Crossing the state line

Clayborne Park to Dequincy

“Hello there”… “HEY!” 

I peered out over my hammock through blurry eyes towards a slim man with greying handle bar moustache. He was wearing crisp khaki chinos and an uber important looking mint green park ranger shirt. My “good morning” was abruptly cut off with a “who gave you permission to be here.”  I explained last nights late 9pm entry and apologied etc, and then he cut me off again, “WHO gave you permission to be here?”  I repeated my last explanation without any more success. 

After a time we got to the nub of the problem. It wasn’t that we couldn’t camp, it’s just where we’d chosen to camp…  outside the camp ‘komandants’ parking spot. He gave us thirty minutes to pack up and go, we were gone in twenty. 

The sun wasn’t up, the early morning light was still, warm and quiet. We made our way to the closest service station to freshen up and then headed northwest towards Deweyville and the boarder. 

We crossed the boarder and everything changed. 

Not so much a hard boarder, but a bridge crossing another nondescript southern creek. On the other side, the road narrowed and the landscape changed from woodlands and pasture to wetland bayou. 

Massive buttresses of ageing swamp cypress, secure footed drove themselves skyward from the still and muddy waters beneath. Large flocks of Snowy egrets disturbed by our presence raised themselves and slowly, lazily swooped between the branches deeper into the warm and humid interior. Moving take time here. Doing the minimum is a prerequisite to survival. 

We continued down roads scattered with abandoned shacks and trailer homes. But in the shambles there is community, and it’s old and buried deep in the woodland. We met locals who have never left this parish. It’s not that they can’t, it’s just they don’t seem to want to. It’s just the pace of things here. ‘To last, you have to move slow.’

Everyone kept telling us, “Ya’ll just go east, east is where you “ fine dem Coonass” (Cajuns). So east we did. 

We made it DeQuincy by 5pm and pulled up parched, outside the only bar we could locate: ‘The Iron horse’. Not really what you expect, more of an industrial shed on an interior back street, but we were desperate for a drink. 

Sirius Kashefi

Sirus on his way to fin de Mundo.

He found our bikes before he found us. Sirus was a solo bike tourer on his way from Toronto to Fin de Mundo (the very bottom of South America). He’d already been riding for six weeks, telling us he just decided to go so just… went. You are a legend Sirus. Good luck.

A night at the iron horse

Four hours after entering the Iron Horse bar, we left. With a bag full of good memories, new stories and even newer old friends. Thank you all, especially Pony (the Cajun coonass original), Liz’ the bar maid, Shane and Rod, and everyone else. It was a completely Clueless night. 

Sometimes it’s the most unassuming of places that contains the most remarkable people. 


Detour for ribs

Beaumont to Clayborne Park

“Come on in”cried Dayna as we walked into Bicycle science in Beaumont. We couldn’t see her at first for the bikes and merchandise, but there she was waving us over to the counter, wrench in hand. Soon she was in her element, taking my Surly apart to repair my battered rear wheel. 

Eric soon joined her and we got into a long conversation about the difference between cold brewed verses hot brewed coffee and life on the road, before he disappeared off to serve another customer. He has this wonderfully slow patience with people and the world, his grey locks clearly a symbol of his inner wisdom. 

We stayed a few hours, sharing tall tales and meeting a few of the customers who all exhibited the same patient pace of life. “Heck, I got all day” said one old timer, who had come for parts to restore his old 57 Schwinn. He took a seat and took in the atmosphere. There was also Johnnie Powell, who needed some advice and a wrench before getting on a flight to west coast to complete in the Malibu half Ironman. A gentle soul with a beaming smile. We swapped addresses and he was gone. Good luck Johnnie, we’ll be watching. 

Eric sat and started folding up dollar bills into the shape of bow ties. Reminiscing about past times travelling through Central America and leaving these as calling cards along his trail. Much the same way we leave bandanas trailing ours.

Wheel repaired and hearts full we set out at noon. Picking up on his recommendation to head north to Silsbee and a West Texas style BBQ, that he stated “he would be the place he would take Michael Jackson if he came back from the dead”. 

The West Texas BBQ

It took us a few hours of detour to reach it, doing whatever we could to remain cool in the searing humidity. Texas storm clouds brewed in the east, that seemed to trailing us as a constant companion up the road.

It was an unassuming place with, as the sign says ‘good food and mean woman’. We were treated by a high pitched ‘How you’ll doin’’ that was clearly not from this side of Texas. We ordered ribs, slaw, sprite and an endless supply of shaved ice. We took our time to recover and wait out the worst of the days sting. 

It was a worthy detour. 

We traveled east and south in the shade of wooded roads in to the twilight dusk and dark. It was out first night camping. Sleeping in hammocks as they lazily swung in the cradle of two great trees. I lay there, looking up to a full and distant moon and I wonder if we could all do with a little more of Eric’s slow patience. Perhaps this is what people mean by southern charm.

Waiting on a certain something

From Galveston to Beaumont

A couple of broken spokes and no real chosen routes, there were a lot of unknowns to the day. A completely clueless kind of a day.  I went in search of salvation, riding a quiet Galveston in the humid early hours and leaving Horse in his slumber. 

This old port town has a charm and history that is pure Texan: rebellious, entrepreneurial and proud. It ‘s full of well salted backstreets with their shuttered bungalows, eclectic victorian era manor homes and old cotton houses down by the wharf. The place a cool retreat in a hot land.

With a few running repairs and good advice from the Island bicycle company, we both packed and got back on the ferry with a modest wobble in the rear wheel. It was already noon. 

