Friday, October 21, 2011

Bonita Lakes

I've got a race in Albany in two days. A race I've been looking forward to for months. Most people prepare for a race by training, tapering, sleeping well, eating well, hydrating, and so on. Occasionally I end up preparing for a race by parking my bike in the garage, getting sick, putting in long hours at work and getting little or no sleep. Such has been the case, this time.

I can't lose.

This past Sunday (that's 4 days ago, and I've been so busy that I'm just now getting around to writing about it), I drove to New Orleans. In addition to being fellow mountain bikers, my dad and I are fellow computer nerds as well and we needed to finish up a contract for a company that we used to work for way back. He got me a job there during college and I ended up working for them for about 8 years. They needed some work done recently, we know their systems inside and out and so on, but that's another story. This story is just about the drive down.

If you want to get from Atlanta to New Orleans, you can go through Montgomery and Mobile or Birmingham, Meridian and Tuscaloosa. I generally opt for the latter for a variety of reasons, but this time one of them was the presence of Bonita Lakes in Meridian. My buddy Kirk and I rode there about 12 years ago when we lived in New Orleans and I rode there again last year. Last year I explored about half of the system and I'd been hoping for an opportunity to get out and see the rest. This past Sunday I had that opportunity.

I arrived at about 3 PM.

 Bonita Lakes Sign

The road through the park leads around and between two lakes.

The North Lake.

 North Lake

And the South Lake.

 South Lake

The whole park is about one minute off of the interstate but it's way bigger than the average in-town park and the lakes are a lot larger too.

There have got to be 20 miles of horse trails on the property but the last two times I was there I didn't see any horses. This time there were a few but they appeared just to be running around in the field near the lot.


They had some barrels set up and a tent. They might have been giving lessons or something. I didn't hang around to find out. I had trails to explore.

The first couple just led around to some stuff that I'd already seen, including a trail to the overlook and its gorgeous view of...


the mall.

The trails there are laid out strangely. I think "laid out" is probably inaccurate too. The horse trails mostly appear to be old roadbeds and connectors between them. They don't really make loops either. There are a maze of bike trails at the north end and the further south you go, the less mazy it gets. It looks like whoever built the bike trails laid out a vague route then made reroutes off of it over and over to get more mileage. The north end has a bunch of older trails, some of which follow ridges or fall lines but they appear to have been rerouted as well. Whoever built most of the southern trails and reroutes seems to have more or less known what they were doing. Unfortunately both the reroutes and original lines are still used today and it makes for quite a spiderweb of trails.

There's probably a route that the locals take through the system and they don't even notice the old turns any more but it was very confusing to me the last time I was there.

Fortunately, this time, they must have just had a race or something because there were signs up everywhere pointing which way to go and mile markers too. After finishing my exploration of the northern section, I pretty much followed the marked route which twisted through almost every inch of trail out there. I only had to make a few side loops to see all of it.

The trail was fast and fun. There were some hills but it wasn't too strenuous.


The trees were familiar. The soil was sandy but it wasn't loose. I had a great time.

There was one very confusing spot on the trail. 5 Points:

 5 points

The trail leading up to it was marked open to bikes, then suddenly became a horse trail for about 30 yards prior to the intersection but up ahead you could see bike signs again, so it wasn't obvious until you turned around and saw horse-only signs in the other direction.

I think there were at least 6 trails that intersected there too, maybe 7.

The most confusing trail there though led way out past 5 points then just made a bit of a loop back on itself. You just ride out and back I guess. The map showed it that way but I half figured there would be some connector back there that wasn't on the map. Nope though, the map was right.

I spun around for 3 hours or so. My body was really pissed at me for taking so much time off the bike and getting so little sleep. The cool air hurt my lungs and it took over an hour to get warmed up. Later on I felt great, but I think a good bit of that was just getting to ride a new trail.

LSU had played Tennessee either the night before or the night before that and on the way down I'd passed dozens of Louisiana plates with little LSU flags hanging out the windows. I ran into a guy walking on the gravel trail that loops around the lakes with an LSU hat and I guess his granddaughter and talked to them for a while. I thought he might be a fan, returning from the game, but instead, like me, they'd grown up in Baton Rouge but moved away in the early 2000's. He was saying he'd always wanted to arrive to a football game in a boat. You couldn't reasonably do it in Baton Rouge, but imagine cruising up the Tennessee River in a big boat then pulling up behind the stadium, stepping off and going to see the game. That was his dream.

At about 6 I took the gravel trail back to the lot. I still had to get to New Orleans, several hours away.

 Gravel Road

I think part of that trail might have been a rail bed. A long section of it is really flat and not very twisty and then suddenly it turns and gets really hilly. Also, there's a little peninsula out in the lake with a little island hanging off of it and it looks like they're divided by a cut, rather than naturally. I'd bet if I drew a line along the road and extended it out past the turn into the lake, it would lead straight through that cut.

The horses were getting packed up when I got back and it looked like just about everyone was heading out. I guess we all got the same idea at the same time.

Since then I've been working 13 or 14 hours a day and getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night. The first night I didn't get quite enough sleep and never really recovered. I feel like I'm about 20 IQ points short of nominal and lord knows how this race is going to go. It's all part of the adventure though. I spent lots of time nerding out with my dad, slept at my aunt and uncle's place every night and even got to visit my cousin, her husband and their kids. If I didn't do well preparing for the the race, it was only because I did so well not preparing for it.

Tomorrow I'm heading out. I'm hoping to hit Chickasobogue in Mobile. I will likely just drive straight to Albany from there and either shack up with some friends or in a dirt cheap hotel. The adventure continues.

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