Last year (2000) my wife and I made our first long cycling trip. We knocked off a 432 mile day in about twelve hours. Midway through the trip, we stopped at Hodges Gardens in Louisiana. It claims to be the largest private botanical garden in the United States. Unfortunately, last time, we just missed the blooming of the Azaleas and the roses were still in the budding stage. This year is to be different! I have juggled my schedule so that we can go a few weeks earlier than last year. This time, the Azaleas will be in full bloom as will the Blue Bonnets and other wild flowers scattered about East Texas.
I send out the general invitation to all the mailing lists I belong too and make a few posts on some riding websites concerning the ride. It is strange. When I get folks together for a ride in the Texas Hill Country, the turn out is pretty good. But when I do the same for East Texas, it seems no one is interested. I am not sure why. The best I can figure is that there just isn't much discussion of the roads of East Texas like there is of the Hill Country. The way I see it, East Texas has miles and miles more roads and much less traffic. It is an undiscovered treasure hehe. Outbound Route / Return Route.
Anyway, I anxiously watch the weather developments as the weekend for the ride approaches. My friend Will Bird is coming over from Austin to ride with us on his 2000 Triumph Trophy 1200. The weather has been wet and windy for some time but it looks as if it should be clear for the ride. Great!
Will gets into town Friday evening. After a quick oil change for his bike, we decide to go for a short ride. It is getting late in the evening but it is cool and the weather nice. I take him down one of my favorite local routes, FM 1791 south out of Huntsville to FM 149. We head out to Richards on 149, make a u-turn and head right back the way we came, a great ride. Then we head on down 149 to Montgomery, Tx., and stop at a favorite grub shop, King's Cafe. The waitresses are young and cute, the food even better, and Will is smitten hehe!
After eating, we head back up FM 149. This 10 mile or so section of road is a blast. Riders from all over the place come to ride this road. If the sun is out, so are the bikes, and so are the local law enforcers! The speed limit is 60 mph. You can do the whole stretch with the cruise control on 70 and not even have to work hard. We are deep in thick woods, slipping over hills and around corners. There is nothing to distract us... just the road and the headlights... and the occasional deer!
We decide to turn East on FM 1375 and head for I-45, the interstate running North and South between Houston and Dallas. The idea is that we can get back quicker, a good idea, but not a reality. FM 1375 is not all that twisty. But it does run through a good deal of National forests. Because of the deer, I set a more sedate pace. As we are buzzing along, the bugs are coming out of the woods in droves and plastering themselves all over my face screen. The Forestry Service has been doing their "controlled burnings" lately, an interesting phrase. I have not seen a single person monitoring the fires. It seems to be a light and forget procedure. Through the cluster of tiny flickering wings glued to my screen, I see numerous small fires burning in the woods on the left. The occasional tree has its entire trunk ablaze. There is a thin veil of smoke lazily drifting out of the woods, the smell of fresh burning pine sap hangs in the air. It is a very interesting scene, and then there are more deer... I must be driving Will nuts flashing my brake light so much.
We get back to the house just in time for more visitors to show up for the night. Brian and Lori Jones show up with their toddler, Harrison. They are on the way through town and stop over for the night. Unfortunately, Brian will not be joining us on his 2000 Ducati ST-2. It is getting late. We chat for a bit and then head off to bed so we can be fresh for tomorrow's ride. I make a few late calls to the other folks that are supposed to be meeting us tomorrow just to be sure we are all on the same wavelength, we are, off to bed.
Morning arrives quickly. Everyone is up and getting ready. Will decides that his pants need to be washed because he got oil all over them last night while fighting his bike. Thinking we have plenty of time, they are tossed in the washer and then the dryer. Now, it seems like every time I try to get a group of people out the door by a certain time, it just doesn't happen. I don't have a clue as to why? Will's pants seem to be taking forever to dry. Finally, I check the dryer and it is set on LOW!! We are running out of time. I set it to high and hope for the best.
Ten O'clock rolls around and we are still not out the door and on the road. I am starting to get annoyed because I hate being late when meeting someone for the first time. But we eventually get out the door around ten thirty and head out. Right before we leave, I run across the road and get a picture of some Blue Bonnets. The sky is overcast and it is pretty windy, not exactly what I was hoping for, but there does not seem to be any rain in the forecast. Gassed and ready to roll, we head for the back roads of East Texas!
