Pedal Pushers

"One Day"

A Segment By Barc

From consciousness to unconsciousness, here's what happened yesterday between Simmesport and Jackson, Louisiana:

6:47 am:  Woke up with my cheek pressed against a dining room chair leg, chin soaking in a pool of drool.

Context: Our Warmshowers hosts-de-jour run a seafood restaurant. They were kind enough to let us sleep on the tile floor of the dining room rather than pitch a tent amid the carnage and hordes of illegals in the backyard. That was the good part. The bad part was that we had to wait until the last diners dined. Turns out a big plate of crawfish takes about 4 and a half hours to eat - all those teeny claws...  When the Baptist preacher ordered a second plate, I nearly smote him.

9:21 am:  Made a mental note to make a pro/con list of the many reasons to go on a bike tour, followed almost immediately by a second mental note not to waste space on "pros".

Context: Amidst a steady rain, fully outfitted in good-for-the-first-five-minutes raincoats and both-ugly-and-inefficient rain pants, we cycled into a 30 kph headwind on a busy two-lane road with poor-to-no shoulders. With no choice but to put my faith in a whimsical God, I regretted wishing the Baptist preacher a swift, choking death-by-crawfish.

1:14 pm:  Came to a fuller appreciation of: 1) the dangers of not changing your Depends on a regular basis and 2) why McDonalds favours plastic seats.

Context: Enjoyed a delicious Fruit & Yoghurt Parfait at a McDonalds in New Roads, La.  The puddle of mostly rainwater grew and grew on my semi-swivel seat. Every time I moved, it sounded like a hippo asserting dominance at the local watering hole. I was not asserting dominance. I was freezing. You get that way when you eat cold treats on a cold, wet day. Third mental note of the day: create a pro/con list for self-defeating behaviour.

3:22 pm:  Spit from the apex of the suspension bridge over the mighty Mississippi River. The gob took a long time to reach the water. It landed poorly. 

Context: I read an article a few years ago about how the Golden Gate bridge was the suicide bridge of choice in North America. The author tracked down three people who survived the jump and discovered that each had entered the water in a similar way: feet-first and slightly angled back. Their heels shattered but they survived. The author additionally discovered that each of them, the moment they had jumped, instantly said to themselves "Wait! I changed my mind!" I am, to this day, haunted by this not-fun fact.


A moment of quiet reflection to get over the buzzkill paragraph above...


6:23 pm:  Politely excused myself from the dining room table of our Warmshowers hostess, nodded lovingly to my oldest brother, walked casually to the washroom, and hurled up a healthy, nutritious mixture of five Whole Foods anti-death beans, non-taste-of-the-moment quinoa, and a hundred other kill-me-now, life-extending faux-food products.

Context: Life is too short to eat food that makes it longer.

9:02 pm: Sustained a mild concussion slamming my head against the particle-board wall of an 8x8 bunkie shed, missing the mosquito but giving him a pretty darn good scare. Spent the next several minutes trying to remember... anything.

Context:  The same kind hostess who had the gall to feed us well provides a rain-resistant, bug-friendly structure - recently displayed on the cover of Outhouse Weekly - to her many, many touring cyclist visitors. Any accommodation that means you: don't have to set up the tent; blow up the thermorests; re-roll-up the thermorests; and take down the tent, is a powerful temptation; so is smelling scented candles while they're lit. I'm downgrading "any" accommodation to "most" accommodation...

10:11 pm: Dreamed of world peace, the eradication of all disease, and the downfall of Trump - not in that order.

Context: Is all. Peace out.

"Several Days"

A Segment by Geoff

Our Coldspring hostess Susan exceeded her "warm" title, providing a hot shower that ended my experimental trial with the Saputo Body Cheese Company. Cleansed and refreshed, our delicious meal of pasta and venison meatballs (with a side of homemade pizza) were just the carbo-protein load we needed after a full day's ride. The mounted hunting trophies stared straight ahead above our sleeping nook, with Barc on the sofa and I on the dog-scented animal hide carpet. Ken's sleeping bag may someday lose that Fido tang.

It seems that east of Austin, the majority of our winds are headwinds, and the road through the "Big Thicket" was no exception, with the town of Thicket the portal. (Fun historical note: "bushwhackers" is a term used to describe the press gangs who searched this dense Texas scrubland--the Big Thicket--hoping to flush out men avoiding Confederate service in the Civil War.). Honey Island is a town in the heart of this wilderness, an "island" for war dodgers that featured an abundance of natural honeycombs. On this heads-down ride, there was little sweetness for us; thus it was full speed ahead to the unfortunately named town of Kountze, at which point in my wind-driven delirium I noticed a disturbing pattern in these town names...Thicket, Honey Island, Kountze.... Coincidence, or my adolescent mind at work?

Our stopping point that night was an RV campground east of Silsbee, one known to Barc and his boys from previous tours. What may by now be obvious to discerning readers is that Barc and I are different from one another in some key ways, including our tolerance for noise. While Barc overstates my snoring, I cannot overstate how loud our campsite was. While nicely protected under an awning, we were within 200 yards of two busy highways and a railroad level crossing. That somehow these noise elements are soothing background to him is a wonder. Next to us was a trailer whose owners had planted a US flag and a sign announcing "He is Risen." While no doubt a Christian reference rather than a Trump slogan, it might also describe my need to seek nocturnal refuge in the quiet of the park's clubhouse. But what do you expect for $18 US?

