LONG OVERDUE UPDATE

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, or who keep in touch via email or phone, it will be no surprise to you that I made it to Florida – on my bike!

For those of you who only follow me on my blog, I apologize for the nearly 6 month lag in posts. But let me assure you, I did indeed make it to Florida – on my bike!  I know, it’s hard to believe. It still hasn’t sunk in.

I am on Amelia Island – the most north east point in the state – go any further north, and you’ll be in Georgia. I am staying with my cousin, Kim and trying to find work in order to fund the next part of my ride – up the east coast into Maine.

I obviously underestimated how much it would cost to do this adventure, and I was pretty near broke when I got here.  I am still looking for work.  “For nearly 6 months?” you ask. Well, not exactly.

I got here near the end of March and shortly after that, my little brother had a stroke so I hightailed it up to Anchorage, Alaska to help out.  I spent a couple of weeks at the hospital every day with my Sis-in-law, nieces and assorted friends and family. I was trained on how to assist my brother in getting around, but his recovery was quite remarkable, and by the time he left the hospital he was walking with only a cane. He started back at work four days later.  Feeling useless, I thought I should try to find some work for while I was up there. Fortunately, one of the cousins needed help at her business, so I got to work for the next six weeks. For this I will always be thankful.

Still, I’ve been back for 2 months with no luck finding work. It is a small island and the nearest city is a forty-five minute drive away… but still.

Okay. Enough of that. When I arrived here I breathed a huge sigh of relief and exhaustion and got out of the habit of writing.  So, I owe blogs for the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. And they will be forthcoming. I promise!

In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures of this beautiful island, a real treasure, and not at all like other parts of Florida.

WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

The thing about living on the gulf coast is the hurricanes. And rising seas, if you believe the science about climate change. I believe the science. But even if I didn’t, there are the hurricanes and the fact that most of the gulf coast is lowlands. As I mentioned in previous posts, the Cameron Parrish and the communities of Grand Chenier and Pecan Island have lost the majority of their population, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better.

Submerged fence-line.

Submerged fence-line.

What has replaced the permanent population are the hunting camps. A camp may be nothing more than some mobile trailers permanently hooked up to electricity, with a patio attached, or it can be a beautiful home built on stilts, often much nicer than most of the permanent residences. And everything in between.

Flood damage after a hurricane.

Flood damage after a hurricane.

The camps are occupied during duck season – sometimes only on weekends. The small local store benefits by selling pizza and beer. Some residents benefit by cleaning camps. But the complaint is that these “rich” guys come onto their island, a beautiful and peaceful place, and wreck it by driving their trucks up and down the highway with the music blasting, and by being loud and drunk. Why come to a peaceful place for a getaway only to wreck the peace?

The way it's supposed to look on the south side of Front Ridge Road.

The way it’s supposed to look on the south side of Front Ridge Road.

The greater damage though is to the levies. On Front Ridge Road there are camps that used to be adjacent to fields and pasture. But the campers have broken the levies in places so that the water comes up to their property. It’s nice to have water front property, yeah? You can launch your boat from right there. You get a beautiful view. But the pasture that is now water belongs to someone who can no longer graze their cattle there. Maybe they left after the hurricanes and were hoping to sell the land or lease it to other cattle ranchers. Maybe they still live there, but cannot now afford to rebuild the levy and drain the pasture. Not that draining it will do much good. That was brackish water at best, salt water at worst.

The way it looks now on portions of Front Ridge Road.

The way it looks now on portions of Front Ridge Road.

On top of ruining someone else’s land, what happens when the next hurricane or sea surge hits? The levies that protected the homes on Front Ridge road will no longer protect them. The water will come through those pastures, past the houses and into the fields beyond – hopefully it will stop before it hits Highway 82, because if it doesn’t, then all the homes on the north side of that road will be flooded too.

If you drive along Front Ridge Road you can see the breaks in the levies. You can see the oak trees at the edge of the water that are dying. The pastures north of the road flood too, every time it rains, but it’s fresh water and it drains eventually.

Levy cut - pasture flooded.

Levy cut – pasture flooded.

I wonder what will become of that paradise I discovered while biking innocently along.  When I hear of people who live in disaster zones I always wonder: Why don’t they move? Why do they rebuild? I think this when I see towns repeatedly destroyed by tornadoes, places wiped out by hurricanes, houses destroyed by brush fire on the tinder dry hills of Southern California – burned down and rebuilt, only to slide down the hill during the next big rain, pulled along by the mud because there is no vegetation left to hold up the hill. Why don’t they move?

I thought about this when I was in the marshlands of South West Louisiana. But I met people there that were born and raised on the island. People whose families go back generations. This is their home.