Our first leg out of town is on FM 980. It heads in a generally East direction out towards several prison units. It is nothing really exciting. There are some fun curves. The shoulders have all sorts of wildflowers growing in an abundance. The wind is coming out of the South pretty constant. The gusts are blowing us all over the road. The temperature is a nice balmy 78 F and rising. Once we get out past Hwy 19 in Riverside, FM 980 becomes long and mostly straight. But it leads to a really fun road, Waterwood Parkway. Besides, it beats riding on Hwy 190 with all the traffic and the scenery is prettier.
About 25 miles out of Huntsville on FM 980, we turn off on Waterwood Parkway. This road cuts through a resort type community for the first mile or so and then it winds up, down, back and forth through the woods for the next seven miles. the road surface is pretty good, but I do have to take care to avoid numerous "tar snakes" on the right side of the lane. I like to practice holding a constant speed and line through the corners on this road. There really aren't any tight curves, just fast sweepers. I scan the shoulders ahead for any signs of deer, a serious threat around here, especially in springtime. Waterwood Parkway drops out onto Hwy 190 a few miles from the Lake Livingston Causeway.
I had been commenting to Beth over the communicators that the wind is likely to be really strong when we cross the bridge. I am wrong. Surprisingly, the wind is not that bad. The scene is interesting however because the water on the South side of the bridge is very choppy, while the water on the North side of the bridge is very calm and smooth. The bridge is one lane each way and not very big, and even though it is pretty long (a few miles maybe), I would not have expected it to affect the water conditions that much. But the calm water extends to the North as far as I can see.
I love riding around lakes. I like the smell of the wind coming off the water. Every time I ride in this area it really makes me want a boat or some jet skis so I can come out on the weekends and work on my sunburns. There are tons of people fishing along the edges of the bridge. They look up as we go roaring by. It seems that cars are ignored, but there is just something about motorcycles that compels people to stop what they are doing and turn around for a look, especially small children. I make it a point to wave at kids when I see them checking us out.
We cross the bridge and get into Onalaska. This is a small town. The economy seems to revolve around lake houses, bait and gasoline. There is one large intersection in the middle of town and the pavement is very bumpy and in a poor state of decay. We have to slow down well before we get to the lights. We see a few Harleys out and about getting gas and pretending not to see us on our "pretender" bikes hehe. We wave anyway and continue on through town. On the far side of town and after crossing a second bridge, we turn North on FM 3152.
This is really not much of a road, it just gets us out into the woods where we want to be. However, there is a short section that has Dogwood trees blooming vigorously throughout the woods. I had hoped we would still be seeing Dogwoods blooming. From reports of my Mom, who took the same trip last week, she thought they were nearing the end of their blooming period and would be faded by the time we did the ride. Dogwoods are one of my favorite blooming trees. The petals have a soft texture and are a beautiful shade of pearl white. The branches of the trees are flat and broad, as if the tree were holding out it hands for us to see what it has to display. Set against the thick lush green of the woods around them, they stand out brilliantly.
After a few short miles, FM 3152 dead ends into FM 350. We turn south and head a mile or so down the road looking for our turn off on FM 942. Right before we get to our turn, I spot a house on the right with a huge tree in the front yard. The tree is covered in Purple Wisteria vines. As I pass near the tree, I can smell the strong sweet fragrance of the blossoms. I think to myself, "How could anyone enjoy riding in an enclosed car in the springtime?" I suffer when forced to ride in a car rather than on a motorcycle unless the weather is just to severe to ride. And 100+ F temperatures don't count as "severe" hehe.
We turn off on FM 942 and the fun really begins. This road is one of those undiscovered jewels. Everyone knows about FM 337, 336 and 335 in the Texas Hill Country, and all those other great roads in that area. Everyone travels for hours on end to get there for a weekend of riding with thousands of other bikers. But not this road. We don't see a single other motorcycle and very few cars. The surface of the road is excellent and the lanes are nice and wide. The corners are marked for speed and most can be done 10-15mph over the posted limit without any problems. However, there are often little driveways or road kill so I tend to keep the speed reasonable. On a previous ride I came around a corner and was greeted by a group of LARGE vultures chowing down on a heap of carcass. These guys don't take off and move out of the way very fast on a full stomach. I had to do a duck and weave to miss a few of them. So now I am a tad more cautious when going through blind corners.
