December 1, 2011
An early start on the first day of December brought me to Willie’s Washington Campground, the only campground of the trip that served beer.
The ride started with a cold morning. For the third day in a row the grass was frosty when I packed up in the morning. Apparently the deep South can be as cold as the Northwest in late Fall. The Blue Bicycle and I zig-zagged through small towns and open fields all morning. My path swung wildly between north and south, always moving slowly west. The sweeping directional shifts annoyed me, except for the times the road zagged in the right direction and the wind blew me forward.
I stopped at a gas station to take a dump. Afterward, I felt like I should buy something in exchange for what I did to the toilet. The morality of using public toilets without making a purchase was one of the most difficult ethical questions I had to consider during the whole trip. I yell at signs that say “restrooms for customers only.” But, I wouldn’t want a bicycle tourist coming into the bathroom in my without buying anything. They’re dirty, they smell bad and their cheap.
I wandered the bare shelves in search of something that I needed, and that wasn’t too expensive. The gas station was in the middle of nowhere and prices were almost twice as much as at the last store I stopped at. After cruising up and down the aisles a couple times and combing through expired items I picked out some oatmeal and peanut butter. I realized later that the peanut butter was expired, but I ate it anyway.
Like most gas stations in the South, this one was much more than some covered gas pumps attached to a convenience store. It’s the only business left in town and a community meeting place. Fresh seafood bulged out of a cooler in the back. Locals bought and sold pecans scavenged from local trees. There were even a couple employees in the back making sausage.
The woman at the register told me I was the third cross-country biker who had been through her store this week. A chatty customer asked why so many bicyclists ride through town, so I explained about the Adventure Cycling route, which goes right through town and all the way to the Atlantic ocean to the East and San Diego to the West. He lived on the route and in the summer he sees 20 bicycles a day riding by. But somehow he didn’t know about the cycling route that goes right by his door. Maybe he thought bike tourists by the dozen rode through every town in the country all summer long.
I stopped for lunch in a corner of a field and ate the last of the oranges the cajun guy on the side of the road gave me. Finishing the oranges meant I could start on the satsumas, which are such a joy to peel compared to the swearing match that peeling on orange can turn into.
Lunch in the field was possibly the mental high-point of the trip. I had finally gotten back into the rhythm of pedaling and doing whatever I want all day after being in New Orleans for four days. Also, I wasn’t worried about time anymore because I was making it pretty good. A feeling of finiteness was creeping into my thoughts about the trip. At first, it felt like it would last forever. But now that I was approaching Texas I didn’t want it to end – I wanted to keep doing whatever I wanted all day long. To keep pedaling past my destination of Austin, Texas.
So I made a point to savor every moment because soon I would have to find a job. Also contributing to my positive mental attitude was the fact that I was used to being dirty again. I had been wearing the same clothes and riding all day without showering for four days now.
For the first time since New Orleans, I found a nice place to sleep before dusk. I got to the town of Washington, La., at 3 p.m., with plenty of daylight to explore the town and use a computer at the library before it closed. Washington is the third oldest settlement in Louisiana and the town has lots of french signs and antique stores.
Willie’s Washington Campground was on a bayou down the street from the library. Once again, I was the only camper. Everyone else lived there full-time. I didn’t know where to pitch my tent so I went into the building at the front of the campground to ask. I thought the building was an office, but instead of a park ranger at a desk, it was a dark, smokey room with gambling machines, pool tables and a bar.
A round guy sitting at the bar told me I could pitch my tent wherever I wanted. I put it by a patch of grass next to the bayou and went looking for the bathroom. I found it in a plywood building that should probably be condemned. The lights didn’t work, so I decided to wait until morning to take a shower.
Willie’s Washington campground calls itself a recreational park on it’s website. The only recreation they offer, at least in December, is drinking beer in the bar. I went in and had a few drinks, met some locals and pretended to watch college football.