Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust!

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust Day 7, December 9, 2005
 

10 riders set out on a truly cold and windy day from the parking lot of the former Wal-Mart in Pass Christian. Riders arrived at 6:00 am; but due to the cold weather, we waited until 10:00 to depart. Our destination was Yankie Stadium in Biloxi where, it’s now hard to believe, we began seven days, and almost 300 miles earlier.

Most riders were loaded with Mardi Gras beads for the crowds, lending a festive atmosphere to the event. Due to the media attention we have been receiving, phone calls and donations were constant throughout the day.

The scenery along the coast road was bleak. Not much has changed in the days since Hurricane Katrina. The constant cold wind added to the starkness of the landscape, lending a dimension that normally would have dampened our spirits. However, this was a day of triumph and nothing could have changed that.

We stopped and took pictures at “The Friendship Tree,” an enormous 300 year-old live oak with a gazebo built into the branches on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi – Gulf Coast Campus. Like the people on the Gulf Coast, this giant was gnarled, bent, damaged and broken, but beautiful and very much alive.

Coca Cola sent one of their three festive Christmas tractor-trailer rigs loaded to the gills with bicycles. The truck joined our caravan and was equipped with speakers that blared Christmas music as we pedaled along.

About halfway through the ride we were met by United States Congressman Gene Taylor from Mississippi. Congressman Taylor stopped to thank us for our efforts, and briefly mounted one of the bicycles as we chatted.

We resumed our journey, throwing beads to citizens and construction workers. Everyone we met along the way seemed to applaud us. Cars honked, workers waved from tall buildings, and cleanup crews cheered from the roadside.

As the caravan pulled into Biloxi mid-afternoon, we were exultant, although, like kids in summer camp, we had formed a bond and were not at all anxious to quit. When we turned the corner at Beau Rivage Casino, our police escorts all turned on their sirens. At this point the Coastguard, who has been such an integral part of our effort, joined us, pulling trailers loaded with their boats. It was, in every sense of the word, a parade. The rally at Yankie Stadium capped this phase of the event, complete with speeches by local officials and representatives from Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army, and refreshments.

To see photos, click here.

Though the ride itself is over, the drive for 100,000 bicycles stretches through Christmas. The ride has accomplished its mission: to draw attention to this worthy cause. Everyone on this team agrees – if we need to ride another 300 miles, we will.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day 6, Dec. 8, 2005
 

Day six began in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Waveland, MS. Eleven riders took off in the warmer, cloudy weather. As in previous days, we had new riders and some who have ridden the entire way every day. Some riders who had previously ridden called and wanted to ride again. We debriefed the new riders on what they were likely to encounter along the route, realizing that we had become somewhat immune to the level of devastation ourselves. Seeing this for the first time is shocking.

We headed to Bay St. Louis and, once again, crowds waved and cheered. We encountered a mass of bicycles mangled by the storm in what used to be downtown Bay St. Louis – it was sobering. We took pictures at the bay where the bridge is destroyed. Interestingly, there is no ferry service because the mass of debris beneath the surface of the bay makes navigation impossible. We were able to cross only in the Coastguard boats with their sophisticated sonar.

The caravan again was escorted around a circuitous land route to rejoin the bikes and riders delivered by the Coastguard to Pass Christian on the other side of the bay. We rode into downtown Pass Christian with bikes and the Salvation Army truck only. What used to be downtown Pass Christian is now an assembly of mobile homes known as “The Village.” The Village includes a makeshift town hall, police station, library, daycare, bank and numerous tents for temporary housing. It resembles a temporary military installation in a third world country. This attempt at normalcy is a testimony to the resilient spirit of these people.

What is not evident to the casual observer is the fact that among this community on a regular basis, many influential people, celebrities, corporations, foundations, and philanthropists of every shape and size show up to determine how they can possibly make a difference. Ironically, most of the attention in the wake of Katrina was focused on New Orleans. New Orleans was, undoubtedly, a tragedy. The Gulf Coast of Mississippi, on the other hand, was obliterated.

To see photos, click here.

