Day 10 – Defuniak Springs to Pensaola – 85 miles
So we continued on westward (as we will do for the next 2 months) to Pensacola. We had great hosts in Defuniak Springs. For breakfast, they woke up extremely early and cooked us a huge breakfast with pancakes, eggs, sausage, fruits, everything. They were very excited about our project, and they are a host that has hosted Bike and Builders for some years.
Getting out of Defuniak Sprigs, we stayed on the road we came in on with smooth pavement, rolling hills, and beautiful surroundings. After about 20 miles, we were back on some normal roads with the shoulder and passing cars. I was riding with Marcus, our biking expert. Marcus races bikes at Purdue and is a biking genious. His amount of knowledge about bikes is ridiculous. He also has an impressive beard that’s been growing for a few months. He says he grows a beard because everyone hates losing a race to a guy with a beard.
So Marcus and I were riding and he asks me, “Are you ok”, and I responded with a “Yes”. He then proceded to speed up to a good 26 mile per hour pace as I followed closely on his back wheel. Somehow, he kept up this pace for about 10 miles as my undersized calves and quads did their best to keep up.
We got to lunch after 45 miles at about 10:15. After a long lunch, we continued on towards Pensacola. A few of the roads we jumped on, unfortunately, had a good amount of traffic without much of a shoulder. This definitely makes it stressful and less enjoyable. At about mile 60, I felt my tire go flat…my first of the trip. After a 5 minute tube change, I jumped back on. A few miles later, we stopped a Navarre Beach. The others ahead of us stopped here and did what we call DMing (Donation Magic). They told the workers at the boat rental companies about our trip to see if they would be willing to let us use a canoe and a sailboat. They were ok with it, so a bunch of our bikers went out on the canoe and the sail boat in the little bay. I took it easy and hung out on the beach and tried to save some energy for the next 20 miles. But the last 20 miles were extremely beautiful with a road right along the ocean. Something to make the strong headwind worth it.
After getting back on the bikes, we found a strong headwind which didn’t stop the rest of the way. The headwind is extremely demoralizing for me. Pedaling pretty hard and going 10 miles per hour is not fun, especially for 20 miles. After getting pretty close to Pensacola, I almost “bonked out”…getting that feeling of weakness caused by a lack of energy. Luckily, a fellow rider gave me a cliff bar to save me.
In Pensacola, 2 of last year’s Bike and Builders cooked for us and hung out. They’re two very cool people and it’s great to hear their stories.
Day 11 – Pensacola, FL to Mobile, AL – 95 miles
We woke up nice and early (5:30) to start our long ride. 95 miles from Pensacola to Mobile with a ferry in the middle. The first 30 miles were nothing special, until we got to the Alabama border which was right along the ocean. After that, we followed a road through less busy country roads until lunch at mile 45. We wanted to get to the ferry at mile 65 for the 12:30 ferry, so we booked it after lunch. We jumped on the Marcus pain train (he literally passed me with 5 others and screamed “All aboard the pain train for the 12:30 ferry!” So we jumped on the back and drafted off of him averaging 19 mph and getting to the ferry at 12:20.
Right after the ferry, exhausted and hungry, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. I order fried Oysters and french fries, which was absolutely delcious, but getting back on the bike was tough. The next 10 miles were brutal as my stomach worked on digesting while the rest of my body worked on finishing the day. I must say that even though I felt pretty bad, the fried oysters were well worth it.
The others found a restaurant with a food challenge, eat a 2 pound burger and get it for half price. 2 of the riders finished it (Marcus finished in 9 minutes). They are champs for getting on their bikes after this.
We finished up the last miles and got into Mobile and were treated very well. With barbeque pork, pork and beans, okra, and a delcious banana pudding, we were a happy team of tired bikers.
Day 12 – Build Day in Mobile, AL
We got some good rest (and by that I mean 7 hours of sleep) and woke up for a build day with Habitat. It’s awesome to get back to build sites after several biking days. It’s our purpose for the trip, and it’s very energizing to stop at a place to help build houses a day or two. We started off the day by meeting Gary and Marcie, the project leaders at one of the houses. Two great people who were organized and ready to have 13 of us there to help out. We tore out carpet and tile, painted, and then finally put in tiling in the kitchen and bathroom. This was the first time that I had tiled, but it was quite fun. My friend Nate and I took on the kitchen and finished a good part of it on this first build day.
