Day 17: Vidalia, LA to Alexandria, LA

Our ride into town last night wasn’t conducive to getting a good photo of this latest state line crossing, but before we got on the road this morning, I was able to get a nice shot looking at the sunrise over the Mississippi River and the town of Natchez. As made our way along the streets leaving the campground, we asked some locals for a recommendation for breakfast, and they directed us to Nikki’s diner on the main highway.

While eating our breakfast, we got a return call from Leah Square of the Madison County Herald, who had a few questions for us to go along with the article she was doing about us for the newspaper (see related post). We also started to get updates from Maria at Sherwin-Williams in Cleveland, who has been doing a great job of advance planning along our route for us. She reported that the central Louisiana area had also been hit hard by Hurricane Gustav last week, and we were likely to have a hard time finding a place to stay. Some of the locals we talked to in the diner concurred. We decided to press on to Alexandria anyway and see what we might find when we got there.

The highway between Vidalia and Alexandria was dead flat, lined with many cotton fields. We ended up calling it the “Highway of Carnage,” because we saw more animals here than on any other stretch of road, but unfortunately, mostly dead ones–turtles, tortoises, armadillos, frogs, lizards, birds, deer, cats, and dogs. We did pass by another swamp where we saw a few alligators lounging in the sun.

We stopped by a Sheriff’s station in Wildville, and talked to a deputy there. He said that he thought we shouldn’t have any trouble finding lodging in Alexandria, because most of the relief workers and temporary residents were moving out today, and more weren’t expected, because the next Hurricane (Ike) was not expected to hit that area. We got to the next town of Jonesville, and happened to run into a Red Cross worker who said the same thing. Ray got another flat tire at this point. On our way out of Jonesville, we stopped at Jackie’s Restaurant for some lunch.

A long, straight stretch of highway from Jonesville led us to the small town of Holloway. Just before town, we stopped at an A&W Drive-Thru stand for milkshakes, and talked to a couple of people there who confirmed the same story about lodging that we had heard earlier.

We got to the town of Pineville, which is adjacent to Alexandria, and had to stop and ask for directions a couple of times to get to the area of Alexandria where the motels are. We had also been told there was a bike shop in the same area, so we wanted to stop there to stock up on spare inner tubes. The guy we got directions from asked where we were from, and when we told him Cleveland, he said “I used to live near that god-forsaken place–Berea!”

We were still confused by all of the directions we had gotten, so finally, we called the bike shop, and the owner gave us good directions to get straight there. We finally arrived at Red River Cyclery in Alexandria, and ended up spending quite a bit of time talking with the owner Mike about life in a bike shop and the bike business. In another case of small world, one of his mechanics was a young man from West Newton, Pennsylvania who used to work in the bike shop located there on the Youghiogheny River Trail. Mike gave us more good directions using a back street behind the shop (which goes past his house) to the main drag where the hotels and restaurants are. We found a room at the Days Inn, where they had to put us on the second floor, as all of the first-floors rooms were being renovated after the flooding caused by Hurricane Gustav.

Many of the residents of Natchez, Alexandria, and other towns in the area seemed to have a sense of resentment that the effects of that hurricane were not widely covered by the national media, once it was seen that the city of New Orleans was not greatly affected. As we rode around the streets of Alexandria, we could see that most homes had piles of debris (mostly fallen tree limbs) stacked up on their curbs, and rolls of discarded carpet and padding.

As we got our bikes into the motel room, Ray noticed that he had yet another flat tire. Later in the evening, we walked up the road to find some dinner, and settled on a Mexican place called El Reparo.

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