Today was our last day, while my legs are saying something different, I’m not really ready for it to end as I’ve made quite a few friends and companions that I will never forget. This ride has changed me for the better in a few ways, I feel like I even grew a little because of it. We started off together with a police escort, and right off the starting line some guy who was only riding 1 day of the ride flew off, the other guys tried to convince me to go catch him which I knew wouldn’t be difficult, but hey I’ve got 440 miles on my legs at this point, what do I need to prove to him? So we took it easy for a while, though about 10 miles in I got the itch along with another guy and well, Tom is just the fastest 62 yr old man I ever met so the three of us took off on our own pacing at 20-23mph for the next 10-15 miles to the rest stop, at which point Adam drops out and I go on my own. Had I known Tom would’ve stayed with me I would have let him know I was going to keep going but earlier he was complaining of some knee pain and looked like he was taking it easy so I didn’t bother to ask if he wanted to just refuel and run.
I know this is a tour and not a race but my competitive side of me kinda wanted to catch that one day rider, even though he had about 15 minutes or more on us. I rode my ass off all the way to the next stop, keep in mind we’re not having lunch until we’re in New Orleans, so 78 miles total with only rest stops that have snacks and fluid. I got to stop number two and they let me know the other guy was ahead by about 5-7 minutes, so I refueled and kept on going. I got halfway to stop 3 and noticed our sign van, and after I took a turn by a gas station I saw we had no signs!! Oh no, this can’t be happening I thought, I missed a turn right? I rode back to the last sign, then back to the fork in the road I was at a moment ago, I did this a few times until I saw the sign truck and Bob came out to explain he needed to re-route us hence the missing signs so I got sent back to the last sign for 6 minutes while I gave them some time to re-route us. I got back to the fork, saw the sign, took that left turn and bolted... then down came the rain.
I’m not sure how quick I was moving but I think I was hovering around 20 mph cause cars weren’t even bothering to try to pass me. I made it to the 3rd rest stop and refueled, they haven’t even setup a table yet, got some warm water and gatorade and rode my butt onto the levee where the last stretch of the ride was. From there on it’s just me, the rain and the wind, 20 miles or so of levee until the park and lunch which basically means an hour of no stop signs or interruptions. I was maybe 1-2 miles from the end when the 1 day rider was turning around and heading back down the levee waving to me (I learned later he was heading back to his car). Ah well, whatever, he doesn’t have 500 miles on his legs, I got some jambalaya, bread, water, hot sauce and had my lunch. As I was chowing down Tom shows up, then about 5-6 minutes later other riders started to trickle in. Race or not, it’s a good feeling to come in that far ahead of over 50 experienced riders, if only I didn’t have to sit there waiting on the sign crew.
FINALLY THERE! NEW ORLEANS BABY! HELLO BOURBON STREET! Well, almost.
After all the riders got there, ate, talked and found ways to keep warm due to the rain and wind. Fortunately the Red Cross is good at what they do and provided us with some dry shirts to wear, around 2:30-3pm we started to gather with the New Orleans Police Dept. to ride into downtown at which point the sky fell on us. We rode proudly through the streets even with the pouring rain, hearing cheers and seeing people wave and smile at us, there were a couple of minor slips due to slick roads and when we got to the end we were greeted with a band playing. We had some snow cones, some brews and a bunch of congratulations on a ride well done. Later that night we had dinner and passed out some pretty awesome looking awards for the ride made of recycled bike parts along with some humorous awards like “whiniest rider”, “rider most likely to come back as crew”, I got a “best overall rider” since the last few days I had been coming back as one of the first few back and the last day I was the first back by good margin (not that it’s a race). We ended the night with good food, good beer, and goodbyes. A few of us went on to bourbon street after that and well, my memory becomes a bit fuzzy from there on out.
