|God Bless Texas! Part 2: College Station to Baton Rouge|
College Station, TX to Lafayette, LA (Map) - 943mi/1517km
I was determined to start early throughout this trip, but my long Wednesday meant a late start to Thursday.
I was going to start this day right though. Fat Tuesday had just passed, which normally means that I try to bake pączkis in Newfoundland (and always fail).
This year I had looked into this before coming to Texas, sadly learning that they don't have any Poles in Texas either. A Czech delicacy would have to do.
I'd never had kolaches before, but they were alright. A little heavy in terms of the amount of bread & the weight, they were sweet upon the taste buds. I believe I had a sausage & cheese kolache, along with a cherry kolache. I wouldn't say they're better than Sausage McMuffins, but when a Czech bakery finally comes to Newfoundland, I'll support it.
Today's route would avoid the interstate as I was traveling an unconventional NE direction through East Texas.
Driving the quiet secondary highways, this meant that I would be driving through more county seats & beside more county courthouses.
Madisonville's courthouse was built in 1970 & I'm aware that you're wondering why I'm wasting your time with it.
After 2 hours of driving, I arrived in Crockett & stood before their Houston County Courthouse.
I enjoyed Crockett for their old-fashioned, surviving businesses & their art deco courthouse; your enjoyment may vary.
I was growing restless with the early morning driving, as the scenery wasn't anything to write home about. Thankfully, things started to improve after Crockett. The hills rolled higher and I was moving into forest stands of tall pines.
A couple of times I passed beneath otherworldly plagues of Grackles0. I used to like the term "murder of Crows", but "plague of Grackles" might have stolen the top spot!
The courthouses weren't improving like the scenery. I noticed that I was coming to the county seat of Center next, but my excitement was quickly squashed.
I briefly considered the fact that I should be riding the handrail in front of this courthouse, as opposed to taking pictures of it (something I can do many years down the line).
Putzing along the main road, I drove up to a stoplight & then found the beauty in Center Texas! There stood their old courthouse & it was a heavy hitter.
Situated in a prototypical Southern town square, instead of on a side street like the modern courthouse, this old courthouse was built in 1885.
Its interesting look is the work of John Joseph Emmett Gibson. When Shelby County put out a contract for a new courthouse, Gibson's low bid was chosen. Gibson was an Irishman who studied architecture in Dublin & came to America when he was sixteen. He eventually met a Texas female & settled in Center, opening a brick factory & masonry service. Gibson proposed a courthouse with his skills in bricklaying & masonry in mind.
I figure if I ever make it to Ireland, it'll remind me of Center, Texas.
You might be thinking that I must be running out of East Texas land. Sure enough, Shelby County abuts Louisiana & I was quickly back in the Pelican State for the second time in my life.
I was tired of courthouses by this time, but I happened to be driving through Coushatta, Louisiana & right past their Red River Parish Courthouse (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties).
It was near here that I stopped at a Chevron and made a cashier's day by accidentally giving her a Canadian dime. She was really excited to add the dime to her modest world collection of American, Turkish, Moroccan, and now, Canadian ten cent coins.
Things were also growing more rural up this way, most notably as I passed a Beer, Bait & Beyond! (a play on Bed, Bath & Beyond!)
The whole reason I was driving east was to get to Alabama, but I decided a detour to summit Driskill Mountain was in order.
I reasoned that it was only 2 hours out of my way & that I wouldn't find myself in Northern Louisiana all that often.
Driskill Mountain is an appropriately named geographic feature. And that's not even to mention that it was 87 degrees this day.
I trudged & fought for hours upon hours...thinking about how people have conquered things like this, things like triathlons, Denali, the AT...
This wasn't one of those difficulty 1 highponts, but the hike was so gentle & short, that I barely broke a sweat (even on this day in the upper-80s). The trail is 1.8mi/2.9km round trip, but with only a 150 ft elevation gain. The highpoint of Louisiana is only taller than the highpoints in Delaware & Florida (Delaware is that one where I parked across the street from it).
To go in February like me, it was a fantastic, relaxing stroll through sandy floored, Louisiana forests; without having to worry much about snakes or spiders during this 'wintertime'.
