10/28/17- Bunkie to Simmesport, LA

It was an extra short 29 miler, today, due to our riding ahead yesterday.  I rode by myself and took my time during the 2.5 hour ride.  If you’re a road biker and you’re laughing at my speed, try riding a loaded bike that weighs closer to 70 lbs for 50 miles or so, sometime, instead of your 13-16 lb road bike.  

The route took us along two bayous and through three Louisiana settlements dating back to the early 1800s, with antebellum homes and massive oak and cypress trees.  

The scenery was  spectacular as we rode alongside Bayou Rouge, passing thru Evergreen and Cottonport. 

I might make a sign like this for my house and list all the previous owners. What do you think?

Next passed through Moreauville as we rode along Bayou des Glaises. 

My lunch stop
If the Louisiana State Penitentiary Rodeo had been on another day and we had more flexibility, I would not have missed it.

The weather forecast for tonight is freezing temperatures, so three of us got a room at the one and only motel in town, which happens to be a complete dump of a 1-star motel. They don’t even try to clean the rooms.  There was about a years worth of dust on the dresser, the floors don’t look like they’ve been vacuumed in about a  month, and the shower and bathroom floors haven’t been cleaned in who knows how long. 

My truck stop shower. Zoom in to see the soap.

I walked across the street to take a shower at the truck stop the rest of our group is camping behind.  Pretty desperate, eh?  At least it was clean, and they had this really cool descenting soap I never even knew exhisted before. I wish I could say it helped keep the mosquitos away, but I don’t take chances with them any more.  I protect my exposed skin with 100 strength deet.  Still don’t have a third eye, so it can’t be that bad for me.  

Simmesport had a nice grocery, but our fearless leader insisted that we not cook healthy food and instead patronize the truck stop by eating their food to show appreciation for them allowing 6 cyclists to camp out back for free. After another triple fried dinner, with the only vegetable options being potato chips and French fries, I was not a happy camper–correction: cheap motel ‘guest’.

We will have to turn in early, tonight, because we’re in a room with Chris–the earliest to bed and earliest to rise of the group. Lights out will be 7:30 PM. Wish me luck falling to sleep.  

Now that was a day of no climbing!!! Aah.

10/27/17 – Oberlin to Bunkie, LA

We got an early start today, because we all wanted to outrun the rain.  If you remember, we originally were planning to stay in the campground at Chicot State Park. Two of the guys had already made reservations at the town 11 miles short of the park. Ken made reservations for the rest of us at the town 13 miles past it.  

While we were eating breakfast, the sweetest white Labrador retriever joined us to ask for food. He was a healthy looking boy, and he had good manners.  He didn’t beg, he just sat and waited.  In about 35 minutes, he only scored 2 cookies from us before giving up and heading over to a donut shop.   

I rode out last with Ken behind me, and was flying down the road when I realized that I had left my water bottles in the refrigerator of my room– a 2.5 mile mistake.  You know, I already did that once on this tour.  Duh.  But it was so cool outside with nice cloud cover, so a little more riding didn’t bother me.  

About 7 miles into the ride, I saw a dog up ahead in the road. It was that white Lab from breakfast.  He ran alongside me for over 2 miles.  I seriously did not know how to get him to stop running with me.  I sped up, and he sped up. He was too smart to fall for the fake throw. Later, I learned that he ran 7 miles with Tom C and Erwin and 6 miles with Ken.  He also ran with Tom R and Joe, but we won’t know how far till we meet up with them tomorrow. We all felt bad when we realized how much we put him through.  I am not in the market for a dog, but if I lived here or nearby, I would take that big boy home.  I will not be able to forget him.  

The 3 little pigs frolicked outside of Mamou

After over 2 hours of peddling, when I reached Mamou, I was ready for a break. A couple of bikes were parked outside of the Krazy Cajun Cafe, so I parked and settled in for an early lunch of a tasty Cajun burger.  

