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Tour de Rouge, From Houston to New Orleans

May 6-11, 2012

We had another good year with the HostGator.com Tour du Rouge. This is a weeklong cycling adventure from Houston to New Orleans supporting the Gulf Coast Chapters of the American Red Cross. This year it was May 6-11, 2012. I believe there was around 52 cyclist, this year (down a bit from last year).
I myself like to do this ride as a sort of yearly spring cycling vacation. It costs about the same except that the money goes to charity.
The ride includes all meals and hotel stays (the exception is breakfast and lunch on Saturday after the ride). Transportation by bus back to Houston is also included or you can opt to stay extra days in New Orleans and handle your transportation yourself. A few of the years they have had a few seats on tour vehicles leaving on Sunday, but they did not offer that this year (This was good last year when I stayed an extra day to enjoy Jazzfest). Bikes are wrapped up Friday and trucked back to Houston. Likewise the bike mechanics can help you pack up your bike if your planning to take it back if your leaving from an airline flight.
As usual, the rider packet has quite a bit of goodies, including the duffel bag for the trip, various nutritional packets, and (the cool item of the year) a bottle opener made from a bicycle chain.
Day 1 started from the DoubleTree near Bush Intercontinental Airport. We dropped off our bags, got our bikes in order, said "hi" to friends from prior years, and lined up for the usual starting line photo. We then started the ride with a police escort out of the Houston area. Through the day we past through towns with interesting names such as Dayton, Nome, and China (all within Texas) before ending up in Beaumont.
While they prefer riders to form groups to ride with, a few, like myself ride at their own pace. This ride is not a race, and you are not supposed to go faster than the luggage truck otherwise they jokingly threaten to put you to work helping with the luggage at the hotel. As for slow riders, they recommend that you at least maintain 15 mph.
The tour is followed by several vehicles including the Bike Barn bike mechanics which can help fix bikes along the road or at the breakpoint stops. A Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle stays behind the slowest riders picking up route signs and SAGing those who give up on the days ride.
Rest stops about 20 miles apart are always well stocked and well located.
We ended up day 1 at the Hotel Elegante in Beaumont, where riders stayed the first year the ride was held (2009). Not that the hotel wasn't nice back then, but it seems better refurbished now.
Like most days, we were greeted at each days finish line, with cheering, various snacks (fruit, cheese, cold cuts, vegetables, and other good things), and drinks including nice cold beers. This year the ride had Abita on draft and Karbach (Houston's newest brewery) in cans, and they were much appreciated.
Once rested, they have water and wash rags to clean your bike and they hand you your room key. Inside your room you will find your duffel bag there waiting for you. Bikes are kept inside the rooms.
You can get a free 15 minute massage each night, or opt to pay for a longer one.
Like most nights on the trip we had dinner and breakfast in the hotel ballroom. Both were buffets with lots of options.
Day 2 did not seem as windy as it has been on some years. We headed south from Beaumont through Port Arthur and then crossing a lonely road into the Louisiana marsh land. Eventually we meet up with the beach road, have a bbq sausage lunch and then North to Sulphur, where we end up at the Holiday Inn along the I-10 freeway.
Day 3 is the longest day, and after we circumnavigate north of Lake Charles we head out into roads crossing rice fields and crawfish ponds. We had Quiznos Subs under a river bridge for lunch. After that I and a few others managed to miss a turn off (I think the sign for the turn blew down). I was able to use the small day maps they gave us to get back on course. They also had to reroute us this year to a different path due to road construction. The detour was a little rough with road seams every dozen feet, which can be jarring over time but not too bad. We raced to Abbeville to avoid the coming rain which caught the last few riders. We stayed at the Sun Belt Lodge, which has slowly improved over the years, but is still the cheapest hotel on the trip. It still is adequate, and there is not much else in Abbeville for the tour to choose from. They bussed us to the local school for a great dinner.
