Day 27: near Jackson LA to Poplarville MS

Started: Oct 18, 2010 7:46:04
Ride Time: 9:01:58
Stopped Time: 1:37:51
Distance: 141.69 miles
Average: 15.69 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 203.09 miles/h
Climb: 4256 feet
Calories: 6908

The above mileage is overstated because my GPS track got hinky over the last 15 or so miles of my ride. Still, I estimate that I rode about 135 miles today—my longest day on the tour so far, and I hope my longest day of those yet to come. Despite the distance, I’m feeling surprisingly good, apart from being very tired—a bit spacey even—and some residual hotfoot on the ball of my left foot.

I got rolling about 30 minutes later than I intended this morning. But Perry and Lep had made me a nice breakfast, and I was enjoying visiting with them. I was a little reluctant to get going, even though I knew I’d be racing the sunset from the word go.

They had told me I had a nice day of cycling ahead of me, and indeed, the first 70 miles really were nice, with mild hills, good pavement, and a lot of tree-shaded roads. The sky was very cloudy, and while it wasn’t very cold, it took a long time to really warm up. At one point I made a wrong turn, which chewed up about four miles. I cursed myself as soon as I realized my mistake.

After that 70-mile point, the road got a bit rougher and I found myself in a more remote area, with much less population. At one point, I turned onto a road and it instantly felt like a different place. Partly because the sun had burned through the clouds, but also because the vegetation along the road had changed. What had previously been a solid carpet of grasses was now scrubby plants with dirt showing in places. The tall skinny pines were replaced with lower, broader ones. The area was remote enough, and reassuring road signs scarce enough, that I started worrying I had gotten onto the wrong road. I hadn’t. Pushed on to Bogalusa, the last town in Louisiana I’d see. This was my fallback, in case I didn’t think I could make my target of Poplarville MS. Checking my time and my average speed, I decided I had barely enough time. I pushed on.

I crossed into Mississippi a few miles later, and found myself om a busy two-lane highway with a rumble-strip along the edge and a minimal shoulder, so I had to ride in the lane. The official ACA route quickly took my off that road onto sinuous back roads that looked like they would add at least five miles compared to staying on the highway, which was a straight shot into Poplarville. I chose the fast road over the scenic route, reasoning that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the scenic route in the dark.

While I made it to the town of Poplarville with the sun still over the horizon, my Warm Showers hosts for the night were a few miles past town. As I continued, it was getting dark enough that I decided it would be a good idea for me to have my lights on. By the time I did get to my hosts, Steve and Tanya, the lights were all but necessary.

When I got to the gate of their home, I saw a warning sign of a dog biting a hand, so rather than push my way in, I phoned. Steve came out momentarily, accompanied by four dogs, three of whom were ready to kill me with kindness, the other being indifferent. Steve was starting to think I wouldn’t make it. But he had made me a pizza, which I inhaled, and he followed that with some of Tanya’s gumbo and a beer. So I feel pretty well refueled.

Day 26: Simmesport to near Jackson

Started: Oct 17, 2010 7:22:39
Ride Time: 4:37:34
Stopped Time: 2:34:16
Distance: 68.82 miles
Average: 14.88 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 50.82 miles/h
Climb: 4678 feet
Calories: 3550

A relatively short day today. I’m in a chunk of the country where there aren’t a lot of likely places to stop, so I don’t have the luxury of picking the distance I want to ride and being able to expect a town anywhere near there. But that’s irrelevant, because I’m staying with great Warm Showers hosts, Perry and Lep, and it would have been worth making a destination of this place regardless. They’ve been hosts for 10 years, and have a pretty amazing setup for accommodating cyclists.

Rolled out of Simmesport good and early and crossed the Atchafalaya. Followed a little-used and very rough road. Saw the mist rising off the earth. As I approached the town of Morganza, I had a view of a body of water whose name I’m unclear on. Perhaps it was the Tunica swamp. It seemed to spread out for miles, with trees growing from the middle of it and flocks of waterfowl arranged with almost military precision on its surface. It was beautiful. I wish I could have gotten a picture, but it was a narrow road with no pullouts and a fair amount of traffic.

