By Jim Foreman
The Tour de Geezers I from Memphis to Vicksburg last October  was so much fun that we just had to do it again, this time to Lafayette, LA for Mardi Gras [Feb. 1999]. It was a week of riding, partying, eating and more fun than a human-type being should be expected to endure. Of course those six days of debauchery were nestled between a pair of 600 mile bookends of pounding down the interstate. One of the benefits of this tour was that by doing a series of loop rides, we could settle into our hotel rooms and unpack only once. Two more OBS members joined the original six Geezers to make a party of eight for this tour.
Most people think Mardi Gras takes place only on a single Tuesday, but those people down there know how to have fun; they start working up to the final day a week or so ahead. When we arrived on the Wednesday before Mardi Gras parties, carnivals and parades were already going on every night. The first order of business for the wives was to hit the costume shops for funny hats and beads to bedeck their somewhat unwilling husbands. They shopped with a vengeance.
On Saturday and Sunday, the smaller towns around Lafayette hold their own celebrations. We joined the Courir du Mardi Gras at Church Point on Sunday. A mile-long procession leaves early in the morning, marking their way through the countryside with a trail of empty beer cans, plastic beads and horse apples. Cyclists learn very quickly to ride at the head oft his procession. The traveling party lurches from one farm to the next, stopping along the way to dance in the street, chase chickens or fall off their horses. Their announced mission is to collect sausages, chickens and crawdads for the huge pots of gumbo which will be served that evening, but it’s mostly a traveling party. It’s also a way for the people in the parade to have fun, see old friends and toss beads to the hundreds of spectators that line their route. The usual “float” in this parade is a flatbed cotton wagon with beer coolers at one end, a smoking barbecue cooker in the middle and a porta-potty at the other. [click for pic]
The days, at least for us, weren’t wasted time because they were spent cycling the back roads of French Louisiana. A few years ago the Cajun Cyclists and Pack & Paddle Outfitters launched a joint effort to map, mark and sign half a dozen bike routes to interesting places and towns around Lafayette. Distances ranged from 15 to 65 miles. There are two basic starting points for all the tours, depending on whether it goes north or south of Lafayette. This allowed us to ride a different route each morning, do the tourist thing each afternoon and party at a different restaurant every evening. Some of the tourist traps we visited were the Evangaline Oak in St. Martinsville, the Tobasco plant on Avery Island and dip our toes in the Gulf of Mexico
The bicycle routes are marked by small signs of a bicycle with a route number which also indicates the distance around that particular tour. In addition, most of them are marked on the pavement with colored arrows. However strangers should obtain maps because it’s extremely easy to get lost in the spider web of rural roads with strange names and system of identifying them. What makes it even more likely for one to get lost is that there are state highways, parish roads, city streets, private roads, named roads and others where the name has been changed by the Post Office but not the signs or in the minds of the people who use them. Miss one turn and you are likely to find yourself trying to obtain directions from someone who sounds like Justin Wilson speaking a strange mixture of Cajun English and French.
Pack & Paddle is a most interesting outdoor equipment store that began life as a bicycle shop, but it was slowly taken over by the need for space to display high quality outdoor equipment and supplies. Joan Williams still runs French Louisiana Bicycle Tours out of P&P, but all bicycle sales and repairs have been referred to other bicycle shops in town. P&P has a very good book and map department which covers the needs of cyclists, canoe campers, backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts. No matter whether you need a map of the bike route to the Chretien Point Plantation, best rock climbing sites around Moab or one for hiking in Southern France, they have it. If you are in Lafayette, this is one of those must-see places.
Food is as much a part of Mardi Gras as funny hats and beads. Lafayette is also home for some of the more famous Cajun chefs like the Prudhomme family, Paul Prejean and the good time crew at Randol’s. In visiting the array of places featuring Cajun food, we noticed that not a single one of them served the traditional beans and rice, a dish that we though was as common in the south as grits and gravy. When Tom finally asked where to get beans and rice, they told him the only place you could find it was Popeye’s Chicken. That was like discovering the only place to get Tacos in Mexico is at Taco Bell.
Joe’s birthday was on the 14th, so we decided to celebrate it at the Castle of Crawdads, Shrine of Shrimp and Zenith of Zydeco, Randol’s. This is where the Cajun Cyclists hold their parties and they recommended it to us. I had made reservations by E-mail before we left, and a table right next to the dance floor was waiting for us. It turned out to be everything that we had expected and more. No matter whether you are into boot-scootin’, foot-patting or just kicking back and having a great meal, this is another one of those don’t-miss places when one is in Lafayette.
Plans are already in the works for Tour de Geezers III but the location, time and everything else is yet to be decided. The Tour de Geezers II cast of characters were: Bonnie & Fred Kamp, Margaret & Joe DiMonico, Freda & Jim Foreman, Mel Norton and Tom Russell.