I have been traveling about a week and a half now. Those first few days seem really distant in my mind, with the geography and culture of the landscape changing so rapidly. I am getting used to most of the quirks one experiences traveling by scooter.
First, there is the gear, and the packing/unloading of it every night-as well as stopping for gasoline. The best attitude to have is one of acceptance-no need getting frustrated-regardless of grappling with stuff in 90 degree heat. I can strap my gear up blindfolded at this point and I enjoy the moments of fiddling to get everything just right and balanced. If the weight of your gear isn’t balanced, you will be able to tell instantly. The other day I forgot to clip the saddlebags straps to the frame and was weaving a bit on the road. My muscles are also adjusting to the full body involvement of scootering.
Second, there is a tempo to traveling back roads. Finding the right pace that allows you to stop and explore whimsically, while still setting an ETA- and not running out gas. Most maps are misleading and I was constantly feeling lost at first. I thought maybe it was just my map, but I looked into some others and they weren’t much better. It seems the most detailed cartography lies in individual states maps, which would require too much pack space and use up too much paper-in my eyes. I haven’t actually been lost, but back road travel is different than point A to point B interstate travel, where there is a constant reminder of how far ahead your destination is. I have become more comfortable reading the sparse signs one is give discern their location. And I really hate when a road suddenly becomes a highway-it’s a startling wake up.
Third, I am attempting to get an overall good rhythm going. There are many things to distract me though-like cool roadside shops, photo ops, museums, contacting press (no replies so far) uploading pics, blogging, doing interviews. I am a bit of a night owl also, so I haven’t been hitting the road very early. My opinion-it’s better to get an early start-although its fun either way. But early morning travel means less smog to huff, less traffic, less heat. Also, in the South afternoon thunderstorms are common and then there are the tons of bugs splatters on the visor at night that interfere with visibility. And a lot of these rural roads just aren’t lit, covering the many creatures running about for their night’s hunt.
All said though, I am feeling right at home on Audre and the open roads, be them one, two, or four lane routes.
My head was swimming as I left Selma today. The past five days have been spent studying the inspirational, yet bloody, history of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a blessing to put what previous knowledge I had into a geographical context. This morning I headed down for a continental breakfast, as they call it, but for me it’s more a process of discerning what crap I actually want to eat. I had gone down to the lobby in my swim trunks and tank top-and suddenly became aware of my attire. Everyone other patron was in their Sunday best for church. I was considering going to a church service-only because the church played such a prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement. Pastors did not have to answer to anyone (like a white boss) so the facilities were safe for blacks to meet. But, noticing how nicely everyone was dressed, I realized my dirty road clothes would make me stick out even more. So I scrapped the plans to attend church and instead scrounged up some change for laundry. With fresh, warm clothes packed up, I headed over to the Edmund Pettus bridge. March 7, 1965 was the day that 300 marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge, but cops and the KKK were waiting to beat them severly and push them back. I made the walk across the bridge slowly, imagining the bravery it took to walk into a mob of angry men brandishing weapons.
I took two pictures, one from each side and looked for some people to interview-but none were found. From there I took a peek into the closed Voting Rights Museum; they charge too much though-I wouldn’t have gone in were it open. I then jumped on Audrey and scooted down the Historic Trail, following markers over to the Brown A.M.E Church, which was the starting point of the infamous march. The marchers were finally given protection to march all the way to Montgomery. Third time is a charm, I guess. The final march started with 3,500 people and swelled to 25,000 upon arrival in Montgomery. Once I arrived at the church I called my mom and asked what she was doing March 7, 1965. She couldn’t recall. After our conversation, I sat in the midday scorching sun and did some contemplating. The other day in ATL I picked up a postcard that listed Six Principles of Non Violence.
I decided to send it to the President and question what similar injustice might be right in front of our eyes, that parallels the Civil Rights Movement-that too will seem unbelievable in 42 years. That momement on the stoop of the Civil Rights Movement Head Quarters felt perfect for filling it out and the words came naturally. Non violence tactics were utilized by both Ghandi and King, who was a student of Ghandi’s work-and the mentality was injected into the Civil Rights Movement. In many situations, non violence has proven to be the most effective way of communicating-I have seen it first hand in many protests.
