Day 38: Austin to La Grange, TX (72 miles); April 20, 2021
After two and a half rest days, I was more than ready to hit the pavement, even if my legs weren’t. After saying goodbye to the Alvarez family, we said goodbye to Austin. The first 12 miles were a total drag. My legs felt tired, weak, and out of practice. How was I supposed to ride another 60?! But with some time and the help of tailwinds, we made it 38 miles to Bastrop before noon.
The scenery to Bastrop was like it was plucked out of South Jersey. Flat and farmy with green everywhere. I felt like I was riding down to the shore. It felt just like home, only with longhorns dotting the roads.
We were going to have lunch a little east of Bastrop, but stopped in our tracks when we saw Buc-ees off in the distance (and from being totally frazzled from being on a really horrible road with really busy traffic). I have heard rumors of Buc-ees for a year now, ever since visiting Florida. A Jersey girl through and through, I never thought anything could beat Wawa, not even this rumored mega gas station/convenience store found only in Texas. Well I was proven wrong today. I couldn’t believe my eyes. With 50 gas pumps and a store bigger than a football field, I was overwhelmed walking in, littered with the beady eyes of a thousand cartoon beavers, smiling a little too happily. They had everything and I found myself lost – in the hunting/fishing section of all places. From fresh hot sandwiches to fudge to lawnmowers to groceries, Buc-ees has it all. And their brisket sandwiches are pretty tasty too, if I do say so myself.
With 32 miles left and great tailwinds, we made it to La Grange in great time. We stocked up at Walmart which is where I noticed we’ve been receiving the most attention today from strangers about our trip. I spoke to close to 10 people about what we were doing. They were all flabbergasted by our journey, most never even heard of anyone embarking on such a quest. 50% thought it was “badass”, 30% thought it was brave, and only 20% thought we were out of our minds. After talking to a gentleman at Walmart about the Pacific Coast, we went on our way to our home for the night, Colorado Landing RV park, which so far has taken the cake as my favorite RV park. Cheap, quiet, and clean with extremely friendly owners, I couldn’t be happier to be staying here. We made dinner in their kitchen and lounged in their community center until finally setting up our tents before sunset. It’s already feeling like it’s going to be a pretty chilly night. Wish I had little Addie here to snuggle up with.
Day 39: La Grange to Navasota, TX (67.2 miles) April 21, 2021
For as cold as it was forecasted, I was pretty warm and cozy waking up. So warm and cozy, in fact, that I overslept half an hour. Realizing the time and that Sheena was already practically ready to go, I got up in a tizzy to break down camp and get moving. Not the most ideal wake up.
I calmed my nerves by stopping for coffee in town at a cute little coffee shop. Like a lot of these East Texas towns, La Grange seems to have seen better days, but is trying really hard to make itself available and attractive to tourists.
With the coffee barely making a dent in my fatigued state, we set off at 9am for a long day on the road. Headwinds were in full force, so I just kept my head down and pedaled. It was also freezing. I’m not exaggerating, a cold front moved in last night and it’s unseasonably cold here. Plus the sun wasn’t out to thaw us out. So I just shivered through the miles.
The towns we went through (Warrenton and Burton) seem to be super active during antique season (surely there’s gotta be a season for antiques?). The road was dotted with antique stands and the home’s lawns were covered in what an untrained eye might deem “trash”. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
On our way, we ran into Justin, a tourer going west. He’s from Philly so it was nice being able to talk about home. He’s moving to California and decided why not ride there? A thirty something year old, he might even stop somewhere along the way he likes and work for a month or two for some cash. He was fun to talk to and offered some tips on navigating LA and FL.
Though he was fun to talk to, we spent a lot of time chatting with Justin and found ourselves only 16 miles in at 11:30am. With 50 more to go, I already felt a little defeated. Someone at a convenience store offered to let us stay at the community center in Gay Hill, shaving decent mileage from the day. Though tempting, we ultimately decided to trek on and stick to the original plan. Plus the sun was out and the headwinds were winding down, so we really had no excuse not to keep on schedule.
