A few years ago, I rode my bike through Acadiana during Cycle Zydeco, a rolling festival in which every pedal stroke delivers participants closer to another helping of steamy Louisiana music, food or drink.
This year’s ride is scheduled for April 12-16. Between 800 and 1,000 cyclists –– fueled by Cajun specialties like jambalaya and boiled crawfish –– are expected to join the party, which winds its way along two-lane roads around South Louisiana, the birthplace of zydeco music.
“You pedal from town to town to enjoy plenty of live music, food and the Cajun and Creole culture,” says Scott Schilling, president of Transportation Recreation Alternatives in Louisiana, or TRAIL, which puts on the event. “The priorities of the ride are eating, dancing, drinking –– and you just happen to ride a bike to get to the next party.”
Read more: Riding Rocky Hill Ranch
Grammy-winning zydeco musician Chubby Carrier (he weighed a whopping 10 pounds at birth) led off the parade astride a shiny red cruiser bike the year I participated. He returns this year, along with a slate of musicians who know their way around rubboards, fiddles and accordions. Each day, participants can choose from a fully supported, main route of about 40 miles or a longer route of 60-plus miles.
Taking it slow at Cycle Zydeco
This is no race, unless you consider it a competition to have the most fun. It’s laid back and easy going, and the biggest hill you’ll find is the gentle incline of a highway overpass.
“Riding a bike is a great way to warm up your dancing legs,” Schilling says.
The exact route varies by year. This year’s event will begin with a kickoff party Wednesday night at Wildcat Brothers Distillery in Lafayette, which makes rum using local sugar cane. The ride wraps up on Sunday, with a swing through the Scott Boudin Festival and a final group meal in Lafayette. In between, highlights will include a swamp tour at McGee’s Landing, brewery visits, a crawfish boil in Breaux Bridge, and live music. Cyclists will come face to face with plates of jambalaya, red beans and rice and fried alligator. Also on the menu? A mashup of peppers, corn, and bacon grease known as Cajun Corn Maque Choux. And a traveling bar will serve Bloody Marys, mimosas and local beer and spirits.
“I’m really hoping we can do raw oysters again, too,” Schilling says.
Highlights of Cycle Zydeco
I won’t soon forget my experience on the ride. For four days my friend Gretchen and I pedaled through the lush green countryside. One memorable morning, we danced away several hours at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou. A tiny white-haired woman named Tante Sue waved a homemade “no-kissing” sign and warned patrons not to dance on the cigarette machine. We toured a sausage factory, where I watched a guy named T-Boy feed ground beef and onions into a machine. The mixture shot out of a tube, inflating yard after yard of casing like circus balloons. And we attended the live taping of “Rendez-vous de Cajuns” radio program at the Liberty Theater. The Cajun French accents were thicker than Steen’s syrup, the Louisiana alternative to molasses.
Another day we visited a farm where we petted a day-old baby goat with rosebud ears. We took a swamp tour and rested in the shade of Evangeline Oak –– the subject of a romantic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. We nibbled beignets, whizzed past a Piggly Wiggly, saw a flattened alligator carcass on the highway and listened to music in Sunset, the Rubboard Capital of the World.
And somehow, in Breaux Bridge, the self-proclaimed Crawfish Capital of the World, my friend and I wound up helping cook the main dish. We slit open sacks of crustaceans, then used giant wooden paddles to stir the vat in which they were boiled.
Attendance has grown
Cycle Zydeco started in 2002. The crowd has more than doubled since I participated in 2015. The average age of participants is 61. Riders can camp or stay in hotels along the way. Shuttle service is provided between designated hotels and the start of the ride each day.
Read more: In Wydaho, Stay in Idaho and Ski at Grand Targhee in Wyoming
“When you get to Cycle Zydeco, you can park your car and never need it again,” Schilling says.
If you decide to go, prepare to dive face first into what makes Acadiana special. This ride is more about slowing down and soaking up the culture than it is about covering the miles as quickly as you can.
And that’s why I can’t wait to go back.
If You Go
The ride starts in Lafayette, Louisiana, about a 7-hour drive from Austin. You’ll probably want to drive, so you can bring along your bike. Registration is open here.
Participants can camp along the way or stay at hotels and ride free shuttles to each day’s starting point.
Eat Louisiana food, listen to music, pedal a bicycle and camp with like-minded folks. Cyclists can register for two to five days of cycling. The entry fee ranges from $330 for two days of riding (no jersey) up to $660 for the entire event (including a jersey).
Eat & Drink:
Some meals are provided, and registrants also get $35 in Zydeco bucks to supplement the cost of dining at local restaurants for meals that are not provided.
Bring a costume and Mardi Gras beads. I pedaled behind a pair of women decked out in colorful tutus who were riding a tandem bicycle and blasting zydeco music on a portable music player. For more info go to https://www.cyclezydeco.org/.