Me? I’ve moved so many times I stopped counting. I call Los Angeles home, but I’ve lived in Seattle for twenty three years. While I’m on the road, I’m on the lookout for other places I might want to live. I am not tied down to any one sense of place. I am nomadic right now. But even traditional nomads have the same territories they move to through the seasons and over the years. Or, like snowbirds from Canada and the plains states.

I don’t know what the answer is. I know only that I worry for them. I know only that I want this beautiful land to survive so I can come back and visit.

CHICKENS 101

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” ~ BB King

I learned so much while I was on Pecan Island staying with Juanita and Chris.  I learned a lot about chickens…

Chickens will eat just about anything. Bugs, worms, corn feed, clover and other greens, table scraps – It was my observation that they especially liked the sweet potato skins. If you let the chickens out during the day to forage, they will come home to roost at night – they like being in the henhouse at night. When chickens get to know you, they are quite friendly creatures. They squawk a lot when they are laying eggs – some squawk while laying and some squawk after laying, as if to say, “Hey look what I made!”

Hens go broody. At some point a hen will want to lay eggs and sit on them. When this happens they will sometimes steal other hens eggs and sit on those too. Juanita’s old rooster, Big Red, has a bad foot and he has a difficult time performing his studly duties, so when one of her hens goes broody, she gets some fertilized eggs from a friend, so the hen can sit with them and have some satisfaction at the end.

Another way to deal with a broody hen is just to take her unfertilized eggs away from her – every day – until the brooding urge goes away. I like Juanita’s way better – it just seems nicer for the hens, and she gets some new chicks for the flock.

Chickens lay more eggs when they are happy. As we worked on the new hens house, the chickens were very aware that we were improving their home and as the days went by they were laying more and more eggs. A newly built, clean hen house – especially one with a rooster/chicken mandala painted on the front – equals happy chickens.

Chicken eggs come in all sizes, shapes and colors, depending on the breeds. Young pullets just starting to lay, will produce a small egg.

When you have small chicks, they need to be in a brooding box – with the chickens, but protected from them.

There is a true pecking order. Juanita had one mean hen who was always picking on the young pullets, especially one young red one. This young hen was put in with the ducks and seemed very happy there – no more mean hen bothering her. On a sad note, when the young chicks were big enough to come out of the brooding box, Jaunita put them in a small pen she made below the box – still in the hen house with the hens, still protected, but with more room and able to learn chicken behavior – the mean hen broke down part of the enclosure and started pecking at the small chicks. One was badly injured and we brought her inside the house and wrapped her in towel. Juanita made a poultice for her injuries and we took turns keeping our eye on her, unfortunately she died the next day.

Chickens have different personalities and they have different preferences in roosters. All the chickens in Juanita’s flock like Big Red. But one day a neighbor gave her four more roosters. They were set up in the yard in their own mini pens to see which one the chicks liked. Winston, the grey and white specked guy was the hands down winner. The girls were constantly by his cage or trying to dig under to get in it. Meanwhile Big Red hung close by crowing and strutting, reminding everyone who was boss. Sadly, at the time of this writing, Winston is no longer with us – he was eaten by a raccoon.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned – there are all sorts of critters out there who will eat chickens, including your own dogs and cats. In addition, raccoons, possums, skunks, cayotes, birds of prey and many others want to eat the chickens, so you must keep them as safe as possible.

That’s it for chickens 101.

PS – I am having some trouble uploading pictures… check back later if you want to see more pics of chicks,.

BLISSFUL PARADISE ON PECAN ISLAND

“Whatever I have given, I have gained.” ~ Leonard Nimoy

One of the things about slow travel is you discover places that might not have ever noticed because you were driving through too quickly. That’s what happened to me when I arrived on Pecan Island in SW Louisiana. Who knew?

Working on the hen house.

Working on the hen house.

I left Cameron Parish on a beautiful sunny day. I had a long ride ahead of me but I felt well rested. Around noon I stopped for lunch at the Grand Chenier Public Library. They had picnic tables in the shade under the building and I read my kindle and ate a leisurely lunch. Afterwards I went up and into the library to use the bathroom (better than squatting in the rushes) and I made use of their free WIFI since I found I had no service in this remote stretch of land.

The back pasture after a big rain.

The back pasture after a big rain.

I took off again and made steady progress – it was supposed to be a forty-six mile trip. After awhile I came across a gas station/convenience store. I stopped in looking for something I could bring to my next host’s house as a contribution to a meal, but there really wasn’t anything appropriate.  This is the thing with being in fairly remote, under-populated areas – the grocery options a severely limited.

Horses frolicking in the pasture after a big rain.

Horses frolicking in the pasture after a big rain.

I went on and eventually came to another gas station/convenience store. I stopped in, once again finding nothing interesting, but by this time I wanted a snack so I got an ice cream bar and an iced tea.  The cashier was a very old woman. She asked if I was riding a bike. Yes, I was.

“Y’all staying with them people down the way who take care of riders?”

“Yes, I am.”