At night, we had dinner at a restaurant for the first time. We went to a place called the Okay Bicycles. They donated chips and salsa and queso along with a few tacos each. Absolutely delicious. We also had a few beers which unfortunately weren’t DMed. Afterwards, I took a walk around downtown Mobile which seemed like a cool city with little parks, old bars and restaurants along with a few modern skyscrapers.
Day 13 – Build Day in Mobile, AL
So we went back to house, and Nate and I worked on finishing up the tile. We learned that cutting the tile is the hardest and most time consuming part of tiling. The day before, we thought we were really good by putting in the center tiles that didn’t need to be cut. We were surprised when cutting the tiles for the kitchen. It really takes some time after measuring, cutting, and then placing the tile. Unortunately, we didn’t have enough time to put all the tile down, but we got it all cut to put them in a good position to fit it.
At night, Chik-Fil-A donated us food and we happily demolished it. We have something we call Bike and Build problems…problems you only have on Bike and Build. One of these is the fact that we eat so much, that when we get food that is enough for a normal person, it is most definitely not enough for us. One of our biggest fears is being hungry after eating. Needless to say, snacking between meals is very normal, and snacking is usually a full meal in itself.
Day 14 – Mobile, AL to Biluxi, MS – 57 miles
It’s a good position to be in when you see 57 miles on our cue sheet and are extremely happy because it is extremely short. We were all pretty psyched to see that as we headed across the state line to Mississippi after our short stint in Alabama. The ride started out flat and on roads with low traffic. I road with my buddy Alex, the youngest guy on the trip at 19 and also happens to have the most energy by far. He’s from Connecticut but just got done from a 3 month hiking trip out west. Like I said, biking on low traffic streets or bike trails is so much nicer than busier streets. We were riding side by side and had a great time taking it easy on our 57 mile jog. At the age of 25, I am the 4th oldest person on the trip and the youngest rider since the 3 older than me are leaders. It’s funny to be one of the oldest since I am used to being the younger one in most things. Alex is our number one DMer, so we stopped a few times to get some food. We ended up with chicken fingers and fries from Burger King, waffles from the waffle house, and some smoothies from McDonalds. The reason for DMing is to reduce our costs on food we need to buy so we can put more money towards affordable housing. This definitely helps since we didn’t need to eat lunch at the lunch stop with the van and were able to save food in that way.
We continued on through some business districts in smaller towns. Took some pictures at the Mississippi border. I also got my second flat tire, and hopefully that won’t continue.
We got into Biluxi, a beautiful small city on the gulf in MS. We noticed how all the buildings by the water (which were mainly casinos) were pretty much brand new. We quickly realized that this is because the others were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. We had just gotten into the edge of what Katrina had affected 8 years ago. Seeing this makes you start to realize what people went through in this time. However, the city was pretty much cleaned up, which is good since it’s a cool little city with very friendly people. Near the beach were sculptures made by a local artist. The sculptures are animals made out of trees salvaged after Katrina. So you have dolphins, birds, and many other animals. Pretty cool.
At night, I took a walk around the beaches, went into a casino just to check it out, and just explored a bit. This was our only night in MS so I wanted to get a feel for it.
I also have to mention the meal made by our hosts. Chicken, rice, and curry. I hadn’t had curry in ages, so this was very much appreciated. Making curry for a large group of people is risky, but we were all impressed.
