I was up and out of the shed by 7 and so was on the road in time to see the sunrise. The sky was almost clear and it was a good temperature so the day started well. I made good progress and passed through Port Arthur and towards the border with Louisiana. Being close to the Gulf of Mexico, there were plenty of oil refineries billowing smoke into the skies. I’d been a little concerned that the large number of eighteen wheelers would make for less than pleasant riding, but they gave me plenty of space and so the only real issue was the smell which I countered by lifting up by pink buff.
I turned south, crossed and then rode along the Port Arthur Canal until it spilt until Sabine Pass which marked the border of Texas and Louisiana. Unlike all the other passes I’ve been over, this was a bridge going over water. Maybe it’s a Louisiana naming thing, but I was a little confused. It reminded me of going up the Atlantic Coast where the bridges over the intracoastal were the only time there was any elevation. The approximately 3 weeks in Texas meant it was one of the longest times I’d spent in any state to-day and so I was excited to be crossing into a new one. Louisiana would be the start of the deep south and the Spanish influence would be being replaced by a French one.
My first experience of Louisiana reminded me of my images of the Everglades. Marshes filled with colourful birds flying round surrounded me and I could hear the most unpleasant of sounds, the buzz of mosquitoes. The only good thing about them is that they are terrible at flying. Given any kind of wind they struggle badly and so when I’m riding along they are unable to do anything. I’d been fortunate to not have many encounters with them since the Atlantic Coast, but heading back to Florida along the Gulf I expect to have lots of them bite me.
After a couple of hours of riding through the marshes, I came to the Calcasieu Ship Channel which while only narrow didn’t have a bridge across it and so got to take my first ferry since crossing the James in Virginia. As with the crossing back in the Outer Banks, I just missed the ferry by about a minute, but unlike then I wasn’t in a rush so didn’t mind. I had tried to look up times online but had been unable to find any information. It turned out they crossed each way twice an hour so I had to wait just under 30 minutes. It wasn’t a very busy ferry and by the time I got on there were only 3 or 4 other vehicles onboard. The driver of one of the trucks struck up a conversation with me before we boarded and then spoke with me again during the 3 or 4 minute crossing.
Leaving the boat I got to the town of Cameron where I saw a library. I pulled in to see if they had a Louisiana state map and was met by Beckie, Dede, Blair and Matthew who worked there and did their best to help me out. They didn’t have a state map sitting round that I could have so provided me with a colour photocopy from the atlas which was just as good. They then showed me the best way to get to New Orleans and gave me some background information about the area. While I had known about the devastation in New Orleans caused by Katrina, which was apparently more about the engineers failing to maintain the levees properly, the coast around Cameron had really been hurt by Hurricane Rita and I could see the reconstruction effort which was still taking place six years after the disaster took place. I was also told about local dishes I had to try and about how the pinker the bird, the more shrimp it has eaten.
The next port of call was Rutherford Beach where I would meet Juanita, my host for the night. She has 5 dogs and so they were excited by the idea of coming to meet me at the beach as it would mean they could play around too. I waited for a while at the turning for the beach for Juanita, but, after 15 minutes of being mosquito food, couldn’t stay still any longer. I rode slowly to the beach and just after arriving was met by a truck of duck hunters who had a bottle of wine and some plastic cups in hand. They gave me a cup of wine and we stood around talking for a while. They are from further north in the state and were talking about the elevations at which they lived. Of the 4 of them, the highest elevation was a guy who said he lived up on a ridge outside of town, that was at 129 feet (39 m). They said there was a mountain in the state that was the tallest point and it was about 500 feet. It made me feel better about the absence of mountains in the UK knowing that we at least had bigger hills than somewhere.
A chorus of dogs rang through the air as another truck pulled onto the beach and I knew it was Juanita. She let them out and they sprinted in different directions excited to be free to run and play. I greeted my hostess who immediately handed me a beer and started working on getting out some snacks she had prepared for me. When she had mentioned snacks, I had imagined some trail mix or fruit but that’s not her style. I was handed some bean & sausage soup and a plate of barbecue which was a great start! We hung out at the beach for a while and then headed back to her house and talked about my trip and some of the amazing stories she has from her own life. Back at the house we ate fresh fried oysters and she mentioned that there was a tornado warning for the next day and I was welcome to stay an extra night. Even though I’d just met her, I knew that would lead to some interesting times and so was pretty open to the idea.
On the ferry and talking to a Louisianan