“What’s her name again?”

“Juanita.”

“Yes, that’s it. I hear tell she’s a real good cook.”

According to my mileage computer on my bike I was about 5 miles from my destination so I enquired about how far, five miles?

“Oh no, it’s at least twenty miles up the road.”

That’s not what you want to hear when you think you’re real close.

I went out and sat on the bench and ate my ice cream. About ten minutes later a truck pulls in and a guy walks up the stairs and says to me, “Hey you’re that bike rider from Seattle, huh?”

I was astounded. “Why yes! How did you know?”

He put out his hand, “I’m Chris, Juanita’s husband. I’ve been keeping my eye out for you.”

“Is that a truck you have there?”

“Yep. Throw your bike in.”

Still working on the hen house.

Still working on the hen house.

Turns out Google Maps is wrong – they are off by about twenty miles on that address. And I was glad for the lift and having a local – born and raised on the island – to show me the local sites. Not that there were many. Pecan Island also suffered a mass exodus after Rita and Ike. There used to be between 200 and 300 permanent residences, now there are only forty two.

Chris and Juanita live on ten acres she inherited. Her great grandfather once owned a big portion of the island. The plots have been divided over the years between grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins. Juanita has four or five plots of land, but the homestead is on this ten acres between two of her uncle’s plots.  They had seven dogs (six now), four cats, five ducks, four ducklings about twenty four chickens (it was hard to get a firm count, and the number was variable, depending on the day) and 2 roosters, and eventually 10 chicks.

I was only going to stay a night or two. I stayed almost five weeks. I fell in love with the place, the critters, and the people.

Hen House with Rooster/Chicken mandala.

Hen House with Rooster/Chicken mandala.

There were projects to do – one being the re-building of the hen house. And when that was done I painted a rooster/chicken mandala on it, making it the “prettiest hen house in all Acadiana.”

There was time for writing, time for cooking and teaching and learning new recipes. There was hanging out with the chickens and gathering eggs, a task so satisfying in so many ways. There was the great thrill the day the chickens were finally used to me, and instead of scattering when I came out, they came running, and I was surrounded by the clucks and squawks and fluffy chicken butts of the flock.

Hen house door.

Hen house door.

There was the morning I was painting the hen house and a hen hopped up the steps and stood next to me looking at the progress, clucking in approval.

There were other bicyclists passing through, discussing trips and routes and strategies. Exchanging names and emails. Then there was the waiting on the highly anticipated arrival of Mike the monk. Mike had been cycling through Pecan Island three years earlier and as he went by Juanita’s house, she called out: Stop here! I’ll feed you!

He did, and she did. He stayed a few days and they became dedicated pen pals. Mike arrived a day before expected. We really thought we’d be going into town to pick him up, but he found a ride to the island. He is a very interesting guy with the kind of stories that only a world traveler with very little money can gather. He is an avid birder and was constantly stopping work on a project to grab his binoculars. His first morning he was up at dawn and out on the road picking up aluminum cans.

Picking up cans is one of the regular things that Juanita does. She is a forager and a scavenger. She has a pile of recyclable metal that will go into town to the recycle center one day soon. She has a pile of found wood, in perfectly good condition that she will be using in her building projects. She got eighty pounds of gleaned rice from a field one day. She picks oranges and grapefruit regularly; they catch catfish and crawfish; she has fresh eggs daily; a freezer full of grass feed beef from her own heifers, she has honey and venison sausage that she traded for, and she has a pantry full of amazing preserves.

Mikey the chicken killer, waiting for the opportunity.

Mikey the chicken killer, waiting for the opportunity.

One day a neighbor gave her four roosters. She put them in separate pens to see who the ladies liked. The clear winner was a black and white speckled sir who she named Winston. The other three, plus one young one she already had got sold to a Vietnamese lady in New Iberia. That day we picked up the ten chicks and the four ducklings. She is trying to build her chickens back up after raccoons tore into her hen house and decimated her flock. With the new hen house and hen pen she is well on her way. As long as she keeps an eye out on her dog Mikey, the chicken killer. Mikey killed two chickens while I was there. If the hens are out foraging, Mikey always has to be on a leash now. It’s impossible to cure a dog who has a taste for chickens.

Juanita and I found we have much in common. We were close in age. We both grew up in California. Both of our mothers were nurses. We liked to cook and make preserves. Most of our politics were at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but that really doesn’t make a difference. I learned a lot from her. I understand when she feels the way she does about some things. And that was one of my goals on this trip, to get to know people who were different, and to have an understanding rather than stand in judgment. Her life is different than mine.  She has survived two major hurricanes with devastating effect. She has dealt with the highly inefficient and red-tape ridden FEMA. (No judgment zone here – this does not reflect on my friends who work for FEMA, it’s an institutional thing, not a people thing.) There is a reason her opinions and politics are different than mine. It doesn‘t mean we can’t be friends.

