Roadkill A-la-Carte and the Mighty Mississippi… Travelling 10,000 miles by Bicycle

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River.

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River.

 

What was it with all of the dead Armadillos? This was the weighty question I found myself pondering as I bicycled down Louisiana Highway 71 south toward Alexandria.

Bicyclists develop a thick-skinned attitude toward road kill. The shoulder we ride on contains the flotsam and jetsam of two worlds, the highway and the land next to it. Broken car parts, discarded (often smoldering) cigarette butts, empty beer cans, fast-food trash, and dead animals come with the territory. Maintaining a sense of humor is important.

To keep myself amused, I would sometimes make up tombstone epitaphs for the animals. Here lies Spot, who was finally cured of chasing cars. Or how about this: Old Tom had been warned time and again about not chasing girl kitties on the other side of the road.

Those of you who have been hanging around my blog for a while know I like to develop weird cards. This is my vision of Old Tom's tombstone.

Those of you who have been hanging around my blog for a while know I like to develop weird cards. This is my vision of Old Tom’s tombstone.

A couple of friends of mine who operated the Lung Association Trek Program in Sacramento after I went off to Alaska, developed a different approach to roadside debris: a scavenger hunt. I’ve blogged about this before. On the last day of the Trek, participants would be given a list of different items they were supposed to collect— things like an empty pack of Camels, a Budweiser beer can, a McDs’ cup, plastic from a broken brake light, a sail cat, etc.

“A sail cat? What’s that?” you ask.

A sail cat, simply put, is a cat who has met its demise at the wrong end of a logging truck. Think of it as a pancake with legs. After a week or two of curing in the hot summer sun, you can pick it up and sail it like a Frisbee. Even your dog can join in the fun. It gives a whole new meaning to chasing cats. Of course, Fido may prefer to roll on it. Lucky you.

A particular scavenger hunt was described to me. One couple had actually found a sail cat and brought it into camp. Naturally they won, as they should have. But the story goes on. After dropping the unfortunate cat into a dumpster, the couple packed up and headed home. When they arrived and opened their trunk, there was kitty. Scary, huh. Turns out another couple had slipped the cat into the trunk. With friends like that, eh, who needs enemies. That should end the story, except it doesn’t. Both husbands worked for the State of California. A couple of days later the perpetrator of the prank received a large interoffice mail packet at work. He opened it. Out slid kitty. The end.

One person’s road kill is another person’s feast, right? Somewhere I have a newspaper picture of my brother Marshall chowing down on an armadillo when he was in Florida. I checked the Internet and there are a number of recipes, so I assume it is edible. Marsh said it was. And I saw a lot of happy buzzards along Highway 71.

I had never encountered as much roadkill as I did following this attractive highway into Alexandria on my bicycle in 1989. I never did figure out why.

I had never encountered as much roadkill as I did following this attractive highway into Alexandria on my bicycle in 1989.

None of this explains the sheer number of dead armadillos, however. After six or seven I began to lose my sense of humor. Were they migrating across the road in large numbers at night? Had the people whose job it was to remove roadkill gone on strike. I never did figure it out, but I am happy to report when Peggy and I drove the same road to Alexandria a couple of months ago, we didn’t see one dead armadillo.

I really hadn’t planned on going to Alexandria, in fact the jaunt added a hundred miles to my journey. Motels and bike repairs had reduced my cash to around $50, however, and this was still a time when ATMs didn’t grow on every corner. Alexandria was the nearest city that accepted my particular brand of plastic. The town, I quickly learned, was not bike friendly, at least at the time. Few cities were. And I had the misfortune of arriving at the height of rush hour and then immediately getting lost. My already low sense of humor dropped another notch.

Several map checks persuaded me that a narrow bridge making a steep climb up and over a small bayou provided a way out. A long line of commuters was struggling to get through the bottleneck, and, judging from the honking, not happy about the delay. Adding to my woes, there wasn’t enough room for two cars and me to co-exist side by side on the bridge. Steeling myself, I forced my way into the insanity and became leader of the pack, adding several more minutes to an already long day for the homeward bound. I swear there must have been 10,000 cars behind me. At least it felt that way. It was one hell of a parade. All I needed was a baton.

I have to hand it to the good folks of Alexandria, however. Not one of them honked at me. Several waved when I pulled off the road on the other side. A couple of young women even rolled down their window and whistled. Up went my sense of humor.

I found a motel that fit my budget that night and the ATM the next morning. Heading out of town I became lost again, of course, this time on an expressway where drivers were competing with each other to see how fast they could drive beyond the speed limit. My thoughts turned to the armadillos and their unfortunate end. The first exit found me departing the road at a speed that would have impressed Mario Andreotti.

A not very pretty picture of the expressway I ended up on and Highway 28 where I was supposed to be.

A not very pretty picture of the expressway I ended up on and Highway 28 where I was supposed to be.

