[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on January 20, 2005]
It was a mistake for me to call the night I spent in Silsbee "the coldest night of the year." That cold snap lasted for three more nights, and I continued camping out because my route was planned around campgrounds, and because I'm a stubborn fool! Between the Interstate and the railroad and the freezing temperatures and the rooster who crowed every few seconds, all night long, I slept very poorly Sunday night at the campground in Vinton. I took my time getting up and didn't hit the road until around 10:00.
I rode into the town of Sulphur, LA, and asked about the name, since I rode through Sulphur, OK a few months ago. This one was named for sulfur mines that were there before the town was founded. I ate lunch at a cajun deli in Sulphur where a constant parade of customers came in asking for cracklins and were turned away. I kept expecting the cashier to burst into a chorus of, "Yes! We have no more cracklins today."
The cultural difference between southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana is the most abrupt I think I've ever seen across a state line. The "y'alls" I told you about stopped as soon as I entered Louisiana; in fact the people here speak so clearly they have trouble understanding me! Cowboy hats and the cowboy identity pretty much disappeared as well. Pickup trucks became epidemic for 50 miles or so -- they were up around 80% of all vehicles on the road -- and then subsided as I continued east. Rangeland has been replaced by rice paddies and crawfish ponds. The ground is so wet in southern Louisiana -- let's call it "permasog" -- that most buildings are built a few inches or even feet above ground level, up on blocks like manufactured ("mobile") homes. The dead are buried in concrete vaults rather than directly in the ground, presumably to keep them from getting into the groundwater. About half the religious radio stations are now Catholic, and the Tejano music on the air has been replaced by zydeco. Cracklins, by the way, are pork rinds. A pre-cooked pork roast is called a "picnic." I'm not kidding... a Piggly Wiggly store was advertising picnics for 88 cents a pound, and they turned out to be shrink-wrapped, smoked pork roasts the size of whole chickens, and they said "picnic" right on the label. I have trouble imagining eating one of them on a blanket in the park.
Anyhow... my map showed that US 96 merged with Interstate 10 to cross Lake Charles (a wide spot on the Calcasieu River) from Sulphur into the town of Lake Charles. I decided to see whether there would be an access road or some other way for me to get across, but there was none; in fact the bridge over the lake is astonishingly high (they were expecting maybe the QE2?) and has no shoulders at all. I'm not sure what slow-moving vehicles do when they have to cross; maybe they have to ride on semi trailers. As I was studying my map to decide where I could travel safely, a driver coming the other way pulled over and crossed the highway on foot to give me directions to the state park.
Sam Houston Jones State Park was about 6 miles out of my way, but I had to detour around the lake anyway, and it was worth it for the peace and quiet. I got assigned a campsite right next to a lagoon -- wait 'till you see the photo -- but as the only tent camper I chose a site farther from the water. One thing I'll say for cold-weather camping: you don't have to worry about mosquitos... but I wasn't sure about alligators or snakes! I was tired of my space blanket getting my sleeping bag all wet with condensation, so I tried Marisa's suggestion of hanging the blanket from the ceiling. It made me feel like I was sleeping in a toaster, but it kept me warm through most of a 20-degree night!
Tuesday was short and uneventful. I took my time and reached a campground outside Iowa, LA by 3:30. The campground was overpriced, but the manager at least showed me a place where I would be out of the wind. South-central Louisiana is as flat as North Dakota, and the wind comes sweepin' down the plains. Wednesday was much warmer, with a warm night forecast. I expected it to be a slow and easy day, but after three nights of camping in the cold I was stiff and sore and tired. I also had a mouth full of canker sores to attest to the stress I was under.
I stopped for lunch in Jennings before heading via back roads to Egan, where my map showed a campground. When I got to the spot, around 3:30, the campground was gone. I flagged down a local who said it had been there, but it closed. I checked the yellow pages in a nearby restaurant and found a hotel 10 miles farther east. As tempting as the thought was of reducing Thursday's long ride, it would set me back $60, and besides, I was too tired to ride another 10 miles. I filled my water bottle at the restaurant and headed to a patch of land I'd noticed while looking for the campground.
It belongs to the Acadiana Beagle Club (this being Acadia Parish) and I presume it's a training ground for hunting dogs. It was posted No Hunting but not No Trespassing, and there was no fence or gate. I set up camp behind some trees. An hour later, when there was no longer any question of changing plans before dusk, some members of the Beagle Club showed up to their other property across the road and started feeding the beagles. I kept a low profile, and they had no idea I was there.
Thursday's ride was nearly 50 miles, so I budgeted the whole day for it. Fortunately I slept soundly and woke refreshed an hour before dawn. I was on the road before sunrise and reached my lunch stop, Rayne (Frog Capitol of the World!), before they had started serving lunch, so I just rode on. A solid night's rest must have made all the difference, because I reached Opelousas at the unheard-of hour of 2:00! The campground shown on my map was a city park. It's not really set up as a campground, but they let me use the showers in the football stadium, which were kind of horrifying. Camping in the middle of a city park in the middle of a city is an interesting experience; lots of different sounds.
I'll be in Baton Rouge this weekend! Stay tuned! --Ben