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WORDS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | PHOTOS: Brian Vernor
We are not racing the “Rouge Roubaix”, a now somewhat famous event which takes place every year in March, we are simply riding it. Though like any other Continental or Gentlemen’s ride we are inclined to ride it hard. However, we quickly learn that regardless of our collective inclinations, expectations and proclivities, Rouge Roubaix, the course, the physical route and sum total of its roads, inspires and demands a race. There is something about this course that commands pace. Some intrinsic characteristic that's appropriate for this region of the South, it isn’t as much seen as felt.
Here, in the West Feliciana Parish of Louisiana, the mood is languid. Things are subdued. Magnolia, Beech, Sweet Gum and Sugar Maple crowd and press for light. Swamp flora hangs, swings and gathers, and when left unchecked, tangles and overgrows giving home to birds, snakes and other creatures unseen. Miles of rusted French-gothic black-iron fence line the more populated country lanes. The humidity, intense and omnipresent, seems to strangle the energy out of the world, inanimate and animate objects alike wait and slow. Yet this passage of dirt and country road somehow bucks the prevailing tenor with a wanting for speed.
Several hours into this 100-mile figure eight through an area of east-central Louisiana locally known as Tunica Hills, Mississippi colored rivulets of sweat flow down our legs. With jerseys splayed and stained with salt and soil, helmets strapped to the bars, droplets of condensation collecting on the inside of our empty water bottles, panting and weary and smiling from ear to grimy ear, we pause for a moment at the Pond Store on the border town of Pond, Mississippi. Another pre-historic southern market rich in antiquities like ancient Coca-Cola machines, regional sweets well past any expiration date, southern curios and oddities. There is a stuffed hind-parts artfully and creepily transformed into the human-like face of a mythical swap animal. It’s becoming more clear why we are racing.
It’s to do with the length and quality of each section of road and the way and manner in which they connect to each other. The way two distinctly different surfaces meet in the apex of corner. The way each climb is short and mean and antagonistic. The way the ride goes from flat and fast and paceline to broken and near impassible dirt devoid of any obvious line or path. How almost every road has been encroached from the sides and above by fertility and zealous nature, is riddled and spotted and occupied with dead snakes, branches and rocks. It’s that Rouge Roubaix is as much a “course” as it is a route. It’s that Rouge Roubaix’s dirt, gravel, chip seal, asphalt, rocks, mud and silt, beg and plead and dare for your best.
All ‘epics’, all favorite or special rides share something basic and intrinsic—a quality related to the route itself. Notable rides have a compelling cadence and sense about them and Rouge Roubaix is by all means a notable ride. From one section to the next Rouge Roubaix slaloms and chicanes through the deep verdant plantation south. Over bridges and rivers and into Solitude, Pinckneyville, Fort Adams, Lessley, Woodville Hollywood and Bains. Through dark woods and ravines, over big hills. Through filth and muck, Rouge Roubaix is a race and the best kind at that. It’s a race simply because here, on this course, it's fun to ride as fast as you can.
(Note: if you want to race the annual race, find for more information at www.rougeroubaix.com)
ON THE WAY