Speaking of worries, this area usually gets a random 'snowstorm' around the end of February; so I did in fact have my long johns & was ready for hiking in wet snow. In the end, I was hurrying back to my car for water. Even the people on the radio couldn't believe it was 87 or 88° degrees in February.
That was enough of photographing courthouses & hiking minor trails.
I was suddenly in 80-degree temperatures & I needed to ride my bike. It was getting later in the afternoon, so I studied the GPS for the next major town. Monroe Louisiana was coming up, but that didn't excite me. I noticed Vicksburg Mississippi about an hour after that, so I pushed forward towards Vicksburg.
What I found in Vicksburg was their downtown situated upon a bluff beside the Mississippi River. I found very little in terms of embankments or handrails I wanted to ride, and the entire town was incredibly sloped, which would have been a great pain to explore by bicycle.
The hilarity of it all was that I noticed their awesome courthouse situated upon its own square, high above the Mississippi River. Even though I wanted to ride bikes and/or keep moving, I couldn't help but snap pictures of this 1861, Greek Revival beauty.
The new Warren County Courthouse was across the street.
It was another hour to reach Mississippi's capital of Jackson, where I figured I would hole up for the night. It was getting dark as I was leaving Vicksburg & I didn't see much point in driving through interesting lands in the dark.
I decided against riding at night in Jackson, on account of it being a large southern city & I vaguely remembered it having a sketchy reputation. Instead, I got a Super 8 room for the night, because it was amusingly next door to a Taco Bell. Shockingly, I decided to have Mexican in the place next to the Taco Bell instead, and that's how I ended up having a giant mug of Dos Equis at El Ranchito in Rockland, Mississippi.
That Dos Equis killed all hopes of going back for Mississippi's capital. I lounged in my room with my surprisingly large flatscreen, watching Dwayne Wade dominate some basketball game.
It didn't take me long to fall asleep.
The next day, the first order of business was to drive 4 hours. I forget what I had for breakfast, but I do remember driving by Hattiesburg, even if I didn't see Brett Favre working out in Wrangler's. I was cruising along on a sizable highway, without many towns to stop my progress. I passed a giant blown out factory & briefly considered it, even considered driving right inside, but in the end I didn't think it worth the risk in small town Mississippi.
Entering into Alabama was forgettable on account of driving on these back roads. I mean I remember the Welcome To sign on account of Alabama being state #47 for me, but it was a really small sign which I flew right by.
I passed through Mobile on account of wanting to get to the skatepark in Fairhope. The interstate down here is one of those which is 20 feet over ocean & marsh, an interstate which I sped over as the clouds weren't looking very inviting.
I didn't get much time in Fairhope, but what I did was very good. It was a crumby, windy morning in Southern Alabama, so I was the only one there. It chapped my ass a bit that I only had 30 minutes, but the park was so good, that I was happy that I did get those 30 minutes.
I ate lunch at some Southern fast food chain restaurant, wanting to try out this place by the name of 'Guthrie's'. It was mediocre at best.
The storm was short, but I decided to leave Fairhope anyway. I was really excited to experience Mobile & I would be riding bikes here as well.
Mobile is Alabama's 3rd most populous city, with a population of 195000 in the city itself. It is the largest city along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans & St. Petersburg.
If you want to see an ugly courthouse, realize that football stadium-looking thing is their courthouse & justice center. It looks like it should be home to Shaun Suisham kicking 50-yarders through the uprights.
I found nicer buildings tucked in between the giant monstrosities you see from afar.
As I rode the streets & hit the curb cuts, I found Mobile to be a bit busy compared to the midwestern cities that I'm used to.
It also impressed me in the way it reminded me of New Orleans. The ornate patios, the gaslights, the covered sidewalks - it was all very endearing.
I really shouldn't be surprised though, this is very close to New Orleans, and Mobile even manages to celebrate Mardi Gras quite well (I missed Mobile's Mardi Gras by 2 days - there were still beads in the trees & in the gutters.)
I noticed this weathered skyscraper & stopped to take a picture.
