Southern Tier Bike Route: Louisiana

Day 43: Merryville to Oberlin, LA (56.7 miles); April 25, 2021

The beds in the cabin were pretty squeaky. So much so in fact, it ripped Sheena from a deep sleep convinced there was a snake in the room. Fortunately for us, it was just a dream. We woke up and got ready before heading back over to Stu’s for breakfast. Their bacon is just as good as their cheeseburgers.

Before we left for the ride, we ran into some bikers (of motorcycles). After briefly talking with them, they asked if we would join them in a prayer circle. Never one to turn down a prayer or well wishes, we accepted gladly. It was a wonderful prayer asking for our safety and protection as well as protection of our bikes – that they ride smoothly and without failure. Considering the state of Sheena’s bike, we said AMEN! to that.

And so we were off. Really nothing crazy to report on today. It went smoothly and flatly. Winds weren’t awful and it wasn’t too hot. All in all uneventful. We didn’t have to outrun any gators and our bikes didn’t fall apart. Sometimes boring is good.

We got into Oberlin around 5pm and checked into the Crossroads Inn. We originally were going to stay in the community park, but didn’t reach out to the coordinator in time. But looking at the town of Oberlin, I think it is a good thing. I’m not positive it’s a place we’d want to be camping exposed at night. Though I’m not too sure we’re much safer in this hotel room.

Sheena discovered she had a flat as soon as we arrived in the room, but was happy it happened here than on the side of the road. She fixed it and we’re just relaxing. I have a feeling tomorrow will be just as uneventful as today, though I’m hoping for a little bit of spice to break up the monotony.

All these motels are starting to look the same

Day 44: Oberlin to Bunkie, LA (78 miles); April 26, 2021

Well that’s the last time I wish for a spicier day. Cause well, it was granted. And I was not at all happy about it.

We set out for what was supposed to be a 57 mile easy day in the dense fog. We rode 25 miles past endless crawfish farms on a flat and boring stretch for a stop in Mamou for a rest. It was the first time this trip I felt threatened and even thought about taking out my pepper spray (on humans, not raccoons). Luckily we were okay and we left for another 20 miles to Chicot State Park. It was crazy how we went to poverty stricken Mamou to sprawling mansions just down the road in a less than 10 minute bike ride. And it’s even crazier how cheap these gorgeous homes are not only in price but property taxes. I guess it really is all about location, location, location!

One of the many crawfish farms.

That’s where the real trouble started. For some reason we thought we only had 15 miles to go once we hit the park. We miscalculated the distance drastically. We had another 25 if we followed the ACA. We didn’t want to ride another 25 miles, so we were able to find a shortcut that shaved off 8 miles. Great! We even got approval from an RV couple and a state park ranger. We were warned that a road within the park was closed, but bikes could get through. Rules never apply to bikes!

We took the park road and passed through the road blocked signs. We were cruising when a state trooper pulled us over. He told us the road was closed. We told him a ranger said we could go through. He said there was no way we were going through and we had to take the long way. Apparently the state is using the park as a COVID sanctuary. How adamant he was about not letting us pass was odd and felt like they were hiding a little more – like a zombie camp. Not wanting to mess with a cop or potential zombies, we turned around and were resolved on riding close to 30 more miles to get to Bunkie. We considered just bunking it in the park, but ultimately decided to stick to the schedule and suck it up. Besides, there were definitely gators in that park and we do not want to mess with gators.

Picture with a swamp right after being kicked out by the cop

The ride into Bunkie was noneventful, though riddled with dogs. Despite being chased by up to 15 dogs a day, all the dogs have been super friendly and appear to just want to run. Really fast. So fingers crossed that trend continues.

We got into Bunkie tired and hungry around 6pm. We’re staying on couches in the fire station. They host cyclists frequently and we’re the 5th in a week.

We got a well deserved pizza and beer and are more than ready for sleep. And I will no longer wish for days with a little more “spice”. Boring is fine enough for me.


