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The Great Mississippi River Ride, page 1
New Orleans, LA to Memphis, TN
(The Great Southern River Ride)

current date and time 2008-05-11 | 19:39:12
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Number of Journal Entries online: 10
Day 0 �-Monday, May 14, 2007�New Orleans, LA � 0 miles
We welcome to America by Bicycle�s Great Mississippi River Ride all alumni and first time ABB riders alike!

And, hello all of you family members, friends, and River-riding wannabes who will be following this exciting and challenging bicycle ride. My name is Susan Walker, and I will be posting brief summary accounts of each day�s adventure to this site, as well as a couple of photos. This will be my third Great Mississippi River Ride, yet I am as eager and excited as I was on the first. Please bookmark this site and enjoy the ride with us.

First, a quick introduction of the support staff and riders on ABB�s 9th �rolling on the River� ride: Wisconsinite and recumbent rider GENE �Wood Doctor� WENGERT, will be Ride Leader this year, with Minnesotan (you betcha!) JEFF LAZER as second in command. Rounding out the staff is Green Mountain man, JIM BENSON, a veteran ABB mechanic and also an expert ski and ski trail technician. (This is necessary info in case riders decide that they want to ski rather than cycle some of the slopes to come.) I�m SUSAN WALKER, as I said above, and I volunteered to help out, be the safety maven, and keep this web site journal for this ride. The four of us will be leading, feeding, fixing flats, and tucking in 21 through riders (those riding the whole route), and 12 segment riders this year, including 14 alumni.

This will be ABB�s first year to cycle �up the lazy river!� All of our other GMRR rides originated in Minneapolis and we cycled down to the Big Easy (giving our friends, relatives and anyone else we met the excuse to say: �Getting to the Big Easy will be easy. It�s all downhill.� Uh-huh. Right.)

Cyclists arrived throughout the day with their bicycles and prepared for the big adventure. Day 0 is always a busy time in which cyclists register, receive their jerseys and do-rags, get their bikes assembled, pass a safety inspection, and attend an orientation and safety session before the pre-ride dinner.

At this session, riders were given their Day 1 route sheets, and Gene conducted Route Rap�a review of the route�an event that will take place each evening before the next day�s ride. Gene always shares interesting historical highlights about the route at this time also and this evening provided handouts on Southern vocabulary and interesting facts about the Mississippi River..

Excitement ran high. Every rider wondered how he or she would stack up against the abilities of the other riders and the demands of the route ahead. Please tune in tomorrow to find out about our first day on the road.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:14:28 | article number: 1

Day 1 � Tue., May 15, 2007 � New Orleans to Gonzales, LA � 65 miles; 396 feet of climb
The day dawned overcast and humid with temps that climbed into the mid 80�s before the end of the day. Though we were not starting off until 8:30 am, most of the riders were up and eager long before that. The breakfast room was filled by 6:30 am.

After breakfast, staff helped riders load their computers (yellow ribbon) and their stay-on bags (blue ribbon) and it wasn�t long before the luggage trailer was floor to ceiling bags. As soon as the last rider had signed off on luggage load, Jeff Lazer led the riders out of the motel parking lot for the beginning of the first day of their Great Mississippi River Ride.

In a few short miles, we (I was riding sweep) found ourselves on a beautiful, smooth, paved trail atop a dike along the Mighty Mississippi. Probably the biggest climb of the day was walking our bikes up the dike�s grassy slope, though Dale managed to ride his bike up�EFI, you know.

The river was very busy with barge traffic and anchored barges being loaded by the wood chip, petroleum, and agricultural businesses on the right side of the trail. Despite this industry, the trail was very peaceful and pretty. Great Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Purple Galinules, Mockingbirds and gulls flew along and across the trail. Sand verbena, sensitive briar, and yellow Mexican hat lined the trail in places.

At about Mile 9, we came upon Destrehan Manor House. Ride Leader Gene Wengert had decided a couple of days before, that the Manor House would make a great backdrop for our group photos at ride start. Gene, Jim, Jeff and I�and a helpful stranger�took photo after photo of both the whole group (above left) and the alumni riders (above right) with everyone�s cameras.

Andrew won the Most Flats of the Day award�four in close succession. We�d fix him up and �ka-boom sisss-boom bah,� he�d have another flat not 100 yards from the just repaired one. Finally, when we couldn�t find the cause, Jim fixed Andrew up on a loaner wheel and he made it to the motel. At Mechanic�s Station that evening, Jim discovered a hard to find slit in the sidewall that had been causing the problem.

