My Bike Touring Gear List

This is my personal gear list. It does not include the bike repair gear, which will be in a separate post, if people are interested.

Bike Clothes

  • 1 Bike helmet liner (Icebreaker)**
  • 1 Helmet (Bell)
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 set arm warmers (Ibex)**
  • 1 set knee or leg warmers (Sugoi)**
  • 1 pair padded biking gloves (Pearl Izumi)
  • 2 sports bras/tanks
  • 2 biking jerseys*
  • 1 long sleeve biking jacket (Sugoi)**
  • 1 biking windbreaker (Peal Izumi)
  • 3 pairs biking shorts (double shorting)*
  • 5 pairs synthetic underwear (Hanes)*
  • 3 pairs socks (Smart Wool; REI)
  • 1 pair recessed clip bike shoes (Pearl Izumi)

* If trip is less than a week, in cool weather, or will have frequent rest days, I’d eliminate one full kit (i.e., 1 jersey, 1 shorts, 1-2 underwear, 1 pair of socks).

** On warm weather trips. I’d forgo the long sleeve jersey and helmet liner, but still keep the arm and knee warmers to be safe, unless you know it is going to be hot.

Camp Clothes

  • 1 hat
  • 1pair gloves
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 pair rainpants
  • 1 down/synthetic puffy jacket
  • 1 lightweight polar fleece jacket***
  • 1 black yoga pants (for camp and PJs)
  • 1 T-shirt (for camp and pjs)
  • 1 pair long underwear (for camp and PJs)
  • 1 lightweight synthetic hoodie (for camp and PJs)
  • 1 long sleeve wool shirt (Icebreaker) (for camp and PJs)
  • 1 lightweight pants with zip-off legs (for camp)
  • 1 pair flipflops (Chaco)

On warm trips, I’ve brought a skort, like the kind in a Title Nine or Athleta catalogue, that when paired with a shirt and Chacos makes as a decent civie outfit on warm rest days.

I prefer having a pair of black yoga pants that you can wear around camp, as pajamas, and, when necessary, as civies on rests days. Also, for pajamas, I like wearing a clean pair of socks. I use the same pair for camp/sleeping, the other two sets for biking or hiking. I also like a lightweight synthetic hoody as my pajama top because the hoody helps keep my hat on my head during cold nights.

***This is a bit of a splurge that could be left behind and one could layer a long-sleeve or puffy instead. I just love this jacket so much, that I usually want to wear it at camp and on rest days.

Toiletries

  • Bonners soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Small flat mirror
  • Hair supplies: small comb, bobby pins, ponytail holder
  • Glasses & contact supplies: case, extra (extended wear) contacts, saline, lubricating eye drops
  • Mini makeup kit: small mascara, mini powder, mini eyeshadow, SPF CC cream
  • SPF moisturizer
  • Wet Ones / BB Cleansing Wipes
  • Deodorant (optional, depending on weather)
  • Small camp towel

Other

  • Medium sized compression sack (for clothes)
  • Small backpack (for supplies and misc)
  • First aid kit (don’t forget the tampons)

Equipment

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Therm-a-rest

Cooking Supplies

  • Campstove w/ repair kit
  • 2 Lighters
  • Camp kettle
  • Skillet
  • Pot
  • Collapsible Bowl
  • Metal Camp Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Jackknife
  • Mug
  • Coffee maker
  • Water bottles

When going light, we prefer small metal bowls for our personal eating bowls because we can also use them as cooking/prep bowls.

Tracking A Deer

I’m going to be honest here. I am not a hunter. My grandpa Ed was a hunter, I think. I mean, the family has more stories about the improvements that my grandfather (a physics professor, a consummate tinkerer, and lover of duck tape) made to his bow, scope, deer blind, etc. than we have stories about his actual deer kills. Maybe I am wrong. After all, the story about my Grandpa Ed’s improvement to his scope—the one that captured more light and was more accurate than existing scopes, but a WHOLE lot HEAVIER—is funnier and more memorable than remembering whether he bagged a deer during the 1982 bow hunting season. But then again, I am not a hunter.

Okay, that disclosure aside, last Friday, I got to track a deer. It wasn’t a deer that I shot. My Uncle Jeff did that part with an arrow last Thursday, at dusk. So, when my father and I showed up at our family’s cabin for a “work day” Friday morning, he informed us that the first task of the day was to find his deer. This was something new. I had never tracked a deer before.

We set off up the trail toward his blind where he had shot the deer. He had been lucky (skilled) enough to find (and mark) a few drops of blood in the fading light, so that is were we started. We stood a few feet from either side of the marked blood drops so that we wouldn’t stand on the possible blood tail and looked for the next tell tail signs of the deer’s flight. I would have thought that a deer shot with an arrow (or a bullet) would leave a bloody trail, a trail easy to find, but it wasn’t.

Instead, it felt like we were CSIs . . . looking for tiny miniscule blood droplets on the mottled autumn colored leaves. We stood there, swiveling our heads from side to side, pointing with a stick when we though we found a new droplet. More often than not, they were darkened holes in the leaves, but as we went on . . . following each drop . . . my eyes started to figure it out, finding a particular red-brown shape, sometimes completely round, sometimes with a little tail pointing to the next drop. And sometimes, the drops would come in fast succession, bright vicious red trails . . . that would stop suddenly . . . and then we would scour again, in circles, until we found another small red clue.

Each clue, we’d mark with a small length of plastic tape. Hunter’s orange in color, the tape pointed the deer’s path through the woods, in fear and pain.

The deer went straight, then it zigged and zagged and zigged again. We lost it in a gully, found it going uphill (a direction we didn’t expect) and then back down (okay, that made more sense). It was slow going, bushwhacking through brambles, but slow fun like filling in a NYT Sunday crossword while simultaneously looking for Waldo.

We laughed that we’d just stumble on the deer, heads down looking for the next clue. About ½ mile into the search, I was leaning up against a tree pointing with my stick to the latest clue, while Uncle Jeff circled to the right side of the blood drop. I’d already started looking for the next drop, when my uncle laughed and said there it was. I looked around the tree that I was leaning on, and there was the deer, nestled up against the uphill side!

