21 Nov – 30 Nov 2021
Opelousas, LA to New Orleans, LA
21 Nov, I drive the last leg of our Texan road trip that takes us across the state border and into Louisiana. Lesley has a long drive back to Dallas so I do my best to let her get a rest from being behind the wheel for too long. We have chosen the small town of Opelousas to drop off and say goodbye. From there it’s easy for Lesley to get on the freeway for home. For us it’s a fairly straight ride of a few days to reach our next capital city, Baton Rouge. The park at Opelousas is big and quiet, and we offload and load up the bike in the car park. It is warm and sunny when we hug and say goodbye to Lesley. We have had a great time with her over the past few days and we leave with promises to meet again soon.
As we ride we are unsure of where we will end up for the day. Later in the day we stop and search on Google Maps and find a local shooting range where there is camping available. It’s primitive with no facilities but it’s fine for us. We have all that we need. Before we reach the turnoff we stop at a store and we refill our water bottles and our reservoir. We also get some traditional Southern food at the store – crayfish soup. It’s made locally and frozen. All we need to do is put the bag in hot water to reheat it. We put the frozen soup on our pannier to defrost and ride the last few miles to the campground. We get a surprise at the turnoff – it is a gravel road. We push on and ride the last 2.5 miles, it’s stressful riding on the gravel, I don’t know if it’s better to ride on the gravel which is hard going or the grass which saps energy and is hard as well. It’s super dusty as well and the few cars that we see bring billows of dust that get everywhere. We cover our faces with our scarves and keep an eye on the GPS which slowly counts down the distance to our destination.
We reach the campground a little before dark and there are still some people using the range. The guns are super loud, I can’t resist and walk over to see what they are shooting. The shots are so loud it’s not like a pistol. Rather they are using some big rifles. This is America, where guns are very much a part of everyday life for many people. Happy that they are using their guns safely and responsibly at the shooting range. Once the light fades the shooters pack up and go home, leaving us to enjoy the quiet evening and for the first time during our trip we get some mosquitoes. There is a little bayou at the end of the campground and the mozzies come out at dusk.
22 Nov is a day of barriers for us. One of the shooters last night suggested we could ride back out along the levee and be off the dusty gravel road. We leave the campground and there is a path up to the top of the levee. Next to the path is a sign that promises fines if we go up to the levee but we ignore that and ride up. It’s a good decision. The path on the top of the levee is not paved but it is a lot smoother and a much nicer ride than being on the gravel surface. We make the 2.5 miles back out much faster than the ride in and we continue our Eastward ride. Our mapping service takes us onto what is a private road. A gate is there but it is open. Barrier #1. We stop to check the map and a guy comes out of the building there. We tell him we are just riding through and he lets us go on with the warning not to turn off the road and into the plant. Apparently there is an oil processing plant off the road. We are not interested in that and promise to stay on the road.
It’s a nice road, if a little bumpy. There is virtually no traffic and it’s very quiet. As we ride along we are enjoying the views of the trees and the swamp off to the side of the road. I suddenly pull hard on the brakes and we almost fall off. I am precariously trying to hold up the bike but am unwilling to move my legs. There is a snake just in front of us. Barrier #2. The snake is not happy and opens it’s mouth wide at me to warn me off. Wifey manages to get off and steady the bike and I am able to stand steadily and we slowly back up to give the snake space. I have no idea what kind of snake it was. Probably it was harmless but I don’t want to take any risks. After we give it space the snake crawls off into the grass beside the road and we are safe to carry on. Seeing the snake and the swamp next to the road makes me think, will we see an alligator? We are always excited to see wildlife and animals and seeing an alligator would be super exciting! We ride on, my eyes trying to watch for more snakes, bumps in the road as well as alligators in the swamp.
As we ride on there is a pickup truck coming in the other direction. The driver stops and tells us there is a locked gate up ahead we won’t be able to pass. Barrier #3. But it’s all good, he tells us it is a combination lock and he tells us the code for it.
