We are getting so very close to the Gulf Coast now. But more on that later. As we currently have wireless coverage, I thought I'd fill y'all (tee-hee!) in on the last few days.
We left the abode of Rich the Santa and his clan quite late in the afternoon. It was one of those days when you start so late it seems almost stupid to go at all, especially as Rich and Shan had graciously offered that we could stay another night; however, the weather was just too gorgeous to waste, especially as the next day was supposed to be rainy.
Rich drove us back to the spot from where he had picked us up, and we unloaded our bikes next to the servo. We said our goodbyes, and then headed out onto the road. As we realised after a few kilometers, we were actually not taking the one we wanted, but one that was parallel, and would eventually lead in the wrong direction. Luckily, there were plenty of little connectors, and we got ourselves on track easily enough.
We actually went at a decent speed, considering the reasonably hilly terrain and surprisingly rough bitumen. I'm sure you've encountered the kind I'm talking about: the kind that seems to basically be small gravel all kind of glued together. Doesn't make such a difference in a car, but you do feel it on a bike, in terms of speed and effort. But I can gladly say that although some of those hills were kind of obnoxious, none of them were as bad as some of the ones we braved in southern Indiana and Illinois.
A little before sundown we passed the 3000-km-point of our journey, and paused for a brief celebratory photo, as has become out tradition. We were still a little way away from Columbia, which we had been aiming for, and so a little further on as it started to get dark we decided to try for a turf surf in the little smattering of houses we were riding through. I knocked on the door closest to us, and was greeted by a fellow named David, who was nice enough to let us pitch our tent. We found ourselves a decent spot and set up, and David wandered out for a chat. He showed us his greenhouse, in which he was quite successfully growing pineapples! That just impressed the socks off us, as we haven't had anywhere near that much luck with pineapples ourselves. He also had a banana tree, which kind of boggled us, considering the snow there had been only the day before! Yow! Mind you, the snow, as it turns out, was a total freak weather pattern. Anyway, David also generously bestowed on us a few of the oranges and lemons from his garden before trundling back inside. We made ourselves some dinner by the light of the greenhouse, admired the beautifully clear night sky, and then crawled into our tent.
As it turned out, the clear night sky had been horribly misleading, and the weather forecast quite accurate. During the night, it started raining with a gleeful vengeance, to the point of us being very grateful for our new and improved skill at putting up the tent, which stops the condensation from getting inside quite as much as it used to, now that we manage to keep the tent fly and the inner from actually touching. Still, it made for a soggy start, although we made do with it pretty well. We actually got going in less than three hours, which is pretty good for us on a wet start. We also put the art of making breakfast inside the tent into practice, which kept us warm and dry fairly nicely - even if it did involve a bit of squirming and contortions to move food and plates in and out of our packs within a very confined area.
Despite the continuing rain, the ride was actually quite pleasant, and the countryside beautiful. We were still going through hilly terrain, but there were enough trees to keep us sheltered from the wind, but also little enough for us to get some beautiful views as we cruised along the roads. We stopped in the town of Foxworth (at least, I hope that's what it was called, I'm not quite sure now) for what was meant to just be a toilet stop at the first petrol station/convenience store we found. Instead, we got waylaid by a friendly local who happened to arrive shortly after we did. As the rain decided to get heavier at that point, we decided that was fine, and the fellow insisted that we try some of the honey he had brought from his own bee hive, as well as some of the food offered by the store we were in, his treat.
As it turned out, the place was under new management, and they were very grateful that this bloke was enthusiastically evangelising their awesomeness. He was certainly very friendly, though we had to stifle a bit of a chuckle when he earnestly asked, "You two aren't treehuggers, are you?" Hee hee! Apparently he felt quite strongly about the breed of environmentalists who disapprove of cows for their methane production. We decided to be diplomatic about it, and he ended up giving us the jar of honey he had brought, which we thought was very nice of him. Very good honey, too. Certainly a nice change after the jar we had absentmindedly acquired in Ohio that was more corn syrup than honey. Ick. He left shortly afterwards, with our thanks. He actually offered us a place to stay the night, but we declined, as we hadn't traveled very far yet that day. We found out from one of the people running the place that he was known as Mr Jean.
