Day 16 – Mississippi Mud

I awoke to the sound of rain on my tent cover.

Not a problem, I thought. I am still high and dry. But I canceled my ambitious plans for an early-morning paddle on the Mississippi. I had developed a little bit of a cold, anyway, and did not feel up to it.

The rain, and the rain aftershocks caused by the wet tree leaves overhead, had pretty much ended by 8 a.m. I then ventured outside to find the “facilities”.

It costs $10 to camp at Great River Road, even in a tent. In exchange, you get a couple of electrical outlets at your site, and real bathrooms and showers with real running water. I suppose the price was OK, but so far, it did not seem like anyone wanted me to pay it. When I entered last night at about 9 p.m., the signs instructed campers to pick a site, and a ranger would be by to register you. I was not surprised that no one came by after 9 p.m., but I had expected someone would make me pay in the morning. So far, no sign of anyone.

The restrooms were nicer than I had expected for a campground, but there was still one problem with them: they were packed with mosquitoes. I had never seen so many ‘skeeters in such a small place—not even close.

This was going to require some sort of guerilla shower tactics.

I went back to my pickup outside—there were surprisingly few mosquitoes outside of the facilities—and grabbed the bare essentials. I made sure I had quick-change clothes, and mentally planned the quickest way to get in, get the job done, and get out.

I had to swat off a few before I could get in the shower, but as soon as the water was on, I found that I was safe. Mosquitoes love standing water, but a shower of hot pressurized water is deadly. The swarm retreated to the tile walls, where they sat and waited.

I counted at least 25 mosquitoes on the walls of the small shower. This is crazy, I thought. Disgusting, somehow. I started to have a change of heart about my relationship with Jerry. He’s not so bad, I thought. Unfortunately, I had already offed him the night before.

Well, eventually I will have to shut off the shower, I thought. I will lose my only protection. And they are right there waiting on me.

There is only one way out, I decided. A pre-emptive strike. Shock and awe.

So, I killed them all. While the water was still running, and they were trapped against the walls. It probably looked like I was doing some kind of Tae-moskee-do or something, as I slapped the walls in all directions as quickly as I could.

I don’t know if mosquitoes live longer than 2 days, or if I was doing the world any kind of favor, but I figured it was justifiable homicide. Obvious self-defense.

9 a.m., and still no ranger to collect my $10. Well, I’m certainly not going to wait around for him, I thought.

Instead of alligators, this state park had a 75-foot tower listed as its big attraction. Panoramic, 360-degree views of the river and the surrounding area, it advertised.

On the way out, I grabbed my camera and climbed the stairs to the top of the tower. I was greeted by a panoramic, 360-degree view of fog.

Nice. Overcast and foggy, with occasional rain. I hoped it would not keep this up all day.

It did.

After my morning coin-flip, I headed north for a ways along the Great River Road. I wanted to drive through the town of Alligator, MS, just because I liked the name.

According to my road atlas, there was an “other paved road” that headed east a few miles to Alligator. It was unnamed on the map, but ran from the town of Hillhouse to Alligator.

I was looking for a regular road sign with an arrow pointing toward Alligator, so at first I didn’t recognize the meaning of one county road name that was especially long. “Alligator Hill House Rd”, it said. What the heck is an Alligator Hill House? Just somebody’s house on Alligator Hill? A house on a hill for alligators?

I was a mile down the highway before I figured it out, and made a U-turn.

Though I had obviously found the correct road, I also found that it wasn’t necessarily paved, and it wasn’t any kind of main road. Rand & McNally don’t like white spaces on their maps. People will pay good money for maps, they figure, but white paper barely fetches a penny or two per page. So, if there is a space on a map that doesn’t really have anything worth showing—sparsely-populated farmland along the Mississippi, for example—they’ll draw something there anyway, to fill the space.

Not too far down the muddy road, I came to a fork. There were no signs to give direction, so I just picked the road that seemed closer to going in the right direction. Then, another fork. And another.

This didn’t really bother me at all, because I’ve always had a fairly good sense of direction, and I knew I just needed to go east. I felt that I was heading pretty much in that direction, though maybe a little bit too far north.