No I didn’t try these

Turns out that Mamou is a Cajun music town.  Too bad we didn’t we didn’t stay there, because it has a lot of fun looking eateries, and at night, there are at least 3 different places with live Cajun music on week nights and more in weekends.  

I rode out of Mamou with Ken, and he stuck with me for the rest of the day. We passed rice and sugar beet fields, and more pine tree farms and cattle ranches as we made our way through Ville Platte on the way to Chicot State Park.  

Signs in the yard of a Ville Platte home

We also passed at least 5 cemeteries with raised vaults to keep the graves from floating away when it floods and/or to keep them from floating because the water table is so high.  They sure put a lot into their grave sites around here.  Makes me appreciate how clean and simple we keep them in Arizona.  

Chicot (pronounced chee-koh) State Park was really cool. It has a lake, swampy areas, tall trees everywhere and hilly roads winding through it. We stopped by the two campsites Ken could not get a refund on, and were glad we didn’t stay there.  The bathrooms were nice, but the campsites had so much slope it would have been very uncomfortable trying  to sleep there. Still, it was a beautiful spot.

The campsite we skipped out on

I haven’t mentioned rain yet, because so far, we hadn’t seen any. The road leading to the park was wet, because it had ben rained on before we  got there.  As we left the park, the skies looked pretty threatening.  Thabkfully our route changed directions 5 miles into our last 3 miles, and we picked up a nice tailwind that pushed us into Bunkie.  

IThis local Veteran’s memorial is completely out of space for new names
The fountain is a continuation of the memorial

The rain held out until half hour after we checked into our rooms, then it let loose.   

Neal and I had dinner/breakfast/lunch duty, so we donned rain Jackets, emptied my panniers, and walked a half mile to Piggly Wiggly for groceries.  We picked up salad fixings, fresh fruit and ice cream for our dinner and a bunch of other food for breakfast and lunch. After unloading all the food in my room, we made the salad, then Neal headed over to a Cajun Chicken place across the street to pick up fried chicken, dirty rice  and red beans with rice. The feast was a huge hit.  

When the rain hit, Eric was looking around Chicot State Park, so he arrived the motel long after we had finished eating. While he ate dinner, we worked on a plan for a trip to New Orleans with Tom R and Erwin during our layover in St Franciscille, LA.  

10/26/17 – Merryville to Oberlin, LA

Our day began with another delectible breakfast prepared and served by our trail angels, the Merryville Historical Society. With Eddie at the skillet, another generous multi-course feast was served up. We hated to leave Merryville, but we are on a schedule.  

Our group is now down to 10 people, after Rich’s decision to finish the ride on his own.  We left town in our normal order, though I left alone a few minutes after Ed. The riding conditions were perfect:  cool temperatures, clear skies, very little wind, gentle grades, a nice shoulder to ride on and polite drivers. What more could we ask for?

I was never able to catch up to Ed, so I tuned into some music and rode alone.  Today’s ride passed first through the eastern part of Beauregard Parish, then through the western part of Allen Parish, and ran into only two towns—the county seats of both parishes.  In Deridder, Tom C and Erwin passed me as I shot a few photos. 

The terrain throughout the day was just like West Texas, but without all the hills:  Pine tree farms, cattle ranches, many little creek and river crossings–some with white sandy beaches, and lots of tall trees.  

You can’t see them, but the tops of pine trees in neat little rows are poking up through that forest
Calcasieu River with it’s white sandy beaches

We stayed in the Oberlin Inn in Oberlin, the parish seat of Allen Parish. There was no laundry facility at the motel, so I rode to a nearby laundromat, and was lucky there was no waiting for the only washer and dryer that actually worked out of 7 washers and 8 dryers.  

The discussion at our map meeting was dominated by tomorrow’s weather forecast.  Three of the guys have already reserved hotel rooms in a nearby town, because there is a 100% chance of rain, off and on, all day tomorrow, and temperatures of 31 degrees expected tomorrow night while we camp out in Chicot State Park. I have faith that Ken will not put us in a dangerous situation. Guess I’m about to find out.  

