Hugh and Becky prepare to board the Delta Queen in Memphis
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Wednesday 04 April 2007 : Houston to Memphis

Hugh and Becky in the Amtrak Dining CarThe logistics of traveling from Houston to Memphis with a one piece tandem bicycle presented many challenges. The bike was too big to take on Continental's Embraer commuter jets so we decided to drive from Houston to New Orleans and then take Amtrak to Memphis. We departed Houston at 5:00am and arrived 6 hours later at the Union Station on Loyola street. Fortunately there was a secure parking lot next to the station where we could leave the car while we were on the trip. As we arrived at the station, we saw a tandem team (David and Susan Kelly from Fort Pierce Florida; David retired on Tuesday and this trip was the beginning of a long celebration) unloading their van; we asked if they were on the way to Memphis for the Big River tour and they replied yes. We had plenty of time to grab lunch before the 1:45pm departure, so the four of us started walking to Mother's Restaurant only to find the line out the door...too bad one of my favorite New Orleans eateries is so popular that it's difficult to get a seat for lunch. We found another restaurant (not a challenge in New Orleans) and then returned to the station to board the train. Amtrak provided comfortable and on time service; we had reserved a bedroom which gave a bit more room plus a toilet and shower and dinner in the dining car. We visited the lounge car for happy hour and to see the passing country from the observation dome. David and Susan joined us and introduced us to Jack and Susan Goertz from Birmingham, Alabama who were also going to Memphis for the tour. Jack is a master tandem mechanic and they are also the editors of the Tandem Club of America website and newsletter. We met in the dining car for dinner and soon we were arriving in Memphis. We collected our bike from the baggage car and then took the trolley to our Hotel.

Thursday 05 April 2007:

Hugh at the Sun Studio in MemphisFollowing a restful night at the Marriott Residence Inn and breakfast, we took our bike two blocks to the Peabody Hotel where we reassembled it in one of the large conference rooms. Many of the other tour guests were arriving and also preparing their tandems for the tour. We finished with the bike in time to watch the 11:00am march of the ducks and then walked to Beale street for a daylight tour of this famous entertainment mecca. As lunch time approached we found The Flyng Saucer and stopped in for lunch and a couple of beers. We then returned to our hotel to change into bike clothes; we wanted to take a short ride through Memphis to make sure the bike was properly adjusted. We met Steve and Laurie Holland from Kensington (Berkeley) California, who had the same idea so we started exploring the hike and bike trails along the Mississippi river plus some of the neighboring streets...we had covered 10 miles by the time we returned to the Peabody. We had a little time to relax and before my cousin Dianna and her husband Rusty stopped to take us to their home for dinner. They live a few minutes outside of downtown on a 67 acre tract; their home is designed around their interest and lifestyle. We returned to hotel to prepare for the beginning of the Big River Tour. Total miles today....10

Friday 06 April 2007 Good Friday:

Hugh and Becky at the Graceland Historical MarkerThe temperature dropped below freezing in the night, fortunately we had checked the forecast and were prepared for the conditions. We didn't have time to enjoy the breakfast buffett at the Residence Inn because we had to be at the Peabody at 7:00am to leave our luggage and check in for the Delta Queen. Bill McCready presented the route talk in front of the local TV cameras and we were on our way for the short 2 mile ride to Sun Studio. There was hot coffee and donuts waiting when we arrived. We were in the first group of 40 for the tour...our guide was animated and clever; he made the 50's scene live as Elvis would have seen it when he recorded his first record there (That's Allright Mama). Following the tour we rode 8 miles out Elvis Presley Boulevard to Graceland. We were allowed to ride our bikes through the gates and park along the stone wall that fronted the street. This was the first time bicycles had been allowed to ride through the gates. After we parked the bike, we got on the shuttle which took us up the drive to the entrance. We had an audio tour for the first floor of the house and the surrounding buildings. Following the mansion tour, we returned across the boulevard to see more exhibits including cars, planes and costumes. Lunch was catered in a covered picnic area, but the temperature was so cold that we couldn't eat, so we went to a coffee shop and discovered many other tandem teams had the same idea. After a hot cup of coffee, we returned to our bike and began a 30 mile ride through greater Memphis that finally ended at the Delta Queen which was docked at Mud Island. We had to wait until 4:00 before we could board the boat; this gave us a few minutes to see the attractions which consisted mostly of a scale model of the Mississippi Steve and Laurie help Becky find our bike amoung the 88 tandems lined along Graceland's front wallRiver. The Park wouldn't officially open for another 2 weeks so there wasn't anything open for us to see. When we were finally allowed to board, we parked our bike along the second deck rail and found our cabin on the third deck. The Delta Queen is a national registered monument built in 1927; she is the only official "landmark" that moves under its own power. She has been modernized to meet current safety codes but much remains as original as possible. Our room had twin beds, a pedestal lavatory, and a roomy shower. We had the safety drill soon after arriving on board and then went to the lounge for the wine tasting event. All the wines available onboard were open for tasting and we were to choose the wines we wanted for the cruise for which we received a 10% discount on each bottle. We tried them all and made our selections for the week. We had selected the second seating for dinner which gave us more time to relax plus we did not have to return for the evening entertainment because it began during the second seating. This tour was not only a tandem bicycle tour but also a musical tour. Because we started in Memphis, the first night featured Memphis Rock 'n Roll, the Terry Mike Jeffery band which played the Memphis sound of the 50's and 60's. They really had captured the soul of the period; as they began the second set, we moved the tables back and converted the Orleans dining room into a 50's Hop. We danced until the last note was played and then returned to our room for the night. Total miles for the day...40

