When I was a kid, I used to lay awake at night worrying about bicycling to school in the morning. I’d think about all of the warnings my parents had told me about the dangers of speeding cars and swear that I’d walk to school instead. Of course, in the bright morning I’d forget my nightmares and hop on my bike without a care.
Our trip to New Orleans reminded me of that. When you are in Canada, or California, or New Mexico, you hear all sorts of scare stories about the dangers of post-Katrina New Orleans. We pictured roving gangs in dark T-shirts, ready to pounce on unwary cyclists. We had a date to do a presentation with the New Orleans Society for Conservation Biology, but we were all worried about surviving the streets.
We were pleasantly surprised by the smooth bike trail we found along the Mississippi River Levee. It was an easy cycle into town (although the streets in New Orleans are badly rutted and pot-holed). We met numerous people who offered to help us. They gave us their cell phone numbers and urged us to call if there was anything that we needed.
We were only in the city for two days, but my impressions were wildly contrasting. Opulence in the Casino district and the huge mansions in the plantation district and along certain streets. Poverty in the tent camps under the I-10 bridge and in the abandoned houses along the side streets. Non-stop parties in the French Quarter with live music blasting from the bars even at two in the afternoon. Non-stop work for people trying to rebuild their shattered lives and destroyed homes.
We’d planned to cycle east on Highway 90 towards Mississippi, but a “swing-bridge” was out of commission. This wasn’t Katrina related, but when something goes wrong with the aging infrastructure around New Orleans, it doesn’t get fixed quickly with so many other things to attend to. So, we had a little 100 mile detour around Lake Pontchartrain since there was no other safe cycling alternative. After seeing what the people of New Orleans were dealing with, we thought we got off lightly.