It wasn’t bloody, and the only sign of distress was it’s tongue hanging out, frozen solid. My uncle pulled out his hunting knife, and then turned to ask me, his vegetarian niece, if I’d be okay with this. As a resource vegetarian who had just helped locate a dead dear, I “gamely” said, “no p” and agreed to hold the deer’s hooves while my uncle field dressed the deer. (For those interested, field dressing started with zip tying the deer’s butthole so that it doesn’t spew feces, then cutting off the buck’s privates, cracking it’s ribs, pulling out entrails and organs (steaming, even though the deer had been dead for hours), and then relieving its bladder (smelly)). It was strange to see how quickly a small, sharp knife could remove the organs and entrails of a dead deer.

Then, it was time to DRAG. We tied a rope to the buck’s antler’s, made two loops at each end, stepped into the loops and started pulling the deer uphill through the woods toward the path. Lucky for my uncle, I’d just come off the New Orleans ride and was in tip-tip shape for hauling a deer uphill. It was like a workout drill from hell . . .

We pulled it up the hill and then my uncle took off to get the ATV, while my father and I pulled it along the, now mostly downhill, path. We used the ATV to do the rest of the work . . .

I wish that I had more photos of us hanging out at the family cabin—Calendonia, but we were too busy working – hanging a deer, splitting and hauling wood, and making the ancestral cabin ready for the large family Thanksgiving gathering in a few weeks.

A Post Script: SOME DAY IS TODAY

Some Day Is Today, by John Fitzgerald

Some Day Is Today, by John Fitzgerald

My sister found and bought us this hand-printed screen, by John Fitzgerald in New Orleans.  She understood that this sums up the Mike and Chandra philosophy . . . complete with the quirky bicyclist.

And it is so true . . . in the planning, preparation, duration and re-telling of our story, we hear over and over again of how people would like to do such a trip someday . . . someday when they can afford the time, someday when the kids are older, someday when I’m in better shape, someday when . . .

The fact that we are able to make our someday dreams reality is a testament to how fortunate we are.  We have the flexibility, freedom, resources and support to do so.

But there are so many others out there as examples to us of how important it is to live life fully, regardless of resources and time.  To know what one’s dreams are and to find a way to make them real everyday.

So, as we head back to Madison, to our “real” lives full of responsibilities, work, and challenges other than “miles, food and shelter”, we also are reminded to keep dreaming our dreams and to figure out how soon we can make that next “someday dream” happen today.

God bless all of you who have taken this trip with us–in spirit and in support.  Special thanks to my dad and sister (a.k.a. the Rendezvous Crew) without your support we’d still be in NOLA (maybe that’s not a bad thing though); to all the Hoseas, especially Grandma Marie, in Springfield who fed and housed us; to Mark and Julie in St. Louis for hosting us on our rest day and to Hudson for the baseball game and the map; to Mike’s mom whose daily replies to the blog made us smile and know that we were loved and being prayed for; to the Veaseys and Milbinos whose prayers are particularly powerful; to fellow tandemers, Chris R. from St. Louis and to Dave and Rhona from West Virginia, who understand the beauty of paired travel; to Perry and Lep for their generosity not just to us but to hundreds of fellow bikers; to Joy Gauss for her artistry (I love the pendant); and to Jimmie Cropper and Johnny Blancher at Ye Olde College Inn for making us love New Orleans even more than I thought possible.

We love you all.  And if there is anyway we can help make a dream of yours possible . . . know that we will be there.

Till Next Time!

Till Next Time!

 

 

Days 18-21: Rendezvous Party in NOLA

I’ve been saying before and during this entire trip that the way I see it is, if I ride to New Orleans, I’ll be able to eat and drink anything I want to when I get there.  And we did!

Day 18 (a.k.a. Arrival Day):  After gorging ourselves at Parasols, we checked into our hotel, Frenchmen Orleans at 519, which is a little apartment style hotel conveniently located on Frenchmen Street, and cleaned ourselves and our gear while waiting for the Rendezvous Party to arrive.  My dad and sister pulled in with the car and a trailer that my dad has specially rigged for the tandem around 6 pm.  After a zillion hugs and kisses, we got down to business.

First, the official weigh in.  Everyone thinks that you lose weight on these trips, and Mike certainly does.  But for some reason, I don’t.  We’d made a bet that Mike would lose at least 10 pounds on this trip and that I would stay within 5 pounds, up or down.  Weigh in results:  Mike–down 15.  Me–down 0.5.  REALLY???  All that work and no weight loss?  Well, lets see if that works in the reverse.  If I can bike 18 days and not lose weight, can I eat and not gain weight?

Settled in, we set out for dinner across town at Jaques-Imos for “Real Nawlins Food.”  It is quite a popular place and so we had an hour or so wait.  Luckily, you can take your cocktails outside in New Orleans so most of the crowd was outside on the sidewalk, having a grand old time.  When we finally got our table, we were all ready to eat!  Cracking open the menu, we discovered an interesting appetizer: Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. After a brief discussion amongst the pescatarians, we decided that alligator was close enough and ordered it up.  It was delicious. . . .  and this would not be the last time, we pescatarians fudged a bit.  We feasted on shrimp etoufee, fried mirliton (a type of squash) with oysters, Cajun bouillabaisse, and blackened redfish.

Then, we four very full people walked next door to the Maple Leaf Bar.  Our plan was to catch the local and popular brass band, the Rebirth, that has a regular Tuesday night gig at the bar.  We found ourselves a great location and settled in to listen to the opening band, New Breed Brass Band.  It was 10:30 pm.

New Breed Brass Band @ Maple Leaf

New Breed Brass Band @ Maple Leaf

They were great, but after six consecutive days of riding and (for my sister and dad) two days of driving (not to mention that my sister had flown from Japan on Saturday), we couldn’t make it to midnight when Rebirth was supposed to start.

Feeling more Midwestern than Cajun, we called it a night and dragged our exhausted selves back to the hotel, knowing that we still had two days of fun in New Orleans!

