Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 31, 2008: St. Francisville to Franklinton, LA - And the winner is...

The results are in for today's stage of The Armadillo Invitational. The favorites, the 'dillo squad, pulled out the expected victory with 5 points during the 83.6 mile, 6 hour contest.

In second place were the Snakes with 3.5 points. There was a tie for third, with the Turtles and the Birds each getting 3 points. The Skunks scored 2.5 early in the contest, including an exciting LIVE appearance, but were soon dropped. The Dogs got a single point. In the team competition, the Reptiles took the cup, in spite of the Dillos strong bid on behalf of the Marsupials.

Today's ride was long, quite hilly, and pretty hot, but I felt great all day. When we reached the hotel this afternoon I just kept riding, doing a pass through the strip center next door to check for eateries. I could easily have done another 25 miles, even in the afternoon heat. Fred had faded around 20 miles back, though, so it is good that we cut today's ride back from the original 102 mile route.

At Fred's request, our fourth rider, who will be joining us in Pensacola, has replaced the original final 5 days through North Florida (which included two 100-mile days) with a 6 day tour of the Florida gulf coast, with single day rides no longer than 70 miles. This new revision will delay my return to work by a day, but the easy last week means that I will be fully functional when I do return.

Friday, May 30, 2008

May 30, 2008: St. Francesville, New Roads, and Highway 61 Revisited, Revisited

When we arrived in St. Francisville yesterday we learned that the ferry from the west side of the river had just started running again after being out of service for six weeks. Our original plan had been to ride down from Natchez on the west side and to ferry over to here after a 100 mile ride. It would not have been amusing had we arrived to find no ferry.

This morning we got going at around 8. We rode through a neighborhood of historic homes and then took the ferry across the river. On landing on the west bank we rode north on roads designated as part of the Mississippi River Trail (MRT). Parts of that route are paved bike paths that run along the top of the levee, but here you ride next to the levee on quiet rural roads out of sight of the river. There was very little traffic on the 10 or so miles we rode but the road surface was cracked and uneven (a constant problem because of the underlying geology here). It was a reminder that I must reduce my tire pressure before we start the next part of our trip tomorrow, which will be on similar roads.

Ferry from St. Francisville across the Mississippi River to New Roads

New Roads

After sampling the MRT we headed back south to visit the historic river town of New Roads. We had a great lunch, paid a brief visit to the local Walmart for a couple of supplies, and rode the 5 or so miles back to the ferry. If you look closely at the photo below, you may be able to make out 'Ferry Closed' on the sign in the background. Uh-oh. That's right - in the few hours we spent on the west side, the ferry had developed some sort of mechanical issue and was, once again, out of action. Ray called the ferry people and was told that it might or might not be running again around 5 PM.

Ferry closed!

The gentleman in the photo between Fred and Ray is Len Greene, a most companionable local entrepeneur with a masters degree in biochemistry, who kindly offered to drive us and our bikes around to the other side of the river. That amounts to a drive of an hour or so. Fred and I split the time sitting in back with the bikes. Ray got to enjoy Len's company for the entire ride. Fred tried to compensate Len for the gas cost, but he firmly refused in a tone that discouraged further discussion of the matter. We parted ways a short 10 mile ride up Highway 61 from our destination. Once again Len, we thank you for your kindness and your company.

Sitting in the back of Len's pickup with the bikes.

Returning to our rooms, we found that Fred's new Giro Pneumo helmet and rear view mirror had arrived from Performance, as had the little wireless travel router that Kathy shipped me yesterday. We hope that Fred's new lid will keep his brain cooler. His old, poorly ventilated helmet was causing his ideas to emerge overcooked -- most discouraging because he wanted to try out some new ones on me before sharing them with his academic colleagues who have some idea what the hell he is talking about!

Tomorrow we begin to follow the Adventure Cycling Assn's Southern Tier Route, which we will follow (mostly) all the way to Gainesville.

So for today's rest day we rode only 38 miles! Hopefully our butts won't punish us too badly when we subject them to another 78 miles tomorrow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The machine

Kim asked to see the bike, so here it is. I've included a shot of the cockpit as well. Mostly I monitor the GPS, with the display set to show speed, distance traveled today, and the map view of the route. From time to time I check the 'next turn' page as well.

May 29, 2008: Natchez, MS to St. Francisville, LA - Highway 61 Revisited

Of Bob Dylan's huge library of amazing lyrics, those contained in the songs of his early album 'Highway 61 Revisited' stand out for me. I spent much of today's 60 mile ride down Highway 61 between Natchez, MS and St. Francisville, LA trying to remember the lyrics to the title cut. I was only partially successful. Here they are if you want to check your own recollection:

It seems unlikely that this part of this highway 61 (a 4 lane, 65 mph, divided highway through wooded, rolling countryside) was Dylan's inspiration. If you were in a car, it would actually a lovely ride. On a bike, however, there was a big problem -- long sections with no ride-able shoulder. 

