By Chase Berenson
Everybody in Baton Rouge knows the route to New Orleans, and almost everyone has made the trip for fun, for business, or to catch a flight. However, what if the trip to New Orleans was more about adventure and physical fitness and, instead of the car, you took your bicycle? While we’re at it, let’s skip I-10 and take a leisurely route along the river. Now that’s starting to sound like a trip!
LSU graduate Dustin Drewes knows a thing or two about making the trip to New Orleans from Baton Rouge via bicycle. He is also one of the founding members of LSU’s Cycling Team, so it makes sense that he’s pretty comfortable on his bike.
In the spring of 2009 Drewes was spending a lot of time with other members of LSU’s triathlon team, and the conversation frequently turned to biking. After triathlon club meetings, all the cyclists would get talking about finding new people to ride with, and soon enough the idea of starting a cycling club was planted.
“Once we began taking steps to become our own student organization, our numbers started growing,” Drewes said.
As a matter of fact, in the LSU Cycling Team’s debut season, they won a national competition for the largest new collegiate racing team.
“We still have Gatorade left over from that,” Drewes joked.
Every year the LSU cycling team takes a ride from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. The event is called the “Varsity to Varsity 100,” and the ride connects the Baton Rouge Varsity Sports location to the New Orleans location on Magazine Street.
Varsity Sports has been supporting the event ever since it started. The route is approximately 106 miles long, and follows the River between the two cities. Vehicles escort the riders the entire way, and once the riders have eaten and changed in New Orleans everybody drives back to Baton Rouge together.
Even though the official event is not open to the public, Drewes makes it sound like almost everybody can tackle the ride to New Orleans.
“Cycling is the kind of activity where your physical limits lie way beyond what you might think is possible,” Drewes said.
Even riders whose previous longest distance was only thirty miles have joined the LSU cycling team on the team from Baton Rouge to the Big Easy.
That being said, it’s not a ride for novices to just jump into. Riders have to factor in the ideal pace, and even proper nutrition, to ensure they make it to the finish line. Dustin suggests that a rider should start cycling as much as possible about eight-to-twelve weeks beforehand as training.
“The better prepared someone is physically for a ride like this helps them enjoy the day and the scenery,” Drewes said.
Even if you don’t think cycling 106 miles is for you, there is still plenty of riding happening in our local area. Many casual cyclists head out for laps around University Lake, and most people know about the bike trail on the top of the levee that leads downtown.
However, Dustin says his favorite place to ride in Baton Rouge is the levee trail that heads south to L’Auberge Casino & Hotel. After passing the Brightside area, the levee becomes very rural very quickly, and riders find themselves riding through pastureland and sharing the scene with livestock. The pavement ends at Farr Equestrian Park, and the last few miles are gravel. Especially in a city as flat as Baton Rouge, the gravel is good resistance to work out the rider’s legs.
After miles of gravel trail without anyone else to interact with, L’Auberge appears very quickly and enters the path like a surreal mirage. Crowds of gamblers enjoy the air conditioning nightly, and many don’t even realize what physical adventures are right outside the door.
If you want to get to the real riding, though, you’ll have to leave Baton Rouge and head north to West Feliciana Parish where there are rolling hills and country roads.
“Up there, your route is only limited by your imagination,” Drewes said. “It’s truly the best place in Louisiana to ride road bikes.”