zydeco band plays at Fred's Lounge in Mamou, La.,
during the Cycle Zydeco bike tour through Southern
Louisiana. Fred's is only open from 9 a.m. until 2
p.m. Saturdays and is famous for its music.
a bike ride where speed doesn’t matter and every pedal
stroke carries you closer to another helping of Louisiana
music, food or drink.
lived that dream at Cycle Zydeco, a 200-mile rolling Cajun
culture festival. Po’boys, etouffee and jambalaya fueled
four days of bicycling, punctuated by the sounds of
rubboards, fiddles and accordions.
was no endurance event to be feared. Mileage hovered
between 40 and 65 absolutely flat miles per day, and no
one hurried as we spun past crawfish ponds and cow
pastures in the heart of Cajun Country.
times I pedaled behind two women on a tandem bike, dressed
in multicolored tutus and fishnets, blasting zydeco music
and waving at farmers as they sped down the road. I
watched someone named T-Boy make boudin, looked for
alligators lurking in a swamp, tapped my toes to the
finest zydeco music in the land and shared it all with
cyclists who came from all over the country for the same
priorities are dancing, eating and drinking, and (the
participants) just happen to ride a bike," says Scott
Schilling, 43, president of Transportation Recreation
Alternatives in Louisiana, which took over the event, now
in its 14th year, in 2012.
year’s ride drew 316 party-loving cyclists, mostly in
their 50s and 60s, many from the Midwest; organizers hope
to grow it to 1,000. About half camped along the way; the
rest booked hotels and used a shuttle service provided by
ride organizers to get to the start each morning.
how my experience went down.
"Into Cajun Country"
friend Gretchen Sanders and I pass a dead alligator on the
highway during the seven-hour drive from Austin, Texas, to
Lafayette, La., where we unload our bicycles and queue up
for pit-roasted pork at a kick-off party. As we pig out,
Grammy-winning zydeco musician Chubby Carrier (he weighed
a whopping 10 pounds at birth) and the Bayou Swamp Band
fill Blackham Coliseum with the steamy sounds of Louisiana
our music, the music I grew up on," says Todd Ortego,
a 56-year-old disc jockey at radio station KBON in nearby
Eunice, who has come to watch the fun. "I love the
passion and I love the stories."
Chubby belts out a rendition of "Who Stole the Hot
Sauce?" Ortego explains a little about the Cajun,
zydeco and swamp pop sounds we’ll hear this week.
Sometimes it’s still sung in French. Usually it features
the whirling sounds of fiddles and accordions, and often
you can hear traces of Irish jigs, rhythm and blues, and
even rock ‘n’ roll in it.
the show winds down, some folks roll out sleeping bags
inside the coliseum, and others pop tents outside. We’ve
seen the forecast, though, and it calls for plenty of
rain, so we head to a nearby hotel.
"Hey, Tom Sawyer, want to boil some crawfish?"
here bright and early, this time astride a shiny red beach
cruiser. A police escort fires up its sirens, the musician
climbs astride his bike and the whole parade rolls away
with a cheer at 9 a.m.
less than an hour we reach our first stop, Parish Brewing
Company, where cyclists sample a little beer and I stuff a
few Zydeco Bars, a Louisiana-made energy bar with an
accordion on the wrapper, into my pocket. I’m trying to
ride another hour or so, then pull off at Belle Ecorce
Farms, where someone uncorks bottle after bottle of white
wine and we dip crackers into crocks of goat cheese. That’s
when Gretch lets out a squeal. She’s found a days-old
dairy goat with tiny rosebud ears, and I swear it smiles
and bleats as we cradle it in our arms.
