Monday, December 17, 2012

City Park dedicates jogging/bike trail

The combination jogging and bicycling trail looping the Festival Grounds in City Park New Orleans, LA dedicated December 17, 2012.  The new picnic pavilion is in the background.

   Christmas came a few days early for fitness buffs when City Park officials and politicians from New Orleans city government cut the ribbon on Festival Grounds, a former golf course redeveloped with a one-mile jogging/cycling path, a "fitness zone"with gym quality workout machines and  five grass playing fields.  The paved path is 18 feet wide and striped to give cyclists and joggers their own lanes.
     Festival Grounds is off Wisner Blvd, and just north and across Freidrichs Ave. from Big Lake where there is a .75 mile asphalt track, and a small gravel environmental education path.  Paddle boats and single-speed bicycles can also be rented from the boat house beginning in spring.  The tracks at Big Lake and Festival Grounds are not lighted at night.
     Built to accommodate large outdoor gatherings such as music festivals when not serving as an outdoor gym, Festival Grounds has four small power plants, installed to supply the increased electrical power lights and amplifiers at music festivals require.  The park is already home to the annual three-day VooDoo Music + Arts Experience.  The 2013 date is Nov. 1-3.
     The 50- acre chunk of land, part of the park's Bayou Oaks, South Golf Course that closed in 2004, also has restrooms and a picnic shelter with 4,000 square feet of covered space.  Lights in the shelter and restrooms are solar powered.  There is a signed parking space for FEV's (Fuel Efficient Vehicles).
     Errol Laborde, who attended the ribbon cutting 12.17.2012, remembered that when his father headed up the park in the 1950's the revenue from the park's four golf courses was important for the operation of the park.  When asked what he thought his father would think of replacing golf with a fitness area/festival ground, Laborde said his father, "would be very proud of the changes."
     For more information contact 504.482.4888.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Red Creek launch and parking lot planned for Ramsey Springs (MS 15)


 A boat launch and parking lot is planned for Red Creek at Ramsey Springs (Mississippi Highway 15), said Judy Steckler, director of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain (LTMCP), managers of the 55 acre tract in Stone County MS.  The site is now closed to the public but could reopen with the launch and lot in the spring of 2013.
     Note:  An on-site visit by officials of LTMCP, Stone County and the consultant for the project is planned for March 11, Steckler said today (March 1).  Dates to start and finish the construction of the boat launch and small parking lot have not been set yet.   
    A 30-mile stretch of Red Creek, from highway 26 west of Wiggins to highway 15 has been named a Blueway by the LTMCP.  The group has installed mile posts along the creek.  These help first responders find lost paddlers and people in inner tubes caught by darkness, Steckler said.  The blueway designation carries no additional environmental protections but does promote the stream as a desirable waterway for paddling and other outdoor recreation.  A brochure about the blueway is available from the LTMCP web site. 
     The creek is deserving of the praise.  Despite flowing through only a short stretch of public land--a smidgen of the De Soto National Forest-- the creek flows clean, tea-colored and shallow over a nearly white sand creek bottom and past numerous sandbars.  The land along the banks is settled but houses and camps are generally well back from the creek and screened from view by a ribbon of standing forest 100 feet thick or more.
     Float trips on the docile creek have been promoted in brochures for more than 25 years but use of the scenic creek for paddling trips has been light leading to a number of canoe liveries and shuttle operations to open and close after a season or two.  Red Creek is now mostly visited by intrepid paddlers who have their own boats and are willing to risk leaving a vehicle overnight on a deserted creek bank.
     This may change with a recent increased interest in the creek, Steckler said.  There are two places along the Gulf Coast that now rent canoes to use on Red Creek. They join an existing business based in Hattiesburg that rents canoes and runs shuttles on several south Mississippi Rivers.
     A parking lot and picnic area at City Bridge, upstream from Ramsey Springs, was plagued with rowdy crowds leaving lots of litter right after it opened a few years ago.  But locals pressured the county government to take action and now the area has been cleaned up and is a popular family picnic destination, Steckler said.
     However the growing use of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the stream's fragile sandbars and creek bottoms presents a new challenge for stream preservationists, Steckler said.  Google "ATV" and "Red Creek" and there will be several sites with pictures of ATV's gouging tracks in the stream's sand bottoms and banks.
     Steckler said the LTMCP, and similar organizations have enjoyed strong support from landowners along Red Creek who want to see the stream preserved in its natural state for later generations to enjoy but also hear from landowners who fear promoting the creek will increase litter and attract badly behaved users to what is literally their back yard.
     Steckler has big plans for the Ramsey Springs property when improvements to the property are complete.  While still at the brain storming stage, these plans could include a bicycle race or paddling race or foot race or even all three at the same time, she said.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morning Call Coffee Stand, open 24 hours, comes to City Park

     In City Park in New Orleans, LA there are trails for running and walking, roads to bicycle and a nearby bayou to paddle a canoe or kayak.  Now there is a place to savor a sweet and delicious New Orleans tradition: beignets and cafe au lait.
     Morning Call Coffee Stand opened about a month ago in the Casino Building, a beautifully restored Italianate structure with a red tile roof near the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).  It's open 24 hours a day.  Relax and revive after an early morning jog with a steaming cup of chicory coffee served the New Orleans way with hot milk and a trio of fresh, hot beignets dusted white with powdered sugar.
     Because of the relative security of the location, it also offers a great place for that late, late night or very early morning coffee fix without having to put up with the hassle of the French Quarter.
     The Casino Building has been the home to several snack shops through the years, the last one offering ice cream and light lunches.  (There is no casino in the building.  It is just called that because there might have been a casino in it years ago.)
     Morning Call Coffee Stand has a storied history.  Begun in the late 19th century in the French Market, the business was moved to a suburban strip mall in Metairie 1974, where it thrives today.
     Inside the City Park location, only the second Morning Call to open, is a faithful reproduction of the Metarie store complete with the old-school center coffee counter and stools framed overhead by a massive dark wooden arch lined with bare, clear, low watt lightbulbs.  Tables inside and outside on the broad brick verandah overlooking a playground and Greek Revival bandstand, provide plenty of seating.
     Take a table and be served indoors or out or order to-go.  Only cash is accepted, no credit cards.   Free WiFi is available, or will be soon.  Cafe au lait and an order of three beignets is less than $5.  There is a limited lunch menu of red beans and rice, gumbo and alligator.  Ice cream, soft drinks, hot chocolate and beer.  A bicycle rack is outside.  The staff is refreshingly local, confident and experienced.  Singer/guitarist Walter Gonzalez ( performs Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon on the verandah.  I think he knows every song on the Beatles' Rubber Soul album.
     Three beignets and a tablespoon of confectionery sugar has about 450 calories and 10 grams of fat but you have earned a treat, haven't you?  Morning Call Coffee Stand (504) 885-4068.  GPS N 29 59' 07.3" W 90 05' 42.3"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Louisiana Jambalaya Tours Remembered

