Monthly Archives: March 2010

Day 23: Giddings, Texas

Elevation gained: 2156 ft/Miles: 60/Total Miles: 1,100/Total Fast Food: 13

The Sirens of the Road destroyed me today. It was brutal.

I headed out from Navasota in the early morning. The weather report forecast a frost warning with temperatures “warming up” to the low 40s later in the day. I wore long gloves, a wool cap, wool turtle neck, thermal vest, windbreaker, bike pants, leggings and rain pants and never felt warm once during the day.

On my way to Brenham on Hwy 105, I met a couple riding east who are from Quebec and started their ride in San Diego. They were going to do a short ride today (25 miles) because it was too cold for them. When someone from Quebec complains about the cold, you know it’s for real.

A few minutes after I left them, I had my first flat tire on the road. A large metal staple was embedded so firmly in my tire, I had to use pliers to extract it. While I was repairing the tire, a couple of local riders pulled up. They are the first recreational cyclists I have seen (other than those going cross-country) in 1,000 miles.

At about 11am, the wind picked up with ferocity. According to the news this evening, it was between 30 and 35mph throughout the day. It made the rolling hills a challenge. Often a gust would catch me by surprise and jerk my handlebars to the left, swinging me into traffic. On some climbs, I couldn’t pedal faster than 5mph.

As I approached Brenham, I saw a BBQ house on the road. You see these everywhere around here. I pulled over and decided to use a pulled pork sandwich as an opportunity to get warm. When I entered, I was greeted like a momentary celebrity. “Thought, you’d never make it up that last hill”, “That wind near blow’d you over back there”, “What the hell you doin’ on a bike in this weather boy?” were just a few of the comments from patrons who had passed me on their way to lunch.

I arrived in Brenham at about 1pm. It’s a nice little town with several hotels. But…the Sirens convinced me that I could make it to Giddings – another 40 miles. It was a terrible decision.

I left on Hwy 290, a four lane highway that runs through the hill country and connects with Giddings and then Austin. I rode the entire way in my drops focusing on my front wheel and trying to keep the bike upright in the unrelenting wind. Several times, I stopped under an overpass or in some other sheltered area to try to regroup and figure out other options. But, there weren’t any. The only town between Brenham and Giddings is Carmine, and it doesn’t have any campgrounds or lodgings. In situations like this, it’s often easier because you don’t have any choice. You have to keep moving forward. Each time, I’d get back the bike, ignore the 18 wheelers to my left and (try to) ignore the wind and cold. Finally, at about 6:30pm, I saw the Giddings town water tower silhouetted against the western sky a few miles ahead. I checked into the first hotel I found … and collapsed.

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Day 22: Navasota, Texas

So much for the first day of spring. I awoke to grey skies and rode across the street for a cup of coffee. As I sat talking to a local rancher (who had an extensive knowledge of Texas wildflowers), I heard a large explosion that almost caused me to spill my coffee. As I turned to look out the window, I heard him say: “Looks like we’re havin’ a bit of thunder”. Then the rain started. Within minutes the parking lot was ankle deep in water. We just don’t have storms like this in California.

Obviously, I’m not going to get any miles in today. I did put on all my rain gear and rode into town to explore the old buildings, shops and restaurants. That took all of 12 minutes. As you can see from the photographs, Navasota isn’t a big town.

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Day 21: Navasota, Texas

Elevation gained: 2900 ft/Miles: 76/Total Miles: 1040/Total Fast Food: 10
O.k. class, what’s wrong with this picture? Correct. It’s an example of when product “synergy” goes awry. I’m sure the little leaguers won’t have any issues. Can anyone say: “Jose Cuervo Doritos” or “Tanqueray Twinkies”!

Today was the best day of riding to date. I traveled through miles of country roads filled with the first wildflowers of the season. The smell of pines, cut grass and an unidentified sweet scented flower surrounded me. Most importantly, it was warm. Today was the first day I have not had to use either leg or arm warmers.

I again rolled through a series of very small towns. Most of them had populations in double digits. In some, the Texas flag was larger than the downtown area. But the most prevalent scenery – aside from livestock and landscape – continues to be churches. The Mardi Gras beads may be gone, but the “Bible Belt” continues. In my first 30 miles of riding this morning, I counted 26 churches. The only thing I saw more of were billboards advertising personal injury attorneys. I’m not sure what these two things say about the south, but in there somewhere is a good PhD dissertation for a sociology student.