Day 45: Bunkie to New Roads, LA (67 miles); April 27, 2021

Luckily today was pretty smooth. We had coffee with the fire guys and headed out around 8:30am. It was an overall pretty uneventful ride with the exception of 15 dog chases, none of which were too aggressive. We did see a road killed alligator, which has been a deterrent for popping a squat on the side of the road when nature calls. Just going to have to hold it until getting into the next town!

Riding over the Morganza Spillway, which is much higher than normal

We had our first sighting of the Mississippi today, first indication of the East! We got into New Roads around 5:30pm and was greeted by locals at Jim’s Campground (and bar and grille) by locals who were expecting us. Word gets around quickly in these parts. We stopped in for a drink and appetizer and got to meet the locals. Talking with them is an effort in concentration because their accents are so thick and different than anything I’ve ever heard. We got talking about our route into Baton Rouge. No one could recommend a bridge to go over because “you’ll get flattened on any bridge. Seriously you will die”. Encouraging.

We met Susan, who along with her fiancé Matt, are extremely proud Louisianians. We got into talking and she offered to take us to a crawfish boil tonight and take us into Baton Rouge tomorrow. After the warnings about the bridges and the week we’ve had, we decided to take her up on her kindness. Besides, it was only a 30 mile ride we’d be missing out on.

We went to The Crawfish Hole, a new boil joint Susan highly recommended. It was just opened by a 20 year old, Luke. A kid with a lot of drive and determination, I was impressed by the operation. He was hospitable and treated us as VIPs. Plus the crawfish (my first experience) was delicious. I would highly recommend.

Crawfish!


We are staying at Susan and Matt’s before going into Baton Rouge to drop the bikes off at a bike shop. Susan is going to take us to a great lunch spot as we wait – let the food tour continue!

Off day in Baton Rouge: April 28,2021

It always feels great to sleep in. When we rolled out of bed we noticed Susan was nowhere to be found. I popped my head outside and realized the situation – a locksmith was over trying to get into the truck. Matt has his car keys and Susan’s were in the locked truck. Looks like we’re riding after all! But not so fast – Sheena reminded me we had our helmets and her shoes in the truck. We were stuck and mild panic set in. We had to get the bikes looked at today and get into New Orleans by the weekend to keep up with the schedule. While pacing in the kitchen, I noticed a set of GMC keys on the kitchen counter. Surely these weren’t the keys. But I brought them out to Susan anyway. Lo and behold, St. Francis delivered and they were indeed the keys! We were piled in the truck and off to Baton Rouge in 10 minutes.

We got to the bike shop and they were confident they would have our bikes ready by the afternoon. Wonderful! We were hungry and it was lunch time. Susan took us to Chimes and we enjoyed delicious crawfish entouffee and BBQ shrimp. My aunt Janet gifted me some money and I thought a great creole lunch was the perfect way to spend it. Thanks Aunt Janet!

YUM!

After lunch Susan showed us around LSU’s campus. She told us we were going to see Mike the Tiger. Thinking it was just a mascot statue, I was convinced it had the most epic statue ever to warrant a visit. Then after a few questions, I realized it was an actual live tiger and my mind was blown. I didn’t know live mascots existed – especially tigers. Where were the lions during my time at Widener?

What do tigers dream of when they take a little tiger snooze?

We checked on the bikes at the shop and they were ready in record time. We said our goodbyes to Susan and thanked her for her southern hospitality. Who knows – maybe we’ll crash her wedding in October!

These guys are miracle workers. They fixed Sheena’s rack! If ever in need of a bike shop in Baton Rogue, check out The Bicycle Shop.


Our warm showers host, Mark, met us at the bike shop. We chatted a little and followed him back to his apartment.

Our own guide of Baton Rouge!

When we got to Mark’s we did some planning for New Orleans and tomorrow. We had plans to stay with a warm showers host, but that fell through. With limited places to stay between here and New Orleans, we’re in kind of a bind. But we’ll figure it out – we always do.