     Back in the day, for many "serious" bicyclists in south Louisiana, the Thanksgiving holidays meant a trip to the hill country north of Baton Rouge for three days of biking, camping and the celebration of all things velo.
     Begun in the mid-1970's by the Baton Rouge Bicycle Club (BRBC), Jambalaya Tours, or Jam for short, attracted riders of all stripes from hard-core racers spinning the finest Italian steel frames to families of recreational riders towing trailers with toddlers.  Each of the three days, riders would stream from the campground and ride the undulating and ancient back roads of the parishes of East and West Feliciana, through a fall tableaux of upland evergreen pine forests, plantations, sharecropper's shacks and the occasional field of emerald green winter rye grass.
     Sag stops along the way dispensed sports drinks, Fig Newtons and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hungry riders.  Directions were spray painted on the asphalt and riders were given map packs with rides usually ranging from about 30 miles to 75 miles.  Some years there was a hundred mile route--a century-- on Friday.
     While aways in the Felicianas, the location of Jam headquarters moved around through the years as facilities and needs of the BRBC changed.  The Jam heyday might be considered to be those held in the 1980's when Woodland Campground would be the temporary home to 250-300 riders, friends and families.  Every year a few from outside the immediate area would visit, hearing about the rides through mentions in bicycling oriented publications.
     At night, after a communal meal of jambalaya and all the trimmings often served in an open air pavilion, participants would drift over to one of several campfires and spend the rest of the evening swapping stories and bicycle lore.
     Except on Saturday night.  That was Cajun dancing night with a live Cajun band.  A loud Cajun band.  Early in the evening there was plenty of room on the concrete slab as riders, some still in their jerseys and tights were reluctant to join the more experienced two-steppers.  But if that November night was cold and the wind was whistling through that open air pavilion, after a little "liquid encouragement" from M&J, a convenience store on the highway, one could witness some mighty fancy foot work by many who were experiencing that part of Cajun culture for the first time.
     Beginning with the 1990's attendance began to dwindle.  By 2000 the BRBC was just breaking even.  Jam 2004, with a paltry attendance of about five dozen riders proved to be the last.  In August of 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck while the BRBC was mulling the future of Jam.  The decision was made to pull the plug on the venerable gathering and the BRBC has not scheduled one since.
     (A couple of years after Katrina a series of rides over the Thanksgiving holiday were held, headquartered in Jackson, LA. but the event was low key and not widely publicized.)
     Why are there no more Jambalaya Tours?  Maybe there ceased to be a need for Jam.  Single men and women in their 20's and 30's in 1980 have better things to do when they are older and in their 50's and 60's.  It can be harder and harder to put in the training time to ride 40-75 miles a pop with so many other responsibilities, not to to mention abandoning families and non-riding friends for the three-day holiday.
     Events for touring bicyclists (non-racers) have changed.  Multi-day linear rides across a state or region that offer nightly camping or gymnasium floor accommodations are more popular now than then. The Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee (BRAT) is an example of this.
     And the riding culture as changed a bit.  Beginners who want to ride but are wary of a tightly packed pace line don't get much love from groups of veteran riders who see every outing as a race to the death.  Tourist are often left on the road alone now.
     Even at its peak Jam was an acquired taste for some.  The Woodland years are probably best remembered by some as the "Cold Shower Years" as the hot water tank for the campground's single shower could only heat water fast enough to provide each day's early finishers a hot shower.
     Not everybody took to camping or looked forward to two or three nights of sleeping on the ground.  Civilized but spartan indoor accommodations at the Feliciana Retreat Center (in Jam's later years its headquarters) were available but were off-site and removed from the action at the campground requiring a drive to connect.
     Will their be another Jam?  I dunno.  The rides are still there.  The roads and environment in East Feliciana Parish have changed little.  In West Feliciana Parish there has been a large amount of development but the area is still a popular venue for both weekend rides and centuries just as it has been for more than 40 years.
     So if you were one of the fortunate ones who attended one or more of these unique events, consider yourself lucky.  You have the many memories of the good times and adventures Jam would serve up every year.  From the hokey encouragement spray painted on the pavement to the looooong gravel entrance roads, Jambalaya Tours was a memorable experience for 36 Thanksgiving holidays.
     (This month, in response to a proposal by the West Feliciana Police Jury to require rides larger than three people to get parish permits, members of the BRBC and parish officials have agreed to work out a permit that would apply to larger groups of cyclists at special events such as centuries.  Word on the street is that the need to corral cyclists is a response to bad behavior by cyclists who park at volunteer fire stations without permission and use the property as a bathroom.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Northlake Nature Center expands activities schedule to include kayaking, biking and yoga

     The Northlake Nature Center, a 400-acre nature preserve east of Mandeville, LA, has expanded it's outings schedule to include kayaking on Bayou Castine, mountain biking on the center's trails, paddle boarding and yoga.
     The events are open to the public but first notice of the events is given to NNC members via newsletter.  The NNC Facebook page (click Like, then click Events) is another source of information.  Members attend the events for free, non-members are requested to donate $5.
     While events are often in the works for a while they can be scheduled quite suddenly, but so far the response to the expanded programming has been strong, said NNC executive director Rue McNeill.
     "The kayak trips were filled a month ago," McNeill said as she busily logged in participants and watched staff from Massey's Outfitters in Covington launch novice kayakers of all ages into the still, black waters of Bayou Castine for a two-mile out-and-back through the swamp. 
     The NNC website offers membership applications via PayPal.  The site also has a good map of the facility but the outings information is out of date.
      Off the water the preserve offers three trails totaling almost four miles.  The trails wind through four ecosystems: hardwood forest, pine-hardwood forest, pine savanna and pond-swamp.  The pond-swamp is a product of a large beaver lodge which may or may not still be active.  The NNC can become a resource for local environmental educators looking for a nature hike for "kids" of all ages.  Guided hikes lead by local naturalists, adult education seminars and hands-on nature walks for school groups, summer camps and clubs can be arranged.
     In the spring the NNC preserve is the headquarters for the Great Louisiana BirdFest.  The NNC is located next to the Pelican Park Sports Complex which is connected to the Tammany Trace rails-to-trails.
    The preserve, the trails, and canoe/kayak launch are open dawn to dusk every day.  Admission is free.  Access is north, off U.S. 190.  HEADING EAST ON U.S. 190 HAVE YOUR TURN SIGNAL ON AND BE READY TO STOP AND TURN ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER CROSSING THE BRIDGE OVER BAYOU CASTINE!!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Birdwatching at the NorthLake Nature Center

     You may never have been birdwatching in your life.  But if you ever do feel the urge to spend some time observing a few of Louisiana's more than 470 species of birds in their natural habitat you probably have one of bird watching's essential tools already--your smart phone.
    In the Northshore Bird Club's  "Birding for Beginners," a very nicely done and concise pamphlet for novices to the sport, iPhones are recommended equipment for birding.  (Binoculars and field guides are considered "Essential".)  Many applications (apps) valuable to the birder can be downloaded.  (And you thought the only birds on your phone were Angry Birds.)  Photographs and drawings of just about any bird there is can be downloaded and viewed while on the trail along with habitat info and even their calls, which can be played to attract species you might think are in the area.
     Tom Trenchard, the club librarian, is shown here using his phone to call birds during the recent "Fall Birdwalk Through the Woods," a joint venture of the Northlake Nature Center and the club.  The group of over 30 rank-and-file birders and four leaders identified 38 species, a bald eagle among them, Trenchard reported.
     The club website, is too out of date to offer upcoming birding events but you might find a contact in the site for more recent information about birding events.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Park rangers again leading canoe trips in Barataria Preserve south of New Orleans

     Park rangers are again leading canoe treks on the waterways in the 20,000 acre Barataria Preserve in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park south of New Orleans, LA.
     The trips were stopped over a year ago when the growth of water hyacinths, an invasive species, clogged the waterways rendering them impassable for paddlers.
     However, in late August, the winds of Hurricane Isaac cleared the pesky plant from the surface of some of the waterways in the preserve.  The Saturday canoe treks were resumed in October.
     The ranger-led trek is short.  It's about a three mile round trip and takes about two hours.  Start at the canoe launch at Twin Canals (off highway LA 45 south of Marrero) and turn left (southwest) at the Kenta Canal.  After a little over a mile Kenta Canal becomes too clogged with hyacinths to proceed.
     As you turn around be sure to look north up the canal.  If the weather is clear you will be able to see the One Shell Square high rise in the New Orleans CBD at the corner of St. Charles Ave. and Poydras St.
     The banks of Twin Canals are forested with hardwoods which arch over the canal in places.  The Kenta Canal, on the other hand, is wide open, its hardwoods dead or dying because salt water from the Gulf of Mexico regularly inundates them during storms as the protective marshes to the south slowly become open water.  Tall grasses and shrubs line the banks now and make excellent habitat for the alligators that often can be seen sunning any time of the year if the day is warm.
     Many of the waterways in the preserve are still clogged, most notable of these is the beautiful Bayou Coquille (KO-KEY-YA).
     The preserve also has a not-to-be-missed visitor center.  Hikers and walkers will enjoy a jaunt on the more than two miles of paved and boardwalk trails through the swamp and the dramatic view of the marsh at the end of the Marsh Overlook Trail. 

