Circling and Cycling the Mobile Bay
At Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile, Alabama, you can have your oysters ”fried, stewed, or nude.” We have them all ways along with baskets of fried green tomatoes, fried pickles, beers, bread pudding and key lime pie. We’re toasting to the beginning of a new adventure- a 6 day circumnavigation of the Mobile Bay on bicycles.
Our family is here from Pennsylvania along with friends from Michigan. We’re utilizing the Alabamas Coastal Connection, (www.alabamascoastalconnection.com)
a 130-mile scenic byway highlighting the resources and attractions on the southern tip of the state. Back in 2009, it was designated a National Scenic Byway. You can drive it in a car, but we want to savor it, therefore, we’re cycling. The Convention & Visitor’s Bureaus helped us tremendously with arranging our accommodations, securing our bikes and put new meaning to the phrase, “Southern Hospitality.”
We’re not planning terrific miles- hard core cyclists can do what we are doing in two days. But it isn’t just about the exercise, it’s mostly about the experience.
It’s about visiting shipyards and watching them work on the actual Pirates of the Caribbean boat and stopping in the hometown of Forest Gump’s buddy, Bubba…Bayou La Batre, (where the author lives), and watching shrimpers come and go, and buying a Bubba Gump baseball cap. It’s also about strolling through beautiful Bellingrath Gardens amongst 250,000, 100-yr old azalea bushes in full bloom- 6 feet high of solid pink.
We cross a long bay bridge to get to Dauphin Island and watch pelicans dive straight down like torpedoes to spear fish.
On the island are monstrous ancient midden mounds, left behind from the very old Indians, with trails that snake amongst giant live oaks with weeping moss like Mother Willow in Pocahontas.
We visit Fort Gaines and listen to canons being shot by re-enactors and visit an Estuarium (an aquarium on the estuary) and feed baby shrimp to the underside mouth of a helmet crab as it slowly pulls it in like a conveyor belt. We stroll in a gorgeous pine forest at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, stop at a roadside stand to eat boiled Cajun peanuts, and cycle along muddy bayous where there are dead boats turned upside down and swamped with marsh grass growing in them, for life down here can be hard.
And oh, we ride our bikes too- and let the warm sun kiss and tan our faces and listen to the kids giggle and sing like youngsters.
We are not roughing it on this adventure but stay in hotels, condos, inns, per advice from Tourism. Our family’s gear fits in one bike trailer that we attach to a rental bike.
Ferry rides are always fun and the Mobile Bay Ferry across to the Fort Morgan Peninsula is no exception.
Once there, we hike through beautiful Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and look for rare pitcher plants and dig our toes in sand so white and sugary fine that you MUST wear sunglasses out there.
Lunch is at “The Hangout” in Gulf Shores, the scene of one of the largest music festivals in the country- where they have 100’s of Pez containers decorating the walls, as well as Troll dolls and metal lunch buckets and we dine on “Cuban cigars” made with spicy rolled up pork.
There is an 11 miles of paved multi-use trails called the Hugh Braynon Backcountry Trails in Gulf State Park that are a joy to ride fast through. They snake through forests of dripping Spanish moss and alligator ponds. In nearby Orange Beach, we visit the Indian & Sea Museum run by a family of seamen. Half the museums’ contents seem to be stuff they caught including what EXPLODED out of 450 pound grouper fish. When they are brought up quickly, the fish get the bends and “their stomachs and eyes explode” our docent says…everything they ate and swallowed comes out whole.
She tells us stories of local fishermen who got a C hook accidently implanted in their hands.as their long line was being reeled out and suddenly found themselves under the surface, trying to take their knives and cut the hook out. Or not.
We could listen for hours, but we have miles to go. But we take a few hours off to switch up our sports and kayak in winding Graham Creek that empties out onto Wolf Bay. A show of six pelicans dive bomb fish, so close they startle us as they drop out of the sky only a few yards away.
So for dinner at Tacky Jack’s, I decide on grouper and as I eat his avacado-encrusted flesh, I wonder what he might have had in his gut at the moment of death. Only two days left until we reach the head of the bay and complete our circle, and by the way, we’re all prettily tanned, besides already quite smart about the Alabama Gulf Coast/Mobile Bay.
As we begin to complete our circle around the Bay, we make a stop at the Weeks Bay Reserve to learn about “Hurricane Balls” -massive 3 foot long balls of small sticks that cling together during a hurricane (much like tumbleweed) and grow in size as the wind tosses them. And there’s such a thing as Fish Maggots that get inside fish that are caught on a long line and eat it from the inside out, leaving just the skin, if you don’t haul your fish up in time.
Tonight, in the pretty little town of Fairhope, whose downtown trees are completely covered in gold fairy lights, a white-haired man in a long trench coat, pulls a pitch pipe out of his pocket and inserts it into his mouth. Suddenly, he belts out an Italian opera at the tops of his lungs and we are so surprised. Throughout the course of our wonderful closing meal at Pinzone’s Italian Restaurant, we are serenaded, and conclude with a toast to yet another successful adventure. We’re leaving here with not only a vast storehouse of knowledge about this beautiful and rich area, but also made some great friends of these friendly Alabamians.