I finally did come to a town, and drove around to find an “Alligator” sign I could take a picture of. The first sign I came to was on the post office. “U.S. Post Office”, it said. “Duncan, MS”, it said.


I looked at my map. Duncan was there, but it was considerably south of Alligator. Looking at the point on the map where I had gotten on the Alligator-Hill House road, I realized that I had been heading a southeast instead of east-northeast.

Hmm. My internal navigator must be off.

Somewhere toward the back of my head is a little section of brain that keeps track of direction for me.

This is not unusual. I imagine it is fairly universal, particularly in men. It is one of the reasons men typically don’t ask for directions.

This section of brain subconsciously tracks what direction it appears I am facing, at all times. I don’t have to think about it; it is automatic. It is sort of like there is a little man, a Chief Navigation Officer or something, who does it on his own and is ready to give a report to Consciousness whenever needed.

His job is really pretty simple: starting from some fixed point where he knows which direction I am heading—my bed at home, for instance, or the north-south street in front of the house—he keeps track of every turn, which gives him a running tab of what direction we are traveling. It is a tedious job, but he is an accountant type and likes doing that kind of stuff.

If we are in Kansas, and all of the roads are laid out on a square grid, his job is really easy. If we’re heading north, and take 3 left turns in a row, he knows we are now facing east.

The job gets a bit harder when he’s not dealing with right angles, because then he has to estimate. Was that bend in the road 30 degrees, or 40? Still, if he gets off by a bit, it is usually pretty easy to fix the mistake by getting a new bearing. All he needs is the sun and a clock, or the North Star, or a familiar road or location that he knows the position of.

On a foggy, overcast day, in an unfamiliar state that seems to skimp on road signs, his job gets much harder. Even then, it usually does not matter much, because usually Consciousness has a set destination and has mapped out a route. On this day, there was no route. There is no destination point to reach by the end of the day. The plan was to just have no plan, and generally head east.

That can possibly make it a problem.

The Navigator is not concerned in the slightest, though. He is good at his job, and has rarely been wrong by much of a margin. It is just business as usual for him.

Then he gets a call from Consciousness. The Optic Center is reporting a sign for Duncan, and Processing claims that means they had been heading southeast. The Navigator looks at his notes. Southeast? He had been tracking their progress at east-northeast. He scratches his head, and shrugs it off. No damage done, he is assured. They are only a few miles from where they meant to be, and they now had a marked highway that they knew was heading north-northeast. The Navigator starts a new set of calculations based on that heading.

After a turn due east, they are on track and making decent progress. Consciousness decides to take a short side-trip to check out a university campus, and look for a Starbucks. The campus is hilly, with lots of curves in the road. Still, that lasts for only a few blocks, and then Motor Skills turns onto a street that the Navigator assures them is heading east again. After about a mile, they come back upon the highway, and follow the signs pointing east.

Then, a mile later, the Optic Center relays that they are passing the same exit for the university that they had taken earlier.

But that doesn’t make sense, the Navigator grumbles. That would mean—that has to mean we were traveling west on that street for a mile! 180 degrees off, and all in the space of maybe a dozen blocks!

He goes back over his notes, checking every turn. The numbers all add up—they always do—but it is impossible to know now whether he missed a turn, or made a bad estimate about how sharp a curve was, or something else. He sends an email off to Inner Ear, which at times has been helpful to him in determining turns and motion. The out-of-office reply states that Inner Ear’s systems are unreliable today because of a persistent cold.

Consciousness gives the Navigator a stern look as he walks by, but says nothing. Slightly rattled, the Navigator starts again based on the current easterly heading. He throws back a stiff drink to calm his nerves.

Progress has been inexplicably slow, and it is getting dark before they make it out of the state. The skies are still cloudy, so there are no stars or anything else to guide by. Still, the Navigator knows it should be a simple drive. There are no more side trips, and all they have to do is stay straight.