IF YOU GO: Reserve a spot on a canoe trek by calling the Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve at (504) 689-3690 ext 10.  For more info visit  Pets are not allowed on the trails and leaving unattended animals in vehicles is prohibited.  No food or drink (other than water) are allowed on the trails.   The canoe trek is free if you bring your own boat.  Bayou Barn rents canoes for the trek-$20 per person, a two-person minimum per canoe.  Fee includes delivery and pickup to Twin Canal.  To reserve a boat visit or call
(504) 689-2663 or 1-800-862-2968.  Accept no substitutes.    

Friday, November 9, 2012

MS Gulf Coast Trails Touted

     There was a lot of the talk about trails at the 13th annual Coastal Development Strategies Conference, held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Nov. 7-8.  Here is a little of what was said.
     Two blueways will open soon in the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS), the largest national seashore park in the U.S.  This Saturday (Nov. 10) the Davis Bayou Blueway at the national park's Mississippi Unit in Ocean Springs, MS will open.  Beginning at 10 a.m. rangers will lead a paddle, expected to last less than two hours, of one or more of the three short loops that begin and end at the boat launch in the park.  The event is free.  Bring your own kayak or get there early and score one of the few free kayaks that will be there.  For more information call: 228-230-4100. or visit
     The following Saturday (Nov. 17) a paddling trail running east about five miles from the canoe launch at the Perdido Key Area will open with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. and a brief paddle.  Bring your own boat; no public boats will be available.  For more info call 850-934-2600 or visit the website.
     (There is a longer discussion of these two trails in a previous posting)
     Sticking with the topic of blueways, Paul Nettles, an experienced kayaker now consulting with the Heritage Trails Partnership, a non-profit promoting trails of all kinds in Mississippi, said the only gap in a long distance kayak trail that runs from the Dismal Swamp in Virgina, around the Florida peninsula to along the Texas coast is along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  He suggests modeling a saltwater kayak trail along the coasts of LA, MS and AL after the detailed site and down loadable maps at at the site of the Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail.  "We are on the edge of something big here," said the former owner of two kayak tour business in the Biloxi area.
     Back on land, GINS superintendent Dan Brown said the roads in the Davis Bayou Unit have become crowded with runners, cyclists and walkers competing for space with car and camper traffic.  The roads are two-lane and have no paved shoulders, or in some cases, no shoulders at all.  Brown said starting next year the park will begin to deal with the problem and work to get "the runners and bicyclists separated from the cars."   Plans will most likely include widening the road with shoulders, he said.
     Fans of the Long Leaf Trace, a 41-mile rails-to-trails conversion from Hattiesburg to Prentiss, MS will be glad to learn that the trail will be extended two miles into Hattiesburg.  James Moore, a founder of the trail said it will take about six to nine months to start construction but that the ten-foot wide trail which will reach the downtown, now home to an emerging restaurant and entertainmment district, should be finished soon after construction begins.
     The Wolf River, north of Long Beach, MS, has been popular with paddlers for decades.  But access to the most scenic part of the river, the 24 miles between Silver Run and Cable Bridge is limited because of almost no public right-of-way access at the bridges and private ownership of most of the rest of the land fronting the stream.  And there is a security issue for parked cars too.  But a member of the Wolf River Conservation Society, said the group is working on developing a public access to the river.  There are no details now but look for something to happen before paddling season next year.
     And a shout-out to Jim Foster with whom I shared a delightful lunch between sessions at the conference.  Jim is president of the Heritage Trails Partnership, and dedicated to their main goal of establishing a border to border trail along the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama, about 110 miles.  Some of the talk was just a couple of old geezers gassing about bicycling, a passion we share.  But after our talk it was easy to see Jim's focus is on establishing the Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail, largely a trail that will appeal to cyclists but with opportunities for walking, paddling and equestrian activities.  Plans for the trail and its progress will be covered in depth here in later postings.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Two paddling trails in MS and FL to launch

     Two paddling trails suitable for kayaking and canoeing will open this month (November 2012).  Both are in the Gulf Islands National Seashore; one is in the park's Mississippi unit near Ocean Springs, MS and the other is along the park's Perdido Key unit and Big Lagoon west of Pensacola.
     In Mississippi the opening of the Davis Bayou Blueway is November 10 (Saturday) at 10 a.m. at the Davis Bayou boat launch.  Paddlers are encouraged to bring their canoes or kayaks to participate in a group paddle through the marsh and piney upland that surround the launch.  The regular launch fee to use the ramp will be waived for those launching canoes and kayaks that morning  A few kayaks, supplied by a friend of the park, will be available free to those without a boat on a first-come-first serve basis.  The blueway is several short out and back loops from the launch. (As of March16, 2013, the three routes have not yet been signed.  A map is still in the works.)
     A 5.5 mile blueway trail for canoes and kayaks at Perdido Key (FL) will be dedicated Nov. 17, 2012, beginning at 10 a.m.  After a ribbon is cut there will be a two-hour ranger led paddle.  Paddlers will launch from the canoe launch north of Johnson Beach.  This is a BYOK (Bring Your Own Kayak) event; there will be no public kayaks or canoes available.  There is normally an $8 fee to enter the park.
     The blueway stretches 5.5 miles from the canoe launch east along sand dunes of Perdido Key to Ft. McRee overlooking Pensacola Inlet.  Distances on this blueway from the canoe launch are marked with two mile posts; one at three miles and one at five miles, said Mike Aymond, one of several park rangers with the Gulf Islands National Seashore who also kayak in the waters they protect.
      Both the Mississippi and Florida blueways are official recognition of paddling venues locals have been using for years.  The blueway in Mississippi, protected, shallow, narrow waterways snaking through the brackish marshes east of Ocean Springs, have long attracted birders expanding their "life lists" with sightings of graceful shorebirds strutting the mudflats and migrating ducks and geese squawking overhead.  A grinning but ominous alligator can often be spotted sunning on a half-sunken log.
     Looking at the birds, fishes and other creatures in the wild is a fun way to utilize the Florida blueway along Perdido Key and a fine way to pass the time.  But it is the opportunity to kayak/camp, to wake up to the rhythmic lapping of the waves on your own little stretch of white sand beach, a golden sunrise warming you as your sip your coffee watching a pod of dolphins just off shore that makes the Perdido Key blueway important to some paddlers.
     With the freedom to sleep and play on this largely remote and fragile federal preserve comes the responsibility to protect it.  There are several rules about camping on Perdido Key that apply to kayakers and everyone else who wants to camp at Perdido Key.  Camp only to the east of a north/south line that begins one half miles east of the end of the pavement.  But you say 'I am in a kayak.  How in the heck am I going to know where that is?'  Well, it is about three miles east of the canoe launch.  If you look sharp you will see a skinny, vertical brown marker about five inches wide and four feet tall on the Big Lagoon side of Perdido Key.  Camp to the east of that marker.  You are welcome to camp on the Big Lagoon side of Perdido Key as well as the gulf side, as long as you are past that sign.  But do not camp on the vegetation and do not camp on the dunes.  These are serious violations with penalties to match.
     You must pack in everything you will need, including water, for the time you are in the camping area.  And you must pack everything out.  Yes, EVERYTHING.  Ask the rangers if you do not understand what everything is.
     Before you camp you will need to get a permit, available at the entrance station.  The camping permit is free but driving into the park will cost $8 (Nov. 2012).  Save the receipt.  It is good for entry for eight days.  You will hear the rangers say "Six o'clock" a lot.  That is the time the gates close to the park.  If you are in after that time you can get out but if you are out you cannot get in after 6 o'clock.
     Camping is also available at the campground at Fort Pickens across the inlet to the east on Santa Rosa Island.  This large campground offers sites with water and electricity and there are bath houses with hot showers.  These sites are $20 per night and most likely need to be reserved in advance.
     North of Perdido Key and across Big Lagoon is Big Lagoon State Park.  Full service camping is available here at a large campground for a fee and reservations are required in most cases.  Fees are charged for using the boat launch and for overnight parking but a kayak launch is free (after paying to enter the park.) 
     The state park is the western terminus of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,600 mile water trail from the FL/GA border to Big Lagoon ( .)  At the state park a free primitive camping site, near the water and the kayak launch, is available to kayakers but only for one night and only if reserved in advance.
     Big Lagoon is not considered "open water paddling."  But a strong wind can whip up a pretty good chop.  Kayakers with sit-in kayaks should aways have a spray skirt handy not only if the wind is strong but to keep water out from the wake from boats, speedboats and barges on the busy Intracoastal Canal running through the lagoon.
     In warmer weather, the beaches around Ft. McRee become party boat central.  This might be an area you want to avoid if you want solitude.  But the reality is that solitude can be a hard vibe to summon at any time when camping on Perdido Key.  The north shore of Big Lagoon, about a mile from the gulf,  has more than a few few high rise condos that are always in your vision unless you are facing the gulf.  Camping on the gulf side of Perdido Key is still close enough to the north shore to hear traffic noise and motorcycles shifting through the gears.  And the Intracoastal Waterway is a busy place.  Treasure the minutes you are not hearing the throb of diesel powered barges or a plethora of noisy cabin cruisers and speed boats.  Pensacola Naval Air Station is across Big Lagoon from Perdido Key.  Consider yourself lucky if there is not much jet pilot training the days and nights you are on the beach.
     Be sure to anchor your tent against strong breezes so it will not blow into the gulf when you are away exploring the island.  And ask about the biting black flies.  The park rangers say they have yet to find a repellent that works against them.  DEET apparently has no effect, said one ranger.
     For more information about either event call (850) 934-2600. 


