Le Tour de Bayou 2018

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.42663223_1881907135258742_5476494691547480064_n

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.42491610_235362433810255_7373238011368046592_n

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!

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Louisiana Wildlife Encounters

This summer I spent a lot of time out in the country, in the Kisatchie Forest area of central Louisiana, where my family recently moved. Growing up in Baton Rouge, I never saw much wildlife except the occasional armadillo. So this summer was very exciting in that I encountered many new critters!

The first encounter was in our living room. While watching TV one night, my dad exclaimed, “You won’t believe what I’m seeing here!” And indeed, I wouldn’t have believed him if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes: a scorpion. The scorpion was tiny, only an inch long. But it still had my mom and I practically screaming. My dad saved the day by stomping it with his shoe, but the dead scorpion was intact enough for us to examine it. It had a dark stripe down its back, and we identified it as a striped bark scorpion. What we learned is that this is the only scorpion species in Louisiana–and fortunately it is not venomous. However, its sting is extremely painful and the pain lasts about 15 minutes. And guess what else? They like to hide in clothes and shoes. So now I never leave clothes lying on the floor, and I always shake my shoes out before wearing them.

My second wildlife encounter, believe it or not, was even scarier than the first. At the time, my family was tending to things back in the city, but I loved the country so much I stayed out there–just me and my chihuahua–for a week. I took my dog out in the pool area one evening, and suddenly noticed, right in front of me, a 4-foot long snake! I grabbed my chihuahua, who could easily have been this snake’s dinner, and rushed him into the house. When I got back outside with my camera, the snake was climbing up the palm tree. Later that night, I saw him descend from the palm tree and swim through the pool. It sent a chill down my spine! The snake expert at Wildlife and Fisheries quickly identified it as “just a harmless rat snake” after listening to a description of it over the phone. I don’t care if it’s harmless, I don’t want him re-visiting our pool!

The third encounter worth mentioning is a little bizarre. One Sunday, my mom and I drove down a country highway to take a shortcut to Lafayette. Turns out, it wasn’t exactly a shortcut…but it was quite scenic. While driving, a bobcat ran across the road right in front of our car (don’t worry, we didn’t hit it). Neither of us had ever seen a wild bobcat, and we were shocked. That night we took I-49 for the return trip–and yet another bobcat ran across the highway right in front of us. This is a really strange coincidence since bobcats are not commonly seen, especially around highways. We pondered the significance of these unlikely bobcat sightings, and wondered if it was some sort of sign… Who knows?

Some other wildlife I’ve seen this summer include: deer, wild turkey, raccoons, possums, countless bird species, frogs, and bugs galore. I’ve been hearing about problems with wild hogs and coyotes getting on people’s property and wreaking havoc, but thankfully I haven’t encountered these yet!

Central Louisiana Blog

This one’s for my Louisiana followers:

Cenla Outdoors

My dad (an outdoors enthusiast and avid fly-fisherman known as “Catch”) has a new blog, which is all about central Louisiana. If you’re from the area–or interested in visiting/moving here–check the link above for local events, helpful links, and fishing tips from the expert!

Lessons learned from living in the country

My folks recently bought a lovely place out in the country. Literally in the middle of the woods, the new location is quite a change from the big city where my parents raised their family. I’m talking bugs everywhere, no phone reception, and no Super Targets within a 100-mile radius. We’re really roughing it.woods

Despite the lack of big-city conveniences, I fell in love with the place immediately. Spending time in the middle of nowhere can be quite therapeutic. I want to share some lessons I learned after spending a week in the country:

  1. Only when you reconnect with nature do you realize how out-of-touch you are. So you may not have texting or internet access out in the boondocks. But once you accept that you don’t need those things to survive, a sense of liberation washes over you. You hear the sound of silence for the first time, with no tv or radio in the background or cars whizzing by outside. You notice little things like lizards and wildflowers and interesting shrubs. Remember when you were a child and the world was full of awe? Reconnecting with nature renews that child-like sense of wonder.
  2. If you’re very quiet, you can see your forest friends. I was sitting by the lake with a pair of binoculars one evening when I discovered a pileated woodpecker living in a tree on the property. What a treat! Sitting quietly with nature may seem like a waste of time to those who are all about productivity (a.k.a. busybodies). But I’ve heard it said that God speaks to us in whispers, and we must be still and silent to hear.
  3. Country music makes sense. You may hate country music because it’s all about tractors, bars, and railroads or whatever. But after a week in the country, the genre makes a whole lot of sense to me. It’s about the simple yet important aspects of life–the only ones you know when you’ve never stepped foot in a fancy city: love, life lessons, family. Not sex and clubbing and “stacks of them hundreds” (thanks, but I’ll pass on the Chris Brown and Justin Bieber). 
  4. Working out at a gym is easy compared to working out in nature. Maybe it has to do with being exposed to the elements. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s the uneven landscape. But something about being in the great outdoors, getting your hands dirty, and working in the sun is so much more physically challenging/exhausting than any amount of mileage on the treadmill. A hiking trail or kayaking trip, cutting grass or pruning trees are all good alternatives to a traditional workout. 
  5. If you can’t survive off macaroni, minute rice, and canned soup…you better stay in the city. Let me explain: our house came without a fridge included, so for a while we didn’t have the luxury of keeping meat or dairy products around. The nearest store or restaurant is several miles away. Even with a fridge, it’s not like we can just make a quick trip to get more milk, or run to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger whenever we want. If you can’t suck it up and do without these small luxuries, you’ll never make it in the country (or in the event of an apocalypse, for that matter… just teasing!).