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May 9, 2009
We make it to Memphis, Tennessee in time for a home cooked dinner prepared by Scarlet Maness, Cole’s mom. She’s made fried catfish, hush-puppies, coleslaw, deviled eggs, roasted peppers, four whole beer chickens (two with barbecue sauce and two without), pickled asparagus, fries, corn on the cob, and a spinach quiche for Dave, our vegetarian videographer. After cheese, snacks and beer on the shaded back porch we all sit down to a southern feast with Cole’s incredibly welcoming and friendly family.
The next morning we meet-up with ride host Josh Gorman and our driver Mike Crumb at Bob’s Barksdale Restaurant for a diner breakfast and pre-ride meeting. Mississippi Delta sounds simple enough, a flat one-way ride paralleling the Mississippi River on the Arkansas side to the town of Helena. At this point we realize how much time we’re riding and have ridden in Arkansas - all of Jasper, most of Talimena Drive and now ninety percent of Mississippi Delta. After breakfast we drive back to Josh’s house to get ready to roll out.
For the first twenty minutes we skirt Memphis on the south side, rolling by Stax Recoding Museum and historic “Soulsville U.S.A.” on our way to the Old I-55 Mississippi River Bridge. It’s not too hot, maybe 83 degrees, the humidity is 91% and mostly sunny with high clouds and a driving wind from the south. On a bridge hundreds of feet above the river it hits us, we’re riding a hundred miles into what feels like a 25 mph headwind. On the far side of the bridge we pick up an unpaved hidden back-road and come to a stop. Recent heavy rains have flooded our low-lying road for about 50 yards. It doesn’t look deep but it doesn’t look shallow either, so Cole takes his shoes off and wades out to test. In the center, at it’s deepest, the water comes up to the top of his knees. Before Cole can wade all the way back to get his bike, Pete is pedaling across. One by one we follow him. Back on our bikes we go about 25 feet, turn a corner and come to another flooded section of road. Here it’s covered for about 350 yards and it looks deeper. Cole heads out again, this time on his bike, and about 60 feet in he forced off his bike by the current. The water is almost waist deep and an eight-inch fish jumps out of the water only a few feet behind him. Discouraged by all this, half the team scrambles up to the train bridge above, the rest of us ride across the longer, deeper section trusting that somewhere below the water there is road and not a snakes nest or alligator snapping turtle sanctuary. Safely back on the other side, after no trains or snakes, we regroup and head south into the wind.
It’s becoming almost cliché on our trip, but once again we are astounded by how unexpectedly beautiful the ride is. To a small degree we’ve been dreading this ride, thinking it would be flat and full of wind, and it is —but it’s so flat and so windy and so much more, that it’s awesome. We’re struck by how unique the region looks and feels. Twenty-five miles into the ride we come to the first gravel section and it’s brutal, it’s 12 miles long and runs across the top of a 20-foot high levee banked on either side by grassy slopes. The gravel rocks here are huge, not like west coast gravel, but massive, sharp and hard. We have protection from stands of trees in spots but mostly the levee parallels fishing lakes and cotton fields totally exposed to the wind. At one point we’re pacelining, heads down and burying ourselves and we’re topping out at 11.3mph.
Back on pavement we tack like sailboats, southwest, southeast and back southwest over and over again, for hours. We pass field after field of cotton and rice, stands of wispy trees (some growing out of rivers and swamps) blowing and bending in the wind, countless bridges, creeks and hundreds of dead snakes. On the far side of Mariana, 90 miles in, we come to the ‘forest’, a 15-mile section of gravel and rolling hills. We’re sunburned, hot, covered in dirt and very tired of the wind. We’re starting to crack and fade and only a mile or two into the forest we make a wrong turn and get separated from Josh. The road feels like a dry riverbed and is busted and riddled with hard-packed water bars, trench-like gullies, deep holes, more dead snakes, fallen tree limbs and huge rocks. As horrible as it is, we paceline at an average of 19mph, rocks pinging and zinging off our rims, helmets and bike frames, arms and legs in constant vibration in an attempt to end the ride as quickly as possible. Finally we make it through to Helena, home of the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Moments later Josh (who triple flatted), Dave and Adam (the videographers) roll-up. We drink beers while we wait for our van that separated from us earlier to get gas back in town, watching the sunset from a gazebo next to the mighty Mississippi River.
- RT @IonaNiDhalaigh: Yahhh mountain jersey in the bag!!! Nice one @mike_cuming!!! @raphacondor http://t.co/GrGqSL0Kgl
- RT @CondorWarehouse: Nice to see the @raphacondor JLT team bike on display @campagnolosrl HQ with so many top pro teams http://t.co/5CgE0tY…
- RT @anpostras: GC after Stage 4: Bialoblocki,, McConvey, Guldhammer, Handley, Pelletier-Roy, Hunal, Simon Yates, Fodor, Roger Aiken, Archbo…
- Spare a thought for @Porterelliott who punctured out of the yellow jersey group, when will he get some luck!
- Took the @anpostras on today. Didn't quite pull it off. @RichHandley90 4th on GC and @mike_cuming in the KoM jersey.
- Tour series update from Stoke up on the site http://t.co/aVdcnGnkOX
- RT @elstopbanana: Here's Kristian House @raphacondor at last night's @TourSeries picture by Sue Howlett Great racing! @SoTCityCouncil http:…
- RT @sticky_bottle: Meant to say, to be eligible for the @raphacondor team car compeition you have to be a stickybottle twitter follower!
- RT @sticky_bottle: OK folks; nice morning for it. To win a day in the Rapha Condor JLT team car on the Rás last stage, Sunday, just retweet…
- Third team overall for the Men in Black at Stoke last night in the @TourSeries