A long time ago when your grandma’s grandma wasn’t even born, slaves were a normal part of life in the United States of America. The richest of rich Americans lived in fancy houses in the deep south of the country, while their slaves were put to work building, cooking, cleaning, farming, and harvesting crops like cotton and sugar cane. The slaves were often shipped over from Africa and were considered especially ‘valuable’ if they were skilled in carpentry and farming.
Here are two examples of the fancy ‘plantation’ homes along the Mississippi River in Louisiana. In the photo above is Oak Alley Plantation, (which has been featured in many films) and below is Laura Plantation. Although the slaves did all the hard work building these mansions, they slept in much smaller huts on the property, which offered little break from the blaring summer sun. That doesn’t sound very fair to me!
Some people say it’s a dog’s life. They say if aliens were looking down on us they would think that it’s the dogs, not the humans, who are in charge. They get to laze around, are showered with affection, get taken for walks, and then we have to pick up their poop! Unfortunately not all dogs are so lucky.
While cycling along the Mississippi River in New Orleans we came across a stray dog lying scared and abandoned on the side of the road. She was a bag of bones and had a badly damaged leg. It looked like she had been roughing it for a long time and was covered in ants. We called the poor dog Charlie.
Charlie was a very sweet and friendly dog, but she wasn’t so interested in riding on top of a scary bicycle. Jack and Paco weren’t so happy about the idea of a third dog on a bicycle trip anyhow, but they were kind enough to share some of their dog food and water.
We stopped cars and asked for someone to help, but nobody wanted to help poor Charlie. We called animal shelters for miles around, but they said we were in the wrong county, and to try calling 911. We were a bit unsure about dialling 911 as it wasn’t a life or death emergency but Charlie needed help. Within 15 minutes a police officer had come to pick Charlie up. It was sad to say goodbye to Charlie. We hope she finds a loving home.
Picture 1 – Sunrise at Fort Pike. The city of New Orleans and its surroundings sit on swampland created by millions of years of silt deposits from the Mississippi River. The ground is wet and spongy and can easily flood during heavy rain and hurricanes. Houses and graves called mausoleums are often built above ground to keep them from being washed away during flooding.
Picture 2 – New Orleans is unlike any other city in America. The streets are full of colour and music and a festival is never far away. It is very famous for its flamboyant Mardi Gras celebrations (normally in February/March) which have its streets packed with party goers.
Picture 3 – One of the many colourful shop fronts of New Orleans.
Picture 4 – Paco and Jack, resting after a long walk around the city.
Picture 5 – Goodbye New Orleans. We exited west along an industrial section of the Mississippi River, the longest river in America. Tall levees (banks of earth) around the Mississippi River and nearby Lake Pontchartrain, and a network of pumping stations keep water from pouring into the centre of New Orleans which is on average eight feet below sea level.
In the summer of 2005 Hurricane Katrina became one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history. During the fierce storm and flooding thousands died and many were left homeless among a sea of rubble and debris.
Six years on we cycled through the area hit hardest by the storm, Bay St Louis on the south-west coast of Mississippi. We were very lucky to spend time with Mary Kay, a retired school teacher whose previous home was blown away in the storm. Jack and Paco enjoyed making pals with Mary Kay’s two pint-sized poodles – Gabby and U2. (Paco particularly enjoyed helping U2 keep a cheeky squirrel out of the bird feeder.)
Mary Kay entertained us for days in her with stories and her love of local artists. It was amazing to see how much beauty can come from something so tragic…
Along the coast of Mississippi giant oak trees killed by hurricane Katrina have been turned into angels, eagles, and sea creatures by master carvers Dayton Scoggins and Marlin Miller.
Marlin, who donated his time and skill for free, said that “When these people lost a giant tree, it wasn’t just theirs. It was something that their great-great-great grandparents played under as children. This token gesture from me represents a rebuilding of the spirit.”