Saturday 07 April 2007:

Blues music and fried catfish at Ground Zero, Clarksdale, MississippiThe Delta Queen had steamed south in the night to Helena, Arkansas. We woke up to a bright, crisp morning with temperatures in the low 30's. There are two breakfast options on board. There is a continental buffet in the lounge and in the Orleans dining room there is a full Breakfast buffet complete with fruit, hot cereals, eggs, omelette's, quiche, bacon, sausage and breads. On this first morning we chose the continental line and then disembarked for the day's ride. We first rode the main street of Helena...there's not much there except for music clubs. This is the beginning of the Mississippi Delta and the town survives on the surrounding agriculture. We stopped in the old railway station which had been converted into a regional museum. The claim to fame for Helena is the home of the famous Arkansas football player and coach Ken Hatfield. We were supposed to race the Delta Queen from the museum to the bridge over the river, but we crossed over the river before the steamboat ever was underway. We rode through the Delta to Friar's Point where we stopped in Hirsberg Drugstore for a cup of hot chocolate. Many riders needed gloves to protect against the cold wind; fortunately Boarding the Delta Queen after riding 73 miles across the windy Mississippi Deltathere were just enough for everyone who needed them...the biggest one day sale ever of gloves in the store. From Friar's Point we continued south past the home of Muddy Waters to Clarksdale Mississippi, the reputed home of the Blues. there we visited the Folk Art Museum and the Blues Museum before joining the group at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club for lunch. We were entertained by a local Blues musician as we lined up for a buffet of fried catfish, fried tamales, greens, beans, and potatoe salad...real soul food at it's best. The challenge for the day lay ahead of us...40 miles to the boat with a strong cross wind. Luckily, we caught up to the A-Team and joined their pace line which helped us arrive on time at 4:00pm although exhausted. It's amazing how fast a hot shower and a cold beer can ease the pain of an exhausting ride and prepare you for the challenge of the next day. By the second day we had our regular spot picked out at the bar in the Texas Lounge and began to meet the other teams who shared our enjoyment at Happy Hour. The evening menu on the Delta Queen always featured 4 appetizers, 2 salads, 4 entrees and a dessert buffet. The entrees always had beef, chicken and vegetarian....the fourth selection varied amoung seafood, pork and lamb. The entertainment for the evening always began during the second seating. This night featured Blues and the performer was the Super Chikan. He is a folk artist and Blues musician...he writes his own material and is a fascinating story teller as well as Blues artist. He makes his own instruments from recycled trash. The guitar he was playing for us was made from the case of a ceiling fan. He flavored his show with comedy and used the tag line for "somebody shoot dat thang". We stayed up for the last number and then collapsed into bed. Total miles for the day...73.

Sunday 08 April 2007: Easter Sunday

The Windsor Ruins near Port GibsonWe began the morning with a 6:4am Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service in the Texas Lounge...our first Easter Service in a bar, but it was a meaniful experience and well attended by the other Tandem Teams. We had time for the breakfast buffet before disembarking at Fort Cobun in Mississippi. We rode around the battle ground and toured the museum and observation tower then rode on to Port Gibson. This town was spared during the Civil War (The War of Northern Aggression); the main attraction was the quilting exhibition which we had made special arrangements to be opened on Easter Sunday morning. I don't have a keen appreciation for quilting, but those who do said it was an exceptional display. Our route took us along Church Street in Port Gibson and to the Windsor Ruins. Not much is left of the ruins...just the columns, but it must have been a magnificant mansion before it burned. We continued on to Lorman where we found Mr. D's restaurant. Southern Living Magazine has awarded the old general store converted to eatery the coveted title as best fried chicken in the South. The buffet was pure soul food with salad, beans, sweet potatoes, greens, spare ribs, ham and of course fried chicken. Our crowd challenged the capacity of the fry chef, but we did finally get a piece for our Riding on the Natchez TraceSunday lunch. As a special treat Mr. D came into the dining room and sang "Grandmama was the cornbread queen, but I'm the cornbread king". Strange, but they didn't serve cornbread. The best ride of the trip followed lunch at Mr. D's ...35 miles on the Natchez Trace into Natchez. This national park is perfect with graded hills, little traffic, lots of wild life, beautiful forest, and the best of all...conveniently spaced restrooms...can't get much better than that! We arrived in Natchez and navigated our way to the Delta Queen. After a quick shower and change, we walked 3 blocks to the Rosalie mansion for a tour of one of the best examples of Antebellum architecture in the region. Natchez was also spared the destruction from the northern aggression because it had no economic significance. After our tour we returned to the Delta Queen for Happy Hour and dinner. The entertainment for the evening featured the boat's crew performing selections from the Big Band era. Total miles for the day...69.