Following Morganza, I went slightly off route, choosing a road that looked like it would have smoother pavement over the parallel road that the ACA would have put me on. It was along this stretch that I met a westbound Southern Tier rider, Russell (?). He’s fresh out of college and shooting interviews along the way for a film he plans to put together when he’s done. He interviewed me, there along the highway. Probably didn’t get great sound.

I wound up rejoining the ACA route within 10 miles anyhow, riding a road that ran right alongside the levee for the Mississippi, and then boarding a ferry to cross the river. There was about a half-hour wait to get across—there was enough traffic trying to cross going east that the ferry could only handle about half the cars backed up waiting to get on. So I had some time to chat with the locals.

The ferry ride was unexciting, and once I was across, I was in St Francisville. This is exactly what you would want every small town in Louisiana to be like. Massive trees dripping with moss and shading the streets below. Old, well-maintained houses. Very picturesque. I had spoken to Perry the day before and she suggested stopping at the Magnolia Cafe there, so I did. It was great, and I ate a lot.

Riding out of St Francisville, I missed a turn and wound up staying on a busy highway that’s currently under construction for longer than I should have. By the time I realized my mistake, I was pretty far past my turnoff, but figured out that I could make it into a shortcut to Perry and Lep’s place, so that’s what I did.

I arrived in their absence, but Perry had warned me of that and told me I should make myself at home anyhow, so I did. When they did return, we had dinner together and a nice natter about cycling, houses, pets…the usual.

It’s good that today was relatively short, and with plenty of good eating, because the next couple of days may be the longest of my tour, depending on how I hold out.

Day 25: Mamou to Simmesport

Started: Oct 16, 2010 7:37:51
Ride Time: 6:16:49
Stopped Time: 1:38:12
Distance: 85.18 miles
Average: 13.56 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 48.52 miles/h
Climb: 2460 feet
Calories: 3799

Today was a slog. I spent much of it on the rough roads that I had been promised. They didn’t so much slow me down as beat me up.

Stopped for a poor approximation of breakfast at a poor approximation of a coffee shop in the town of Washington. Ground onward to my destination of Simmesport. I am staying at a combination motel/convenience store/liquor store/video-rental shop/take-out pizzeria/U-Haul rental agent. I suspect they are equally competent at everything they do. I also suspect they could shut down everything they do but beer and cigarette sales and still clear 90% of what they’re bringing in now. But they sell an incredibly bizarre assortment of junk, including colored contact lenses, hair extensions, glass pipes, and mobile phones.

There’s not much to remark on about the riding itself today, except that after four century days in a row I was feeling kind of tired. Even so, I would have pushed on farther if there were a town worth reaching in a distance I could have achieved today. There wasn’t. But I did make some general observations.

Most notably, Louisiana drivers seem way more patient with cyclists, and more laid-back in general, than what I’m used to. At least that’s what I observed on the back roads I’ve been riding on. In fact, many drivers seem perfectly content to drive at speeds well below the posted speed limit.

It’s also been interesting to note the different patterns of settlement. In the western states, there may be no sign of human habitation between towns, or very little. Here, there’s almost continuous settlement between towns—I doubt I’ve ridden a miles in Louisiana without seeing a house.

Dogs, however, are the same, and I have gotten chased by plenty since entering the state. I had one funny moment yesterday when I saw two small lapdogs sitting in their yard at the edge of the road, just observing my progress. Some vestigial hunting instinct that hadn’t been completely bred out of them must have risen in them and said “Come ON! You need to react to that!”. Each dog gave me a single yap. I laughed. So far I’ve been able to out-sprint every dog that has chased me, but there was a Rottweiler today that got pretty close.

Day 24: near Kirbyville TX to Mamou LA

Started: Oct 15, 2010 7:39:17
Ride Time: 7:48:38
Stopped Time: 1:02:39
Distance: 106.03 miles
Average: 13.58 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 35.89 miles/h
Climb: 2755 feet
Calories: 5294

Started the day with Jerry, my Warm Showers host, fixing me an omelette that wound up powering me through my longest day yet—though not my hardest, not by a longshot. The distance shown above is wrong—more GPS flakeouts. My actual distance was 111 miles.

