Biking the Mighty Mississippi: With no prior experience or training

Good morning cancer alley

I had it on my bucket list to bike the Mississippi river from downtown Baton Rouge, to New Orleans during the Rouge Orleans race (an ultra marathon). On the interstate, it’s only 65 miles, but on the winding river, it’s 120+ miles.

I had absolutely no experience distance biking before, but I had a plan — so I thought. The goal was to bike every week for two months getting up to 45 miles in a single ride. That didn’t happen. Then, before I knew it, the day was here. No preparation (I haven’t peddled 5 miles on a bike), no more time.

February 11, 2012

I woke up with ease at 4:00am,  I packed everything the night before and I was ready to go. After making a quick breakfast (3 egg breakfast wrap with spinach and salsa), I prepped the bike for the trip and drove to downtown Baton Rouge, LA.

By 5:30am, I hopped on the saddle and began peddling. It was dark and cold. The moonlight guided the way. While biking down River Road, ran into some water at the bottom of the levee and my socks and shoes got a little wet. I continued down River Road cautiously and slowly being it was dark. It was peaceful.

About 40 miles in to the trip, I started to feel my toes get numb from the water that splashed on it earlier. I pulled over at a chemical plant entrance to take my first break and to thaw my toes. I took off my socks and in order to get warm I grabbed my lighter (thank god) and lit my socks on fire, then my feet. I didn’t feel a thing and my feet where ice. It looked like the beginning signs of frost bite.

I sucked it up and kept on trucking, then I approached a gas station with a huge sigh of relief. I was going in for coffee and to warm up, hey maybe they might have some socks. Mural was up and I was happy to see it. After taking off some gear, grabbed my card and tried to go in. I then realized that it was an abandoned store and the cars in the lot where abandoned too. In a panic to thaw out, I grabbed some trash around and make a trash fire to help warm me up. That lasted about 30 seconds and blew away.
Mural down.

I got back on the bike.

After a few miles I stopped and searched for a gas station on my phone. I found one about 5 miles out of the way, but I had to go. I was frozen.

That single drive was the worst. I was going north and winds were roaring, it must have been 20 – 30 mph. The traffic was flying. My nose was running like Dumb and Dummber, and I was about to call it off.

When I got to the gas station, it was very warm inside. I used the bathroom, grab some snacks/bars and was walking to the coffee pot —  when I saw a breakfast bar! Man. I loaded up on hot grits, eggs, bacon and a biscuit. Slammed down a hot cup of joe and my wife, Kate, not only brought me a fresh pair of socks but she brought me back to River Road (2.5 miles back).
Mural up.

I completely recharged my batteries and was feeling great.

On that single drive, I must have been going a steady 30/mph for about 20-40 miles. I was hauling ass and loving it. The sun started to come out and life was good. Ice cold, but good.

I made a few more stops along the way, to meditate, rest and relax. I was really enjoying life.

When I made it to the spillway, I started to feel my body ache everything. My butt was sore, hands/wrists were bruised and swollen, neck was hurting, and my knees where grinding. It was about 3PM and I realized I wasn’t going to make it to downtown New Orleans. My uncle lives about 10 miles up in Destrahan, LA so I decided to make that call. I called my wife and asked her to pick me up at my uncle’s house.

I made one last top at this Shell gas station in Destrahan. To re-charge my batteries, grab some coffee and maybe some food. I scored it big when I saw they freshly baked pizza. Buffalo-chicken pizza. The woman said that she just made it fresh and it was hot. I happily paid for that, huge cup of coffee, a rice crispy treat, and a moon-pie for my girls.

I got back on the levee and made my way back to my uncle’s house. It was a huge sigh of relief when I saw his truck parked in the drive way. He greeted me with fresh turkey and pecan king cake. Life was good.

Lessons learned

  • You can do all the planning you want to, but sometimes the best way to put it in the calendar and just do it.
  • I think I figured out why road bike handles look like a ram. I had a series of different positions to put my hands when it started to hurt.
  • Dress warm if it’s going to be cold.
  • Do it when it’s warm, cold weather + biking + river winds = sucks.
  • Next time I’ll say on a road, not gravel.
  • Pack extra food – maybe I made more stops being it was my first trip but I ran out.
  • Take a hot salt-bath that same day
    • I’m not nearly sore was I though I would have been. And I think it’s because of that bath I took. I took a long, hot Epson salt bath in a jacuzzi and massaged my back and feet for 40 mins. I shortly passed out after that.
  • If possible invest into a better bike
    • I made it in a $100 bike from Wal-mart (The GMC Denali).
    • It’s just easier and faster
  • Using one device (iPhone) for GPS, camera, phone, time, maps – will take a toll. Next time I’ll bring a solar charger or separate device for a phone.
  • Get a water back pack.
    • I was able to take sips of water without taking my hands off the handlebars
  • Go early
    • I’m glad I did. I was on the levee by 5:30am. I kept telling myself, “I have ALL day, no rush.”
    • Have you ever see the sun rise? It’s a phenomenal experience. Expecally when it’s cold and dark outside.

Biking checklist

  • A good helmet — I don’t think the one I had was a good fit me, it was a little loose during the bumps and I was prying I wasn’t going to fall.
  • Extra pair of socks.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Seat cushion/padding.
  • Biking gloves.
  • Spare tire with pump.
  • Plenty of water.
  • Packet of sunscreen — put a dab on your nose, you’ll be thankful you did.
  • Chapstick — my savior .
  • Bike Fanny pack — Great to hold extra food and supplies. There’s also this one that sits under your seat, but I was going for the journey, not just the race.
  •  Bike tools — Crescent wrench, allen wrench, tire wedger
  •  Muli purpose tool — Have you ever seen 127 hours? I make sure to bring this guy on every journey. Just in case.

Stats

Miles = 104.31
Time = 11:44
Calories burned: 5,218
Pace = 7:04 min/mile (including stops)

Photos

 


The next big trip is from Prairieville, LA to Palo Alto, CA.

Be like a kid, have fun, feel alive. And, hey, get lost.

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