Finding a Hill in the Bay
An avid biker who's a new resident seeks out some challenging territory, finding few hills, but lots of other charms to keep him happily engaged.
- by John Dumoulin
If you're a novice, though, the Bay is the perfect place to ride. It's flat, there's little traffic, and the town's sharp angled intersections, canopied tunnels of live and red oak, and lush, overgrown vacant lots promise two things: there's a surprise around every corner and you're sure to get lost the first time out. Old town from Highway 90 deep west into Waveland is a warren of 100-year-old historic homes, 1950s brick ranchers, and California beach bungalows that would impress Malibu celebrities. But as Dr. Seuss wrote in his last philosophical book, "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose."*
Trek around the Bay during the day and you'll see one-level skyscrapers with elevators, beautifully manicured slab foundations, white-hulled Boston Whalers punctuating dark driveways to nowhere, and tens of construction crews resurrecting homes out of brambles. It's like watching the Travel and History channels at the same time. You'll pass the Bay's world-famous cerebral Zen Garden beaches and learn about pirate houses and world literary figures like Pearl Rivers.
The South Beach's boardwalk, especially, will take you as far as you have the energy to go. At dusk down the boulevard, invisible community piers are circled above and below by lights and reflections like a string of bright pearls around the neck of a beautiful ghost. If the night promises a new moon, the water will likely be speckled with flounder boat lanterns, so many that it's hard to see where the water stops and the dusk's horizon begins to show off the starred night sky.
The veteran, retired 4th Warder may prefer a simple pedal of vacant thought and a single-minded goal like completing the block so she can get back to the Saints game. But for working stiffs like me, a ride around the Bay is an opportunity to multitask. And I don't mean catching up on the latest Dow Jones podcast or a text-n-drive email search. Those are old school. Bike any time of the year and you can pre-soak your laundry while still wearing it. And the longer you ride, the more of this multitasking you can get done. During June and July, ride at exercise speeds and you can use your shirt (and your teeth sometimes) to seine the air for the not-so-elusive love bug, the Gulf Coast's equivalent to Dr. Doolittle's famous "push me-pull you" two-headed natural wonder.
I've found, too, that if you put a roll of quarters in each sock, they serve as leg weights. The coins make my calves look like Popeye's, but when I get to the end of the road — usually the western-most end of South Beach Boulevard — and drop the coins in the slots at the Silver Slipper, the ride back seems a breeze! Also, I like to drag a garden rake behind me on Highway 90 just after the Bay St. Louis Mardi Gras Parade. The longer I ride and the more beads I collect, the harder the workout. By the time I reach Waffle House, I'm thirsty and dragging a sea anchor the size of a Honda Fit, which forces me to stop — usually in front of Pops Corner Pub. Nothing lazy about this Magnolia, if you know what I mean!
No, you'll be hard pressed to find an exercise hill in Bay Saint Louis for a real work out. My advice is to try the entrance up St. Charles Street from South Beach first then "jump the hump" at the track at Central. Once you can do this without shifting from first to second gear you're ready to tackle the Matterhorn of biking in St. Louis: the Bay St. Louis Bridge.