It’s 7:15 a.m. at the Morgan City Holiday Inn, and I’ve just dropped off my bag to be trucked out to Gonzales and delivered to my next hotel room by the loving and dedicated hands of Larry and Taffy. I’m pretty much out of energy already, simply from waking up, getting dressed, and filling and dropping off my bag. It’s taking effort just for me to remember where the hotel lobby is, much less how to get to breakfast from there. It’s then that I decide I’d better not eat a heavy breakfast, or I might just fall asleep on my bike halfway to the first rest-stop. And so when I finally do reach the breakfast buffet, I load my plate up with nothing but fruit. Well… fruit and one big scoop of a sort of Cajun-spiced hash browns with eggs and bacon mixed in, but potatoes and bacon sometimes count as fruit, so it was OK.
It’s now 7:30 a.m. I’ve just washed back my plate of melon, grapes, and bacon-fruit with a chug of chocolate milk, and I figure I may as well grab my bike and head out for the morning briefing before we roll out. I head back to the hotel room, take one last, longing look at my bed and grab my Camelbak and bike. On the way to the briefing, I pass by the hotel’s ice machine and fill the bladder on my Camelbak… mmm ice cold water for the next 40 miles. From there it’s a quick walk and a tricky descent of some stairs in my cleats and I’m with the rest of the group.
I reapply sunscreen, fill my Gatorade bottle, and grab a few extra Gu packets, looking for the espresso flavored ones with extra caffeine (I feel like I’m going to need them today), and I try to pay attention as Alan gives the morning briefing. Unfortunately, all I really hear is “mumble, mumble, shoulder, mumble, mumble, lunch, mumble joints, mumble.” Yeah, today’s shaping up like one of those days. Before long, the briefing’s over and it’s time to get on the bikes. We roll out as a group, slowly, and I’m thinking that even this slow pace feels a bit too plucky for me this morning — however am I going to survive the day? As we roll to a stop at a red light, something finally breaks me out of my funk; it’s Brad on my left shouting “whoah!” as his cleat sticks to his pedal and he topples over in a classic clipless fall. Lying on his side now, he still can’t get his cleat loose from the pedal. And as we all begin to realize that he’s not hurt, we all start to laugh at his struggles, as a couple of others riders moved in to try to free him from his predicament. After a minute or so, Brad was able to get himself vertical, and we were off once again down the road.
And once we got moving down the road, boy were we moving. At some point, Rick worked his way up to the front, and as the big Clydesdale does when he gets up front, he started pulling that beer truck. Before long our train was rolling at about 22 MPH, and we maintained that pace all the way into the first rest stop. All of my early morning drag-ass feelings were long gone by that point, and I was ready to roll through the day.
And roll we did, not quite as hard as in the first leg, but we were still pushing a good pace up to our second rest-stop, a tailgate stop. Shortly after passing a no bicycles road sign, we surprisingly rolled up on and nearly missed the stop, as it was set up a couple of miles short of where it was supposed to be. It’s a good thing those Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles are hard to miss, so we were able to turn in at the last second to top off our bottles. At least most of us were able to turn in.
Brad, who was pulling the group at the time shot past the turn and had to come back against traffic. And Rick slipped on some of the gravel in the parking area as he turned in and went down in our second clipless fall of the day. He was unhurt, though his right side and his shiny SRAM shifters were covered in a patina of white dust. Bottles topped off, we left the tailgate stop and rode on up into Vacherie, where we caught up with Alan, Dana, and the HostGator guys, Chris and Chris. Pairing up with this group we rode together on up to St. Joseph Plantation for lunch. The road leading into the plantation was rough, but we handled it fine up until we reached the turnoff for the plantation. Once again, the gravel road claimed one of our group as Rich hit a soft, sandy area and his front tire sunk in, sending him down for our third slow fall of the day.
