Bicycling Guide Books
CONGRATS to Bill Hibler for completing the Mississippi River Trail! Follow his MRT Adventure at his blog http://billmrt.blogspot.com/.
I received a very interesting email from Tom and Jeanne Mork about their planned ride of the MRT. Tom will begin riding in July from the South to the North. He said he choose to ride this direction because he is "Pedaling the uphill battle for mental illness". He will speak at Rotary Clubs along the route to increase awareness about mental illness and to help break the stigma. I thank them for sharing their story with me. We can all follow their MRT Adventure at their website: tomsbigride.org. Good luck to them.
Journal of the "Two Bobs LMT Adventure" around Lake Michigan can be found on the new Facebook page at
Bob and Dana Cable, and my wife, Dawna, and I have been members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association for many years. Over the years we have been friends and although we have backpacked together on numerous occasions, Bob and I have never bicycled together. We have swapped bicycling stories around the campfire late into the night, but living in different cities, we just haven't hooked up on our rides. During this past winter of backpacking together, and after sharing my cycling adventures from writing Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail, we decided it was time for us to do some cycling together. This is the route we came up with.
We will leave West Memphis on June 15th and follow the MRT through Arkansas, Mississippi, and onward to the southernmost point of Louisiana, where we'll pause to take each others picture in front of the sign commemorating this landmark. Following the photo op, we'll mount up and ride back to Natchez. Bob said that years ago, even before he was doing any bike touring, he read an article in Adventure Cycling about riding the Natchez Trace Parkway. It sounded to him like a great ride that he wanted to do someday. Well, after logging over 35,000 miles on a bicycle, and crossing this great country of ours on multiple occasions, he is finally going to ride the Natchez Trace Parkway.
We think it's going to be a great ride! Plus I have some book signings scheduled along the route. I'm calling these book signings, because I will be autographing copies of my Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail book that you can buy at the signings or books that you already own. But I prefer to think of these as more of a meet and greet opportunity. I hope bicyclists of all types will come out and visit with Bob and I. We'll both have our fully loaded touring bikes with us, so we can go over the gear we carry, and we'd like to hear what others carry while they are touring. Or we can just talk cycling in general. When it comes to bicycling, we are bilingual.
So come on out to the book signings even if you aren't interested in buying a book. Also, watch our daily blogs and come out and ride with us as we near your area. I'll list the names of those who join us on the daily blogs. This MRT adventure is all about meeting other cyclists and having an enjoyable ride.
Thanks everyone. The Two Bobs hope to see you on the MRT.
I have 7 bikes. I’ve been racing for 8 years for team Tyson, cat 3 or masters 50+. Won age group Arkansas state road race last year. I toured for 35,000 miles around the U.S. and Canada from ’78-’81. Did several 3 day to 2-week trips before and since then.
I’ve been married to Dana since ’95. A paramedic for 20 years, retired (part-time) for a year now. In addition to cycling, I enjoy hiking, backpacking, camping, car trips (as long as I can bring my bike), my stereo and several other activities.
I’ve never written a book. This sums up my life in a few words.
I have been an avid cyclist for over 25 years. During this period I have ridden both road and mountain bikes, organized events for both road and mountain bikes, built mountain bike trails, served as cycling club president, organized bicycle tours, and worked as a committee member for the National Trails Symposium. I strongly believe in actively supporting sports that I participate in.
My wife, Dawna, and I are also avid backpackers. We recently fulfilled a goal of backpacking the Chilkoot Pass Trail, outside of Skagway, Alaska. We have also visited all of the 50 states in our beautiful country. We currently live in Fort Smith,Arkansas, located within a short drive to the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains. We are both active members of the Ozark Highlands Trail Association and the Friends of the Ouachita Trail organization.
After writing Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail in 2008, I look forward to meeting other cyclists and sharing stories during my June/July 2009 bike tour of the southern MRT.
It's finally here! Well almost. We head out tomorrow. While I'm spending my last day at home resting my sore spots, Bob C is out defending his Masters 50+ State Road Champion Title. You go BOB!
But it's a good thing I have had some free time on this final day of preparation. I did some more checking and found out that Tom Sawyer Campground, in West Memphis, is repairing recent flood damage and they can't store my truck while we're on our ride. That's nice to find out the day before leaving home. But with bike touring you have to be flexible and think of even the best laid plans as just suggested guidelines. I did more checking in the West Memphis area and found another place to store my truck just outside of town. But that was going to be a hassle to drop my truck off there, then ride back to Tom Sawyer to camp, then the next day ride back past where my truck was being stored. We were already going to have a long mileage first day without all this. So I made more calls and found another place to camp that was further along the MRT route and wouldn't require backtracking to West Memphis. Kamp Karefree is primarily a restaurant, but locals told me that it also has 4 campsites. I jumped on this and called them up to reserve a site, so we're back in business. They said it is right on Horseshoe Lake, so I'm really looking forward to staying there.
