Day 110 (2016-12-14): ~55 miles from Baton Rouge to Gramercy, LA. A mix of shitty bike path, river road, and country highway with one terrible section of Highway 44 north of Highway 70. This is my second to last day of riding.
Riding out I pass through some of the LSU campus and follow a shitty bike lane until it turns into a shitty shoulder. Thankfully, I veer of onto the river road before long and enjoy mostly calm riding for the next 30 some miles. Still no shoulder, but traffic is mostly calm and the pavement is decent. I try once or twice to ride atop the levy but it is either unpaved and muddy or else the random paved bike trail ends abruptly into grass just before one of the dozens of oil pipelines. Perfect. Like the ride into Baton Rouge I pass tons of huge industrial plants, both oil and gas refineries but also minerals, chemicals, lumber, and other resources benefitting from easy shipping along the Mississippi. Here are there are quiet sections, some of which encompass beautiful old plantation homes.
The stretch between highways 44 and 70 is only a few miles long but terrible. No shoulder, heavy and high-speed traffic, and a lot of trucks. I speed along doing almost 20mph just to get it over with, keeping on high alert the whole time. Afterwards I meet Paul, one of the few touring cyclists I’ve seen since leaving the coast. He is heading east and skipping New Orleans so we only ride together for a very short time. We bond over headwinds, freezing temperatures, and crappy riding and it feels good to know I am not the only one struggling to keep morale up under the conditions.
I really hit it well with podcasts today and before I know it I am arriving at my host. Dale is not here yet but left the door to his ‘man cave’ unlocked. Dale is an an older gentleman who lets cyclists use his garage complete with a work bench and camper. It’s nothing fancy and Dale only stops in briefly to say hello but he provides a lot of information on local services and I am able to clean and tune up my bike with his complete tool collection. He’s of the mentality that all we need is a safe space – plenty of time to relax and do whatever we need to do. Works well for me!
It’s odd. Riding from Austin through the first few days in Louisiana I was really ready for this trip to be over. First I was soaked and freezing, then somewhat uninterested in exploring Austin. I enjoyed one day of nice, warm sun before jumping head-first into another cold front that dropped one night of rain and then left me riding in sub-freezing temperatures. Yup, over it.
But these last few days have been warm and, despite the pouring rain on my way into Baton Rouge, the temperature is a major boon. So too is the lack of vicious headwinds, letting me make a good pace AND enjoy my ride rather than trudge through a slow roll with poor morale. So now that I face my last riding day I am a little bit sad it will be over. But let’s be honest – I am mostly unable to process this change. That’s how it always goes for me – it will hit me in a couple of weeks.
Day 111: ~50 miles from Gramercy to New Orleans, LA. A mix of river road and levee trail, then urban (suburban) winding to my host. Headwinds.
Despite how much this sucks right now, it is a fitting end to my ride. I’m pedaling hard with low morale moving about 7 mph into a stiff headwind from the southeast. I gain a few minutes of respite here and there but for the most part it is slow rolling. I spend the day thinking about how tired I am of this morale-crushing experience with headwinds. I imagine it is difficult to understand if you have not been in a similar position, whether it cycling or something else. As much as you want to enjoy the day you are overwhelmed and overpowered, intent only on getting to your destination and being done with this fight.
That said, I am excited when I reach NOLA – both to be finished and to be a few days away from going home for the holidays. It’s going to be a tough transition for sure – how do you go from a full work day worth of physical exertion to unemployed holiday relaxation? And I struggle to see myself adapting well to a desk job – I already disliked that in just 6 short months in Seattle. But I’ll think more on this later – for now, it’s my birthday and it’s time to celebrate!