If it weren’t for the previous day’s lunch in Franklin, this would have easily been the most gorgeous lunch spot of the entire tour. The old buildings, the gorgeous landscape, the enormous trees on the property, it was all visually stunning. Had it been right on the banks of the Mississippi, hiding just a few thousand feet away, it would have been ideal. Still, it was beautiful enough that after lunch I wandered about a bit, sightseeing, before saddling up with the group and heading out to battle the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge in Lutcher to cross the Mississippi River. And let me tell you , this is one heck of a bridge. Well over a mile long, and nearly two miles from the start of the climb to the end of the descent this baby made the Pleasure Island bridge look like a platform for crossing a little creek (on the plus side, the extra length meant it wasn’t as steep as the Pleasure Island bridge). In addition to the long climb associated with the bridge, we had the added discomfort of the expansion joints on the bridge, which look to be specially designed for swallowing road bike tires whole. In order to traverse those babies safely, one needs to swing wide and cross them at an angle. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but we also had to do it with cars zooming by us at highway speeds in the next lane, cars who would invariably honk at you as you started to swing out to perform this maneuver. No, kind drivers, we’re not weaving capriciously, we’re trying to keep from flatting our tires every few hundred feet so we can stay on the bridge even longer. Sigh…
After the bridge, the riding grew less interesting for a while. We had a tailgate rest-stop to fill up our bottles, and then a long stretch along LA3125 where yet again I started to gas out behind the group (I’ll need to work on my endurance at speed for next year, because I’m sure Rich isn’t going to get any slower). I was able to keep the group in my sights and caught back up to them as we approached LA70, which would carry us to LA44 into Gonzales (it really is amazing how my second winds always seem to come when we turn and the wind is no longer in my face). As we turned onto LA70, we all shared a brief moment of terror as it looked as if we would need to cross yet another huge bridge over the Mississippi. Fortunately, as we approached it, we saw one of the magical red and white tour signs telling us to turn right and cross under the bridge to connect to 44. Thank goodness, as I was pretty much gassed at this point and really looking for that next rest stop.
Finally, we reached the last rest stop of the day, and I gratefully sucked back a tube of Gu and a few cups of cold water while sitting in the shade. After a few minutes, we all felt cool and rested enough to resume the journey and ride the last eight miles home, only there was a bit of a snag. We were told that about a mile up the road, a train had stopped, blocking the road. However, there were only a few cars in the way, and if we wanted to, we could walk our bikes around the back end of the train and continue riding into Gonzales. Deciding that we wanted to get into the hotel before traffic started to pick up even more, we decided to try our luck with the train. Sure enough, as we approached the tracks, there it was, blocking the road and holding up a string of cars. Glad to not be one of them, we rode up to the front of the line and surveyed the situation. Indeed, all we had to do was walk past five or six cars and we’d be golden. So like a group of cyclocross racers, we shouldered our bikes and set out past the train.
Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to walk on train tracks in your cleats, but let me tell you this: Don’t do it. Even on ther near side, where we had the luxury of railroad ties to step on, the going was quite precarious. The ties were unevenly spaced, the lage hunks of rock were scattered everywhere, and good places to set your feet were at a minimum. And things only got worse on the other side of the train, where all we had to walk across was a steep bank of crushed rock. At least I wasn’t wearing Speedplay cleats, so I didn’t have to worry about rocks getting caught up inside them. Making matters even worse, after I had made it past two of the cars, and the rest of our group had just gotten around the end of the train, we heard a light squeal, and the damn train started moving. Had we just waited a few minutes, we wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this, but as it was, we now had to race the train across the road before the cars could start up again. Mike and I made it, but we had to wait, as the rest of the group couldn’t get to the road in time. All in all, I guess it’s best that we waited, as that was a long stream of cars full of angry drivers that got stacked up behind the train, and we didn’t have to deal with any of them passing us on our bikes.
With the extra bit of rest we got waiting for traffic to clear, we were fresh enough to turn the next six miles into a time trial, and sustained speeds in the 23-25 MPH zone until we turned onto LA30, a rather busy road that took us into the hotel in Gonzales. Where the seats in the shade and the ice cold Abita were waiting for us.
Later that night we had what I thought was the best dinner of the night. Crawfish etoufee, crawfish mac and cheese, tasty salad with a thick vinaigrette dressing, and a choice of bread pudding or brownie desserts. To my great dismay, however, it was also the only meal where I was filled up after just one pass through the line. Curse my stomach! I wanted more of that mac and cheese, dammit!
Final numbers: 85.59 miles, 5:01:10 elapsed time, 17.05 MPH average