The temperature is still rising and is nearing the mid eighties. The cloud level has risen and thinned a bit. Hopefully, they will thin out completely. We reach US 59 in a small town called Leggett. We cross over the highway and continue on back into the woods on FM 942. There are various small houses along the road just outside of town. Everyone's flower beds are bright and colorful. We are quickly out of town and back out in the woods. For the most part, there are no long straights on this road. The longest that comes to mind is maybe a mile and most are much shorter. Creeks run under the road at the bottom of every hill. The smells of the woods and the plants takes me back to the days of my childhood, hunting crawdads, minnows and turtles in creeks and ponds, barefoot in shorts and tee shirt. It is interesting how smells can trigger distant memories.
As I sweep around a fairly tight left hander, I spot the sign for our next turn off, FM 1745. This road is more of the same. In a few short miles, we arrive in Chester, another small Texas town on US 287. We stop at a local Exxon for gas and a stretch. All of us are pretty excited about the ride we just completed. It was such a relaxing and smooth ride, exhilarating. I sneak a look at the clock to see how we are doing. I told the others we'd meet them in Jasper at precisely 1:00pmish or so for lunch. We have one last stretch of wooded road before hitting Hwy 190 and making a run on the last few miles to Jasper. It is a little after 12:00 so we are doing pretty good despite getting away late.
We mount up, head down the road a few blocks and make our turn off of 287 and continue on FM 1745. During the morning, there have been times where we were zipping down the road, in and out of the woods, past pastures and lakes, and then suddenly we'd come upon hundreds of acres of clear cut woods. The timber companies had come in and taken out all of the Texas Pines and killed everything in their path. Oddly enough, they call it "selective cutting" because they don't actually cut down all of the trees. Those that don't have the honor of being cut down are treated to heavy equipment running over their roots and causing fatal damage. The end result is land that looks eerily like scenes of Vietnam landscape after massive bombing campaigns. Shredded trees, bereft of foliage, leaning every which way, cover the land. It breaks my heart to see the property treated this way. I realize it is simply not economical in the short run to take the time and effort to not devastate the land so much. I just wish more people thought in long term effects. Then I crest the next hill and dip back into the shaded woods.
As I zip along the road, I fall into one of my riding trances. I am not really "thinking", I am just doing, reading the curve of the road, anticipating potential trouble around corners, scanning, smelling, and generally just having a blast. I make it a point to look behind me where possible after completing a series of corners to be sure the correct number of headlights is behind me. All are present. At US 69, FM 1745 ends in yet another tiny East Texas town, Colemesneil. We cross 69 and pick up FM 256 for the last few miles to Hwy 190. It is here that we see our first and only motorcycles of the day. Back in the distance I notice a few extra headlights closing on us.
When we reach Hwy 190, three Harleys pull up behind us. As we pull out onto Hwy 190, they fall in behind us and ride in formation with us until we reach Jasper. The stretch of 190 heading into Jasper is flat, straight, and boring. Upon reaching Jasper, at the first light we stop at, these guys pull into the lane next to us. We wave and they simply ignore us. Some people are amazing hehe. There is chrome and attitude everywhere. The last guy is actually wearing a helmet! It turns out that this guy is very new to bikes, or at least he looks and acts like it. He looks very nervous and fidgety. When he pulls away from stops he looks very unstable and unsure of the bike. He is so short that even on a low cruiser he is having trouble flat footing the bike. It is amazing that someone would spend the cash to acquire a Harley for a first bike when the chances of wrecking or dropping it are so high. Apparently, there are a lot of folks with much more disposable income than me!
The Harley guys go their separate way and we head for PC's BBQ to meet up with the others. As we pull into the parking lot, I get a bad feeling. I see Barry Berndt standing next to his ST 1100 in front of the restaurant. I get the feeling he is wondering the same thing as me. Apparently, PC's has been doing so well that they closed down to remodel and spiff the place up a bit. It was quite a dive. The blades on the ceiling fans were drooped down like wilted flower pedals. Barry informs us that he just arrived. As we are standing there, John Bennet pulls into the parking lot on his 1986 Kawasaki KLR 650. What timing!!?? We get away 30 minutes late and still manage to have everyone get into the parking lot within minutes of each other.