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yes, you can take it with you. As long as you are in a kayak

     This is most of what I shipped in my kayak for a three-day, two-night exploration of Perdido Key in the Gulf Island National Seashore, Florida last weekend.  From left to right: blue bag has take-a-part steel sand chair, yellow dry bag has regular Therma-Rest, black stuff stack has down bag, red net bag has food, small Coleman ice chest has more food, big net bag has assorted outerwear that has no other home in the yak, the #10 clear dry bag, more clothes (I thought it would be colder), smaller #5 clear bag has electronics and wallet and keys and stuff like that, and every thing aft of that is tent, poles, tarp, extra sand pegs for tarp, ropes.  There is also a green #10 dry bag that serves the kitchen with a stove, two pots, two cups, and a bag for small stuff like forks, spoons, knife, matches, flashlight.  On the boat are my PFD, quart Nalgene water bottle, pump, paddle float, two kayak paddles, and probably a map but the picture has scrolled out of sight so I can't tell.  There may also be a deck compass but I don't see it.  What is not shown is the bug dope.  I will never forget that again.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Jourdan River offers kayakers a challenge and some nice birding.

     Near Kiln, MS, a gin clear Bayou Bacon fans out inches deep over a tabletop flat, tan sand shelf.  The flow joins a slightly larger and cola-colored Catahoula Creek to form the Jourdan River, about 20 feet across here at the confluence.  Shrubs and small trees punctuated by the occasional tall pine tree crowd Bacon's bank, hiding the source of the clear flow from view.  But looking upstream at Catahoula the landscape is more open, the vegetation well back exposing lots of nearly white sand as if proud to display the pristine waters of the Catahoula at its center.
     Bacon and Catahoula flow through private land so both, and the land around them, are off-limits to the casual explorer.  But the confluence of the two creeks can be explored by the paddler--canoe or kayak--willing to make the effort to get there.
     Because all the land on either side of the Jourdan from Bayou Bacon to McLeod Water Park,  five miles down stream, is private, McLeod is the closest access.  There are no shuttles, no access across private property, no roads with bridges that cross upstream that could shorten the trip.  If you want to experience this little slice of heaven in Mississippi you have to paddle upstream for five miles.
     It's not that bad, really.  At McLeod the Jourdan is an estuary connecting to St. Louis Bay, off Mississippi Sound  Here tidal flows are measured in inches so there is little if any current.  And the current stays noticeably slack for about the first three miles toward Bayou Bacon; like a lake with dark, dark water.  Keep to the right after leaving the boat ramp then turn left as you enter the river.
     The scenery here is coastal flood plain.  Often there are marshes with cordgrass and wild rice, food for the many feeding, resting and migrating birds that visit the river.  The banks are low, with dense vegetation.  The rare sandbar is only a few inches above the river's surface.  But at at about the four mile mark, a slight current can be detected by looking at the upstream "V" formed by the flow around snags.  There are more sandbars here.
     The final push to Bayou Bacon begins about a half mile downstream from the confluence.  If your heart rate has not risen yet, it will now.  Paddling becomes labored and care must be taken that you don't loose your heading and are swept sideways to capsize on a snag.  But at this point the river really does look like a creek and it is beautiful.
     There are no signs of habitation the entire trip as this section of the river lies within the 212 square mile NASA  noise buffer zone, set up when the Stennis Space Center, a booster rocket testing facility was built in the early 1960's.  Landowners could keep their land but building on it was severely restricted.  Please respect the property rights of these landowners as you paddle the Jourdan.
     At the confluence there is a shady sandbar to stop, relax and have lunch before the trip back to McLeod.   Look for eagles.  How are your animal tracking skills?  Try to identify the many tracks in the wet sand at the sandbar. 
     The entrance to the park's boat ramp is easy to miss.  There are no signs.  If you pass a big sign warning of an underground pipline you have passed the entrance to the boat ramp.
     The water level in the river is fairly constant but can rise after rain on the watershed as the muddy leaves on the picture with this article attest.  A higher river means a faster current making a trip upriver that much harder or even impossible.  The only gage is near the river's mouth and that measures tidal fluctuations too.

Jourdan River Blueway

     About eight and a half miles of the Jourdan River has recently been named by the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain ( as a blueway.  The confluence of Bayou Bacon and Catahoula Creek--the headwaters of the Jourdan River--is mile zero.  There are mile posts along the river and occasionally every half mile.  They are set back a bit from the river's edge so look for them.  According to my GPS reading, up to mile post three the distances were spot on.  But milepost four appeared to be about a quarter of a mile short of the actual distance and this error was consistant until the entrance of McLeod.  A brochure about the blueway, with a map, is available at the land trust web site.  The map accurately posts the distance from the confluence to the park at five miles, actually about 5.1 miles.
     A word about motorboats and personal watercraft on the Jourdan.  WARNING!!!  The river below McLeod is a popular area for high-speed water sports.  The section of the river flowing past McLeod is posted a no wake zone.  But upstream there are no speed limits.  There are few snags here and it is not uncommon to encounter a speeding boat or more likely personal water craft--some PWC's are nearly as big as a subcompact car--roaring around a tight bend in the river.  Their wakes, if they do not slow down and some don't, can swamp a canoe or narrow kayak.  Stay out of the center of the river, don't wear ear buds, and if you have enough warning of their approach, turn your craft perpendicular to the wake waves.  Cool weather takes some of the PWC's off the river but I have been surprised by them in February.
     The blueway extends about three miles down river from McLeod but for the above reasons there is little to recommend this stretch to paddlers.
     Admission to McLeod is $2.  The single boat ramp (there is a double boat ramp too) is flanked by a grassy bank for those who need to launch composite boats.  The park offers full service camping and primitive camping.  In this case primitive really means primitive--each site has nothing, no table, grill or even a gravel road to it.  The bathrooms are a half mile away.  But at several sites you can be next to the river.   The telephone number of the park is (601) 467-1894.
     Hey kids!!!! Want to go to a big Halloween Party!!!  Talk your folks into taking you to McLeod Water Park for their WEEKEND LONG  Halloween party, this year set for October 20-21.  Sarcasm aside, the park's annual Halloween party is one of the few--but not the only--times the park is crowded in the fall and winter.  Most of the time in the months it is too cold to swim the park is pretty empty.  But if that is what you are looking for call to make sure.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Monthly TatoNut Bicycle Ride in Ocean Springs is best social ride in the South

