This is Chapter 28, (A Vision of Antoinette) from my upcoming book. I hope you find this inspiring. This was the day my guitar saved my life. Happy Sunday. Enjoy..
October 9 – I slept in this morning and missed the sunrise. A nice pile of wood is left over from last night so I start a fire and boil water for coffee. My stomach doesn’t feel good. The toilet paper I had was ruined in the Greenville flood and I forgot to get more. Being that the restrooms are locked, I can honestly say this is the first time the government shutdown has affected me in a noticeable way. After my coffee, I extinguish the fire and cover it with earth. I’ll have to wait until Natchez to use the bathroom. With camp packed up I head down the Trace with the road to myself.
It’s twenty-two uncomfortable miles to the southern terminus of the trail. I’ve been riding on an empty stomach and a full colon. The sun isn’t high enough to shine on me over the trees yet and their shade is a chilly place to be. The Parkway meets back up with the 61 as it ends in Natchez. Right away I’m dealing with rumble strips and motorists. They pass by without respect. I’m rather distraught and ready for a break.
Down the road, I stop at a McDonald’s to use the restroom. I think it might be nice to check in with the world today. I sit outside on a bench within wifi range, updating my facebook status, saying, “While I was at the festival in Greenville a storm came through and some kind brothers took me to the Hampton Inn where I met Traci. She was to bury her father that day. I rode my bike over a hundred miles from the festival to a city called Vicksburg and stopped at the store to get some food. I asked a stranger for directions, we got to talking and I found out it was Traci’s brother! They put me up in the River Walk for the night and we all had lunch with their sweet mother today. Wish these people your condolences please. Appreciate the moment and pay thanks to your families. This big world isn’t so huge and the things you do come back around. I love you Dad. I don’t say that enough…” I attach the photo of us in front of The Tomato Place and tag Traci. Looking at the map, I’d estimate that I’m about 40 miles from the Louisiana border. Preparing to get back on the road, I make it my goal to camp in Louisiana this evening.
Back on the 61, the third tier of my gears won’t seem to connect with the chain. It’s been shifty lately but now it won’t engage whatsoever. While coasting down a hill, I place my right foot on top of the derailleur and manually move the chain. With my left foot, I rotate the pedal and the gear shifts into the third tier once again, thankfully. The hills here are challenging today and I ride on a very narrow piece of road between the rumble strip and the gravel shoulder. I’ve faced some animosity from drivers because of this. Some even hug the line rather than moving into the fast lane and it feels as if they’re doing this intentionally to mess with me. A truck flies by me far too close and the extra wide trailer it pulls nearly clips my left arm. Frustrated and shaken up, I pull over and take a rest beneath the shade of an old tree. I take a moment to breathe deep and calm down before jumping back on the bike, continuing south.
Entering the city of Natchez, I find a Walgreens and pull in to re-up on supplies, use the restroom again and see about a roll of toilet paper. Coasting into the parking lot, I find a place between two cars near the entrance and leave my bike and bags unlocked as I walk in to make a few purchases. After shopping and relieving myself, I sit outside on a bench not far from my bike and have a little lunch. A truck peels into the parking lot at high speed and attempts to pull right into the spot I’ve parked. The cars on both sides leave my bike invisible to the driver and he locks up his brakes, sliding to a stop centimeters from hitting my Raleigh. I picture a mangled bicycle with bent rims and a guitar in splinters, crushed beneath the truck’s undercarriage. What a nightmare that would’ve been! I almost watched this trip end in an instant, right before my eyes. The driver backs out quickly and finds parking elsewhere. That’s the second close call I’ve had today and it seems like the universe is telling me to be more careful. I’m full of care though and I silently wish these drivers would slow down and pay more attention.
It’s time to hit the road again so I mount up and proceed southbound. The wind whips around this afternoon as I pass over the rolling hills of southern Mississippi. It’s been a constant struggle to steer the neck of my guitar from blowing into the front tire. Nylon frays from the case where it’s continually met the rubber of my wheel and the webbing between the fingers on my left hand has become raw from the battle of balancing my equipment on the handle bar. Nearing the city of Woodville, I spot a church off the 61 and stop in with the hopes to fill my water bottles. ‘Mt. Sinai Church’ reads the inscription on a marble plaque embedded in the foundation. Beneath that the carver acknowledges the date of construction, the name of the founding Baptist minister, as well as the 33rd degree masons who erected the temple. Upon closer examination, I notice some horrible patchwork where the carver spelt ‘Sinai’ incorrectly, most likely not realizing her error until it was finished. This seems significant, as if there’s a lesson in this observation but I can’t quite decipher what it means to me and it leaves me feeling slightly confused. My thoughts are cloudy. Dehydration does that to me. Around the corner I find a water pump and test the handle. Clean cold water comes pouring out and I retrieve my empty bottles for refilling. I bless this water’s crystal clear body and ask that it bring my mind some of it’s simple clarity. Water is living. It has memory and even reacts to positive and negative energies. Bless the water you drink like I bless the river. Then you’ll understand the mystery of time and the secret of water.
