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 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 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 13: Easing Back In: Tupelo, MS to Jeff Busby Campground, MS, 71 miles, 1,043 miles total

Sometimes it is hard to motivate after a rest day, and I thought getting going would be especially difficult given how hard we had been pushing.

Despite fretful sleep, we woke early. After stuffing ourselves on the complimentary breakfast at the hotel (which, surprisingly, was better
than many as far as free breakfasts go), we were out and ready to roll by 8:30 am. As I gingerly set myself down on the bike seat, I was pleased to discover the seat felt pretty good, and as we pedaled out of town, the legs also felt fresh. I guess, the rest day (plus two solid rest nights) worked their magic.

It could also be that the day was gorgeous — sunny, but cool with a gentle NE tailwind. And the Trace was equally gorgeous — smooth black pavement, small rolling hills, and little traffic.

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Plus, we had the easiest day yet–just 71 miles to the campground straight along the Trace. No need to hunt and forage for food; we had done that yesterday. So instead, we pedaled along chatting idly about life, work, and how cool this trip is. Oh, and in doing so, we realized we had forgotten to take care of some house/work related issues, so we used a sunny spot to do some “office work” and make some calls for about a half an hour. I guess real life creeps in every so often, even when you are on vacation.

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As we were finishing up this “work”, we met a couple, Rick and Joanie, from Alaska who were driving a small rv around the South–starting in Texas and ending up in New Orleans, where they would store the RV and heD back to face Anchorage’s winter. In classic small world (Kevin Bacon 6 degrees) fashion, Mike and Rick soon discovered that a common colleague/friend connection. My mom, Jo, is the master of this — she once ran into our neighbors in the restroom at the Continental Divide. And legend has it that a college friend recognized her voice during a darkened cave tour. Whenever it happens, it always amazes me that with billions of people, billions upon billions of connections exist just under the surface. All we need to do is scratch lightly upon the surface of a stranger’s life to reveal them.

Given the short day, we also took the opportunity to stop at various points of interest, including a section of the Old Trace called the sunken trace.

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Despite these stops, we pulled into Jeff Busby campground around 3:30 pm. With the sun still high in the sky, we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Luckily, the campground was filled with friendly people. A Canuck from Montreal came by and admired the bike (apparently he had bought a tandem at one time and it wasn’t a hit with the wife). The camphost is a gregarious Aussie, named Ian, and there’s two other bikers in camp: a solo biker on a loop from Huntsville, AL to Natchez, MS, and the solo dude on his hoopdy again. This campground is one of the most pleasant we’ve been in so far. I guess we deserve a little easy riding. But don’t worry, we aren’t going through too soft. Tomorrow will be longer (although Mike informs me that the tailwinds should be even stronger)!

Till then, we are fat and happy and safely tucked away in the green tent, ready to sleep at the late late hour of 8:03 pm.

***Addendum: Hoopdy

Aside

*** Ever wonder how to spell “hoopdy”? Apparently, according to the Urban Dictionary, you can basically spell it any way you want (e.g., hoopty, hooptie, hoopdy, hoopdi, hoop-d) without any significant change in its meaning of “a piece of shit vehicle that must (or should) be embarrassing to drive for some reason.”

 

Day 11: Riding Toward Rest — Colbert Ferry, AL to Tupelo, MS, 74 miles, 972 miles total

This morning, I awoke feeling as fresh as a daisy — run over by a coal rollin pick up truck.  Yep, the morning definitely felt like the sixth consecutive day on a bike.  As Mike mentioned, it isn’t so much the legs (although they are weary), but more the soreness and fatigue of exerting from a single position for hours on end.

Usually, only a cup of coffee will get me moving on a morning like this.  But today, there was an additional reason to bounce (crawl) out of the warm sleeping bag and get packing.  Instead of our usual coffee and oatmeal, Mike had promised me a hot diner breakfast at a little town about six miles along the ride.  This was, in part, a luxury, but it was also a necessity as we had been unable to find oatmeal in any quantity small enough that we would want to carry it at our last couple of grocery stops.  And so, by 7:30 AM, we were packed and on the Trace.

But not for long, because as soon as we pulled onto the Trace, we spotted road closed and detour signs, which usually a not a good thing when bike touring.  All those prayers must still be working though, because the detour pointed us right toward the little town of Cherokee, AL.  We cruised along southerly bound for a couple of miles toward town, when we saw the detour sign point to an easterly left turn.  Knowing Cherokee to be dead south, we decided to take a chance and ignore the detour sign.

Besides, the weather was beautiful and the sun was coming up over the cotton fields.

Sunrise on the Trace

Sunrise on the Trace

Within a few more miles, we snuck up on the backside of Cherokee and parked ourselves as the local breakfast spot.  JJs is just the type of diner that one finds scattered in small towns across the country, at least those small towns that are still lucky enough to have an open restaurant.  Local men loudly opined their views on how the SEC (as in Southeastern Conference, not Security Exchange Commission) selects its football champions to their counterparts seated at different tables and booths throughout the diner.  Sticking out, we found ourselves a corner booth and enjoyed the best the diner had to offer.  Luckily, at this point, we are not picky and even diner coffee and unseasoned omelets with processed cheese taste delicious.  And, Mike even got to have the trip’s very first BREAKFAST PIE!