He also served me some raw goat milk from their goats. Carol had explained to me that it was contact with male goats that made goat milk goaty. She keeps her goats segregated, and so the milk she gets isn’t goaty. That’s what she told me, but I was skeptical. Skepticism: unfounded. The milk really just tasted like milk. A bit richer—I think there was more fat content than I’m used to—but that’s the only difference I noticed.

I got rolling when the sun was out, but not quite shining over the trees, so my first few miles were in shadow and really cold. If I had been smart, I would have stopped and put on my tights (and if I had been smarter, I would have had full-finger gloves, too). I wound up getting a bit of a cramp in my right calf that didn’t work itself out until nearly the end of the day.

The day’s riding was almost featureless once I crossed into Louisiana. A few trees, but mostly flat farmland. I think there’s a lot of rice cultivation here.

Roads varied between exemplary and poor, and just as one road will have very different qualities as it crosses different counties in Texas, so too here as it crosses parishes. On balance, the roads were pretty good. When I stopped for a snack in DeRidder, I got to chatting with someone who asked how many miles I could ride in a day. I told him I could cover 110, but could probably do more with favorable wind and good road surface. He replied “So about 70 in Louisiana.” From what I’ve seen, the roads aren’t that bad.

With nothing to slow me down and nothing to slow down for, I made good time, and in fact was averaging over 16 mph on the last 25-mile stretch between Oberlin and Mamou. In fact, I was feeling fresh enough that I considered pushing on an additional 15 miles to Ville Platte, but decided against it.

So I’m in Mamou, in a curious hotel. The building is pretty nice. The interior was recently redone with quality materials. But my room is just small enough that I can’t open the bathroom door without banging it into the bed, and even weirder, the room has no windows.

After four days back on the road, I’m a little farther than I had planned on being after five. I need to spend some quality time with my maps and re-figure my daily targets.

Day 23: Coldspring to near Kirbyville

Started: Oct 14, 2010 7:14:23
Ride Time: 6:55:29
Stopped Time: 1:19:09
Distance: 95.79 miles
Average: 13.83 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 26.56 miles/h
Climb: 1630 feet
Calories: 4718

Rolled out at the crack of dawn this morning. The entire Indian family that runs the hotel where I stayed turned out to wave me off. With all of the hotels run by Indians across the rural US, you’d think maybe one or two would open an Indian restaurant to go with it. Man, I’d be all over that.

East Texas is the land of loose dogs: I was chased by eight before I even took off my cool-weather jersey this morning—though none after, oddly enough. Connection?

Apart from a few miles here and there, I spent almost the entire way on roads with exemplary pavement. That, and the walls of trees that shielded me from winds helped me speed along and knock out 70 miles in exactly five hours, which is a good clip when touring. At that point I was in Silsbee, which has an actual Italian restaurant where I stopped for lunch. Pasta is a staple food for cyclists, and it’s a little frustrating not to be able to find it more often.

I was also in the land of the logging trucks. The westbound riders I met in Sanderson had told me about riding on roads with no shoulders and having logging trucks blast past them with no clearance. I’m pretty sure I know which road they mean—I rode on it yesterday—and I must have gotten lucky, because the logging trucks I saw passed me with plenty of clearance. Maybe it’s the trike. At one point l saw a logging truck heading one way, and a flatbed truck stacked tall with new shipping pallets. Wish I could have gotten a picture of that. Later I saw the plant where the pallets came from, its yard covered to a depth of two stories with pallets.

After lunch, I pushed on another 25 miles on US90. The riding here was less pleasant, and the wind was hitting me full-strength, so it was slowed as well. But it brought me to the home of Jerry and Carol, my Warm Showers hosts. They have a working farm, mostly raising goats for milk and chickens for eggs, but they also have horses, a burro, cows, and guinea fowl. Their home seems to function as a social center, with friends dropping by unannounced at all hours.

I’ll be crossing into Louisiana tomorrow, but I felt like I was already in a different state today, and was momentarily surprised when I saw a TxDOT vehicle on the road. It occurred to me that it’s preposterous that West Texas, Central Texas, and East Texas are all the same state. They feel so different.