Day 4 is always the fun day. After a big breakfast at nearby Cafe Maria, where the owner, a Godspell singer, serenades us with a song, we head over to Avery Island for an optional tour of the Tobasco plant. Even if you don't go on the tour, you can try a few samples from the Tobasco Store like Tobasco ice cream and Tobasco cola. After that, an improved route took us through the town of New Iberia to a nice park rest stop and onwards through a road with much less traffic than prior years. We were pleasantly surprised to pass by the local classic movie theater in New Iberia and see the marquee welcoming the Tour du Rouge riders passing thought town. Lunch along the river in picturesque Franklin always has good sandwiches, and then onwards to Morgan City, where after passing over the Atchafalaya river on the old bridge we end up at another Holiday Inn.
Day 5 takes us through some swamp land and then to a plantation near the Mississippi River. A few of the riders rode on to Oak Alley a neighboring plantation where a row of oak trees lead up to a regal plantation house. This year they were greeted by one of the owners who came out to greet riders in a southern belle hoop skirt. Cycling onward we cross the Mississippi and make our way up to Gonzales (just South of Baton Rouge). The night's stay is at the Clarion with dinner provided by the attached Mike Anderson's Restaurant.
On Day 6 we were chased by rain clouds going south to New Orleans. We also had a last minute detour of some construction. The alternate route included more of the less traveled river road before we got to the levee bike path. By then the rain had caught us and we were wet making our way to Audubon Park. The rain let up for awhile after we got to the park and we could enjoy the Jambalaya lunch. Once the final riders were in we lined up for what ended being a wet parade into New Orleans to RiverWalk Park (near the Aquarium). It was regretful that once we reached the finish we were a bit cold and soaked to the bone. Not too many wanted to stick around for the cold Sno-balls (which would have been much appreciated on a hot day) or the swinging brass band that was playing.
After loading our bikes on the truck we walked a few blocks to the DoubleTree Hotel for our final nights stay.
Dinner was at the New Orleans Board of Trade building which was very nice looking but had bad echoey acoustics. After speeches were given thanking the volunteers, the riders were given their awards.
Normally I am jealous of the awards my girlfriend gets for doing her marathons. They give big ornate medals to each of the participants. Most bike rides however you are lucky to get a small rider pin as an award. So it was nice that this year on the Tour du Rouge we got a nice award. It was a nice plaque made from real bicycle chainrings. My guess is that the chainrings were excess parts that were recycled into a cool plaque. I now proudly display my plaque at my desk at work.
After dinner we are off to Bourbon Street. Most of the group often hangs out at the Funky Pirate where Big Al Carson belts out the tunes.
Saturday, we say our goodbyes to those not leaving on the bus, then it is a long ride back to Houston with a lunch stop at a restaurant along the way. Our cars are still waiting for us at the hotel. We pickup our bags and bikes and say more goodbyes and head our separate ways.
Overall this is a great ride and I have returned all four years, and I will probably continue to return in years to come. The money I raised also goes to a good cause, helping out the Texas and Louisiana chapters of the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross helps us all after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and floods. You never know, they may end up helping you someday.

