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.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wilderness canoeing before ABS canoes and GPS

     "North American Canoe Country," by Calvin Rutstrum covers the basics of wilderness canoeing in the Canadian wilderness back when having a "wood and canvas canoe, fishline, rifle, two rabbitskin blankets, several pounds of flour, tea and a bag of salt," was considered well equipped.  The book, first published in 1964 and still available, is not a travelogue, though descriptions of route finding, portage trails and choosing a canoe outfitter, are grounded with numerous anecdotes from Rustrums' more than 50 years of paddling in the great north woods.
     When it was published 46 years ago it was a wilderness primer for anyone in the 1960's who was planning an extended journey in the trackless wilderness areas of North America at a time when there was just not that much in print about how to do a trip like that. 
     Today, the book is not much help in choosing and using outdoor gear available to 21st century paddlers.  Rutstrum writes about the simple and dependable gear he used making his way on the lakes and rivers of the Canadian wilderness; ax, knife, a "tent" which is really little more than a glorified tarp and wood and canvas canoes.  Much of the gear considered essential for outings in 2012, Gore Tex, lightweight tents and sleeping bags and GPS navigation, was invented or came into wide use after this book was published.
     He does mention aluminum canoes which he said were lightweight and durable and which in the early 1960's became widely available.
     The book has no photographs. The few illustrations are black and white drawings of wilderness scenes such as paddling on a quiet lake, a campfire scene, an Indian in a birch bark canoe, portaging a rocky trail, running rapids. These romantic and generic scenes of men in plaid shirts and suspenders may make the book seem quaint in our time of feather-light carbon fiber paddles and Kevlar canoes.
      What does make the book useful to today's wilderness travelers is the timeless and practical advice he gives, gleaned from more than 50 years in the Canadian backcountry.  The chapter on finding your way begins by busting the notion that some men have an innate sense of direction.  (There are only two ways to know direction, he says: by observation of the natural directional clues with the five senses and with instruments, he claims.)  Other insights concern portaging, the value of an outboard motor on a canoe and a paddle stroke better than the "J" stroke for moving a canoe.
     The book is an easy read. Descriptions of events and equipment are concrete and to the point.   The advice on choosing an outfitter for a week-long wilderness trek is probably as valid today as it was 50 years ago.  Ditto for info in the chapters on organized youth camp canoeing, and selecting a canoe route.  And his thoughtful and romantic ten-page discussion on why he sometimes, despite the danger and loneliness, goes on his own, alone, is the best justification for solo travel I have ever seen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Louisiana Iris in NP are coming back s-l-o-w-l-y

Before hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, crowds would visit Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve Barataria Unit south of Marrero, LA each April for Spring in the Swamp to see the large beds of wild Louisiana Iris blooming purple in the park's wetlands. But salt water washed in with the storms and decimated the park's wild iris population. Surviving plants were few and far between and for five years put on a disappointing show. Visitors to this year's Spring in the Park (March 31-April 1)will see more purple blooms. Not a lot more but more than the previous five years. Park rangers and volunteers say some plants are blooming in clumps of four to six, a big improvement over the solo blooms of the past five years. But they did bloom early this year so hurry to the park if you want to see this year's blooms. But the only way to see them is on foot. The many canals and waterways in the park are too clogged with vegetation to paddle through. A mild winter and a diversion of nutrient-rich water from the Mississippi River to guard against the BP oil spill from seeping into the park has clogged the Kenta, Pipeline and Coquille Canals with a thick mat of giant salvinia which is living up to its scientific name salvinia molesta..