10/25/17 – Day Off in Merryville, TX

Last night was so cold!!!  It got down to 39 degrees, and my sleeping bag is rated for 35 degrees, but believe me, it did not keep me warm. I want my money back, but it’s too late for that.  Tonight will be even colder, so I will be wearing all layers of my clothes to bed, tonight, with hopes they will keep me warm.

I have to keep bragging on the Merryville Historic Society. Last night’s dinner was just the beginning of what they were going to do for us. This morning, Paul and Marion, one of the younger couples in the group, brought in a large camp stove, a griddle and bunch of cast iron skillets, and cooked up a huge breakfast of hot cakes, sausages, bacon, boudin, scrambled eggs, county fried potatoes, rolls and juices. We thought we had died and gone to heaven–again. 

Other folks left trays of cold cuts, fresh vegetables and cookies for us to eat for lunch, today, and the group put on another large dinner of red beans and rice, cole slaw, corn bread, and peach upside down cake this evening. Again, I am amazed by their generosity and hospitality.

Today, other than sleeping in and eating all the food and desserts set out for us here, all I did was bring my blog up to date, look around the museum and talk to the various members of the Historical Society who dropped in throughout the day to bring more food and just be friendly.  I never took a nap, but am about to go to bed early, so that’s okay.

10/24/17 – Silsbee, TX to Merryville, LA (We’re in Louisiana!!!)

After saying our goodbyes to Jennifer Exum, our wonderful hostess, last night, we hit the road for the relatively short ride to Merryville, Louisiana.  All the Texas hospitality and scenery we enjoyed were an unexpected surprise that made a huge impression on most of us.  We’ll miss it, but it is time for another state.

Erwin, Eileen, Tom C, , Eric, Neal, Tom R, Chris, Ed, Joe and Jennifer

Not being in any kind of rush, we stopped at the Wal-Mart Super Center to pick up a few items, before starting our ride with Chris, Tom C and Erwin.  They quickly dropped us and rode ahead, which, as I’ve said before, is fine with me.  They keep a faster pace, and there is no point in burning myself out to stay up with them.  

The ride was pretty nondescript most of the day.  A headwind sucked the energy out of us as we rode on a 4-lane divided expressway from Silsbee through Evadale, Buna and into Kirbyville. 

We passed ranches and tree farms most of the day before entering Louisiana
Once we turned east in Kirbyville, the wind changed to a crosswind with a bit of a tailwind, and that definitely reduced the amount of effort required to move down the road.  But now we were on a narrow 2-lane logging road with no shoulder, so we were being blown off the road by fast-moving logging trucks that were sometimes only pulling over a few feet to pass us. 

We made great time to the Sabine River, which is also the Texas-Louisiana border.

We never saw a Welcome to Texas sign when we entered from the west, so had to get a photo with this one on the way out

After riding thru 5 miles with swampy land and muddy creeks on both side of the road, we arrived in Merryville.  

A former thriving lumber town, it declined when the logging industry finished clearcutting all the timber in the area to ship out for use in the Northeast.  Who came up with that business plan?
The town is now occupied by people who have lived here their entire life and want to keep the community going. And it’s hard to keep a declining community going, but they are succeding. The Historical Society is their way of collecting and displaying items with historic value and sharing them with other local people and people passing through town–people like us.  They welcome bicyclists who are passing through their town and let them camp out on the property.  In addition to that, they built and furnished a guest room and a bathroom/bath house building for guests to use too. 

Tom R set his tent up on the porch of a historic cabin. That’s the museum on the right

It is a very impressive organization, and what is even more impressive is that they do all of this just to share their community with people from outside the area–not because they are athletes or cycling enthusiasts, but because they have good hearts and want to share their Southern Hospitality.

