DAY 98 – MONDAY, OCTOBER 14


VIDALIA TO BLACKHAWK

We woke up in Vidalia, Louisiana and got some work done on our laptops. The weather is cooler now and rain is still in the forecast for the next few days. We covered the mileage to Blackhawk yesterday afternoon. Blackhawk is just a point on the map, with no accommodations, but the Sydney A. Murray Hydroelectric Plant is nearby and Bill Murray (yes, a relation—Sydney’s son!) had arranged for us to spend our Blackhawk day there, meeting with site manager Tanya Richardson and some of her team.

Since we had already covered the distance there, though, we jotted out ahead a few more miles to compete with the weather, cycling in the rain to the Episcopal Church near Innes. Traffic wasn’t too bad, but we shadowed with the van due to the rain and poor visibility. We saw our first sugar cane fields this morning and it seems like they’re everywhere now. We also saw rice being farmed. I cycled over the Old River Control Structures which divert 30% of Mississippi River water over to the Red River then down the Atchafalaya. As a child growing up in Louisiana, you hear a lot about Old River, Morganza, and Bonnet Carre, and to some extent they feel like mythical creatures, whether heroic or monstrous, a Pegasus or a Medusa’s head—feats of engineering that are teetering on collapse but also holding our ecosystem together by a multitude of threads. Literally riding, human-powered, atop one of these structures now made me feel swallowed up in the grand scale of the Mississippi River and all its complex forces… and there’s still two more to go!

After landing in Innis, we dried off and hopped in the van to head back to meet Tanya at the Sidney A. Murray, Jr. Hydroelectric Station. She had some snacks waiting for us and we met some of the staff at the visitor center. We watched a VHS video of the planning and construction of the hydro plant. The video held up well despite being 30 years old. Tanya went to school for chemistry but found that a simple chemistry undergrad degree didn’t pay. She was making a living bartending and decided to go back to school for an engineering degree. Before coming on at the hydro plant, Tanya spent many years working for a pulp mill in Natchez. The paper industry was tough, with long hours, and it has changed in the past many years, so Tanya feels fortunate to have made the transition to her new post.

The day we visited the plant, they had shut things down for some maintenance work. We got to go down deep into the operation, see the machinery and visit to some folks who’ve been there since the plant opened over 30 years ago. The maintenance they are currently doing involves diving into the large turbines of the plant to gate them off from the water so some repairs can be made. It’s all so massive and incredible. The story of harnessing the power of the Mississippi River to make electricity to power the town of Vidalia is one I’m not going to really go into here today, but needless to say it’s a very cool story, a very impressive undertaking and a success that has new stories unfolding from it even still today. To be continued….