We ride on and sure enough at the end of the road where we are set to rejoin or cross the highway there is a locked gate. We enter the code and it won’t open. We try it again and it still won’t open. Maybe the lock is upside down – we reverse the code but it still won’t unlock. I get off the bike and Gale and I swap places. I have taken a locksmith course – completely irrelevant but it’s worth trying. I try it and it won’t open. I try it several times and try a few numbers off, in case the driver had remembered wrong. It still won’t open and we are getting worried. Will we have to ride all the way back out again? Surely the driver wasn’t playing a trick on us was he?
We try again and again… and then suddenly it opens! The code was right all along, maybe it was just tight or tired or jammed some how. Happy that we don’t have to back track we pass the third barrier. We lock the gate behind us and carry on our planned route. We go straight across the highway in front of us to the path above the levee that stretches out into the distance. There is another one of those no trespassing signs but we ride on regardless. There is a big logging truck coming in the opposite direction so the way must be open for that big truck to pass through.
Crossing the levee is a train track. It’s unusual as there are no signs or barriers, but as it’s not a proper road I guess it is not needed. We cross over just as we hear a train coming, we have plenty of time to cross and there is a car coming our ways. As the train approaches and gets louder we can still hear the driver of the car. He tells us this is a private road. He owns it and he is perfectly happy for us to ride through. But he tells us there are some gates further down. The road we are headed to is out of reach for quite some ways as all the bridges that cross the bayou are down. Regardless he says we are welcome to take the road and with that he drives off. The train is almost here so we wait for the train to come. We are always excited to see the trains and this is unique as there are no barriers and we can get close to the tracks as it passes by. We don’t get too close of course. Trains are very dangerous even when they are not going very fast. It’s fun to see them up close though.
After the train passes we carry on with our ride. Up on the levee it’s a nice ride, peaceful and calm. The surface isn’t paved but it’s quite smooth and we can ride it easily. Ahead of us a car is coming. The driver stops and tells us there a couple of gates ahead of us. He is very kind, he turns around and drives back to unlock the first one for us. Barrier #4. However the second one he can’t unlock. He doesn’t have the key for that one. We ride on and sure enough there is a locked gate ahead of us. Barrier #5 It’s a tall gate and it would be very hard to climb over it with the bike. Before we figure out how to pass this one we decide we need to eat lunch. We are both hungry and happy to eat our food rather than think about the latest barrier facing us. After lunch we walk down off the levee to each side to see the condition of the fence. To one side there is a hole in the barbed wire, we could get pass our gear over the gate and the bike should be able to pass the hole. The fence on the other side of the levee goes down towards the water but it stops short by a few feet. There are some fallen branches but other than that it will be easy to wheel the bike there. We unload the bike and pass the heavy bags over the gate at the top of the levee and then wheel the bike down and back up the other side.
After this locked gate the levee road goes down and we are back on normal roads for a while. As we ride along the road it passes some houses and then suddenly it turns into packed earth. It’s smooth enough and not hard riding so we carry on. Google Maps tells us the only alternative route is quite a big detour so we keep on. The road is a dirt path that winds along and through the sugarcane fields. We stop to taste the cane. It’s sweet but not very juicy. Not a very nice treat so we carry on. Finally we pass through the cane fields and are back onto the paved road. Not long after that we reach the final barrier of the day. There is a train that has stopped at the railway crossing. Barrier #6. We have no idea how long it will be there for. We wait a few minutes. We can see cars on the other side turning around to leave. One driver on this side tells us he has no idea how long the train may stay for. Maybe they are swapping drivers, he drives off.
From where we are we cannot see the front of the train but the end of the train in only a few cars away. We could back track and go the long way round, but it is a big detour. We decide to push the bike, into the edge of the sugarcane field and cross the tracks behind the train and then push back to the road. It’s not very far. We reach the end of the train and Gale crosses the tracks to check the other side but it’s bad news. There are two tracks and on the far side of the tracks there is a stream. There is no place we could walk on the far side, which means we would have to either walk on the second set of tracks or between the two. In theory we could walk between the two tracks but what would happen if another train came? Would there be room for us to stand in the middle? The chances of another train coming is very slim out here in rural Louisana but it’s a risk we are not willing to take. Safety first always. We decide we won’t try to cross the tracks, instead we will ride along the cane fields until we can navigate our way to the next road. We can see the path on Google Maps and it seems like it’s rideable.