Day 15 – Biluxi, MS to New Orleans, LA – 85 miles
We woke up early and headed west along the gulf. For about 15 miles, we had amazing views of the gulf while biking. Just outside of Biluxi, there the University of Southern Mississippi has an extremely old tree that has been there since before Colombus came, and they call it the Friendship Tree. The branches are a few feet in diameter and stretch along the group, inviting in anyone around. We got some pictures there and hung out for a while. We then went through some little towns and their business districts. I got my first DM. We stopped at a McDonalds in Waveland, MS, and I noticed a place next door called “Da Little Cafe”, a small local place that specializes in New Orleans type food. I went in a asked if they’d be willing to donate any food, and they were happy to give us several orders of beignets (delicious fried dough with plenty of powdered sugar on top). I had a cool conversation with them, some younger guys and a few of the woman workers. Asking about the typical food around there, sports, New Orleans. I love to get the view of the locals. They always have great suggestions. They ended up giving us about 30 beignets for 5 of us…plenty of food. That along with some smoothies was a perfect pit stop.
We went on and got to lunch at mile 42. Not hungry, I left pretty quickly. About 5 miles after, we got to the unmarked state border of Mississippi and Louisiana. The first people through searched on their iPhones and found where the spot is and chalked it up so we could all know where it was. So this time we got pictures with a chalk mark on the shoulder of the road, but better than nothing.
At about mile 62, we crossed a bridge and Emily saw a little fort that we decided to stop at. We got in for free. It’s a small fort set on the river, and we were lucky to have the worker and also an archeologist there with us for a free tour. There is a moat going around the fort and happens to have a little alligator living there. The worker searched it out for us, calling out it
s name. The little guy was just a few feet long and probably weighed 20 pounds. The first gator I have spotted.
Right next door, there was a crawfish boil going on with a Mardi Gras committee. Some others went over while I was in the fort, and they invited us in to join them. Seriously, the generosity of people is incredible. That’s why they call it the southern hospitality. There were about 15 of us, and they sat us down at a table and brought out a whole tray of freshly boiled crawfish. After a few tutorials, we dove in. I had a great conversation with an older couple who are from the area. I thought it was interesting that during hurricane evacuations, they head to Florida just to spent some days at the beach. One time, a hurricane was supposed to come to the area so they went to Florida, then the forecast changed to where it was supposed to go to Florida, so they came back. Then it changed again and went back to Florida. I suppose that at least they can get away from it…tornadoes happen too quickly for that. The group even took our picture and said they were going to get an article published in their local newspaper. Awesome people. We stayed for an hour or two eating crawfish, brownies, potato salad, and also chatting. Then we figured we need to get to New Orleans at a decent time so we took off.
About 15 miles later, one of our biggest fears happen, an accident. We were in a paceline, and the guy behind me scraped my back tire. Because of this, took a spill on his bike. The two people behind him didn’t have time to get out of the way and literally went over the first guy. The girl behind him literally landed on her headed and suffered just a minor concussion, and then guy in the back has hurt his shoulder. We’re not sure what’s up with it, but he seems to be feeling alright. Hopefully they can both get on their bikes soon. This is the perfect example of why everyone should wear helmets on bicycles. Because of her helmet, she suffered only a minor concussion. If she wasn’t, it would’ve been much worse. We’re all happy that everyone is in pretty good condition and hoping that they’ll be back riding soon.
After the crash, we were all shaken up but went on the last 10 miles or so to New Orleans. It was stressful riding and we all just wanted to arrive. After a few bridges and some decent traffic, we got into our host located in NOLA near the Lower 9th Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by Katrina.
Many of us napped (something we’ve all become very good at), then headed down to Bourbon Street for some after dark fun. Bourbon Street is so much more than I expected. I expected a block or two of some bars, but really it’s about 8 blocks full of bars with live music of any genre, and it’s full of people. It’s legal to drink in the streets, so many people take beers to go. It’s pretty crazy, and very impressive to see. We topped off the night with “The World’s Best Bugers” and then got back to our host safely.
Day 16 – Day off!
