Somewhere around the third day of this ride, I learned that the best way to get ready each morning is to do most of the getting ready the night before. By that, I mean pulling out all of the gear you’re going to be wearing, loading up the Camelbak/jersey with the protein/Gu/whatever you plan on consuming in ride, washing out your bottles and setting them out to dry, and packing away everything you can in your duffle bag. This way you won’t need to wrestle with getting ready in the morning when your body is asking for another hour or two of sleep and you only have 15 minutes to get the bag out to the truck to be shipped to your destination for the day. And so each night I would do all of the things listed above, including getting the day’s route map out, making sure my headband was set out to dry, and putting my gloves in my helmet for the morning before hitting the mattress and sleeping the sleep of the exhausted but excited.
So Friday morning rolls around, I get up, wash up, lube up, dress up, pack up what little I have left to pack, and run my bag down to the truck to be loaded and taken to New Orleans. Before I drop it off, I grab my sunscreen out of it and coat myself with a few layers (I learned my lesson on Sunday) before returning it to the bag and heading off for breakfast. A quick bit of fruit, eggs, and juice later, and it’s back to the room to grab my bike, fill the Camelbak with ice, and drag the bike down to the morning briefing area. I set my bike up against a curb and grab my Gatorade bottle to fill up then head to the briefing. While we’re waiting for Alan to start, one of the other riders, Annabella, spots my bare hands and asks me if I’ve got my gloves. I let her know that they’re over in my helmet and that I’d be putting them on shortly. So of course, after the briefing, I walked over to my bike, grabbed my helmet, and failed to see any gloves sitting inside of it. Sigh…
A quick check up in the hotel room confirmed that I had, indeed, forgotten to take the gloves out of my bag and that I would be riding the day gloveless. After a quick application of sunscreen to my naked hands, I was back on my bike staring at an empty parking lot, since everyone else rode away as I was heading up to check my room. Thanks to this, the first third of my morning was spent riding solo, trying to catch up to the peloton, and eventually catching up with them just before the turn onto LA70. From that point on, it was a nice leisurely ride into the first rest stop. For much of that leg I chatted with Chad, one of the one-day riders, and a friend of Tracy’s, which helped pass the time to the stop.
At the first stop, I was reunited with my regular riding crew and hooked up with them for a while, but a few miles into the second leg. Ross and I made the executive decision that we were going to take it easy today. We had a long lunch stop coming up at Audubon Park, getting ready for the mass ride into Woldenberg Park, so there was no need to arrive too early anyway. And so, when Rick, Brad, and Mike started to push the pace along US61, Ross and I just dropped back.
At the next rest area in LaPlace, we reunited briefly again with Rick, Ross, and Brad and, after taking a brief rest, headed out again together, only to split yet again, as Ross and I lolligagged for a while. This part of the ride was fairly interesting, crossing over the Bonnet Carré Spillway into St. Charles Parish. It was here that Ross and I missed our turn into the third rest stop. Somehow, as we hit the intersection and were jostling for position amongst the trucks and cars, neither of us saw the big red and white sign telling us to turn right there. Ooops.
It started to dawn on me about two miles later, as we approached an on-ramp for Interstate 310, that we may have gone off course. But according to my computer, we still had a little ways to go until we were supposed to see the rest area. My fears were confirmed shortly after crossing the on-ramp, as the SAG Wagon roared up in front of us and told us to hold up. A few minutes later, we were inside the van and being ferried back to the turn that we missed so we could make our way down to the next rest stop, our last chance to fill our bottles before getting on the levee bike path which would take us into our final lunch stop of the Tour at Audubon Park.
The levee was… well, the levee was long, and a little boring. I guess I was hoping to see the river for the entire ride or something, but for the most part, it was just bike-path and trees, and me and Ross pedaling for about 22 miles. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a nice ride, especially when we did get to see the river, but I was just tired and hungry by this point, and would have liked a somewhat more visually stimulating ride. And so, as we made our final turn south, headed towards Audubon Park, I was relieved as the surroundings became a little livelier, with barges in the river to the right, and more vibrant city to the left, my energy lifted again and I cruised the last few miles into the Park.