When we were planning the trip we considered riding across Arkansas to West Memphis, but I've already ridden across the state a couple times. I wanted to start the ride on the MRT, so we're driving my truck across the state. We'll pick it up on our way back, after the tour.
We dropped the truck off just outside of West Memphis and rode about 10 miles to the campground. Today was just a shakedown ride to make sure everything felt good on the bikes. Kamp Karefree is just off of the MRT. After the turn onto Hwy 131 you turn right on Kamp Karefree Road and ride a half mile to the campground and restaurant. There are 4 sites and they are across the parking lot from Horseshoe Lake. We’ll rest up tonight and begin our MRT adventure in the morning! Oh yeah, Bob came in third in his race after working hard to help his team mate win the race. Hopefully, he’ll slow his pace down a little for this ride.
There had been a storm through the area the day before, so we rode around the area to check out the downed trees. Following our ride, Bob and I had a great dinner at the Kamp Karefree Restaurant. The owner, Mary, offers a daily special that includes dessert for only $7.00. We ate at the counter to visit with the workers and customers. After dinner we sat on the porch overlooking the lake. We must have really blended in with the area because it wasn't long before people would stop to ask us where someone was or question us about the storm damage. That might seem pretty strange, but the really strange thing about it was that we knew the answers. It doesn't take long to become a local.
The only down side to this campground is the lack of toilet facilities. The campsites are primarily setup for fishermen with campers. So once the restaurant closes at night you are on your own until morning.
The ride around Horseshoe Lake was a pleasant ride with very little traffic, we spotted a bald eagle on the ride also. We picked up a slight headwind when we got back on the main highway and out in the open farm country. When we stopped at the convenience store in Hughes for ice cream one of the workers told us that 2 cyclists from Australia had been there a few days before. They were cycling the MRT all the way to New Orleans. It would be cool if we met up with them and could hear their impressions of the route. The MRT is picking up an international audience!
It felt really good to finally be out on the road today, even though it was a little warm. Bob's cyclometer read 102 degrees on the road in the sun, but on the road into Storm Creek Campground it dropped to 91 degrees in the shade. This campground is one of the best deals on the MRT. It has picnic tables, a water faucet, and pit toilets where you camp, but it's a short walk to the day use area where you have access to showers and flush toilets. And best of all it has a swim area, which we hit as soon as we were off our bikes, and all of this for a fee of $4.00. What a deal! It's been a great day and we've already met a lot of nice people.
We spoke with a family at the swim area. They asked us where we were riding and we told them about our tour. Not wanting to bore them with the details, we just told them we were riding a little further south of New Orleans. They continued asking more questions and seemed genuinely interested in the ride so we gave them the whole story of following the MRT to the southern most point in Louisiana, etc. They seemed to enjoy hearing about our planned adventure. After we had exchanged goodbyes and returned to the campground, they drove to the campground to tell us of another route that would take into Helena that would be more scenic than the route we had planned. Bob C and I both thought if this guy was willing to go out of his way to come by the campground to tell us about the route the least we could do was use it.
Following our new friend's directions, we exited the MRT onto the dirt road across from the entrance to the day use area. It immediately took us down a short grade to a Y intersection. We turned right at the Y and followed it for a total of about 4 miles before we reached pavement that lead us into downtown Helena. It was a nice ride, running you through dense backwoods. I had 700/32 tires and had no problems at all on the dirt/gravel surface.
It was still early when we reached Helena and nothing was open yet. After touring around the downtown we sat on the curb in front of the Delta Cultural Center. A woman pulled up in a car and asked us what we were doing. We told her we were riding through the area on a bike tour. Then she asked what we were doing right now, and we told her we were waiting for things to open. She asked if we were interested in visiting the Cultural Center. We told her that was one of the places we intended to visit. She pulled out a key and let us in the center an hour early, for our own private tour. What a nice thing for her to do!
Following our tour of the Cultural Center, we had breakfast at Granny Dee's. As we were finishing our meal and visiting with Granny Dee a man entered the restaurant who Granny knew and joined our conversation. His name was Ben Steinberg and it turns out that he is a board member of MRT,Inc. What a small world!
After touring Helena, we crossed the bridge into Mississippi. The gator jaws on the bridge weren't expanded enough to cause a problem. The ride around Moon Lake was really nice with great views of the water. We stopped at Uncle Henry's Place and a woman who helps run the place came out and talked with us. She said her name was "Sarah B. Wright, not Wrong," and that she could trace her family back to the Revolutionary War. She shared with us some of the interesting history of Uncle Henry's Place, which I also talk about in my guidebook. She had some first hand experiences from her childhood when the place was one of the South's most famous speakeasies.