Cowboy, the friendly cat.

Cowboy, the friendly cat.

Here is the thing about traveling. When you travel, you often only meet other travelers. I found that out when I went to India with my friend, Kellie. We met people from England, Belgium, Malta, Israel, Australia… we rarely met Indians. You need to stay in a place in order to meet locals. Oner of the easiest ways to do that is to stay with locals. I might have spent thirty-six more days than I intended with Chris and Juanita, but in that time I learned about stuff I would never know if I hadn’t. And I came away with lifelong friends.

Oh yeah, and a place to go when the shit hits the fan! It’s nice to know folks with survival skillz!

WELCOME TO LOUISIANA!

“Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls” ~ Bob Weir  ~ Grateful Dead

I am writing this from a little slice of heaven called Pecan Island. It’s in southern Louisiana, in the marshes. I was referring to it being in the bayous, but I have been corrected. It’s the marshes. Marshes are natural land formation with water, water everywhere.  Merriam-Webster defines a bayou as:

1:  a creek, secondary watercourse, or minor river that is tributary to another body of water

2:  any of various usually marshy or sluggish bodies of water

Barges going to a refinery , Port Arthur, TX.

Barges going to a refinery , Port Arthur, TX.

The big bridge - Port Arthur, TX.

The big bridge – Port Arthur, TX.

I left Texas on January 14th, rode through the very depressed town of Port Arthur, past the oil refineries, over a HUGE bridge onto a tiny spit of land leading to Louisiana.  Crossing that huge bridge was a bit hairy. I got about a quarter way up and had to get off and walk the bike, and I’m glad I did, because a few minutes later, I heard the whoop-whoop of a police siren, and turned to see a motorcycle cop ahead of four truck carrying wide loads. Those loads were so wide they took up almost the whole width of the bridge. I pulled my bike up on the narrow curb and watched them pass. The noise and rumble was deep. I decided that with all the news about old infrastructure and collapsing bridges, I was going to just wait until they got to the other side and see if the bridge holds up!

View from the top of the huge bridge, south of Port Arthur, TX - 7 miles from Louisiana.

View from the top of the huge bridge, south of Port Arthur, TX – 7 miles from Louisiana.

Welcome to Pleasure Island! (Port Arthur, TX)

Welcome to Pleasure Island! (Port Arthur, TX)

The bridge to Louisiana.

The bridge to Louisiana.

I finally got to the top – the view was spectacular. Then the sweet coasting ride down to Pleasure Island. By then it was raining and I was getting cold, so I pulled out my sweet new rain jacket and bundled up.

 


Seven miles later, another big bridge, this one took me into Louisiana. Finally out of Texas and into Louisiana. The traffic was big. More wide loads. All of this big cargo was going to new LG plants being built in Louisiana. The ride was cold but beautiful with lots of bird life hanging out. I saw a gorgeous crane that was white with pink wing feathers, but it was so fleeting I couldn’t get a picture. I learned later that it was a roseate spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Pelican! My favorite sea bird.

Pelican! My favorite sea bird.

The marshes of Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

The marshes of Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

Close to noon I stopped at a gas station/grocery store/snack bar. The snack bar had red beans and rice and boudin balls. I’d never had, nor heard of boudin balls before, but they were delicious fried rice and pork balls. It was one of the best lunches I’d had. If I could ride through Louisiana eating red beans and rice and boudin balls, I’d be a happy girl!

CPFD - fire truck.

CPFD – fire truck.

More riding. It was to be a fifty-six mile day, so I rode steadily, and the weather was getting better – the rain stopped and the sun came out. Still a head wind, but I’m beginning to suspect that there is no such thing as a tail wind. About 15 miles before the ferry to Cameron where my hotel room awaited me, I got another flat.  There was no place to change a tire.  There was no shoulder to the road, no place to sit down. So I started to walk my bike and after a bit some guy in a truck stopped to ask if I needed help. I said I had my second flat of the day and was looking for a place to change it. He put my bike in the back of the truck and gave me a ride to the Holly Beach Fire Station. His name was Larry and he was the retired fire chief of Cameron Parish.

Big Truck - CPFD, Holly Beach, LA.

Big Truck – CPFD, Holly Beach, LA.

Larry was on his way to a board meeting at the fire station. He opened the big door and wheeled my bike in. I had a place to sit and patch my tire. One of the trucks was out on a call.  He told me that when it came back, to just tell them Larry let me in. The truck came back awhile later, and my “Larry” password was fine with them. They went upstairs to the board meeting. I got my tire patched and put back on, and now I was stuck inside the fire station. So I did what I’ve always wanted to do and took pictures of the fire trucks. With my mascot, Pokey, of course.