I pulled into the driveway of a mortuary to check my map again. Much to my surprise, the double doors opened and out popped the mortician, who made a beeline for me. My mind leapt back in time to an early Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western where the mortician measured strangers who rode into town to see what size casket he should build. While laughing to myself, I still checked the mortician’s hands to see if he was carrying a tape measure. Turns out the mortician was a minister and the mortuary was a church. He invited me in for coffee, a morning snack and directions. As I left, he handed me his card. “If you have any problems between here and Mississippi,” he told me, “call and I’ll come out and give you a lift.”

Soon I was heading out of town on Highway 28 to rejoin Louisiana 84, my original route across the state. From there, I biked on to the mighty Mississippi River. The route from Alexandria proved to be quite varied. I biked past dark swamps, lakes, shacks, mansions and cotton fields that were once worked by slaves. Finally, I arrived at Vidalia and the imposing Vidalia-Natchez Bridge that would take me across the Mississippi and out of Louisiana. The historic town of Natchez and the Natchez Trace were waiting.

Intriguing swamps lined the highway. I spent a lot of time glancing down into them looking for snakes.

Intriguing swamps lined the highway. I spent a lot of time looking down for swamp life.

I should have spent more time looking up. These egrets reminded me of a Japanese print.

I should have spent more time looking up. These egrets reminded me of a Japanese print.

This was an interesting little store that Peggy and I found along the road. It sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out if there was anything on Root Hog or Die. I thought maybe the owner was an Arkansas Razorback fan. Turns out the phrase dates back to the early 1800s when hogs were turned loose in the woods to survive on their own. It came to mean self-reliance.

This was an interesting little store that Peggy and I found along the road. It sent me scurrying to the Internet to find out if there was anything on Root Hog or Die. I thought maybe the owner was an Arkansas Razorback fan. Turns out the phrase dates back to the early 1800s when hogs were turned loose in the woods to survive on their own. It came to mean self-reliance.

This lake was worth a photo.

This lake was worth a photo. It made me wish that Peggy and I had brought our kayaks along.

The Frogmore Cotton Plantation near Vidalia provides an interesting overview what it would have been like to have been a slave working on a Southern Plantation. Peggy models the bag that picked cotton was put in out in the fields.

The Frogmore Cotton Plantation near Vidalia provides an interesting overview on what it would have been like to have been a slave working on a Southern Plantation. Peggy models a bag  where the picked cotton would have been placed.

This mocking bird wondered how bicycling compared to flying. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This mocking-bird wondered how bicycling compared to flying. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A side view of the Visalia-Natchez Bridge across the Mississippi River with a barge passing under it.

A side view of the Vidalia-Natchez Bridge across the Mississippi River with a barge passing under it.

A view of the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge.

An interesting perspective of the bridge. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Natchez-Vidalia Bridge across the Mississippi River at night.

The bridge at night.

On our way into Natchez, Mississippi and the beginning of the Natchez Trace, which will be the subject of my next blog.

On our way into Natchez, Mississippi and the beginning of the Natchez Trace, which will be the subject of my next blog. The wide shoulder is appreciated; not so much the long drop into the Mississippi River.

52 comments on “Roadkill A-la-Carte and the Mighty Mississippi… Travelling 10,000 miles by Bicycle

  1. Whenever I hear the word roadkill, I think of “The Wildest Woman in America,” who lived entirely on roadkill and saved a ton of sea turtles, and Cumberland Island in just one life. People are remarkable. Your trip, and the factors that caused you to take it, are remarkable too.

    • Had an older friend named Marion who went with me on a number of long distance backpacking trips when she was in her 70s, Cindy. She had raised a dozen children without a lot of money. One of her solutions had been to feed them roadkill. There is a lot of meat in a freshly killed deer that otherwise goes to waste.
      And thanks. –Curt

  2. Bridges are always an interesting subject, my favorite (or weak point) being the wooden-covered bridges that are quickly being lost.
    Down here in south FL, it is so crowded, the sight of an armadillo is not all that common any more. When I lived up against the northern tip of the Everglades, known as Loxahatchee 45 years ago, we all knew to avoid hitting them because they’d dent your car; but there was always roadkill around the next day; now you can’t find them.
    Your bike route still has me amazed!!

    • Lost this comment for a few days, G. We still have several wooden covered bridges around here. One is 4 miles from my home. I suspect an armadillo could do considerable damage to a car. Deer do it around here, in large numbers. You really have to be careful at night. I have to confess, as Peggy and I reprove my bike route, I was a little impressed myself. lol –Curt

  3. Not quite sure why I continued reading about roadkill while drinking my morning coffee, but I got through it, had a good chuckle (and a few shudders), and enjoyed the other parts! Great bridge and river shots, and I am always impressed by you bikers’ bravery on small shoulders, thin bridges, busy roads, etc.