Our first day off comes in a good place, New Orleans (or ‘nawlins, as the locals might say it). We took shuttles in the van (we have a 15 person support van for transportation when we need it) and got a good, hearty breakfast from Anita’s Cafe. This was the real deal. I got a hamburger steak with gravy, grits, and eggs. It’s a classic diner that was recommended by someone we met, and it was pretty much all locals but us. It’s a place that could easily be on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Big portions, unlimited coffee, and nice people
Afterwards, we walked a few miles to the downtown area. We walked through the business district which was pretty dead on a Saturday, and then we got to the French Quarter, the main area for restaurants, bars, and sites. A few of the main sites include Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, Cafe Du Monte, the French Market, views of the Mississippi River, and a lot of live music. Jackson Square is not only my favorite song by Mason Jennings, but a really nice green space surrounded by French architecture and the cathedral. Surrounding the square are vendors selling their art, horses hauling tourists around in carriages, and on one corner is Cafe Du Monte (one of the older and a very famous cafe in New Orleans). Across the square from Jackson Square are some steps leading up to a viewpoint of the Mississippi River. It’s cool to finally see the very south part of the Mighty Mississippi. I’m hoping to one day canoe/kayak down it, so hopefully I’ll see this part again but by boat. Juust walking around the French Quarter and Bourbon Street during the day were really cool. It’s definitely a lively city with a lot of character.
Day 17 – Build Day 1 with the Saint Bernard Project
On Monday morning, the Saint Bernard Project volunteer coordinator came in and spoke with us about the project and their purpose. The entire purpose is to rebuild the houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The house that I worked on was for a guy named Oliver who evacuated with his parents right before Katrina. He has a duplex, and we are putting the finishing touches on the house. We have 20 people working on the house doing everthing from tiling, painting, baseboarding, window framing, and so on. I spent day 1 painting doors outside in the heat. And it was almost unbearably hot. 100 degrees and humid. Louisiana humid. It’s the days like these that I wonder how we are biking 75 miles per day when it’s hard just to stand outside. Nate, Marcus, and I up finished up several doors for the day.
The Saint Bernard Project has many Americorp volunteers as project managers, and we had two girls named Liesil and Nicole as ours. They were extremely organized and we completely prepared for 20 volunteers for a week, not an easy task. Very impressive.
When we got back to the church, we went out and played some basketball for a while. On the days we’re not biking, we definitely find ways to get in our exercise. Everyone here is very competitive, so many people are always up for other sports.
At night, we hung out on the roof of the church with a decent view of the city and nice weather as it cooled down.
Day 18 – Build Day 2 with the Saint Bernard Project
Marcus and I got taken off paint duty and thrown onto baseboarding and shoe molding. This is something I had never done, and it’s something that is a bit of a challenge since everything has to be very precise. If you make a wrong cut, you’ll usually have to scrap the piece of wood. Same thing if you cut the wrong measurements. It was tough, we finished the utility room in one side of the duplex.
At night, we headed over to a house near the Tulane campus to have dinner with a Bike & Build alum. She and her friends cooked us up a great barbeque along with so many sides. Burgers, hot dogs, salads, etc. We hung out at their place, played some corn hole, and had a few beers. They were extremely generous. I don’t know if you can imagine cooking for 27 bikers who are burning thousands of calories every day. It is not an easy task. They were great to us! After, we went out, some of us to Frenchmen street downtown. I was with a group who went to a few different places, one with a brass band and the other with a jazz band. The amount of live music is seriously impressive, as each night you can find several bars with live rock, blue, jazz, whatever you want.
Day 19 – Build Day 3 with the Saint Bernard Project
Day 3 of building started with more shoe molding and then swtiched to doing the framing of the bathroom windows. Theoretically, this should be a simple task but the size of the trim didn’t match up with the gap between the window and the drywall. So we had to go through the process of putting in more drywall, another new process for me. We spent the whole day working on this trying to get the right sizes with the trim we had to work with and to also get the drywall in.
When I got back to the church, some local kids were out playing basketball so I jumped in a game with them. Some of these guys are 16 years old and are 6 feet tall…towering over my 25 year old 5 foot 8 frame. And they do something I can’t really do…talk trash. They were mostly talking to each other, but they were pretty intense.
Later in the evening, we all headed over to the house of two avid cyclists who wanted to host us. They are a middle aged couple who love to cycle. They cooked us a pork gumbo along with a nice salad and potatoes. I had never had gumbo before, but it was amazing. A soupy combination of pork and some vegetables. Something I would love to have again, very soon. He also had a pool, so many of our team got in for a night swim. They also treated us so generously. Great people!
