NT01: A Return to Touring in Louisiana

16 09 2014

Natchez Trace Tour Day #1
Baton Rouge, LA to Perry’s Bicycle Hostel near Jackson, LA
Today: 45.3 miles  Cumulative this tour: 45.3 miles

Wow starting a new tour.  How did we get here?

Last night, Linda, Jack and I canvassed the roads around our motel in Baton Rouge, and eventually determined that there is no reasonable way for a bicyclist to get downtown from the eastern area.

As a result, early this morning, Linda took us and our gear down to the waterfront and found an empty parking area to use as a departure point.  Jack and I joked that our bikes seemed to weigh more than they ever had.  Additionally, Jack made sure I knew he was lugging around water purification equipment for us both, which purportedly weighed about 88 pounds all by itself.

Final readying in downtown Baton Bouge

Linda took a few pictures as we rolled out, then departed for a long solo drive into Florida for continued golfing and resorting (see The Right Road).  Our rollout had been ceremonial, for the camera, because we almost immediately stopped at the waterfront park on the Mississippi River.  Where are we?  Where are we going?  What are we doing anyway?  Are we really on tour again?

Our first move was to find the origin of the Great Rivers South route at the courthouse.  We did so by rolling north a little bit and finding 4th Street N.

Baton Rouge waterfront park

Baton Rouge waterfront park

Baton Rouge waterfront park

A nice lady walking 4 pugs helped us with breakfast recommendations.  She mentioned a handful of places but we only heard the first one: Poor Boy Lloyd’s just down the street. Lloyd’s is a locally famous place open 24 hours and near the riverfront.  We had some tasty eggs and grits (plus ham for me) and enjoyed the atmosphere plenty.  There was even a shrine to the LSU Tigers in one corner, offering up team trinkets for sale.

Early morning Baton Rouge

Poor Boy Lloyd's

Poor Boy Lloyd's

Our Adventure Cycling Association maps led us north on Scenic Road, which is tight no-shoulder passage with moderate local traffic.  Eventually we passed a number of sprawling Exxon Mobil oil refineries.  A shoulder finally emerged, thoroughly littered with debris, but the lane got cleaner with each mile away from the urban area.

North out of Baton Rouge

Wide shoulder but lots of debris up SR61.

Exxon Mobil refineries

We took to US61N for a while, and eventually ducked east on SR956.  This road has no shoulder but very light traffic, except for the occasional logging truck. All drivers we encountered were courteous.

At one point we stopped on a bridge and Jack found a tape measure good for 26′ feet, which seemed curious – usually they are for 25′.  Jack used it to measure the height from the bridge to the water below, and we both cracked up when the water was exactly 26′ down.

26' tape measure

Perfect for the job

The heat, humidity, and our general lack of fitness made for some efforted riding.  We stopped momentarily at the Audubon Historic Park, and then again at a nature conservancy.  I liked that we were already starting to re-establish our way of touring, regrouping often, taking time to look around and savor our situation.

At the nature conservancy, we saw a sign for an “overlook” down a trail, so we both ventured in for a peek.  The walk in the woods was nice, but after visiting Utah and Colorado 2 years ago, Jack and I had to laugh at what was called an overlook here. We both agreed that Jack’s backyard offers a better view.

Beautiful riding along the way

We saw lots of these guys around - they're called banana spiders

The route joins with SR10 and took us into the town of Jackson LA.  A Blue Bunny ice cream sign led us to the tour’s first (and, in hindsight, its only) milkshake at the local drug store, which we enjoyed at an oldtime barstool counter.

Our plan was to find a bicycle hostel and tent for the night.   For an early dinner, Dave’s Pizza down the road called to us, but we found it closed.  Some big raindrops then started to fall, so we quickly backtracked to a nearby Subway for a light dinner of 1/2 sandwiches.

The skies really opened up.  While we ate, heavy heavy rains pounded the area for something like 90 minutes, maybe more.  We could hardly believe the amount of water falling from the sky.

