Days 11 & 12 – Beach to Beach

New Orleans, LA – Grand Isle, LA – Sea Rim State Park, TX

462 miles

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Today I left New Orleans heading west towards Houston on I-10. I figured I’d take the freeway out of town so that I could be far enough away to hopefully explore some more local roads that might bring me closer to the Gulf. I got about 70 miles outside the city and pulled over to get some cold water. Once stopped, I looked at my GPS and noticed a really small state park called Grand Isle WAY off on a narrow spit of land reaching out from Louisiana into the Gulf. I looked it up and apparently they offered camping. I was off!

The funny thing is I didn’t quite realize what direction the road was taking me. If I had scaled out a bit on my GPS, I would have realized that my route to this bucolic state park actually took me most of the way back to New Orleans. I experienced a fleeting moment of regret that I wasn’t making the westward progress I’d originally intended. Then I stopped caring.

Trust the trip. Who cares what direction or how long it takes. Exploring is more important than making time.

Soon, I approached my destination but was very surprised by what I discovered.

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On the map, Grand Isle seemed like this remote seaside nature preserve like a primitive Fire Island. The reality is the Grand Isle is a thriving beach town more like the Jersey Shore or Ocean City and has been well known and well populated for decades. I felt like I had stopped some New Yorker on the street and said, “hey, have you ever heard the Hamptons? I hear they have some nice beaches there”.

Oh come on!! I missed this??!!

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Eventually, I rode through all the developed areas to get to the State Park.

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Despite the development, the actual State Park was at the remote far end of the isle and had a nice sense of seclusion to it. Upon checking in, I spoke with Debbie – the Park’s administrator manning the entrance post. She explained that Grand Isle was ground zero when the BP Oil crisis occurred – literally the first place that the oil made landfall. She talked about how difficult it was to keep the park running as initially it was hazardous to have people on the shore. Then subsequently attendance evaporated due to fear of sickness or pollution which further constrained their already severely limited budget. She said they kept the park running with only three women (her included) staffing the entire facility. She also informed me that they only offered tent camping at the RV Park, not on the beach. When I asked why, she said that they were still waiting to get a full time ranger assigned to the facility.

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It really struck me how dedicated the people who work to protect and serve our state parks are. We’ve always heard the rhetoric about the National and State Parks being our nation’s “jewels” or part of “heritage”. Frankly, I never really visited any of them other than the Adirondacks so my experience in our Parks system has been limited. But the moment I started riding on Skyline Drive at Shenandoah State Park, I understood that these assets are rightly treasured. Not only are they picturesque and scenic, but the people employed there are passionate about the preservation of these parks for future generations. These public servants are fighting for a cause and usually with little resource and even less remuneration. I told Debbie I thought she was pretty damn heroic.

Despite being in the RV parking area, my campsite was just on the backside of the beach dunes. I took the opportunity to finally dip my feet in the Gulf (no oil!) and enjoy the first cigar of the trip.

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Originally, I thought I would just bring the cigars to trade with local people for furs, trinkets and real estate. It felt like a quiet moment of victory to be on / in the Gulf finally and I took the time to savor it. It was incredibly restful to fall asleep listening to the sounds of the waves rolling into the shore.

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The next day, I could have pushed to Houston if I felt like it but I still had an extra day to kill. Looking at Google Maps, I found another coastal State Park located just over the Texas border called Sea Rim that offered primitive camping. I’m all about the beach these days. Done!

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I saw this happen along the way. D’oh!!

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But the oddest thing happened. As I triumphantly crossed the border into the Lone Star State and approached the long single lane road leading south towards the Gulf, several massive, sprawling oil refineries erupted out of the landscape. Not few Mobil stations running back-to-back. I’m talking gargantuan tangles of steel pipes, smokestacks and holding tanks from out of a deranged Terry Gilliam nightmare.

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Seriously, all I could SEE for miles were these gigantic petro-industrial complexes. Then, all I could SMELL for miles were these gigantic petro-industrial complexes. Where the hell was my pristine state park where I could pitch my tent on a powder sand beach and be named the Pelican King?

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All I could think about was some mythical backroom political deal made decades ago between the Texas Governor and some oil baron wearing a 70-gallon white cowboy hat, silver spurs on his boots and turquoise bolo tie in the shape of a cattle head.

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“But Mr. Glugg, if I give you all that land for your oil refineries, you’ll be spewing toxic chemicals into the land, sea and air like you were an Iraqi dictator with irritable bowel syndrome. Some of the environmentalists in our state have expressed some grave concerns over your development plans”

“Now see here, Gov. Whogivesashit. I’ll build you a dinky State Park at the end of the road to keep all your little hippy, hemp wearing friends happy and playing hackysack while smoking maryjane. And just so you know, those toxic chemicals will be paying for the donation to your favorite charity that I’ll just leave in this alligator briefcase by the door.”

“I see your point. Well met sir! Thank you for coming in Mr. Glugg!”

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But finally the sight and smell of these mammoth steel cities faded into my mirrors, and after passing several miles of wildlife preserves, I saw the sign for Sea Rim State Park. Here, there was no ranger – just an unmanned information booth with envelopes for placing the $10 overnight “primitive” camping fee.

I drove over the “camping” area which was really just a paved parking lot. I did however spy a dirt road leading onto the beach. I looked around and since the entire park seemed deserted (it was 7:00pm on a Tuesday night) I downshifted a gear and drove onto the beach.

I rode my bike about 2 miles along the beach before I discovered the remains of a several day old campfire. Based on previous evidence, it seemed like this would be a good place to spend the evening. I managed to carefully set up camp without getting too much sand in my tent or sleeping bag (the secret is wearing socks on the sand – horrible look but nobody was watching) and fell asleep again listening to the waves crashing a dozen yards away.

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Alright, let me honest – I TRIED to fall asleep but camping directly on the beach is not entirely the Blue Lagoon fantasy you might conjure. First of all, I was terrified that the bike would get knocked over by a rising tide. The sand was firm but not enough put my bike on the more secure center stand. As a result, my bike was resting on its side stand which dug a bit more into the sand. And if that underlying sand got wet, the bike could have fallen over and now be sitting in corrosive salt water. That would be sad.

Before I tucked in for the night, I reassembled my bike and luggage so that if I detected the tide coming in, I was completely loaded for a quick getaway. Leave the tent, I thought. Get the bike to high ground – assuming it was still upright.

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The other thing I didn’t mention was that behind my tent was a tidal pool connecting to some of the bayou that sounded the oil refineries. I tried not to give it much credence but I had some vague concerns about alligators. I actually went so far as to inspect the area leading into the tidal pool and examine the ground for any alligator tracks – like I would have even the slightest clue what alligator tracks look like. I felt more than a little foolish.

I did however finally manage to fall asleep and when I awoke, I was instantly glad that I had made the decision to crash on the beach. Imaginary alligators or not, the trip was starting to feel like an adventure.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: We’re incredibly fortunate to have such beautiful National and State Parks at our disposal, as well as patriots who keep them running. Also, scary (or at least unfamiliar) things are usually worth doing. Lastly, imaginary alligators don’t leave tracks.

Comments

  1. Blah blah blah state parks. Blah blah dunes and beaches.

    I want to know about the female oil wrestling.

    😉

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