About a half hour later Larry came down and told me I could come upstairs and use the facilities, and I was grateful. After, we went back down and he opened the door. By now it was pitch black outside. I started loading my bags on my bike, but Larry said, no – he was giving me a ride to my motel. People are so nice. I am now constantly amazed at how kind complete strangers can be.

Big loads going to the new LG plants in Louisiana.

Big loads going to the new LG plants in Louisiana.

I was glad for the ride because it gave me a chance to talk with Larry. He told me that the Cameron Parish fire department used to have sixteen firemen, now there is one paid fireman and two volunteers – this with two fire stations – Cameron Parish is large. After hurricane Rita, a bunch of people who evacuated didn’t come back. Then came hurricane Ike, and even more people left for good. The population has diminished so much that the Johnson Bayou High School only has an enrollment of fifty-eight students. The local elementary school has it worse – there is only one child in the third grade class.

AKA - Chevron.

AKA – Chevron.

According to city-data.com, the town of Cameron in 2010 had a population of 406. That is a 79.3% decrease from the year 2000. Larry told me that with hurricane Ike, the water covered almost the entire parish. The storm also wiped out all of coastline by the Cameron Ferry – an expensive project of sand dredged from the gulf and dumped by the inlet was recently completed. Without that protection he said an ocean surge would flow right into Lake Charles in the next hurricane.

The other interesting thing about this inlet, is there is a rare albino pink dolphin that frequents the area. You can see pictures of it if you go to Google Images. Since I crossed the waterway in the pitch dark, I did not see it for myself. But there may be a field trip to Holly Beach in the near future, so there is still a chance.

Goodbye Nai's Cruises t-shirt. You served me well.

Goodbye Nai’s Cruises t-shirt. You served me well.

There is only one motel in Cameron and I had a reservation – not that I needed it  – I was their second guest of a grand total of two for the night. No couchsurfers or warmshower hosts are registered for the area. Well, there are two couchsurfing hosts registered, but they have not filled in their profiles or provided any information about themselves. Anyone who merely submits their name and city isn’t really a participator. I ended up staying for two nights because I woke up feverish and with a raging migraine. Headaches are so rare for me now, that I am amazed at how much they hurt and how I used to have them almost daily. I took this time to get plenty of sleep and fix my second punctured tube. I also said goodbye to my Nai’a Cruises t-shirt. I love this shirt because my brother designed it when he was dive master for Nai’a Cruises in Fiji.  It wasn’t a total goodbye though – I cut the bottom part off and I am now wearing it as an infinity scarf – it helps when the wind is blowing!

A new LG plant being built in Cameron Parish, LA.

A new LG plant being built in Cameron Parish, LA.

The next day, January 16th (also my brother’s b-day!) I got back on the road, pedaling to Pecan Island. But that story is for my next post.

I would like to thank the kind and informative Larry, of the Cameron Parish FD for his help and all the interesting local knowledge. It’s people like him that make this journey so interesting.

PS – the quote for this blog has nothing to do with this blog…I just like it.

TEXAS – EPILOG

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” ~ Edmund Burke

“History is written by the victors.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

 

I know I said goodbye to Texas, but before I move on to Louisiana, I think a bit of history is appropriate. I went to some Texas landmarks – the capitol building in Austin, the Alamo in San Antonio, the Presidio Bahia in Goliad, and a monument to James Fannin and other soldiers of the Texas revolution.

I read all the brochures and watched a video, and I was confused. The only way I could write this was to do some research on the interwebs.

First – the six flags over Texas: If you Google this, the first thing that will come up is the website for the Six Flags theme park. I never realized until now, that the Six Flags theme park is named for the six flags over Texas – which is about the history of the sovereignty of Texas. So here goes:

  1. Spain – 1519-1821
  2. France – 1684-1690 and 1800-1803
  3. Mexico – 1821-1836
  4. Republic of Texas – 1836-1845
  5. United States of America – 1845-1861 and 1865 to present
  6. Confederate States of America – 1861-1865
Six Flags over Texas

Six Flags over Texas

In the picture to the right are nine flags – the first and second republic of Texas are flags designed by generals, and are considered flags over Goliad, but not official Texas flags. The first independence flag is the Bloody Arm of Goliad flag (also, a flag over Goliad).

I read some information as to the origins of this image, and it is believed by some to be influenced by similar images in Irish and European flags. Someone told me that there was a saying behind it – “I’d  rather cut off my arm than be…”, something along those lines, but I haven’t found anything to substantiate it. It could just be folklore, which is fine by me. Folklore often has the best stories.

The period of history I am going to discuss is the transition to Republic of Texas from Mexico – 1835 to 1836, because the area I was visiting is where these battles occurred.  I’ll try to keep it simple, brief, and not confusing.

 

THE WAR FOR TEXAS INDEPENDENCE

First battle for Texas independence: Battle of Goliad – October 10, 1835. Texas won. Texans captured the Presidio Bahia outside Goliad, effectively blocking the supply route from the gulf for the Mexicans. Now they had to rely on overland supply delivery.

