WanderlustBy Sam Lepore
(Click map for full size)
Port Barre to Ruston
Subject: Wanderlust 31 - Ruston, Louisiana
Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 20:33:02 -0700

        We are so foolish in believing we can control nature. Temporarily redirect it, perhaps, but mostly it is merely a delay in the long patient cycle of time the planet will follow with or without the "carbon based units" on its surface. Whut? I am talking about the futile attempt of Louisiana and the Army Core of Engineers to keep the Mississippi River in its current channel. It is only a matter of time before New Orleans (currently at 7 feet *below* the river bottom) becomes New Atlantis, and the Mississippi becomes a tributary to the Atchafalaya. Riding up the levee from Batchelor, it is obvious that the 6th Great Lake is just waiting to happen ... all it will take is for one gate to fail under pressure ... and when that happens, Bud is going to have a prime perch for viewing the birth of the new Louisiana from his dock and deck.
        The area between the great rivers is called the Morganza Spillway. Doubtless it has seen many floods, but it is poised to be sacrificed in overflow in an attempt to appease the river gods when they become angry. Along the fertile flatlands, there are many old and stately homes. I stopped in the shade of huge old moss covered tree to study the worn boards on the unrefurbished but still functional great house of the Taylor Plantation, built circa 1830. It looked content, though tired. It looked as though little could impress it from today's world. It looked annoyed at having the satellite TV dish hanging off its side.
        This area of the west bank of big Miss is just across from the Angola State Prison, where there is an annual prisoner rodeo unlike any other in the US, indeed if any others even have rodeos. It is the inmate version of "x-games" and is billed as the ultimate testosterone test ... such as having four men sit with their hands on a red table. An angry bull is released into the pen. Last man with his hands on the table wins. I'd like to come back sometime to see the events, not for the bloodsport, but to see how men who believe they have nothing to lose push themselves to win.
        Anyway, the Louisiana correctional system still uses road work to occupy idle hands. It was a eerie encounter to pass the Inmates Working sign on what was otherwise an idyllic backroad and slowly roll between two rows of men working the shoulders of the narrow road. They were not physically chained, but the difference is merely semantic. One of the men paused to watch me approach. He waved a slow open palm sweep that was a combination greeting, entreaty, and recognition of my ability to pass. I wondered how the winding out of the exhaust note as I coursed up through the gears might have drawn at their spirit, like a train disappearing into the night. For much of the day I thought: What is freedom?
        (One thing I know for certain ... if California used the same sign with road crews, they would all be stolen. "Inmates Working" would be a prize in most of the offices where I served time.)

        A hand lettered sign in the window of a convenience store deep, deep in the bayous, obviously showed the excitement with which it was written. Large, unmissable neon color paper, giant letters, many underlines and exclamation marks - even an asterisk or two ... We NOW have CRICKETS!!! It makes me consider whether the bait is more successful getting the fish into the bucket or the fisher into the store.
        Go west, young man. So shall this older man. The turnpoint came in a town that tells in its name what it is as where it is: Frogmore, Louisiana. Surprisingly, Frogmore Farms does not grow more frogs, but more cotton. The 1800's cotton plantation there has a guided tour of the preserved buildings.
        Louisiana gets the (whump) unchallenged award for the consistently worst road surface (whump) condition. In (whump) New England we knew them as "frost heaves", but I can't (whump) imagine it stays cold enough here for them to be caused by (whump) frost, so are they heat heaves? All over the (whump) state, on major highways and backroads, these (whump) bumps/lumps are randomly (whump) spaced, ground off in an attempt to smooth (whump) them, and annoying as hell. Louisiana politics is legendary (whump) for 'special consideration' in the award of contracts, but (whump) I'd like to devise some special (whump) torture for the construction owner who profited from this (whump) incompetence in road building. Everytime your (whump) attention strays from choosing a (whump) line through the surface to gaze at the scenery, you get (whump) whumped.
        It amazed me how quickly the land changed from swamp to forest in the northern half of the state, and more amazing were the righteous peg scrapers that do exist here! LA126 from Jonesville to Grayson sashays and sways through a pine forest like the skirt on the hips of a southern flirt and gives a welcome relief to the pressure on the center of your tires. None of the LA riders I've talked to so far have mentioned this ... maybe they need a little discovery tour.
        All of the list members who have given me information or met me along the way have been warmly friendly and helpful, but my reputation preceded me when I rode into Ruston - the Marshall was waiting for me! Luckily, though, the man behind the badge and under the cowboy hat was IBMWR President Mike Hilton, who had been corralled by LD Rider Steve Wilson & Son (Chris) to meet me for dinner. Thanks guys ... and from the look on & Son's face, I'd say the urge toward the long ride is genetic.

FuelPlus 233 miles, 4:48 hours, 49 mph average
Port Barre US190 LA88 LA77 LA10 LA1 LA418 LA15 LA565
        LA129 US84 LA126 US165 LA4 LA146 Ruston

Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Wanderlust Rider

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