NOTE:  The TatoNut ride for Saturday Nov. 3 will probably begin at the foot of the Ocean Springs Bridge, to the west of the regular meeting near the Ocean Springs Visitor Center.  This is probably a one-time deal and is necessary because of the crowds that will be attracted to the Peter Anderson Festival held at the same time as the TatoNut ride.  The ride start time is still 9 a.m. sharp.  Check the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club for the latest details.     

 Ocean Springs, MS, is a thriving artist colony with a hip, upscale downtown and plenty of open-air cafes and eateries.  It is also the venue for one of the best social rides in the South: The TatoNut ride held the first Saturday of each month.
     Cyclists from the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club lead the 17 mile ride which often attracts 50 to 60 riders from the Ocean Springs/Biloxi area.  Riders gather at the park across from the Ocean Springs visitor's center, leaving promptly at 9 a.m.   After a few turns through the Norman Rockwell-esque downtown riders are on a paved path along the town's sandy beach.  Across Biloxi Bay high rise casinos crowd the shoreline.
     Next the group spins past the municipal marina where fresh-from-Gulf shrimp is sold by the watermen who caught the tasty crustaceans.  After entering the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi District, riders pass a variety of coastal environments from salt marsh to piney uplands.  Most of route is flat, though you might enjoy having a bicycle with gears just in case the wind comes up.  The two park road overpasses serve as the "hilly" part of the ride.
     This is a no-drop ride, meaning experienced road weenies won't leave behind the less experienced riders who want to see more of the scenery than the butt and rear wheel of the rider in front.  The group is also followed by a "sweep" who knows the route and can round up any stragglers.
     A bicycle route using existing streets of the small town was mapped and brochures first printed about 20 years ago.  The Live Oaks Bicycle Route, as it was called, was a 15.5 mile loop with lots of turns and even a few low hills.
     The Tato-Nut ride eliminates many of the confusing turns and steers clear of the town's artsy-craftsy core.  (This area can be easily explored on foot after the ride is over.)    GCBC trip leaders keep a friendly pace with several stops during the ride for participants to regroup.
     Be sure to get your name in the hat for the pre-ride drawing for several free meal tickets good at a local Sicily's Italian Buffet. (A Sicily's manager is a GCBC member)  And, of course, after the ride are the TatoNuts.  These delicious morsels, made of fried potato flour, glazed or with chocolate frosting, are the perfect melt-in-your-mouth treat after a hard???? 17-mile ride.  It didn't take long for the October 6th riders to devour seven dozen.  That is why the picture is not of riders in their colorful "kits" eating TatoNuts in the bright October sun.  I was not quick enough with the camera.
     The TatoNut shop is at 1114 Government St. in Ocean Springs and opens at 5 a.m. selling coffee and pastries and, of course, TatoNuts.  The GCBC website is

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Survival food for fifty cents a serving

     You don't have to be exerting yourself to the max when bicycling, paddling or hiking to really turn up the calorie burn.  Just an hour of bicycling at 13-miles per hour can burn 600 calories.  So no matter how long you plan your trip to be, always carry a snack, you know, for just in case.
     But what?  I like Little Debbie snack cakes.  And my favorite is the Chocolate Chip Cream Pie.  The three ounce cookie, a delicious sandwich of two soft chocolate chip cookies with a white icing filling is a whopping 360 calories.  This breaks down to 16 grams of fat, five of those saturated and 58 grams of carbohydrates.  That's a lot of food for just fifty cents.
    Food, you ask?  Yeah, its food.  I recommend people stay away from high calorie, high fat, and highly processed snacky cakes pies and cookies most of the time.  This example has more calories and fat than some of the smaller hamburger offerings at McDonalds.  But it is because of that high sugar and fat content that it makes sense to pack one or two when leaving civilization for a long bike ride, paddle or hike. 
     Running low on sugar can cause problems.  Of the three nutrients your body uses for energy--carbohydrates, fat or protein, the brain can only use carbohydrate (sugar).  So when the brain detects sugar supplies are getting skimpy it moves to protect its supply by restricting sugar's distribution to other parts of the body such as heavily exercising arms and legs.  It IS good to be king!  Without the fuel they need, muscles in the body don't fire and you feel very tired.   If the body continues to try to burn sugar at an exhilarated rate the brain's sugar supply might become so low that decision making is impaired, bad news if you are alone or miles from anywhere.
     Preventing these bad outcomes is easy.  Just carry with you enough calories of carbohydrate to keep your body fueled.  And with 360 calories in just three ounces, the Little Debbie Chocolate Creme Pie is just the thing.  Doesn't take up much room in your pack or pocket and they stay fresh enough to eat for two weeks.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Life is in the details and that is especially true when it comes to camping.  For this reason do not casually choose your spoon.  Consider the usefulness of a broken spoon.  Not much.  So while Lexan and plastic spoons might appeal because, compared to metal spoons--ti excluded), they might be a bit lighter, beware the trade off might be having to eat dinner with your fingers.
Just to be safe I always carry a metal spoon, as a spare.  A spoon many might call an "ice cream spoon."  You know, a spoon strong enough to stand up to a carton of ice cream.  Hard ice cream.  That is the strength you want in a spoon when you are miles from the spoon store and the only thing that can bring that hot dinner from that pot to your mouth is the spoon you have with you.  If after that first or second bite you end up with half of an "unbreakable" spoon in your hand and the other half in the pot, you might wish you had "spent" a few extra ounces for a spoon that would hold up and be dependable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bicycling was popular in 1890's New Orleans