Day 20 – Build Day 4 with the Saint Bernard Project
Marcus and I continued with the window trimming/drywalling. Finished up the drywall and got the window ready to be finished on Friday, the next and final day.
At night, we all went down to Frenchmen St/Bourbon Street since this was out final night with a 1am curfew in New Orleans. All days that will be a biking day have an 11pm curfew, and all build days have a curfew of 1am. So we all headed downtown. We easily found some bars with live music, and we headed in to one with a jazz band which was followed by a brass string band of about 12 young guys. These guys were good, so we stayed there for the night until we had to head back to get some sleep.
Day 21 – Build Day 5 with the Saint Bernard Project
So we finished up the bathroom windows and then had a big cleaning session as we cleaned up in the afternoon. We all but finished the house after all of the last minute touch ups. We had the chance to meet the homeowner, Oliver as he came in to visit us. He hadn’t come in the whole week, so we showed him around his house. He spoke to us about his experience during the hurricane and the years that have passed. His house has been unfinished in the past years, and a big part of this is contractor fraud. Many, many contracters promised work to be done and took money up front. After doing a little work, they took off and never came back. This has been a huge problem in the rebuilding of New Orleans…there is no trust in contracters so no one is taking the chance to hire anyone so houses are sitting there untouched. Seeing Oliver’s face as he walked around the house was really cool. He has obviously been dreaming of his finished house for years. Obviously we didn’t do most of the work on the house, but knowing we helped out a bit was truly gratifying.
At the end of the day of work, we talked a bit with the project leaders, took some pictures, and then said good-bye as we headed back to the church. To get ready for the next day’s ride, a long one, we got to bed at a decent time for the first time in a while.
Day 22 – New Orleans, LA to Baton Rouge, LA – 120 miles
For the 120 mile day, we woke up nice and early at 4:30 am to get a 6:00 am start to the day. Leaving New Orleans, we got stopped by 3 different trains, so the early start was almost destroyed by these delays. After an hour and a half, we had only ridden about 10 miles. Starting out a 120 mile day like that does not bode well. So we continued up along the winding Mississippi on the River Bike Trail. There were plenty of other runners and cyclists. It was cool to see other teams of cyclists on the trail, and we felt pretty good when passing them. A few times, the trail pavement would end and would turn into gravel, so at that point we’d walk our bikes to the road and continue from there. At one point, there was no sign that the bike trail was ending, and I was leading a paceline going about 20-22 mph. At the last moment, I saw the road change and was able to just barely slow down before hitting the gravel. I was definitely not expecting the end of the trail to be right there.
At about mile 50, there was a road closure because of an overturned semi truck, so we were re-routed on a detour to go about 10 miles out of the way. On this detour, a storm rolled in and the train poured down. We continued through the train all the way up until the thunder and lightning started, and then my group of Alex, Holly, and I sat under the front porch of an abandoned house. The stormed rolled in even stronger as we waited it out. About 2 hours after it started, we set out again on the wet roads. The rain had stopped and the temperatures had dropped significantly, so we had a nice ride after that. We got to second lunch at around mile 90, and we cruised after that. We got to Baton Rouge around 6pm as we pedaled right by campus and got some glimpses at the football and basketball stadiums. We stayed downtown in a beautiful area close to the state capital area.
In the evening, I walked a few blocks to the Mississippi river and relaxed a bit. Cool to think that this water was up by Iowa at some point. Strangely, it makes me feel a little bit at home when being near the Mississippi.
Day 23 – Build Day in Baton Rouge, LA
We got to sleep in until 7:00 am, consumed a huge breakfast prepared for us by the church, and then we headed over to the food bank in Baton Rouge to do some painting. They wanted pretty much all of the inside painted, so the 27 of us took brushes and rollers and went at it. At lunch, people started rolling in for lunch. It was interested to hear the police officer give the pre-meal announcement about all the rules. Everyone was to be served the same amount and no one could get more. They were to eat and not hang around afterwards. I guess that when they serve 400 people, they need to keep it strict to the keep it rolling. We finished all of the walls that they wanted us to paint, and we took off out of there around 2pm with time to explore the city.