Realizing that we are all hungry and still need to eat, John mentions a place he had seen back down the road a few blocks. So I lead the way and as we pull into the parking lot of the second restaurant, they are closed as well! Fortunately, there are a few young men out front working on the building and they inform us that the restaurant has moved on down the road. Again I lead the way and we find it, Texas Charlies' Barbeque. That is Will behind my VFR, then Barry next to his ST 1100, John by his KLR and Beth hiding in the background.
Charlie's is a typical BBQ joint. Everything smells of smoke. The chips are a bit on the stale side. For the most part, the food is not all that great, quite disappointing. But we still have a good time chatting about bikes, jobs, and just getting to know each other. Barry and John are the only people that show up. Most others that had expressed an interest in going cancelled a few days before or just never said anything. That being the case, we decide to just ride out to the Gardens and then ride home instead of spending the night. After eating we migrate to the parking lot for some more tire kicking and BS'ing.
It appears that John's KLR has a fluid retention problem. Specifically, it has a problem retaining the fluids it needs, like oil. John explains that he decided to change the oil this morning before coming to meet up with us. During that operation, the oil pan bolt stripped the hole. So being an enterprising young man, he set off for the local hardware store and got a 1/2" tap and tapped out the pan hole. Then he "plugged" it with a 1/2" bolt. He is not happy with the result. He has extra oil packed in his fancy luggage rack. This is not a bike for wimps, he even has a machete strapped to the side of the bike for dealing with tough spots he gets into while riding. Unfortunately, John won't be coming with us all the way to the Gardens. He has prior family commitments to attend. Bummer. John aspires to purchase a sport/touring bike in the near future, hopefully in time to attend our Memorial Day trip to Hot Springs.
We say good bye to John and get back on the road. It is nearing 2:30pm and we still have a ways to go before we reach the Gardens. Everyone is okay for gas so we head on out of town on 190 for a few miles until we reach the turn off for Tx. Hwy 63 to Burkeville. This is pretty much just a straight road through the woods and over the hills. There is not much out here and we zip along at a brisk pace to make up some time. Just shy of Burkeville, we turn off on FM 692.
FM 692 is a short stretch of road that leads to the Southern end of the Toledo Bend Reservoir. It curves around the base of the large dam the holds back the lack. The road is so smooth and open that the curve sucks you in. It is not until I realize that I am having to lean over a bit more than I had expected that I am pretty far along into a sweeping decreasing radius turn. But I can see the whole turn and just lean and roll on the throttle, what fun! A scant mile or so later and we cross the state line into Louisiana where the road becomes La. 191.
As you would expect, the bulk of the traffic in the area around the reservoir is made up of trucks pulling fancy bass boats on fancy trailers and crappy trucks pulling boats of questionable seaworthiness on trailers of even less quality. Based on our last trip here, I recall the road being quite the roller coaster ride. Apparently my recall sucks! This road is nice in terms of pavement quality but that is it. A few short miles up the road and we reach our turn off on La. 473. We did not take the road last time. We missed it without realizing it and went all the way up to a town called Many. Then we had to loop back to get to the Gardens. This time I am looking for the turn and find it.
Okay, La. 473 is not the model of a well paved road. The surface is an old pebble stone of some sort. Fortunately it is dry. I would hate to test the traction in the wet. It is starting to get pretty warm and the sun is beginning to peek through the cloud cover. It is still pretty windy and the side gusts make for some exciting riding. The pavement has cracks and bumps everywhere, many running across the road. Some areas even have grass growing in the cracks hehe. We see very little traffic here and before we know it, we have reached La. 392 which runs North a few miles to US 171. We are making good time and should be at the park within fifteen minutes.
