Earlier this month, I participated in my first ever cycling event: The 7th annual Le Tour de Bayou in Alexandria, Louisiana. This event benefits the Kent House Plantation, the oldest standing historic site in central Louisiana, which receives much of its operational budget through this and other fundraisers. The race featured distances for every level of biker–including 101, 69, 40, 25, 10, and 2 mile rides.
All distances showcase the lovely Bayou Rapides and the farmland that lies just outside the city limits. The 101-milers rode all the way to the community of Gardner, where I live with my family about 30 minutes outside Alex in the woods of the Kisatchie National Forest. (I cheered as I passed a few bikers on my drive home around noon).
I’d seen banners, flyers, and colorful bicycles around town in the weeks leading up to Le Tour de Bayou. The last few years that my family has lived here, we’ve seen the bikers on race day speeding down our street. But I never thought to sign up until this year–a week before the race, to be exact.
The truth is, I don’t have an expensive road racing bike, and I barely understand the mechanics of my own Trek hybrid. I was worried I’d embarrass myself if I participated.
So I went to the Kent House to register in person, and was assured that it wasn’t a race; it’s just for fun. Feeling encouraged, I signed up for the 10-miler. I washed my bike, filled my tires, and did a couple challenging training rides during the week in the hills around my house.
Saturday morning I woke up ridiculously early so I could see the sunrise Blessing of the Bikes and watch the 101- and 69-milers take off. The group was pretty small, and I had some major bike shame after seeing their fancy specialized bikes (remind me to ask Santa Clause for one). An hour later, at 8:30, a Kent House employee counted down the takeoff for our 10-mile group.
I couldn’t help but get competitive as we cycled down Bayou Rapides road. To my surprise, within minutes I had passed the pack and had only three bikers ahead of me. Pedaling as hard as possible, I slowly gained on them until I was in 2nd place. Unfortunately, the route wasn’t marked and none of us had studied the route well–so when we hit a crossroads, three of us stopped to look at the map.
Losing my momentum, it was like starting over mid-race. I cycled as fast as my heart would let me, re-gaining my 2nd place status–but with the two others close on my tail. Sure enough, right at the finish line they passed me. This guy and gal sure motivated me to try my best and leave nothing on the road. The three of us crossed the finish within a couple seconds of each other, with a time of 38:50.
Bike racing is not easy. You know the flustered post-race feeling–heart pounding, legs like jelly, and swearing you’ll never do that again (until 20 minutes later when you wonder: When’s my next race?)? I was definitely feeling it.
With the sun high in the sky and not a cloud in sight, the grounds looked beautiful for the post-race party. Kent House staff and volunteers provided chocolate milk, snacks, jambalaya dinners, and beer. There were free tours of the plantation house, massages, a DJ, and local vendors.
I learned some interesting history in a 30-minute tour of the house before enjoying lunch and a “recovery” beer. A friend of my dad’s introduced me to some folks in the biking community, including the owner of a specialty bike gym. The future is bright for my biking hobby.
Le Tour de Bayou is a fun race with a flat, fast course and distances for all levels. It gives bikers the chance to see central Louisiana’s beauty and support the community. I had tough competition to push me to do my best, but it wasn’t so competitive that I felt discouraged. This may have been my first bike race, but it won’t be my last!