December 4 -5, 2012

It rained a little over night but it was dry when I woke up. The thunder storm in the forecast either hadn’t shown up yet or was already over. I was starting to think that Louisianans had a wimpy definition of storm and staying in the teepee in DeRidder for two nights would be a mistake. But I was tired and I wanted to take a day off. I wanted to sleep in and lounge around all day and cook in a kitchen, but I wanted it to be stormy so I would have an excuse to do it.

I spent the morning reading, watching TV and listening to the gentle thunder and drizzling rain. After the thunder I rode into town to explore. It wasn’t hot but I was sticky with sweat after a couple pedal strokes. The ground was soaked and the air so humid it almost filtered out the cigarette smoke wafting out of the trailers and porches lining the road.

The former prison. People have been put to death here.

The mobile homes and trailer parks surrounding the campground eventually gave way to brick housing developments, and then the historic brick buildings of downtown DeRidder appeared. I walked around town and bought enough groceries to last a few more days and went back to the campground in sprinkling rain.

Monika, the campground owner, likes animals even more than she likes the old west. She founded the DeRidder branch of the Humane Society and transformed her campground into a petting zoo. A trail around the perimeter of the campground winds past goats, donkeys, ducks, chickens and llamas.

In exchange for the cheap lodging, I spent an hour wandering around the property with the ducks and moving branches off of the trails.

Resting was great for the first half of the day, but by afternoon I was ready to get moving. I did laundry, made another feast and packed my stuff. My bike was all set and I was looking forward to getting an early start. I couldn’t wait to pedal away from DeRidder and into Texas.

The real storm finally arrived sometime during the night and it was pouring and thundering when I woke up. The sheets of water flowing downhill looked as if they really could wash me away, like Monika claimed. My enthusiasm waned and I took my time eating breakfast and getting ready. I drank coffee and stared out the window until noon. It was still raining, but it had let up and water had stopped flowing down the dirt road into the campground. So I let the campground manager take a photo of me for their scrapbook of bicycle tourists and then I rode off.

It was supposed to pour all day, so I made a plan. There was a town with a place to camp just 20 miles from DeRidder. If the weather stayed bad I would just go there.

Like always, it felt great to start riding and leave another town behind. I rolled over the bumpy back roads into DeRidder for the third and last time and then headed east on Highway 190. I stayed on the big smooth should of the highway the whole way to Merryville. It was pretty uneventful, but I met another guy on a bike who was going towards Key West. We didn’t talk long because it was windy and wet.

All the yards on the outskirts of Merryville were covered in broken cars and other assorted broken things. Like most places in the South, the houses had signs that said “beware of dog.” It wasn’t welcoming. A few miles later I was in the heart of the town. It was small and charming and felt much safer than the outskirts. The Merryville Historical Society lets bicyclists camp outside of their museum, so I went to check it out. A woman at the museum gave me some cookies and fudge leftover from a Holiday Bazaar and told me I could pitch my tent on the covered stage.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay in Merryville or keep going, but then the sky rumbled and rain started falling again and I pitched my tent in the covered area.

I looked at the internet in the library and picked out Death of a Salesman from their rack of free books. I was surprised by how many books I was reading. My patience for reading by headlamp in a dark tent it limited. But I did spend a lot of time in a dark tent and good books kept falling into my lap.

To celebrate my last night in Louisiana I went to the restaurant in town, Chad’s Bar and Grill, and ate a Po’ Boy packed with fried fish and shrimp. My food took forever to come, but it was delicious. When I was done, I lingered in the restaurant watching TV and drinking soda to avoid the weather outside. I spent the evening walking around town, looking at Christmas lights, and enjoying the last I’d see of Louisiana.

The shuttered AK 47 store in DeRidder.

Christmas decorations in DeRidder.

Leaving the campground, equipped with rain gear and dork vest.

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