This highway is under construction. Apparently, it is being widened to a four lane highway from two. Like many roads of this type, prior to the construction it was a fun road twisting through the woods with some fun curves. Enter the earth movers. The road gets straightened so cars can take the more gentle curves at higher safe speeds, great for them, lame for us. All along the shoulder there are mounds of dirt piled high. With the speed of the construction, wild flowers have had ample time to completely carpet these mounds and the spaces in between. There is a short flower growing very thick, like a deep shag carpet. It appears to be in the Thistle family. The single flower on each plant is a deep maroon. The wind sweeps over the tops of the flowers creating ripples that give the appearance of fluid movement, maroon waves of thistles if you will ;-)
A few miles up the road we find the entrance to the park. I come up on it a little faster than I should because I am not expecting it already. As I start to brake for the turn into the entrance area, I spot loose gravel everywhere. This leads to an awkward moment where I stand the bike up and slow a bit more before leaning into the turn. It is about 3:30pm. The road into the park is great. It totally follows the curvature of the hills and is a narrow windy path into the woods. There are thick ferns growing as ground cover under the tall pines. There are Dogwoods scattered along the shoulder, still blooming and very large. The road winds back into the woods for a mile or two before we come upon the actual gate where we stop to pay.
There is a clearing at the gate off to the left where you can supposedly look out over the country side and see Texas off in the distance. I stood there and looked the last time we were here. I'll be danged if you can tell one way or the other if you are looking at Texas or not hehe. It just looks like miles and miles of woods disappearing into the hazy distance. I am sitting on my bike behind the car in front of us waiting at the gate. Out comes this woman with wads and wads of papers in her hands and she just shoves them at me. She is in a hurry to get us in and gets impatient with me when I have to try to find a place to stash all the papers. What was she expecting? It seems that since our last visit, the prices have gone up by fifty cents per person. The total is now $6.50/person, but is well worth it. We pay and head on into the park.
We turn and take the road that leads to the main garden area. This road comes down off a hill and crosses the earth dam that holds the lake in place. It is getting much sunnier now. There is a large fountain out in the lake spraying water high in the air creating rainbows in it's mist. As we round the end of the dam, there is a large hunk of petrified tree laying next to the road. We head over the the Rose Point Fountain. I forget to snap a picture of it this time, so here is the one from last time.
We remove our gear and just leave it with the bikes. There are hardly any people in the park today. With the weather getting so nice, I would have expected many more people to be here, especially this time of year. We start up the nearest hill towards one of the formal rose gardens. There are paved trails all over the place, winding in and out of the trees and bushes. When we reach the top of the hill we are greeted with the sight of tons of blooming rose bushes. This particular garden is surrounded by a wooden rectangular trellis frame with benches scattered about the walkways. The roses are not scheduled to be blooming for about another week. Obviously, someone forgot to tell the roses that detail. They are blooming like crazy and are still covered with buds and are ready to keep right on blooming for weeks to come. We walk around the paths smelling the various types of roses. We stop at the end to rest in the shade. There are these peculiar metal chairs, shaped like little half bowls on a stand. They are amazingly comfortable! There are no hard spots to be felt. With the cool breeze, the shade, and the comfort of the chair, I am ready for a nap ;-) But there is more to see and time is wasting.
We move on towards the gift shop, conveniently located in the center of all the different garden areas. As we leave the rose garden, I spot one of the few remaining Red Bud trees that is blooming. While at the gift shop, Beth wisely decides to buy some bottled water. I always forget to drink as much as I should when riding. It is easy to get dehydrated, even on a day that you might not think is very hot. The water goes quick. Next to the gift shop parking lot are several Azaleas that are great looking.
Last time we came here, I remember seeing a lookout point high above the rest of the garden but we never made it up there to check out the view. This time, we climb the path to the top of the hill. At the top is an interesting patio covered by a roof with a tall spire on top. There are more of those cool steel chairs here and we kick back a bit. Once again, the breeze is fantastic. I can see everyone starting to get a bit lazy. It has been a little over an hour since we ate, we've been on the bikes all morning and afternoon, eyes are glazing. I take the short break to shoot a few pictures from the overlook. After a few more minutes of laziness, we drag ourselves out of the chairs and start heading back down the hill.
As I am working my way down the path to the bottom of the hill, I catch a strong whiff of something very sweet. We stop to investigate. There is some sort of hedge bush growing along the sidewalk. Up inside the bush are numerous tiny little white blossoms clumped together on the ends of the branches. As I stick my nose is for a better sniff, I hear the humming and buzzing of busy workers collecting the springtime pollen! Wisely, we continue on down the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, the path goes in several different directions. We head down towards the base of the high waterfalls. The colors of the flowers are so bright I find myself wanting to take pictures of everything I pass. The lawn here is perfectly manicured. There is a bench out in the middle of it, but it seems sacrilegious to think of walking on such beautiful grass! As I meander on down the path, I come across another beautiful patch of Petunias, at least that's what I think they are. They are everywhere.