Day 19: The Party Continues . . . with a little history and a whole lot of FOOD

Refreshed from a good solid sleep, we were ready to start our first full day in NOLA the way every tourist is required to start the day–at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets.

Cafe Du Monde

Mike, who doesn’t really like donuts, was humoring the rest of us as we insisted we all get beignets.  Not that you have any choice, since that is all that they serve.  As anyone who has been to Cafe du Monde knows, the beignets and au laits arrive fast and hot.  Three to a serving and covered like the Alpine snow with copious amounts of powdered sugar, they are as delicious as reputed.IMG_2300 Sistas at Cafe Du Monde Mike Eating His First BeignetSistas at Cafe Du MondeAfter this “nutritious” breakfast, we dusted ourselves off (literally) and headed to our day’s destination: The National WWII Museum.   A relatively new attraction (it opened in 2000 as the the National D-Day Museum) was a project of the historian/author, Stephen Ambrose, and focused on the story of the American WWII Experience.  In the intervening years, it expanded to cover the Pacific and African fronts, but remains very focused on the American War Experience, with only nominal references to the Eastern Front (where Russia’s 23 million casualties dwarfed the U.S.’s less than half a million casualties) or the U.S. domestic activities (e.g., there is a single poster regarding the internment of the Japanese).  Strangely, there is no mention (as far as I could see) about the Japanese American 442nd Infantry Regiment,which is the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare.  There is a little bit about Japanese-American (JA) translators, but nothing about the fighting “Go For Broke” JA soldiers.  But there is A LOT in the museum, so perhaps I missed it.  Or perhaps, this is a function that the museum started as a D-Day museum and the 442nd fought largely on the Italian southern front.

Of particular interest to us was that my great uncle Bob Miller (my dad’s uncle) had been among the first troops landing in Japan on August 28, 1945.  Part of a reconnaisance mission, he’d been there when the US flag was first raised in Japan.  The importance of this is particularly acute when you realize how hard fought the battle of the Pacific was–island after bloody, disease-infested island–in order to get US troop on Japanese soil. When Uncle Bob died in 2001, we knew that he had donated the flag to the museum so we were thrilled to find it prominently displayed at the very end of the Pacific Theater exhibition.

The Millers in front of the first flag raised over Japan, donated by my great uncle Bob Miller

The Millers in front of the first flag raised over Japan, donated by my great uncle Bob Miller

First flag raised over Japan, August 28, 1945.

First flag raised over Japan, August 28, 1945.

Description of the flag noting that it was donated by Robert D. Miller

Description of the flag noting that it was donated by Robert D. Miller

We saw the 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, which is narrated by Tom Hanks and has a bunch of Hollywood A-listers (including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Garner) doing the voice overs.  It is pretty cool,  but with its surround sound, flash bangs, falling debris, and vibrating chairs, any vets suffering from PTSD might want to think twice about seeing it.

From there, we took a break to walk to another well-known po-boy establishment, Mother’s.  This time, I showed a little restraint (and common sense) and split an oyster/shrimp po-boy with my sister.  Mike, however, was able to manage a single one on his own.

Oyster Po-Boy at Mother's

Oyster Po-Boy at Mother’s

Keiko, Chandra & Mike outside Mother's

Keiko, Chandra & Mike outside Mother’s

Keiko & Mike considering Mother's for lunch

Keiko & Mike considering Mother’s for lunch

For those interested in a head-to-head between Mother’s and Parasol’s oyster po-boys, we think Parasols to be superior, as theirs includes a tomato, has crustier bread, you can sit outside, and they have Stone IPA (instead of Miller Lite) on tap. But rating po-boys is a very subjective thing.  It is better just to eat and enjoy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the Western Front and D-Day portions of the museum, before heading back towards the hotel.  We stopped at the historic Napoleon House for Sazerac cocktails on the way.  (Fun fact: The Napoleon House was built for the New Orleans mayor, Nicholas Girod, who offered it as a refuge to Napoleon in 1821. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck.)  Since we were in a historic locale, we choose Sazeracs because they are known as the world’s first “cocktail” and were invented in 1838 by New Orleans apothocary owner, Antoine Amedie Peychaud.

After a quick clean up, we were out walking along Bourbon street through the French Quarter, navigating around loud, drunk tourists and catching beads tossed from the balconies, towards our dinner destination: Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar.   Maybe because it was a Wednesday, but we lucked out and scored a table immediately and with it came a funny sassy waitress named Diane.  She had Abitas at the table in short order.  After an earnest discussion regarding the correct cut for a fried pickle (spears versus rounds), we had a plate of fried pickles, cut into thin rounds to gobble up.  Then came hush puppies, a dozen grilled oysters and a dozen raw, before we topped it off with chickory coffee and pecan pie.  The only flaw was they don’t have ice cream for the pie.  Don’t feel too sorry for us (I know you don’t), we made do.

at Felix's Oyster Bar

at Felix’s Oyster Bar

And, then we were off back through the French Quarter to hear some music.  This time we were lucky as the place we were headed to was within walking distance of the hotel and the music started at 10:30 pm, instead of midnight.  As we neared the hotel, we came across a brass band playing on the corner . . . some of them looked mightily familiar . . .  wait a second, they were some of the guys from last night!

New Breed Brass Band

New Breed Brass Band

Apparently, they were just warming up a bit before their gig at the Blue Nile.  Seeing a gaggle of musicians hanging out on a corner with a crowd extruding onto the narrow Frenchmen Street just seemed so New Orleans!  After a bit, we continued on to our intended destination, d.b.a., to hear Walter “Wolfman” Washington.  (Special thanks to Charlie Peters for the recommendation.)

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Walter "Wolfman" Washington at d.b.a.

Walter “Wolfman” Washington at d.b.a.

Fun times!

Day 20: More Fun in NOLA

You know it . . . we started the day again at Cafe du Monde with cafe au laits and beignets.  This time we had a game plan, which included ordering large au laits in their souvenir mugs.  It is like getting the au lait for free!