Second battle for Texas independence: Battle of Gonzales – October 12, 1835. Texas won.

Third battle for Texas independence: Siege of Bexar in San Antonio de Bexar – October 12, 1835. Texas won. This was a six week siege – fighting from house to house, finally forcing the Mexicans to retreat to the south side of the Rio Grande.

Fourth battle for Texas independence: Battle of Concepcion in San Antonio de Bexar – October 28, 1935.  Texas won. The first Texan to lose his life in the fight for independence occurred during this battle. The count for Mexican soldier deaths was between fourteen and seventy-six – was there some exaggerating going on? This was a fairly easy victory and the historian, Stephen Hardin, believes that this easy win “instilled in the Texans a reliance on their long rifles and a contempt for their enemies”. Maybe not such a good thing.

Fifth battle for Texas independence: Battle of Lipantitlan in San Patricio – November 4-5, 1835. Texas won. Most of the Mexican army retreated to Matamoros.

Sixth battle for Texas independence: Grass Fight in San Antonio de Bexar – November 26, 1835. Texas won. Texans attacked a Mexican supply pack train and captured horses and hay – hence the name “Grass Fight”.

So far, so good for the Texans. But now the tide turns.

Seventh battle for Texas independence: Battle of San Patricio in San Patricio – February 27, 1836. Mexico won. The first battle of the Goliad campaign. Twenty Texans were killed, thirty-two were captured and five escaped to Goliad.

Presidio de Bahia - chapel altar.

Presidio de Bahia – chapel altar.

Eighth battle for Texas independence: Battle of Agua Dulce in Agua Dulce – March 2, 1836. Mexico won. This was the second battle of the Goliad campaign.  Six Texans escaped, five of whom were killed at the Goliad massacre.*

Ninth battle for Texas independence: Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar – February 23-March 6, 1836. Mexico won. This is arguably the most famous of all the battles for Texas independence, and up until my bicycle trip through Texas, the only battle I’d ever heard of. This was the biggest battle so far and almost all the Texans were killed – estimates are between 189-250.  Casualties on the Mexican side were worse – six hundred killed or wounded. This battle brought together uncommitted Texans on the sidelines and there was a surge in new recruits joining the Texan army.

Tenth battle for Texas independence: Battle of Refugio in Refugio – March 14, 1836. Mexico won. This is the third battle of the Goliad campaign. Tactical problems for the Texans as they inflicted heavy casualties but then split and retreated, resulting in capture.

Presidio de Bahia - door detail.

Presidio de Bahia – door detail.

Eleventh battle for Texas independence: Battle of Coleto, outside of Goliad – March 19-20, 1836. Mexico won. Once again, bad tactics for the Texans. The southernmost flank of the Texas army decided to try to meet up with the rest of the Texas forces and they left a heavily fortified location. After two days of fighting, Texas surrenders. 342 Texans were captured and consequently executed in the Goliad massacre.*

Twelfth battle for Texas independence: Battle of San Jacinto near La Porte – April 21, 1836. Texas won. This was the last and shortest battle in the Texan revolution. It lasted all of eighteen minutes, and Santa Anna was captured, effectively ending the war for independence. Over six hundred Mexicans were killed, over 700 were captured. Texas is now independent from both Mexico and the United States. This independence lasted about nine years.

But the story isn’t quite over. The Mexican generals were ordered to treat all  armed prisoners of this war as pirates, and they were all to be executed.

 

*THE GOLIAD MASSACRE

March 27, 1835 – Goliad, Texas. On this day there were 303 Texas prisoners at the Presidio la Bahia (Fort Defiance). These were men captured at the various battles. It was customary to hold them until the skirmishes died down and then release them to go home to their farms and families. But Santa Anna was adamant that the new law – to treat the prisoners as pirates and execute them – be upheld. The Mexican general, Urrea, wrote asking for mercy for the prisoners, but Santa Anna would not be swayed.

Fannin Battle Ground - Fannin Grave (Fannin and the soldiers from the Goliad Massacre)

Fannin Battle Ground – Fannin Grave (Fannin and the soldiers from the Goliad Massacre)

The soldiers were marched out in two lines and shot point blank. General Fannin was killed last, seated in a chair (because of a leg wound) in front of the chapel. He asked specifically to shot in the heart and not in the face. He also requested that his belongings be returned to his family and that he be given a Christian burial.  He was shot in the face, his belongings were taken by the soldiers and he was burned with all the other prisoners who died that day. Not all died. Twenty-eight played opossum, and slipped away when no one was looking.

The Angel of Goliad.

The Angel of Goliad.

Twenty more men were saved by being selected to work as doctors, translators and workers, due to the intervention of Francita Alavez, now known as the Angel of Goliad.

Just twenty-six days later, Santa Anna was captured and the war was over. Texas was an independent country.

