Oh My Gawd. The weather is chasing us! And that's not good.
A Tour Diary
The warmth of the air is still there during the day. But the cooler night air raises heavy dew. Almost like rainfall. Summer is saying goodbye, students are filling the campuses and it’s time to bring our season to a close with a summer tour wrap-up.
The tour didn’t end as the youth would have liked, unfortunately. We picked up an unexpected participant to our ride. His name was Barry and he was consistently riding Dead Freaking Last (DFL). He didn’t care if we minded his joining us. In the month of July, Barry was the fourth recorded storm to make landfall at hurricane strength on the state of Louisiana. Eventually Barry would grow bored of bringing up the rear and made the decision to overtake us, so we exchanged the saturation of sweat with the drench of cool rain. It forced the team to end the biking portion of the tour earlier than expected, but knowledge of the Mississippi Delta region and most importantly, new knowledge of themselves remained.
“Isn’t it hot?”, is a question we're often asked because we travel during the summer. Of course it is! We smile politely and reply, "not really". Despite the heat, the youth persevere and keep moving to create their own summer breeze. It’s really only hot when you have to stop. And despite the unwanted intrusion of Barry, the tour went great.
I awoke with an alarm. We had done all we could to pack the vans and trailer in preparation for the ride southward to New Orleans and I had laid down to take a rest. I really hadn’t the need to awake anyone. Most of the youth were awake already and there were just a couple more people left to arrive. Almost on schedule, we left Snow Camp, NC to arrive into New Orleans late afternoon Saturday July 6.
“If you see tall grass don’t pitch a tent there. Any little rain and you’ll step out into a pool,” the park ranger at St. Bernard State Park informed us. This is Day One of the tour. We’re in New Orleans, the city below sea level. We have four campsites. Three of them had tall grass on them. We pitched tents and cooked dinner on highest ground.
The next day we made our way into the city to see the sights, stroll through the French Market and visit the Jazz Museum. There’s nothing like New Orleans. Clean and dirty at the same time. Orderly and eclectic. A joyful playing of the senses.
Fourteen youth left their home of North Carolina and became brave Explorers; Buscadores! Seeking out untold histories across unfamiliar lands. Gathering experiences that'll uplift and transform throughout the school year as they recall the strength summoned to complete the journey.
That second night we ate in a diner. Meteorologists have become pretty accurate these days. Tonight she was forecasting heavy rain brought on by the newest and unexpected member of the team, Tropical Storm Barry. He would eventually, although briefly, become Hurricane Barry. We left New Orleans Monday morning and we were well on our way towards Baton Rouge before he came close to reaching land causing streets to flood.
A "Slight" Detour
18 miles isn’t a big deal, right? 30 mins or so by car. But by bike a detour of 18 extra miles can break a person’s soul! Itza and I held onto newfound information until we were absolutely sure before relaying this news to our small cadre of new explorers. It turned out that the planned space for the night was an RV-only park. No tent camping allowed. We stopped at an elementary school with administrators working late into the summer afternoon. They were ready to lockup. Just as anxious as we were for a place to put their feet up. While we waited for the support crew to bring us news of a new campsite a teacher from the school offered up possible locations from the furthermost recesses of her mind. She was more unsure if the places still existed than we were. Barry was also patient and waited. Word finally came in from the support crew. They found us a place. The same campsite of our 2013 team: Jim’s Campground. The young explorers ended the day with 79 grueling miles under their wheels.
In the groove of things.
Synchronicity happens. It’s Day three. We're staying at a great place called Tunica Hills and we only biked 36 miles to get there. A virtual Piece of Cake! The hike to one of three falls continued the adventure as we spent time relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.
It's 5:30AM and we break camp as usual, eat breakfast and work to get on the road during the "cool” period of the day. Itza and I were approached by one youth after another in need of small repairs (tubes, brakes, tire replacement) and one large one, a chain replacement. All the repairs pretty much blew our morning so we made it a repair and rest day instead. Barry watched us from a distance.
Rolling the Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a great ride on Day five. Many of the Buscadores list this is the best ride of the tour.