After passing through several more fields we are finally back onto the road and we can carry on our ride. We have made it past all the barriers for the day and we have reached our destination for the day. We pull into the small town of Rosedale. We are not sure where we will stay so we look around. The park here is small and with no good places for us to set up camp. We opt for the town church, we try calling and we leave a voice mail at the church’s phone number. We pitch our little tent behind the church and hope for a safe and peaceful night. It’s been a long and eventful day and we need a good rest. Tomorrow is a new day and no doubt it will be filled with new experiences.
23 Nov It’s a long day of riding today to bring us into Baton Rouge. As the car drives it’s only 18 miles to Baton Rouge. But the direct routes into the city both cross the Mississippi on big bridges that are very busy with no shoulder. Looking at Google Maps and advice from the Baton Rouge Cycling group on Facebook tells me to avoid both bridges. The options are long detours to the North to a quieter and safer bridge or a detour to the south to catch the river ferry at Plaquemine. We like ferries and it sounds like a fun way to cross the river so we opt for that. The ride to Baton Rouge becomes over 50 miles. It’s a lovely sunny day so we get up and pack as early as we can and head south for the ferry crossing. We stop at the Tiger Cafe for breakfast. We have a good Southern breakfast with corn grits and pork liver. It’s a good hearty serving and we save half for lunch. The Tiger Cafe used to keep several tigers, but sadly they are sadly dead now. There are two on display in the cafe.
We have a Warmshowers host in Baton Rouge so we are keen to ride quickly to reach there. At the Plaquemine ferry we skip ahead to the front of the line of cars queuing for the next sailing. When the ferry arrives we watch the arrivals driving off and then we let some of the cars go on. We push into the queue with a friendly wave and ride onto the ferry. The staff tell us to park the bike next to the entrance to the engine room. It’s a nice place to be, there are a couple of chairs that we can sit on for the short trip.
The Mississippi River. It’s our first view of Ol’ Man River or The Big Muddy. The waters are muddy brown and it does seem to flow like an old man. Slowly, meandering along as it heads down to the Gulf of Mexico. I have a good feeling crossing the river. Along with crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is a big milestone and I’m happy. We aren’t riding our bike across the river but crossing by ferry is a nice way to do it.
After we land on the Eastern shore of the Mississippi we ride up the bank, it’s quite steep but we make it up, the cars waiting to board give us friendly waves, while the cars following give us room and we make it to the top where we take an immediate left to ride up on the levee road. There are no cars up there and we ride towards the capital city with the river on our left and the road down below us to our right. It’s a nice place to ride and we get some nice views as we go.
We roll into the driveway of David’s home in Baton Rouge with time to spare before it gets dark. It’s good as I have one more small ride to do. Once we unload the bike I need to take the bike to a bike shop.
The bike has been making some noises and I have narrowed it down to coming from the bottom brackets. Probably the front one but it’s not easy to tell. I call ahead to the shop and they confirm that if I take the bike today they should be able to look at it. It’s not far to get to Front Yard Bikes. They are doing a great job there working with the community and training some young people to become bike mechanics. They show a lot of interest in Jonny Blessing as he is a handsome bike indeed!
They won’t be able to work on the bike today but they will do it tomorrow morning and give me a call when it’s done.
I was planning on walking the mile back to David’s place, but happily Gale and David came out to pick me up. That was very nice!
For dinner David has kindly offered to take us out. Happily we are going to Elsie’s Pie & Plate. It’s only a short walk and it’s a place we had already looked at as it has Pie in the name – it can’t be a bad place. The food is traditional Southern food and very tasty. I don’t have room for dessert but I can’t help but order a slice of pie to go. They offer me a bag to carry it home but I prefer to clutch the little pie box close to me. It’s pie. I like pie.
24 Nov we have no bike as it is still at the shop. David gives us a ride to the capitol building and we arrive at our next capital, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Besides the capitol building we also go to the museum next door. After that we take a bus out to the bike shop. We need to get there before it’s too late. We have to ride back to David’s, pack up our gear and move to another host. She is not far away, just a couple of miles but we are going to be spending Thanksgiving with Jen.
