Sunday, November 22, 2009

Riding in Memphis, riding with my wheels ten feet over Beale...

By Yana:

Okay, time to finally flesh out that last post, and the days that followed it.

Our stay in Hickman was reasonably pleasant, for the most part.  We rolled in after dark, and rode up an absolutely obnoxious hill in order to get to the police station.  There we asked about somewhere where we might be able to put up a tent.  We established that there was a little mini-park with a gazebo within spitting distance, and the cops told us that should be just fine.  But first, we wanted to have some dinner, so we left our bags at the cop shop, rolled back down the hill, and headed towards Hub's, which is basically The Restaurant in Hickman.  Mostly a steakhouse, which was little use to us, what with our not eating beef at the moment.  Luckily, they had other tasty things, and we had some absolutely delicious blackened alligator for our appetiser.  It eclipsed the catfish and fajitas, though they were pretty good, too.

We headed back up the hill, and put up our tent on that little patch of grass, with a nearby dog barking at us all the way.  Eventually, it shut up and we got to go to sleep.  We woke up the next morning to the spectacular view of the bayou over the fenced-off cliff our little patch of grass was on.  We spent quite a bit of time finding stuff out, but eventually headed to the ferry that would take us across the Mississippi into Missouri.  It was a fun little experience, though we pretty much decided not to head onwards on the Missouri side.  We did ride to the next little town, Dorena, which was little more than a cluster of houses and a church.  Not even a general store.  Obviously, religion is more important than physical sustenance.

Just as we were about to get back on the ferry across, Sundance got hit with a flat tyre.  On the other side of the river, we discovered that there must have been spiky seedpods very like the three corner jacks we have in South Australia lying around.  As Sundance changed his tyre, I examined mine and dug out a spike myself.  As it turned out, the spike had actually stopped up the hole it had created, so once I had it out, my tyre began to hiss loudly, and I had to change as well.  Great.  Not surprisingly, that chewed up more time than we would have liked.  It was getting quite late in the day, but we had to grab some groceries.  The sun was getting a tad low as we rolled out of Hickman, but we managed to reach the state border with Tennessee with a little bit of light to spare.  The photo we got of ourselves at the border leaves quite a bit to be desired, but oh well.

We powered on into the cutely named Tiptonville, where we headed back and forth for a bit, trying to find accommodation.  We tried the police station thing, and they made a few calls for us, asking if any of the local businesses would mind us putting a tent up in their backyard.  The awesome folks from the Reelfoot Lake Inn, Ruben and Tina, stepped up and offered a free continental breakfast to boot.  Even better!  We had some substandard pizza at one of the petrol stations for dinner, and then headed to the Inn.  We were warmly welcomed by our gracious hosts, who ended up just sticking us into one of their rooms, on the house.  It's sometimes a little hard to accept that kind of hospitality, but Ruben and Tina were quite firm and left little room for argument, so we had a very comfortable night indeed. :-)  Of course, to show our gratitude, we must spread the gospel of their awesomeness.  Seriously, go see them, they rock.  We actually had a very nice chat with them over breakfast, and they also bestowed on us a matted print of Reelfoot Lake, as a bit of a souvenir.  We will of course treasure it.  We also got to meet their very attractive cats, one of which had six toes on each foot... very intriguing!  Before we left, we all took photos of each other, and as you fair readers may remember, we posted one of our photos of Ruben and Tina in our last post.  They certainly represented their state well in terms of hospitality. :-)

We got back on our bikes, and headed south-ish, first along the shores of the lake.  It was actually very pretty, the conifers had turned a deep rusty red with the approaching winter, and you could sort of see the clubby feet of the trees that were standing in the water.  We got at least one very nice photo there ourselves, which is always gratifying.  We also saw a couple of egrets flying around... it gave us an appreciation for just how big those birds actually are.

Not much further along, we passed our first cotton field, which was pretty exciting.  You hear so much about the south and the cotton farming, and the sordid history attached to it, but it's somehow now quite the same as riding past those actual cotton fields.  Some of them had been harvested already, though there were quite a few fields still heavy with big balls of white fluff.  We actually made a point of stopping to each pick a fluffy pod of cotton.  It would have been so tempting to take along with us, but it's not like the quarantine folks would have let us take it into Australia, what with it being plant matter, and with seeds in it, to boot.  Pity.  Still, it was a new experience.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, the road was flat, and there was next to no traffic, so it was absolutely wonderful for riding.  We actually went on some slightly loopy bits though, and it turned out in the end that we had taken a bit of an unnecessary detour in order to bypass Dyersburg.  We kind of prefer to circumnavigate cities, as they slow you down like crazy.  We didn't manage to get into Ripley that night, though we were roughly level with the towns of Halls and Gates when we rapped on a stranger's door and asked for a spot of grass to pitch our tent.  We were greeted by a ridiculously cute little lapdog puppy, and some friendly folks who were quite happy for us to pitch our tent.  We did so, then sat ourselves under the carport and made some pasta for dinner.  We were watched by the tribe of cats who hung around the backyard - there were at least seven of them.  One of them had weirdly crinkled up ears, which we later found out was the result of some mites it had had in its ears a while back.  There was another very ratty old fellow who must have been very handsome in his youth.  It's old cats like that which kind of break the hearts of cat lovers such as ourselves, even when they unfortunately sneeze at you.  Poor Sundance found himself covered in cat snot!  At least it didn't get into our food.