Viewing the satellite imagery last night on Google Maps had us concerned about that possibility. The alternative was a hundred mile death-ride through hell (clear skies with temps in the 90's), so we decided to ride out 5 miles to see what the lighter color of the shoulders south of town actually signified. At first we were relieved to find they were just the lighter-colored pavement we had seen from time to time earlier in the trip. After a few more miles, however, the shoulders changed to loose gravel, leaving no option other than sharing the right lane with the cars and trucks that chose to use it. Traffic was blessedly light and ALMOST everyone moved over to the left lane when passing. There were two scary incidents, but we made it to our destination without mishap.

A big problem for me was that I thought I had lost my rear-view mirror while dealing with my flat yesterday. Seventeen miles from our destination we rode back into Louisiana with its lovely wide, smooth shoulders and decided to take a break at the Welcome Center. I glanced in the mirror as I was leaving the rest room and discovered that my rear-view had been attached to my helmet the whole time, but folded up out of my line of sight! Ray saw it but figured I had lost a crucial part. Fred was totally hypnotized by my declaration that it was lost and no longer saw it at all. 

Welcome Center on Hwy 61.

So far St. Francisville seems charming. We had a great lunch of shrimp po' boys and mufaletta. Our accommodations here in an 'extended stay' hotel are more like apartments than hotel rooms. Tomorrow is a rest day. We plan to do a little sightseeing and maybe take the ferry over to the west side of the river to ride a few miles of the Mississippi River Trail bike route.

Seth slept here.

Courtyard in the residence hotel in St. Francisville. In the evenings we sat around and drank with the locals.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

May 28, 2008: Tallulah, LA to Natchez, MS - Longer, wetter, but better!

Today we spent another day on US65, rolling through Louisiana farmland on our ride from Tallulah, LA to Natchez, MS. The main difference today was that 45 or more of the day's 76 miles were in light to drenching rain. On the positive side, temps were in the low to mid 70's for most of the ride.

I'm not sure the other guys feel the same, but I much preferred today's weather to yesterday's heat. I spent most of the day at the front, but we were going a bit slower and the wind wasn't bad, so it was very easy. My heart rate was way down around 120 or lower most of the time.

The most interesting sight of the day was a mailbox at a farm that could house two adults.

As we rounded the corner in front of our hotel here in Natchez, I got a flat in the rear tire. It turned out to be a staple that I undoubtedly picked up while rolling through the roadside debris on the final busy street.

If you are going to have a flat or other mechanical issue, what better place than in front of your hotel?


We are going to try a shortcut to St. Francisville tomorrow - down US 61, which is a designated scenic route. Nonetheless, it is a busy 4 lane divided highway. We will know within 5 miles if the road's shoulder is good enough to ride. If not, we will have to backtrack and take the long route. That would end up being a VERY long day!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May 27, 2008: Lake Village, AR to Tallulah, LA - Cookin' on US 65

Today was basically a straight shot down US 65 from Lake Village, AR to Tallulah, LA., just about 70 miles. The day started out pretty well.The skies were overcast (that's a GOOD thing), and we pretty quickly established an effective pace line rotation with each of us (including Fred, who was feeling stronger today) spending a minute at the front before rolling off. In spite of the steady headwind, we held a pace of around 15.5 into the little town of Lake Providence, halfway into our 70 mile ride. The first place we found that looked promising was "The Dock" -- an interesting combination of Subway franchise and Louisiana seafood restaurant. As it was only 9:30, the cook had not yet arrived, so Fred and I both had subs and Ray snacked on some of his stash of raisins, bars, and what-have-you. I must say that the Subway veggies and toppings were clearly a cut above what I have previously encountered at other Subway shops. For example, there were baby spinach leaves instead of just shredded iceberg lettuce. In addition, there was a lakeside deck that we enjoyed while eating, a clean bathroom, and a drinking water spigot that made it easy to refill my Camelback. Oh, and Fred bought a little bottle of hot sauce manufactured by the Panola Pepper Company, which we passed earlier in the ride. (He used it on his sub this morning, and tonight on his fried rice, declaring it to be "addictive".) I had tried to interest the guys in a tour of the facility (Visitors Welcome!) but neither Fred nor Ray seemed interested.

On the road again, I questioned the wisdom of my choice of a foot-long sub, and it may be one of the factors that made the last part of the ride difficult for me. By 50 miles the sun had come out and our enthusiasm started to wane. We were riding a relatively busy highway, arrow straight, with nasty rumble bumps along the left edge of the shoulder, under a blistering sun, with no shade in sight for miles at a time. Whenever it was necessary to leave the shoulder to avoid obstacles of some sort, we had to roll over the bone-jarring bumps. Anyway, less than 9 miles from our destination, we were all desperate for a stop and searched left and right sides of the road for a patch of shade. Ray, who has proven repeatedly to be the eagle-eye of the group, spotted a cluster of oak trees maybe 25 yards off the road beside some cultivated farmland. We rested there a bit, laughing hysterically at one another's not-really-all-that-funny comments, proving that our brains had become addled by the heat. We basically limped in from there at 12 -13 mph, with no attempt to resume our pace line.

