Jul 9, 2006

LA Hwy 121

Let me tell you a story about a road. It won't be a long, indepth look at how it was constructed, nor will it be some sort of travelogue. It'll simply be the experience of a road.

About fifteen years ago, a guy told me how to find a good motorcycling road; that being one with lots of curves and scenery and not too fast a speed limit. He told me to take out a road map of the state, and ignore all the long, straight blue lines, because those were interstates, and are boring as watching grass grow. They were designed by people with no imagination and not a lot of time for it. No, he said, look for the squiggly black ones, the squigglier the better, he said. Those are state highways, the roads that have been there forever. They're not always the best quality roads, he told me, but they're the best roads to be on.

He was, naturally, right.

There is a state highway that runs almost through my backyard. State highway #121. Not very romantic sounding, and not in the world's best condition, but it was resurfaced this decade, and it's a state highway, which means that originally it was a horse track or a dirt road or a trail that was used back when this part of the state was covered in French fur trappers and bands of Native Americans.

It follows the winding and meandering course of Bayou Rapides, which means that it twists and turns a great deal indeed. It brings you through some old country, quiet country, places where you're just as likely to see brand new plantation-style homes as you are likely to see real plantation homes, with driveways lined in hundred-year old oak trees, and genteely collapsing slave cabins in the back yard.

Following this road on a motorcycle, the bayou seems to be pacing you, a considerate partner in your ride, carefuly to stay just off your side. Sometimes you can see well down into it, down brambly slopes to the water's edge, and sometimes the bayou is hidden behind the tall green sward of the levee, where the land falls back into the river delta that it used to be, before man walked this land.

The road was laid, it seems, to make sure that you never forget the presence of that winding snake of brown water. It follows each curl and change, wandering slowly through avenues of trees so thick and tall that they canopy over the road, making hushed green tunnels for you to enter, reverently. It's waters moisten the ground where the green grass grows thick and tall, and is kept at bay by herds of brown and grey goats, or dark russet cows. Each house you pass seems to have a barn behind it, most of them containing huge green farm machinery, or rusty plows and equipment. Often you pass decrepit wooden fences that barely keep hold of horses or bulls, and sometimes chickens use those fences as perches, right alongside the slender white sweeps of egrets.

You pass old houses, more often than not, and old churches, both wooden frame affairs, usually sagging at one side or the other, the wood gone silver and grey with age and use. Old people sit on their front porches, fanning themselves with paper fans, scripture verses printed on them, slim wooden handles careworn to fit a gnarled old hand. They sit and rock on their front porches, or they rest on milk crates in their yard under the shade of pecan trees older than even they, slowly turning into raisins in the sun, each sweeting or souring with age as the spirit has moved them.

The road slips ever onwards, grey-black, shimmering in the heat, spread between huge fields of cotton or soybeans on one side, and the green mound of the levee on the other. Folk wave from their porches when you motor by, the big v-twin grumbling quietly to itself in the heat, your arms relaxed, hands comfortable on the grips, easily slipping off to wave to someone's grandmother, or grandfather. It's easy to imagine that any moment you're going to slip up on an old farmer driving a buckboard wagon, pulled by two old jenny mules, his sons dozing in the afternoon heat in the back, in amongst the ears of corn and the watermelons, headed into some sleepy little town to sell them at the farmer's market.

Who could condone long, sterile strips of white concrete, trees mathmatically planned and planted, and huge green reflective signs telling you which exit will offer you the same prefabricated food, or lodging that has been sterilized for your convenience, when something so wonderous is just over the next field? How much better to drive where there is no road marker, no cutoff, and the winding black serpent seems willing to carry you to some long-forgotten trading post town, where people still know you by name, and the watermelon is red and crisp.


Vulgar Wizard said...

How long did you ride today?

Caffeinated Mommy said...

It's amazing how you can make riding down a road sound poetic.

Irrelephant said...

I managed a whole hour out and about, covered I think about 40 miles give or take. It was so good to be out with no destination in mind.

Hannibal, this might sound cheesy or put-on, but honestly, it's hard NOT to be purple and flowery when you're watching the countryside flow by over a pair of handlebars and what looks like about two feet of headlight. There's just something indefinable about being IN the scene, rather than watching it on tv.

Nancy Dancehall said...

This is just beautiful. Well done (again).