Day 105 (2016-12-09): ~55 miles from Merryville to Elizabeth, LA. Mix of quiet county roads and rural highways. Louisiana does not like shoulders.
I am so lad I slept indoors last night. With the space heater off I awoke cold in the middle of the night – it dropped into the mid 20’s! This morning as I prepare to leave it is still just about freezing, despite my attempts to delay until it was warmer. For the first 12 miles of my ride I follow an old field road that is relatively well paved and count a total of 9 vehicles and 3 chasing dogs.
My plan today is simple: ride until I am tired. I have no host lined up but there are a few small towns where I can probably find a field or park, and there is a wildlife management area that I imagine may be good for camping, legal or not. There is not much else to say from riding today except BRRRRRR!
At about 55 miles I reach Elizabeth, a small village with bunch of homes, a high school, and two baseball fields. From the road I see one of the fields has two small buildings and upon closer examination one is a bathroom and the other is a concession stand. The bathrooms are unlocked and someone has cut the lock to the concession stand. It’s still quite cold and will be in the low thirties tonight, so I set my tent up inside the concession stand (a smaller space to heat keeps you warmer).
Thanks to Techy, my first host in Houston, for these bike gloves/mittens. They did not fit him so he gave them to me – I can barely feel my hands with them and I know my ripped up wool gloves would have been seriously inadequate. Thanks Techy!
I take advantage of the twin hotplates to boil the water – it smells like rotten eggs and tastes just as bad. Right before hopping in bed I boil water and add oats, then leave the whole pot in my tent overnight to cook and add a little heat to the tent. Tonight is bittersweet – I arranged Warm Showers hosts for tomorrow through NOLA so this will be my last night camping out. I’m glad because it is cold and, although it is supposed to warm up, I expect rain in a few days. Still, I’ve gotten quite use to the baseball field camp-out since getting to Teas. When I left Seattle I was a little uncomfortable stealth camping but now I see how easy it is and sometimes even enjoy the experience more than a campground because it is quiet (no RV’s with generators) and free. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of stealth camping, but I highly encourage you to try. Just remember: out of sight, out of mind.
Day 106 (2016-12-10): ~45 miles from Elizabeth to Bunkie, LA. Country highways.
This morning was warmer than yesterday but still cold, so I once again left bundled up with most of my face covered by my buff. I followed country highways all day with various road quality and traffic, but overall it was decent riding. I still have to fight a headwind sometimes, as with almost every day since leaving the coast, but today the winds are light.
After passing Chicot State Park I think nothing of the increasing amount of stuff floating down on me until I see the plume of dark smoke in the distance. Eventually I realize the stuff hitting my face is charred debris from whatever is burning. A few miles later I come upon a burning field of head-high crops. At first I do not see fire but coming closer I see small spots or orange through the field and veer away from the brush burning along the side of the road. At first I worry something is wrong and think of stopping to help. Then I realize all the people driving by do not even give it a second chance – apparently, this is normal.
Later, I learn the crop was sugarcane and burning is a normal part of the harvest process – it eases harvesting, reduces transportation costs, lowers the amount of extraneous leafy green material that is delivered to the factory for processing, and improves yields in subsequent years. Fascinating! You can read about it here.
Just outside of Bunkie, LA I cross through a wet area displaying a new type of flora – very swampy. Having never been to this area before I am not sure if this is a sign that I am getting closer to the Mississippi/NOLA or just a unique ecosystem amid the surrounding farms.
Tonight’s host is the Bunkie Fire Department – I stay with the two firefighters on duty and sleep on one of the couches. They are friendly enough but basically act like I don’t exist, so I just do my thing. Also, laundry. Good thing too – having been layered up pretty much every hour since I left Houston, my clothes stank.