As we rode down Seep Water Road, Bob C jumped in behind a tractor and drafted it all the way in to Friars Point. At the historic drug store located there, we got cold drinks and the man there told us a style of bicycle touring I've never heard of. He said that a bicycle group, with members from California and Oregon, came to the port at Friars Point on a riverboat. They then unloaded their bicycles and toured the points of interest in the area. After the ride, they would then get back on the boat and sail to the next port to repeat the procedure. They used the riverboat as their home base for eating and sleeping. In cycling terms the riverboat was their sag vehicle. That's not a bad idea!
It was another hot day with a wind from all directions. It seemed strange to have the levee on our right instead of our left. We rode 41 miles on Hwy 1 to Rosedale. Bob C kept trying to figure out what song has the lyrics "on the road to Rosedale". We posted the question on our daily blog and Jerry Marshall solved the mystery by responding the lyrics were from the song "Crossroads", by Robert Johnson, made famous by Eric Clapton.
We set up camp at Great River Road State Park and ate dinner on the observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River.
Since the campground at Great River Road State Park was not officially open due to flood clean up, the park had not sprayed for mosquitoes. There was a swarm of them waiting for us this morning. We could see them gathering for their assault on the outside of our tents. We may have set a record time for breakdown and packing our gear. Once packed, we went back over to the observation tower to eat our breakfast and the wind kept the beasts off of us.
Back on Hwy 1, we found a little bit of a shoulder to ride on, but it had rumble strips and debris. The good thing was that the area is pretty flat and cars can see you for miles away and they give you plenty of space. However, we did have one guy who didn't seem to be moving over. He pulled up beside us, rolled down his window and asked us where we were going. The man's car was blocking both lanes and a car was coming head on, so Bob C gave him the short version about our ride.
This part of Hwy 1 passes a lot of backwater lakes formed by the Mississippi River. You can peer through the cypress trees and view the waterfowl.
At the Winterville Mounds we talked with the director, Dr. Mark Howell. I discovered that he would be passing through my home town, Fort Smith, on a trip to Spiro Mounds Park and then onto the Ozarks. What a small world. What is even more of a coincidence is my wife, Dawna, is going on a walk at the Spiro Mounds this weekend. It would be wild if she met Dr. Howell and his family over there.
After we rode through Greenville and were back on Hwy 1, a car pulled off to the side of the road and flagged us down. The man driving, Buddy, said that he had read about our ride on the blog and wanted to meet us. He is a cyclist also and we had a nice visit with him. Too bad he didn't have any cold drinks with him.
We got to Roy's Cabins in time to eat at the restaurant before it closed at 2:00. I asked Pam, the owner, where we could pitch our tents. She said she owned the property all around the store, and we could camp anywhere. We found a campsite and when we went up to the store to pay. Pam asked us where we ended up. After we described the spot right on the shore of Lake Washington, she could not believe we were going to camp so close to the water. It seems that people clean fish nearby and it attracts snakes, plus it was the mating season for the snakes. We told her we would risk it. But I do plan to take a pee bottle into my tent tonight so I won't be wandering around after nightfall.
Actually, our campsite was very nice, and we hated to give it up because of stories about snakes. There were cypress knees sticking up out of the water and we had our own dock that went twenty feet across the lake. Plus we were next to the boat ramp and we could visit with the fishermen as they came and went.
We did see a water moccasin swimming around the cypress knees while we were reading on the shore yesterday evening. Bob C thought I was silly to be concerned (not afraid) about the snakes, so don't tell him that I sprayed my Halt dog repellent around my tent before I turned in last night. Camping next to the dock made us realize what weird hours that fishermen keep. About 1:30 Flo and Drew pulled their boat out after a night of fishing. I know their names because Flo was in the truck and Drew was in the boat and they were shouting back and forth to each other.
Our morning started with a 9 mile ride around Lake Washington. The mimosa trees were in bloom and they had a beautiful fragrance. Bob C was really impressed with the ruins of St. John Protestant Episcopal Church and the cemetery around it. We spent about 20 minutes walking around and discussing the history and the design of the church, founded in 1854. The lead from the window frames had been used for bullets during the Civil War.
Back on Hwy 1, there was no shoulder on this 20 mile stretch, but we only had 3 cars pass us during that time. The convenience store in Mayersville is no longer open, so no treats for us there.
The turn off of Hwy 1 onto Hwy 465 took us right up on the levee for some nice views of the backwater marshes and glimpses of egrets, herons, ducks and hawks. We saw tree trunks with water marks at least 15 feet high from the recent floods. As we rode along the levee road, a bright, red Hummer, with an older gentleman driving, pulled up beside us. He asked where we were going as he handed us his card. We gave him the short version of our ride. He seemed very excited about what we were doing. He told us if we were coming throughAnguilla to stop by and he would treat us to a cold bottle of Coca-Cola. It turns out that he is the mayor of that town. As he drove away we saw that his license plate read MAYOR 1. We've met some really friendly people!
