What you should expect from a long bicycle journey
Bicycle touring for a sustained period of time is a…
Been taking shelter from a major thunderstorm for the last couple of days in South West Lousiana. Quick (rushed) catch up post today with phone images.
Day 57: Baton Rouge
Rest day in Baton Rouge. Spent the day getting organised and exploring. *Techy system alert* Decided to change up the stove system I’ve been using. It was a penny-stove. It’s now an MSR Whisperlite. The new one is heavier, but opens up the possibilities (i.e. you can do more than heat up tins or cook noodles). Also, the penny stove was a bit of a faff and the Whisperlite will fare better in the more remote parts of the route. Faff reduction – always a good thing. One of the things that life on the road makes you miss is a kitchen so this simple change is quite exciting.
Other than that it was awesome just to have a break. Louisiana seafood has been recommended a lot, so I found a little place near the motel to try the raved-about Gumbo, which is kind of like a seafood soup / rice combo. A great little local spot run by an old woman called Louise, funnily enough. Southern hospitality really is inspiring, the reports are true. She was totally cool and told great (and terrifying) stories about the local fishing community working in the fairly regular Gulf storms. The Gumbo was amazing, too!
Day 58: Baton Rouge to New Roads (33 miles)
Leaving Baton Rouge, it all changed. The contrast from urban and industrial to vast green countryside happened within the space of about a mile. The busy and intimidating Baton Rouge roads quickly lead to some of the best and quietest roads so far. Totally quiet, rural roads through old plantations. Super quiet, the only thing to listen to was the sound of cows, frogs and birds. A bit therapeutic.
It was always going to be a short day, after a late start. And it didn’t take too long to reach the end. Sunday in New Roads that meant everything other than a petrol station was shut, but in terms of a town atmosphere, it was a good one. An amazing old waterfront town, with the atmosphere and aesthetics of a Western film. Stealth camped right in the center of town in a park.
Day 59: New Roads to Lebeau (51 miles)
Late start making pancakes and pineapple on’t new stove. That’s the way to start the day!
It was all going so well. Stoked to get a big day in. But of course it’s never that simple! Sometimes, rather than after-the-fact write ups, it’s good to know what was happening at the time. I use Evernote to keep note of everything that happens throughout the day, and this is from Day 59’s note:
“Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Except less comedy, more horror. Another puncture. Cycled the same stretch of road, twice now leaving NR. PITA bike.”
Whilst cycling out of New Roads, after about 7 miles, I got another puncture. Seems to be happening a lot recently. After a lot of faff, and the irritating realisation that the pump I picked up in Baton Rouge is a piece of crap, it was eventually sorted after hitching a ride back into New Roads (Cheers Susan!).
Bumped into Paul Guillott, a retiree who now spends a lot of his time exploring his home state on his Honda. By his own admission, he’s “living the dream” which is amazing. Sometimes he and his wife will just take off on the bike and travel up to 650 miles in a day, just to see a new place that they’ve never been to before. His bike is kitted out. Think heated leather seats and thumping music. Unfortunately Paul wasn’t in to the suggestion that we swap bikes. Gutted.
Also, I met a cyclist called Glen today who was cycling the Southern Tier route from West to East. He was on a snazzy lightweight road bike, with just a very light rucksack on his back, and clearly in a rush. Travelling light, and bouncing between hotels after taking 36 days leave from his work in Pennsylvania, he was gunning for it, averaging 92 miles a day. It’s always facinating exploring the 6 degrees of separation theory. Glen had lived in the Lake District and Guildford for a year during his college days. Small world.
The ride, after the puncture-faff, went well. It didn’t take long for it to get dark after setting off so late, so it was a lit up night ride. Ended up camping in a field in a tiny, tiny little village called Lebeau.
Day 60: Lebeau to Kinder (63 miles)
Up at first light, and on the bike early. Definitely the way to do it if you’re after doing big days. Bumped into Terry in a town called Washington – the jolliest chap in Louisiana, who provided the first indication of what was to come.
“You be careful now. You’re gonna want to bunk up for the next few days. There’s going to be 8 inches of rain coming down this evening.” I checked the forecast, and he was spot on.
The storm was due at about 5pm. So luckily there was still a good few hours to make a bit of progress. Through Opelousas, Eunice, Basile and Elton, and eventually ending up at Kinder when the rain started to fall.
Day 61: Kinder (5 miles)
The forecast was right. There’s a major storm here. Intense rain and lightning every minute. Some of the schools are closing due to flood warnings, so it’s not something the locals are taking lightly. They’re hunkering down, so being on the road isn’t too appealing. Sitting it out in a budget motel for a night.
I was talking to a couple of people earlier, and when talking about what they get up to in Kinder, they mentioned the Casino was “the only entertainment for miles around.” Gambling is a huge part of American culture, so I was interested to check it out, and of course win big with my $10. Unfortunately filming wasn’t permitted, but it was a unique experience for sure. Such an in-your-face atmosphere with all the lights and the music bombarding the senses. It was eye opening to see the locals who come every day, and spend all day here. It was as though life had vanished from behind their eyes as they looked into the slot machines and pulled the lever, time after time, hoping for a big win whilst simultaneously losing money. One of the themes that a lot of the people in the casino talked about, was how they had begun regularly gambling once retired. It’s easy to see how that world can hook people who are looking for something to fill their time with.
Day 62: Kinder
Just a rest day in Kinder. Nothing much to report about today. More intense rain, a little less lightning. Setting off tomorrow to try and make Texas in the gap between storms. The Texan state line is in sight, which is where the riding gets ‘serious’ apparently.
“Make sure you don’t lose your mind in East and Central Texas! After that it’s some of the best riding out there”. Glen mentioned that East and Central Texas is for sure the hardest part of the Southern Tier route, with the gradients and the nothingness, so it sounds like it’ll be interesting.
Ready for something deep? I’ve been having a few mental battles recently about what this all means, whether it even is meaningful, the pace and people, and coping with the solo aspects of travelling – there’s a dark side for sure, in the mind. The metaphorical roller coaster ride was always expected, though, so it’s not a concern. On the down days, it’s people like Louise, Paul and Terry who, by telling their story, provide much needed positivity and a mental lift. It’s great to completely forget about the route, the cycling, the blog, the filming etc sometimes.
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Quick link. I recently did a guest post for BicycleTouringPro which you can read here. Take a look around the site too, it’s crammed full of useful info, great stories and motivating adventures – a great resource if you’re wanting to know about anything to do with cycle touring.
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