      In the late 19th century bicycling was a huge recreational activity in the U.S. attracting hundreds of thousands of the middle and upper class to buy bicycles and learn to ride them.  And New Orleans was very much a part of the fad, says Dale A. Somers in his 1972 book, "Sports in New Orleans 1850-1900," published by Louisiana State University Press and available in area libraries.
     Velocipedes (the rider straddled a bar between two wheels and provided motive power by pushing of the ground with his feet) were being raced on shell roads on the city's outskirts as early as 1869.  Ordinaries, bicycles with tall front wheels, hence the name "highwheelers" arrived in the Crescent City around 1880 spawning the birth of the New Orleans Bicycle Club in 1880.  The club, composed mostly of "men of affairs of fairly high standing," built a spacious club house with a bowling alley on the corner of Prytania and Valance in 1889.
     But as in the rest of the nation, the appeal of riding highwheelers was limited to young, and wealthy (ordinaries could cost as much as $200) men who found the dangers of riding the big wheel fast part of cycling's appeal.
     Bicycle racing was the focus of the sport in New Orleans even with the introduction of the safety bicycle (rear wheel driven by a chain, wheels same size) in the 1880's. Riders with national standings raced in the Crescent City, sometimes drawing thousands of spectators.  A cement track was built at the intersection of Carrollton and Tulane.
     However bruising fights with the League of American Wheelmen, bicycle racings' sanctioning body at the time, over who was or was not a professional, racial segregation and Sunday bicycling, deflated interest in the sport in the city.   Somers reports that by 1892 cyclists had eschewed the racing scene and were (GASP!) using their "steel steeds" almost exclusively for necessary transportation, "contented to pedal to and from their places of business."
     Bicycling rebounded to a new peak of interest in the city around 1895 when news reports claimed the dozen or so bicycle dealers in New Orleans were selling as many as 5,000 bicycles in a three-month period.  The revival surpassed anything the city had witnessed before with some cycle clubs fielding 700 members.  The majority of the riders participated in "pleasure riding" defined as Sunday bicycle excursions to  Bay St. Louis, MS, Abita Springs, LA and Baton Rouge, LA and in the after-ride dances.
      Then, as now, not everyone was thrilled with bicyclists on the roadways.    There were instances of physical attacks of cyclists and times dogs were set upon riders in rural areas.  "Road hogs," carriage drivers who would not allow packs of riders to pass on narrow shell roads were a constant aggravation for cyclists of the day.
     In 1890  the state legislature recognized cyclist's right to the road conferring "the same rights on the public highways of this state as are prescribed by law in the cases of persons using carriages drawn by horses," but this did little to make riders welcome on public roads.  About this time laws were passed in New Orleans requiring cyclists to keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times, stay to the right and use lanterns when riding at night.
     Cycling was a boon to the status of women who soon viewed the sport as "the symbol of emancipated womanhood."  Cycling was the catalyst for significant changes in what was socially allowable in dress and behavior for women in the 1890's.  Split skirts and "bloomers" became accepted female attire.  One New Orleans female offered this advice to be accepted socially when cycling; "...never, never chew gum, conduct yourself altogether in a ladylike manner and sensible people will not shake their heads in disapproval when you ride."
    Good advice in any age.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Times-Picayune (NO) will stop daily publication in fall

"I read the news today oh boy"
     The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' only daily newspaper, will publish a printed paper only three days a week beginning this fall (2012).  The paper, which has been published daily since before the Civil War will continue to "publish" a daily edition everyday on line.
     This is shocking but not unexpected news.  For those of us who anchor our morning routine around the plop of the paper in our front yard each and every morning it has been painful to watch a New Orleans tradition wither away, shrinking pica by pica as advertising has slowly migrated to other, newer media draining the paper of its financial life's blood.
     Everyone in the city has a connection with the Times-Picayune and here's mine:  I used to write for it.  For 19 years as a freelancer I contributed columns on where to hike, bike and paddle within a reasonable drive of the city.  And some fitness columns.  The kind of thing this blog is about.
     I was not the only one with an outdoor orientation whose words appeared in the paper. Others would write about hunting and fishing and there was coverage of outdoorsy things in the paper's magazine section.  In recent years beat reporters would cover the painfully slow governmental process of developing bike trails, recreational areas and the establishment of new refuges and parks.
     I hope the content of the printed paper will thrive in a new home on line attracting new readers and new advertisers. I can only hope the online versions of the T-P in the fall will be better than what is offered daily now-the horrible
     Oops, this is starting to sound like an obit and it's not.  The Times-Picayune is still here and even when seven days of "dead trees and ink," as a younger friend tactlessly refers to print journalism, is cut to three, a Times-Picayune will still be a daily paper.  Just "published"  in a different form-on line.  Dead trees to pixels.  I'll bet the trees are happy.



Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Tammany (LA) blueway proposed

     A plan to promote three St. Tammany parish (LA) rivers as blueways--water recreation trails--was presented to the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club, a group of canoe and kayak enthusiasts from across south Louisiana meeting in Hammond (LA) Wednesday night.
     Part of the plan encourages landowners along portions of three streams--the Bogue Falaya, the Tchefuncte and Abita rivers--to preserve the riparian environment with conservation easements or outright land donations, said Kathleen W. Stites, a landscape architect and acting executive director of the Land Trust for Southeast Louisiana.
     Conservation easements can result in significant tax benefits through reduced income or estate taxes, Stites said.
     BHPC members, many of them in the past having paddled the rivers to be designated water trails, questioned Stites closely about increasing access to the streams and the availability of parking at established launches.  Conflicts between paddlers and speeding motorboats on the wide rivers were discussed.
     Stites said she is seeking grant money for maps and mileposts along the blueway and is hoping for a big turnout by paddlers in support of the blueway when she will make a presentation at a meeting of the Covington City Council.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Using the bicycle racks on a bus in New Orleans

This post is about using the bicycle racks on the buses in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.  It is an expansion of what appeared with the bicycle parking at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival PRESENTED by Shell.
     There is no additional fare to use the bicycle racks on the front of New Orleans Regional Transit Authority buses ($1.25) or the JeT buses ($1.50) in Jefferson Parish.  And permits are no longer required on either system to use the racks.  Streetcars in Orleans Parish do not carry bicycles.
     At the RTA site,, info can be found on schedules and fares.  Also there is a verbal description on how to use the bicycle racks on their buses but no pictures or illustrations.  (This may change soon.)   I have not redone the RTA text but have included my own take on how to look like a transit pro the very first time you put your bicycle on a bus bike rack.  To make it easier for a bike rack newbie, here are a couple of "high quality" illustrations on how the bike is mounted on the rack.
      Let's go over what happens.  Here comes the bus.  You are standing at the stop on the curb.  The bus stops.  Roll the bike to the front of the bus.  If the rack is not down, that is, it is not open and a bike is not in it already, grasp the latch at the top of the rack, unlatch it and open the rack.  Stand back a little bit and lean toward the bus to reach the latch on the rack.  If you don't you may find the rack will hit you and not fully open until you and your bike move back.
     The rack is now down in the open position.  Try to make eye contact with the driver to get some feedback as to which tray the operator wants the bike placed in.  Some bus operators like the bike in the tray farthest from the bus front, some like it in the tray closest to the bus. Lift the bike up and place it in the tray. Using the tray farthest from the bus means the front wheel must be facing to the right-facing the bus your right.  Using the tray closest to the bus means the front wheel must face to the left-facing the bus your left. If you are using the tray farthest from the bus you will be holding the oily part of the bike, the chain and chain ring, near you so be careful you do not "tattoo" yourself with black grease putting your bicycle on the rack.  Got HandiWipes? 
     Take the metal arm with the hook at the end from near the bottom of the tray pull the spring-loaded hook out and hook it over the front tire at about 2 o'clock.  Make sure it makes good contact with the tire.  Do not place the hook close to the fork or over fenders.  Bring your helmet with you onto the bus and anything else you think might blow or jiggle off the front of a bus cruising at up to 35-miles per hour on a bumpy street.
     This ritual is a little easier if there are two people: one holds the bikes as the other loads them.  Solo cyclists will have to hold the bike up while lowering the rack and after the trip is over, hold the bike up while restoring it to its upright position.  As you approach your stop ask the driver for a little time to get your bike off the rack.

