The guys in the garage at the Transportation Revolution finish giving me directions just as a bank of inky clouds unleash their payload. Having no desire to guide the Triumph Scrambler into a curtain of precipitation, I wait patiently and try to contemplate the magnitude of the first leg of this journey.
Typical of spring storms in the Deep South, this one hits hard and moves along quickly. The retreating thunderclaps and hissing runoff begin to give way to the sounds of downtown traffic as the Triumph's twin pops to life. Within minutes the bars are pointed east on Interstate 10. Exiting onto Elysian Fields Drive, I soon find St. Claude Avenue and begin the somber ride toward the Lower Ninth Ward. In New Orleans, modern history is measured by two descriptors, pre-Katrina and post-Katrina, and here in this neighborhood it seems only the latter applies. With each passing block, those indelible TV news images begin rushing back like water pouring through the breached levees. Though the storm came roaring ashore back in August of 2005, its massive, crushing imprint still remains. Rebuilding efforts are underway in a few spots, but many streets still resemble post-apocalyptic movie sets. I had originally intended to take a series of photos, but in witnessing the true magnitude of the catastrophe that befell this once vibrant area, I keep the camera stowed. Most of the folks here lost everything and the thought of flaunting images like new baseball cards is suddenly becoming very unpalatable. This first stop is a solemn reminder of how the rug can be jerked from beneath any of us in the blink of an eye.
Back west of The Big Easy, signs for Mandeville indicate that the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is coming up. At 24 miles in length, this masterpiece of man's handiwork is the longest over-water highway in the world. The first two-lane section opened in 1956, giving the citizens of New Orleans unprecedented access to Lake Pontchartrain's north shore. Due to increased traffic, a second span was opened in 1969. Sections of roadbed and cylindrical piles, made from pre-stressed concrete, were built lakeside and moved into place by barge, making the initial structure the world's first pre-manufactured bridge. While the ride itself isn't the most exciting in the world, the scope of civil engineering involved here is well worth seeing.
Having crossed the lake just ahead of the afternoon commuters, I turn west on Route 22. Though the prospect of exploring unfamiliar territory has my energy needle pegged, the map and "better" judgment conspire to end my day. I could keep chasing the sunset, but experience dictates that the map's upcoming tangle of tiny gray lines hold little promise of lodgings. A rack stack alongside I-55 in Amite seems as good a place as any to call in the dogs.