In a continuing trend as predictably vexing as a presidential tweet, the road ahead from Silsbee TX featured yet another headwind to Kirbyville, with a stop for brunch at a Subway, our first of the trip. We met there Roger, a Rimouski transplant who had lived there for 40 years but still recognized our Canadian flags. His French was pur laine, but his English definitely Texas-fried. We each "ate fresh"--sort of--a 12-inch breakfast sub, a weird combo of erzatz egg omelet and all the regular sub toppings. Why not? The route turned east after K-vile to Bon Wier, our final Texas town which--like Roger--foreshadowed La Louisiane. 

Full speed ahead to Merryville (originally Marieville?) LA, where our warm showers space was a big step up from the RV park, although inevitably near a level crossing. Adjoining the bandstand on which Barc and Seb had previously camped, our hut even had AC, which appealed to Barc because of its white noise capacity: be careful what you wish for. Now installed in Louisiana, po-boy sandwiches at nearby Stu's grill (shrimp for G, Philly for B) were essential for our dinner. I slept deeply, but Barc awoke with a blue-ish tinge to his lips which eventually disappeared after a second coffee at Stu's the following morning.

In a continuing tradition, we cycled into a headwind to DeRidder LA, home of Cecil's Cajun Cafe, a Republican sports bar with good food. Gumbo? Bring it on...and was it ever good! Thus fuelled, we headed toward Oberlin LA, not to be confused with the Ohio college outpost of liberalism, music, and latkes. Just west of town, we caught up with Mike and Kathy, the remarkably youthful parents of eight kids, who had pitched their tent on the soft sands of a riverbank. They encouraged us to join them, but the mosquitoes encouraged us to decline. In Oberlin, we joined Mike #2 (a retired veterinarian from Georgia who was a thousand miles into his perimeter ride around the outer edges of the US on his recumbent bike) at the local diner for fried catfish and Philly cheesesteak. Mike #2, an experienced hiker and well-heeled bike tourist, was equipped with minimal luggage, a high-end custom bike, his Fender acoustic guitar, and a credit card, with his 8,000 mile trip goal to raise money in unspecified ways for the Fender Music Foundation, which supports music programmes in underfunded public schools. Our cause being us, we opted that night for the Oberlin "Inn," the decrepit and only motel in town, where the room was warm, even if the shower was cold.

Breakfast the next day was a pleasant surprise across the highway at the Oberlin Donut Shop, which featured a fine egg, sausage and homemade croissant sandwich, reasonable coffee, and the second-best apple fritter of the trip. The owner clearly knew his pastry, but his habit of staring out a small window and speaking of firearms had us finishing our meal quickly. 

The road ahead to Ville Platte LA would not have been complete without a headwind, so the 90km was a beautiful slog through the crawfish fields and rice paddies. Having missed Mardis Gras, we were instead treated en route to a day-after, happy family tableau west of Mamou, where a drunken husband had pulled his handicapped wife out of the pickup truck driven by their stoned nephew. Both were lying on the road's shoulder, while Billybob was looking for the truck keys the husband had quietly passed to me. I encouraged some locals to call a) an ambulance for the diabetic, vomiting husband and b) the sheriff for the nephew intent on finding his keys and driving away. Both outcomes realized, we carried on to Mamou, only to be passed by a) the sheriff's car and b) Billybob driving his pickup. Only a little perturbed, we rolled through the bead-strewn streets, not stopping until we reached a grocery on the far side of Ville Platte, where our Canadian flags attracted the attention of two Cajuns, who urged us--incroyable--to "larche pas la patate." We sought refuge from Billybob by camping in Chicot State Park, an unlikely place for him to travel for any reason.

The next morning's first coffee was at a roadside grocery where we met a retired oil rig worker with harrowing stories of his experiences on the Gulf oil rigs, and the sound advice that we (like him) ought to be carrying a handgun. We thanked him for his wisdom, which spurred our efforts into the--yes--headwinds until we reached Simmesport and Ray's seafood restaurant, our warm showers stop for the night. The affable Ray instructed us on the correct technique for eating boiled crawfish (separate the tails, suck out the meat, then suck out the head). The only downside of Ray's hosptality was his offering us the restaurant floor as our sleeping area. The last patrons left at 10:30pm, which meant it was after ten before we were able to bed down close to the floor slightly tacky with shrimp droppings. No matter: we were way past our bedtime, so lights out was literally and figuratively coincidental.

Sunday's ride was to New Roads LA, and along with the headwind was our first rainy day. Even though our rain gear functioned, it was still pretty wet going, although crossing the Mississippi River was a trip milestone for us on our way to Perry's warm showers roost for bicyclists, according to Barc a "legendary" stop on the Southern Tier route, even though this would be his first stop there. Sure enough, Perry was a transplanted Texan dynamo who served us a bean/sausage mixture over black rice: Trader Joe meets Whole Foods. Very yummy. Our bunkhouse was comfy, the showers warm, and the morning coffee bottomless. While Barc demurred (too nutritious), her breakfast treat was a combination of sweet potato and molasses, butter, and peanut butter (recipe available upon request).

After nine days of headwinds, we decided to make today a short ride of 20km, and avoid the forecast heavy rains with a Best Western solution. An afternoon of lazing about, blogging, and clean sheets has been therapeutic, and will serve us well as we hit Mississippi in a couple of days. We will know what it means to miss New Orleans, sadly, but the azaleas are in bloom, if not also the oleanders. Au revoir.