The glory of the Gulf Coast, and avoiding tornadoes; DeRidder (Louisiana) to Newport (Florida)

Leg; 815 miles / 1,311 km
Total; 7,959 miles / 12,809 km

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The ‘Deep South’ lives up to its reputation, but also has some surprises up its sleeve. The famous southern hospitality is no misnomer. We managed to cycle through the whole of Louisiana without camping once! There are so many Warm Showers hosts who open up their doors to cyclists and offer an insight into the local culture and cuisine.

We experienced our second cold snap of the trip in Louisiana and had some rare Louisianan snow to contest with. Luckily we found an amazing Warm Showers called Jordy who took us in and sheltered us. Jordy in one of the most intelligent and worldly-wise people we’ve ever met. We learned so much about Cajun and Creole culture, and even things about Europe we didn’t know! Jordy cooked us an incredible venison sausage jambalaya and bought us boudin – a kind of delicious haggisy black pudding delicacy – from the local butcher.

Sadly Louisiana’s roads are not as friendly as its citizens. In fact, it’s undoubtedly the worst state we’ve cycled through so far in that respect. There’s very little / no shoulder, cars show little respect and the road surface is completely pitted and potholed. There’s also very little in the way of natural beauty and scenery is limited to the odd swamp or bayou.

Louisiana has a jewel in its crown however; New Orleans. What a city! We were lucky enough to receive generous Christmas money from family back home and friends in Texas, which we used to have a little break in the famous French Quarter. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is barely visible in the city centre and the world-class architecture is free for everyone to see. We caught some live music in the tiny bars on Frenchman Street, scoffed beignets at Cafe du Mon and sampled the local brews at the great NOLA brewery. Highly recommend New Orleans as a destination in itself.

On entering Mississippi we hit the Gulf Coast and we’ve stayed there ever since. It’s breathtaking. The sand is powdery white, beaches largely deserted and sea a translucent emerald green. Our preconceptions of Mississippi were blown away instantly. Magnificent bridges, perfect tropical beaches, cycle-friendly, relaxing and great State Parks. The biggest surprise of the trip so far.

The Alabama Gulf Shores is more of the same. We took the awesome Mobile Bay Ferry from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan and cycled along the coast before heading inland to visit our friend Ginger and her family. This was an emotional visit since we also visited the resting place of a friend sadly no longer with us. We’ve been blessed on this trip to be reunited with many old friends, and pay respects to those we wish we could see again.

Our trip through Florida started on the amazing Santa Rosa Island. Twenty miles of pristine beach and dedicated cycle path. We hugged the coast all the way to Port St Joe, staying in beachfront houses courtesy of generous Warm Showers hosts. We took a rest day in Eastpoint as the forecast was gloomy but the worst weather hit us on the day we left the sanctity of our host.

The day started fine. We had an amazing tailwind and wondered what the fuss was all about. We stopped at a campground in Newport and an hour later the owner said there was a Tornado Warning; it was sighted nine miles north of Eastpoint and was headed northeast, straight for us. Everyone had a different strategy! Ours was to hide under the open picnic bench shelter and dive into the relatively solid (but not concrete) bathroom if it came. Word arrived that the tornado had passed a whisker northwest of us and then the thunderstorms came, redefining horizontal rain!! Luckily it only lasted about 20 minutes and we relaxed. UNTIL, word came through we were on a flood warning! That was a restless night, wondering if we’d wake up floating.

The next day we set off under a blanket of moody grey clouds, thanking our luck stars. Within a few hundred feet of the campground we saw the two foot watermark on the trees where the flood had hit. And we thanked our lucky stars again!