At the park, I grabbed a big old bowl of jambalaya and a couple of sodas and enjoyed them in the shade. After eating, I hooked back up with Rick and Brad, and found out that Rick had missed, along with a pair of one-day riders, the same turn that Ross and I had missed. Only, with his head start and his strong legs, he got out past the SAG wagon did and nearly rode to the New Orleans airport before he figured out he missed the turn. It’s a good thing he was familiar with the city, having lived there a few years back, so he knew how to get back to the levee and the park.
As we were resting up in the park, preparing for our mass ride to the finish, Alan came around asking for volunteers to lead the ride carrying one of our four flags: the Texas state flag, the Louisiana state flag, the Red Cross flag, and the flag of the United States. I stepped forward along with three others, and was handed the big honor of carrying Old Glory into Woldenberg Park. Oh boy.
So, I don’t know how many of you have ever carried a full sized flag, attached to a pole made of 1.5″ PVC tubing, while riding your bike for seven miles over a rather rough and choppy road, but as it turns out, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The whole time, you’re struggling to keep a good grip simultaneously on the flagpole (which gets surprisingly heavy) and your handlebars, all while braking, turning, calling out (and avoiding) holes, and ensuring that you’re holding the flag high enough to keep it of your rear wheel. For next year, one thing I’m going to have to work on is building some kind of brace which can be clamped onto the flag-bearers’ handlebars where the butt of the flagpoles can be set, to ease the ride into the city. Even if I do make that brace, I’ll likely pass on the flag bearing honor, if offered, so I can get a better look at the city as we ride through it. What little I saw of it looked very nifty.
Still, it was a great honor, and I was proud to carry that flag along the length of New Orleans Landing into Woldenberg Park. The whole way, as people would see me with Old Glory at the lead of the pack, they would get this odd surprised look on their face, and then slowly start clapping. For much of the mass ride, and the entirety of the landing, I would hear the applause and cheers slowly start building as I passed by and the rest of the pack rode along behind. It was a great end to a great ride that I can’t wait to do again next year.
After arriving in the park, we popped the corks on a few bottles of sparkling wine and heard a few congratulatory speeches from various Red Cross leaders, and then… the ride was over. We loaded our bikes into the waiting truck to be shipped back to Houston the next day, and then walked back to the Hilton Riverside to rest and shower before our victory party and dinner.
The dinner that night was at a place called Mardis Gras World, a facility where they make and store floats for the Mardis Gras parade. This facility was incredible, a huge warehouse full of parade floats, bigger than life, with a number of studios set up throughout, housing new floats in
various states of completion for upcoming parades.
I spent a good thirty minutes just wandering around, staring and taking pictures before heading outside for dinner. And it was a lovely dinner, set up on a patio right alongside the east bank of the Mississippi River, with red beans and rice, crawfish etoufee, great salads and desserts, and pans of ice cold Abita. We ate and talked and joked for a while, then watched a slideshow of pictures, followed by a victory speech and series of recognitions of the volunteers who made this all possible, and the riders who benefitted from their hard work. Plaques and certificates were handed out in commemoration of the ride, and then we headed back to the hotel to drop everything off before heading out on the town.
For the first time all ride, I was able to take in a bit of nightlife knowing there was no early ride tomorrow. Ross, I, Rick, Brad, and their wives took a cab up to Frenchman street to the Snug Harbor Jazz Club for some jazz, some drinks, and a good bit of merriment. It was a wonderful night, and it was great to get out with some new friends made over 530 miles of riding. A few hours later, it was a cab ride back to the hotel and some well earned sleep before my bus ride home in the morning.
Final numbers: 83.75 miles, 5:20:43 elapsed time, 15.67 MPH average
I did it. I did it, and I can’t wait to do it again.