We’re definitely close to Louisiana. I didn’t get a picture in time, but I saw the first sign of Spanish Moss and we passed the first Cajun restaurant. Can’t wait to eat it soon! Scenery wasn’t anything special, more farms that look surprisingly like Medford, NJ (Lil Bessie’s hometown. Unfortunately the humidity ruined her hold on the outside of the bag so she’s been hanging out inside of it for safe keeping since Austin).
After some grocery shopping, we arrived at our motel around 6:30pm. Named “Vanguard $45 and Up!” – literally – we weren’t sure what to expect. Luckily it was safe, had 4 walls, 2 beds (sans bed bugs), was $45, and didn’t stink. So it was great to me. And considering I’m wiped out, I’ll be happy to just pass out quickly in clean sheets.
Day 40: Navasota to Coldsprings, TX (67 miles); April 22, 2021
And slept hard I did. Probably could’ve gone for another 10 hours easily cause I did not want to get up and moving. But time was ticking and I had to get moving.
After coffee in the room, we set out for the day. The first 20 miles were more farms, nothing fancy or picture worthy. We stopped for a break in Richards (no donuts :() and rode into Sam Houston National Forest, a really pretty area that was oddly reminiscent of the Pine Barrens. Crazy how so much of East Texas reminds me of Jersey.
Right before our lunch stop in New Waverly, Sheena’s rack broke yet again. We had some bumpy roads yesterday and after cruising over a pot hole today, the rack officially had enough. Unable to completely fix it, Sheena was able to jerry rig it with zip ties. Unfortunately, the fender was rubbing against the tire, creating resistance. Because we were on the side of a road with limited shoulder and tons of logging trucks (first sighting this trip), we decided to ride into New Waverly and fix it more properly there. So we did.
New Waverly is definitely as close to a living ghost town I’ve seen. With lots of old abandoned storefronts but a bustling population, it was a weird juxtaposition. We hung out at the extremely busy grocery store for 2 hours as Sheena fixed her bike. We talked to a number of residents curious about our trip. One of whom was Tristan, a 21 year old originally from Tennessee. He was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles shirt and is an avid fan, despite being in Cowboy country. “Yeah I went to a Cowboys game once, it was during a tornado warning and I didn’t even see one touchdown” Ba-da-ching! He just graduated high school in 2020 and was proud that he was the only one in his class who was old enough to drink alcohol at graduation. He walked 5 miles to work everyday and was very proud of his physique and tan. He got out of Tennessee because there were too many exploding meth labs in his neighborhood (one of which nearly killed him), and he unfortunately ran with a bad crowd in TX. He was incarcerated for 34 weeks for attempting to blow up the Post Office, an offense he claims he was framed for. Quite the character, Tristan had a little too much energy and could’ve gone on for hours talking to us, but it was getting late and we had to pry ourselves away.
We arrived at our campsite in Coldsprings (Double Lake Recreation Are) around 5:30pm and quickly set up camp/ate. We’re both exhausted from the last few days and ready to be lulled to sleep by the frogs. It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow, something I’m very much dreading. Keeping my fingers crossed the 50% prediction goes in my favor.
Day 41: Coldspring to Kountze, TX (70 miles, 40 ridden) April 23, 2021
There are very few nights, if any, that have terrorized me like last night. Nights spent solo deep in bear country can’t hold a candle to the insanity that ensued next to that quaint little lake in innocent little East Texas. Only that fateful night in Benedict, Kansas in 2016 beats what happened last night.
Let me explain. I had trouble getting to sleep last night for no reason besides just not being able to find it. So when I finally did fall asleep, I didn’t want to wake up when I heard rustling in the woods right by my tent. Having seen tons of deer earlier, I just assumed it was one of them poking around. No biggie. Only it was poking around way too close and making scratching noises. It ripped me right out of sleep. What kind of deer scratches?! “Sheena?” I asked out into the dark night interrupted by the terrifying noise, “is that you? Do you hear that?” No answer. Assuming she was asleep, I whipped out my light and sure enough, two beady eyes were staring right at me from under the tent fly. It was an enormously fat raccoon. I screamed. It ran. Sheena yelled.