Monday 09 April 2007:

Stanton Hall in NatchezBy Monday the temperature had started to moderate a bit. The first stop on the day was at Stanton Hall in Natchez. This is another example of antebellum architecture filled with furniture from the period as well as some original pieces. The docents were in period costumes for the Natchez annual Pilgrimage. Today's ride took us through the Mississippi back country...nice country roads with little traffic, but not a lot to see. We made a navigational error which took us 3 miles out of the way and caused some concern about arriving on time for lunch. The route passed by the Emerald Mound which is the largest Indian Mound in Mississippi...we only stopped for a picture because there really isn't much to see. We were on our way to the Mount Carmel Baptist Church for lunch. Bill chose this site for lunch because it is a very picturesque setting. The lunch was catered by a local Natchez plantation and they served crawfish etoufee over rice...a lunch worth riding 40 miles to get there. While we were there the sun broke through the morning haze and it was finally warm enough to discard the arm and leg warmers for the first time. The trip back to Natchez was only 13 miles with a stop at the Longwood Mansion. The Longwood MansionThis was an interesting and unusual building because it was never finished...the workers abandoned their jobs and headed north as the northern armies approached. The basement was finished and lived in for many years but the upper floors remain under construction. From Longwood it was only 3 miles back to the boat through Natchez. By now we had established a routine...store the bike along the rail...shower and change....Happy Hour in the Texas Lounge...Dinner in the Orleans Room. Tonight we were treated to Mint Julips...too sweet for our taste! The entertainment for the evening was Mississippi Country. We listened to a few ballads about trains, mules and catfishing then decided that the bed was more appealing than the music. Total miles for the day...50

 

Tuesday 10 April 2007:

The Angola Chorus entertains the Tandems Teams in the Lousiana rainYuk...we awoke at the ferry landing for the Louisiana State Prison at Angola to a steady rain! We weren't real excited about the prospect of riding in the rain but at Bill's route talk at breakfast, he explained we had little choice because he had traded the use of the Delta Queen for a prison employee lunch and conference for some special favors for the tour through the prison...we had to get off so they could hold their conference. While the rain was steady and the temperature was cool it wasn't unbearable conditions. We rolled across the gangway onto prison property and Becky spied a bus where she could find refuge from the rain...the driver invited her onboard where she met the members of the Angola Prison Chorus. After most of the teams had gathered at the landing the chorus entertained us with a medley of river and gospel music. We met the warden who gave a brief history and interesting facts of the prison. All of the prisoners are either in for murder, rape or repeat felons. 90% are in for life and will die in Angola. We were escorted with a lead vehicle and An Angola bloodhound puppy gets a chin scratch from Beckytailed by a SAG wagon and ambulance. Our first stop was the Chase Unit where the Blood Hounds were kenneled. Two six week old puppies were waiting to greet us and they were the hit of the ride...everyone wanted a chance to pet the dogs and learn about their jobs at Angola. The Chase Unit also has a wolf breeding project where they breed wolfs with German Shepherds to develop a hybrid attack dog. The Warden answered all questions and then led the group to the prison musuem. We had ridden only a half mile when we had our only flat tire of the trip...of course in the rain, but directly in front of the pistol range. There was a parking lot with a few trucks so we pulled into the lot to get out of the tandem traffic. As we approached the lot, some officers appeared from a building and asked if we were OK; we asked if we could change a tire inside and they invited us in. We found ourselves in the shop for the pistol range where they cleaned and maintained the guns. They offered us a cup of hot coffee and let us use the bathrooms...this was the best flat tire experience we ever had, chatting with the guards in a shelter from the rain. Too bad we had to leave the comfort of their shop and join the rest of the group at the museum. Here we saw homemade weapons, the electric chair, escape reports, the prisoner hearse and other exhibits from Angola...plus there were cookies and lemonade that the prisoners had made. We left the warmth and shelter of the museum and returned to our bike for the ride back to the After the morning rain, we had sushine on the Texas deck!Delta Queen...the rain had abated a bit and the wind was behind us and we sprinted at 23 mph all the way to the boat (except through the mud road). A hot shower never felt better! We had to wait until after 1:00 for lunch because the prison conference was still going on in the Orleans Room. Our lunch was catered and would have been served in St. Francisville had it not been raining. This was truly a great lunch of pork loin, greens, potatoes, Natchitoches Meat pies, cornbread and bread pudding with whisky sauce...best lunch of the trip. The skies cleared in the afternoon and presented a beautiful warm Spring day...the outside tables on the Texas Deck filled up with happy Tandem Teams who passed the time trading tales of bicycle rides. Monday night in the Orleans room the entertainment was jazz singer Banu Gibson. She is a wonderful vocalist...please visit her website to listen to her interpretations of the jazz. Total miles for the day...17