25 Nov Thanksgiving. Our host is jointly hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her friends’ home. She needs to head off early to help with the preparations. In the meantime Gale and I take a walk to the store. It’s not far, we need to get some supplies so we can add our contribution to the night’s festivities. As we are shopping the skies are darkening and we can see the rain clouds rolling in. When we were up in the North rain clouds didn’t seem so threatening but here in the South the clouds seem heavier and darker. We asked a gentleman at the store if he could give us a ride. At first he refuses but after he checks his map he sees where we are trying to get to and he agrees to take us. It’s not far, only a few minutes drive. As we drive the heavens open and the rain is falling in sheets. We are thankful that we are not walking in the rain. Thank you Sir for the ride!
Jen’s friend is called Jen, so it makes for a little bit of confusion but nothing we can’t handle. Jen’s house is amazing, she is a Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus fan so she is super excited for Christmas and has decorated her house with her Santa Claus collection as well as Christmas trees. It’s easy to get into the Christmas and Thanksgiving spirit as soon as we arrive and the festive Christmas songs are already playing. They have prepared a huge turkey and other foods, and the table is loaded down with all kinds of tasty and hearty food. Jen’s house is famous for parties and friends and neighbours drop in throughout the evening. It’s great fun and we meet all kinds of new people. Between all the chatting and sharing about our journey we eat a lot of food, filling up with turkey and pecan pie. It’s a fun evening, and we have a great time. I’m so happy that we can share Thanksgiving with other people. It’s our first Thanksgiving dinner, not a traditional sit-down dinner with the family but rather a new style that I learned is called “Friendsgiving”. Whatever it’s called we enjoy it and are thankful to Jen & Jen for having us and sharing this time with us.
Our plan for the ride from Baton Rouge to New Orleans was to go directly there but after meeting Faith at Friendsgiving we decided to go via Abita Springs. Abita Springs is a small town just off the Northern shores of Lake Pontchartrain. They are having their annual bike fair in a few days and Faith will be going. It seems like it should be fun so we decide to reroute and go there first before we go to New Orleans.
26 Nov Jen needs to head out early today so we also rise early and pack up for an early start. We ride quick and easy. Is it the bellyful of turkey that is powering us along? Maybe we need to eat turkey every day?!
We stop at a gas station and are stopped by a gentleman in his pickup truck as he is preparing to drive out. We chat a while before he drives off but he returns again before we have even managed to get the bike parked. Donald is so excited to hear about our trip he has turned back around to learn more. He quizzes us about where we have been and where we are heading to. We even have to draw a little map of our travel starting from California up the coast and then down into Louisiana. He wants our picture but his old phone doesn’t take pictures so he calls up his son, Jacob to drive over and take a picture for us. Donald is so keen to help in some way, he offers to take us home for lunch or a drive towards our destination for the day. But in the end we take some pictures, exchange numbers and we ride on. It’s a good day for riding and we still feel empowered by last nights feast.
As our day’s ride draws to an end we are in Hammond and looking for a place we can stay for the night. I don’t see them, but Gale says she saw and waved at a couple who were sitting by a fire in their yard and thinks there would be a good place to stay. We turn around and ride into the yard of Jim and Laverne. They don’t actually live there but it’s their property and they are working on the house to fix it up and get it ready for renting out. We are welcome to pitch our tent. They have plenty of space and we choose a spot next to some picnic tables so we can cook our dinner comfortably. It’s a chilly evening but we are warm. We go into the house for a shower and get clean after the warm day of riding. Again we are reminded that there is much to be thankful for. Each night we need a safe place to sleep. Thank you Jim and Laverne for giving us that.
27 Nov It’s a short ride from Hammond to Abita Springs. We pushed further yesterday so that we could arrive at the bike fair early to take part in the event. We are not sure where we will stay at Abita Springs, we asked Faith if she knew anyone and she kindly posted about us in a Facebook group that she is a member of. Faith is a very keen and strong cyclist and joins a number of different group rides. One of the members responds and we are welcome to stay with them. Tim and Lupita know of the Abita Springs event, so although they can’t join they will be able to pick us up there later in the day.