Several riders today toured the San Francisco Plantation House just before the Jeff�s Sag Stop . After that it was pedal to the motel along nicely shouldered, very straight roads. I think the last rider was in by 2 or 2:30. Tune in tomorrow learn about our ride to fabulous St Francisville.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:15:37 | article number: 2

Day 2 � Wed., May 16, 2007� Gonzales to St. Francisville, LA �57 miles; 592 feet of climb
The day began humid and ended that way. In the morning the overcast skies seemed to portend rain, but by noon, the overcast gave way to bright sunshine. Breakfast this morning consisted of many savory items, among them the best baking powder biscuits I have ever eaten . . . with the exception of my husband Jeff�s. Riders ate breakfast in short order and then took to the road, eager to get to the Magnolia Caf� and the old cemetery, the historical homes (see above), and the ferry in St Francisville.

Today we did things a little differently, providing riders� lunch instead of dinner, this because we wanted them to experience St Francisville�s Magnolia Cafe, a sprawling house with screened porches tucked into an area of small arty shops. One could order Cajun, Mexican, Middle Eastern (kinda), Southern, or an artful combination. I had a Magnolia Special: chicken, avocado, tomato, sprouts, lettuce, light dill dressing in toasted pita bread. It and my sweet tea were delicious.

I set up the SAG stop today, placing a lace tablecloth on the sag table and a cut glass vase of Mexican Hat flowers I�d picked the day before. Several commented on the improved ambience.

David and Judy arrived at the SAG Stop in an excited state. When they were passing LSU, two motorcycle police with flashing blue lights stopped traffic to allow an LSU vehicle pulling a beautiful caged tiger � the LSU mascot � to enter traffic. Andrew arrived at the SAG stop to announce that he was a magnet. He�d had two flats already. Just as he was about to leave the SAG . . . pssssssst, his third flat of the day. John H. arrived at the SAG stop a bit late. Seems he was behind a group of riders who turned in to the stop, but John was so absorbed in route finding that he continued on another 3.5 miles to the next turn before realizing his mistake. He got in a few bonus miles today.

Some riders stopped at the USS Kidd museum to view several ships and two antique paddleboats along the river near Baton Rouge. Some may also have stopped to take a photo of a beautiful plantation sometime after the SAG. I was riding then (rode the second half of the route), but had left my camera in the van.

Today we held a �Best Socks� contest. Tonight after Route Rap, Judge Melanie (who was very open to bribes) awarded first prize to staff member Jeff Lazer�s hot pepper socks (see photo above). Tune in tomorrow to read the highlights of our roll up the lazy river to Natchez, Mississippi.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:16:29 | article number: 3

Day 3 � Thur., May 17, 2007 � Francisville to Natchez, MS � 65 miles; 1691 feet of climb
A beautiful day for riding a bicycle. The air was clear, humidity negligible, temps mild, and we had a bit of a headwind (10 to 15 mph) to keep us cool. No one got lost or had trouble finding the motel today as it was left out of the motel, pedal 65 miles, and turn right into the motel. Actually there was a bridge out on the original route, which did have several turns in it; thus, we were on 61 N for most of the ride. Surprisingly the distance came out nearly the same as that of the original route, 64.73 miles.

Today we passed into Mississippi, our second state. I remarked to Gene that it was too bad there was no welcoming state sign. Oh, yes, there was one he explained�billboard sized. Hmm. Guess I had my head down as we passed. Roommate Judy came through with the photo above of her in front of the sign.

We cycled through sparsely populated areas on smooth gently rolling roads and shoulders. The shoulders contained little debris since we were not in urban areas, but one strange shoulder item was a roadkilled ferret. Also in one spot, on the opposite shoulder, at least a dozen black vultures snacked on a whitetail deer carcass. On a lighter note, the median was filled in places with deep purple flowers that I think were sand verbena. The crimson clover was over, but not the red clover which also lined the roadside.

We shuttled riders to Ryan�s Steakhouse for dinner at 5:45 after Route Rap. At Route Rap, nurse Sue D. gave riders safety information labels for inside their helmets. Ride Leader Wengert told the riders some of the history of the Natchez Trace � part of which they will ride tomorrow � and Vicksburg (tomorrow�s destination). Also, Jeff L. announced the winner of today�s jersey contest: Melanie J., the Judge of yesterday�s sock contest which Jeff won. Are these two in cahoots? Today they switched roles. Jeff was the Judge and Melanie won. She had on a very cool tee from the Alaska Aids Ride (see above). Runner up was Bill M. who wore a Marines jersey in honor of all his fellow Marine vets who were having a reunion at our hotel. Honorable mention went to Tamon (Oscar the Grouch jersey) and Judy (pink Biker Chick jersey)