I jumped on my bike and went back out to the LSU campus to check out the stadiums. A cool thing about their stadiums is that they have a large caged up area where their team mascot lives, Mike the Tiger. Unfortunately, Mike was sleeping the entire time I was there, so I didn’t get to see too much of him around.
I made sure to wear my Iowa Hawkeye shirt in hopes to get comments about it. I am still very proud of the 2005 Capital One Bowl, with a 60 yard Drew Tate hail mary pass to Warren Holloway on the final play of the game to give the Hawkeyes the win. Definitely one of the sweetest wins in Iowa history.
As soon as I got to campus, my goal was accomplished as an older guy asks, “What’s an Iowa Hawkeye doing around here?” I gave him my story and we had a nice conversation. I had to ask, so I did…”Do people still remember the Capital One Bowl.” He just smiled at me and said “Yes, we still remember.”
In the evening, I took a walk to the capitol building, which happens to be the tallest capitol building in the country.
Overall, I really liked Baton Rouge. It’s a very nice city. The downtown is small but has plenty of places to eat or get a beer. I am sure it is much different when school is in session with all the students around. Being on the Mississippi River gives it a cool feel, as well. The sports facilities at the school are fantastic (but unfortunately inaccessible to the public on non game days). Coming back here some day in the future is definitely something I will do to spend more time here.
Day 24 – Baton Rouge, LA to Apolousas, LA – 60 miles
You would think that following a 120 mile day, a 60 mile day would feel like nothing. That sure wasn’t the case here. With the heat and humidity, the 60 miles and relaxed mindset made these 60 miles harder than the 120 miles a few days before. With about 15 miles to go, Marcus, Nate, Alex, and I stopped at a McDonad’s and got something to drink and relax. We met some nice people and had a good talk with them about our trip. After about an hour, we got back on and finished up the final miles.
In Apelousas, we stayed at a small private high school’s football/soccer locker room. Judging by the amount of stands around the football field, I guess it was probably a small school of about 200-300 kids. But their facilities were amazing. We took advantage by playing soccer on the fields and even got a game of 3 on 3 flag football game. The night ended with a nice and chilly ice bath to help heal the body. I would like to also say that it heals the mind as well, but those were 10 of the longest minutes of my life.
Day 25 – Apolousas, LA to Alexandria, LA – 83 miles
Getting out of Apolousas was pretty rough. We started off with roads that were extremely patched. The potholes must’ve been patched for 5 or 10 years, year after year, so that almost the whole road is roughly patched. We then had to jump onto a gravel road for a few miles. The gravel road showed the wear on our bikes. On this 0ne day, our team of 26 riders had 22 flat tires (I had 2). About halfway in, we had another storm come our way. Alex, Holly, and I pulled off and got under the awning of a small warehouse. We laid down and took a nap only to be woken up by a worker on the inside wondering what we were doing. He went back in and came back a few minutes later and said, “Some of the people are getting squirmy when they see people laying out front, so we’d like you guys to come back to our warehouse if you want.” So we went back there and hung out and talked to some of the workers who gave us some pop to sip on as we waited out he storm. The manager named Gary gave us his card and wants us to email him when we get to California. I have his card stored to let him know when we make it.
Each day since the 120 mile day, my knee had been aching a bit. On this day, it got much worse as we finished up the last miles.
We got to Alexandria around 7pm and they fed us good. The church cooked up bbq beef, typical Louisiana beans, and rice. We were housed in the gym where random dodgeballs were around, so Nate and I played a game of 1 on 1 dodgeball. Good time on Bike & Build.
Day 26 – Alexandria, LA to Natchitoches, LA – 53 miles
Another short day as we had one of the shortest of the summer at 53 miles. We powered through it and got to Natchitoches (pronounced Nakatish) around 2pm. We rolled into town and I saw the entrance to Northwestern State University, which immediately gave me bad feelings. Very soon after the good feelings I had in LSU for the Capital One Bowl, I was on the campus of the school that pulled one of the bigger March Madness upsets on a last second shot to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2006 college basketball tournament. The #13 seed beat #4 Iowa in what was one of the worst I had felt after seeing a basketball game in my life. I talked to many people in town and in the church, and they all remember very well. One person even told me they thought we had forgotten about it in Iowa. I guess they have banners around campus from the game winning shot. One lady was a professor at the time and was teaching a class to the guy who made the shot. I asked for his address. She didn’t give it to me.