Tonight, members put on a wonderful dinner of gumbo, rice, potato salad, fresh rolls, all kinds of cookies and pies, and bread pudding.  We thought we had died and gone to heaven. Eddie, the President of the Historical Society, stood up and told us the history of the town, and it was fascinating.  After Paul said a blessing on the food, our hosts all sat down and ate dinner with us, and we really enjoyed their company. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me, and I’m feeling a responsibility to pay it forward when I get home.  

Historic Society members: Stephanie, Eddie, Marion, Renee, Paul, Kathy and our Erwin

10/23/17 – Shepherd to Silsbee, TX 

I have really good sisters. It sure was nice having Janette down for a visit yesterday, and I really appreciate her putting in the 10 hour round trip drive to see me. 

After dinner, I showed her around to the various rooms and cabins the group was staying in, and the three bathrooms, one of which was entirely outdoors.  She ran me to the store to pick up a few items the guys with lunch duty today had forgotten, then we settled in to go to bed.  We laid in bed and talked for a few hours, then fell into comas, at least I did, and woke at the crack of dawn for the normal breakfast routine.  We were able to spend a little time together before I had to start riding. It was going to be another 60+ mile day.  

Ed and I rode out together and swore that we were going to take it easy today and not push ourselves.  The riding conditions were great, with much less hill climbing and not much in the way of wind.  Hallelujah!  We caught a break. But today, weather wasn’t the problem–dogs were.

Riding out the 1.4 mile lane from Shepherd’s Sanctuary to the main road, we encountered a pack fo 5 dogs that took chase.  Ed was in front, so they were after him.  We pedal, pedal, pedaled, and somehow, none of them bit either one of us, but one of them did manage to get his paw under Ed’s front tire, and yelped up a storm.  Poor thing. I felt sorry for him, and if he hadn’t been acting like he was going to hurt us, I would have gone back to make sure he was okay.  But at that moment?  No way!

We had easy riding all day long as we passed through several little towns, rode along side the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, and crossed the Trinity River, several creeks and bayous.  

At one point, Ken caught up to us as we were taking a break and rode ahead of us.  

Just when he got a couple of blocks in front of us, a couple of dogs ran out to chase him.  Ed and I could see the writing on the wall for another dog encounter.  

Pulling out my mace for the second time ever, I switched it into the ready position, and sped up to try to out run them.  There was no oncoming traffic, so I moved across the road, in case they had some sort of mental boundary in their head that would keep them from crossing the center line.  Luckily, once the dogs got through chasing Ken down, they veered off to the right and didn’t even try chasing us, and we survived to see another day.

There were two highlights in the day, both involving food and hospitality.  The first was our lunch in Kountze.  A man in a grocery store parking lot told us about the two restaurants in town, both of which are a block from each other, so we rode down and chose the one with the most cars in the parking lot–Mama Jack’s 

Ed ordered a burger and fries, and I ordered what everyone else in the place was eating–the $10 lunch buffet. I passed on the fried chicken and country fried steak–I’ve already broken records on the number of times I’ve eaten that on this ride. Instead, I sampled all the home cooking, of which there was a bounty. All kinds of veggies, salads, breads, and deserts. I hated stuffing myself, but had no regrets. It was delicious.  

Before we left, I attempted to gas up my bike with the pump next to the cash register.  Do I get points for trying?  
We rode on to Silsbee where Ken’s deceased brother’s widow lives with her 12 year old daughter.  This may sound a little odd, but she had invited us to camp out in her front yard, and we really appreciated being able to be at a home, instead of an RV park.  

She opened her home to 10 hungry, sweaty cyclists, and let us shower, do our laundry and charge all our devices, and on top of all that, she prepared a fabulous dinner of chili, salad, homemade bread and cornbread, and cake for us.  We enjoyed talking to her, and she and her daughter were entertained by our stories.  

All of us turned in early and slept like puppies.

10/22/17 – Richards to Shepherd, TX

Three things were going in today. Foremost and of greatest importance was the fact that my sister Janette was driving down from North Richland Hills, a 5 hour drive from the Ft. Worth area,  to spend the night with me.  The second was that it was going to be a pretty long ride today–64+ miles, and the last was yesterday’s rainfall prediction was now a certainty, with rain expected at 8 AM.  