On the Bolivar

The Bolivar peninsula has a singular and relatively straight road spanning some 45km from the ferry landing at Fort Travis all the way through to High Island. People are slowly moving back in from 2008 Hurricane Ike that levelled the collectIon of small beach communities all along Texas 87. It’s scares replaced with pastel shaded still homes, whirling shore birds and the endless green grey surf.

We battled a continuous yet welcome sea breeze east down the trail. Stopping to regularly hydrate and hunt out those rare outposts of shade in the inferno, before finally collapsing through the door of a 711 at High island. Recovered, we continued north with the wind at our heals and made good time in the late afternoon heat to Winnie. Climbing the huge span crossing the East Bay Bayou, provided us a rear vista over the landscape. One of those few times in my life that I’ve seen flat and endless ground spill over the horizon. Perhaps the world is flat after all.

We made record time to Winnie, the last our of sun screen shielding giving way to the suns low late afternoon snap and burn we had come to dread. We were in a need of shade and a store. Mischief came in a bottle and we needed the lift. 

The night ride

We’d left Winnie late and we knew it. It was near 6.30 before we made for Beaumont, still another 35km riding away. 

Travelling the last of the low light. These old east Texas roads, with their elegant trees slowly bowing to greet the green fields that were rising to meet them. A slow formality lost in the speed of our modern world. I could only imagine what it must have been like to stroll along the rails of those warm shaded fields, with the ‘shissin’ of the field crickets and the jingle of loose change fumbling in my pocket. Biding my time, just biding my time. 

We rode on until dusk eventually turned into dark and the night. Our guides now became the yellow tungsten glow and flame of the refinery, and the distant beauty of a high cloud lightning storm far too far to hear. With inadequate light we rode on, lost in the blackness and silent witnesses to the beauty of heaven. 

We finally got to rest in Beaumont at nine. Exhausted restaurants already closing we settle for gas station nachos with liquid onion and cheese. An ending undignified for such an elegant day.

Galveston to Bolivar and back again

Clearly some things worked well today, and other things not quite so well. We headed back onto hells highway first thing – Galveston Road south. We made good time, cutting from one shady spot to the other, with regular stops for fresh water and malts.

The interesting part was to come, how to cross the I45 interstate to the island. We rode until we got to the last gas station south. It was there Horse spied the local policeman keeping a watchful eye on a vagrant who was smoking way to close to the bowsers.

He told us ‘we could risk it’, but that the bridge was outside of his jurisdiction. We were contemplating our options when a whale of raised 4WD drifted in our direction. It was then we heard him, “where ya’ll going”. It was Ricky and his girlfriend Ann.

They offered to take us over to the island and within seconds we began hauling our bikes onto the small mountain of empties littering the rear tray of the ute. We climbed up and wedged ourselves into the back just as Ann and Ricky returned. They’d just filled up on a few cases of beer and cigarettes from the forecourt shop.

Now, with ice cold beer in hand, we made our escape. Racing headlong up the on-ramp to merge with the flow of traffic to Galveston.

Ricky is an offshore oil and gas worker, two weeks of work, followed by two weeks of what seems like some serious play. He refers to work as rehab and judging by the pile of empties in the rear I can understand why. He’s Cuban American, having moved here at the age of two, but now he refers to himself as a true Texan. There is a fire and a maverick in the man. Ann was more patient. She’s a local nurse specialising in liver transplants. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I sat in the back… finishing off my beer.

I have a feeling this isn’t the last we will see or hear from Ricky Escauriza. What a legend.

We rode on through salt weathered back streets to the Seawall, where murky grey green surf rolled onto an empty fawn and fading shoreline. Ships and oil platforms scattered across the horizon – that’s the price for $2.58 a gallon of gas here in Texas.

We stopped at Gorditas restaurant to get out of the early afternoon sun. I ordered a torta and beer which would have been the envy of any antojitos back in México City. Then as planned we caught a late afternoon ferry to Bolivar peninsula.

We didn’t get far. Somewhere along the day, my wheel had weakened and thrown not one, but two spokes. It wasn’t worth the risk. We returned to Galveston.

We could see it, and felt the tail wind at our backs but for a moment, and then it was lost. Escape again seems to have eluded us.

Taking our chances

Riding south out of Houston

We rode the early morning sweat of last nights downpour, past opening taquerías and the sound of Banda. I was happy and reminiscing for past lives and old friends. We were heading south and then we hoped east in an attempt to leave Houston. 

We rode through opulent Sunset Boulevard, Rice University and Hermann Park, that provided a stark reminder of the excessive wealth held by a few in this vast country. Houses as big as hotels with front lawns manicured within an inch of their existence.

Then Onward, tracing Brays Bayou under the low overcast that made the riding humid, but not excessive. One might even think pleasant.

We were aiming for the backstreet novelty of Smither park and the neighbouring Orange Show before heading south down Galveston Road. The cloud cover had burnt off and it proved to be an endlessly cruel and steaming concrete river running to the sea.

There is book by Joseph Heller called ‘Job’. It’s a modern take on that biblical classic. At the conclusion, when the great revelation finally came and the earth was fallen, Lucifer decided to take Texas. Citing that the place was ‘hotter than hell’ and he invited everyone he liked to join him there. Along with the offer of unlimited credit and an eternity to pay off the debt. Galveston Road felt like it belonged there this day. 

We finally figuring out how to beat the heat, drinking excessive amounts of anything and soaking whatever we are wearing in chilled water. Ride, drink, soak, repeat. Every thirty minutes. 

We made the first destination, the Johnson Space Centre sometime around two in the afternoon. And thanks to our good fortune and the good ladies at reception, we were ushered through the VIP section to the recently revamped Apollo mission control. That mission was a personal mission.

The day was closing in and so were our reserves. We called it (quitting for the day) and dove into the closest air-conditioned bar to rehydrate. Thank you Wendy. You were a super star.