    • Gallows humor, Lex. You just have to laugh. But I am reminded of the danger of watching the TV program “Bones” around dinner time. I think the ‘bravery’ is just getting used to the challenges. But you never want to let down your guard. It becomes instinctual after a while. –Curt

    • Wow, and it isn’t that big of a place, Sue. And you are right, I have a lot of imagination, but it doesn’t cover numbers like that. I suspect whatever epitaphs I came up with for possums would have to incorporate their playing dead… –Curt

  4. Shame about those poor cats. I like cats. Having said that, I used to manage a waste contract and the company got paid £10 every time it picked up a road kill pussy. If it wasn’t too badly damaged (even though it was dead of course) we would keep it for a day and then put it in the road on the other side of town and get another £10 for it. Sometimes we did it three times. I feel bad about that now.
    I imagine running into an armadillo can potentially do a lot of damage?
    In UK we get a lot of road kill badgers, except there is a suspicion that they are not road kill at all. Badgers are protected but Farmers don’t like badgers and the suspicion is that they shoot them and then take them to the side of a road to be run over so it looks like an accident. It might be true, it might not.

    • I am laughing really hard here about your scam, Andrew. Hopefully there is a time limit on prosecution for misdeeds! As for animal damage, every year dozens of cars in our area are totaled in unfortunate encounters with deer. Last year the media reported on an elk that leapt on to the front of a VW Beetle going up I-5 near our home. Luckily, the guy was able to walk away. Neither the VW nor the elk fared as well.
      I think it would be easier to just dig a hole with the family tractor and bury the badger… –Curt

      • Deer can be a problem here too Curt – no one has ever taught them the highway code. Red Deer are bad but they are tall and get thrown over the bonnet but Monkjack are a real problem, they are just a couple of feet tall and can do an awful lot of damage to the front end.
        Farmers have to be ever so careful with badgers, if they got caught then they would be in a whole lot of trouble!

  5. I’ve never heard of a sail cat, but I’m glad you told me because now I know what to call the thing I walked by almost every day, and eventually photographed, in La Manzanilla – it’s a sail toad! Big one too! 🙂
    Alison

  6. OK – here’s a story you’ll like. On Texas 35, between Port Lavaca and Rockport, there’s a long stretch of road that runs along a wildlife refuge, bayous, marshland. One day, I noticed fresh striping along the edge of the road. Eventually, I came to the place where the striping truck had striped right over the top of a smooshed rabbit. It was a big one, too.

    For months, that rabbit continued to disintegrate. Finally, the rabbit was entirely gone — except that its “shadow” in the paintstripe still was visible. It lasted for another two or three years. Amazing paint that they use!

    • A rabbit memorialized! Yes, Linda, that is a story I like. Not sure the rabbit appreciated it. But since he was already flattened, why not. It’s kind of like the chalk outline we are always seeing in murder mysteries.
      Birds, when they have the misfortune of running into our windows, often leave a ghostlike outline behind. –Curt

  7. Love to get the time to read your adventures, which never cease to amaze me. With or without a bike, with or without Peggy, you see lots of great American things. The store cracked me up because I remember of a similar sign somewhere before the Mojave Desert (Needles/Barstow area) where the owners of a similar shack asked his patrons to appreciate his effort to run the place since it was the only one before dying of thirst in the desert. Effective marketing. Best to you and Peggy.

    • Marketing with a twist… and a sense of humor. We rally should have stopped at the store. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by when you get a break from your busy writing life, Evelyne. –Curt

  8. Oh my gosh. I love the idea of a roadside scavenger hunt. I’d never thought about all the debris at the side of the road as it pertains to bicyclists. An interesting insight to me. I’d love to play that just walking around, though I don’t think I’d ever pick up a sail cat. Yikes!

    • It would take a strange person indeed to play frisbee with a dead cat. 🙂 But you do find some interesting stuff along the road. I thought that the scavenger hunt was quite clever and the story about the continuing journey of the sail cat rather hilarious. I always enjoy having an opportune city to tell the story. 🙂 –Curt

  9. Ahhh I love cats. I love animals. Am still trying to figure out if its ” tongue in cheek” or for real…. Haha. I do appreciate your humor though nonetheless 🙂

    Peta

  10. Love your explanation of a sail cat, photo of Root Hog or Die Cafe, and that bridge. Your photos do it justice! I was born in Alexandria, but except for a few visits to my aunt’s house, I don’t remember much. There are other small LA towns I love, though, so we mosey along til we find ’em and dine on gumbo whenever we can.

    • Fun to know you were born in Alexandria, Rusha. It would be fun to see LA through your eyes. Speaking of the state, I am so sorry to see it suffering under storms again. –Curt

      • Me, too. My sister and her husband have left their flooded home to stay in a hotel in McComb, MS. So very, very sad. Everything is probably ruined — and some of the furniture belonged to relatives who meant a lot to them. We haven’t heard from their son. Don’t know if he’s safe. But their daughter, her husband, and two children are stranded. I’m sick about all of this. Thanks for your concern.

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