While we were up on the lookout hill, I spotted an incredible Pink Dogwood down below. I could not get a good picture of it because the view was blocked by a monstrous pine tree. Now that we are down lower, I try to get a good picture. Unfortunately, the angle is bad and the pink just does not look as bright as it does from the lookout. I wish I had seen the tree the week before when my parents were here. Mom said it was pretty awesome.
We are getting ready to head down a stone staircase that leads to a lower section of the gardens when I spot a trail that looks like it will give me a better view of the Pink Dogwood. While the others wait, I head over to check it out. When I get there I am pleasantly surprised to find that although the angle is not much better, there is a pathway leading into a thickly flowered and bushy area begging to be explored. I call the others over and they agree.
The trail leads into some large bushes that overhang the trail making a tunnel. The pine needles from the nearby trees are hanging like Christmas tree tinsel on the branches of the bushes. Hanging upside down from the bushes are humongous single red and white blossoms. We come to the agreed upon conclusion that they are Boganvias. Sounds good to me. I have to lean over backwards and look up at the sky to get a picture of them.
The tunnel continues for several yards and then opens into a small glade surrounded completely by high shrubs and trees. Off to one side is a small statue of St. Francis of Acisis. Other park guests have put flowers in the water bowl in front of him and others have chosen to break his nose off! Next to the statue is a splendid example of a Japanese Maple with its' dark maroon leaves. I should take a picture but forget when I turn around and spot another trail wandering off under the overhanging Azalea bushes.
This place is great. We wander around in the shade, cooled by the breeze, yakking about everything under the sun, surrounded by beautiful flowers of every shape and size. I mean, how cool is that? I could spend all day just hanging out here. As we work our way down the side of the hill, I round the corner and spot two beautiful Azalea bushes. The blooms are crammed together on the ends of the branches so thick they look like wallpaper. Also, there is a wonderful example of a white Azalea bush, something I have seen very few times in the past. The size of the blossom clumps is amazing. After taking more pictures, we work our way to the bottom of the hill and begin to explore the lowest area of the gardens.
The separate areas of the gardens are arranged in a tiered fashion down the side of a fairly large hill. Around the bottom of the hill runs a road that sits between the formal garden and the banks of the lake. The garden paths mostly run parallel to the road so we work back towards the far side of the gardens. The paths wander lazily back and forth, several times they cross over the small streams that criss-cross the area. Near the end of the cultivated part of the garden, we reach the base of the stone stairway I mentioned earlier. There is supposed to be a stair stepping water fall running down the center of two parallel stairways. Algae and moss have temporarily gotten the better of it.
We are nearing the time to leave. We take a path that leads off into a more wooded area of the garden. Here the paths split and rejoin randomly. One can wander here for quite a while and not take the same path twice. The ground under the tress is covered with ferns. As the ferns grow up the side of the hill, they make a really cool pattern. Yes, I realize I'm a nerd, but things like this are cool to me hehe. We gradually work our way back up the hill towards the parking lot area. On the way we cross a really cool bridge spanning a ravine. If you look closely at the picture of the bridge, you'll see another walkway below it and back in the distance. Very cool.
When we get back to the parking lot, we have to stop for restroom breaks. The front of the building has floor to ceiling glass walls. Inside are couches, chairs, and tables. It turns out that this is actually part of the ladies restroom! The men's' room is just your typical run of the mill bathroom. Have you ever wondered why women's' bathrooms are so nice? Most single guys would love to have their bachelor pads furnished so nicely! Anyway, we head down the back side of the hill towards the spot where the bikes are parked. Fortunately, the strong winds have not blown any of them over and no one has messed with our gear.