Sweet talking the owners of Mexican Hills Ranch, they gave me permission to set my tent up under the pavilion, so that if it rained, it wouldn’t get soaked and would be easier to pack up in the morning.  

So I set an extra early alarm, with hopes of packing up and getting on the road before the rain hit, but it rained a couple times during the night (glad I was under the pavilion). As I was taking down my tent, the heavy rain arrived along with high winds. I was the only person under the pavilion, and several folks had gear under there, so a lot of it was getting blown away.  While trying to hold onto my own gear, I was catching other people’s things before they totally blew away to Neverland.  

Our bikes ready to roll when the rain and lightening stopped

It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to get under the pavilion to secure their gear. At that point, all 10 of us moved into Ernie’s man cave to wait out the storm.  

Some of these guys come from places where it rains a lot, so they’re accustomed to riding in the rain, but this was also an electrical storm, so no one was going anywhere until the nearby thunder and lightening stopped.  
Also rearing to go was Tom C, whose  sister from Houston was meeting him in Shepherd at 2 PM. He, Chris and Joe left when the lightening stopped, but before the rain and thunder stopped.  

Me? Not taking any chances.  I want to live to see my grandkids grow up.  I called my sister and told her I’d be running late and probably wouldn’t be to our destination till 5 PM. No big deal–she is totally flexible. I have rain gear, but no way was I going to ride in all out rain with rolling, rumbling thunder, so I waited.  

The rain had pretty much let up when I started riding a 10:19 AM, and by then I was under the gun to cover some ground.  I rode by myself, stopping only to down a few bites of food and give my sit zone a rest every hour or so, and to take photos, of course. The rest of the time it was pedal to the metal. 

My route passed through the Little Creek Wilderness, into and out of the Sam Houston National Forest, over Lake Conroe (did you catch that Lisa Hatch?), and through an unnecessary detour, as I entered New Waverly, that added 2-3 miles onto my ride.  

The entire day, threatening rain clouds hung overhead as if rain could start falling any second, and for most of the day there was a bit of a headwind as I passed through Pumpkin, Evergreen, and into Coldspring.  The road changed directions in Coldspring, and the wind became a partial tailwind for the rest of the ride into Shepherd.

Thankfully, I managed to arrive Shepherd’s Sanctuary before Janette did, so I had time to meet Tom C’s sister and enjoy snacks she brought, look around a little, and get my shower in.  Janette arrived just in time for dinner, and it was so good to see my sister!

Shepherd’s Sanctuary, is so obscure that even locals don’t know about it. A couple of ladies built it to accommodate family groups, but now open it up for weddings, bike groups and other functions. The place is a funky collection of little cabins decorated with a menagerie of eclectic decor (see above) 

Per Ken, we were only paying $10-20 a night for each cabin, so I had warned Janette to bring her own bedding and towel and to be prepared for creepy shared bathrooms.  We were pleasantly surprised at how clean the place was and that all linens were provided.   We had our own cabin with a comfortable queen sized bed–sheer luxury for me. 

Janette considered joining the tour, but this bike was too loaded down

The purveyor, a gal named Peach, showed us the setup underway for the big Halloween party she throws every other year. She has an entire barn full of Halloween decor she and her partners are in he process of putting out. Wow! That will be quite the party!

10/21/17-Carmine to Richards, TX

What is the eastern boundary of Texas hill country?  Someone please tell me.  

Last night, we slept in a spot that was muggy and mosquito infested.  To survive being outside our tents, we had to be coated in 100% Deet, so by the time I get home, I may have a third eye. We’ve been told that they get worse as we move east from here.  

We went to bed expecting rain this morning and were pleasantly surprised that the weather forecast was wrong. The rain never materialized, and I nstead of rain, we had cool temperatures and clouds, but humidity that was off the chart.  We were drenched in sweat the entire day, especially when the sun came out of the clouds and it heated up.  On a related note, at least 4 of our group have had an increase in leg cramps in the last 24 hours, and we theorize that not drinking enough water in the humidity is the cause. 