More beignets and au laits

More beignets and au laits

And despite being (more) experienced at eating the sugary beignets, it was a gusty day so we still ended up covered with powered sugar.  We laughed because dad had an actual “void in the (sugar) splatter pattern” on his chair when he stood up!

We wandered a bit, checking out the river . . .

Above the Mighty Mississippi

Above the Mighty Mississippi

. . . before we found this cool artist’s co-op called the Dutch Artist Co-Op where we met pottery and clay artist, Joy Gauss.  She was so interested and blown away by the idea of pedaling from Madison to New Orleans, that she gave me one of her super cool pendants as a reward and for good luck!

Joy Gauss and me (and my cool new pendant by Joy)

Joy Gauss and me (and my cool new pendant by Joy)

. . . we continued meandering through the French (Flea) Market, buying little trinkets, magnets and looking for a gift for my mom, who was watching my sister’s kids so Keiko could be in New Orleans with us.  We were charmed by these handmade cool pot hangers “Petal Paddles” that allow you to hang terra cotta planters in an endless variety of ways.

Petal Paddles

Petal Paddles

I guess they are originally from Texas, but I’d seen them hanging from porches along our ride, and we thought that they were something my gardening mom would like, so we got her one.  Kind of cute, no?

And then we were off . .  . to Commander’s Palace for a fancy lunch.

Commander's Palace Menu (that I  "stole")

Commander’s Palace Menu (that I “stole”)

It wasn’t our final meal, but it would be the last meal that we would have as a foursome since Keiko was flying home to Minneapolis later in the afternoon.  Commander’s Palace had been recommended by multiple people as a place to hit, and Mike and I wanted to commemorate the Rendezvous Party with something a little special.  Thanks to the tip Mike got when making the lunch reservation, we had been warned to gussy up a bit.   Although Mike only had jeans (which were “discouraged”), onced he donned his Hawaiian dress shirt, no one cares about his pants.  Looking good, we were escorted through the classic old place to an upstairs dining room surrounded by glass windows that, in turn, were surrounded by green trees and their curvy brown trunks.

Commander’s Palace was a HOPPING place for LUNCH on a THURSDAY!  Every table was full, mostly with well dressed older ladies having a grand old time.  There was a birthday party for someone that spanned several tables.  And a fashion show going on. We were seated in a horseshoe shaped booth in a corner where we could easily observe the festivities.  Since it was a party (and because we were in NOLA), we ordered a round of cocktails to help us ponder the menu, which included turtle soup (again, we had to discuss whether how turtle fits (or doesn’t fit) into the pescatarian diet), creole gumbo, a root vegetable soup de jour.  Ultimately, it didn’t matter as our waiter decided to bring us a little sampler that included all three soups.  Fun.  Interestingly, Mike, Keiko and I all found the turtle soup the most delicious and the root vegetable soup the least delicious (still delicious though) while dad went the opposite way, preferring the vegetable soup over the gumbo and turtle soups.

After our first round of cocktails, we discovered a secret — they serve martinis for 25 cents!!!  Wow, well, of course, we needed to take advantage of that deal.  So while we saved money on the cocktails, we feasted on a (deconstructed) crab boiled seafood tamale (Keiko), which was good although the corn husks made it a bit tricky to navigate; a chicory coffee lacquered quail (Dad), which was beautiful and had only two little leg bones in it, all the others having been carefully removed before the bird stuffed; and Louisiana shrimp and grits (Mike and me), which had goat cheese in the stone ground grits.  For dessert, we shared their signature bread pudding souffle with a whiskey cream sauce and Mike finally got a Southern Pecan Pie a la mode worthy of this trip!

Mike and his pie at Commander's Palace

Mike and his pie at Commander’s Palace

And then, it was time to take Keiko to the airport.  It was the beginning of the end of the NOLA trip.

Saying goodbye to Keiko

Saying goodbye to Keiko

After Keiko left, it was down to just the three of us . . . what to do now?

Well, we’d seen some antique shops near the hotel, so we thought we’d poke around and maybe find Keiko a New Orleans Christmas present.  We knew they might be quirky (and perhaps closed) . . .

Posted Hours at a NOLA Antique and Junk Shoppe

Posted Hours at a NOLA Antique and Junk Shoppe

We looked, but the only thing we found was this . . .

Mounted bat for the low low price of $200

Mounted bat for the low low price of $200

For those of you who do not know my sister, she DOES NOT like bats.  Her bat history is a little bit like our squirrel stories.  She quickly texted Mike that he would be disinvited to Christmas if he brought that home.

Even without Keiko, the show must go on!  We rallied ourselves, because we had one more big must-do before we could say goodbye ourselves to NOLA. . . we had zydeco at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl!

First though . . . we needed to eat.  I know, you are thinking, but you just ate a HUGE three-course lunch at Commander’s Palace, and you are right.  But, this was our last night in New Orleans, so dinner just could not be skipped.  Besides, dad had not yet had an oyster po-boy (since he ordered a roast beef po-boy the day before at Mother’s).  And so we made our way to Ye Olde College Inn, which is next door to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl and is owned by the son of the Rock’n’Bowl owner.

Now I know that every since I rolled into the wonderful state of Louisiana, I’ve been blown away by how nice Louisianans are.   Well, the people at the Ye Olde College Inn are no exception.  Our waiter, a big locale with an easy smile and a love of all things Louisianan, Jimmie Cropper is clearly an institution favorite.  Due to our rich lunch, we were unable to handle full entrees–all of which look delicious, so we must return to try out.  Instead, we settled on their “lighter” po-boys and salads.  When Jimmie heard about the trip, he insisted on bringing us a complimentary dessert, their award winning fried bread pudding po-boy.  After the entrees, I had excused myself for a ladies room break, so I wasn’t there when it arrived.  But apparently, when it did, Mike and my dad looked at it and thought, “How in the world are we going to make this plate look empty?” (so as to not insult Jimmie’s generosity).  One bite in and their thinking changed to “How in the world are we going to keep the plate from getting empty in Chandra’s absence?”  To fortify their willpower from the lure of the delicious dessert, they would take a small bite, then set their spoons down for as long as they could endure to go without eating another small bite.  To their credit, there was a corner left there for me when I finally returned.  That is one dessert that deserves a lot of rewards.  Yum!