We had a fairly comfy night, packed ourselves up, took some cute photos of our various critters, and said our farewells.  We rode on into the town of Ripley, where things were getting significantly  hilly for the first time in a while.  We stopped at a grocery store to get some bread and bananas, and briefly got talking with a lady who was curious about our adventure.  She actually insisted on helping us out with some money, and introduced herself as Joyce Marie Spencer, a nurse.  It was kind of a funny little exchange, actually.  As we spent less than twenty dollars that day, which is how much she gave us, we actually could say that we were so frugal we made a profit!

We powered onwards, as we were determined to get into Memphis that same day.  We had been told by many people that Memphis was a really rough neighbourhood, but then, we'd heard the same about the area in Cincinnati where we stayed, so we weren't that worried, albeit a little wary nonetheless.  As it was, there was no way we'd get to our destination before dark, and we actually found ourself on one horrible stretch of road.  Two lanes, busy, and absolutely no shoulder for us to ride on for long stretches.  At one point, an irate driver honked us off the road.  We did eventually get past the nasty stretch though, paused for some chicken strips at a servo, and then rode to our destination, the DeCleyre co-op, where we could couch surf.  We actually went along a beautiful eight-lane stretch, smooth as anything, well-lit, no traffic, going slightly downhill towards our destination.  Bliss.  It immediately put us in a positive set of mind towards Memphis, although Sundance had a very sore knee from all the pedalling and was literally aching to get to our destination and rest for the night.

We got some tofu at the nearby Kroger, as tofu is a bit of a staple food item at DeCleyre, and then rode the rest of the way to Ellsworth street, where we found the house without too much hassle.  It turned out to be one of those thoroughly charming places, somewhat reminiscent of one of the share houses I lived in once, but larger and more organised.  There were a few people flittering in and out of the front yard, where someone had set up a little campfire in a rusty wheelbarrow.  Very photogenic.  Amusingly, among the various seats around the fire where two wheelchairs and an old backseat from a car.

We met the various inhabitants of DeCleyre, including Lelyn, our moustache-wearing contact.  We got stuck into preparing a communal meal with our tofu, and hung out with people for a little bit before deciding to just pitch our tent in the backyard, as things were still a bit too bright and lively in the house for our tastes at that time of night.  It was actually quite a warm night, the warmest we'd had yet.

The next day dawned bright and warm and sunny, and we gleefully soaked up the warmth and vitamin D in the backyard.  There was actually a hammock hanging in one of the trees in the front yard, which we both tried out.  We also had some social time with the two house cats, a crotchety tortoise shell named Artemis, and a mischievous ginger named Prometheus.

By Sundance:

The day after we arrived, we just relaxed and enjoyed the warm weather, and I made some yoghurt, a pleasure i haven't had since leaving Canada. Although the prospect of relaxing for a whole other day was very tempting, I felt it necessary to get out and explore. So the next day I hopped on google maps, then hopped on my bike and went in search of a phone store where I could get a pre-paid US phone account to replace my old Canadian account. I was successsful at a T-mobile store, since I'd previously found Verizon to be useless in that regard. I also found a camping store where I had to restrain myself from going nuts and blowing our budget completely, and got a new silk liner for my sleeping bag (my old one was getting a bit long-in-the-tooth and had started to tear in places), and a new stuff-sack for my raincoat. I also discovered a health food supermarket and a few other interesting stores, before heading back to DeCleyre.

The following day Yana and I headed in the direction of the downtown district. We came across the other outlet of the camping store I'd visited previously, just in time for Yana to have another flat tyre, so we pulled into the camping store where they had a bike department and Yana fixed her tyre and bought a new,  more comfortable seat while I bought more stuff-sacks, camp-stove fuel, and the like. The folks at the camping store recommended we have late lunch at a Greek-Korean place around the corner, which turned out to be closed, so we went off to a district where we'd heard there were good Vietnamese restaurants, and had some of that for lunch/dinner. On the way back to our residence we found that the Greek-Korean place was open, so we stopped in for a second course of nibblies. 

The following day we returned from a ride, which had turned into late lunch at another Vietnamese place, to meet another couchsurfer, Callum, from Scotland, who was crossing the country on his motorbike.  We chatted for a while, and a bit later, before we turned in for the evening, Callum told us he had been in touch with a local who had a car and could take us for a tour of downtown Memphis, so she came around and we all piled into her tiny car to go for a drive across the bridge into Arkansas, then stopped off at Beale street to wander around and briefly popped into a dreadful karaoke bar because Callum wanted to grab a beer.

The following day Yana and I headed on our bikes down to the waterfront to look around more in daylight. We passed the big pyramid-shaped convention/function centre on the riverfront, cruised down Main street and past the National Civil Rights Museum which was just closing as we arrived. Then we cruised past Beale street and decided to give it a second chance, which proved to be fruitful as we wound-up sampling various foods in a few different pubs/cafes, including seafood gumbo, some crumbed alligator, spicy prawns and chicken wings, a very nice pecan pie and key lime pie. We also heard some pretty good live music.

The following day we got bogged down with grocery shopping, posting some things we no longer need back to Australia, and getting (and installing) anti-puncture tyre-liners for our bikes. The next day we headed back to the National Civil Rights Museum, which is built in the motel where Dr. martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  It was much more extensive than we expected, very informative, and we didn't get to see even half of it. If you ever go there, make sure you give yourself an entire day. It's worth it, and you'll need it.

We've stayed in Memphis much longer than we intended, and today we intend to head out of town, making a quick photo-op stop in front of Graceland on the way, and head into Mississippi. It's an interesting town, and it's nice to be in the home of The Blues, but at the same time I just can't wait to get on the road again.

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