We finished our sandwiches and considered our options.  It was still some 6 or 7 miles to the hostel.  We could not ride in this rain.  Of course, we COULD ride in it, but the problem is one of safety.  With no shoulder, drivers were going to have a hell of a time seeing us adequately.  We also considered that it might be very difficult to set up our tents in such a deluge.

Will it ever stop?

We waited until 3:30pm, checking the radar.  No end in sight.  In fact, the rain cells seemed to be regenerating themselves over our position instead of clearing out.  Finally around 3:50pm, it lightened a little and then a little bit more.  We took the opportunity and spun a mile up the road to a convenience store for “tent food” for the evening.  Almost miraculously, the rains continued to hold off, and we completed the final 6 miles to the hostel.  Four of those miles were south on SR68 – somewhat miserable passage with no shoulder, rumble strips, and a steady flow of logging trucks.  As before, though, all drivers acted courteously around us.

Check out the luna moth on the wall by my bike.

The hostel was marked conspicuously with a mounted bicycle out front – this must be the place! Two months earlier, Jack had spoken with host Perry, who had indicated to him that we could generally show up without reservations.  A few minutes of searching around the property, and we finally found Perry’s residence.

To generate a brief description of Perry is really a pointless exercise, but I will try.  We found her to be a thoroughly delightful, witty, generous, and hospitable bicycle nut.  She has done this type of bicycle hostel work for more than 12 years, and seems to revel in the meeting of people, the study of personalities, and the sharing of bicycle knowledge and touring stories.

Somehow, Perry made us feel like honored guests, too, just because we were touring cyclists.  It’s as if she thoroughly understands and appreciates the special nature and challenges of bicycle touring.

Setting up at Perry's

Perry explained to me what that little peg on my frame was for - hanging the chain while fixing a rear flat. You learn something every day.

She had actually been expecting two touring cyclists, but they were not us!  She handled it in stride.  When she asked us into her kichen, we realized with suprise that Perry was preparing a vegetarian feast, a bean stew over brown rice (with added quinoa to stretch it for us) plus salad and sweet tea.  What unbelievable hospitality – Jack and I have never encountered such a welcoming “camp” in all our years of touring.

While waiting for the other cyclists to arrive, we did a whole lot of excellent chatting with Perry out on her porch.  She is a wonderful talker and flits from topic to topic.  At one point she joked that Jack and I were “prison company,” which cracked us up.  That’s a really good phrase.

We took a tour of her property, including the bicycle frame build shop she operates in her garage (a nice Surly LHT was in progress).  I even managed an outdoor shower at a wooden booth set up next to the woods, complete with on-demand propane-heated hot water (works great!).

Enjoying the afternoon with Perry

Jack talking with Perry. Look at the beautiful grounds behind.

Peter and Neal finally showed up a little bit past dusk, looking bedraggled.  They’d missed the hostel entrance and had to backtrack, and were a little frazzled at the traffic out on SR68.  They both rode lightweight racing bikes and were pulling trailers.  Both wore racing togs proclaiming colorful allegiance to the Florida Gators.  Headed from St Augustine FL to Colorado, now 12 days in.

The five of us started in on the delicious dinner, and were soon joined by resident renter Bob.  Some very fine conversation followed while we all simultaneously watched America’s Got Talent (both Perry and Jack are devotees).  We learned that Peter and Neal are considered “elite amateur” cyclists on the collegiate racing circuit.  This was their first tour and they typically were covering around 100 miles each day.  No wonder they looked bedraggled when they showed up!

Delicious dinner, good conversation, and America's Got Talent

We also learned that Bob was in local training for certification as a helicopter pilot, 2 weeks into a 2 year program.  He faced one of his first lessons including actual piloting in the morning.  It all sounded pretty exciting to me.

Brownies for dessert.  Does it get any better?

Perry told us of one touring cyclist who had discovered a broken spoke while at her hostel.  The cyclist had evidently broken down in tears.  But through the tears, the cyclist had blurted out, “That’s why I came on this trip (to overcome such adversity).”  You just have to appreciate Perry’s observances.

Without question, today was a fantastic return to the touring way of life.