We’d just finished when the owner, Johnny Blancher, came over to see if his waiter, Jimmie, was telling tales about a crazy couple who’d ridden a tandem from Madison to New Orleans.  Johnny Blancher seems about one of the nicest people you could hope to meet–funny, easy going and enthusiastic, it was a real treat to meet him.  The food is fantastic in New Orleans, but it is the combination of the food and the people that make it truly special.  I wish I had a picture to share with you of our night here, but we were too busy having fun and talking, that we plum forgot about our cameras.  Alas.

And then we were off, across the parking lot to the Rock’n’Bowl.  My parents had discovered the Rock’n’Bowl on their NOLA trip a decade or so ago, and my dad really wanted to check it out again (although the location had changed due to damage from Katrina).  After all, there are not too many places where you can bowl and dance to live zydeco music all in the same venue.  Sure enough, the band was just finishing setting up, and even as the completed their sound check, dancers flooded the dance floor.  Zydeco is difficult to resist and it wasn’t long before dad and I were out there trying to fit our swing and ballroom dancing knowledge to the zydeco beat.  We weren’t very good, but no one cared.  Everyone was having too much fun dancing.  I got a couple of dances with a regular there, but mostly just followed his lead.  Even better, I got a few dances in with Mike!  What a great last night in New Orleans.

Day 21: Departure Day

Well, it had finally come . . . time to leave NOLA.  One last beignet and au lait at Cafe du Monde . . . We must be winding down, because this time we only ordered six (two apiece) beignets, instead of our usual three apiece.

Pre-departure beignets

Pre-departure beignets

And then, the guys tied Talula to the trailer

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. . .  and I had a quick (foot) soak in the hot tub while watching the gear . . .

Soaking my feet on departure day was the closest I got to using the hot tub

Soaking my feet on departure day was the closest I got to using the hot tub

. . . and were off headed out of town.

Heading out of town

Heading out of town

This trip has been fantastic.  But more than the bike trip, the thing that changed me the most are the examples of niceness we have seen over and over in Louisiana.  I’m taking a little Louisiana home with me — to remind me to be kind to strangers, to be enthusiastic about meeting new people, and to be more generous to everyone.

. . . I think Talula likes NOLA and hopes to come back again too.

IMG_4777

Day 18: NEW ORLEANS, LA!!! “Finish in good style, mate” – 65 miles, 1,483 total

We woke up this morning so totally rested and comfortable in the gorgeous Fountainbleau State Park on the north shore of Lake Poncartrain. Our 97 miles yesterday were largely flat but into a headwind. Even though it wasn’t a particularly difficult day, just trying to keep up the pace beyond a total lolygag is the difference that makes us exhausted. I suppose the butter-fest of dinner I made contributed to the big sleep.

IMG_4704 IMG_4718But even after a chilll morning (including a second pot of coffee – oh my!) and posing for photos on the shores of the lake, we were rolling pretty early with visions of a Po’ Boy and a beer in New *MF* Orleans!! Our intended route was to start with about 12 miles on the Tammany Trace paved bike trail. A few miles in, there was a lift bridge with a bathroom stop. As we stopped, we realized there was a solo day biker pacing us. He said “Wow, I saw you guys when I joined the path and you were moving!” The guy is a French Professor who boomeranged back to the NOLA region recently named Marvin. We rode together for a bit and he asked us about our planned route. Upon hearing it, he made a firm veto and gave us a much better way. Simpler and totally beautiful – including passing the historic St. Genevive church – Marvin rode with us as long as he could, recommending places to visit in New Orleans (including his favorite Po’ Boy joint in the Garden District (Parasol’s)) and then we parted ways.

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One more flat day. We wandered through bayous, homes on stilts for storm surge, and ultimately made our way along the water to the city!

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We stopped on the side of the road for one last “elevensees” (we never make it to a proper lunch time before needing calories. As tempting as the Po’ Boy awaiting us was, we were not going to make 60 miles without some calories!).

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Just after some foods, we battled a 10-15 MPH headwind for a little more until we turned the corner at about 30 miles into the day. Rounding the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, it was a tailwind to guide us into New Orleans in style at 20 MPH.

IMG_4747We stopped for a stretch break (Chandra showed me this amazing Yoga stretch that somehow I had never noticed she does. It somehow releases all this stress in the muscles that get flamed out sitting in the saddle all day. For bicycle touring, it is an understatement to say that this was a life-changing moment for me). From there, it was 15 miles to Parasol’s and we were stoked to motor it out!

After a couple miles, though, Chandra said that the rear wheel was acting funny. We’ve been having issues with it going out of true and I shrugged it off “only 10 miles!” I thought – we’ll make it. Chandra persisted, though, and said “I think it’s different”. So, we stopped, I slowly pushed the bike forward, watching the rim relative to the brake pads — looked about as true as before. So we powered on. Then Chandra insisted, saying she really thought it was worse and I finally listened, agreeing to take everything off the bike, flip it over, and look for loose spokes to tighten. I spun the wheel and noted it rubbing once per revolution, I could see when the rim got close to the breaks in the bend that is known to be there, but then I felt it rub out of synch with that. Impossible! But it was. Looking closer, I found that the tire was hitting the frame – not the brake pads! Uh-oh. Narrowing down the possibilities, we found we’d blown through the sidewall of the tire and the bulge was hitting the frame.