 

MISSION NUESTRA SENORA DEL ESPIRITU SANTO DE ZUNIGA

Birthplace of Texas Ranching.

Birthplace of Texas Ranching.

There is a mission just down the road from the Presidio de Bahia, the Mission Nuestra Senora Del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga (Our Lady of the Spirit of Saint Zuniga). It was established in 1722 and it moved to it’s current location in 1749. As with all the missions in the west, it was established to convert the native Indians, with mixed success. It became the first cattle ranch in Texas –  at it’s height it had nearly 40,000 free range cattle. This is how Goliad can claim to be the birthplace of Texas ranching.

The Hanging Tree.

The Hanging Tree.

Goliad played a central role in the fight for Texas Independence, and it is a small but quaint town. There is only one stop light, and no stop signs that I can recall. I spent a chilly afternoon “downtown”, which is basically the buildings around the center square where the courthouse stands.  There is a hanging tree, and a few businesses named after that tree. It’s a pretty place, but there is not much to do – you have to drive to Cuero or Victoria to grocery shop, and if you want to see a movie? Get in the truck and drive to Victoria. Here are some pictures of Goliad:

 

About 30 miles east is the town of Victoria – the one the folks from Goliad go to for groceries and movies? I spent an afternoon there and got to go through the courthouse, which was beautiful. Here are some pictures.

 

OK, for real this time – Happy trails to Texas, until we meet again.

TEXAS – PART 6 – LAST DAYS

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. ~ John Steinbeck

I left Lake Jackson on a beautiful morning and headed to Galveston. Why did I want to go to Galveston? Well, first of all it is a coastal city, and I’m trying to stay on the coastlines as much as possible. But the other reason is in my younger days this guy named Glen Campbell recorded a song, “Galveston”. It’s weird how a song can get into you, and even at that tender age I wanted to go to Galveston to see what Glen Campbell was going on about. Of course it is a Jimmy Webb song and he wrote many songs that made me want to wander. Campbell recorded it in 1969 which means I was twelve years old when I first heard it. Twelve is such an impressionable age.

Finally, I was heading to Galveston. I rode past miles and miles of Dow Chemical plants. I used my first Buc-ee’s bathroom and I went over a huge bridge that connects the mainland to Galveston Island. From the top of the bridge I got a spectacular, first view ever, of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be seeing a lot of this water for the next month or so.

First view of the Gulf of Mexico.

First view of the Gulf of Mexico.

I won’t go into too many details about the ride except to say it was long and flat and straight and beautiful, and there were headwinds as usual. I rode past sunset and into the night, which was a bit hair-raising. But I finally got the apartment of my host for the evening, Dana. I was late and had missed dinner but she had leftovers – stuffed Spaghetti Squash – OMG – so delicious! We talked a bit – she is back in school studying permaculture. Well of course, I was fascinated.

Gulf of Mexico and wetlands in foreground.

Gulf of Mexico and wetlands in foreground.

I left early the next morning. I wanted to see a bit of Galveston, get to the bike shop to see if I could pick up a new front tire (I noticed the day before that I was getting a rip in it), and then get on my way to Winnie, TX.  Well, I never made it off the island that day. I spent so much time exploring and taking pictures, then at the bike shop – it was really too late to start out for another 47 miles to the first town with a motel (no couchsurfing or warmshowers in some of these tiny towns – sometimes no motel either). So I got a room at the Scottish Inn right by the ferry to Point Bolivar.

I liked Galveston – it’s a beach town, and I love beach towns. The whole southern edge is beach and in town there is a sea wall with a walkway and bike path. I saw more people on bikes in Galveston than in the rest of Texas combined. And yet the bike shop did not have a tire for me. It’s not like it’s a unusual tire size – it’s one of the most common sizes. Anyway, I rode around and explored and I was taken in by the contrast of old and new, the friendliness of the people and how the culture was a bit more beachy and a bit less Texan then the rest of Texas. I found a cool coffee house to hang out at for a bit, MOD Coffee, and a great donut shop that had delicious breakfast burritos. I confess, I also had a donut. It was good too. This donut shop was a place where the locals hung out, the counter lady knew everyone and kept the coffee coming and everyone happy even when there were twenty-two seated and four lined up for takeout. If you are ever in Galveston, you should definitely stop by Home Cut Donuts.

…..

After a good night’s sleep I got a decent start out the next day, only to miss the ferry by seconds. So I waited around and took some pictures. I love ferries and this was my first ferry ride of my trip. Finally it came and I was off again. I got dropped at the tip of Point Bolivar and started riding. Headwinds, of course. I’m beginning to think that tailwinds are just a legend – they don’t really exist. And the thing is, in all my research for this trip, everything I read said if you go east to west you’ll have headwinds and if you go west to east you’ll have tailwinds.