few more miles and we roll into St. Martinville, the heart
of French Louisiana. There we feast on crawfish etouffee,
listen to more music and rest in the shade of Evangeline
Oak, the subject of a romantic poem by Henry Wadsworth
it’s back on our bikes. We roll pass an old sugar
refinery, then into Breaux Bridge, self-proclaimed
Crawfish Capital of the World. Cyclists are putting up
tents and making their way to the shower truck, but Gretch
and I are distracted by Mark Thibodeaux, 54, and Greg
Latiolais, 66, of B&L Boilers, who are preparing to
cook up 300 pounds of crawfish for the group.
innocent bystanders until suddenly we’re enlisted to
help. Soon we’re slitting open sacks of crawfish and
pouring them into boiling water, dumping in jars of okra
and stirring the vat with giant paddles.
so sweet and tasty," Thibodeaux says, swooning a
little as he explains that these crawfish were harvested
within 40 miles of where we’re toiling. He shows us how
to hold the head in one hand and twist the tail off to get
at the meat. "If you’re born and raised here, you
suck the heads to get the juice and the fat. It tastes
eat a pile of our handiwork, then grab our bikes again. We
hear there’s a drive-through daiquiri shack down the
road, and we are in Louisiana, after all. (Hint: Try the
White Russian. And walk your bike home afterward like we
wrap up the night with a visit to Pont Breaux’s
(formerly known as Mulate’s), a famous Cajun restaurant
where we meet a busload of tourists all the way from
France and nibble hush puppies and grilled shrimp while
couples swirl around the wooden dance floor.
forecast calls for rain, but we head out on our bikes by
8:30 a.m. anyway. Soon we’re streaking toward the
Atchafalaya Basin, America’s largest wetland. Our agenda
calls for a swamp tour, and we’re hoping to see some
McGee’s Landing, we pedal up the levee and join the
crowd of cyclists piling onto boats for a 30-minute tour.
The million-acre swamp looks like it’s filled with tea.
We see lots of cypress trees and draping Spanish moss
(once used as pillow stuffing and wall insulation) as we
putter through the mist, and the guide spews Boudreaux and
Thibodeaux jokes nearly nonstop, but not a single ‘gator
shows its head — unless you count the guy sitting next
to us, who leans over and says, "Ladies, you can’t
drink all day if you don’t start in the morning."
It’s 9:30 a.m. and he already has a beer in his hand.
at the landing, we sample beignets, pass on the bloody
marys and hop back on our bikes. We whiz past a Piggly
Wiggly and a bunch more crawfish ponds, and pull into
Bayou Teche Brewery, where we take teeny tiny samples of
passion fruit-infused wheat beer. Delicious.
the road in Arnaudville, where 40 percent of the
population speaks French and an etouffee festival takes
place every May, we park our bikes in front of the Little
Big Cup cafe. We eat gumbo on the back porch as rain
pounds like bullets on the metal roof. When the rain eases
we strike out again, heading for the small town of Sunset,
the newly declared Rubboard Capital of the World. There I’m
mesmerized by the accordion played by one of the members
of the Back O’ Town Playboys. Squeezed shut it shows a
crawfish, expanded it’s a crab.
skies darken again and it starts spitting as we ride over
a highway overpass and merge onto a frontage road. We’re
soaked by the time we arrive in Opelousas, Zydeco Capital
of the World and birthplace of Clifton Chenier. The town’s
Yambilee Building, where the now-defunct Yam Festival once
took place, will serve as our headquarters for the night.
and chilled, we stash our bikes and settle in with plates
of grilled catfish topped with crawfish etouffee, then
mingle with our fellow riders as Corey Ledet and his
Zydeco Band take the stage. Some folks dance; we slide
over a table, where a fellow rider has drawn a crowd
painting fingernails in purple, green and gold.