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So, we took the time to change the tire (don’t count this as a flat, since the tube never leaked and we didn’t replace it!) and carry on. It’s a good thing I finally listened and that Chandra pushed because we had a couple tight bridges to cross and lots of crazy traffic in the city. A full blowout could have been super inconvenient. It remind me of finishing a 30-day backpacking section at NOLS. Our instructor recounted a story of running a race and being tempted to walk at the end, not having met his time goal. An Aussie runner came up alongside and said “finish in good style, mate! You’ll thank yourself later”. The timing was unfortunate, 10 miles from the end to make a repair like this, but I thought about that admonishment, and how much of a pain it would be to have a more serious blowout within those last 10 miles. So we took the time to do it right and finish in good style, and I’m thanking myself (and Chandra!) later already. While the packs were off the bike, I also tightened a couple loose spokes on the wheel and knocked a bit of the wobble out of it. The last ten miles were without the squeak that had come back to haunt us a bit, and with a solid tire that could handle city streets. It felt good!

US Highway 90 (which we had been on for 25 miles or so) gave way to Gentily street with a bike lane. A BIKE LANE! So Nice!

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Navigating was easy and pretty soon we were cruising through the French Quarter on the way to the Garden District. We sat outside at Parasol’s, toasted the beautiful day and nearly 1,500 miles of riding together with a Stone IPA and loaded up on shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys and onion rings. When the bartender came out to deliver the food, he saw Talula and said “where did you guys ride from?” We said “Wisconsin”. He said “What’s your final destination?” We said “Right here!”. He said “Hey, that’s cool!” and gave me a high five. I think I like this town! One by one, patrons came out of the bar and asked us questions. We just enjoyed the big eat, the beer, ice water, and completion!

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So now we sit in a room on Frenchmen street, showered up, waiting for our return driving crew to arrive and then will head out on the town, for dinner and music. I will write an epilogue soon, but for now, here we are. We made it and couldn’t be happier!

pre-epilogue epilogue…. I do want to say one last thing while I’m thinking of it. This kind of journey is one that draws Chandra and I closer together. But it also draws closer to the strangers we meet, the friends and family following the blog, the likes and comments on social media. It makes us feel more complete and close as a couple, but also makes us feel closer to the big world out there. Exploring is like that. Thanks for reading along with us.

Day 17 : Lousianians are NICE!!! — Perry & Lep’s Veloshack in Jackson to Fountaine Bleu State Park, LA, 97 miles, 1,418 miles total

Wow. As a Midwestern girl, I have always heard and thought that Midwesterners are “so nice”, but I have to say, I think I we need to up our game ‘cuz wow, Lousianians are really, really nice!

Morning started with us up and packed early, by 7:00 am with the thought we’d get an early start. But we were soon seduced by Perry. First, it was her hot dark Columbian coffee.

Then, it was the tour of the house that she and Lep built using salvaged wood from four different houses. It is simple and beautiful. They have antiqued bead board on the ceiling of the loft, different colors and patinas — harmonious yet random.

Then, it was her biscuits with honey and butter. Even though Perry can’t eat wheat, she made us biscuits. And for those of you who have been following our story, you know that I’m a biscuit girl. I set a new record at four.

Then, it was just Perry with her hilarious stories about the bikers who have preceded us, about reading a book on the evils of sugar only to find the advice 75% of the way through that it is better to eat junk food and exercise than to forswear sugar and not exercise, about building the house, and well, pretty much anything. She’s a wealth of knowledge, especially about bikes and bike touring. For anyone thinking of doing a bike tour, Perry could offer a million tips on what to bring (and what not to bring), how to take care of your bike (and yourself), and generally how to stay alive on a bike. She’s amazing.

Eventually, we managed to motivate ourselves away from the coffee and biscuits and Perry, and onto our bike. Perry meets 200-500 bikers a year so I imagine that we must all mush together. But for us, Perry and Lep will always stand out like a beaming example of the generosity we humans are capable of. When was the last time you housed and fed (hundreds of) strangers — for nothing???

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So, it was a little before 9 when we finally got rolling, following Perry’s final bit of advice to walk the bike across the road before mounting because the cars and trucks are coming around a blind curve. And that is wise advice that anyone lucky enough to visit Perry and Lep should seriously heed.

We settled into another glorious day of riding, although the headwind we had been expecting finally did show up. We had planned a turny unusual route to take us toward the north shore of Lake Pontchiatrain. About 20 miles in, this huge pickup truck rolls up to us, slows down to our pace, and the guy driving yells out, “Did you bike here from Wisconsin?” When we said yes, he replied, “Congratulations! That’s awesome!”, and gave us a friendly smile and wave before driving on. When was the last time you took a second to offer a stranger encouragement??? Like I said, Louisianians are NICE.

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We pushed on against the headwind, stopping at the Walker Town Park for lunch. After all these little turns, we eventually turned onto Rte 22 and prepared ourselves for the 28 mile afternoon grind. Before we did, though, it seemed advisable to stop for cold Gatorade and ice cream. I found Hagendaz ice cream bars at this little convenience (bait/booze) store where the clerk apologized that they were more expensive than the other ice cream treats. But I knew that we would put those high fructose corn syrup free ice cream bars to work, so the price was well worth it.

So there we were, eating fancy ice cream bars outside the bait and booze shop that seemed to serve as this little town’s center, when this woman comes out and tells us that we had better be careful because locals are a little crazy. Then, she goes on to say, that they are also super nice and that if we have any bike trouble, “any drunk will help you.” She’s about to climb into her pickup truck, when she gets back out and says, “I’m not one of the crazies. You got a place to stay tonight? Cuz, I live just two miles up the road.” She seemed satisfied when I told her that we still had miles to go, but were going to stay at Fountaine Bleu Park. I swear, if my answer had been unsatisfactory, she’d have taken us home. When was the last time you offered to house a stranger??? Louisianians are NICE.

Fueled up, we ground out Rte 22 in a couple hours. When we got close to Mandeville, we stopped to check the location of the grocery store. We weren’t on the side of the road but a few minutes, when a car stopped and a guy got out, just checking to make sure we were okay. He gave us directions through town to the store and told us that he and his wife had ridden a tandem in France and loved it. After ensuring we were okay, he drove on. When was the last time you stopped for a stranger who might be in need? Louisianians are NICE.