Coming into Natchez today we encountered several acres of kudzu, a tenacious vine that covers all it grows near. Also a restaurant shaped like a huge Mammy, her voluminous pink skirt making up the eating area. It was called, not surprisingly, Mammy�s. Well, I�ve reached my word count for the day, so shall sign off. Tune in tomorrow for more adventures on the road.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:17:18 | article number: 4

Day 4 � Fri., May 18, 2007 � Natchez to Vicksburg, MS �90 miles; 2,590 feet of climb
Another crystal day. Low temps, little wind, sunny skies, and 50 miles of our 90-mile day on the beautiful Natchez Trace. In fact until we got to the outskirts of Vicksburg, most of the day was spent on tree shaded, rolling, small back roads where traffic was scarce.

Since the Trace allows no commercial vehicles, has very little traffic, and a 50-mph max speed, its gently rolling terrain was a delight for riders. No one was in a hurry � even the speed-driven ratcheted back and enjoyed the Sunken Trace, the battlefields, Indian Mounds, and Nature areas along the way. I saw two Wild Turkey hens, a Summer Tanager, a Green-backed Heron, as well as other birds and some interesting butterflies.

When we got to Vicksburg, there were beautiful views of the river, which was dotted with casino paddleboats. To prevent a proliferation of such establishments, Mississippi law states that all gambling must take place on �navigable waters.� The paddleboats float so that they can be moved, but they could not run the river on their own power.

At route Rap, Melanie was again da Judge. Today�s contest was �All Around Look.� Melanie awarded Dan C a prize for wearing what he liked regardless. David K. won the best Individual and the Tandem Shooks won 1st place with their specially ordered jerseys that matched their bike that matched their helmets, that matched their gloves . . . well you get what I mean. I had no opportunity to get a photo of them but there is a photo above of Boston Bob (Moe-Ab) and David�s sun/moon jersey.

Riders ate dinner this evening at Horseface Harry�s, an eatery run by a TX woman (Horseface Harry herself, and, no, she does not have a long face), her daughter, and � this evening at least � several other young women servers all dressed in jeans and cowboy hats, their aprons bandanas. The menu was TX fare which included catfish, chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and the like. Drinks were served in quart canning jars. With the exception of the Cajun twist and the collard greens, all of this was food which I am accustomed to seeing on OK menus.

We�re in a Comfort Inn high above the river, and the climb to the inn was the most demanding aspect of the day. Riders are getting stronger by the day though, and took it in stride. Tomorrow riders spin out their first century. Tune in to see how they do.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:17:54 | article number: 5

Day 5 � Sat., May 19, 2007 � Vicksburg to Greenville, MS � 100 miles; 961 feet of climb
Another beautiful day along the Mighty Mississippi, though we caught only a glimpse or two of it all day.

It was 47 degrees this morning when we loaded at 5:45 am. After breakfast at 6 am, riders descended the hill they�d climbed to get to the motel and then picked up 61 N again. As soon as we (I was riding free today) cleared the outskirts of Vicksburg, the terrain flattened to the proverbial pancake and was bordered with fields of sugar cane, soybeans, corn, wheat, and rice. We passed small houses, each tucked into the shade of tall nut trees (pecan and black walnut). At one point a crop duster flew down the road straight at me, only as high as the telephone wires on the other side of the road. I waved at the pilot . . . no joke. I felt like I was in �North by Northwest,� a Hitchcock movie in which Cary Grant is pursued by a crop duster.

We had a pretty good tailwind this morning, but shortly before the first SS, it turned to a headwind. Nothing we couldn�t handle, and it kept us cool. About 20 miles after we crossed the Yazoo River Bridge, we came to our first Sag Stop at mile 32. This was the rest stop I remembered so well from my first ride with ABB in 1998. It is in the town of Onward. Tamon joked that the next town should be named Upward. Anyhow, Onward is famous for a bear hunt the locals took Theodore Roosevelt on. The general store with its planked, swaybacked floor claims that it was in Onward that the Teddy Bear was born.

On the way to the second SS, I encountered Melanie just as she emerged from her shortcut through the corn (see photo above). After another 32 miles of arrow-straight flat road, we arrived at our second sag stop, this one at Paul Love Jr, Park. Jim set up this SS, and his sag table was shaded and dwarfed by huge black walnut trees. I sagged in from this SS as I didn�t want to overdo it. I also needed to do a couple of loads of clothes, which are washing and drying as I type this.

