Charley’s ride across America 7. Alabama- I came back


Day 11 feb 7. 37 miles in 3:20 , 65 degrees, muggy first half in traffic, last half in dunes- beautiful end in Orange beach ALABAMA

Day 12 feb 8. 32 miles, beautiful trail and road, then ferry to Dauphin Island

Running total 562

Dear family and friends,

First, let me sharea lovely experience I had my first night here in Alabama. I’m roughing it, staying on the beach in a Holiday Inn. I have had great luck eating at places the front desk has recommended so far, so when they recommended Bubba’s Seafood, directly across the street, I took them up on it. I was really hungry early, so at 430 I walked across the highway. I laughed to myself to see the parking lot full with all the jokes about elders eating at four thirty, and here I was.

What I found out on entering was a live band, playing hillbilly rock. The place was jammed, but they found me a tiny booth near the entertainers. Shoot, they were really good, and I enjoyed all the old timers shimmying and shaking. I might have been the youngest one in the place. I had the best, freshest food of the entire trip, and as I was finishing dinner, the band was wrapping up. The lead singer/piano player was finishing with Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls Of Fire. And with gusto. 

An older woman asked me to move so she could take a picture so I moved out of her way and reminded her that the real Jerry could play this with his toes, and she wrinkled her face at me. 

Within seconds the  the singer took off his shoes, stood on his piano and did just that, right before he set the piano on fire! ( alcohol- as a combustant and in his bloodstream?)

Just happened across it, whew, what fun!

Yup, I’m in Alabama again. Last time I  was in this state I swore I’d never be back. Should never say never, I guess.

It started like this:

Way back in February of 1974, as I got back to the college house ( University of Dayton, Ohio) from the  library after an afternoon of studying, one of my roommates, Terry, was waiting. He said “ did you know that in a couple of days, it’s Mardi Gras?”

“ Of course, I answered” we should go out for beers “.

“ No, I mean in New Orleans” he replied.

“So, what’s that have to do with us?”

Within the hour, we were with our small knapsacks, standing besides route 71, facing south with our thumbs out, as the sun was setting. We did well with our first ride, and quickly got a second long one. This trucker released us and exited the freeway somewhere in the middle of Tennessee in the middle of the darkest night.

Seemed almost fruitless to stand next to the highway with thumbs out as any car couldn’t see us until they were just about past. But, a few hundred feet down the road, an old Ford  pulled over. Luck? Or not?

With few choices, we ran to the car and found four young guys approximately our age inviting us in. 

“ Where are you headed?” I asked.

“ Heading to Florida to get jobs.” “ We just picked up our buddy here, released from jail today, so he could join us”

“ Cool. you guys ever hear  of Mardi Gras?” “ Parades, beads being thrown, lots of exposed breasts on the balconies”

As they agreed to the change of plans, I took over the driving so they could sleep. We beared west away from Florida towards New Orleans.

“ Hey guys, there’s one thing I need to know as we head into the Deep South. Is this car clean of drugs?” I asked.

“Of course man, we wouldn’t want our buddy to go back where he just was” was the answer.

I was quite satisfied and into Alabama I drove. 

As we passed through a little town I noticed the flashing red lights in the rear view mirror, so pulled over to let the police by. Instead, he pulled over behind me. 

Out stepped the very caricature of a southern cop; think Rod Steiger In The Heat of  the Night, southern cop.

Heavy, sweating, aviator glasses, strutted  like he owned the place.

“ Where you boys heading?” Was his first question.

“Mardi Gras” we answered in unison.

“ I’ll bet you boys got some of that mareewanna with you if you are heading that way”

“No sir” was the car owners answer.

“Well, we’ll just see, as he had us stand against a gas station wall while he crawled under the car, searched the trunk, and removed the back seat, to come up with a tiny marijuana pipe containing about three seeds.

“ I knew it” he said.

“ I’m now going to read you your Miranda rights. Any of you heard these before?” Obviously looking for repeat offenders.

“ Sure, I have” said Terry.

Oh no, I thought, what could possibly come out of his mouth.

College, career, future- all rapidly becoming doubtful to me.

“ Yes, on Dragnet” he blurted.

This had the surprising effect of flustering our cop.

“ You boys, get back in that car and leave, and if any police catch you speeding through any of the towns down the road, I’ll have them lock you up!”

“Yes, sir” we replied as a group.

“I will never come back to this state again”, I swore to myself, and now I have.

I’m now holed up in an old motel on Dauphin Island, still in Alabama, waiting out a severe weather warning of high winds, rain, and possible thunderstorms. This is a sleepy little place, seems about half permanent residents and half snowbirds. 

What I’ve noticed about snowbirds:

It seems that the snowbirds stay on their same longitude when they head south. In East Florida I met retirees from New York and New Jersey, in western part of Florida they were from Ohio and Michigan, now I’m seeing license plates and meeting people from Missouri, Indiana and Illinois. Most of them ,not a few. Is it that it’s a couple hours less drive? Be with people who speak with the same dialect? Or have someone to argue with about football- Ohio state and Michigan for instance.

 Something to think about. 

So far Alabama on a bike is a delight. They have wonderful trails through parks, free bike use while in the parks, and the best bike lanes along main roads so far; a mini divider between the bike lane and the traffic.

I had to take a small ferry to get here to Dauphin. I met several cyclists who were heading here to ride around the island for the day and then ferry back for the evening. They all wanted to talk bike touring and since I was the only tourer, that made me popular. One man, who said he was 69 as well, came up to me after the ferry ride and said he was glad he met me, as I inspired him to try a similar ride. Wow, I can actually do some good for others out here. That feels good.

Love to all,


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