to Silsbee, TX

Submitted by Ben on Sat, 01/15/2005 - 00:00

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, a construction crew started working around 4:00 AM and my Saturday was begun!

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, but I had no luck there either.  (My best prospects are computer stores, cell-phone dealers, and printers, but none of these tend to be 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 here.  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.  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 play 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 Association 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?  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 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.  They put me up in their spare bedroom on this coldest night of the year, and I'm just glad I made that last stop before heading out of town!

9.26 mi