Optics spies a road sign that simply says “Egypt”. Not “Egypt City Limit”, or “Egypt County”, but just “Egypt”. Consciousness thinks this is funny, and tries to come up with some joke about making a wrong turn at Albuquerque. He calls Optics back, and they laugh along, noting that isn’t even an “Egypt” listed on the map along this road.

This information sets off alarms at Processing, which faxes a priority memo to all departments reminding them that the state of Mississippi does not put up road signs just for laughs. The memo highly recommends checking the map again, in case they were now way off course.

Optics scans the map, and finally sees Egypt listed lower down on the page. Processing confirms that they must have been going south, on the wrong road, for at least 30 minutes, and recommends having Motor Skills make immediate corrective maneuvers.

By now, the Navigator is flabbergasted. He double- and triple- and quadruple-checks his notes. He runs through the math again on his calculator, an abacus, and his fingers. He can’t find any explanation for the now-costly mistake.

Consciousness hand-delivers a letter to the Navigator, noting that he has had an unprecedented 3 Significant Errors today, and that it has had a negative affect on all departments. It closes with a reminder of the Work Expectations form the Navigator had signed, and threatens disciplinary action if the Significant Errors continued.

The Navigator has never had such a day. Years of stellar performance and trust, all thrown out the window in one day. He stares at his trusty notepad forlornly, and then rips out the erring pages and crumples them into a wad. He sits down heavily, and throws back a couple more stiff drinks.

Everyone is now a bit tense. Immune Systems are still occupied with a cold, Optics are scanning nervously for any more foreign country signs, and Consciousness is just a bit tired of it all.

Processing recommends taking a certain road just across the Georgia line to get back on the original highway. Optics sees a complicated intersection with 4 or 5 competing highways, but no sign for the one highway they are looking for. Consciousness calls down to the Navigator to see what he screwed up this time, but nobody answers. He sends a Temporary Thought to check on the Navigator in person. The Temp returns and reports that he found the Navigator passed out on his desk, drooling.

Consciousness has Motor Skills let out a long sigh. Optics, trying to be helpful, reports a sign for a local motel just ahead that advertises free wireless internet. Consciousness gives in, and orders Motor Skills to pull into the driveway.

The sign on the motel office door listed the office hours—8:30 to 5:00—and listed a phone number to call if it was outside those hours.

Odd hours for a motel, I thought. It was 6:30 in the evening, and the door was locked.

Whatever. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed the number. I was still slightly sick, I was tired, and I was lost, and I needed some way to hit the reset button. A couple of hours spent at a Starbucks, trying to get my website up and running, had put me about 100 miles behind where I had expected to be at that time—but had done little to actually fix the website. At least this way I could get out of this dreadful drizzle, get the website running, get some sleep, and figure out where that missing highway was.

The man who answered the phone was in the middle of dinner, at his house. He was willing to interrupt that and drive over if I was interested in paying $35 for a room.

This particular hotel—the Rainbow Inn—consisted of two buildings, one for smoking and one for non-smoking. The absentee proprietor, Bobby Seals, gave me the tour.

As far as I can tell, the non-smoking building was originally just a regular house. There were only 6 or 7 rooms for rent, and these were separated by a large, residential-style kitchen and a living room that doubled as the hotel office. The back door, which is the one that guests received a key to, opened into a 2-car carport.

Bobby showed me the room, which was nicer than I had expected, with pinewood walls that gave it a log-cabin feel. He then showed me the bathroom, which opened up into the hall, not into the room.

“Oh, so it is a communal bathroom?”

No, Bobby assured me; each of the other rooms had their own bathrooms inside, but this was the one room that did not have a direct door into the bathroom. He said that was something they had been wanting to change, but had not gotten around to yet.

I tried asking Bobby some leading questions to find out exactly what town I was in, without letting on to the fact that I really didn’t know where I was. The plan did not work, but then he handed me a business card that listed the address: 104 Rainbow Street, Winfield, Alabama.

So, if you are ever in Winfield, Alabama, the Rainbow Inn is a decent, pretty homey place to stay. But if you don’t like having a separate bathroom, don’t get room 203.

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