through the small towns of Foley, Elberta and Lillian. Another bridge crossing takes us over Perdido Bay and our final county line into Florida. More photos and stickers.
Molly Hatchet sing “I’ve been to Alabama people and there ain’t a whole lot to see…”, but it would be more accurate in our case to say we’ve been to Alabama and didn’t have a whole lot of time to see anything. Such is the nature of a road trip. I’m sure Lynyrd Skynyrd are right and it is a great place (although the skies weren’t so blue for us!)
Continuing on the 98 we soon come to Pensacola, another big, busy town. It is a sea port on the Pensacola Bay and home to the US’s first United States Naval Air Station, where the Blue Angels flight demonstration team are based (the Red Devils sounds much cooler!).
The road takes us across Pensacola Bay on another long bridge.
We had planned to cross again onto Santa Rosa Island and follow the 399 which runs along a very narrow strip of land which is home to Navarre Beach Park. However, by now it was starting to get dark, so we decided to instead stay on Route 98 and follow the Gulf Breeze Parkway through Naval Live Oaks Nature Reserve and Navarre.
This still hugs the coast until Fort Walton Beach, where it crosses onto Santa Rosa Island at Okaloosa Island and then continues across another bridge into Destin.
Although our original plan was to stay overnight at Santa Rosa Beach, we had decided to stop at Destin, 15 miles earlier, as accommodation is cheaper and more plentiful. We arrived at about 5:30pm, by which time it was completely dark so we couldn’t see a great deal, which is a shame as it seems like a very nice beach resort.
I am pleased to report that I felt fine after the long day riding, which may be supporting my theory that it is squinting into the sun that makes me drowsy – maybe I just need better sunglasses.
We found a cheap Motel 6 – our first of the trip. Sharon was not impressed, having become too used to the refinements of the more expensive chains, but it was actually extremely good, having been recently refurbished. We managed to get some laundry done and headed out to eat.
Paul had done a recce and discovered what turned out to be an excellent restaurant, Buck’s Smokehouse, selling BBQ just a short walk from the Motel. The food was provided in a similar fashion to Rudy’s that we visited earlier in the trip, but it was a much more atmospheric, independent setting rather than a franchise. Highly recommend.
A short walk in the opposite direction took us to a Hogs Breath Saloon. We even persuaded the whole group to join us, although some with more enthusiasm than others. I went to the Hog’s Breath in Key West many years ago, and this is the only other one, so now I have the set. I had a couple of beers, including a drink shown on the menu as New Castle, which turned out to be a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale!
We returned to the hotel by the heady time of 9:30pm to ready ourselves for another long day tomorrow.
Miles today: 266
Total miles: 2597
* Two of our group are members of a motorcycle club called the Suicide Jockeys. The aim was to attach a sticker to all of the border signs, but we have failed abysmally up until now. Apparently the other states were done on a previous Route 66 trip though.