  After some time to shower and recover, we got together and talked over our past three rides in light of the long rides to come in a few days. One way to handle long rides is simply to slow down a bit, but that would put us on the road into the afternoon and the hottest part of the day. On the other hand, if we push the pace, we risk one or more of us becoming exhausted. All in all, we figured the best bet would be to revisit the itinerary to see if there might be a way to get the rides down to the 60 - 80 miles that we have been doing. Turns out that it is possible to eliminate both of the upcoming centuries. We are now going to do a direct route from Natchez to St. Francisville instead of riding the long and twisting, mostly shadeless, Mississippi River Trail route that we had originally planned. On our rest day in St. Francisville. we may take the ferry across to New Roads and do a casual ride up the MRT a little way to see what there is to see in that section of the trail. From St. Francisville our new itinerary is:

Sunday, June 1: Poplarville, MS
Monday, June 2: Ocean Springs, MS
Tuesday, June 3: Dauphin Island, AL
Wednesday, June 4: Pensacola, FL
Thursday, June 5: REST DAY

We will take another look at the remaining segments, which include one 95 and one 100 mile day, to see if we can do something about them as well, though that may not be possible.

Tonight there was a very dramatic thunderstorm here, but it has stopped raining for the moment. The chance of rain is very high for tomorrow, so it will be a miracle it we make it through the day without getting wet. That's not really too much of a concern as long as the rain is not in the form of lightning storms. If we encounter anything like that, we will just take cover as quickly as possible and wait it out. It may take all day to get to Natchez but we shouldn't have the heat or sunshine to deal with!

Monday, May 26, 2008

May 26, 2008, Memorial Day: Star City to Lake Village, AR - Turtles and The Wind Devil of the South

Star City, AR to Lake Village, AR - 64.4 miles, 4 hrs 38min riding time

Yesterday's heat convinced us to start riding today at first light - approximately 6AM, so we were on the road around 6:15.

For the first 45 miles or so we were stair-stepping south and east. It was warm but not bad. There were trees, pasture and farm land, hardly any cars and lots of little box turtles crossing the road.

Every so often on my rides I have experienced moments of transcendence, during which I feel at perfect peace. I had one of those this morning. As it passed I turned to Fred and thanked him. He understood without the need for further explanation.

At one point we passed one of the little turtles lying upside down in the road. The image stayed with me and after about a quarter mile I turned back to take a look. His shell was closed up tight but otherwise intact, so I put him right side up in a shady grassy spot and caught back up to Fred & Ray a mile or so up the road.

Perhaps to avoid getting overheated again, Fred had us stopping every hour or so for rest and refreshment. More often than not, a convenience store appeared at just the right moment. This strategy worked fine today so we'll probably continue, though I suppose the intervals may get longer as Fred gets conditioned to the heat and the riding.

The last 20 miles was into a 10mph or better headwind. Being the only one with aero-bars, it was natural for me to take the lead. Within a few miles I had decided to stay in front the whole way (a touch of testosterone poisoning, perhaps). I found a sustainable pace, which varied between 10 and 15 mph. The wind got stronger and more gusty as time went by. Nonetheless I was feeling pretty good, finding myself silently taunting the 'wind devil' with stuff like, "Is that all you've got?" (Picture Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump on the shrimp boat in the hurricane.)

Based on the weather forecasts, tomorrow is going to be more of the same -- headwind the whole 70 miles. We are going to get on the road at 6 and will try a rapid-rotation pace line to see if that works for us.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

May 25, 2008: Little Rock to Star City, AR

Seth does not have wireless access to the Internet at the motel tonight so I am just posting the stats for the day. Kathy

The guys left Little Rock at 7:30am and arrived in Star City, AR at about 2:30pm.
5:38 riding time
Distance 81.6 miles
Average speed 14.4mph

We stopped at  luxurious rest stops like this one every 90 minutes or so.

Los tres amigos del camino.

Heat in the afternoon was the biggest problem today. In the morning it was hot but overcast, so it was bearable. The temperature on the road was up to 99, so by the time they were done, they were beat. There is a decent Mexican restaurant next door, so they ate and turned in early. Their plan is to leave Monday morning at about 6am for a ride of 64 miles.

Today's ride was uneventful with little traffic to start. At the times when there was traffic, there was also a wide shoulder. The people in AR are very courteous giving them a wide berth....much more courteous than drivers in Florida.

If it turns out that the next motel also does not have a wireless network, Seth may have me send him a small router he uses when we travel. He did not think it would be necessary to bring, but it may turn out to be. We will see. He sounds chipper tonight but it is just the end of the first day of riding!