The Spoon Man
Spencer Gray Jnr’s first designs were bird feeders and bird houses created with wine bottles, copper, and wood, mostly found in the wake of the storm. Since then he has made a series of wonderful characters from everyday metal objects like spoons, forks, pots, and garden hoses.
The Maestro of the Mardi Gras
Carter Church is the king of costume. We were stoked to be invited into his studio in Bay St Louis where cats and dogs roamed among work benches covered in fabric and sequins. Carter and his creative team were busy preparing for the upcoming Mardi Gras festival, turning hand sketched designs into dazzling costumes. (Our favourite is the giant alligator head piece that must have weighed about as much as an er… alligator?)
The Odd Sock
Walter Anderson (1903-1965) was a passionate artist with a deep love of nature. During his adult life Walter went on epic bicycle adventures in America, China and Costa Rica, escaped a mental hospital to walk over 1000 miles home, and rowed to isolated islands off of the coast of Mississippi where he did much of his painting before falling asleep underneath his overturned row boat. Sadly, much of Walter Anderson’s art was lost during Hurricane Katrina, but his life story lives on in Hester Bass’s picture book The Secret World of Walter Anderson.
Kat Fitzpatrick – Queen Bee
Kat Fitzpatrick raises her own bees in Bay St Louis and then uses the beeswax as the base layer in her paintings. Watch the video below to see Kat in action.
It has been so much fun to cycle across Florida. Jack and Paco have been making friends all across the state – people, dogs, deer, armadillos, vultures, raccoons, manatees, and even a black bear. (Because it is currently the middle of winter the alligators and snakes are hibernating… phew!)
We love to travel to meet new people, see new sights and taste new food. Have you ever tried a deep fried Oreo before? Well they eat them down here! Did you know that over here many of the old oak trees have beards? Spanish Moss grows along the branches and hangs down making it look like an old man’s beard.
But now it is time to keep pedalling west. Next up is Alabama and Mississippi. Goodbye Florida!
While riding across Florida we have enjoyed alot of bicycle paths and lanes which keep us away from the hustle and bustle of the busy car traffic. Here are some photos of Jack and Paco enjoying some nice bicycle paths on Santa Rosa Island, Florida.
Do you have any bicycle paths and lanes where you live?
Cycling along Florida’s coastline has meant crossing a whole stack of bridges. Often they have had a generous ‘emergency lane’ to cycle on. Other times they have been a little more challenging. On this bridge to Santa Rosa Island, Zoa struggled to fit Jack’s trailer on the narrow pedestrian path (see photo).
The scariest bridge of all though came between the Tyndal Airforce Base and Panama City where we arrived just in time for rush hour traffic. Cars were flying by along four narrow lanes. It would have been dangerous to walk across let alone ride with our wide bikes and trailers. Luckily a woman at the nearby cafe had another idea. A few minutes later the military police showed up to escort us across in fine style. They drove behind us with flashing lights while we pedaled our hearts out over the steep bridge.
Phil, ‘the Turtle’ likes to pedal. During the last 32 years he told us he has cycled over 300,000 miles or 500,00 kilometres through every state in America (which is the same as cycling around the world 12 times!) In his box of tricks he hauls all kinds of things like a full-size car battery, solar panels, weather-band radio, walky-talky radio, CD collection, hard covered books, and electric blanket. That weighs more than Jack and Paco combined!! Phil’s ramblings around America are paid by his knife sharpening skills on his hand powered bench grinder. It was a joy to meet Phil on the side of the road in Florida. He was such a chilled out character with a flair for storytelling – a legend of the road.
We made a detour to the Manatee Springs State Park hoping to be able to spot a manatee. Manatee’s are big lovable sea cows that swim up into the warmer waters of the river hot springs during winter. Don’t you just want to give one a hug?
Unfortunately we didn’t spot any manatees, but we did make some other friends of the forest…
Some cheeky raccoons kept us up most of the night as they performed acrobatics to try and get into Jack and Paco’s waterproof dog food bag!