We rolled into Mandeville where Mike left me with the bike while he shopped and then we cranked out the last few miles to Fountaine Bleu Park. Unlike many of the state parks we have encountered on this trip, this park is well-marked and has a manned entrance where we got information about the park and a map (!) pointing out the camping spots, water and bathhouses. It’s a lovely quiet park along the north shore of the lake. Even Louisiana’s parks are nice!

For dinner, Mike really upped his game having bought a bottle of white wine, fresh (never frozen) gulf shrimp, and a pound of butter!!! We ate pasta with a bell pepper-portabella reduction and grilled shrimp In white wine and butter sauce. Lovely anywhere, but truly delicious as a camp meal after nearly 100 miles of biking.

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And for dessert, we had blackberries with yogurt.

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After such a glorious meal, we took a walk to the lake. We will get a picture of it tomorrow before we leave, but at night, you can see the cars on the 30 mile long causeway into New Orleans and the dim lights of the city. It’s beautiful in the moonlight.

I cannot believe that the trip is near its end. Tomorrow, we will be in New Orleans. It’s been a long, hard, fun, amazing trip. It will be strange (it always is) to leave the simplicity of the trip where our needs and objectives are completely aligned and return to the negotiation and balancing required in our “real lives.” But we are thankful that we can have these trips, these adventures, to remind us who we are, who were want to be, and — thanks to today’s Louisianians–how we want to treat others.

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Day 16: End of the Trace. Natchez State Park, MS to Jackson, LA – 80 miles, 1,321 total

We awoke this morning in our secret spot having avoided being found despite a bit of restless sleep wondering if someone would bother us for being in the picnic area. There was frost on the ground, the air was cool, and sunrise on the lake was beautiful.

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We made a quick breakfast ignoring the extra hour from the time change – we shifted our entire day an hour earlier (like, no different than before) to make sure we still hit the road early enough to make it off the road before dark. Pedaling up the hill out of the park we made our way to the final 10 miles of the Natchez Trace into the town of Natchez.
It’s bittersweet to leave the Trace. It has been a singular experience with all the benefits we’ve been going on about. Leaving also means an end to the buffer of the parkway lined with forest and a return to louder traffic, towns, farms, and finding directions.

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But alas it must end and in Natchez we headed south into Louisiana. We arranged to stay with Perry and Lep who have made an amazing cycling retreat in their home outside Jackson, LA. When I called, Perry suggested a route that is shorter than what adventure cycling recommends. We took her advise and thus also ended our use of the adventure cycling maps.
Highway 61 out of Natchez is big with a good shoulder but also rumble strips. The rumble strips are nice in that they help us hear if vehicles are behind us on the shoulder but they also occupy the white line meaning we need to either be in the traffic lane (legal but not ideal when there is a shoulder) or ride between the rumble strip and the grass. Not much room in the latter – tried to show what that’s like here.

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We also broke our front derailleur cable so had to make a roadside repair. No big deal, although it was hard to get it adjusted well without a stand. This meant quite a bit of fidgeting along the way but we got it to work enough to make it to Perry’s place. She had a stand and even a cable gripping tool which made adjustments for tomorrow easy.
After 30 miles on the highway we rejoined rural small roads. It’s been remarkable how much the terrain changes when crossing state lines on this trip. Mississippi to Woodville was characterized by pretty hilly terrain (still related to the Loess hills and the big river valley) while crossing into Louisiana the terrain started to spread out and give way to gentler rollers and an overall descent down Jackson Louisiana Road and ultimately into Jackson.

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Despite missing the comforts of the Trace it was familiar in a way to be back on country roads – cars and trucks and all – and to see the countryside as it is now rather than the preserved version of the parkway. We arrived at Perry’s refuge before dark.
Perry hosts cyclists all throughout the touring season (which is almost all year save for mid summer when it’s too hot to ride down here). She and her partner Lep are super nice and amazingly generous. We pitched our tent under a roof so it will be dry in the morning. They have an outdoor shower (so nice!!) and even a repair stand, pumps, and a place for cycle tourists to lounge. We cleaned up and made minor repairs to the bike (adjusted the new cable better and trued the rear wheel a bit more. Then we were invited in for a fantastic dinner of beans and rice, salad, dessert, and conversation. Perry and Lep still tour but they used to tour on both upright and recumbent tandems. We had great conversation about tandem touring and riding, our current tour, past and future tours, and stories of the many people they’ve hosted over the past 15 years. They open their home also through warmshowers.org (awesome site – like couch surfing for bicyclists- which I used in New Zealand and we’ve hosted people through) and since they are at the crossroads of several popular tour routes they are always hosting someone.
Once again so much of what makes a tour like this worth it is the connections with people. Of course on a tandem there is a whole world of connection between the two of us. Meeting new people who understand that and sharing their stories and experiences is the second element. The miles and the road and scenery stitch it all together.
So we rest, clean, with full bellies, ready for 94 miles tomorrow – our final long day which will end on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. And suddenly, just like that, we are almost there!

Day 15: Tandems on Tours — LeFleur Park, Jackson, MS to Natchez State Park, MS, 97 miles, 1,241 miles total

It was a cold morning. We knew it would be cold, so we had planned another fast cold start, straight to a hot breakfast in Jackson. We had scoped out breakfast options the night before and were disheartened to find the pickings slim. Options seemed to be a great looking place 3 miles north of our location (i.e., a six mile detour), a Waffle House, an IHOP 11 miles along our route, or wait until 11 am for the brunch places to open. We had been about to give up on our dream of a hot diner breakfast when Mike discovered Brent’s Pharmacy, just two miles away and along our exit route. So, there we were at 8 am, warmly welcomed by the staff and situated at the counter where we could avail ourselves to all the plugs our iPhones could want for. In short order, we had hot coffees and (unfortunately less hot, but still yummy) food, including cheese grits (Mike) and multiple biscuits (me).

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Powered up, we did some quick foraging for dinner at the next door store and nearby Rainbow co-op, so it almost 9:30 am before we really got riding. We had nearly 20 miles to ride–through Jackson State University and past the airport on some pretty bad city streets–until we caught up with the glorious smooth Trace again.