The Abita Spring Bike Festival is a quiet affair. There are a good number of people joining but there is not a lot going on otherwise. Maybe it’s the pandemic or just the cold weather but the venue is empty early on and everyone has gone shortly after lunch. We go for lunch nearby and are having our first po’boy sandwich when Faith joins us with a couple of her cyclist friends. It’s always good to meet fellow cyclists and we enjoy the meal together. They have a long ride back to their cars and leave soon after lunch. Our hosts for the night are still a couple of hours away so we ride around Abita Springs for a little while but it’s getting cold and we are tired. We head over to the Abita Brew Pub to get indoors and have a warm place to wait. Happily we bump into Jim and Laverne our hosts from the previous night. Jim is watching the game on the TV but Laverne joins us and we chat as we eat a second lunch and enjoy a beer that Laverne recommends to us.
As we chat suddenly a very tall guy comes to our table and asks if I am Simeon. It is Tim, our host for the night. They had seen our bike outside and I guess we are easy to spot in our bright cycling gear.
Tim and Lupita live not for from the Pontchartrain shore. We load up our bike and gear into the back of their pickup truck and drive over to their home. Lupita is a beautiful lady from Mexico and she has a fridge full of delicious Mexican food. Tim is an engineer and he has a garage full of interesting bikes and other projects he is making. Tim tells us about his flying bicycle which so far has not actually gotten off the ground but not for a lack of flapping wings. Another neighbourhood favourite he has made is the Ice Cream bike. He has fitted an ice cream maker to a bike that churns as he rides. Come the summer he will ride the bike around the local streets for 45 mins with the local kids riding alongside. He needs to ride non-stop until the ice cream is ready. And then when it’s time he and the kids get a lovely homemade ice cream treat!
They also have a tandem bike and over dinner we make plans for the next day. The ride to New Orleans for a bike means going all around the Lake as the bridge that crosses it is not suitable for bikes. Tim and Lupita offer to join us for a day of riding of tandem bikes around New Orleans. It sounds like a fun day and it helps us a lot to not have to ride the long way into the city.
28 Nov In the morning Lupita makes us a lovely Mexican breakfast and then we load up our two tandem bikes and all our gear into the truck and we head out. We drive across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the longest bridge over water. It’s 24 miles long and it just skims across the surface of the water. It’s prone to fog and there are lots of signs warning drivers to slow down when the visibility is poor. When it’s very bad the police send out patrol cars to drive along the bridge at a safe speed to control the traffic and ensure everyone can cross safely.
Our drive across the bridge is uneventful and easy on the sunny morning. We arrive soon at the Audubon Park where we park up, unload the bikes, move our bags onto the back seat to keep them safe and then take off on our two tandem tour of New Orleans, The Big Easy.
I thought that Gale was lively on the back of our tandem but her energy pales compared to Lupita. Perhaps it’s her Mexican spirit and energy. As we ride towards the downtown area and the river our guides have a speaker playing music and Lupita is singing and dancing to the tunes while she pedals. It’s quite a sight to see and it’s perfect for New Orleans. It’s a fun, lively and musical city and we fit right in. At each stop we pull up alongside each other to wait for the light to turn green and then we excitedly ride off as Tim orders “Vamos!” which is Spanish for “let’s go”.
We ride along looking at the grand old houses along St Charles Avenue, it’s a pretty area before we reach the riverside where it gets busier and there are many tourists out and about. We stop for one of the famous beignets at the legendary Cafe Du Monde. The cafe was established in 1862 they operate 24 hours a day. I wonder how many beignets they have served since then. They serve them in little paper bags, three to a bag and an unbelievably huge amount of powdered sugar. Tim instructs us – the safe way to bite into them is to hold your breath. If you breathe in you inhale a lungful of sugar and if you exhale you blow a cloud of sugar everywhere. It’s not often that we need to be told the “safe” way to eat something but I’m glad for this guidance.
The beignets are special. It’s a very unique and old tradition and we are glad to have been shown this fun place.