This evening at Route Rap, Gene passed out handouts on corn and soybeans�two items that we saw growing in abundance along the road. Nancy Shook awarded this evening�s prizes for oldest jersey. Guess who won? Moi. I bought my jersey in 1994. It is now faded nearly white on the back but is still as comfy as the day I bought it. Gene also passed out certificates to those who rode their first centuries�George Shook and Kathy Myerburg. Congratulations to both!

Tomorrow we push off for Clarksdale. It�s an 82-mile day so I�m sure riders legs will be a bit sore at the finish after today�s. Please check in again tomorrow.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:18:47 | article number: 6

Day 6 � Sun., May 20, 2007 � Greenville to Clarksdale, MS �82 miles; 270 feet of climb (nuttin�)
The plan was that I�d drive all day and set up the first sag because Gene was the third of the group to succumb to flu the previous day. But, after hustling to dress, sort sag food; load my bike, bag, and computer etc., I found Gene. A miracle had occurred! His flu had fled in less than 24 hours and he was once again bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as was one of the other flu victims. The third decided to sag today, but at ride�s end said he felt great. A very short-lived flu. Anyhow, I couldn�t bear to find my duffel and riding duds in the pile of already loaded luggage; thus, I stuck with the original plan. I drove, and Gene navigated.

In the beginning, riders rode some supremely rolling terrain � narrow, heaved, farm-to-market roads among corn and wheat fields. Eventually, however (just after the first sag), they picked up the MRT (Mississippi River Trail [Hwy 1]) and pretty much stuck with that into Clarksdale.

The first sag was supposed to be in a church parking lot, but since it was Sunday, we moved it to a tiny city park in Benoit. The first rider to the sag was a shy kid on a trick bike mooching for handouts (see above). When I offered him a lemon cookie, he made it clear that he wanted a chocolate one (Oreo). When I was packing up the SS, he was still there. I offered him the last two slices of orange. He made it clear that he wanted Goldfish, so I gave him a small handful. I later heard that he�d mooched a fig newton from one of the riders.

After the SS, Gene and I drove to Rosedale and parked along the shoulder to catch the riders as they came by. While we were sitting there, the town eccentric came up to show us his bike�a brakeless, gearless, mountain bike with a flat back tire and so much stuff twisted to each spoke and adorning every square inch of it. I had to take a photo (above). Some of the ornamentation included a metal swan, many rusted springs, pieces of metal and wire, old silk flowers, a tuft of skunk fur, an armadillo�s tail, and other things I couldn�t identify. Wish I had room for more pix because this man�s face, including the unlit cigar clamped in his teeth, was gallery worthy.

My roommate went into a store today and a little kid came in. The woman behind the counter demanded: �Why aren�t you in church young man?" The kid replied, �I'm just trying to spend some dollars.� The woman retorted: �Spending dollars ain�t going to get you into heaven!� Love it.

At route rap this evening we held the �How well do we know each other?� game. Riders have had six days to get acquainted and to come up with the answers to such questions as who are the oldest and youngest male and female riders (I�m not telling, but the oldest is 77 and the youngest is 27), what number of states are represented (17), who is riding for charity (John L, United Way), how many states do we bike through (9), what does �SAG� stand for (Support and Gear), etc. Having won last night�s �Oldest Jersey� contest, I was da Judge of today�s �Best Socks� contest. First prize went to Russ for his blue, black, and yellow world flower socks, which went wonderfully with his Forte shoes.

Tomorrow we�re headed for Senatobia, MS. Come join us.

posted 2007-05-22 | 18:19:47 | article number: 7

Day 7 � Mon., May 21, 2007 � Clarksdale to Senatobia, MS � 65 miles; 901 feet of climb
Riders loaded luggage at 6:30, and then ate breakfast at the hotel. I was organizing the luggage van when Sue D. told me that I was needed in the lobby. When I arrived, I found the whole gang, a festive birthday cake, a card signed by all the riders, and, of course, a chorus of �Happy Birthday.� Yes, Gene gleefully let the cat out of the bag last night, and even revealed that it was my 65th. Oh well, why fight it. As they say, a birthday is better than the alternative. Thank you everyone for the card and cake!

I could probably cover today�s scenery by saying �ditto.� The first half of the ride was on small country roads through fields of corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat. There was very little traffic on the roads. I think I saw only two cars in the first 17 miles (not an exaggeration). But a little later in the morning, we shared the road with massive tractors and planters, some that took up both lanes of these small roads. Of course these machines were traveling slower than � or at the same speed as � the cyclists, so they served more as a diversion from the flat farmland than anything else. Some riders even struck up conversations with the drivers of these behemoths. As usual, most were amazed at the length of our journey and some were even astounded that we were riding the 65 miles from Greenville to Senatobia.