Natchitoches is actually a very nice town. A small river winds through it, and there is a nice small and old downtown with restaurants and bars. This was Emily’s birthday, so we all of us guy’s (formerlly known as the Gentlemen’s Club) took her out for fried ice cream at a Japanese Restaurant.
I was exhausted and crashed immediately after getting back at 9pm.
Day 27 – Natchitoches , LA to Elm Grove, LA – 62 miles
(I had the job of writing the team blog on this day, so here is my post)
One of the beauties of the Bike & Build life is that when you hear at the morning route meeting that you only have 54 miles to go that day, you get excited that it’s such a short day. So after hearing this, everyone has a decision to make: power through the short day and get to the host super early, or take your time and make several breaks while stopping for smoothies at McDonalds, a coffee at a local cafe, or whatever else you may find. I had a good start to the day and pushed through the first 30 miles to get to lunch by 10:15 am, so I decided to go with option number one to get to the host as early as possible. After lunch, I jumped on the Pain Train (formerly known as the Marcus Thompson paceline), and we pounded out the last 24 miles to get to Elm Grove at 11:45 am. That’s 54 miles before noon for those who are counting.
So we got to Elm Grove, a tiny little town in northwest Louisiana. The cue sheet has us turn down a gravel road that has chalking on it saying, “Go until the white house”. So we went and went until we finally saw the white house in the distance, the only house along the whole road. This is the house of a Bike & Build alum named Collyn, who completed the Central route last year. This was the first time her and her family had hosted Bike & Build, so we had no idea what to expect going in. When we arrived, we found a beautiful house right on an oxbow of a nearby river. The front porch looks right out to the dock and the lake-like oxbow. Within minutes, Collyn had made Marcus, Arden, and I fruit smoothies and then we took off for a nice after-ride swim. As always, jumping into a body of water after the ride was extremely refreshing. It was so refreshing that we didn’t want to get out, so we really didn’t. Other Bike & Builders trickled in throughout the day, so the swimming crowd got bigger and bigger. We were told by Robert, Collyn’s father, that there are sometimes alligators in the water, but they’re afraid of people and he hasn’t seen one in a few weeks. Lucky for us. Instead, our team gator, Hasselhoff (better known as Hoff) finally was used for his original purpose which is a recreational flotation device. He is not meant to be used as a lunch marker for a cross country cycling trip, but he does that pretty well anyway.
The house of Collyn’s family is absolutely beautiful. The downstairs is used as the kitchen and living area, and the upstairs is normally used as a living area as well with a tv, couches, and pool/ping pong. On this night, the upstairs was used as the sleeping grounds for Bike & Build, so there were thermarests spread randomly in every nook and cranny of floor space. I even saw couch coushins used as a temporary replacement for the thermarest. I, on the other hand, am loyal to my thermarest and could not let it spend a night rolled up in my storage bin.
Marcus grew up in Bossier City, about 15 miles from Elm Grove, so his parents, sister, and his sister’s kids all came for the day. They were extremely generous, along with Collyn’s family, and provided a huge amount and huge variety of foods. Anything from home made tostitos dip to pies, they brought it. I would like to say thank you to both Collyn’s family and Marcus’s family for their generosity. They were amazing hosts and all of us appreciate that.
For dinner, they cooked up chicken and steak and cut up everything we would need for burritos. It wasn’t your run of the mill burrito. You could stock that tortilla shell with anything you could ever want in a burrito. No doubt that we all had food babies after that meal.
In the evening after dinner, we all relaxed on the front porch, inside in the house, or in the water. The amount of stars out in this early summer night in northwest Lousiana was impressive. It capped off a spectacular day at a great host. This is definitely a host that will be talked about for years to come as we tell our stories about Bike & Build.
Thanks again to the Thompson and Smitherman family for a great stay!