Sitting on the steps of the church, quite suddenly a vivid image of Antoinette appears in my mind’s eye and the memory of her beautiful generous spirit fills me with joy. I feel rejuvenated and ready for the road. In leaving, I have the impulse to turn my guitar around so that it’s balanced on the handlebar with the neck facing back and up. I’ve rode bicycle with my guitar a million times, but never once have I had the inclination to carry it like this. Heading south on the 61, I’m already pleasantly surprised by the difference this adjustment makes. The wind still gusts from the east but at least my guitar case isn’t bumping into my tire anymore. The rumble strip disappears and the shoulder narrows to nearly nothing besides the red rock gravel to the slow lane’s immediate right. As I continue climbing hills, I look over my shoulder occasionally to make sure there isn’t traffic approaching. I’m weary of that moment I disappear behind a hill and out of sight from the speeding vehicles behind me. Yet again I coast down a giant slope and begin climbing another. Breathing heavy, -Thrrraaap! Plastic shatters and I feel a shock wave through my whole body accompanied by a 70 mile an hour bright black flash that rushes by within three inches of my life. I felt the fabric of death in the cold dark cloak of the reaper’s passing. The little black car speeds up the hill and disappears as I stop on the side of the road to make sense of what just happened. Shattered plastic shrapnel is scattered on the shoulder and I realize that it’s the casing from that car’s passenger side mirror. It struck the very crown of my guitar on the sharp point above my tuning knobs and exploded before me. I’d like to think that the driver of the vehicle was distracted texting and didn’t see me until the last second. However, my gut feeling tells me the driver had a malicious intent and wanted to see how close he could get to hitting me. I have no anger somehow. Only gratitude and awe. Taking my girl from her case, I notice a dent where the impact took place but other than that, she’s fine. I kiss the wood and hug her body tightly. The voice of Antoinette’s God is silent but I heard something back there at Mt. Sinai Church. If I hadn’t listened and my guitar would’ve been facing neck forward as usual, that mirror would have struck my left elbow and the consequences of that collision may have put me in the cemetery. A moment of clarity comes from all of this and I remember the evening I spent in the graveyard so long ago and the nightmare I had. My haunting premonition. I’ll never forget this moment. This is the day my guitar saved my life.
I tuck my sweet lady back in her case, breathing deep, calming and thankful I’m able to continue the journey. A billboard catches my attention, advertising a café/deli in Woodville with free wifi and I make a mental note to stop there for dinner and a check-in with home. More than anything at this moment, I’d like to call my family and tell them I’m safe and that I love them. Louisiana is less than 10 miles away now as I enter the city of Woodville. There isn’t much here and it doesn’t take long to find the deli. An old man sits alone outside as I park my bike. Our eyes connect and we nod in respect as I walk inside to investigate. Without even having to ask I locate the password for the wifi and connect to the web on my phone and walk back outside.
“Hello, do you mind if I sit with you and relax for a bit?” I ask.
The old man says, “Sit. My name is Immanuel. I saw you pedal in on that bike. You don’t sound like you’re from around here. Where are you coming from?” he asks me with an inquisitive tone. His skin is dark and weathered like it’s seen 80 Mississippi summers. I tell him about my journey so far and my brush with death earlier. He listens intently but shows no emotion.
“I need to call home and check in with my family, Immanuel. Pardon me,” I say, dialing the numbers. It rings and rings until the answering machine picks up. I leave a message saying, “Hello mom, hi dad. I’m in Woodville, Mississippi. Louisiana is only about 10 miles away now! I just wanted to call and let you know I’m alive and well and that I love you. I’ll call again soon. Goodnight.”
Right as I hang up the phone a cheerful white man waltzes up and greets Immanuel and then looks at me and says, “Hello. Welcome to Woodville! I’m Gary.”
He shakes my hand warmly and I say, “Thank you. I’m just passing through on a bike tour, heading to New Orleans and wanted to stop for a rest. I’m Michael. It’s nice to meet you Gary.”
“Are you hungry?” he asks.
“Yes! I was just thinking about what I should eat.”
He says, “Come inside with me and I’ll buy you dinner.”
I can’t pass that up. Flashing him a smile, I follow him into the deli and we walk to the counter together. He orders a slice of sweet potato pie and tells me to order whatever I like. I get myself a grilled chicken sandwich with pepper jack cheese, tomato, onion and lettuce. Gary pays the cashier and turns to me, discretely handing me a 10 and his business card. It turns out Mr. D’Aquilla here is Mayor of Woodville!
I put the money and card in my pocket saying, “Gary, it’s been a rough day. I had a near death experience earlier on the road just before entering your city and I’m still shaken up. Drivers have been in such a careless hurry. I can’t thank you enough for taking your time to welcome me here so graciously.” I go on to tell him a few stories and experiences I’ve had on the road. It’s the most valuable thing I have to share and he seems genuinely inspired and grateful to meet me.