After eating dinner and legitimately getting chased by cockroaches walking back, we hung out with Mark till way past our bedtime. We shared stories and had some pretty good laughs. He is a pleasure to stay with. In fact, bike racer legend Mike Hall stayed with Mark back in 2012 during a Guinness record breaking ride. Mike Hall was highlighted in the movie Inspired to Ride, a documentary about the transamerica race. It’s an inspiring and great movie. Tragically, Mike was killed during a race in Australia in 2017 after getting hit by a car. It was awesome meeting someone who hosted such an inspiring person.

Mike’s note in Mark’s guest book.


Day 46: Baton Rouge to Gramercy, LA (64 miles) April 29, 2021

We started the morning with coffee with Mark and all three of us set out together early. Mark was riding to work, we were riding to La Place.

Mark!


Soon our paths diverged and we were on our own. Today’s ride was going to be our longest yet – 85 miles. I ran into a guy at the bike shop yesterday riding the BALL, Bike Across LA Louisiana. He shared with me a route him and 30 others were riding and considering the routes out of Baton Rouge looked sketchy, I figured 30 road cyclists knew what they were doing. So I grabbed the route from him and we decided to follow it today.

The ride itself was fine (zero dog chases!), started up on the levee which was pretty cool. Then we dropped down to the road. At 60 miles in, I received a call from Jerry (aka Duwaine), the warm showers host who initially said he wasn’t available to host. Yesterday during planning I left a message asking if he knew anyone in the area who could host us. We were striking out and I must’ve sounded pretty desperate. He wanted to let us know that after speaking with his wife Stephanie, they were okay with us staying the night even though they wouldn’t be there. Wow! Only 3 miles away, it was great timing. After looking at the maps and seeing it wasn’t worth it to ride to La Place and spend money on a hotel when it’ll only save 10 miles. Now we have more money to spend on beignets and daiquiris in New Orleans!

Before leaving for Houston, Stephanie hung out with us for a little at the Parker’s gorgeous home! She is really awesome and fun to talk with. It’s a real shame she and Jerry won’t be home, I can tell they would be a lot of fun to hang out with. I feel very blessed that they are willing to open their home to us and trust us when they’re not home. It was great timing and might be a sign that our luck is finally changing for the better!

“Oh my gosh my kitchen is so dirty!”

Day 47: Gramercy to New Orleans, LA (60 miles); April 30, 2021

We rolled out of the Parker’s home into the suffocating humidity around 8:30am, set for an easy 50 miles to NoLa. We were excited for a rest day and getting to explore a new city!

Everything was going smoothly until we hit a closed road that was taken out by the spillway overflowing. In order to detour around it, we had to tack on some additional miles. But it was early and not a big deal.

We stayed on the winding Mississippi River Trail, a beautifully paved trail lining the river. We avoided cars and had pretty much the whole trail to ourselves, until we got into the outskirts of the city. We had one cyclist pass us, joking, “I have more weight on me than you guys!” We saw him a mile or two down the road, where he pointed out a live gator. We didn’t stick around to risk our luck – knowing us he’d probably come out of the water and chase us. Eventually the cyclist caught up with us again and we had a really good conversation with him. Originally from New York, Michael went to Tulane for his undergrad degree and Wharton business school for his MBA. He’s now an investor and lives in London, but is currently staying at his home in New Orleans for the next couple of months. He took us on a tour of Audubon Park and showed us his house, where he said will be a small town jazz festival tomorrow and invited us. Perfect way to spend the day!

Michael leading the way

After we parted ways with Michael, we headed to the French quarter to our hotel. Sheena’s mom was extremely generous and paid for a hotel right on Bourbon Street – The Royal Sonesta. It’s a beautiful hotel and a perfect spot to relax. We are so thankful! Though rolling into a fancy hotel covered in sweat and bike grease garnished a couple snooty stares from upturned noses riding in on their high horses.

Celebrating getting into NoLa with a staple drink – the Hurricane!