Our ride will continue tomorrow and finish at Yankee Stadium in Biloxi where we began a week ago; but the drive to raise enough money for 100,000 bicycles will continue through Christmas.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day 5, Dec. 7, 2005
 

Day five was yet another cold and cloudy day, but we were anxious and energized to get underway. We assembled at the Waveland Wal-Mart which has been recently rebuilt after the storm. Ten riders took off down Highway 90 towards the Louisiana line.

Darwin, with WPMI channel 15, an NBC affiliate out of Mobile, called just before we reached the State Line and wanted to join us. We broke for lunch and waited for Darwin. While we were eating, we hobnobbed with construction crews and again took advantage of novel photo ops with our bikes and some construction equipment. Again, citizens and construction workers showered us with praise and money.

Darwin mounted a bike and joined us on this leg. Coincidentally, two cross-country cyclists from France, on their way to New Orleans also rode along.

At the Pearl River Bridge on the Louisiana state line, we crossed. As Darwin was interviewing some riders, we struck up a conversation with a local fisherman, Julian Bounds, who donated $100. Bounds is from Carriere, MS.

We rode through Pearlington, MS which was as devastated as the rest of the area; however the devastation was not evident until we detoured into what used to be the town itself. Seeing the destruction, Donald Glover, who was driving the Wal-Mart truck in the caravan, donated $20 and set up a challenge to 7,500 other Wal-Mart truck drivers.

To see photos, click here.

Our media coverage is picking up steam, as we has numerous calls from companies, individuals, and the members of the media, all wanting to ride, cover, or donate.

We rode back to the Waveland Wal-Mart at the end of the day, cold and tired again; but energized by the outpouring of attention and generosity.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day 4, Dec. 6, 2005
 

The caravan assembled at the Wal-Mart in Gulfport early in the frosty cold morning.

Temperatures were in the low 30s. Yet again, Mother Nature handed us another reminder of her authority. Nine brave riders began the journey. Several have ridden the entire course. Before we departed we received a call from the “Big D and Bubba Show,” a nationally syndicated radio program. We performed the Wal-Mart cheer for the audience.

At a military checkpoint, we swapped bike helmets for army helmets for a fun photo op, complete with bikes on HumVees with Christmas wreaths.

We gave out candy along the route to construction workers – almost like a Mardi Gras parade.

When we reached Pass Christian, we pulled up into the former Wal-Mart parking lot which, along with the rest of the Pass, was obliterated. It was a sobering moment. At Pass Christian Harbor, we again relied on the Coast Guard to ferry riders across as the bridge is completely destroyed. Carl E. Woodward Company surprised us with a check when we encountered them here. We dropped off the riders, and the caravan took a circuitous route through Waveland to the other side to pick up the riders. We experienced a small mishap on this leg, as we seem to have lost our riders. Finally, we got a call on the cell phone from the Coast Guard and were able to locate the bikes and riders.

To see photos, click here.

As we were waiting for the riders, a representative from the Mayor’s office in Bay St. Louis pulled up and arranged for us to meet with the Mayor, as well as the Mayor from Waveland who is planning to actually ride with us in the morning.

American Family Radio, locally 91.7, also accosted us in Bay St. Louis and requested some time in the morning to do a piece on our efforts.

We arrived at the former Waveland Wal-Mart, also destroyed by Katrina, and pulled into the parking lot. Again, local citizens were drawn to the caravan; and everybody donated money to this great cause.

Once again, though still tired and cold, we made the journey.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day 3, Dec. 5, 2005
 

Day 3 began at 4 a.m. at the Northrop Grumman Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.. Riders were decked in Christmas gear as on previous days. The Salvation Army was on site, and kettles were filled so rapidly they had to be continuously emptied. An inter-office challenge was underway at Northrop Grumman; and one department alone donated almost $1,000.

The rain began at 4:30 followed by a cold front. This presented yet another challenge to the riders who included some Northrop Grumman officials on this leg.

The procession left the shipyard in the rain and headed to Ocean Springs, stopping several times to dry off, change clothes, and drink hot coffee. As we dismounted at the Wal-Mart in Ocean Springs, a woman approached one of the Salvation Army officials and presented us with a check for $1,000.

The rain finally abated when we arrived at Ocean Springs, but temperatures in the 40s and high winds pummeled the riders.

