“The first rule of hurricane coverage is that every broadcast must begin with palm trees bending in the wind.”
— Carl Hiaasen, American journalist, columnist and novelist
MOBILE, Ala. — Ida, downgraded to a tropical storm, is headed straight for Mobile Bay as I write this from a dry, comfortable room in a Days Inn along Interstate 65.
High winds and very heavy rain are expected overnight and could affect the next few days of our transcontinental bicycle journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
We had planned to ride on Monday from Ocean Springs, Miss., to Bayou La Batre, Ala., at the mouth of Mobile Bay. But Ida, still a Category 2, late-in-the season hurricane on Sunday night, prompted a change in plans.
The local TV prognosticators were making dire predictions of as much as six inches of rain in southern Mississippi in the early hours of Monday. But no rain came. So on Monday, our small caravan — now down to a dozen riders — set out for Mobile, hoping to beat the rain that was predicted for late afternoon.
Add to the wind and rain the horrendous traffic on no-shoulder roads on the way to Mobile and you have the elements of one of the most miserable days I’ve ever spent on a bike.
Several miles of busy Airport Boulevard into Mobile were down to one lane because of repaving. Cars and trucks backed up behind us as we tried to negotiate the slick, muddy pavement. I actually crashed twice because of uneven pavement, but each time I and the bike landed on the muddy shoulder. Both bike and rider survived, save for a skinned right knee.
I probably presented a pathetic sight — wet, cold and muddy — as drivers passed by. Some offered sympathetic glances. But one driver, headed in the other direction and not even affected by our slow passage, shouted out of his rolled-down window: “Get the f–k off the road.” I wouldn’t consider Alabama or Mississippi bike-friendly country.
But we all survived our miserable day on the road, and can say that we rode through a tropical storm. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a Days Inn.
Now, the bike is cleaned up, the rider is showered, wet clothing has been laundered and dried, and we’re sated by ordered-out pizza.
Tuesday’s plan is still uncertain. We’ve all become avid watchers of the Weather Channel, which all Monday evening has featured reporters standing on Gulf Coast beaches being lashed by rain.
We’re told by the locals that the causeway across Mobile Bay — which we have to cross — is sometimes closed because of a combination of high tide and storm surge. If the causeway is closed, we’re stuck in Mobile.