2 days in Mississippi. And no more.

April 20, 2010

  The last little bits of Alabama were sublime. I took a few small roads out before catching back up with a bigger road into Mississippi.

Miles and miles of nothing, and losing track of time in that nothingness, gives you a sense of incredible distance and solitude.

 

And then, smack, there is Mississippi.

I stopped in the first city, Iuka, for some food and maybe a soft spot to camp on.

The first person to talk to me was this kooky old dingbat with iced-over blue eyes who looked like he had been laying in the sun for a few years. He and his wife were arguing over the price of ranch dressing. Not to each other mind you, but to the dressing itself.

So seeing me bumbling around the aisle, his face lit up and his interest piqued and shifted towards me.

I told him my schpeal, biking blah-blah-blah.

He also told me to get a gun.

I asked why, and I swear I could see his mind working through his irises, inwardly watching a rapid-fire series of disjointed slides, waiting to settle on an answer.

“Well…. theres…. cougars….. and jaguars….. and panthers….”

“In Iuka?”

“They’re everywhere. Yeah. You need a gun.”

I looked to his wife to see if she noticed the odd things he was saying, but she quickly looked away and started back with the ranch dressing. He then forgot about me and started along with her so I took the chance and escaped behind the bananas.

Checking out was a little nicer. The front-end was staffed by a bunch of high schoolers who were just buzzing over what I was doing. As soon as I told them what I was doing there was a rapid-series of questions from all sides and I tried my hardest to keep up.

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Three Weeks.”

“Cold.”

“Hot.”

“In a tent.”

“Because I want to.”

For days after that, everytime I would pass a solitary tree in a field full of twittering birds I would think of them. The analogy made sense to me.

 

I know that was an indecently long story about Piggly Wiggly, but Mississippi had little else to offer after that.

The next day was tedious, a long way on one road, and then a turnoff to a “country” highway. The road, in the entire length I rode, smelled of death. Cars were speeding more here than anywhere, and there was no attempt at litter control. By this time I was already in northwestern Mississippi, and there seemed to be both a racial and economic line drawn down the middle. It could just as well be a narrow perspective from the route I took, but that is how it looked from my worms-eye-view.

The road lead me through Holly Springs, which looked like many other small towns I had ridden through, but strangely enough, the shops were open and there were people around. But it is where Rust college is.

I have ridden through many ghost towns.

Past Holly Springs there was an oddly placed golf course and upscale community being constructed, and this is where I camped for the night. Something about those big iron gates kept the spectre of poverty off my mind too. But then again, shouldn’t they keep me out?

Getting out of Mississippi was convoluted; at one point I was only 10 miles from the river but had to ride about 50 miles south to get to a bridge. When I first saw the Mississippi river I was a little bleary eyed. It felt like the first real milestone of my trip. I took a back highway and was twisted and turned until I wasn’t even sure what road I was on. I saw a busy looking road, assumed it was where I needed to be, which it was.

Highway 49 was made in the 1940’s out of prefabricated concrete slabs, about 15 feet long and 10 wide. Years of driving had made parts of it sink a bit, so every 15 feet I would be graced with a nice slap in the bum, courtesy of Mississippi.

Then there were the casinos. Mississippi had decided that casinos are alright, as long as they are on “islands.” So along the banks of the mighty river there are various tropical-themed pleasure factories.

Oh, and then there was a 1 foot shoulder on the bridge, and there were piles of sand on it every three feet. Which makes bike tires slide.

Overall, Mississippi has now made it to my list of states to avoid. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is.

That days ride to Arkansas was around 80-90 miles. I pushed dusk as long as I could that day, riding as far as possible. I don’t get as sore these days, and like to take advantage of the time that I have. Once camp is set up there is little to do, and that can be even more lonely than the road. The day’s ride left me in Marvell, a city mostly made up of a few farms and a few shops. I met Mike Woodyard out mowing his neighbors lawn. I introduced myself to see if I could camp. He said yes and pointed me toward his house.

“Is there anyone who should know I’m coming?”

I asked, knowing that seeing me walk up the driveway might strike one as odd.

“Just my wife is there. Knock on the side door and tell her I said it was OK.”

I guess he had called her in the 30 seconds it took me to get there because she was already standing outside, smiling broadly. She instantly treated me as a friend, which was refreshing after the estrangement of Mississippi. It made me feel genuinely interconnected, not just haphazardly and irrationally tribal.

Brenda offered me a shower and the use of a screened-in area of the patio. We sat and talked for a while and she told me how she often travels with her friend to basically wherever the road takes them. She sees what I see in traveling, it seems.

Oh and she offered me some Key Lime cheesecake. Imagine biking in the sun for 80 miles, not having had a shower for a week and then suddenly be fresh and clean and having a slice of that pie. Indulgence isn’t typically my thing, but life is often lived by letting go.

We talked about Europe, which Mike loved, and school systems, which Brenda worked for. I slept graciously through the night, planning on making Little Rock the next day.

I packed up and had coffee while Mike was getting ready for work, and we said our goodbyes.

104 miles, all the way to Little Rock. I paced myself, had a huge breakfast and sang songs on the road. I’m sure I looked silly, but it’s gettin’ by. Arkansas was all farmland, the whole way. Just outside of little rock, in a town called Lonoke, I passed a political fundraiser with a big barbecue outside, being watched over by a big guy and some sidekicks. My nose took over.

“What’s grillin?”

“Bar-b-qued bologna. Ever had it?”

“Nope.”

The event was billed as a “poor man’s dinner” fundraiser. Hot dogs and bologna. But hickory smoked.

“It’s the Arkansas redneck specialty.”

He set me up with a plate. White bread and bologna.

Tacky sure, but on a bicycle, everything is gourmet.

Larry Clark was the self-described local “cookie,” and did events around the area.

“My specialty is a deep-fried turducken.”

He was wonderfully humored and sensible.

And then, finally, I was in Little Rock. But still 10 miles from downtown. I called my friend Dave to get directions to his house, where I was to stay, but he is absolutely incapable of giving directions, so I found his side of town myself. It’s an old decaying house and smells like cat pee. Oh, college. Poorly-lit rooms are accented by someone else’s neglected furniture, the fixtures are crooked and dirty. I was going to take a few days off, but it really just feels like a waste of time.

Although this city is beautiful.

I did break two more spokes, however, and that needs to be addressed, along with another fine cup of coffee just down the street. As much as I enjoy a good terrible cup of diner coffee, a finely crafted cup makes me swoon.

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2 Responses to “2 days in Mississippi. And no more.”

  1. Bethany said

    Awe, hey! Mississippi isn’t that bad.. The roads suck and we are apparently the fattest and most diseased..lol. But whatever.. I’m glad you enjoyed all of us highschoolers at Piggly Wiggly:) I’m pleased to hear that we were the highlight of Mississippi. But that is kind of a bad thing too. Ya know? haha. Anyways, we are all keeping up with you. We wish you a safe trip again. Good luck! & be safe.

    -Bethany
    (curly headed cashier)

  2. Bethany said

    & btw, we really do have panthers and things.. It’s creepy..

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