“That’s amazing, Michael! I have some other errands to run. I wish I could stay longer but I have to go. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. I wish you luck with the rest of your journey.” He shakes my hand after saying this and disappears out the door with a bounce in his step. I fiddle with my phone a little and notice all the comments and love people are sending me online from the post earlier about Traci and Buddy. It’s hard to believe that just a half an hour ago I was within inches of that post being my last words to the world. ‘I love you dad. I don’t say that enough.’ I try to call home one more time without an answer and then walk outside to join Immanuel once again.
“What a nice guy. I’m in Woodville for 5 minutes and the Mayor buys me dinner.” My food comes right as I finish this sentence and it looks delicious.
The server says, “Would you like anything else?”
“No, this is perfect. Thank you kindly.” I reply as he walks back in.
Immanuel watches me take my first bite and says, “Gary has been real friendly around here. He’s new to office and still excited about his job. We’ll see how he’s doing with that in a month or 2. This town has changed a lot over the years. I’ve lived here all my life. I remember when this place next door was a hamburger shack. You could get the best burger you ever had for under a dollar. A dollar doesn’t buy you hardly anything today. When I was young, gasoline was only 23 cents a gallon.”
I set my sandwich down and say, “I remember taking road trips with my family as a child. One summer we drove all the way to southern Texas with my grandparents in a smoky station wagon. I remember gas being 99 cents. That was the cheapest I’ve ever seen it. A bottle of coke was only a quarter back then. I guess when you look at that ratio of inflation, the price of sugar water has rose at nearly twice the rate of petroleum. It seems like our country is addicted to both though and we’ll pay whatever they say.” He laughs at that and starts quoting the bible and talking about when Clinton was president how everything was so much better. I normally wouldn’t entertain such conversations but I listen respectfully and finish my sandwich. “I should be heading out now. I’d like to make it to Louisiana yet before dark and set up camp.” I say.
“You have about 7 or 8 miles to go then. You’ll find a truck stop off to your right as you cross the state line. I was going in for a piece of pie. Can I treat you to a piece before you leave?” He asks and gets up slowly from the table, using his cane.
I say, “That’s awfully kind but I should really hit the road. Thank you, Immanuel. I enjoyed our talk.”
“Alright then. Be safe now, Michael.” He says. With a painful hobble he walks into the deli as I get up to hop on my bike.
On the short ride back to the 61, a stray dog runs across the street right in front of a car and nearly gets hit. That would’ve been gruesome to witness. This has been an emotional afternoon. I’m looking forward to a good rest this evening. Down the road a few miles I come across a cow pasture and spot some mushrooms growing in the field. From here, they appear to be the psychedelic variety and I pull into a farmer’s road that ends at a gate, locked with a chain. Cattle stare and wonder. I jump the fence with a single leap and walk through the grass, kicking cow pies. I find a small mushroom patch growing from one and sure enough, these are Psilocybe Cubensis. I don’t need to take a spore print or check for the bluing of the stem when injured. I’ve cultivated this strain and know it well. I can’t be seen in this field, so I quickly gather 7 shrooms and jump the fence again. My first harvest as a mycologist yielded 13 fresh mushrooms quite similar to these. If dried, I would estimate they weighed about half an ounce. I ate all 13 fresh and blasted off into the outer realms of inner space. You could say I’m rather experienced but today’s stress would most likely be too much to think about tonight on a trip of even half that caliber. Unfortunately, I don’t have a paper bag to store these properly and stick the fungi in the outer pocket of my backpack. Luckily it seems I’ve escaped without detection and I’m back on the road.
It isn’t long before I reach the state line marker. I stop on the shoulder for a picture, lining up the shot with the historic south 61 sign framed between the posts of the ‘Welcome to Louisiana’ sign and the sunset in the background. Up the hill I find the truck stop Immanuel mentioned and pull in to buy a beer. My phone hooks up to a wifi connection and I post the picture to Instagram saying, “I made it to the 10th and final state of my tour tonight with the sunset. 40 miles to Baton Rouge!” I post that to my facebook wall and walk in to buy my beer. Looking at the map on my GPS, I see a body of water just south of here called Rosemound Lake. Maybe I could camp there and have a little fire to end this wild day. I throw the beer in my bag and head that way. Sleep comes over me fast though and the darkness sets in. I’m suddenly exhausted and spot a respectable place to put my tent in the cover of some thick trees. I don’t have the energy to continue, so I put my tent up and crack open my beer, sitting inside, writing with the red light of my headlamp illuminating the page. I take my lady from her case and play a version of my dear friend’s song, ‘My Guitar’s a Woman’ thanking this sweet instrument for having my back when I needed her most. I finish up and lay her down next to me, passing out on top of my journal with half a beer in my belly.