Chotard's Landing, where we planned to camp, did not have the washroom facilities open yet from the flooding. One of the locals commented that the damn Yankee rain came down the river and flooded them out. They did have the bar open though. They said that they are Nascar fanatics and needed the big screen television located in the bar.
We rode on to the Sunset View Resort. When signed in the owner directed us to an area near the bathhouse. It wasn't the best campsite we had seen, but we'd seen worse. On our way to cool off with a swim in Eagle Lake, we saw a beautiful shaded place on a knoll overlooking the lake. We started whining about what a great site that would be. After our swim we were planning to ask if we could camp there. But before we finished our swim, the owner's son, Robert, came out on the dock to visit with us. He had seen us ride in on our bikes and was interested in hearing where we were headed. As he was about to leave, he paused to ask us where we were planning to pitch our tents. We described the area we were assigned to. He pointed to the knoll overlooking the lake and told us we should camp right there. We told him that would be great. After he left Bob C and I gave each other high fives. We both agreed that it was just getting better every day! Later, we rode over to the nearby restaurant for dinner.
We spent the first part of the morning looking for alligators in the flooded ditches as we rode along Hwy 465. The people at the campground last night told us that this would be one of our best opportunities for spotting alligators, either on this stretch of road or outside our tents on the banks of the lake.
When we reached Hwy 61, I was glad to see that the new bridge over the Yazoo River had a good shoulder. The old bridge I rode over last trip through here didn't leave bicyclists much room. Once we turned onto Old Hwy 61, we stopped at the Margaret's Grocery, an eye-catching colorful old building with scripture painted on every exposed surface. The Reverend H. D. Dennis was not there so we continued on. As we approached Vicksburg we turned right on to Levee St to view the levee wall murals. These are some of the best murals I've seen on the Mississippi River. They are in chronological order from prehistoric times up to current times and each mural has a plaque explaining the scene.
I want to thank Shannon Farmer at Vicksburg National Military Park for setting up the table and books for my book signing. Plus, thanks for situating it inside the air conditioned visitor center. Also, it was great to meet Mississippi Senator Briggs Hopson, a MRT board member. Bob C was impressed that a senator stopped by for my little book signing. While I sat in the air conditioning, Bob C rode the 16 mile route through the park. He really enjoyed seeing the battle sites and reading about the history of the area.
We met several cyclists at the signing, including Ron, Tim, John, Mike, Barbara, and Nicky. Some of them mentioned that they might join us on the Natchez Trace ride when we come back through. If you visit the park, you can take a short cut to get back to the MRT. At the stop light across from the park entrance, take old Hwy 27 and follow it under Interstate 20. Then take a right on South Frontage Road, followed by a left turn on Porters Chapel Road. This will take you back to the MRT.
At the intersection of Halls Ferry Road and Fisher Ferry Road the MRT arrow is still pointing in the wrong direction. Be sure to follow the direction in the guidebook and turn "left" here. This is a narrow road with rolling hills that reminded us both of cycling in Arkansas. The cars we encountered were all very courteous.
After stopping for cold drinks at the old Crossroads Store, we made our way up to the Natchez Trace Parkway which is part of the MRT route. When his tires touched the pavement Bob C let out a loud celebration yell. It had been a 33 year goal of his to ride the Trace (see the BIO for more information.) He will be coming back in a couple weeks to ride it all the way to Nashville.
Shortly after reaching the Parkway we camped at Rocky Springs Campground. There are no showers in the bathroom, but the camping area is nice with large shade trees and the price is something even I can afford, free! During the night I had a battle of wits with a raccoon that was determined to get into our gear. And no Dawna, the raccoon did not win!
I can think of worse ways to spend a day then bicycling down the Natchez Trace Parkway. After a few miles, we left the parkway and the MRT to take a side trip over to the Windsor Ruins. On the way there we passed through the town of Port Gibson--the town that Grant said was too beautiful to burn. There are a lot of churches in the area, but it must have gone through a lot of changes since Grant saw it. We stopped at a fruit market and gorged ourselves on plums and peaches, and drank lemonade fresh squeezed from a Kool-Aid package.
Several people told us to be careful on our ride to the ruins because the road was narrow and there are a lot of speeding cars. One man mentioned the road will route us through some interesting formations as a result of the erosion. He added that the soil was so loose in the area that a man could stare at it for a few minutes and cause the soil to begin sliding away. We didn't encounter any problems with the traffic; the few drivers we encountered gave us plenty of room. The ride was over rolling hills through dense forest. At the Windsor Ruins we visited the remains of the largest antebellum Greek revival mansion in Mississippi and it was worth the extra miles we had to ride to see it. Originally the basement was the first level, with 2 stories above it. Most of these classic homes have columns in just the front of the house, but the Windsor had huge columns all the way around the house. The columns are all that remain, but even this is enough to inspire visions of what an awesome house it once was. The ruins are often referred to as the "Parthenon of the South".