Learn more about the ride at: http://www.tourdurouge.org/

 

May 2-7, 2010

The HostGator.com Tour du Rouge is a six day bike tour from Houston to New Orleans supporting the Red Cross. This year it was May 2-7, 2010. Forty-one cyclist, including myself set out and completed the ride, and overall it was a really good experience and a fun time.
This was the second year this tour has been held. The first year had some misfortunate problems such as a pair of really bad roads, and a beach campout, which was a disaster when the sand fleas swarmed in after sunset. This year those problems have been eliminated and along with other improvements, this is now a truly great tour.
I think it is telling, that in spite of the problems of the first year, many of those riders returned again this year. This included myself who was probably the most sand flea bitten of the bunch (I went by the nickname “Spots”)
.Some cyclist may be wary of the long distance of 526 miles. That’s on average of 88 miles a day. The shortest day is only 76 miles, the longest 103 miles. It is flat the whole way. The only hills are some bridges we cross. I kind of think that if you can handle a two day ride, like the MS150, and not be dead tired at the end of day two, then you can handle a six day ride. With that said, still you should be able to maintain a 15 mph average speed each day, so that you don’t fall behind. If your a racer, you may not want to go too fast as they may not have rest stops ready, and turn signs yet posted--it is a fun ride, not a race.
Other cyclists may balk at the $2500 in pledges to the Gulf Coast Chapters of the American Red Cross that you need to raise for privilege to ride the tour, but if you consider that this is about the cost of a one week cycling vacation tour, that amount no longer seems as much. The trip has a lot, including all your hotel stays (double occupancy), all your meals (most buffets), transportation back to Houston, and much more.
The swag begins when you pick up your packet. They had a packet pickup party where they served quesadillas and drinks. For those who could not attend, the packet was mailed to them. The packet was quite loaded with a number of Gu and other nutrition products, chamois butter, suntan lotion, and tour maps. Of course it included a T-shirt, but it also included a duffel bag for use as your luggage while on the trip.
The tour jersey (also included free) was not yet available for the packet pickup. We picked up the tour jersey, along with custom tour socks, and a head band, at a dinner held the night before the ride. They requested that we wear the tour jersey on the first and last days of the tour.
The Hotels we stayed at were quite nice. Most of them were Holiday Inn’s which helped to sponsor the trip, and they did a great job and had free wi-fi. The night we stayed at the Abbeville Sun Belt Lodge is not as good as the Holiday Inns, but you have to remember that there are not that many big hotels in small town Abbeville, so they got what they could. The final hotel stay is at the Riverside Hilton in New Orleans, which is quite a nice place right on the Mississippi River and within walking distance of the French Quarter
.Each morning before setting out, we dropped off our duffle bag on the luggage truck (It ended up in our room at the end of the day). There were big breakfast buffets at each hotel (or in the case of Abbeville, at the nearby Caffe Maria’s). After a tour briefing and a short prayer, we took off on each day’s ride.
The tour was well marked with signs along the route, and you are reassured by all the tour vehicles that past by along the way. The cyclists were followed by a Red Cross Hummer, two Red Cross ERVs (Emergency Response Vehicles), and two SAG vans (one pulled the Bike Barn Repair Trailer), each looking to aid riders having problems. Overall, this tour has a high volunteer to rider ratio
.The route varies in quality, but this year most of the roads were quite good. A few rough spots here or there but overall the route was well conceived.
The break points were well stocked with what you would expect from a well supported ride. The lunch rest stop each day, was often quite good, especially the lunch in Franklin, Louisiana, which had these wonderful croissant sandwiches, in a pleasant area overlooking a river.We cycled past farmland and rice fields, crawfish farms, bayou’s with gators poking their head out of the water, along the beach, through swampland, and over several bridges. We had fun stops at Avery Island (where they make Tabasco), Patterson Air Museum, and St. Joseph’s Plantation.
You finish each day under the large inflated Red Cross arch, with several people there to clap your arrival. Small shade tents are set up with lawn chairs to let you relax and sip a cold drink (including soft drinks, beer, and wine) after your ride was done. Near the finish is a Modspace unit, which is a large portable metal building. Inside the air conditioned unit are some couches to sit on, some platters of snacks to munch on, laptops for internet access, and a sign up sheet to get your free massage each day (Yes, they were free, though most gave them a tip for their excellent efforts).
Also at the finish, the Bike Barn mechanics diligently worked on peoples bikes, much as they fixed things along the way during the ride. They did excellent work and they did their best at searching local bike stores for special needed parts (like a broken carbon fibre seat post)
.Soap and water was provided to wash off our bikes, as we kept them in our hotel rooms.
After a shower in the hotel room and maybe a little rest or more socializing at the start or in the hotel pool, we would head off to dinner. These were usually held at the hotel, though in a few cases we went to a restaurant. All the food was great, and in spite of the large amount of exercise we were getting though the day, you could easily gain weight on this trip. We often had some form of entertainment each night, for instance a very entertaining zydeco band called Wayland T.
On the final stretch of the last day, we ended up on an excellent bike path on the levee next to the Mississippi River. This led us safely straight into New Orleans. We followed the levee bike path to Audubon Park where we had a late lunch of jambalaya. There we waited till all the remaining riders came into the park. Then we got set for a parade through New Orleans to the finish at Woldenburg Park along the river near the French Quarter. We had a police escort with the Red Cross Hummer behind them, then four riders carrying the US, Red Cross, Texas, and Louisiana flags. Followed by the rest of the riders, and finally a Red Cross ERV and the rest of the vehicles. People waved along the way, not quite knowing what to make of us, but they love parades in this city. We made it to the park where they popped open the champagne, had a few words of ceremony, everyone took many photos, and we then loaded up our bikes on the truck for next day’s trip home.
We then go off the Hilton hotel where we got cleaned up for a final celebration which this year was held at Mardi Gras World. Mardi Gras World is where they store the parade floats from Mardi Gras. More food, drinks, reminiscing and plenty of thank you’s to those who supported the ride and those who rode. After the party broke up many of us then headed off to Bourbon Street to have more fun.
After the night’s stay in the Hilton we said our goodbyes to those staying or flying back to other destinations, then filled up the two sag vans, the Red Cross Hummer and an additional minibus headed back to Houston, Texas.
The Tour du Rouge was a great trip, and the money raised goes to a good cause. It help the Texas and Louisiana chapters of the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross helps out people after various natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and floods.
So consider doing this ride. It is a lot of fun. You will see me out there next year, cause I know I plan on doing it again.
To see the photos I took from the trip, check out the web site: http://rikkers.fotki.com/team-mission-control/2010-tour-du-rouge/
The Tour du Rouge web site is at: http://www.tourdurouge.org/