Luckily, the rain eased up a little, although we of course knew better than to expect it to stop. We got back on our bikes, and rode on to Columbia, where we made a brief stop at Walmart for ginger snaps and some more bread. We then hopped onto State route 13 south, and headed towards Poplarville, where our warmshowers.com friend Steve was waiting for us. It took some riding into the night, but luckily the rain stopped. It made for a fairly full day, but we eventually made it into Poplarville, at which point we called Steve for further directions. We actually ended up accepting his offer to pick us up from there, as he was another eight miles or so further south. We did hesitate, what with wanting to maintain the integrity of having done the entire trip by bike, but we figured that in the worst case, we could just ride back to the point where he had picked us up, and continue from there.
Steve met us in a nearby park, and after our greetings, proceeded to help us load our gear into the back of his pick-up truck. We made a quick detour for some groceries, as we had not had dinner yet. It was a fairly short drive to his place, where we got to meet his wife Tanya and some of the various cats and dogs and other critters around the place. Tanya and Steve treated us to some wonderful vegetable soup and freshly squeezed satsuma orange juice - they had a tree in their garden heavy with fruit, so their citrus juicer was getting quite the work-out. The juice was absolutely delicious, by the way, it has left us quite tempted to get a satsuma tree of our own.
We made ourselves some dinner, and crawled into bed fairly shortly afterwards - it was quite late by then. The next day was planned to be a rest day, as the weather forecast was predicting heavy thunderstorms and the like. No thanks. We'd actually had grand plans of visiting the Stennis Space Center from there, Tanya even offered to drive us; but as it turns out, security has tightened, so it has to be done from the Welcome Centre further south. In the light of this, we decided to just stop by there on our way to New Orleans, and spent the day lazing around, only venturing out in the afternoon to meet the various other farmlife. Tanya, as it turns out, is the proud owner of several large mules, which she rides. There were also quite a few goats and chickens, not to mention more cats and dogs than you can poke a stick at. Tanya's cockatiels also kept us entertained, as they were quite constant chirpers. On of them, amusingly, is named after Russel Crowe.
That evening, Tanya cooked an absolutely wonderful gumbo, while Sundance and I picked a whole lot of satsumas off the tree to make more juice. Steve was apparently quite impressed with our tenacity, as it can be a bit of a tedious process. That being said, we were working in a bit of a production line, so it was all going very efficiently. In any case, as mentioned, the gumbo was delicious, and reaffirmed our plans to learn to make it ourselves. We packed up most of our gear, so we'd be able to make a reasonably early start the next morning. The tent was drying reasonably well, which was a blessing.
The next morning, Tanya treated us to a traditional southern breakfast of biscuits (that's scones, to non-Americans) and gravy, and I showed her how to poach eggs the old-fashioned way. Apparently, she plans to adopt that method, as it's not as messy as frying them in a non-teflon pan. The day was promising to be beautiful, all bright and warm and sunny, and Tanya did have the time to drive us back to the point where Steve had picked us up, which was wonderful of her. It certainly saved us some time. Even better, we found ourselves riding on a smooth road, with an absolutely glorious tailwind. We were comfortably cruising at 27-29km per hour! Absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately, when we stopped at our first junction for a short break, we discovered that Sundance's back tire had sprung a leak. Doh! We got it fixed up, but these things eat up valuable time, which is frustrating. Still, we got back on the fast track, to the point of the scenery getting that sort of look about it that suggests you can't be too far from the beach now. We stopped at another petrol station for some directions, only to realise upon our departure that the patch on Sundance's flat tire had come off! Argh! By the time that was fixed, it was dark, so we got the permission of the petrol station folk to put up our tent in the back. It will make for a noisy night, as we're right by a freeway, but hey. It's certainly very convenient that we have wireless internet here... hooray for linksys! But it's getting late, and tomorrow is going to be full day, as we plan to go onto a tour of the Stennis Space Center and still make it to New Orleans.