Breakfast Pie at JJ's in Cherokee, AL

Breakfast Pie at JJ’s in Cherokee, AL

Turns out, the large men arguing the SEC particulars were part of the town’s fire crew.  As they out, they confirmed that they had set up that detour a few days back when there was some water issues closing roads into town.  We had made the right call in ignoring the detour, saving ourselves an extra three miles of riding.  The day was looking good!!!

And so, even with the breakfast stop, we were on the bike and riding toward Tupelo, MS, by 8:30 AM with six miles and food safely under our belts.

The Trace offered another beautiful day of riding.  Although our rear ends were uncomfortable and made us fidgety on the bike at times, the rolling hills kept us occupied and a slight to moderate headwind kept us from overheating.  The predicted morning rain never materialized, and we made good time, traveling mostly in silence toward a rest day.

Riding the Trace--somewhere between Colbert Ferry and Tupelo

Riding the Trace–somewhere between Colbert Ferry and Tupelo

One of the things that I love most about these trips is the synchronicity we have other, both on and off the bike.  On the bike, we feel each other’s effort.  Even without looking ahead, I know when the road ticks upward as I feel Mike lean into the pedals and I match him stroke for stroke.  When the strain requires down-shifting, I let off and watch as the chain moves left to a smaller ring.  Coming out of a downhill tuck, we know when to uncurl ourselves and start pedaling again.  There’s no need to say anything.  We just know and adjust.

Off the bike, the rhythm is similar.  We have a routine for loading and unloading the bike. And we go about setting up camp, making repairs, and cooking dinner without the need to ask where things are, what needs to be done next, etc.  We’ve done this so many times that we could do it in the dark (actually, we have done it in the dark).  For example, last night, we got a flat in the small tire on the BOB trailer.   As I was pitching the tent, Mike pulled the tire off and located the puncture in the tube and the offending shard of glass in the tire.  Without saying anything, I walked over to patch the tube (I always do the patching), while Mike wandered off to get us water.  By the time the patch was dry, he was back to finish the repair work and I headed back to finish setting up camp.  It’s a strange thing to be so in sync with another human being.

But you needn’t fear that we live the days in complete silence.  There’s plenty to talk about . . . we just don’t need to talk about mundane logistics very much.

The Trace has various interesting historical markers and points of interest.  Although we don’t stop at every one, we use the most interesting ones as an excuse to stop and take small breaks, especially those that also house restrooms and water.

The Bear Creek Mound was built between 1100-1300 AD and used for ceremonial or elite residential use.  (I guess the Native Americans also had their 1%ers.)

Bear Creek Indian Burial Mound

Bear Creek Indian Burial Mound

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At another stop, we ran into another biker–of a sort.  A lone biker on an old cheap Walmart bike, with a gallon jug of water on one handlebar and a backpack hanging off the other.  When filling water bottles, he inquired about our trip.  Turns out, he’d been at Colbert Ferry as well, probably a day or two before us.  Before parting, he told Mike, “I gotta get me a lady friend and a bike like that.”

We’d been stressing a little because over the last few days, we’d developed a squeak emanating from the back half of the rig that had been growing increasingly louder over the miles.  It was hard to diagnose as it only occurred when riding fully loaded (which means we can’t recreate it at night when we have the time to fix it).  We’d been biking along thinking it could be the free hub (bad news if so) or the rear drum brake (also not such an easy fix) or perhaps the rear rack or the BOB trailer.  We’d been hoping it was one of these less essential parts, like the rack or trailer wheel.  Seeing a guy riding mile after mileon a old hoopdy/hooptie/hoop-d*** bike reminded us to keep these things in perspective and not get too obsessed about chirps and squeaks along the way.

Even so, when we got into Tupelo, we did stop in for some expert advice from Brian at the local bike shop, Bicycle Pacelines.  Thinking the likely culprit to be the small wheel on the BOB trailer (which has over 6,000 loaded miles on it), we had Brian take a look.  Although the wheel is probably out of grease, it still spins easily, so we bought a new quick release skewer and continued onward to the hotel . . . which meant dinner!

Our plan had been to buy a six pack of beer, order a pizza and watch Game Six of the World Series from the comfort of our king-sized bed.  Alas, the pizza joints in this town (or at least those that aren’t Pizza Hut) don’t deliver, so after laundering and showering, we took a short walk through the motel parking lots to The Lost Pizza Co.  A popular place, the line was so long and Mike was so worn out that he nearly fell over waiting in line to order.  But order he did–two beers, one large salad and one large pizza.  YUM!

The Happy Hippie (vegetarian) pizza at Lost Pizza in Tupelo, MS.

The Happy Hippie (vegetarian) pizza at Lost Pizza in Tupelo, MS.

And yes, we ate all but three slices of that large pizza.  We could have finished it off, but I wanted to save room for the Fro-Yo next door and for a seventh inning snack.  Hudson would have been proud of us.  We mounded 1.5# of Fro-Yo and toppings into to-go cartons and happily headed back to the hotel, devouring spoonfuls of chocolate, coffee and caramel goodness as we walked.

When we got “home”, Hudson must have had his rally cap on, as the Kansas City Royals royally spanked the San Francisco Giants 10-0 in a must-win Game 6.  We made it to the 7th inning, but with the score at that point 9-0, we succumbed to the eight pillows and king-sized bed.

Tomorrow — nothing, or at least, nothing that requires riding the bike!