The Windsor's front wrought iron staircase was removed and taken to Alcorn State University for the old chapel. This was enough encouragement for a second side trip to the Alcorn State campus to look for the staircase. We found the staircase still in use at the entrance to the old chapel. It was good to see the fine staircase being used, however I think it would have been nice if the staircase was still attached to the Windsor Ruins.
Just off campus we stopped at the old Patton Store for snacks and cold drinks. The owner was the fourth generation of the Patton family to run the store and he told us a lot about the history of the area. He showed us the museum in the back of the store and we spent a half hour sharing stories. I had to drag Bob C away from the museum because he really enjoys things like this. Patton told us that he admired us for what we were doing. He added that it takes a true free spirit to be able to travel by bike.
If we had stayed on the MRT, the ride for the day would have been about 40 miles, but by the time the day was over we had ridden 78 miles. But there was a lot to see in the area and we decided to be tourists and investigate every side trip and point of interest the area offered. We got back on the Natchez Trace Parkway and cruised into Natchez State Park. Once we had setup up camp the campers next to us invited us over for a dinner of Sloppy Joes, potato salad, and cold drinks. We'd like to thank Chris, Joy, and Allison for their hospitality. It was another beautiful day in paradise on the MRT.
With no snakes, gators, or raccoons bothering us, we had a great night's sleep at Natchez State Park. When we were back on the MRT our first stop was Emerald Mound Site, the second-largest temple mound in the United States. The leveled area on top of the mound is as large as several soccer fields. Bob C really enjoyed seeing it. From there the road wound through wooded countryside and was well marked with MRT signs all the way to Natchez. We arrived with plenty of time before the book signing to explore downtown Natchez. One of the places we really liked was St. Mary Basilica. It's a beautiful church, but what was unique about the church was that it was rounded at one end. A man saw us admiring the church and asked us where we were from. We told him our story. He then asked if we would like to see inside the church. After an eager, "Yes", from both Bobs, he let us inside and gave us a tour of the church. The interior of the chapel had three entire walls with stained glass windows depicting the 12 Stations of the Cross. It was a complex manor which they had arranged the scenes and our guide patiently explained the system.
While I did the book signing, Bob C continued touring the city. I want to thank Barbara Spencer and Shelby Carlisle for setting up the table and 2 rocking chairs for my book signing. I had a great book signing and enjoyed visiting with everyone about cycling. A special thanks to Ethel Austin, Regional Manager at Eastern National, for setting up all of the book signings at the parks.
We left Natchez and crossed into Louisiana on the Hwy 65 bridge. The bridge has 4 lanes and the drivers gave us plenty of room. The gator jaws on the Louisiana side had wide gaps, so use caution. Entering Louisiana on Hwy 15 the road has a nice shoulder and you are back in farm country. At times the road takes you up on the levee and it's amazing how far you can see in the flat area with just 15 to 20 foot of elevation.
Before we left home to begin this ride, I had heard that some of the campgrounds were flooded, so I called Deer Park Campground to see if they were open. Carlton Greer told me his daughter, Maria, ran the campground and that it was still under water. When I explained about the bike ride and that we would need a camp spot in that area, he said to come on down and he guaranteed he would fix us up. So when we reached the turn off for Deer Park Campground and crossed the levee to find that the camp was indeed still flooded, I gave Carlton a call. He gave us directions to his house which was nearby and we rode over there. When we reached his house and knocked on the door it was like we were instant family. He invited us in and offered us all the cold water we could drink. We spent about an hour visiting with him. I found out that after I had spoken with him on the phone prior to beginning the ride, Carlton had his daughter go on the internet and order a copy of my book. What a nice gentleman! I autographed his copy for him. Both he and his daughter, Maria, offered us the use of their spare bedroom, but Bob C and I both said that we preferred our tents and the shade under the huge pecan tree in his front yard. We did take him up on the offer to use his bathroom and his cold water faucet. He said to come in anytime and don't bother knocking.
After dinner, B J Morace, a family friend pulled up in his pickup. He and Maria were going over to the river side of the levee to check flood damage and they asked us to come along. We jumped on the invitation and we all loaded up in his truck. We crossed over the levee and B J family drove down a dirt road to park next to a house that was perched on 18 foot steel poles. B J explained how this was his mother's house and he pointed to another building mounted on its own set of 18 steel poles that was his house. As we walked around the area we didn't see any damage. We climbed the stairs to his mother's house. We then walked out on a huge deck that overlooks the oxbow lake that dominated the area. It is a beautiful setting. B J said he was born and raised in the house. However, after the flooding in 2008 and with his mother's failing health, they moved across the levee. But he said he is a river man and plans to move back to his house soon.
After we checked on the house and didn't find any damage that needed immediate repairs, they asked us if we wanted to go for a ride along the levee to look for the 18 foot gator called "Big Mama". We slowly drove along the levee until after dark looking for the gator. The sun was setting on the horizon and we couldn't think of any better way we would rather spend the evening, so we gave him a delighted, "Sure".