The SS was at an ancient country store run by an equally ancient woman. I cut the birthday cake at the SS (photo above), and all had a piece, even the store�s proprietress. Since the frosting was white with plenty of purple swirls, those who got the edges and corners had purple �chow-dog tongue� for a bit. At the SS, George & Nancy Shook (on tandem above) sang me a song in Dutch, which translated went something like �long may you live, long may you live, glory.� They have beautiful voices.

At Route Rap, Gene passed out a handout on the Blues, Russ �da Judge,� quizzed riders on Tour de France facts, and after dinner, I conducted an ABB favorite�a tee swap. We had some nifty tees and I think everyone went away with a favorite.

Tomorrow we pedal to Memphis, and a rest day. In Memphis, we will pick up two riders: Mark Otti and Matthew Phillips. But, we�ll also lose a passel of riders: Dale Crockatt, our rocket, Tamon Honda, our �wonda,� Melanie Johnson, our inspiration, Alan Ryker, our biker, and Bill Manning, our �rida from new hampshah.� We�ll also say good-bye to Dan Crandall, Rick & Kathie Myerburg, and Bill Weidenfeller, four who were completing the 2005 GMRR that was stopped in Memphis by Katrina. This group of alumni were also using this ride to help them train for bicycling from St Petersburg, Russia, to Istanbul, Turkey, June 14-August 2. Good-bye to all of you. Keep us in the loop, and be sure to return to ride again with ABB.

posted 2007-05-23 | 14:40:55 | article number: 8

Day 8 � Tue., May 22, 2007 � Senatobia, MS to Memphis, TN � 65 miles; 1991 feet of climb
I left with the front runners this morning wanting to get a leg up on the heat. It was sunny and cool at ride start � warming to 88F by early afternoon � and we picked up a mild tailwind. Perfect cycling day. The route, too, was gorgeous: Smooth two-lane rolling back roads, tree tunnels, great vistas, little traffic. Of course the front runners were soon out of sight, but I was content to soak up the scenery and do a bit of birding.

At about 8 miles out, I picked up an Orphan Annie�s Sandy look-alike. A very cute dog which appeared to be lost or abandoned. He wanted me to pet him and fuss over him. After tripping me up a few times by wiggling around in front of the bike, he got the hang of it and ran alongside or behind me . . . for 5 miles! In an attempt to lose him, I took a wrong turn down a hill and got in 4 bonus miles. When I stopped after 2 miles to turn around, there was Sandy in the middle of the road, his tongue nearly touching the pavement. I took a look at his collar while giving him a little loving�no tags, so I couldn�t call his owner. I finally lost him when two tough looking dogs rushed out of a yard at him, and he turned tail and ran. I feel bad, though. If I hadn�t been on my bike, I would have tried to find his owner or a place for him.

Some riders took Gene�s recommended scenic detour at the Arkabutla Dam and Spillway, a very lovely park with facilities on Scenic Route 304. There were several fishermen at the spillway. They said that they were fishing for catfish or croppie, and often caught needle-nosed gar . . . long, thin fish with long, alligator-like, toothed mouths.

Our SS was at Pounder�s Grocery. Gene had called the night before for permission to set up sag at this small roadside country store. The owner, a woman, said fine. However, when we arrived today, the store was closed and no one was about. We set up anyway, and several riders sat on the little porch in the shade (see photo above).

Some of the riders went to Graceland on the way into the city. Our route takes us right to its entrance. Others are planning on visiting it tomorrow on their day off. Since Day One, my roommate, Judy, and Boston Bob, have been wanting to ride in Arkansas so that they can count it as state 10. So, after they got in today, they had a sandwich and then rode over the I-40 bridge!! Good thing they�re still around to tell about it. Good thing they did not get arrested (signs say �No non-motorized vehicles�). Good thing they did not tell us before they set off . . . if they had, they would not have ridden this bridge, perhaps.

Tonight we all ate a boisterous dinner at Bigfoot (see photo above of Bob, Gene, and Billy with Bigfoot himself) and got to say another fond farewell to our departing riders. Tonight we�ll stay up late and sleep in tomorrow morning with no 5am wake up calls.

posted 2007-05-23 | 14:41:40 | article number: 9

On to Page 2 Memphis, TN to St. Charles, MO (The Great Central River Ride)
On to Page 3 St. Charles, MO to Minneapolis, MN (The Great Northern River Ride)

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