Florida Lounging

10 09 2014

Linda and I are finishing up the golf-centric portion of our Florida road trip.  For me, the focus will very soon turn to our Natchez Trace Tour.

It would have been preferable to experience the bike tour up front. As it is, we’ve been golfing and eating and lounging at Waldorf Astorias and Four Seasons. I have a feeling that tent camping will be quite the contrast.


Departing from PGA National Resort

I’ve managed 2 meager rides here in Florida: one as part of an SUV tire replacement process in Palm Beach Gardens, and the other a 25 mile unloaded spin from PGA National resort to the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, which retraced along the A1A route Jack and I took last year.  Other than that, various fitness room spin machines are about as much preparation as I’m getting. 

I met a super friendly guy here at the Four Seasons who is avid about cycling, interested in touring.  Together we spent some fine minutes talking gear. His enthusiasm is great and buoys my own.


A new friend at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach

Can’t wait to get started, but it is going to be interesting this time around.

Last Minute Training

17 08 2014

Our Natchez Trace tour is looming in front of us, and I’ve been busy wandering around Alaska and Canada and Europe eating decadent foods. Time to jerk into training mode.

We got home from London last Friday night. On impulse, I woke up Sunday morning and jumped on the Surly for a crank up Bush Highway and out by Saguaro Lake. It’s 31 miles and 2000 feet of ascent, all before breakfast, where I met Jesse at Phil’s Filling Station. Here in Arizona in August, it is the monsoon season. Morning temps hit the usual 95F but the humidity is significantly high, around 30 or 40% RH. By the time I arrived, my legs were mush and the whole body completely overheated.

Phil’s serves an excellent American breakfast, sort of a 50′s diner place. Service was good too. Of course, it’s always a pleasure to meet with Jesse and discuss world politics and medicine and technology and where ever else the conversation goes.

This horse sculpture in just off Saguaro Boulevard in Fountain Hills. You can see the town's famous fountain in action behind it.

Unfortunately, I then had to ride another 20 miles home, with temps soaring. This was the very hottest ride I’ve ever experienced. About 105F, high humidity, and no breezes except for self-created ones. I rode in “heatstroke protection” mode the whole way home, going easy and stopping often to down water.

On McDowell road, while I sat with a water bottle, a lone cyclist emerged from the other direction. As he passed, he called out, “Hey old school! Nice steel frame!” which really made me grin.

So, while sort of a hair-brained plan to go so far in such heat, I’m happy I did it anyway. My conclusion is that I just might be able to dive headlong into this tour without much training, even if it hurts.

Once again, as a reminder, I have turned off the comments to this blog.  You can thank the spammers.

Tour Plan: Deep South and Tennessee Valley

15 07 2014

It looked like there would be no tour for 2014, but in the end, almost predictably, lunacy has prevailed.

Jack and I plan to explore the Deep South and Tennessee Valley this fall, following a combination of Adventure Cycling’s Great Rivers South route and their Underground Railroad route.   I think we’re going to call it our Natchez Trace tour, but it could also be called the Bible Belt Tour.  The plan, rough as it is at the moment, looks something like this:

Aside from touring the historic deep south, we hope to enjoy riding along the Natchez Trace.  It appears there are lots of camping options, including some “bicycle-only” campgrounds.  From some of the crazyguy accounts, it sounds like we can expect beauty, humid heat, friendly people, and mosquitoes.  I’m not sure if we’ll get any fall leaf colors.

From there we’ll do some up-and-down hill climbing through Tennessee, then work our way up through the Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky.  Our planned finish just south of Evansville Indiana will take us to my dear in-laws home.

What should be especially interesting is my thorough lack of bike fitness at the moment, having only ridden a few hundred miles this year.  I took the unloaded Surly out for a spin – more like a grind – around Usery Mountain this morning.  Now hurting, I can’t even imagine loading that thing up.

Nevertheless, I’m excited to have this tour on the horizon.

By the way, I’ve now prohibited the posting of comments to this blog. It is a sad way of surrendering to the spammers, but the strongest barricade I can think of.