We saw several V shaped ripples in the water that B J said were gators, but never saw "Big Mama". Long after darkness had set in we were returned to our tents. As Bob C and I prepared to crawl into our bags, we both agreed that this day had been a Peter Jenkins like experience!
Maria told us that it was supposed to get up to 100 degrees today so we got up early, ate a few cookies, and we were on the road by 6:30. We stopped for breakfast #2 at the old closed visitor center once operated by Louisiana Hydroelectric. I was running low on water and found a working water faucet. If you are facing the front of the visitor center, you will find a small aluminum box on the right side of the building. Open it up and you will see a water faucet. Please be careful the faucet is made of plastic, try not to damage it. After breakfast, we stopped at the auxiliary dam office and walked in and I explained to the two women, Lisa and Kelly, sitting behind their desks that I read in a book that if I stopped and asked, someone would explain the flood control system to me. They gave me a puzzled look. I asked if that wasn't true. They told me that they would get someone for me. I said that's good because I'm the one who wrote the book. They called John and he came up and told us the very interesting history of the dam control system, which I explain in my book.
After our visit, we continued our ride down SH 15. With the leaves on the trees this time of the year we couldn't see the water and we missed the views of the waterfowl in the area. By the time we got to Innis it was warming up pretty good. We stopped at a convenience store and I picked up a 1 liter bottle of root beer and some blue bell ice cream and I told Bob C I was not leaving until I finished all of it. From there we had a nice ride across the Morganza waterway. The backed up water looks like a massive lake. On this stretch of road we passed our first live oak, a tree that Louisiana is famous for. It was in the front yard of an old plantation house. There was no name on the house so it must be a private residence.
The entire day's ride was well signed and easy to follow, When we reached New Roads, we had to leave the MRT to get to Jim's Campground, The campground is on the island side of the False River, which is an oxbow lake formed when the Mississippi River changed it's course. There is a combination restaurant and bar at Jim's. Bob C and I ended the day doing something we had talked about the whole trip – drinking a couple of ice cold beers! It just keeps getting better. Bob C said we were going to have to change our rating system. We had rated the first day of our tour as a 10, so how do we rate the days following with each one being better than the previous?
The 186 miles is some of Bob C's new math. He figures that since both of us rode 93 miles today that makes our mileage 186. Last night at Jim's Bar and Grill we met some people from Wisconsin and Florida. The group of young guys we talked to from Florida have been living in tents here for four months. They have homes and mortgages in Florida, but they can't find work there so they had to come all the way to Louisiana to live in tents while they worked and sent their money home to their families.
It was 3 miles back to the MRT, and once we were back on the route we had a beautiful 6 mile ride along the False River. We literally flew across Hwy 78. Bob C was doing most of the pulling. When I mentioned how fast we were going, Bob C said it was a good tailwind, smooth surface, and he just felt great. I think it was something that they put in his bloody Mary last night that was making him go so fast.
On Hwy 77 we rode along the Bayou Grosse Tete. There were a lot of live oaks with branches shading the road making for a pleasant ride. Also on Hwy 77, we saw a sign that said we were entering the "gateway to bayou country", but what really made it official was when we passed a dead alligator on the side of the road. Some of the roads in Louisiana have shoulders that are left over from previous pavements. It looks like they came in and cut out the main part of the road when they repaved it. Now the new surface has worn our and the shoulders are smoother than the main road surface. This means that the prime rideable surface in about an 18 inch shoulder that is between the rough pavement and the outer portion of the shoulder that has rocks and gravel on it. As the lead rider encountered rough spots in the road he would point it out for the trailer. And when you encountered road obstacles on both sides of the smoother 18 inch pavement, we developed a new hand gesture. It is something like an upside down hook-um-horns (nothing personal Texas Longhorn fans). We decided this would be our cycling gang sign, held in the small of your back;
We had talked to a man at Jim's Bar and Grill who told us that there was a campground in downtown WhiteCastle. When we reached White Castle we stopped and asked a guy about the campground, he just laughed and said he could guarantee that there is no campground in White Castle. So we continued on to Donaldsonville. On Hwy 405 we had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was my first flat tire of the trip. The good news was that one of our blog readers, Cody Albright from Baton Rouge, stopped to help and to visit with us. He had some time off today and decided to try and find us. We had a really great visit. Cody had just finished riding the same route we were riding from Memphis to Venice and he had plenty of stories to share with us. He told us that the Edgard/Reserve Ferry is still closed and he recommended that we go down to the Hwy 310 Bridge to cross. This sounded like a good plan to us. Thanks again Cody for coming out.