After filling out the postcard and taking some photos, I was ready to leave, but I needed to use the bathroom and was hopeful somone might be in the church. Well, it turned out the pastor was still inside and he unlocked the door for me. We got into a discussion about human nature and compassion. He was heavily involved in the Movement and I enjoyed hearing his perspectives. I told him about my project and asked to interview him for the documentary. His answer was very appropriate for a pastor-very beautiful-and I appreciate his offering. He told me that a lot of interesting characters come through that church, and I was definitely interesting! I am glad he thought so, instead of being irritated that I caught him on his way home. With that done, I felt it was time to put some road behind me.
The route was very pleasant and easy to navigate, mainly a straight shot; a two lane road into a four lane road. I made great time, arriving in Mobile right after the sun had set and full moon was rising. There were combinations of ramshackled homes, antebellum homes, deserted businesses, totalled cars, ponies, goats and long rural stretches of green hill. Train tracks ran parallel to the road most of the way. At one point the blaring of the trains whistle was so excessively loud I almost fell off the bike. I was in my own world and suddenly it sounded like a train was bearing down on me, but it was to my left, hidden behind a grove of trees.
Most of the thermometers I saw today registered anywhere from 93-101.
The good thing about intense heat like this is knowing it can’t get that much hotter. Heat and humidity are tolerable to me though, having grown up in the South. I have begun pouring water over my head during fueling breaks, and am being especially attentive to hydration-even though I feel bad about all the water bottles I have used up. A blissful wind hit about halfway through the trip, carrying the promise of rain with it. I looked over to the east to see heavy dark clouds sweeping in, so I spent the next hour scooting ahead of precipitation. The weather was actually better than predicted today, my rain gear was packed on top, and that always seems to hold storms at bay. Despite the heat, I stopped for a late lunch of yummy fried okra. I could smell Church’s fried chicken wafting through many of the little towns, bringing back memories of visiting my pops here in Alabama as a youth. My second break was to take advantage of free wi-fi. I realized the other day that if a hotel sign says “high speed internet,” they don’t usually require a password. In general, hotels can be utilized whether or not you are a paying guest-free wi-fi, bathrooms and often-maps. Around 6:30 pm I started getting really drowsy, probably a combination of hot sun and heavy fried okra. I stopped for a reprieve off of Route 43, about 50 miles outside Mobile AL. It was time to sit in the late afternoon sun, rest the eyes and enjoy the perks of having a travel French Press. I did some writing and fielded numerous questions about the scooter and my purpose for “being in these parts.” I was also attacked by ravenous gnats, but enjoyed the break none the less. I hit the road again, blasting Sound Tribe Sector 9, a live NYC show from last year.
The next 50 miles flew by and then Route 43 dumped right into a Highway 65, to my chagrin-the speed limit was 70. I pulled off as soon as I could-about two miles down the Hwy. A very nice, angelic couple led me from a gas station to a cheap, safe hotel via confusing backroads. Tomorrow I will get an early start for New Orleans, since I don’ t yet know where I am staying-but I have some numbers to call. I really hope to do some volunteer work but I hear they don’t take people for less than a week.
I will do some more backlog posting on ATL-that was a real wild, fun part of the trip. I was roped into visiting ATL’s notorious strip club, the Clermont-the most surreal and cool nightclub I have ever been too. Now I know why 10 different people told me to visit it. Also, Bill of Twist and Scoot offered an oil change, put on my permanent plates, and send me off with two air filters. Thanks for being part of the Pit Crew, Bill. His shop is really sharp, you can tell he knows what he is doing-and has a nice rapport with customers. He also seems to enjoy fun and cool collectibles of various persuasions. I was invited to attend the Wednesday night scoot gathering with them over at the Thinking Man. On my way over there, however, a torrential thunderstorm left me soaked within a minute. I was carrying around all my electronics so I turned back to my friends place. By the time the storm passed, I figured everyone was gone. Sorry, guys, I would have loved to have met you all.
The moon has fully risen, ripe and luminous overhead. It really has been a birthday I won’t ever forget and I am thankful that so many friends took the time to drop me a note or call. Also, thanks Mom. I was going to stay with a relative in Mobile, until I found out that he lives about an hour in the opposite direction of New Orleans-so Mom offered a hotel as a birthday present! As far as gifts go, the family has been really nice to me and so has the Universe…
Yesterday, I found $40 on the ground.