Today was a little less eventful, we slept in a little, started off a little later than usual as it was a shorter day with only one big climb (as if we had that many), Gramercy bridge over the Mississippi. We fought a strong headwind the whole way to our lunch stop, fortunately this turned into a tail wind right before the bridge and our paceline was able to approach the bridge at well over 25mph helping us climb. Also as I like to climb, it enabled me to complete the climb at a 15.3mph average (taking KOM - aka king of the mountain of the riders present on strava.com). Prior to crossing the Mississippi River, our lunch break was at St Joseph Plantation which was rather cool to see, with some “old school” schools in log cabin looking houses. The phrase “rider down” when passing by roadkill was starting to really catch on by now (I even find myself saying it here and there). I made it back pretty quickly after the bridge, as the downhill trek along with that tailwind made me fly by at around 35mph, I just kept going on to the next stop, got some gatorade, then the next stop after that I stopped just to ask if there were any odd directions I needed to look out for. I made it back to the hotel shortly after Keith and Titus, then again they did leave at least 5 or so minutes prior to me at the first rest stop. The crew hadn’t even laid all the bags out yet, so I helped out along with the other guys and headed over to the massage room. Then went for a swim in the pool.
We started our day at Maria's Cafe a mile up the road from our hotel. A good meal. the treat is the a Capella solo by Donald, son of the owners after breakfast. This year he sang "Bridge over Troubled Waters". Once out on the road I was stretching my legs as my knee hasn’t felt better and flying down the shoulder towards the lead of the pack when I got 2 flats within a couple of miles of each other which pushed me back to the end. Fortunately we found the cause and fixed that up properly, I wasn’t worried about being left behind as we also planned to take a stop at Avery Island to see the Tabasco factory tour and visit the store outside the factory, which has everything Tabasco you could imagine including some pretty amazing Tabasco chipotle raspberry ice cream. It was a beautiful day, and I was so glad my knee was doing much better and I was able to ride my usual speed again. Mat and I hung around a bit longer again until lunch which was right on the side of the bayou at Parc Sur La Teche, pretty area though I wanted to get it over with and get a massage and go swimming. I ate and headed out, since there was less than 30 miles to go from lunch I just hammered it and only stopped at the rest stops to refuel on my fluids. I managed to get to the hotel right after a couple of the better riders and figured I’d help the crew arrange everyones bags while we waited for our cards so I can go get changed to swim.
Today was going to be our longest day and my first century. Our goal was to go from Sulphur to Abbeville, just a little over 100 miles. We started the day extra early, aroumd 6:30am I believe to give us that little bit of an edge over the soon to be blaring sun. I was feeling pretty strong after yesterday and was really hoping to stay with the lead part of the pack, unfortunately I got a flat just 3-4 miles in. Since it was so close to the start and I was on a bad section of road with no shoulder I just waited for help from the Mechanics to get a thicker tube in my tire as a precaution since I couldn’t find the cause for the flat. I remember him saying as the SAG wagon was closing in on us “You better haul ass”, and I did, the next 5 miles I was riding 20-30mph until I caught up with the group again as I was pretty far out on my own. About 15 miles in or so I noticed my knee started to hurt, and another 5 miles after that it was pretty awful. I adjusted my saddle at the first rest stop to help correct this. I finally started to feel a lot better and managed to meet my buddy from DC at the second stop and as any good friend when cycling would do, helped pull me most of the way until our lunch stop to let my knee take a break. We had lunch under the bridge in mermentau and ate sub sandwiches again, I forget where we got them from but I didn’t care. Bread, meat, and veggies, with the way my knee was feeling it was damn good. Unfortunately my run of bad luck didn’t stop there, it had recently rained and the ground under the bridge was muddy. I was about to leave with Mat and the couple from Canada and couldn’t clip into my pedals, I watched them ride off as I tried to shake what I could out of my cleats and run them through a puddle to wash them out. Though as I said, my luck was awful, our mechanic ended up rebuilding my cleats entirely and helped clear all the gunk out. The hour of downtime did wonders for my knee though thankfully. There were some rough roads we hit that had a some nasty cracks, thanks to a town Sheriff that thought we must have been riding dirt bikes or something and told us our original route plan was on “good roads”, fortunately that was only about a 5-10 mile detour. By mile 80 I hit my second wind and was doing around 18+mph again all the way into the finish, 30 minutes before the rain started to pour!