So we started the morning three days into the ride. We had covered 290 miles, had to deal with big bridges, big distances, big winds, and big horseflies (whose bites on my legs still itch a bit over a week later); we were due for a nice recovery ride, and today was it.
The day actually started with an option for the riders: we could either sleep in and join the riders for a 9:00 a.m. ride-out, or we could get up early and head about a half-mile down the road from the Sunbelt Lodge to grab breakfast at Caffe Maria’s, a local restaurant that offered up a southern breakfast spread that was far and away the best breakfast we had the entire tour: Creamy grits, southern-fried potatoes, light fluffy biscuits, sausage gravy, eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, and more. The only problem with the day’s breakfast is that it was too damn good, and I ate way too much of it. Good thing I was one of the first people there at Maria’s, so I would have extra time to digest it before we started riding for the day.
But before we rode out, we had two more special treats lined up for the morning. The first was a rousing gospel number belted out by (and here’s where I hate my feeble memory) a fellow who I remember as the son of the owners of Caffe Maria’s. You can have a listen to a clip I recorded on my phone (sorry about the iffy quality). I don’t know much about gospel, but I do know this, the dude could sing; his tones went down sweeter than the maple syrup on my French toast.
Our second surprise was a group of young children from one of the local Catholic grade schools. They were there today to ride out with us an their way in to school. It was great seeing the enthusiasm these kids had for riding their bicycles. It really seemed to make their day to ride out with a peloton of goofy looking folk in spandex and funky shoes. And if it did make their day, I’m glad, because those were some of the nicest, most polite, and charming kids I’ve run across in a while. Really the only downside to this event was that none of the kids riding with us had helmets. Now, I don’t want to get in a debate about the efficacy of bike helmets or mandatory helmet laws, but if these kids weren’t wearing helmets because they can’t afford them, then next year I’d like to help the Tour du Rouge secure the donation of some helmets for the kids. Gotta help protect those little noggins so they can soak up the lessons in school, you know.
And so we rolled out of Maria’s, kids nestled in safely between a couple of groups of tour riders, and we slow-rolled until the kids turned off to their school. That’s when we picked up the pace and worked our way down to Avery Island, home of the McIlhenny Tabasco plant.
Once we reached Avery Island, the riders had a couple of options, yet again. They could either rest outside for an hour or so, or they could go into the Visitor’s Center for a tour of the plant and a presentation on Tabasco and its history. I opted for the tour because I’d never been to the plant before (hell, this was only my third day ever in Louisiana) and, well… because there was air conditioning. Normally, I’m not a big fan of air conditioning, but on this tour it started to feel mighty good. I guess riding for hours in the heat and humidity can do that to a fella.
After the tour was a quick spin ’round the McIlhenny Country Store for a taste of Tabasco ice cream and the newer Tabasco sauce flavors (the Sweet & Spicy is actually quite good), and a quick visit to the head before we were back on our bikes and headed for Morgan City (it was the usual crew, me Ross, Rick, Brad, Mike, Dave and Tracy). First we headed northeast for a bit until we hit New Iberia. Here I was a little sad that we didn’t pass New Iberia High School, made moderately famous by their cheerleaders who appeared on an episode of MTV’s Made. Once we rolled through to the middle of New Iberia (a fairly charming town), we turned southeast onto Old Spanish Trail Headed for our next rest stop at Burleigh Park on the outskirts of Jeanerette.
This part of the ride was, in a word, lovely. Smooth streets flanked by beautiful moss-covered live oaks provided shade and eye candy for miles on each side of the rest stop (yet another fantastic stop manned by wonderful volunteers, thanks again guys). Really the only downside are the two flats we had on each side of the res stop, Mike’s about a mile before the stop (a loud, ringing blowout) and mine, not quite three miles away from the stop.
A few miles after the park, we hit St. Mary’s Parish and you would have known something was up, even without the sign. because the second we left Iberia Parish, the roads roughened up for us quite a bit. Dear St. Mary’s Parish. Please pass a bond measure and patch up LA182 by next May. Thank you.
