Today was one of those days when nothing goes quite as expected. I woke in the morning to find Opelousas blanketed in heavy fog. I had a short day of riding ahead of me, so I decided to walk to a restaurant and get breakfast while waiting for my tent to dry.
I asked a few passersby for a restaurant that might have some local flavor (as opposed to McDonalds, which was the first place they all named when I asked about breakfast) and wound up at a greasy-spoon diner a menu that could have been anywhere in the country. I put Tabasco sauce on my eggs.
The fog was just beginning to clear when I got back, and my tent wasn't any closer to being dry, so I put it away anyway and prepared to leave. I tried to pay the folks in the park office for my overnight stay, but they insisted I could only pay the guy who hadn't shown up to take my money the night before, and he wasn't any more present in the morning, so I left without paying.
As I was leaving the park, I met two other bike tourists, an elderly couple from Lafayette (about 25 miles south) who turned out to be the authors of the Bike Louisiana Web site. They strongly discouraged me from following US-190 toward Baton Rouge. They said it had lots of bridges without shoulders. I figured, hey, there were lots of bridges without shoulders on the road I took across the border; no sweat! They didn't say that one of these bridges was FOUR MILES LONG. They also didn't tell me that the campground I was counting on was not open to me. Either of those facts would have caused me to reconsider, but instead they kept saying that the route featured on their Web site, which would take me 50 miles farther north, was much more beautiful.
I stopped for a second opinion at the tourist information center in town, and a woman there assured me that US-190 had a very nice shoulder except on a few bridges, and that there was no need to detour farther north. I headed off down the road feeling a little bit smug that I had better information than those recreational tourists from Lafayette who probably hadn't set eyes on the highway since it was repaved.
The shoulder was smooth, and I had a nice tailwind, and I made excellent time all the way through Krotz Springs and across the Atchafalaya River, which is at least as wide here as the Mississippi is in St. Louis, but only about half as wide as the Mississippi is here. Then I turned south on the state highway that would lead me to my campground in the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge.
Now, I've heard of the Atchafalaya Swamp. I was looking forward to camping in the refuge, not so much because I was eager to sleep in another swamp, but because it's famous, and because it's national land. My map showed a campground about three miles down a state highway from 190.
The road was marked as a state highway, but it was unpaved. Or rather, it was under an inch of gravel. This was no temporary fix; the road was paved in an inch of loose gravel and left that way. It was very tough going on my bike. I suddenly thought to wonder whether the campground actually existed. I tried to call the agency responsible for the refuge, but they didn't answer. I decided to go back to the highway, not so much because I couldn't get through the gravel this afternoon, but because if I did sleep three miles down that road, I'd have to get back through the gravel first thing in the morning!
Turning back turned out to be the best decision I've made in a long time, because next came the four mile bridge. It was not shown as a bridge on the map. It was not marked in any way with signs: "Danger: no stopping, next 4 mi." We just started across, and there was no shoulder and no way off. In broad daylight it was no problem -- the cars could see me half a mile away and had plenty of time to get out of my lane and pass safely. But crossing it in the morning fog would be incredibly stupid ... and unavoidable, since I wouldn't know where I was until it was too late!
As it was, everything turned out for the best: I got to see all I need to see of the Atchafalaya.