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 gulfcoastbicycleclub.com.