We woke yesterday, as we have so many mornings in the last month, to the sounds of highway workers who were staying next door at the days comfort super six eight rodeway motel inn getting up at the crack of dawn to get back out to work.
Our typical first thoughts when we woke were on how far we had to ride, what the weather looked like and how soon we had to leave. Then, we’d rise, try to find clean biking clothes, pack our panniers and grab a bite at the free continental breakfast and mount up.
This last morning, though, we knew we only had about 45 miles to ride and that they were largely on the bike path on top of the river levee on the east bank of the Mississippi so we didn’t feel too rushed. We had to return the truck and then find our way to the levee, but got good advice from a lovely former school administrator who was working at the hotel about how to get there easily. It was sunny and hot, even at a little after 9:00 AM.
The lady at the rental place said “you’re riding into New Orleans? That’s a long way!” Then she advised us to go easy on the Hurricanes and sent us on our way.
We found our trail and began a leisurely and thoughtful final day’s ride, except for when it was pouring rain. The levee is about 30 feet high so we had a good view to our right and left.
The Mississippi is really wide here, and deep enough for ocean going vessels to sail twenty miles upstream. The ships are visiting the many chemical and refining and agriprocessing plants that lined the river in our early miles. We rode by Norco, Destrehan, St. Rose, Kenner, and through a variety of environments, from industrial to residential.
On our right was the river, close by and lined by trees and wetlands. On our left, the river road and development. Mixed in with the industry were plantations, strip malls, and around Kenner, really nice residential neighborhoods. We saw lots of birds, including egrets and red-billed ducks and one bright green parrot (or parakeet, but big), and over and between the trees to the right, the smokestacks of huge ships.
We entered the city through the beautiful Audubon Park and then followed St. Charles (we were now sharing the street with traffic) and rode along the streetcar tracks past fabulous homes, block after block. Lisa, who has visited NOLA a few times, started to recognize the neighborhood and soon we were pulling into Jackson Square with its artists and tourists.
It is hard to express what we were feeling as we looked at each other and realized we were done; we are sappy people, and we both got a little teary. We’d ridden 1,427 miles since May 20, through 9 states, on busy highways and county roads, chased by dogs and one goat; we’d crossed and ridden beside countless rivers, the greatest rivers of the heartland, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Cumberland, the Tennessee; we’d had breakdowns and resolved them with the help and kindness of complete strangers.
And now we were standing at our destination, trying to absorb the moment. We walked around grinning, wanting to tell everyone what we’d done. We grabbed a couple and asked them to take our picture by the Bourbon Street sign and they turned out to be from Wisconsin and had many questions for us.
We walked over to a restaurant where we could hook our bikes up and keep an eye on them and ordered a popcorn shrimp po boy and beer. Of course we told our waiter we’d just arrived on our bikes and he took our picture, and then the manager said to Lisa “I commend you on your travels!”
We walked down Bourbon Street to our hotel, the Royal Sonesta, and rolled our bikes into the fancy lobby. Lisa said “this is the nicest hotel our bikes have ever been in!” The staff knew we’d biked in, and had received the bag that Lisa’s sister had shipped down with regular clothes. I’d also spoken the night before with one of the desk managers, Rita, who recognized that my name was Norwegian (she came from Norway) and she actually recognized us right away. (There weren’t too many others in the lobby who looked like us.) We sat out in the courtyard and waited a while for the room to get ready, and then Rita and Brian, the hotel’s Director of Rooms, came out and told us that they’d upgraded us to a two story room opening on to a small private patio. We were gobsmacked as the bellman took us to the beautiful room. He said that in 45 years working at the hotel, he’d only seen people arrive by bike three times.
After we showered (and got into clothes that weren’t Lycra) we walked down to the Spotted Cat for music and to meet our friend Carlos, who’d bused to NOLA from Natchez. As many possibilities as there were for fun last night, Lisa and I started to flag at 9:30 and we ended up walking home and climbing into a huge comfortable bed for a long night’s sleep. We are in New Orleans till Tuesday and have a long list of music, food and museums to experience. We might even ride those bikes one more time before we ship them home.