The ride was coastal and flat until I turned back north, then it was wetlands and flat and it started getting colder. I got into Winnie at sunset and turned the heat on in my room immediately. It was so cold that I didn’t really want to go back outside, but I needed some food. There was a convenience store next door and I got some filling, though less than healthy food.

The Lighthouse at Point Bolivar, TX.

The Lighthouse at Point Bolivar, TX.

There is not much to write about Winnie. It is a small Texas town that has more than the usual amenities because Interstate 10 runs by it. Still, it’s only another 35 miles to Port Arthur, or 25 miles to Beaumont, so it not that big a deal.

A barge being pushed downstream - probably to Port Arthur, TX.

A barge being pushed downstream – probably to Port Arthur, TX.

So, the next morning, on my way to Port Arthur/Nederland, then Orange. I was stopping in Nederland because a bike shop there had a tire on order for me. The weather had deteriorated considerably over the night. I was facing headwinds of twenty to thirty miles per hour, and rain was in the forecast.  Instead of riding at nine to ten miles per hour, I was riding at six to seven miles per hour. It became clear that I was not going to make it all the way to Orange that day – fifty-five miles. By the time the icy rain started I was wondering if I would even make it to the bike shop before it closed, only a thirty mile trip.

By three o’clock I was so cold and wet and miserable, I couldn’t feel my toes or my fingers and my face was windburned. I was still at least three hours away from Nederland, if not more, so slow was my progress. I finally just stopped and got off my bike, took off my helmet and started thumbing a ride. After about forty-five minutes and old guy named Al, in a big shiny red truck, stopped and said throw the bike in the back. He drove me all the way to the bike shop, even though it was out of his way. He told me hitchhiking in Texas was illegal. I said I was aware of that, but I was desperate to get out of the cold and rain. After a few miles, we passed a cop going the opposite direction. Al told me if he hadn’t picked me up the cop would have, and then he’d give me a $150.00 ticket. But, he said, illegality didn’t keep him from picking up hitchhikers. Guardian angels are out there.

Now that I was at the bike shop, it turns out my tire hadn’t come in yet. So, I went to a hotel across the street and checked in, then soaked in a hot tub for about an hour. I ended up staying there three days. Three miserable, rainy days. Days not fit for cycling. I transferred some money to my checking account, because I was down to thirty three dollars. By Monday I had a new tire, but my transfer hadn’t come through and I needed to get some rain gear because the weather was only slightly better. I contacted Priyesh on couchsurfing – he lived in Port Arthur, about a mile away – and he accepted my request for a stay over.  Priyesh is from northern India and he is an engineer working for Shell Oil. Lake Arthur was the center of chemical production and Port Arthur is the center of oil refining. We went out to dinner and then he drove me around and showed me the refineries and explained what it means if you see a flame coming from one of the stacks. It’s not good. It means that something went wrong, but it also means that they are dealing with it.

My friend, Melissa reminded me that Port Arthur was the hometown of Janis Joplin and suggested I go on a tour of J. Joplin sites. I got on the computer to see where I may look, and there is a museum that has a picture of her and her high school yearbook, and nearby there is a barbershop that has a new clipping of her. That’s about it. No house where she was born. No clubs or bars where she played. Priyesh told me that when hurricane Rita came through, a bunch of people moved north to Beaumont. Later, when hurricane Ike came through, even more people migrated north. Old Port Arthur is a dismal place of abandoned houses and businesses. Janis’s home no longer exist – it is gone, along with hundreds of others.

I stayed two nights with Priyesh, got a long sleeved shirt and a light weight, waterproof, self packing, windbreaker. When I started out the next day for Louisiana I was much warmer and much dryer.

I have only one picture of the previous days – that’s how miserable I was!

Priyesh in Port Arthur, TX.

Priyesh in Port Arthur, TX.

Of course, three blocks from Priyesh’s house, I got a flat tire! But having just changed a tire, I was quite adept and I got out one of my spares and fixed it in less than a half hour. After that I had a good breakfast and I said “Hasta la vista” to Texas. On to Louisiana!

But before I say goodbye to Texas… I liked it much more than I thought I would. I met some wonderful people and saw some beautiful country. People told me I should come back in the spring, when the wildflowers and bluebells are blooming – and I’d like to. But being here in the winter, I saw grassy fields blowing in the wind, cows, horses, sheep, and goats all stopping what they were doing to watch me ride by, and one day as I was riding to Blessing, I heard a racket of quacking and honking and I thought there must be some geese sitting in the fields. I stopped and looked long and hard, but I couldn’t see anything but the grass. Still the noise continued and finally I looked up. Hundreds of geese were flying by in long, graceful Vees, calling out to each other as they fly south to a warmer  winter. I started riding again, looking up at the geese more than down at the road, but they were making much better time than I was. No time to even get a decent picture, but I’ll never forget that sight.

I will come back!

I will come back!