The Van Antwerp Building was built in 1907, not only as Mobile's first skyscraper, but the first skyscraper in the entire state of Alabama! I later learned that they make an awesome lunch, but it looked far too fancy as I pedaled past (it's one of those places that is fancy for dinner, but is easy going for lunch.)
I found the Mobile Civic Center eventually...and then I stood there & salivated at the thought of seeing a hockey game at this old, 1960s municipal auditorium.
It's too bad their East Coast Hockey League team, the Mobile Mysticks, left in 2002.
The pickings were really slim when it came to actual biking spots. I rode that tiny bank for a few minutes, but it was at the county courthouse & I noticed about 5 cop cars in 3 minutes - it wasn't worth the encounter with a southern policeman. The second picture shows some brick banks that were sort of fun, but they felt like they could really mess you up by turning your front wheel with their steepness. I gripped onto the bars very tight & paid attention to what I was doing - but I also didn't push my luck.
Finishing up, I went into a coffee shop-slash-bar, where I purchased a coffee & appreciated just how rad of a business idea this was. It was also housed in a great old building with high ceilings and aged floors. I'm not a coffee shop person, but this was up my alley. It made me long for living in a city where there's actual interesting/unique/enchanting businesses.
I passed through a couple of neighbourhoods with impressive houses as I was leaving Mobile.
I had to get going though, so I couldn't go for a 3rd bike ride (well, just yet, anyway...)
Of course, I haven't abandoned my old hobby of traveling to lighthouses. There were none within range in Alabama, but there was the Round Island Lighthouse just over the state line in Pascagoula, Mississippi!
If you think this lighthouse is a bit strange looking, take a look at some of the images brought up by a Round Island Lighthouse Google search.
Round Island Lighthouse didn't always sit here. Surprisingly it sat on Round Island, an uninhabited dot of land, 6.5km/4mi off the coast of Pascagoula. This lighthouse was built in 1859 and extensively damaged by Hurricane Georges in 1998. A couple of years ago, this bottom piece of the Round Island Lighthouse was rescued from the shores of Round Island & brought by barge to Pascagoula.
In the time since my visit, the Round Island Lighthouse now has a lantern & they're working to replace each brick. It is currently estimated that the lighthouse will be back to its 40 foot height at a time around Thanksgiving 2013.
And of course, yes, Pascagoula is the county seat of Jackson County.
After Pascagoula, and some Taco Bell, I rushed towards Baton Rouge to ride my bike before night fell.
In Baton Rouge, I almost couldn't believe it as I pulled my bike out of the back of my car, looked to my right, and realized that I parked right in front of the East Baton Rouge Parish Courthouse.
Sigh, fine. Picture taken.
The reason I was in Baton Rouge though...was to ride the incredible natural brick quarterpipes!
I've seen these about a thousand times through all of those times I've watched Road Fools 5.
They've also popped up in recent Aaron Ross edits.
I couldn't believe how fun they were in real life. I'm not even a ramp dude and I was laughing & giggling like a youthful child, with every carve up & race down.
I explored Baton Rouge a bit more, even busting out some 180s for a car full of southern girls who wanted to see a trick. The funny thing was that I then rounded a corner & they had slowed to a crawl, as they wanted to see one more 180. Ha ha! (...if only I could flatground tailwhip!)
I then rode along the long capitol gardens towards the impressive Louisiana State Capitol. Seeing as most state capitols look like mini White Houses, it's not hard to accept that this is the tallest state capitol.
There was some movie being filmed, but after returning to my car and driving over, I simply walked right past security & snapped a few long exposures of the capitol building. I was then hoping to see the building in a recent movie, but so far I haven't come across it.
I left Baton Rouge in search of a cheaper motel, finding a Motel 6 near Lafayette for $42. There was a bunch of people hanging around outside on the porches - I'd see this during the rest of the trip - but I simply rounded the corner into my room as I could hear some broad yelling, "oh look at that white boy!'
Good times hanging out on the porches of the Motel 6 & drinking beers.
Onto Day 4...
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1 - Old Warren County Courthouse - Wikipedia
2 - Mobile Mysticks - Wikipedia