On this leg of the journey, many people stopped the caravan to donate money. We rode to the bridge, now destroyed, where we were met by the Coast Guard who ferried us across the bay to Biloxi. The warm cabins of the boats were a welcome relief.

We disembarked at the Isle of Capri Casino on Biloxi’s Point Cadet. The casino itself is under reconstruction. We joined hundreds of construction workers in the makeshift cafeteria where we enjoyed a buffet lunch.

After lunch we proceeded down Highway 90 towards Gulfport. This section of Highway 90 is officially closed and we were escorted by MDOT along the route. Again, people cheered, waved, shouted encouragement, and donated money.

In perspective, all the people who donated money had, themselves, lost their homes and more.

We stopped for photo ops at the Hurricane Camille Memorial and other historical sites on this stretch of road, also mostly destroyed by Katrina.

To see photos, click here.

At one point there were electrical workers from rebuilding power lines. When we told them what we were doing, they all donated money. It was extremely gratifying.

We arrived at our destination, the intersection of Highway 90 and Highway 49 in Gulfport, in the afternoon. We were wet, cold, tired; but again we were buoyed by the incredible support and outpouring of generosity along the way.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day 2, Dec. 4, 2005
 

In the early hours of day two, some of the riders from the previous day and several new recruits departed the Pascagoula Wal-Mart and headed east towards the Alabama state line. Weather was perfect; and the caravan was met with as many cheers and as much enthusiasm as the day before.

Officials from Bayou La Batre, the hardest-hit area in Alabama, met us at the state line where we exchanged high-fives and high jinx. After a brief rest, we turned back towards Mississippi. Just inside the state line we assembled for a photo op on the slab of what used to be the Trinity Pentecostal Tabernacle Church – a grim reminder of Katrina’s devastation.

Already saddle-sore and weary, riders encountered an incline in the roadway on this stretch of road. Barely noticeable when driving a car, this long hill added a new dimension to the journey. Some riders walked their bikes and conversation ebbed somewhat. The incline itself seemed a metaphor for the work and dedication that has gone into this incredible project.

We arrived at our destination, the Northrop Grumman Shipyard at day’s end. We were met by corporate security and law enforcement who escorted us into one of the largest shipyards in the world. It was an awesome feeling to be in the heart of a facility that manufactures ships that defend this great country – a fitting end to another great day.

To see photos, click here.

Footnote from the support team, volunteers from Little Rock, AR, compiling these reports and photos: Working from early morning till end-of-day; we spent the entire morning trying to find internet service along the Gulf Coast. We finally found good service at PJ’s coffee shop. While we were here, a patron noticed one of our team member’s Salvation Army shirt, asked about the cause, and donated twenty dollars. Experiences like this have, gratefully, become common.

 

Wal-Mart Bikes or Bust: Day One, Dec 3, 2005
 

Yankee Stadium, Biloxi, MS. 28 riders, mostly Wal-Mart managers met with local officials, media, representatives of local corporations, and volunteers just before lunch. The excitement and enthusiasm was palpable. It is hard to imagine that this small group, accompanied by an RV, and Wal-Mart truck and police escort was embarking on the first leg of an effort that has never before been attempted – to raise enough money for 100,000 bicycles for children on the ravaged Gulf Coast. Never before have this many bicycles been assembled to be given to a needy cause.

The caravan was met with cheers, waves, and gratitude as we pedaled through dilapidated residential areas, devasted commercial districts, and debris-strewn countryside. Seeing all the bicycles, children all along the route ran to the street corners hollering: “ I want a bike!” Construction workers stopped their work and stared and waved in admiration. A soldier at one check point stood at attention and saluted the procession.

These were not professional riders. Moreover, most had not been on a bike in years. Two had had open heart surgery. On one causeway which was a major hill, some had to walk their bikes. But nobody quit.
To see photos, click here.

At the end of the day, the caravan stopped in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Pascagoula. Bodies were exhausted, but spirits were high. Clear Channel radio called to report that donations were pouring in. A woman in Ocean Springs walked up to the local store manager and, spontaneously presented him with a check for $3,000. We experienced this type of outpouring all along the route during what could only be described as an incredible day.

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