We suit up and decide to drive around the park on the road that runs all the way around. It pretty much follows the contours of the shoreline of the lake. The ground to either side of the road is kept mowed and much of it has the ferns covering it. We take a fun small side road that leads out onto a peninsula. At the top of a hill on the peninsula, there is a memorial to the Louisiana Land Purchase. It is a large circular patio with a map of the United Sates on it showing the boundaries of the land acquired and the flags under which it had been held. It's pretty cool, but once again, I forget to snap a picture, sorry. It is nearing 5:00pm and we need to be getting on if we are going to be getting home at any kind of reasonable hour.
We finish the ride around the lake and head out of the park. We turn South on US 171 and head back the way we came. We cut back over to La. 191, but rather than going South towards the reservoir dam, we head North. After just a few short miles, the La. 191 I remembered from the last trip came into view. The road is new and smooth with banked turns. It just goes up and down, back and forth, like a roller coaster. If the road were closed to traffic (other than me hehe), I would be going through here at very illegal speeds. I fantasize about this idea for a moment or two. Then snapping back to reality, I have to pace myself to keep from running over the boat trailer in front of me.
We ride on La. 191 for about twenty miles or so and eventually drop out on to La. 6. This highway is heavily traveled and not in very good condition. There is nothing to see and not a single fun curve. But when we get back to the Toledo Bend Reservoir, the bridge over the water is pretty cool. The sun is getting low in the sky and the high clouds are thinned out but not yet gone. It gives the whole sky a warm glow. The cool wind blowing across me and the bugs whacking my face shield, it doesn't get much better than this. Everyone is starting to get ancy about gas. It has been since before lunch when we last filled up the bikes. So I start looking for a decent place to stop.
When we get to the state line, La. 6 becomes Tx. Hwy 21. A few miles up the road is the turn off for FM 3121 which runs out into woods. I spot a gas station on the side of the road and pull into the parking lot. They are out of gas! I check with everyone to see how we are doing on gas. The general consensus is that we can probably make it to the next town. Before we make it to the turn off for FM 3121, Beth tells me that she has just gone on reserve. Her bike averages more than 45 mpg so I am not that worried. When we reach the turn off, I pull over and get off the bike to talk with Barry. He is going to turn here and head for home, Beaumont. Rather than turn here as planned and risk running out of gas in the middle of the woods, we are going to head up the road to Milam for gas. It is only another 4 miles. We say our goodbyes to Barry and he drives off. We get back on the road and head for Milam.
As we pull up to the stop sign at the only intersection in Milam, it becomes very apparent that we are not going to be getting any gas. What looks to have been a gas station at one time, has long since been closed down and collecting dust. There is only one other building in site and it also looks abandoned. I pull over to discuss the situation and Will informs me that he too has just gone on reserve. My VFR is fine, I can still go another 50 miles or more. I typically fill up around 180 miles and have nearly a gallon left in the take. I spot a sign that informs us that it is only another 7 miles South to Hemphill. Not having much alternative, we head South.
We get a few miles down the road when I hear Beth saying something about Will dropping back. I see his headlight flashing in my mirrors and pull over and turn around. He is stalled on the side of the road! I immediately start thinking of running into town and buying a small gas tank, filling it up and heading back out here to get him. As I am sitting there next to him, he gets the bike refired. It seems that the Trophy 1200 is a thirsty bike. We run into town and head for the first gas station. Actually, the second. Once we get there, I know there is another station just up the road where I can use my credit card. As I pass the first station Will is blinking his headlight and has his turn signal on hehe. But then he spots the station I am heading for and follows us. Breathing a sigh of relief, we fill up the bikes and take a restroom break.
Beth's tush is starting to get a bit tender. Having recently sampled the delights of my Sargent seat on the VFR, she suggests that we swap bikes for a while to give her hindquarters a break. Sounds good to me. The SV 650S is always fun to ride. The seating on her bike is so much different than my VFR. It feels like I am perched up on top of the bike more than sitting in the seat. The position is a little more sporting than my VFR with the Helibars. So we take off. It is now around 6:30pm and the sun is really getting low. We take FM 83 West out of Hemphill heading towards Pineland.
I guess my rear has been getting more tender than I had thought. While sitting on Beth's bike zipping along, I realize that I am getting a bit sore as well. I am only 5'10" and the SVS seems a bit cramped for me. I try to ignore my discomfort by flogging the bike along this nice stretch of road. There is little to no traffic. The smell of the evening, the woods and the lighting down in the trees is very soothing. This section of FM 83 runs along the edge of the Sabine National Forest. For some reason I check up and wait for the others... right as a Deputy Sheriff crests the hill in front of me and drives by giving me a friendly wave. Whew! Timing is everything! A few seconds earlier and he would have been giving me a friendly, "Do you know how fast you were going?"
