I don't want to keep doing this, it takes too long. But my mom says I have to so in the spirit of Mother's Day, I shall.
I wake up in Gulf Shores at 11 a.m. This is much later than my usual time of 7:30 a.m., directly attributable to the Bushwackers the night before. I'm greeted with a cup of hotel coffee from Levi and begin the process of deciding if I'll stay another night here or make my way to New Orleans. I have a couple days wiggle room but want to make it to Flagstaff, AZ by the 20th to see a friend while he's vacationing there. Levi wants lunch up the coast in Orange Beach and I tag along as the third wheel to procrastinate. It's another beautiful day, there haven't been more than a few clouds so far. We arrive at The Gulf, a restaurant built with shipping containers so they can move them inland in the event of another hurricane.
After the meal, I finally decide if I leave now, I'll arrive in New Orleans just as my friend there, Brad, is getting off work so it makes sense to go. I get a ride back to the hotel, say my goodbyes, pack up, and go. To make it there in time, I do something I've been avoiding thus far and take I-10. The point of freeways is to get you where you need to go quickly. They're intentionally pretty flat with gentle curves. You're also traveling at high speeds in proximity to other vehicles. None of these things are fun on a motorcycle. Depending on a bike's wind protection, fighting your head against the wind can quickly grow exhausting. I only care to ride my bike at home short distances at freeway speed, but the Street Glide's much larger front fairing dissipates most of the wind. The ride starts off nicely as I head north and then west through Mobile, AL.
I've been mass-murdering bugs since Orlando, but it's taken to a new level at 70 mph. I don't know what kind it is, but it's as if we make eye contact 20 feet out and I track it all the way into my facemask. It's a big one and explodes on impact, spraying bug juice onto my jacket, neck, and up over my helmet. I feel neither sadness nor joy. I feel nothing.
South of Mobile, I-10 crosses over marshland as it winds along the Gulf Coast. I stop for gas and as I'm merging back on, the truck in front of me kicks up a full Gatorade bottle from under its tire and I narrowly miss it. A nuisance with four wheels, hitting something like that with only two could be trouble. That reminds me, have you ever seen those "Uneven Lanes" signs on a highway during construction where one lane is higher than the other? That's another thing that means little if you're in a car but is dangerous for motorcycles. They can prevent you from being able to turn the bike if the front wheel catches them at too sharp an angle. So if you see a motorcycle going the speed limit in the fast lane and the slow lane is higher up, kindly go around without honks or fingers. I'm not trying to be an asshole dude in a giant truck, I'm trying to stay alive.
Other than gas, I make only one stop on the way but damn am I surprised by what I find. I see a sign for NASA, blah, blah, blah and I could use a break. I pull off and wind around to the INFINITY Science Center near the Stennis Space Center. The parking lot is mostly empty and I confirm my assumption that it's closed from the last few employees trickling out. I'm free to take pictures of the things outside, they say, pointing to the far end of the building blocked off with orange construction fence. Confused, I start toward what would be the entrance and find a large marshland park behind the building and hope to see a gator.
I'm not able to spot one but walk to the far end of the park and this marvel of engineering begins to reveal itself from behind the building.
This is the first stage of the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo 19 mission. Development began on the Saturn V in the early 60s. According to Wikipedia, at almost 60 years old, it "remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status, and holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity to low Earth orbit". NASA's new SLS and concepts from Space X and Blue Origin will challenge these records in the coming years, but imagine my astonishment when I stumble upon the most impressive machine mankind has ever built.
I touch it. I lay underneath it. I stare in awe. But the sun is getting lower in the sky so I snap back to life and head to the parking lot, staging one final picture before the push to The Big Easy.
It's not much further to Brad's place and once I arrive at 5:30 p.m., he meets me in the parking lot to haul my gear into his apartment in the Bywater neighborhood. He leaves for a run while I shower and try to quiet the ringing in my ears from the wind. Before dinner, we head to a new park near his place with stunning views of the Mighty Mississippi and the New Orleans skyline.
We reminisce over pizza and salad about crazy nights in Spain during a trip we took there for my older brother's bachelor party and about the last time I visited him in New Orleans. It was 6 years ago for Mardi Gras. It was rough. We visit a sports bar on the corner with cockroaches crawling on the bar. I'm told this is normal. We keep seeing drunk people in bathing suits walking down the street, which reminds Brad of a bar next door with a pool, hot tub, and sauna open until 4 a.m. We run back to his place to change and pay the $10 to get to the back pool. Brad is soon driving from New Orleans to LA himself so we swap ideas on cool places to stop. He tells me about Meow Wolf in Santa Fe and how it was his favorite thing ever. I must now go. After rounds between the hot tub and the pool, we make the mistake of going into the 200-degree oven sauna for 3 minutes before collecting our things to go.
Brad has to work at 7 a.m. so I assume he'll go to bed after the late night pool, but instead, he offers to drive me to the French Quarter and show me around. On the way, he gets a text asking if he can pick up Snoop Dogg's microphone at FedEx. His friend, whom I met during college parties, is Snoop's production manager. I'm upset to learn FedEx is closed so I'm not able to hold said microphone in my hand, he'll have to get it in the morning. We walk down Frenchmen Street but nothing seems worth investigating further. Brad doesn't usually "get in the shit" aka go to Bourbon Street, but he's willing to make an exception for out-of-towners. On the way, he notices no line at Café du Monde, a rarity, so I stop for my first ever beignets. Their entire menu is beignets and coffee and they usually have lines down the block. For a donut with powdered sugar on it. Don't get me wrong, as a child I used to sneak spoon fulls of powered sugar when my mom wasn't looking, but as a grown up, it's lost some of its allure.
We get in the shit and make our way down its length. I finally cave in and buy a Hurricane. On the way back, we each fall in love with at least two girls but receive no reciprocation. We stop for a beer in The Dungeon, where pictures are prohibited for unknown reasons, and head back to his car. Brad is two years sober this very night and drinks non-alcoholic beer, so stop judging us for driving.
We make a final stop at Vaughan's Lounge because it's too cool looking not to and make our way back around 1 a.m. I don't know how to end these posts. I fall asleep.