Camping at Grand Isle SP in Louisiana

     Since hurricane Isaac last year, camping on the beach at Grand Isle State Park, in Grand Isle, LA has been prohibited because of a persistant sand errosion problem at the beach.  The sand is now being replaced and beach camping is set to reopen April 1, 2013, said Jacques Berry, communication director for Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne.
     The full service (water, electricity) campsites behind the dunes, reopened shortly after the storm and are open now.
      All camping at Grand Isle SP is reservation only.  You can get a site if you drive up and one is open but you must pay the $6 reservation fee required of all walk-ups camping in Louisiana State Parks.  Developed sites are $28 per night, in season, which is now through October.  Add the pay-once-per-visit $6 reservation fee to this.  The telephone number of the fee station at the entrance to Grand Isle is: 985.787.2559.  The camping reservation number is 1-877-226-7652.
     Driving directions: Once on the island, stay on LA 1 and continue to drive east,past most of everything, almost but not quite to the eastern end of the island.  There LA 1 veers to the left.  You continue straight on Admiral Craik Dr.  The entrance to the park in on your right, the side the beach is on.  Entrance fee for day use is $1.
     A note to primitive campers, when the camping on the beach is permitted again: there is no driving on the beach so all your camping gear must be hauled from the parking lot, over the levee to the beach camping site-the closest site being about 800 feet from the parking lot.  Use whatever you want to haul your gear, carts, wagons, whatever, just no driving on the beach.
     Here is the contact information.  The telephone number for camping reservations is 1.877.226.7652.  The website for the park is  The Facebook address is
     The park offers lots to do for day trippers.  There is sun bathing on the khaki colored sand on the beach and swimming is permitted in the Gulf of Mexico though some of the beach is closed to swimming.  Watch the signs. There are no lifeguards.   There are bathhouses and outdoor showers to wash off the sand.  No glass containers in the park at all, not just no glass on the beaches.  No pets allowed on the beach and in the buildings.
     The 150 acre park is largely salt water marsh; a tidal wetland growing in salty water.  A trail, nearly three miles long, winds through the marsh for a close up view of some of the 300 bird species that live or pass through the park.  The viewing tower offering sweeping views of the beach, the marsh at the park and Barataria Pass has been rebuilt since hurricane Katrina and is open.
     The beaches on the seven mile long island are checked every day for remaining traces of oil from the BP spill two years ago and none have been found recently, say the folks living on the island.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New paint on an old sign on Bayou St. John

     Seeing that the paint on two historic markers along Bayou St. John (New Orleans) had faded, new Faubourg St. John resident Lynell French Marianetti volunteered herself to refresh the venerable markers.  She said painting the raised white letters carefully was, at times, tedious but the recently retired CPA added that was the kind of task she is good at doing.  The markers, this one at Wisner Ave. and City Park Ave. and another commemorating the portage near De Soto St. connecting the bayou to the the French Quarter, were installed more than 40 years ago and may never have been repainted, she said.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bicycle to Breakfast in Algiers (New Orleans, LA)

      A long bicycle ride, connecting all of the great bicycle paths in New Orleans was to be the last installment of the three things to do in the outdoors when not at Jazz Fest. (Hiking in City Park was Monday and paddling Bayou St. John was yesterday.)  But my first stop this morning,  tout de suite, a coffee shop and cafe in Algiers, put an end to any idea of a long day in the saddle.
    Like the surrounding Old Algiers Historic District the place was just so relaxing.  A  mile (as the crow flies) and a wide river away from the busy French Quarter, tout de suite is as local as they come-the kind of place where they really do know your name.
      It's homey inside and out.  Plenty of potted plants, some blooming, alternating with wrought iron tables on the outside and lots of wood, bare and otherwise and ceiling fans on the inside. On the walls local artists hang their works for sale.   Need something to read?  Take your pick from books in the large bookcase.  Free wifi too.  The ten or so tables are topped with preserved 80's editions of the Times-Picayune newspaper.
     Sundays has live music, beginning at 9 a.m.  The players draw big crowds so finish your ride before nine if you want breakfast right away and a place to sit down.  One bicycle rack on Alix has room for two bikes.  There is no room for bicycles on porches cramped with tables and plants. 
     The coffee was good-certified fair trade and organic-but it is the food that is worth the trip.  Especially breakfast.  Which is just the meal a hungry cyclist, who skipped breakfast to train, will be craving.  Choose among tout de suite's "Signature" breakfasts, using native foods such as crawfish ettouffe, boudin, sauce piquant, cheddar grits cakes, almond crusted brioche and Steen's Cane Syrup.  Try the light breakfasts, with fat-free Greek yogurt, avocado spread, crumbled feta, steel cut organic Irish oatmeal, bagels and lox and cream cheese.  Or, last but not least, the traditional breakfast, omelets, smoked bacon or center cut bone-in ham, pancakes (buttermilk and sweet potato), and biscuits, and fruit and a wide assortment of pastry may hit your spot. Breakfast entrees are $9-$13, and for lunch, salads are $8-$9 and panini sandwiches served with a side dish are $8 and $9.
     Here is the plan.  Wake up and get on your bike.  No breakfast, no reading the paper first, no big cups of coffee.  (Small cup OK)  Get started early, soon as it is light enough to ride to beat morning church traffic and take advantage of cooler temps.  Those on the east bank plan your route so you end up at the Canal St. ferry.  The river and the city are so beautiful in the very early morning.  After the ferry crossing, ride the half mile or so to tout de suite and celebrate.
     tout de suite, 347 Verret St., Algiers at the corner of Verret St. and Alix.  Phone 504.362.2264.  Open 7 a.m- 7 p.m. seven days a week.  Live music Sunday mornings beginning at 9 a.m.  About .4 of a mile from the ferry landing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bayou St. John Jazz Fest Map

     Bayou St. John is a great paddle.  There are historic homes to see from the water and plenty of wildlife in this urban setting (turtles, birds and stuff.)  There are several commercial tours offering kayak trips on the bayou and at least one will let you paddle the waterway on your own.  Look elsewhere on this blog or search the Web for details.
     When planning a Bayou St. John Paddle here are a couple of things to know.  There are no established kayak or canoe launches on the bayou.  Everyone has their favorite.  The Dumaine bridge has no concrete retaining wall so it is easy to get in and out of a kayak but its mucky.  The slanted concrete retaining wall between the Magnolia Bridge and the Esplanade Bridge is popular though getting in and out of a boat here can be tricky.
     I have seen some commercial operations use the bank across from the Shell service station at the Esplanade Bridge and also the bank near the LSU School of Dentistry near I-610.  There is no parking on the grass banks flanking the bayou.
     Some of the bridges are a little spooky to paddle under but there is plenty of room (if you don't swing your paddle much) under all of them except the Magnolia Bridge where it is almost always a tight fit.  Be safe and wear a life jacket.  The bayou is shallow but some places may be over your head.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

BOOK REPORT: "Waiting on a Train" by James McCommons

     Driving to a hiking, paddling or bicycling destination can be such a hassle.  Traffic, high gas prices, the environmental toll of the internal combustion engine and land taken to build highways to drive it on all leave us wanting a better way to get the heck out of Dodge.
     Are passenger trains the answer?  Well, maybe says James McCommons in his book "Waiting on a Train-The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service," (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2009).  But there are a lot of maybes.
     The book is about Amtrak, of course, the corporation established by Congress in 1970 to take over intercity passenger service in the U.S. from the railroads who, having to compete with federally financed interstate highways and an expanding airline industry, were loosing buckets of money running passenger trains.
     McCommons spent a year (2008) riding 15 long-distance trains- from the "high-speed" Acela Express in the Northeast Corridor and the well-appointed Amtrak Cascade trains on the west coast to the leisurely Cardinal crossing West Virginia connecting New York with Chicago with creaking rolling stock leftover from the 1970's.
     (Just after the book was published Amtrak hauled a record 28.7 million passengers Oct. 2009-Sept. 2010.)
     But the book is not a travelogue.   Mountain vistas and scenic desert sunsets are noted but mostly McCommons uses on-board train encounters with fellow passengers and Amtrak staff to launch into discussions about the economics and practicality of long distance passenger service in the U.S. as well as a detailed history of Amtrak and its rolling stock.
     And he talks to everybody-from heads of each of the freight railroads on which Amtrak trains run to pols and passenger service advocates there at the birth of Amtrak and those who guide it now.
     McCommons takes a tough love approach to current Amtrak service highlighting the good and the bad.  He points out dismal on-time stats and grumbles about declining food service quality.  But he positively gushes praise on the Spanish-built Talgo trains running the Seattle-California route with their business class seats, movies and an on-train bistro offering gourmet coffee, newspapers and freshly cooked oatmeal.  Sleeping accommodations are critiqued.  He says nice things sometimes and the overall tone of the book is cautiously optimistic.
     Valiant efforts by some railroads to keep passenger traffic in the face of increasing competition from super highways and airlines in the 1950's and 1960's are well documented.  And while railroads took a hit financially as more business went to truckers using the newly completed Interstate system, McCommons argues that now freight railroads are more profitable than ever.  Railroads are jammed with freight traffic now and will have to be substantially expanded not only to meet the nation's future freight hauling needs but for any increased passenger service too, he claims. 
     The book is an easy read despite the fact it covers in depth topics such as the adversarial relationship between Amtrak and the freight railroads on which Amtrak trains run (a topic he returns to again and again throughout the book) as well as why Amtrak has not yet been weened from federal subsidies.
     McCommons rode all three Amtrak trains that service New Orleans: the Crescent. a daily train to New York, the City of New Orleans, a daily train to Chicago and the Sunset Limited a three-day-a-week train to Los Angeles.  While in the Crescent City he visited with Karen Parsons, a planner with the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.  Parsons is best known to New Orleans area bicyclists as a soft-spoken but firm advocate of including bicycling in the region's transportation mix.
     However it was her passion for rail, especially high-speed rail connections between New Orleans and Mobile that McCommons discusses.  She said residents of New Orleans want rail commuter service to Baton Rouge, the state capital, as an alternative to the interstate highway, I-10.
     Perhaps her biggest victory is keeping the Sunset Limited service.  (The line discontinued service to Jacksonville and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after hurricane Katrina in 2005.)
     "Right now, the best we've been able to do is stop Amtrak from decommissioning that train permanently," she said.
     For anyone who would like to see long-distance passenger service continue in the U.S. this book will bring you up to speed on what the future could hold for railroads and the chance of you using one to go somewhere.  The book is available at the Jefferson Parish Public Library (Louisiana).