I ran out of that tent so fast ready to fight that thing, totally ignorant to the fact it might have rabies. I was so amped up on adrenaline I grabbed my flip flop (first thing I could find), and slapped the picnic table, keeping the creature at bay. But he had his beady eyes on the prize – my food pannier. Which I was using to tie my tent fly taunt. I couldn’t untie it without turning my back to the demon trash panda, which I was not ready to do considering he was holding his ground. I explained to Sheena the situation poorly because I was half asleep but also so frightened I couldn’t get words out. He saw his opportunity and charged at me, which made me let out the most primal, guttural sound that scared even me. It came from the depths of my soul. It would make my mom proud that I inherited her ability to make animals terrified by the bizarre noises made to scare them away. And it worked. With a look of what I can only interpret as confusion, that fat rodent ran right up a tree with a perfect aerial view of me and my tent. Whatever. That’s fine, it bought me time to untie the bag and remove temptation from the beast. The last thing I needed was a ruined pannier from sharp greedy claws and teeth.
With him nestled in the tree, I returned to the safe haven of the tent. I got everything in order thinking I successfully scared him off. That is until I saw his little dexterous foot under the fly of my tent, enraging me to scream and grab my pepper spray. Again he retreated and a few minutes later Sheena thought she heard him rustling with a trash bag on her bike. I thought it was wind. Until I heard scratching again. My tent was rocking back and forth like it was in a windstorm and it struck me – he was attacking from the back!! I thrashed around within the tent yelling like a madman, infuriated by the tenacity and brazenness of this creature. At this point it was close to 2 hours of him employing fear tactics to antagonize and terrorize me. Shaking, I grabbed my Keen sandal ready to strike him when he attacked again. I was so done with being scared of a stupid raccoon. The possibility of getting food was too tempting for him. Sure enough I saw his wretched hand reach under the fly. I wound up patiently ready to strike. Soon I saw his little nose poke up followed by his shining eye. We locked eyes and I swung with such force I was surprised by my strength. And so was he. I made contact and he ran off, retreating quickly – this was not a battle worth fighting for him. Sorry PETA, but I can’t afford rabies treatment. I was hopeful that he finally realized that I meant business and threw in the towel. I kept watch for another half hour and Sheena would temporarily sound off her air horn app, which hilariously sounded like she was getting a rave amped up. Without any sign of him, I tried to catch some sleep. But that was hard to get when every rustle caused a panic. I kept replaying seeing his head poke out under the fly, him shaking the tent (ripping it in a couple places), and him charging me. What a nasty little critter. Luckily I proved my dominance and he kept his distance.
Had there been any warning of aggressive raccoons in the area, we definitely would’ve secured and hung our food bag out of reach of nimble little hands. These raccoons without a doubt have been fed before and have lost all fear of humans. But this human has a new found fear of raccoons. When talking to the camp host the next morning, he brushed off the experience saying, “yeah they can get pretty aggressive when food is involved”Huh, is that so? Enlightening. Where are the ferral cats when you need them?!
With barely any sleep for either of us, we got up unscathed and happy to see the bleak morning light, surely causing the rabid beasts to retreat back into their dens. We got coffee at a gas station and went on our way to Kountze, where a hotel was waiting for us. Bad weather was predicted for this afternoon and after the night we had, we didn’t want to be caught in a raccoon ravaged tent during a tornado.
Could’ve been the extreme fatigue or lack of any signage, we missed a turn and ended up miles off route. Ah, sounds about right for the couple days we’ve been having. According to google maps, it was an easy fix and we’d soon be back on track. Great! Until it wanted us to go down someone’s driveway and on a dirt path for miles. Not wanting to get shot for trespassing or break our bikes even more than they already are, we were forced to add miles onto an already long ride. And it was just starting to rain. Appropriate! We have been chased by a ton of unleashed dogs, but luckily they all seem to be not only cute, but also friendly. We have a system in place where I act as bait so Sheena can get away. It’s a foolproof system.
We stopped for lunch defeated and 40 miles in. Of course where we stopped were infested with fire ants and boy they loved my feet. So we fled and just collapsed in a driveway. 5 minutes later a man pulls up in his pickup asking if we were okay. He passed us earlier (to which I nearly replied “well why didn’t you hit us?”) and was worried that we might get caught in bad weather. He offered to let us stay in his guest house 2 miles down the road, a really gracious offer. But we were on a schedule and had to make it to Kountze. So Sheena asked if he was willing to give us a ride. You never know if you don’t ask! He said of course and soon we were on our way to Kountze in a truck.
