At the same time as being regaled with decadent sizzling apple pie, we were put off from visiting Baton Rouge. We were quite scared, in fact. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina saw many displaced people move, and Baton Rouge, already in social decline saw an acceleration in crime rates. Zachary was a good choice of a place to stay.
This morning at the Best Western it was suggested that we consider visiting St Francisville to the north, as it was home to many impressive ante bellum plantation homes and churches. After that, US 1 to Alexandria would be quite attractive and then an easy run over to Leesville. We duly made a right and then a left and found ourselves some twenty miles later in the very quaint town of St Francisville. We were keen to see the Mississippi and following a hunch I took a detour past some lovely old houses that led to a road that took us where we wanted to go. It seemed as if there was once a ferry at that point as we could see a road on the opposite bank leading to the water, but these days it was merely a launching ramp for fishing boats. While the is clearly a huge amount of industry around and dependent on this working river, where we were were piles of abandoned equipment, including cranes, propellers etc, indeed a veritable scrap yard. We retraced our steps to the town, where we noticed that their tiny office had been opened in 1975 by Bill Clinton and the Postmaster General. Why?
John had noticed in the distance a bridge and a helpful local provided accurate directions. This saved us a thirty mile ride back to Baton Rouge and also took us directly to Highway 1. On this stretch of the road, on a whim, I tried my satellite radio. Eureka! It worked, and for the next few miles I rocked along singing with Billy Joel, the Eagles and others.
Heading for Simmesport I noticed a sign saying 'Old River Lock'. I barely hesitated in making the right turn, taking us down a road clearly less traveled. There were, as there are in so many parts of rural America, abandoned homes. One wonders about the human stories behind these forlorn, crumbling structures.
Soon at the lock, we were on the bridge taking photos when a chap emerged from below and invited us to inspect the control room for the lock and drawbridge. We accepted and were allowed entry into the security area and rode down to the lock where wee met Raymond (see photos page). He is enthusiastic about his job as a lock keeper in the US Army Corps of Engineers and very efficiently gave us a quick education on some of the issues and history of the Mississippi, it tributaries and distributaries. Fascinating stuff! He was highly entertaining and we were very grateful for his interest.
We retraced our steps to Highway 1 and made it to Alexandria for lunch. There the GPS took us to the'Tamp and Grind' coffee shop. There we met Kwyncy (see photo page) who told us he didn't do launch but came outside to give us directions to the 'Word of Mouth' restaurant who did. He told us he had spent a summer term at Cambridge University and had, amongst other things, studied Espionage. He had also learned the rules of cricket. John and I decided on the spot that he was a fine fellow and that we would return for a coffee after lunch. This decision was made easier by the delicious coffee aroma that pervaded the establishment.
When we returned as planned, we had a lovely chat with Kwyncy and a few of his patrons about things to do in Louisiana. We had a really good time, including trying to learn how to pronounce the names of these places.
Departing the Tamp and Grind we sped along to Leesville, sweltering in 36.0 degree heat. Not pleasant! Into the Best Western we hastened, keen to experience the effectiveness of their air conditioning. Pass!
I contacted my bridge friend Jackie and went around to visit her and her husband Morris in their beautifully restored Victorian home. We spent the next number of hours catching up, with me discovering that Morris, until recently, was a very serious bike tuorer. We have ridden some of the same roads and we enjoyed reminiscing about them, including the Tail of the Dragon! They very kindly treated me to a Mexican meal and all too soon I had to take my leave of this delightful couple. I hope we meet again.
The pace of life in Louisiana and Mississippi, at least in the parts we have visited, seems to be slow and relaxed, but also steady and reassuring. Much like that Ol' Man River that so dominates this part of the country.