After showering and getting ready like proper ladies, we went out to eat. After fearing gators for so long, we took our fears out on one and had some pretty good alligator creole and gumbo at Evangalines. Though super tasty, the portions were lacking for two starving cyclists.

I could’ve eaten 5 bowls if it wouldn’t cause me to go into debt!


After dinner we took in the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street. And let me tell you. There were some sights to behold. As someone who can experience sensory overload, I didn’t know which way to look. There were people all over. Sheena put it perfectly when she described it as a mix of OCMD, OCNJ, and Baltimore/Philly. We didn’t feel 100% safe, it was a little trashy, but the people watching was exquisite. After avoiding crowds for so long because of COVID, it was overwhelming walking in a sea of people. There was some mask use, but it felt like pre-covid times. Hopefully this is a sign that we may soon be out of pandemic times, but I’m not holding my breath on that.

Soon we found ourselves at a speak easy suggested to us by Jake, who Sheena met getting our Hurricanes. He works there and it was nice to go to a private bar (password required) that wasn’t crowded. We got to stand on the balcony and have a birds eye view of the ridiculousness going on below.

But as usual, it got to be late (for us at least) and we retreated back to the hotel for some rest. We have a pretty busy day tomorrow exploring the city. Maybe we’ll even stay an extra day!

Rest Day: New Orleans; May 1, 2021

Apparently New Orleans is not an early rising city. When we headed out for brunch at 9:30am, the city seemed to still be asleep. We had a delicious brunch and met a ton of awesome people at Curio, it’s a lot of fun to make new friends along the way. Unfortunately, I learned a tough lesson that there should be a bottom to mimosas and went back to the hotel.

Not sure if I can look at a mimosa the same again for a while.
New friends!

Sheena went to Cafe Du Monde and brought back a New Orleans staple – beignets. They were just as delicious as I imagined. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the Jazz fest Michael invited us to. The day got away from us. Pretty bummed we missed out, but I think this city deserves another visit.

Lounging by the pool after beignets

Tomorrow we’ll be entering Mississippi for a short jaunt. Florida is on the horizon and we’ll likely wrap up our ride in 2 weeks. It’s been such a fun and eye opening ride, I’m going to be sad to be done and go back to the normal daily routine.

Thanks to Sheena’s mom, we got to live in luxury the last two nights. So spoiled.


Day 48: New Orleans to Buccaneer State Park (58 miles) May 2, 2021

When leaving the luxury of the hotel this morning, we felt right at home. Street cleaners were cleaning the massive amounts of trash and vomit from off the gutter, appropriate for us in so much as we look and feel like trash. The smell and mounds of garbage was nausea inducing and disgusting. People must’ve partied hardy last night.

Great pee spot, no alligators

We made our way through the sleeping city and eventually got rained on relatively hard. Soaking wet, we rode past marshes, bayous, and a lake. The houses along the lake were charmingly gorgeous and a great distraction from pedaling. Soon we found ourselves leaving Louisiana and saying hello to Mississippi. We look moderately like drowned rats, but at least it’s warm and we’re not shivering our tails off.

Only took 2 miles to find this sign

Finally found the Louisiana sign!

We had lunch and rolled the rest of the miles (with the exception of one flat) to Buccaneer State Park, where we had our first sighting of the Gulf of Mexico! I’m really excited to be back on the “coast” with water views. It’s crazy to think we went from pacific coast to desert, to rolling hills, to now the gulf. We’re truly seeing it all! While cooking dinner we talked to Gretchen and Jeff from Bend, OR. Both retired early, they’re touring the country in RV. Gretchen was kind enough to give us microwave popcorn, a treat we’ve both been craving this whole tour!

We have a short stay in Mississippi and Alabama and will be in Florida before we know it! We’re likely going to run into The Guys again either tomorrow or Tuesday, so excited for our reunion!!

Not sure what I’m more nervous about – the incoming thunderstorm or the chance of having another encounter with a raccoon.

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