We reached Donaldsonville still without a place to camp. We stopped at the chamber of commerce and told them about our bicycle tour and asked them if they knew a place we could pitch our tents. Becky Katz, the executive director, made a call to a friend of a friend who runs B & B Mobile Home Park. C J Bellina, who owned the mobile home park, explained to us that he had a mobile home that he is in between renting and that we were welcome to stay there. What a deal! C J set us up real good. He hooked up the television so that we could watch LSU and Texas in the College World Series.
Once we were settled in, Bob C and I had dinner at a place C J recommended. The First and Last Chance Restaurant was a really cool place. Their menu said they had been in business since 1921. That they have been pleasing and displeasing the public ever since. They have been cussed and discussed, boycotted, talked about, lied to, hung up, held up, and robber. They have only one reason for staying in the business, to see what the hell is going to happen next! The place not only had character but they served good food also. Bob C had the gumbo and I had the local favorite, hamburger steak with red gravy. We highly recommend both.
Following dinner Bob C and I spent the evening riding our bikes around in the historic tour of Donaldsonville, It is an interesting town with a lot of beautiful old buildings, such as the huge and well preserved Church of Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
After leaving Donaldsonville this morning, we were on Hwy 18 for the next 55 miles with the levee on our left as our constant companion. For the first 10 miles we had a smooth road surface with a prevailing tailwind and we were averaging 18 to 20 miles per hour (with Bob C on the front, of course). After that the pavement had cracks and potholes that threatened to swallow up our skinny tires. We had to space out and it was every man for his self. This lasted for about 8 miles and then it was back to only the occasional small cracks and potholes. There are a lot of plantations on Hwy 18, from the impressive Oak Alley Plantation to the smaller private residences that are equally interesting.
Along this route there were enough convenience stores to keep us supplied with cold drinks and snacks. We passed B & C Seafood Restaurant, but it was too early to eat so we had to ride on by. When we reached the Edgard/Reserve Ferry it was indeed still closed. One of the locals told us that the Corps of Engineers had completed their work on the levee and now it was just political issues keeping it from reopening. It seems that there are different owners on each side of the river and I think it is kind of a Lennon-McCartney thing fighting to see whose name goes first on the title.
We followed Cody's advice and continued down Hwy 18 to the Hwy 310 bridge. It's an interstate highway, but there were no signs prohibiting bicycles so we went for it. It was quite exciting! There was a 6 foot shoulder, but it had a lot of debris on it. But when I have a choice of riding through debris or get creamed by an 18 wheeler going 70 miles per hour, I'll choose the shoulder everytime. There was some added drama on the downhill side of the bridge when I came up on a 10 inch wide section of asphalt that was missing and I had to bunny hop it. Whew! Everything worked out fine and the exit brought us right down to the base of the Levee Trail. We pushed our bikes up the grass covered levee and enjoyed a leisurely ride on this fantastic trail.
We dropped off the Levee Trail to visit Bicycle World and met Paul Webb there, who joined us for the remainder of the ride into New Orleans. He had a wealth of information about the history of the area and it was like having our own personal tour guide. He rode all the way to the French Quarter with us and said he would see us at the book signing on Friday. We already had some hotels selected from calls we had made before we started the ride. After visiting a couple hotels and having them give us prices that were higher than the ones they had quoted us on the phone we selected the Hotel St Pierre. Coral and John treated us great and they even let us take our bikes in the room. We now have a home base for the next two nights as we explore New Orleans. Bob C and I had a nice evening walking around the French Quarter.
We started the day by visiting with Julie Castille at Jean LaFitte NHP headquarters. I wanted to make sure that she had received the books she had ordered and to check on arrangements for the book signing tomorrow. From there we walked around the French Quarter enjoying the sights and doing other tourist activities. We rode theSt Charles streetcar. It is a really good deal. For only $1.25 it takes you through the Garden District of New Orleans. When the weather is good and you can open the windows, I can think of no better way to tour the area and check out the beautiful homes.
While we were riding the streetcar there was a nice girl sitting behind me who was extremely friendly and was chatting with everyone around her. While I was visiting with her I found out her name was Carol McFarland and she was from Oklahoma City, which is not far from Northwest Arkansas. What a small world. As I was talking with Carol about our bike ride, a woman across the aisle asked us if we were Bob and Bob. We were really surprised that she knew who we were. She said that she had read about us in the Times-Picayune. The reason she noticed the article is because she and her husband are always interested in the weird things that people do.
Later we did some more sightseeing. We visited Louis Armstrong Park which is just two blocks down from our hotel and then took a swim in the pool at the hotel. We finished the day with an enjoyable meal at the River's Edge Restaurant and then had a Hurricane to celebrate our 90 plus mile ride yesterday on the hottest day in New Orleans history – 104 degrees! That's what the headline of the newspaper read.
I've just been told that the summer issue of American Trails Magazine will print an article about my guidebook. I want to thank all the great people at American Trails .It is a great organization that promotes bicycle trails. If you are not a member, I highly recommend that you join. I also want to thank Terry Eastin, Executive Director of MRT, Inc for arranging the article.
