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 both commented that our bikes seemed to weigh more than they ever had, likely a result of inadequate training and skewed perception. Additionally, Jack announced that he was lugging around the water purification equipment for us both, which he reported weighed 88 pounds by itself.
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 – Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow). Our rollout had actually been pretty ceremonial, because we almost immediately decided to stop at the waterfront park on the Mississippi River. Where are we? Where are we going? What are we doing anyway?
We studied maps and decided that our first move would be 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.
We stopped a nice lady walking 4 pugs for breakfast recommendations. She mentioned at least 4 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 very 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.
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 bike lane finally emerged, thoroughly littered with debris, but the lane got cleaner with each mile away from the urban area.
We took to US61N for a while, and eventually ducked east on SR956. This road has no shoulder but also has 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 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.
Here in mid September, the temperatures are still high, around 90F, and the humidity also high. That, coupled with 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 the 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.
The route joins with SR10 and took us into the town of Jackson LA. A Blue Bunny ice cream sign led us immediately to the tour’s first (and, in hindsight, its only) milkshake at the local drug store, which we enjoyed at an oldtime barstool counter.
We were planning to find a nearby bicycle hostel and tent for the night, so an early dinner was prescribed. Dave’s Pizza, just down the road, called to us, but we found it closed. Some big raindrops 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 the 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.
We waited until 3:30pm, checking the radar. No end in sight. In fact, the rain cells seemed to be regenerating themselves on top of our position instead of clearing out. Finally around 3:50pm, it lightened a little and then a little bit more. We took the opportunity immediately 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 – fairly miserable passage with no shoulder, rumble strips, and a steady flow of logging trucks. As before, though, all drivers acted courteously around us.
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 reservation. 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 enthusiast. 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 bike touring stories.
Somehow, Perry made us feel like honored guests, too, simply because we were touring cyclists. It’s as if she thoroughly understands and appreciates the special nature and challenges of bicycle touring.
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 surprise that Perry was preparing a vegetarian feast, a bean stew over brown rice (she ended up adding 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 mentioned, with a laugh, that Jack and I were “prison company,” which cracked me 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!).
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 loud 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 frazzled when they showed up!
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 than this?
Perry told us of one touring cyclist who had discovered a broken spoke while at her hostel. The cyclist had evidently broken down into tears. Through the tears, the cyclist had sobbed, “That’s why I came on this trip – to overcome this kind of adversity!” These are the kinds of observations that Perry seems to relish. What a cool lady.
Without question, today was a wonderful return to the touring way of life.