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St. Francisville, LA
May 7, 2009
It’s 8:45pm when we arrive to the town of St. Francisville, LA. We’re hungry and stop three congregants outside a Baptist church for directions and recommendations. This late, there’s three options; Qué Pasa?, Sonny’s Pizza and Wings & Things. Sonny’s, home of the ‘Italian burrito’ wins. Jason Sager, our host for the ‘Rouge-Roubaix’, is driving still from Austin, Texas where on Saturday he won a pro road race and on Sunday, a pro mountain bike race. While Jason grew up in Baton Rouge he currently lives Ogden, Utah, works for Edge Composites and also heads up the Team Jamis professional mountain bike team. Since he’s not currently a local it complicates our accommodation scenario a bit. But, being the host he is, he posted his involvement with this summer’s Continental Tour on a local cycling bulletin a week ago about our need for a place to stay. A gentlemen named Lyn and his wife Ya-Ting responded with an offer and driving directions to stay at their place—Southern hospitality is alive and well.
Jason arrives, puts down a no-cheese pizza and is ready to roll. He leads us into the panther, snake and vine-choked Louisiana forests outside St Francisville. For 30-minutes we creep down narrow roads crowded from every direction by vegetation, heat and humidity. We arrive at Lyn’s house and it’s late, we chat a bit and get the particulars on bathrooms, where to sleep, etc. They’ve made us feel right at home.
The next morning we’re back in town at an art café called the Birdman by 9:30. In the midst of Belgian waffles, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt, lattes and grits – it’s clear within seconds that the Birdman is on the opposite end of the eatery spectrum than Sonny’s gave us last night. Jason informs us that our driver, another bulletin board conscript, is a nurse and has been called-in at the last minute to work. Desperate because Rouge-Roubaix is unanimously the most anticipated ride of the tour we ask our waitress what she is doing later. Seated in the back unbeknown to us, the town Sheriff overhears our exchange with this young woman about bikes, cameras and a van. Understandably curious about our intentions, he walks over for some clarity on the matter. Within minutes he’s headed out the door to get, not ask, one of his Deputies to drive for us. As he’s walking out the Birdman’s phone rings and seconds later the owner shouts ‘Anybody here named Jason’. Apparently one of Jason’s last minute calls is returned and a gentlemen named Adrian is available and wants to drive with us. Turns out Adrian’s son rode the official Rouge-Roubaix earlier this spring and his girlfriend is a cyclist. It also turns out that he is fifth generation Percy, an established and influential family in West Feliciana Parish.
It’s immediately evident that the Rouge-Roubaix is stunning and special. We encounter a myriad of impossibly contiguous roads, each remarkable for their inherent qualities and surfaces and in the way that they work together. We ride by oaks tangled in Kudzu, rolling open fields, countless creeks and miles of picturesque, rural-green countryside. Nearly the entire route is on narrow back-roads without any traffic. We’re lucky with low eighties temps and relatively tame humidity, but still within an hour we’re all covered with sweat, salt and dirt. We ride two-up with Sam and Jason pulling though and periodically Cole attacks in a manner that Sam starts to call ‘hunkering down’.
At mile 25 we hit the first gravel section, it’s eight miles long and riddled with holes and deep ruts. Through that section and back on pavement we come to a small store. Out front three older men, leaning on the window next to the front door, drink beers out of paper bags and slowly smile in acknowledgment of our foreign approach. Nobody is watching the soap opera on the TV in the corner, but it appropriately adds to the experience.
Several dozen miles later at the top of another section of gravel we stop again at the Pond Store in Pond, Mississippi. This store looks as though nothing as changed since the advent of electricity. In addition to the usual convenient store foods and drinks, the dusty shelves are littered with antiques, southern accouterments and mysterious indiscernible stock. Things that are old, some that are metal and rusty, even some made from dead animals. In addition to these oddities, stray cats scramble and sleep about while a big dog named Sam and a little dog named Socks come and go through the open front door.
With 20 miles to go we hit the last section of dirt, which because of recent record breaking heavy rains, is thick, sticky mud. If Jason’s causal, easy, effortless management of our 20mph average pace wasn’t sign enough of his absolute professionalism, he handles the mud and puddles and creeks crossings without any sign of the dirt, mess or struggle that covers the rest of us.
Back in town at the Birdman we clean off with a hose, and begin to refuel with beers and ice cream cones. Adrian, our last-minute driver, is happy to continue our adventure together and calls his friend Mary to organize a private tour of the Catalpa Plantation just outside of town. Built in 1890 the house is a large southern Victorian with tall windows and a massive front porch. Inside, the period correct oak dining room tables and cabinets, four-post canopy beds, artwork, china, mirrors and rugs are immaculate. We prepare mint juleps, wine and beer, then retire to the porch and share stories for hours with Mary, Adrian, and Adrian’s girlfriend Jill.
Still hungry from our near sub-five hour century, we slowly decide to make our way back to town for Mexican at Qué Pasa? This amazing day continues for several more hours as we talk photography, geography, cycling, history, alligators and dirty Cajun jokes.
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- @JeanzTweet You’re welcome Jens.
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