Cycling through hurricanes


Dave Cox can’t seem to stay out of the path of hurricanes.
The veteran leader of
Adventure Cycling Association tours said in an e-mail on Sunday that he and other cyclists on the ACA’s Atlantic Coast tour were holed up in Exeter, N.H., waiting for Hurricane Irene to pass.
The e-mail was addressed to cyclists who took part in a 2009 bicycle trip led by Dave — a 3,130-mile, self-contained journey along the Southern Tier of the United States from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.
“How could you forget the wonderful stay we had in Mobile waiting for Ida to blow through?” Dave asked.
I was a member of that group in the fall of 2009. During the last three weeks of our trip, we had to decide what to do about Ida, a late-season hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico threatening to tear through the Gulf Coast during the early days of November.

A NOAA image of Hurricane Ida as it drew a bead on Mobile Bay

Ida began to focus our minds on Sunday, Nov. 8, during an overnight stop at an RV park near Ocean Springs, Miss. The ominous weather reports described Ida as a Category 2 hurricane that would hit the Gulf Coast within a day or two somewhere along the path of our eastward journey. The woman who ran the Journey’s End RV Park said we could get six inches of rain that night.
We had planned to ride the next day from Ocean Springs to Bayou La Batre, Ala., at the mouth of Mobile Bay, and eventually make our way by ferry to Gulf Shores. But with Ida threatening ferry service, we had to take a more northerly route right through the city of Mobile. The predicted rains hadn’t come Sunday night, so our small caravan set out on Monday morning for Mobile, hoping to beat the outlying bands of rain that were predicted for late afternoon.

The Shed, adjacent to the RV park in Ocean Springs. It would have been a nice place to wait out a hurricane, but it was closed on Mondays.

The rain, unfortunately, came early — about 23 miles into a 50.76-mile ride — and continued throughout the day. Also, the counter-clockwise circulation of Ida was kicking up brutal northeasterly winds with knock-down gusts. The direction we were headed? Yep, northeast.
Add to the wind and rain the horrendous traffic on no-shoulder roads on the route 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 the uneven road surface, but each time, I and the bike landed in the soft mud on the shoulder of the road. 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.”
We all survived that miserable day. At the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a Days Inn.
And that’s where we took shelter from the storm. Ida, downgraded to a tropical depression by the time its center made landfall, sloshed through Mobile Bay in the early hours of Tuesday. I had hoped to hear the wind howling outside the motel, but I was disappointed. Ida passed without my notice as I slept.

Dave Cox (left) and I look on as fellow rider John Diller works on his wheel in 2009

Dave’s latest group of cyclists was a week into the ride along the Atlantic Coast route, which runs from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Key West, Fla., when Hurricane Irene forced the caravan to hole up in New Hampshire.
A member of his current group is veteran cyclist Mike Ullner, who rode with us along the Southern Tier in 2009. But Mike had to abandon that journey in New Roads, La., on the western side of the Mississippi River, because of a detached retina that required immediate surgery.
He missed our encounter with Hurricane Ida. But now, on this ride, he’s gotten to experience a hurricane with Dave. “He felt left out since he missed Ida,” Dave wrote in his e-mail, “so now his severe-weather touring experience is complete!”
If I ever decide to ride with Dave again, I believe I’ll sign up for a route where hurricanes seldom appear — Montana, maybe, or Wyoming.

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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys, Travels

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