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lafitte Corridor (New Orleans) The annual hike 2012

     On a breezy, sunny spring morning clusters of hikers in the annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor left the campus of Delgado Community College and headed down the derelict railroad right-of-way toward Congo Square on what might be the last annual hike on the weedy, litter-strewn abandoned corridor in its current, sad shape.
    Mark Venczel, president of the Friends of Lafitte Corridor (FOLC), told the group of about 125 that he expects a ground breaking for construction of the greenway to begin either late this year (2012) or early next year.
     When complete, a paved trail will stretch 3.1 miles from Canal Blvd. to Basin St. near the French Quarter. (Maybe.  There is still an issue about right-of-way along .7 of a mile of still-active railroad stretching from Canal Blvd.)
      Plans for what a skinny park flanking the path will contain have not yet been finalized.  There is one more public meeting to be held with the greenway's planners to discuss amenities for the park.  A date for that meeting has not yet been set.
     Hikers will see a big change in the scenery on this year's hike over previous hikes.  Where the trail crosses N. Carrollton Ave. construction has begun on a small shopping center set to have a Winn-Dixie grocery store, pet store, Office Depot and several food outlets.  Demolition is almost complete of a car dealership has has been vacant since hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Trail users will have access to the shopping center from the trail when both are complete.
     Also as hikers approach the Jefferson Davis Bike Path they can see the work now being done to renovate the former Mercy Hospital (Lindy Boggs Memorial), now underway in earnest.
     Volunteers from Bikeeasy provided a secure parking area for bicycles and New Orleans Council member Susan Guidry told the crowd that the corridor was a "top priority" for her.
   Leading a group of hikers was Bart Everson, who, along with several others, began the hikes of the corridor in 2004.  Everson, who handed over the FOLC presidency to Venczel this January told the group that the "moment was a bittersweet time," adding that he was happy to see the future of the Lafitte Corridor is in the hands of such an enthusiastic and capable FOLC board.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bicycling to work in New Orleans has its day-sort of

     Fair skies and moderate springtime temperatures greeted cyclists today (04-11-02) for Bike to Work Day in New Orleans.  Once before, in the mid 1990's, there was a city-wide effort to get people to abandon their cars for just one day and bicycle to work.  The two events, separated by nearly 20 years were very similar. 
     Both times the weather was fabulous, dry and sunny. And both times about 100 riders, riding to the CBD from outlying meet-ups, touched base at a central gathering place with coffee and refreshments. This year it was Lafayette Square in the CBD.  And both times most of the riders were veteran bike commuters.
     This year's event was organized by Bikeeasy, a New Orleans bicycle advocacy group with help from Entergy, the utility company servicing New Orleans.  Announcements were placed in the city's alternative newspaper, the Gambit and at various social media sites on the Internet.
     Determining how many participated in this year's Bike to Work Day is like trying to nail jello to a tree.  It's hard to do.  While groups did gather at five me-ups in Mid-City, Algiers, Gentilly, along St. Charles and across the river in Algiers, many people who ride to work kept their own schedules, starting their trek downtown before the staged 7 a.m. departure or afterward.
     They may have participated unwittingly streaming down the Jefferson Davis bike path or along the many streets heading downtown to their offices, and workplaces as they do every workday.  It's just what they do.
     The gathering at Lafayette Square was low key.  There were no speeches (at least not after the Mid-City group got there,) and, oddly enough for New Orleans, no music.     There was more media attention during the ride years ago: one television broadcast progress updates as a reporter rode with a group.  And there were donuts.  This year only a healthy fruit smoothie.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

     New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was in his riding togs on a bike, having made the trip on two wheels.  He is a runner too.  Also living the cycling life, at least for the moment, was current New Orleans City Council member and candidate for an at-large seat, Stacy Head, radiant and beaming after her bicycle trek from Uptown.
    So what does it say that an effort to increase bicycle commuting with gasoline nudging the $4 a gallon mark got the same results as an effort nearly 20 years ago when gas cost a fraction of what it does today?
     It might take more than a fruit smoothie or a donut for people to trade their car-trip for a bicycle-trip to their job.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bicycle and Kayak Rentals in New Orleans (2-26-2013)

     This list is compiled from listings I have found on various websites.  Always contact the business you are considering engaging, by phone or via the Internet, for the latest details as to their location and operation.  Always.  Inclusion in this list does not mean endorsement.  As always, caveat emptor and safety first. 


A Bicycle Named Desire-- or 504-346-8966.  Located 632 Elysian Fields Blvd.   Going by their website, a bohemian bicycle rental business, a spin-off of a bohemian bicycle touring company, Confederacy of Cruisers.

Bike New Orleans- or 504.858.2273

Bicycle or 504.945.9505.  About 300 bicycles for rent.  No reservations.  First come, first serve.  Some times they run out during Jazz Fest sometimes they don't.  Shop is at 622 Frenchman St. 

Joy or 504.982.1617

The American Bicycle Rental or 866.293.4037

Zion Bike City, 504-265-0882 (shop) or 732-754-0802 (mobile).  4208 Erato St., New Orleans. Daily rental $20 and up.

Crescent City Bike:  or 504.322.3455.  Bike rentals for $35 a day (24-hours).  Three hour guided tours $45, morning or evening.  624 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, LA 70112.

(See post "Tammany Trace-Its a Vacation) for a list of bicycle rental businesses in St. Tammany Parish

KAYAK RENTALS (Bayou St. John)
Bayou or 504.814.0551 or  Tours of Bayou St. John.

Kayakitiyat-Offers a guided kayak tour of Bayou St. John.  985-778-5034 or 512-964-9499.

Massey'  Pick up and return kayaks (and paddle boards) at the New Orleans store on N. Carrollton, 504.648.0292.  Email for paddling destination information.  Rentals start at $25 for a single seat sit-on-top rented and returned during a single day's business hours.  Rent for as many days as you would like, rates vary.  A $500 deposit required for non-pedal kayaks; $1,000 deposit for pedal drive systems.  Tandems, fishing kayaks and canoes available.  No delivery: you pick the boat up and you bring it back. Rental fee includes paddles and life vests.  Other accessories--dry bags and additional PFD's and paddles--can be rented.  A universal roof rack can be rented for $10.