Because we have decided to continue riding all the Hall of Fame Trails and because the Tammany Trace became a Hall of Fame Trail during the last two years, we decided to make an Amtrak trip to Louisiana and do this trail before summer heat set in. We rode down on Monday, biked the trail on Tuesday, and rode the train back to Atlanta on Wednesday. It was a short but good trip. Rain was forecast for Tuesday, which could have been a downer, but the overnight rain stopped by 10 a.m. that morning, and we were able to ride from 11 to 4:30.
Why it has the designation of Hall of Fame, though, is a little bit of a mystery to me. Maybe because a lot of it goes through swampy areas, which is different, or maybe because it is one of the few bike trails in the south Louisiana area. It had rained a lot lately, so each side of the trail was bordered by a little swampy creek area. Besides the fact that it’s an asphalt paved trail, it has few amenities: no mileage signs, only a few signs indicating that it’s actually a Hall of Fame Rail-to-Trail, no bathrooms except at the ranger “office” at LaCombe and in the town of Mandeville, only scattered yellow wild flowers growing off some vines, only a couple of benches for resting along the trail, and no visible animals except one lone turtle. Alligators are supposedly in the nearby swamps, but we didn’t see any. It crosses several roads along the way, but most of them are back country roads, infrequently traveled, and not a hindrance to riding. In fact, we probably saw one car the whole time. Speaking of cars, though, we did pass two different security vehicles on the trail, so it seems pretty well patrolled for safety of the riders.
Near the end of our ride, maybe five miles from Slidell, we did come to an interesting feature: the LaCombe Bayou that has a crane operated draw bridge, complete with a ranger there to raise the bridge as needed, through which big yachts could pass from Lake Ponchartrain to the homes farther up the bayou. We couldn’t see any of the homes and didn’t see any of the yachts, but it was an interesting, unique part of the trail. The ranger came out to talk to us and said that a mother alligator is pretty consistent in caring for her breed of baby alligators each year (can’t remember the season) in the area close to the draw bridge, and he warned us not to approach any alligator we might happen to see.
Abita Springs, one of the first towns we went through, had a “crazy Louisiana stuff” museum, but they were charging to get in and it all looked like a tourist trap, so we went on.
In Mandeville, we got off the trail to see the Dew Drop Inn, an old wood framed jazz building, that is used occasionally (built maybe in the 1930’s). Its redeeming factor was its location under old oak trees with Spanish moss hanging. We then rode to the Ruby Road House, which is supposed to be another well-known jazz location, but which looked and smell only like a bar. We also bought a sandwich to go at Liz’s Where Y’at Diner. Interesting little diner. We took our sandwich three miles farther down the trail to a picnic area at Lake Ponchartrain at Fontainebleau State Park and had lunch while watching the pelicans on the lake. That was relaxing and pretty. We could also see the Causeway from New Orleans to Mandeville, about 25 miles long.
We rode 35 miles total, but the trail was only about 28.5 miles. We started at the old train station in historic Covington and ended rather abruptly near a shopping center in Slidell. The word is that the trail is being extended a few more miles, but that’s not completed yet. (It would have been nice for the trail to end closer to downtown Slidell, where we could have taken our bikes to the Best Western, but we can’t have everything go our way.) Our Amtrak rides each took about twice the time it took us to ride the trail, but then the train rides were part of the adventure. I’m sure Martha mentioned the long delays both down and back due to having to wait for freight trains to pass on the one track for both directions. This is just part of the trip, I figure, and a price we pay for no-stress riding, being able to take our Tern fold-up bikes with us on the train, and the opportunity to watch the countryside go by when I wasn’t reading, playing Cribbage with Martha, or talking with people we met on the train.
The logistics were to use Uber from the train station in Slidell to our Camellia House B&B in Covington (we give it 5 stars for the ambience, the comfy beds, the delicious breakfast of spinach quiche, fruit, and pastries, and the friendliness of the proprietor). Then we used Uber from the shopping center in Slidell to the Best Western Plus motel for Tuesday night, and Uber over and back across the bridge for an evening in New Orleans. There we rode the street car (not trolley and ate delicious Beignets—not pastries—“you’ve got to get your lingo right” says the young Uber driver on the way to the Best Western) at the famous Café Dumonde on Decatur Street. And we walked around the old French Quarter a little before we took the St. Charles streetcar just for a ride and then called another Uber for the ride back. Our Uber drivers were all friendly, so that was sort of fun also.
On Wednesday morning, we awoke at 5:45 a.m. for the breakfast at the motel and then rode the three miles on our bikes over to the Slidell Train station, where we started our trip back. No flat bike tires, no train crashes, no rain, and good company. It was a fun trip.