Tuesday 11 April 2007 :

Becky demonstrates the fine art of eating boiled crawfishDuring the night the Delta Queen steamed down river past Baton Rouge and docked at the White Castle Ferry landing in the heart of the Plantation country. The morning was foggy and cool, but we knew when the fog lifted we were in store for a beautiful day. Our route took us upriver along the River Road past the Nottaway Plantation and the Madonna Chapel (world's smallest church) to Plaquemines. We toured the Atchafalaya Locks and musuem before boarding the Plaquemines Ferry to the East Bank. We found ourselves in the bayou country on flat roads under a canopy of oak trees laden with spanish moss. With the wind to our backs, we soon arrived at the Alligator Bayou Landing; there was a large metal covered barn and the sounds of Zydeco music greeted us as we found a tree to support our bike. We entered the barn and let the rhythm of the music soothe the road rash. There was a bathtub full of boiled crawfish, potatoes and corn waiting for us. Some of our group need a little help with the art of eating boiled crawfish, but soon everyone was enjoying this delicacy of the bayou. One of the natives said the only way to enjoy it more was just to get down and roll in it. After the appetizer we boarded the pontoon boat for an hour long tour of the swamp...the captain and guide were naturalist who had purchased the 13,000 acre swamp and were perserving it as wet lands. The alligator population was prolific as were the nutria and birds. Our guides really helped us to understand and appreciate the importance of the swamp and wetlands. After the swamp tour we returned to the landing for the main course, jambalaya more zydeco music and bread pudding for dessert. We toured the alligator farm and visited the bobcats before mounting our bike for the ride back along the bayous and River Road to the Delta Queen. By the afternoon, everyone was in shorts and short sleeve jerseys....Spring had finally arrived for our trip! We proceeded through our afternoon ritual of shower, Happy Hour and dinner. Tonight we had a New Orleans Dixieland Jazz Band for entertainment...Authentic Dixieland Jazz is unique to New Orleans and this band provided a wonderful concert of the Jazz for which New Orleans is famous. Total miles for the day....50

Thursday 12 April 2007:

On the New Orleans Riverwalk preparing for our last ride of the tourDuring the night the Delta Queen continued downstream and docked at the New Orleans Riverwalk near the foot of Canal Street. There was no breakfast scheduled for today because we were to have brunch after the early morning ride. We had to be on the quay and ready to ride by 7:00. Our guide for the New Orleans tour is a professional bicycle racer (Kenny) who is a New Orleans native and lived through Katrina. He was involved in the rescue efforts for weeks following the storm and was conscripted by the California National Guard to help with the search and rescue. We left the warf and passed by the French Quarter on Decatur Street, then up and over the Industrial Canal into the 9th Ward. I cannot describe the destruction...it was complete and depressing. There are more questions about the recovery than there are answers. This narrative can only report that there is still a great need for help, but chances that the corrupt New Orleans city officials can move forward are slim. We also rode through Chalmette in Saint Bernard Parrish which was a pleasant middle class neighborhood...today its a ghost town with a city park full of FEMA trailers. The recovery will not be quick or complete...only time and determination will tell the final chapter. We returned to the Riverwalk through the French Quarter via Royal street. It was very uplifting to see that the quarter was virtually untouched and thriving. Back at the warf, we packed our bike into the Probike case and then returned to our cabin to shower and change into street The French Quarter is alive at night clothes. Brunch was served at 11:00am, Bill gave a brief summary of the future Santana Tours. We have already signed up for the 2008 Danube Cruise and the 2009 New Zealand Tour. After brunch, we walked to the Amtrak station to collect our car and then drove to the Hotel Monteleone parking garage. We walked through the quarter to revisit some of our favorite venues including the Crescent City Brewery for Happy Hour and Cafe Mispero's for muffelatta's for dinner. We thought we might stay up to watch a movie on the TV but we were fast asleep before we could even select a DVD. Total miles for the day...17 Total miles for the tour...327

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