After the snack we ride through the French Quarter before we head back towards where we parked the car. I use Google Maps to navigate back and as usual it tries to keep us off the busy roads if possible. It takes us into some poorer areas and there is a huge contrast with the grand houses of St Charles Avenue. Here the houses are much more modest, many are still not repaired from a storm that has passed through. I have no idea what storm caused the damage we are seeing, maybe it’s an accumulation of several storms. The roads are in terrible condition. We are weaving wildly along the road trying to avoid the big pot holes and loose road surface. It’s sad. This city has seen a lot. Hurricane Katrina famously flooded this city and caused much damage and loss of life. Since Katrina there have been many other storms that have battered this area, not just New Orleans but it seems that New Orleans gets a lot of attention in the news media. Seeing first hand some of the damage caused it is painful to see. Not only the roads and the houses but also the trees. For many miles of our ride we have been seeing trees downed or damaged by the most recent storms.
We rule against Google Maps and head back to the main road. Weaving around those broken roads is no fun on a tandem bike. Cyclists are always aware of potholes but on a tandem we have to be even more cautious. Our rear seat riders are not able to see the coming bumps so we have to call out whenever we are about to hit a bump. After a while calling out “bump” just gets tiring.
Back at Audubon Park we unload our gear from the truck and load up the bike. Tim and Lupita load their bike onto the truck and we say our goodbyes. This fun couple just replied to a Facebook post asking for a place to stay. Once again we are so thankful to these strangers who have opened their arms and their homes to welcome us in. Thank you for taking us in and for the tour of NOLA, Tim and Lupita.
As they pull away we are mindful that the afternoon is getting along and the sun is starting to dip behind the trees. We still do not have a place to stay in New Orleans.
We get online and try to find a place we can stay for a reasonable price. We do not need a fancy place to stay but we do need a place where we can safely keep JB . We finally find the New Orleans Youth Hostel. It’s not too expensive and we call them to check if we can securely store the bike and if they have a room for us.
They can accommodate both us and the bike so it’s a done deal. We ride back into the city and head for the hostel. It’s a very nice modern hostel, the staff are very friendly and helpful. We roll the bike right in through the front door and lean it up against the pool table. We are happy, we can take the bike into the elevator and Jonny Blessing can go into the room with us and there is plenty of room.
29 Nov We have booked two nights at the Youth Hostel. We have had a busy few days and I need a rest. The first place we go to is the P&J Oyster Company. They are just a short walk from the hostel which has a well equipped kitchen and we are keen to get some fresh oysters. We confidently walk into the office and declare we want to buy a sack of fresh whole oysters.
“are you sure you want a whole sack? Wouldn’t you prefer a tub of opened oysters?”
“Yes we want a sack, we have an oyster shucking knife”
“are you sure? A sack weighs about 50 pounds”
“Oh! 50 pounds. Erm, Tell me about the tub”
We opt for the tub. Fresh whole oysters are indeed lovely, but it is a lot of work to open them. And having to carry a 50 pound sack back to the hostel would be too much work altogether. We leave P&J’s with a tub of oysters and a pack of frozen crawfish and head back to the hostel. The oysters are good. Big, juicy, salty and creamy. We put the crawfish into the freezer and then go out. We need to find something to have with them.
Our hostel is close to Bourbon St and the French Quarter. It is a very lively and exciting area. There are lots of touristy souvenir shops, bars, and clubs. Some are selling frozen daiquiris, alcoholic drinks in almost cartoon-like colours. It’s a fun place to be but sad as well. We are not there late at night but we already see several people too drunk to walk or even stand. We watch as one lady is loaded into an ambulance, the mounted police seated quietly up on their big horses keeping an eye on the crowd.
The night life is not for us so we head back to the hostel, stopping at a store to buy a few items for breakfast and a couple of bottles of beer. We spend the rest of the evening in the lobby playing pool and drinking our beer.
Our next day in New Orleans we spend riding around the city again. We plotted out a few places we want to see. A few murals, a statue of Louis Armstrong, the cathedral are all on the list. It’s nice to ride around the city and we stop at Cafe du Monde for more beignets but they don’t seem to be as good today without the fun and energy of Tim and Lupita. For dinner we cook the crawfish. We bought a pack of gumbo with rice and add the crawfish to it. It’s an easy, tasty and very traditional Southern meal to finish our last day at New Orleans. Tomorrow we will leave The Big Easy and head West along the river to join the Mississippi River Trail as we head towards our next state capital, Jackson, Mississippi.