We quickly reach Pineland. The sun is all but gone now. The temperature is dropping and it feels good. As the sun goes down, the bugs come out. At first it is not that bad, just the occasional splat on the face screen or whack on the shoulder. After we pass through Pineland, FM 83 continues West into the Angelina National Forest and becomes part of the Texas Forest Trail. We are making pretty good time and eventually drop out onto Tx. Hwy 147, where we turn South for Zavalla. This highway is your typical major road with lots of traffic, nothing near the edge of the road, and straight. But it gets us to Zavalla pretty quick.
In Zavalla, I have to pull over at a gas station and stop. My legs and tush are cramping. I have to get off the bike and stretch for a few minutes. Noticing that our face shields are getting pretty gruesome, and that it is dark and so are they, we change them out with our clear visors. Will seems to have forgotten his clear visor and all he has is the mirrored shield. Fortunately for him, the Trophy 1200 has a windscreen big enough to hide an elephant behind it. So he can just leave his visor open enough to see. I tell Beth that we have to switch bikes. I simply cannot take it on her bike any more. She reluctantly agrees to give up the VFR and we get back on the road.
We head North on US 69 a few miles to FM 1818. This is still part of the Texas Forest Trail. FM 1818 runs pretty much straight West. There are not a whole lot of curves on this road. But it does have some cool scenery. The woods come right up to the edge of the road. There is swamp and bog all along the edge of the road in some areas extending back into the darkness of the woods. All the monster stories read in my youth start popping into my mind, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Swamp Thing, etc,... The bugs are now reaching critical mass. It is as if we are riding through a rain storm of bugs. In just a few minutes, my clear face shield is already more cluttered than the tinted one was from a whole day of riding in the woods. I hate to think what the front of the bike looks like. Beth informs me that she is having the same problem. Some of these bugs are HUGE! I feel like my collarbones are going to be bruised from some of the hits I am taking. We endure and finally reach the small town of Diboll on US 59.
We stop in Diboll to eat. When we pull up next to an ATM so Will can get some cash, we look at each other in amazement. It is going to take a long washing session to get rid of these bugs. When we pull into the local Sonic Drive through for burgers, the locals are looking at us as if we just exited a spaceship landed from Mars. Our jackets and helmets aren't exactly appetizing to look at. We order and relax until the food arrives. I take the opportunity to load up on some Ibuprofen I have stashed in my camera bag. It is too little too late, but it makes me feel better anyway. "Better living through chemistry", as Will likes to say. We chow down and feel even better.
Before heading out of town, we stop at a gas station to clean our visors. Desperate as we are, we have to resort to using the paper towels in the bathrooms. No scratches in the visors fortunately. We head out of town going South on US 59. It is now completely dark and has been for some time. Usually the bugs let up after it has been dark for about 45 minutes. Rather than take our planned route over into the Davy Crockett National Forest, we decide to just stay on US 59 and head for Livingston and US 190. Since it is dark there is not much point in taking roads for sightseeing. It is late and we are getting tired.
However... I just can't get the excitement from the morning ride out of my system. As we get closer and closer to the turn off for FM 942 in Leggett, I convince Beth that it is just as fast to go that way, we are familiar with the road, and it is just plain more fun! She agrees and we turn off and head back into the woods again. Even in the dark this is a fantastic stretch of road. Sure I slow down compared to the daytime run, but I still have a blast. We hit FM 350 and turn North for a few miles and then pick up FM 3152 back to Onalaska and US 190. We take US 190 all the way back to Huntsville. We get in about 10:00pm.
As usual, it is good to get home. The thought of sleeping in my own comfortable bed rather than some hotel bed really motivated me those last few miles. Our total round trip for the day comes in just under 400 miles. We are all a bit sore and stiff. We sit around and relax, recounting the day's experiences. Finally, we go to bed. Another great trip behind us. Maybe next year I'll be able to get a few more riders to come along to experience the great roads of East Texas.