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It was nippy, especially in the long shady sections, but there was a quartering tailwind so we started making better time. About halfway at milepost 55, we stopped for lunch at Rocky Springs. As Mike was settling the bike and I was walking toward a sunny grassy spot to set up, I heard someone yell “TANDEM!!!!!” I guess I was too focused on food, because it took a couple more shouts and the shouter had to get pretty close before it penetrated my consciousness. Turned out to be a really nice guy named Dave Fritsch who was also riding a tandem along the Trace with his partner Rhona. We’ve only seen one other bike tourer (not counting Mr. Hoopdy), and now there’s another tandem. How cool.

And what are the odds? Anyway, Dave invited us to their lunch table and we had a grand time exchanging stories. Dave and Rhona are from West Virginia and are doing an 8-day trip from Nashville to Natchez on a brand new Comotion Tandem. But this wasn’t their first rodeo, the Comotion is their third bike and they’ve been touring for nearly two decades — including some incredibly aggressive routes (some off road) around the country. Impressive. Dave blogs on the CrazyGuyWithABike site, so when I get home, I am looking forward to reading about their trips. Some of their trip journals have been published, so it might inspire me to make these posts more interesting for a third person reader. The problem is that I am always tired at the end of a long day. (Maybe just lazy).

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Ah, there are so many things to aspire to.

Because of this fortunate encounter, we got on a road a little later than usual, with 45 or so miles to cover. We made good time but it was hillier than we anticipated. Still, we didn’t really stop much, except that we (Mike) kept trying to get a picture of the cool moss hanging from the trees. We’d stop and take a picture:

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Only to find an even cooler tree down the road:

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Eventually, we gave up and just started pushing towards the day’s final destination, Natchez State Park. When we finally found the park (a few miles off the Trace), it was getting dark and we had two options: right to campground A or left to campground B. No other information or map was posted. After trying to look at a very poor map on the internet (Reserve America is really a disservice to camping, but I will rant about them some other day), we choose right. We biked quite aways until we saw RV spots but could not locate the tent spots. The instructions said to locate a spot and then reserve it at the park office. We kept going in search of the tent spots. Eventually, we came to the left option road and headed toward the park office. It was a LONG way, downhill, in fading light until we reached the office. You know what is coming: it was closed with absolutely no instructions for campers. We were tired, cold and hungry. (And I was grumpy). So we gave up and pitched our tent at the picnic area next to the office, hoping the ranger won’t show up and kick us out.

It’s past nine now, so we hope we are safe. At least, we are fed (Mike made a nourishing and filling vegetable curry) and warm in the green tent. Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned.

Day 14: – yomigaeri (rebirth) — jeff busby campground, Ackerman, MS to Jackson, MS 101 miles, 1,144 total

Today was day two of this phase of the ride – the final 6-day push into New Orleans. I started out with an extra big oatmeal portion in hopes they I could make it to 11 without eating my arm.

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Yesterday’s short ride and early arrival were a great phasing back into the rhythm of the road after a rest day. It also afforded us time to relax a bit and handle some mechanicals. There hasn’t been much to say about mechanicals since things have been smooth but a couple minor adjustments have made a huge difference – enough that this morning I kept thinking of the Japanese word yomigaeri, which means “rebirth”.

First, midway through yesterday’s ride while legs were feeling fresh, I was really uncomfortable in the saddle. It reminded me that people have said you should switch saddles on a long time ride just so the geometry changes. Not necessarily better – just different so your pressure points of contact change. New saddle not being an option, I though about just moving my saddle back on its rails a bit. I planned to wait until camp but with a chill day chandra encouraged me to do it with 20 or so miles left. I did, and this morning right away I felt way more comfortable. I probably slid the saddle back 3 or 4 mm, but that change was enough! Way more comfortable today!

The other thing was the squeak we’ve been dealing with. We’ve thought it was the BOB trailer wheel or maybe the trailer hardware. It got worse over the last 4 riding days but we thought we had ruled out the bike wheels. As we rolled into a stop last night though, we both noticed a wobble in the rear wheel. Considering some of the terrain we’ve forced our bike over on this trip the wobble was no surprise. But I kind of suck at truing wheels. Nonetheless I had to give it a go. Looking at spoke tension there were a few spokes that were particularly loose. I tightened them up, rid the wheel of the wobble, worked slowly and meticulously to not make new problems, and that was it. This morning as we set out on the road something was different. After a while I realized the squeaking was gone!! Hard to express how annoying that sound was. Rebirth!!

Beyond those two mechanical changes the riding was uneventful. It’s our penultimate day on the Trace so we tried to soak it up, enjoy the flat easy riding, and burn this paradise of road riding into our permanent memory. We left the Trace for a mile or so to get an ice cream sandwich at a little market and of course had to out sprint a dog. Twice because we returned to the Trace the same way!

We had a picnic lunch in Kosciusko (named after a Polish immigrant who also designed the first fort at what is now West Point). Fun fact – Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko. We learned all this from the friendly attendants at the visitor center which also had lovely picnic tables and water.

After lunch we enjoyed the smooth road, the quiet without the squeak, and the general flat terrain and tailwind with cold northerly air coming in.

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In terms of stops along the way the Cypress Swamp was amazing!

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We left the serenity of the Trace to explore Jackson MS. on Friday night at rush hour. We are used to city riding though and made our way to this cool state park campground called Le Fleur Bluff right downtown! It’s mellow and we found a breakfast place and a coop for supplies in the morning. It’s supposed to be 33 degrees tonight. Feeling like the first days of the trip!

On the way into Jackson we stopped to pick up a bottle of wine. A random woman in the store asked me where we were from. I said “Wisconsin”‘and she said “it’s nice to have you here – welcome to Mississippi”. When we stopped along the Trace in this tiny market to get ice cream the huge guy behind the counter was also super friendly. He said “great what y’all are doing – we are all 99 cents from a heart attack. We should be riding a bike”. He was gruff when we first walked in but we left feeling welcome and he gave us all his advise about New Orleans. I could get used to southern hospitality!

Now to sleep. Looking forward to diner breakfast tomorrow at 93 miles to Natchez!