And so we rolled down LA182 (which eventually smoothed out a bit) for about another 13 miles, my energy draining the whole way, so much so that I was in danger of falling off the back of my group as we neared Franklin, our lunch stop. Fortunately, a second wind and a well placed traffic light allowed me to pull back up to Rick, Ross, Brad, and Mike as we turned into our lunch spot, a beautiful shaded area along the water. There, were were offered delicious sandwiches served on some huge croissants, with tasty lemon cookies and chocolate chip cookies for desert. Those cookies were so good that I swiped an extra one for the road and tucked it into my Camelbak. It was larceny most delicious.
Post lunch we only had 25 miles left in the day, with a tailgate stop at the Patterson Air Museum just outside of Morgan City, so you’d think it would be easier than it was. Unfortunately, along the road to the Air Museum, lunch started sitting heavy in my belly and my legs didn’t feel like pedaling into the moderate crosswind we had as we approached US90. Thanks to Mike for pulling me along for a mile or so until we approached the turn onto 90 where we rested a bit as we waited for traffic to clear and I could catch my wind.
As we waited for the eastbound traffic to clear enough for us to cross into the median, a Louisiana State Trooper pulled his car onto the shoulder just ahead of us and waved us over, wanting to know what was going on. We filled him in on the tour, and its goal of raising funds for the Red Cross, and he thought that was pretty cool. And when we told him we were headed into Morgan City for the night, he asked if we were going to ride along 90 into town. When we told him we were, he just laughed. ”I ride a lot around here, but y’all are crazy!” he told us. ”They don’t even look out for us on the side of the road, they sure as hell ain’t gonna stop for you.” And with those words of encouragement he wished us luck and watched as we rode out onto US90. You know what, he was right. We were crazy.
The traffic on 90 was the ugliest we had all ride. Cars and trucks zooming by, ostensibly going the speed limit of 55, but they all seemed to be a bit closer to 70 if you ask me. Even though the shoulder was quite wide, and relatively debris free (though we did have our obstacles to avoid), I’m still happy we had just five miles to go to the air museum, and that five miles was with the wind at our backs.
If my legs were still tired from the previous miles, the fear center of my brain overrode that, and we held a steady 21-22 MPH pace all the way into the Museum parking lot. There it was a quick refill of the bottles and a trip inside the museum to take advantage of the air conditioning and the indoor plumbing. Once we had removed and added the appropriate liquids from our systems, our group decided to try and time trial the last seven miles into the hotel in an effort to beat Team Jackass (who were still enjoying the AC at the museum) to the finish. Honestly, I was happy to push the pace just so we could get off the highway faster.
Our course in from the museum involved a three mile stretch along 90, followed by an exit ramp leading to LA182 and then a medium sized bridge over Berwick Bay before a short jaunt through the city into the hotel. Once we were up to speed on 90, I don’t think we dropped below 24 MPH until we hit the bridge. We were feeling good and flying, and we were going to whip Jackass’ tails into the finish when from behind me I heard “Fucking grates! Flat!” Yep. Mike got our third flat of the day when he caught his tire in one of the expansion joints on the bridge and got snakebit. And so we stopped on the side of the bridge while Mike changed his tire just in time to see a pair of Jackass riders roll by us. Slightly dejected at having lost yet another race against an unsuspecting opponent due to a flat tire, we nonetheless pushed on to the hotel looking to finish strong. As it turns out, we still beat most of the Jackass riders into the hotel, and we had plenty of ice cold Abita Brown waiting for us, so it wasn’t a total waste.
Also of note this day was the post-ride dinner. We had it in the hotel, with a buffet offering salad, gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and bread pudding. And while the food was delicious (more gumbo, please!), the highlight was the zydeco band that was playing that night for us. Bright, lively music, and stage banter that’s probably gotten them slapped by the ladies at most of the finer venues across the south. The band was a hoot, as was watching Dory and Victoria work the washboard for a few numbers. All-around great fun; too bad I was too exhausted to enjoy it for the full evening. Instead, I pulled my old man card and headed off to bed with dreams of Gonzales up ahead.
Final numbers: not really sure, as I forgot to get pictures of my computer, but they were somewhere around 77 miles, 4:30:00 elapsed time, and 17.1 MPH average.