You Got 5 Hours
It was a five hour window of blue skies and unfiltered sunlight. We had to get in some good cycling before Barry would come to the conclusion that we weren’t moving fast enough.The pleasure of the Natchez Trace Parkway was hard to beat but we were hoping lightning would strike again and we’d have another beautiful day of riding. The team was finally in sync! The snack/water breaks were ending on time and the lunch stops went perfectly. There were even youth accepting the challenge of riding 100 miles to Greenville, MS. But to everyone’s disappointment it wasn’t going to happen. The ride would end early. Tropical Storm Barry was no longer riding DFL. We were on to Plan B. Make our way to Memphis one day ahead of schedule.
We weren’t going to let Barry rain on our parade. We continued the tour by completing the educational stops. First up on our list was the National Civil Rights Museum. The Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated has been converted to a museum dedicated to the fight for civil rights in the past and present. This is another example of being in the space where history was made. Sitting in the seat of a Montgomery bus to re-enact the boycott. Seeing the burned out bus from Bloody Sunday’s march through Selma. Seeing the bed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose from. In the room he got dressed for the day. The landing where he stood greeting his friends, smiling before being shot by a sniper’s bullet.
The team was impacted on many fronts as they followed chronological exhibits from this country's enslavement period to the struggle of those descendants fighting for the right to exist in a country dedicated to their subjugation.
We returned to the theme of popular music and its roots with a visit to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Because the Stax Museum is one of only a handful of museums in the world dedicated to soul music (the Motown Museum in Detroit is another), it not only celebrates the legacy of Stax Records and its artists such as Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, the Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus and Carla Thomasand others, but also features other soul music labels such as Motown, Hi Records, Atlantic Records, and Muscle Shoals, and visitors are treated to vintage video footage of non-Stax artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ann Peebles, The Jackson Five, Patti LaBelle, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, and others.
We wanted to make two detours before we reached St. Louis to end the tour. One stop was to Cape Girardeau to visit the Mississippi River Tales Mural, located on the city's downtown floodwall. Covering nearly 18,000 square feet and features 24 panels it is worth a stop to view. Even in the rain. The murals included the history of the town with tributes to past citizens from the area such as Josephine Baker, Redd Foxx and George Washington Carver.
The second detour stop was to Alton, Ill. to visit a dear friend from our 2013 Blues and Jazz History tour, Mrs. Charlotte Johnson and her daughter Rene. They treated us to a home cooked meal and great conversation. One more taste of hospitality from Southern Illinois. Late into the evening we said our goodbyes.
We awoke early the next day with St. Louis in our sights. It was misting as the rain had caught up to us again. But as if right on que the rain stopped whenever we had to walk. We managed the challenge of parking with a large van pulling a trailer in a major city and rode the cars up to the top of the Archway. The museum below the Archway was extensive. If it wasn't for the updated glass, interesting lighting and the way people dressed you could easily consider the descent down the stairs into the museum a sort of time portal back to the ’50’s. Because the themes seemed ripped straight out of the past with hardly a mention of people of color.
The night we didn’t have accommodations. Sort of. For the briefest moment the touring team was homeless. The chosen space for the night ended up being an RV only “campground”. Of course, the person I spoke with to arrange the stay wasn’t working that day and the campsite attendant this day "stuck to their guns” of not allowing tents on the property. We regrouped and ended up staying at Jim’s Campground where the staff was overwhelmingly hospitable.
We were given the night's stay gratis, and a wonderful woman named Vicki was so impressed by what the team was doing this summer by seeing the United States and getting these experiences she immediately took up a collection from all the patrons in the bar for a total of $294! Not only that she paid for a second dinner of hot wings for the kids!
The team reminded her of when she was just as young and adventurous touring the country by car. She spoke about true southern hospitality. Not the south they choose to show you on TV.
I want to know that I can do it!
"I definitely want to do the trip next year because I’m disappointed that the weather didn’t let me finish the tour this year. I want to know that I can do it - that I can accomplish my goal of completing the tour.”