For a large part of the day, I rolled through Sam Houston National Forest and around Lake Livingston while listening to “ Ghost of Tom Joad” – one of Springsteen’s best, but most overlooked works. It was incredibly picturesque and I couldn’t help but feel almost euphoric. The country was expressing whispers of the west. Agave and prickly pear cactus are starting to be seen. Farms are giving way to ranches. And, the influences of Cajun and African American culture are shifting to Hispanic.

Which meant for me, an enormous meal at a local taqueria this evening. I did my best to replenish all the calories I burned during the day in one sitting.

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Day 20: Cold Springs, Texas

Elevation gained: 822 ft/Miles: 69/Total Miles: 964/Total Fast Food: 10

A fitful night of sleeping last night. Between the freeway traffic and the karaoke bar next door, it was a challenge to get any sack time. It took me until 10am to get things dried out, packed and to say farewell to the other riders. I rode into Silsbee and stopped at McDonalds for breakfast, a cup of coffee and to plan the day’s ride.

The route today wound through small towns like Kountze, Honey Island, Thicket, Votaw, Rye, Romayor, Dolen, Shepard and Coldspring. (By the way, it reads better if you have Johnny Cash’s song “I’ve Been Everywhere” running through your mind.)

For long sections of the ride, I had the road entirely to myself. I rode down the middle white line for five miles just for the fun of it and because I could hear the logging trucks and other vehicles miles before they came into view. It was the first day in the last 20 in which I did not see Mardi Gras beads on the road. The landscape was dotted with small circular mud rings built by “mud bugs” a relative of the crayfish.

The conditions were beautiful for riding – minimal winds, smooth pavement and a sunny day. But, I felt exhausted by the time I pulled into the campground this evening. After almost 1,000 miles of riding, the body is taking a beating. A few more days until I get to Austin and then I’ll take some time off to relax.

Don wheeled into the campsite about 90 minutes after I did. Cheese, crackers, soup and beer for dinner. And, no karaoke next door. Should be a nice night.

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Day 19: Silsbee, Texas

Elevation gained: 534 ft/Miles: 76/Total Miles: 895/Total Fast Food: 9

Sorry, about the lack of photographs today. I set something incorrectly on my camera and most of my photographs were unrecoverable. The one I’m most disappointed about was taken when I crossed over the Sabine River and into Texas early this morning. Well known Texan Eva Longoria met me on the bridge and personally welcomed me to the state with a very passionate embrace. But, like I said, the camera wasn’t working so you’re just going to have to trust me on this.

It rained last night and as a result it took me a bit of time to get going this morning as I had to dry out the tarp, pad and bivy sack, and wipe down the bike. I rode into De Ridder and stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast and to use their WiFi for my last post. At around 11am, I finally got started for the day.

Riding through Beauregard Parish, I could feel a change. The landscape was drier and filled mainly with pines. In several places, there were thousands of FEMA trailers lined in rows to the horizon, all staged for the next hurricane. Most of the traffic on this road (Hwy 190) consisted of logging trucks stacked with pines or trucks filled with pine chips heading for the Boise Pulp Mill. You could smell it miles before it came into view. After winding through Merryville, I crossed the river and there was Eva waiting for me. It’s really great how they treat visitors in the Lone Star state.

The difference in roadways is quite apparent when going from Louisiana to Texas. I’ve written enough about the former, but when you hit Texas, the roads are smooth, with wide shoulders and almost no trash. It makes one wonder about the amount of highway funding each state is getting and how it gets used.

As I approached Kirbyville, I came upon some road construction. A flagman signaled to me to stop and said: “Son, you look like you need a break and this is a good excuse.” He asked what I was doing and when I explained my route, he stuck out his hand and said: “Well, sir, my name is Joe. Welcome to Texas!” Then he reached into his waistband and pulled out his handgun to show me. (Ok. Maybe I’m making up this last part.) Joe informed me that Don and Jan were both a few miles ahead of me. Over the next hour, I caught up with them and Don and I rode the last 35 miles together into Silsbee.

When we arrived at the campground, we met another biker, Ben (a grandfather of two) who is riding a recumbent and pulling a trailer. He started in San Diego and is on his way home to North Carolina.

Over a BBQ dinner, we compared notes about what is ahead for each of us. Sharing information about places to stay, roadway conditions and alternative routes is incredibly helpful.

