My friend Nikki wanted to do 300 miles for her birthday. She has had a number of issues with her own scooters this year, so she has done all of her long rides on my spare Vespa 250... maybe I'll rename that scooter "Prince Harry", on the other hand, my spare is useful.
Nikki wanted to keep the group small so we didn't advertise it... but I had already mentioned it to two others and they were game. Coincidentally, our two regular riding buddies from the city, Kevin and Karl turned out to be unavailable, so it worked out well.
See previous ride reports for the south Louisiana geography lesson, but it is helpful to know that there is a 24 mile bridge between the city and the Northshore, and that's where Travis and Jorge are.
Being Nikki's birthday, we set the meetup spot near her. She had picked up the 250 from my house the evening before so that everything was ready for the early ride. We arrived at the coffee shop within a couple of minutes of each other. I was planning on having beignets, but my wife brought home an award-winning King Cake, and it's hard to top that for breakfast! A cup of coffee later and it was KSU, 8:31 am, one minute late... no worries.
We meandered through the city and out to the suburbs to get to the Causeway. Quick equipment check at the foot of the bridge and then it was WOT for Nikki. This was her first motorcycle ride across the Causeway. She grew up on the Northshore, but... well you get it. We maintained about 65mph over the bridge, and Nikki took the metal grid drawbridge like it was nothing.
It's January, and the weather here is unpredictable. It is a rainy season for us, and temps can swing from the 30's to the 70's. Once the wether forecast for the weekend stabilized, we decided on a Saturday ride. The weather was PERFECT. We had all bundled up for riding in 50° to 60° weather, and eventually at the lunch stop, we all removed a layer.
Jorge and Travis planned to meet us at a gas station just off the bridge, but the interchange was designed by somebody from Maine... as in "you can't get there from here"! So, 6 illegal turns later we were at the gas station. Jorge had been there just long enough to top off his tank, and Travis pulled up about 2 minutes later. Everybody else topped off, the Coffee Club took a bio-break, and then it was north to Folsom, La.
At this point in the story I'll highlight my shortcomings as a ride planner. I subscribe to two ride planning GPS type apps, and I like them both, Rever and Scenic. I like Scenic better. This is not a plea for everyone to tell me their favorites, but if there any Scenic gurus that could share some insights I'd be happy for that advice. But lets save this tangent to another post...
Here's my shortcoming... I'm indecisive when picking a route. I vacillate between scenery and efficiency. Travis rides a sport-bike, and wants twisties... we'll, we all want twisites. But Natchez is about 170 miles by the shortest, straightest route. I had gotten fixated on taking a designated scenic highway for another Challenge that I like, the AULDR. Google it. As it happens, there is a confluence of this indecision at Folsom. We turned onto La. Hwy 10, the Zachary Taylor Parkway, and the path I plotted with Scenic kept me straight on this road, angling north and west. HOWEVER, just a mile or two from the turnoff, was a sign for a left turn to follow La 10, and Nikki told me that I'd missed my turn... so we turned around, illegal turn number 7, and rejoined Hwy 10. This event made my preplanned route useless, or worse, since Scenic spent the rest of the day trying to get me back to that other highway. You see, I had planned one highway going, but Hwy 10, the Zachary Taylor Parkway as our return route. But, I had forgotten. When you're on the clock, and already second guessing your plan, it is easy to assume that you're making a mistake. However, this is the 2nd time, on a long ride, where Scenic was right, but I had forgotten my plan.
We turned off of La 10 at Hwy 51, and took 51 up towards Kentwood, La., famous for its spring water and Mouseketeer-turned-pop-star. A westward turn on another tertiary rode and we were directionally back on course, even if it wasn't the original plan. The ride was beautiful, and although there were a couple of missed turns, we ended up on a great route to our lunch destination in Natchez. One happy coincidence of the modified route, we took a short detour to show Nikki and Jorge the Lynyrd Skynyrd Crash Monument. I had taken Travis there just a few weeks ago.
Lunch in Natchez was Roux 61, on Rte. 61. No typos... and the "x" is silent. Roux is a a thick base to a lot of Creole and Cajun dishes. It is made from flour and oil and when done correctly, it can resemble chocolate syrup. Roux 61 is a 2023 Ride to Eat location https://www.rte-x-usa.com. I eat a lot of burgers, and this one was better than most. The Roux Burger had the best bacon on a burger that I have ever had., and everyting else was well executed. To top it off, the waiter saw how quickly i finished my half-n-half tea, and brought me another, unsolicited. That was worth and extra buck on his tip. Coincidentally, all four of us ordered the Roux burger, and we all enjoyed it... no to-go boxes today!
Natchez is a pretty town, famous for its Antebellum homes, as well as the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace. It would be a shame to ride that far and not sightsee a little. I led the group to the begining of the Trace for a photo op, and then through the historic old town on our way to the Mississippi River.
Natchez is on a bluff overlooking the river, with Vidallia, La. on the other side. There is a place called "Under the Hill" with a couple of bars and restaurants basically at the water's edge. There is an odd juxtaposition when you are under the hill becasuse you are level with Vidallia, on the other side of the river. That is to say that the difference in elevation of the two towns is 150 feet.
There is a river crossing here in Natchez, and the only time I've crossed it was in my car hunting for gas after Hurricane Katrina knocked out power in Natchez a lifetime ago. I'd like to do the bridge on the Vespa, but not today. It was almost 3pm when we took our pictures under the hill, and it had taken us 5 hours to get there... it was going to be very dark by the time we got back.
The return route was going to take Hwy 61 south to St. Francisville, La., where we would get back on La. Hwy 10... did I mention that it is called the Zachary Taylor Parkway, a bona fide Scenic byway? The problem with Hwy 61 is it's just short of being a Federal Interstate highway. Divided, long sweeping curves really wide right-of-way... in a word, boring.
St. Francisville, has several historic antebellum plantation homes, one of which, Oakley, which hosted John James Audubon for what would become his "Birds of America" series. This is a beautiful area, and I plan to take the Zachary Taylor Parkway from end to end this year.
Riding along Hwy 10, we came to the town of Jackson, and there was some kind of event going on. The oncoming lane of traffic was bumper to bumper for miles, with flashy cars zooming down BOTH shoulders of the road toward the event. We were glad to get past that commotion.
Hwy 10 through this area, what we call the "Florida Parishes", is scenic but not very curvy, but at this point we're trying to make time. Soon it was time for a fuel stop, and I think all of us put that warm layer back on. The temps were falling and it was only going to get cooler as we traveled through the woods and across the Causeway, in the fading light. Indeed, it was dark by the time we got back to Folsom.
At this point it was 6pm, and we have been using our comms all day. How did I not mention this before... Travis joined the Sena cult just in time for this ride, and I had outfitted Nikki with my old Sena 30K. Now to slip Jorge the koolaid! Regardless, we didn't all recharge our headsets at lunch, so batteries were running low. Nikki and I lost communication finally while crossing the Causeway. No big deal, we both knew our way home from there. Nikki took it all in stride. The southbound span is slightly different than the northbound side. The humps and drawbridge are in the same place, same height, same crosswind, but the expansion joints going south make you feel like you're riding a horse, and there is an audible tha-thunk at each joint.
Meandering home in the dark on our city streets felt like the victory lap. We had ridden more in a day than many riders ever dare.
By the numbers, start to finish, 11h 16min. Actual riding time was 8h 56 minutes, with 2h 20m of breaks, and a total distance for me of 410 miles, making this my third-longest ride, so far. It was a personal record for my three friends.
Under the Hill
The Natchez Trace
Menu for RTE evidence
The recorded Route