"Hot Damn, we made it to Fred’s"
before we get to Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, I’m pretty
sure this is going to rank as my finest day on a bicycle.
hour in, we stop at T-Boy’s Slaughter House, where we
sample boudin and cracklings and watch T-Boy himself whip
up some sausage. I’m incredulous, watching as ground
meat and onions shoot out of a tube, inflating yard after
yard of casing like circus balloons.
don’t dally, because we’re on our way to Fred’s
Lounge in Mamou, which is only open from 9 a.m. until 2
p.m. Saturdays. A couple hundred bicycles are parked
outside the unassuming little bar when we arrive. We swing
open the door and are immediately hit with a sort of
liquid Louisiana — it’s hot and dark, and people are
swilling drinks, most notably little bottles of a
cinnamon-flavored Schnapps called Hot Damn. And the music
— some guy is bending over an accordion, squeezing it to
within an inch of its life.
crowd, including a bunch of folks wearing clattery bike
shoes, surges around him. A tiny little white-haired woman
named Tante Sue (the wife of the bar’s namesake Fred,
who died in 1992) walks around smiling, waving a little
homemade no-kissing sign and warning patrons not to dance
on the cigarette machine.
we finally break back out into the sunshine, our ears are
still ringing. Across the street, we sit down with bowls
of homemade jambalaya served up by the Mamou Athletic
taken over the whole town!" someone hollers out the
window of a passing car.
13 more miles to Eunice, home to the Cajun Music Hall of
Fame. Along the way we pass an array of road kill —
nutria and armadillos, snakes, turtles and frogs. Per
Cycle Zydeco tradition, many of the carcasses are adorned
with Mardi Gras beads tossed there by passing bikers.
Eunice, we clean up and grab platefuls of chicken and
sausage sauce piquant and sweet potatoes before heading to
the Liberty Theatre. Zydeco legend D.L. Menard, who wrote
the widely covered zydeco hit "The Back Door,"
is celebrating his 83rd birthday tonight, and he’s the
featured guest on the "Rendez-vous de Cajuns"
radio show that’s being broadcast. The Cajun French
accents are so thick it’s hard to understand everything
that’s said, but the music draws couples young and old
to the floor in front of the stage.
the show ends we’re still humming, so we move down to
Ruby’s, where we practically wear the soles off our
shoes spinning around the dance floor.
Rain or Boudin?
pouring when we wake up. A few hardy souls hop on their
bikes, but we’re worried about slick streets and the
forecast, which shows a 90 percent to 100 percent chance
of rain, so instead we pile onto a shuttle bus headed back
to our truck in Lafayette. I find myself sitting next to
Johnny Hauck, a 61-year-old stevedore from New Orleans who
has done Cycle Zydeco 11 times.
love zydeco dancing," he says. "I love cycling.
I love the hospitality of the people in Southwestern
Louisiana and I love the out-of-towners enjoying it all,
trying to learn how to dance and experiencing the new and
different foods." Other highlights? Listening to the
birds as he pedals down deserted roadways, and looking at
the attitude of having fun, not just riding from point A
to point B," he says. "I feel like I’m
breathing the air when I’m on a bike. I like the wind in
my face and looking at wildflowers on the side of the
road. It gives me time to ponder."
the thing about bike trips. Everything slows down. You can
chat with other folks on the road. You smell things. You
feel the place as much as see it.
we get back to Lafayette, we get in our car and take a
much speedier ride to Scott, to catch the Boudin Festival,
where we’d originally planned to ride. As it turns out,
the rain isn’t so bad, and we feel a little sad that we
didn’t pedal this last leg of our journey.
take a few hours to salute the local sausage,
traditionally made here with a mixture of pork and rice.
There’s more music, too, of course. Horace Trahan and
the Ossun Express are pounding away on the stage when the
power blows, so they do what they have to do — they hop
off the stage and into the crowd, where they play,
enthusiastically and fantastically unamplified.
a rousing finale to our leg-powered, two-wheel trip
through Cajun country. And we’re already plotting a way
to do it again.
2016 edition of Cycle Zydeco will take place from March
30-April 3. Registration, when it opens, will cost about
$440 and include most meals, camping, shuttles and SAG
(support and gear) support. Hotels are optional. For more
information, go to cyclezydeco.com.