After biding farewell to the Hotel St Pierre, Bob C and I walked down to Jean La Fitte NHP to take their guided tour of the French Quarter. The Park tour used to take you through the French Quarter itself, but the commercial tour operators complained about the free tours. Now the park is limited to taking their tours up on the river walk. It was still a very interesting tour and our guide, Park Ranger Jim Van Dorin, lives in the French Quarter and provided a lot of insight into the area. When the tour was over, I went back to the park headquarters to do my book signing. Julie Castille did a great job in setting this up and she had a nice area arranged for me. Several people came by, including Paul Webb, Mary, and Christy. Also, Liz Wurster came by when she heard about the book signing. She and her boyfriend are in the middle of a bike tour across the country from San Diego, CA to St Augustine, Fl. We had a good time exchanging stories about life on the road. You can follow their adventures at their website: www.getjealous.com/conorbolger.
After leaving New Orleans behind I was disappointed to find that they had cut rumble strips into the shoulders on the St Bernard Highway. To me it's not rocket science. Rough shoulders are bad. Smooth shoulders are good. It's pretty simple.
We had planned to camp at St Bernard State Park, but we had not ridden in 2 days and with a favorable tailwind we decided to keep going. We continued down Hwy 39 to the Pointe a la Hache Ferry. At this time of the day, the ferry only runs once an hour and we timed it perfectly. Just after we rode onto the ferry, they raised the ramp and we were on our way across the Mississippi River. This was our first ferry ride. We both wished it took longer to cross the river because we were enjoying the boat ride. But it was over way too soon. As we rode down the west side of the river on Hwy 23, we could really feel that we were on a peninsula. With the levee on our left stopping the river and the levee on our right stopping the Gulf waters, it seems to go against nature to even have any land here. At times there was less than a quarter mile between the levees.
It was getting late so we started looking for a place to camp. There are numerous RV parks in the area, but they don't allow tent camping. We decided to try to camp at St Patrick Catholic Church in Port Sulphur. We stopped to ask Father Stapleton for permission to stay there, but Eric, the man who lives next door, said the priest was not home. As we awaited the Father's return Eric shared some of his Hurricane Katrina experiences with us. Prior to the hurricane he had a house with a covered porch around three sides of the house. He also had a workshop and garage. He had lived in the area all of his life, so when they were told to evacuate for Katrina he treated it like the other hurricanes he that had come through the area. He and his family grabbed two days worth of clothing and headed inland. As he discovered, Katrina was not like the other hurricanes. When he finally was allowed to return to his home there was nothing remaining of the house or workshop. He had lost everything. And that was just the start of his troubles. It turned out that his insurance paid for some items and not others. Eric and his brothers wanted to move inland and forget about moving back to the area, but their mother was determined to move back. And what Mama wants she gets. So now, four years later, he is still rebuilding.
We were like a couple of kids on Christmas this morning, with the end of the ride so close at hand. We were both up before daylight. After we packed our gear, we ate a few cookies and headed down the road. Hwy 23 is mostly 4 lanes with wide shoulders. Part of the shoulder has a rumble strip, but the remaining area is ridable.
There were a lot of signs of rebuilding in the area since my last ride through the hurricane stricken area, but remnants of the devastation from Katrina were still visible. Based on the homes that are still boarded over it appears that some of the residents have had enough and are not planning to return.
When we topped the Causeway Bridge in Empire, we paused to take in the view. To the west we could see the Gulf waters and to the east the Mississippi River. On a clear day like today, we could even see the Gulf waters east of the Mississippi River. This is a different world where there is more water than land.
After we passed through Venice, we both sat straight up on our bikes to stretch out the last few miles. Even though there are several industries in the last 2 miles, much of this stretch is like riding through a swamp. There was abundant waterfowl in the wetlands that boarded the highway. As we peddled the road there were hundreds of small crabs along the shoulder, and as we approached they scurried into the grass. Water on both sides of the road lapped at the edge of the pavement. Several times we had to ride through water that was across the road. Bob C was even impressed by scenary, and he's hard to impress.
When we reached the Southernmost Point in Louisiana sign, we toasted our achievement with our bottles of Gatorade and posed for photos. We had ridden 830 miles from West Memphis to get to this point. We relied totally on "Bicycling Guide to the Mississippi River Trail" and it provided everything we needed to make this a really enjoyable adventure, one I highly recommend to all cyclists. With most of the route being completely flat you'll not find an easier route to bicycle across the country. And with the route following the corridor of the Great Mississippi River through America's heartland you'll encounter first hand much of this country's history that they taught you in school. Before beginning your adventure, be sure to go to my website (www.spiritscreek.com) to read the latest updates and changes to the MRT.
After lingering there as long as possible, Bob C and I pointed our bikes north and started peddling home.