Today’s route was about 60% bucolic country lanes and 40% highways. Hitting the road at 7:55 AMs, Ed and I pulled out of the RV park with Tim C and Erwin, but they immediately ditched us. So we rode on. Within an hour, we caught up to Joe and Tom R, who were enjoying some extended country lanes.  

These lop eared cows are Brahma bulls

About half way into the ride, we pulled into the town of Independence, home of Sam Houston and the place where Baylor University got its start.  
What’s left standing of the entry to the original Baylor, and what it used to look like back in the day
The dog trot house aside San Houston’s house

We spent some time roaming around the “ruins” of former buildings and reading their stories, then stopped for treats at the grocery store–the only historic building that is still in use.  

The store facade was made to look like the Alamo

A couple of hours later, we arrived Navasota and Miller’s, the local ice cream place.  We needed a break, and ice cream was calling out to us. 

I didn’t know how I was going to get Ken and Ed out of that place.  They each had a 3-course snack, then Ed started dozing off, then I started sizing off…..that’s when we knew we needed to get back on the road again. 

Several dozen long, steep, painful hill climbs later, we passed through Anderson to catch their Confederate monument. How much longer do you think it will be allowed to stand across from the courthouse?  

Still more crazy hills later, we pulled into Checkpoint Harley @ Mexican Hill Ranch, our destination for the night. The owners, Doris and Ernie, had two huge ice chests of Gatoraide and water waiting for us under a pavilion, and tables and chairs set up for us to cool off on.  This was going to be a great stay. 

While I was showering, Cathy and Cindy, two gals who rode the Southern Tiet last year, brought us homemade lasagne and spinach salad for dinner.  It was fun sharing stories with them. Then we buttoned down tight for a storm expected to arrive during the night. 

10/20/17 – Bastrop State Park to Carmine, TX

Today, we rode our bikes up and down what seemed to be a gazillion hills.  Shoot me!  I can’t wait to be out of Texas Hill Country.  There was more of the same scenery we’ve been seeing for over a week with more longhorns, more road kills, more monuments, more of Ed’s back, etc, as we rode through Smithville, Plum, La Grange, Rutersville and Oldenburg. 

When we got to Warrenton, things started getting more interesting, whimsical and fun. 

Hillbilly clothesline
Love this sign for the Glamp Inn
What does this mean? Chicken what?

This is a great idea for the part of my neighbor’s tree that hangs over my fence

We had heard about the pie at Royer’s in Round Top, and it did not disappoint.  

Royer’s made an exception for Joe, who’s 71. He and Tom R were good for business, downing 4 pieces of pie with 4 scoops of ice cream.
We camped at an RV park in Carmine and, due to no grocery availability, ate out again–our best meal yet. Why didn’t I take a photo of that?

10/19/17 – Austin to Bastrop State Park, TX

I got a late start leaving Austin, today.  The new pedals I bought on Tuesday, when I had my chain replaced, weren’t working with my cleats,so I had to return them and ride over to REI to get pedals that do. Then I had to make a trip to the post office to return my broken Garmin and to mail a box of things I’m not using home. I didn’t get on the road till past 2:30 PM.

I somehow had the impression that hill country ended after Austin, so I was a little surprised to run into several steep hills, including one with an 11% grade, before I even got out of town. The entire route was hilly, but there is no wind, so it was a nice ride all day long.

Now that’s a Longhorn!

I made it to Bastrop in time to spend a little time in the historic downtown. 

I then met the guys at the Roadhouse restaurant for dinner, before riding to our campsite to set up my tent in the dark and take a cold shower. I’m not complaining about the shower. I was happy to have a shower, even if it was cold.

Our dinner conversation included detailed discussion on some probable rainy days ahead on the route. I’m dreading them.