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Day 18: De Ridder, Louisiana

Elevation gained: 355 ft/Miles: 34/Total Miles: 829/Total Fast Food: 6

I awoke at about 7am, but really didn’t want to pull myself out of my warm bed except for the knowledge that there was a donut shop across the street. With visions of sugar and grease in my head, I showered, dressed, packed up and rode across the street – only to find that the shop was closed. Damn.

Riding through Oberlin, I hoped I would find a place to eat, but there was nothing until I came to the outskirts of town and found “Keith’s Corner”consisting of a car wash, grocery store and café. I stopped at the café and pulled out my lock to lock my bike. As I did, a woman who was smoking a cigarette nearby said: “Honey, y’all don’t need to worry about lockin’ your bike. Nobody gonna steal it around here. If they do we just shoot ‘em.”

Opening the door to the café, I was met with a blast of hot greasy air. My glasses immediately fogged with oil and my hair took on the appearance of Antonio Banderas’ – except grey and much shorter. I stepped to the counter and ordered a BLT and a ham and cheese omelet and grabbed a cup of coffee. As I did, a white-haired gentleman with large frame glasses called me to his table. His name is Jim and he was excited to hear that I had been to Chico, California, where he was born. Jim fell in love with a local girl and moved to Oberlin to be with her. Along the way, they raised a family and for 45 years, he was the town pharmacist. Since his retirement twenty years ago (Jim is 85), he has been coming to this café every morning and holding court. The banter between him and the waitresses was beyond amusing. And, Jim was full of information. I commented about how the scenery was changing from crayfish farms to pine trees and he explained that in this area the pine trees are one of the major crops. Farmers plant 1,000 trees per acre and harvest a portion of them each decade. Trees that are 10 years are used for garden stakes; at 20 years they are used for furniture; and at 30 years, telephone poles, but much of it is also used for producing paper products. The tree of choice is the loblolly pine, which grows quickly in this environment.

While Jim was educating me about Oberlin’s economics, history and infrastructure, the Chief of Police arrived. Jim introduced him to me and we had breakfast together and listened to Jim expound without pause on a broad range of subjects. I had the feeling many locals have this same experience every morning.

After I left Oberlin, I rode for about thirty minutes before being hailed by a rider going the opposite way. He was dressed head to toe in camouflage with a large Fu Man Chu mustache and riding a mountain bike. He asked if I knew anything about bicycles because his was having trouble changing gears. I took a look at his chain and saw that it was almost rusted solid. I flipped the bike over, pulled out some lubricant from the pocket of my pannier and soaked the chain. After a few minutes of pedaling and playing with the shifters, things started to loosen up and he was able to get some additional gears. He was ecstatic. You would have thought I had just given him a kidney transplant.

I rode for another 25 miles along pine tree farms just as Jim had described. It was my shortest mileage day on the trip, but I decided to make De Ridder my end destination. One of the lessons I have learned is to avoid the “Sirens of the Road” (a term I picked up from Don). This refers to something many touring cyclists face when going through small towns and rural areas. You roll into a place with a nice campsite or hotel, but it is still early afternoon. You feel strong and want to get in some additional miles. The sirens are calling to you to keep riding. The next thing you know it’s dark and you can’t find any place to stop for the evening. I’ve had this happen several times. Once, I gave serious thought to sleeping in a stack of large concrete tubes by the side of the road near some road construction, but ultimately managed to find a hotel after riding an additional five miles in the dark.

To avoid falling into this trap, I decided to stop in De Ridder, which is the last major town on my route until Austin. I found a wonderful place known as Pleasant Hill RV and Campground that caters to touring cyclists. It has laundry, showers and a kitchen all for $5 for cyclists. Among cyclists riding the southern tier route, Pleasant Hill has become legend. “Miss Pat” and her husband have run the place for the last five years and have gone out of their way to make cyclists feel like they have a special place. They go so far as to read blogs of those riding the route to see when they might expect riders and then welcome them by name when they arrive.

After I arrived, I met Irene and Jan. Jan is riding across the US as well, and her friend Irene is driving a support van. We had a wonderful conversation – the kind that you can only have with people who have had a unique shared experience. And, to make things even better, Irene and Jan drove in to town and brought me back some beer to enjoy with my dinner.

Tomorrow, I cross into Texas. Yee-haw?

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Day 17: Oberlin, Louisiana

Elevation gained: 83 ft/Miles: 52/Total Miles: 795/Total Fast Food: 6

Good conditions today as I rode between crayfish ponds, cattle ranches and very small towns. It was a minimalist day suggesting a recap in Haiku to be appropriate.

today wind at back
Mamou to Oberlin
rode too fast for dogs

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