December 2, 2012
In the beginning of the trip, you may remember, I kept hearing about a Dutch guy who was always a day ahead of me. I think I wanted to find him and ride with him for a while. He had come to represent the ideal bike tourer based on rumors I had heard about him. After a few slow days I figured I’d never catch him. Then, I took four days off in New Orleans and totally forgot about the guy. Well, today in the Bayous of western Louisiana, I once again heard about the Dutch guy. Late in the afternoon I ran into a group of four guys from Portland, Oregon. They left Portland in the summer, went south along the West Coast, and then hung a left toward St. Augustine.
They were my age and I was instantly jealous of their camaraderie and wished I had three friends with me. We didn’t talk long, and I was about to pedal away from them when the most talkative of the group said, “There’s another guy about a half a day ahead of you… He’s from the Netherlands.”
I had one more chance to overtake the mysterious Dutch guy who was always just up ahead! I thanked the dudes from Portland and continued on my quest. I started wondering what it would be like if I actually met him. I had heard about him a handful of times from people all over the South, but he would have never heard of me and had no idea I was behind him on the same route. And he still doesn’t know, because as is the case with most bright fleeting things that are always just ahead- I never caught him.
Back in Willie’s campground, a woman introduced herself as Miss Laurie. She brought me a giant mug of coffee while she was walking her terrier, and told me all bout life in the town of Washington. She lived in the campground for years, but her husband recently passed away and she was considering taking off for Texas, or somewhere up North. Miss Laurie gave me some advice on what to do in Austin and told me about her travels. She lived all over the country before settling down in Louisiana.
By 10 a.m. my tent was dry so I packed it up, took a shower in the dark in one of the most rundown bathrooms of the trip and headed west. I bought some postcards in the town museum and talked to the chatty lady in charge. She told me that farming, the main economic activity in the area, is all mechanized and there are no labor jobs but plenty of people sitting around with nothing to do for work. She asked me if it’s like that everywhere and I said sort of, and told her about agriculture in Washington state.
Next, a sign for okra seafood gumbo lured me into Cafe Opera. I was really taking my time and trying to soak up as much of the South as I could in the remaining days of the tour. I finally left town at noon after slurping up the end of the delicious gumbo. The next campground was 80 miles away. I could have made it there if I started earlier, but then my tent would still be wet.
I started pedaling in pants, a fleece and wool socks, but stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt in the first five miles. Pedaling the Blue Bicycle was a pleasure and the roads were quiet and rural, though loose dogs were chasing me more frequently. So far they were all little dogs who just wanted to bark at me, but that soon changed.
I pedaled on through Mamou, the Cajun Music Capital of the World, and continued East through miles of rice fields. At sunset, I followed a sign towards a cemetery hoping to find a place to sleep. When I got to the cemetery a circle of guys were idling in their pickup trucks and looking tough, so I kept going. A few miles later I found a patch of grass at the edge of a big rice field with a thicket of trees to hide my campsite from the road.
In the dark, I could see lights from just three small houses on the horizon. No one was around for miles and the sky was perfectly clear, though rain was forecast. I gorged myself on beans, couscous and apple turnovers, then spent the evening walking around in the dark and staring at the stars.
I thought a lot about the end of the trip today. Specifically, I thought about how I didn’t want it to ever end. I wanted to make it across Texas, into the desert and over the mountains. I wanted to see the Grand Canyon. If retirement still exists when I’m retirement age, I’d like to spend mine bike touring.