Michael is a 78 year old retired vet from Wisconsin who moved to Texas by request of his second wife. Unhappy with the move, he’s looking to return up north. And I don’t blame him. The eastern Texans we’ve encountered the last few days have been standoffish and there seems to be pretty heavy meth use. The interactions we have had with people the last 2 days have been unnerving. We felt a lot safer in the border towns of Texas than we do here.
Michael dropped us off and we went grocery shopping and got some pizza. Yum! We checked into a motel and waited for the weather to roll in. We definitely lucked out with getting a ride into town. After the last few days, a break was exactly what we needed to boost our spirits. Plus it’s great to be under a roof. There’s a severe thunderstorm watch as well as a tornado warning for most of the night. The only thing worse than fighting off a raccoon is a tornado.
I realized I haven’t mentioned The Retired Guys recently. They took their time out of Austin and are a day behind us. We’re keeping in contact hoping that we’ll cross paths again in Louisiana. I hope so, I miss their jokes and company!
^^a really great read about another tourer’s experience with raccoons. As I was battling him in the tent, Sheena was reading this to herself, fearing that the raccoon was gonna be in it for the long haul and she was going to have to intervene. Thank God my encounter was only half as terrifying as this girl’s.
Day 42: Kountze to Merryville, LA (65 miles); April 24, 2021
Believe it or not, the raccoon incident actually worked in our favor. Our original plan for yesterday was to ride to Silsbee and camp, however, we decided after the incident to treat ourselves to a motel room. Which was a great idea considering the weather we had last night. Lots of rain, wind, and tornado warnings for where we were, we were glad we were safe and dry inside.
The day started out great. We got donuts and set out early. 4 miles in, Sheena’s rack broke again, requiring a lengthy fix. Because we’re nearly out of zip ties, we headed over to O’Reilly to pick up some more.
The ride into Kirbyville was 31 miles of nothing. But flat nothing. So I was happy despite the headwinds. We stopped for lunch where unfortunately Sheena noticed a problem with her front derailer. Unable to fix it completely, she was able to get it to work so that it was rideable on flat land. It’s extremely frustrating for her, but luckily we’re done all the big climbs, so it should get her to Baton Rouge where it can be seen in a bike shop.
We have an interesting theory. Our luck all went south when I put ‘Lil Bessie away for safe keeping. Living a dark and uneventful life in my handlebar bag, we think she’s been acting out for attention. From the bike issues to beckoning the raccoon attack, ‘Lil Bess is putting some major Voo-Moo black magic on us for missing out on seeing the hunky Longhorns. Wanting to stop the bad juju in its tracks, I brought ‘Lil Bessie out from her prison and pinned her safely back where she belongs in hopes that she stops her temper tantrum and frees us from this bad luck spell.
Well, I think it worked! After 20 fast and smooth miles, we were out of Texas!! I’m shocked about how quickly we got through this gargantuan state and how fun it was, with the exception of the last couple of days, of course. Initially dreading the dull long rides, I think having the guys to ride with and Aaron around for a little bit distracted us from the length of time we spent here. We had a lot of fun! It was 20 days well spent, but we’re happy to move on. Unfortunately, Louisiana does not have a welcome sign, a mega disappointment. However, we finally found a Texas sign! Only took 1,100 miles.
Not even a mile into LA, guess what greeted us? A very large snake was in the shoulder just hanging out. As we passed it lunged with an open mouth, causing some minor panic. I hope that’s not a bad omen…. We arrived in Merryville a couple miles later famished. We went right for a hamburger shop because there’s nothing better to drown out your sorrows with than a delicious cheeseburger. Besides a cold beer. Which the restaurant had none. After that we went over to the museum where we are staying the night. Elaine from warm showers is a museum curator and is letting us stay the night in a cabin on its campus. It has everything we could want and will be a cozy home for our first night in LA. Sad to say bye to Texas, but excited to explore more of the south!