Monday morning dawned early and we headed back to the last 10 miles or so of the lovely trail and into Hattiesburg.
Here’s something that may come as a shock to you, but Hattiesburg, Mississippi is predominantly African American. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was riding along and a young adult man came riding up next to me and said, “Girl, you ain’t from here.”
“No, sir, that’s for sure, I am not.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“Well, yesterday I started my day in Lucien, but I started riding a couple years ago in Washington State and have ridden all the miles between the Seattle area and here.”
(Shocked look – and then the unexpected question)
“What made you choose Hattisburg?” (spelling changed to match his pronunciation)
I chuckled a little, because while the shocked look was expected, I didn’t have a ready answer for that one. “Well, when I wake up in the morning and get ready to ride, I ask God and Google to help me be on the safest route with the kindest people from wherever I was starting, and between them, I’ve always found the right way.”
He laughed at that. “Yes, ma’am, you sure did.”
We chatted for a little bit longer as we rode through town, and he wished me a safe and blessed ride (there’s that word again – “blessed”), and we went our separate ways.
As the day wore on I thought more about “God and Google”, and how often I have had either close calls or felt blessed with wisdom or some inkling that I should (or should not) go the way I had originally planned. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to listen to those promptings, but the more I ride the more I feel like I am trusting God and Google to lead my way.
Getting into Alabama I had some good climbs. And by “good” I mean challenging. My legs were tired and aching, and the tongue of my left shoe was hitting the top of my foot funny and causing a pain that felt a little like it was in the “top” of my ankle. I was getting slower and slower, and the climb I could see ahead was making me frustrated. The lanes narrowed to a medium length bridge, and I knew I had only a few miles left to Wilmer – just on the other side of the Alabama state line – but I was tired.
Here’s the thing about my first miles into Alabama. It’s a two-lane highway with a narrow shoulder, and the rumble strip carved into that narrow shoulder, leaving about 6 inches on either side of the rumble strip before I’m either in the grass or in the road. My best bet to keep my fillings in my teeth is to ride as close to the white line as I can.
The problem is that by the time I was there, there was a lot more cars heading to Alabama than I wanted to ride with, and it is never safe to assume that they A. see me, and B. care whether they give me the law-granted right of 3 feet of space to pass a cyclist.
So I was a little nervous to say the least.
By the time I got halfway up the hill, my legs were on fire and I had 7-8 cars behind me, as there were also cars coming toward us, and the guy directly behind me wasn’t letting anybody past.
As I got to the Sweet Home Alabama sign the road opened up to the two lanes plus a turning lane, and the cars behind me sped up to go past. I always think people are going to be frustrated and/or upset that I made them wait. But every car that passed was yelling something encouraging – “Welcome to Alabama!” “You made it!” and the ever-present, “You go, girl!”
People in the south are wonderful, near as I can tell. If they were getting frustrated, they hid it well and didn’t make me feel like I inconvenienced them. The last 3-4 miles into Wilmer were pleasant and encouraging even though I was still tired.