By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 16, 2004]

Long message this time... some remarkable things happened!

Right after I wrote that it was "a beautiful last night in Texas," I lay down to sleep and smelled a horrible smell... at first I thought I must have put my tent down over a previous camper's cathole; then I decided the smell was more like rotting brussels sprouts, so it must be someone's old garbage. (Either would be plausible; this was a very "primitive" campground with no restrooms or trashcans nearby.) But a few hours later when I stepped outside the tent, I realized the smell was everywhere... the wind had shifted, and I was downwind from a paper mill! The night was cold, so I stuffed all of my spare clothes into the sleeping bag for warmth and closed up the hood so that only my nose stuck out... but with the smell out there, I wanted my nose inside!

After a few hours of very poor sleep, I was wakened by a construction crew starting its day around 4:00 AM! Noplace I asked in Lumberton would allow me to plug into their phone line to send my e-mail, so I went on to Silsbee (TX), but I had no luck there either. (My best prospects tend to be computer stores, cell-phone dealers, and printers, but none of these are open on Saturday mornings, so I was resorting to convenience stores where business was slow.) I decided I'd try one last place and then head on to Louisiana.

I was stopped in the parking lot by an old man who said, "Whoa there! Where are you going and where did you start from?" He turned out to be the instigator of an initiative to get Silsbee named among the country's "Bike Friendly Cities," and he offered to put me up for the night in exchange for information about bike touring. After my exhausting night, I was happy to accept! Come to find out, J.P. (as his name is) served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and his wife Helen was a "Rosie the Riveter" building planes. Helen taught foreign languages at the University of Oklahoma for a while, and then they settled in Silsbee.

J.P. bought a radio station and made a name for himself broadcasting all the sporting events no one else covered, such as girls' soccer and tee ball. He served as mayor and school superintendent, while Helen taught in the schools and ran the foreign-exchange-student program, taking in a handful of students from exotic countries in their own home. After they both retired, Helen was instrumental in turning an old ice house (which down here is a refrigeration plant, not a fishing shack) into a museum, and J.P. went into business selling and fixing golf carts. As such, he still knows all the movers and shakers in town, because they all golf!

So about a year ago, J.P. accepted an electric bicycle as a trade-in for a golf cart. This got him biking again, and he joined the Texas Cycling Coalition and the League of American Bicyclists. When the League came out with its list of bike-friendly cities last summer, College Station was the only one in Texas. The Adventure Cycling Southern Tier route (which I'm following on my way east, give or take 50 miles) passes through the nearby town of Kountze, so J.P. thought, why not make Silsbee a bike-friendly city and attract that tourist traffic? Why not do it before the next list is published?

The deadline for the 2005 list is March 31st, and J.P. is determined to do everything he can until then, at which time he will bow out and let other people run the show. He mobilized the good ol' boy network and took the newly named Big Thicket Wheelers from zero to 40 members -- with bylaws and a board and nonprofit status pending -- last week. Yesterday they got their 110th member. He's contacted everyone in the county who's dreamed of putting in bike trails or anything bike related and got them on board for the March 31st deadline. There may not be any ground broken by then, but there will be a really impressive paper trail!

Anyhow, J.P. drove me around the town as he was telling me all this, and I helped him move some of his hundred or so golf carts and swap some batteries. I met Helen, who has had a stroke and needs constant supervision; she has a daytime caregiver so that J.P. can get out. I also met their chihuahua, who took an immediate dislike to me and would not be persuaded of my good intentions. They put me up in their spare bedroom on the coldest night of the year, and in return I told him what amenities would make the town attractive to me as a bicyclist. Even if they don't get the award this year, they'll get more bicycles on the road, which can only help. J.P. fixed me a hearty breakfast Sunday morning, and I was on the road by sunrise.

I had a minor adventure when I tried to follow a shortcut that was shown on my map, but that turned out to be an unpaved, unmarked road through an oil field. I gave up and went the long way around. There's a swamp along the border of Louisiana and Texas. The road I took across was about 50% bridges and 50% infill. The bridges weren't widened when the rest of the road got shoulders, so every time I came to a bridge I stopped and waited for a gap in traffic before pulling out into the lane.

When I rode through a little town just across the border, I met another cyclist: a boy in his early teens riding a stunt bike so small I swear it could be concealed in a trenchcoat. We exchanged compliments and he asked the usual questions about where I was going and where from. "How about you?" I asked. "Oh, I'm from ... just down the road, and I was going about... 300 yards down the road." "Everyone has to start somewhere," I said sagely, "but where are you *going*?" "Ohh," he exclaimed. "I guess I don't know." "I've been there," I said, enjoying being the mysterious stranger in someone else's story. "I'm headed there, too. It's not a bad place. Maybe I'll see you there." "See you around!" he said and rode home to write a book or get counseling or something.

I rode hard all day and still barely made it to Vinton by sunset. Fortunately that should be the last long day for a while; I've chosen a route through Louisiana where the campgrounds are close together. Louisiana is the first state on this trip I've never visited before. Onward to new territory! --Ben