WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderSouth 6 - Leesville and Westwego, Louisiana
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2002 18:54:09 -0800

    Doughnuts and beer for breakfast.
    You don't need to brew an excuse to stay in Shiner, so to speak. Shiner is the home of Spoetzel Brewing, which makes Shiner Bock, and now three other varieties. I had enjoyed Shiner on previous Texas trips, and recently it became available in my area. So it seemed appropriate to visit the home world. This is an old family brewery, still run as though the product is as important - or maybe more important than the profit. The brewery was built by local farmers back in the 1800s to serve their own needs, and while the quantity has grown, the quality has not diminished. Good tour. You can still go through the plant and see it for yourself. Since it was right after breakfast, I tasted only their newest item, a special Haeffevitzen. This wheat beer has a touch of honey and orange/lemon essence added. It is not frou-frou, it is serious with a slight sweet offset by a tangy aftertaste.

    The first video session of the MSF basic course introduces the "Joy of Motorcycling". It starts with a line "heading for a town just because you like the sound of its name". And in truth, that's a lot of how this trip has been 'planned'. Looking for a road out of Shiner, I saw a sign for the quintessential description of east Texas - Flatonia. Bingo! Off we go. It lived up to its name. Next came a delusion of a grander nature - Splendora. It was little different from Flatonia. "Splendiferous" might have been a better moniker. And finally, in keeping with my unexpected excursion to Iraan, I found myself in Egypt.
    By now, the terrain has completely changed in elevation and irrigation. This is the beginning of the pine barrens where the pine trees grow as straight as telephone poles ... hmmm, come to think of it, this *is* where telephone poles come from. And the Big Thicket area is a nearly impenetrable combination with woven tangles of trees, vines, and bog land. How dramatic to jump in a little more than a day from wafting sand to standing water.
    I travel the backroads by choice though they are less direct and often slower. I hope to see in person scenes of America that for many can only be found in romanticized Hollywood capsuled images. I see a mother in a sundress holding her young daughter by both wrists, swinging her round and round like a maypole. The daughter wears a matching sundress. They are both laughing. I see five teenagers sitting on the rim of a pickup truck parked beside a barn. They are playfully pushing each other as though an unbelievable joke was just told. I see a short order cook, with apron and cocked white hat, leaned back on the legs of his chair beside a cafe, enjoying a sun break after the lunch rush. I see America.

Randumb observation of the day.
    And then when I turn up a small County Route rural highway in Louisiana there is a sign for the Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church. Ok, I've studied a few different religions when I was a philosophy major, but is this a primitive church, or a church of less evolved Baptists?

349 miles
Shiner TX95 FM609 TX71 TX159 FM1488 TX242 US59 TX105 FM770 TX326 US69 TX327 US96 FM363 US190 LA111 LA464 LA8 Leesville

    Leaving California in February, I brought my winter weight and electric clothing because I expected cold in the higher elevations. Until now I had barely used the heated grips in a week of pleasant weather. So it was a double surprise to be in Louisiana and find mid-30 degree temperatures. This is cold! First time ever I have run the electric socks all day. Even when I went to Reno over 7000 foot Donner Summit two weeks ago, it wasn't this cold. Brrrrr.
    My map shows only one road in central Louisiana officially marked scenic. That's a good enough reason to go. Long Leaf Vista Trail is indeed scenic. The one lane courses through a forest with gentle rolling hills and open sweeping curves. There is occasionally even a vista. Well worth the diversion, but on this day it is almost too cold to enjoy at the speed it begs for.
    The older houses in Louisiana are different. I notice many have a metal roof, and all have full porches. They are set above ground on cinder or cement blocks (after all, snakes need a place to live too :). Rare is the house in New England without a basement ... whereas a basement in bayou country would be an indoor pool - of green water. As I follow various bayous southward, there are larger and larger oak trees until some are truly as massive as California sequoia, ephemerally draped with wisps of spanish moss. If only it were warm. As the land gets lower, the cemeteries are built above ground with crypts instead of graves. The water table may be only inches below the surface. Deep in Cajun country near Cecilia, a prison road gang is clearing trash. As my breeze of freedom blows between them, all stop, some smile, two wave.
    200 miles, 20 feet.
    How flat is Louisiana? I just happened to look down as the trip meter changed to 200 miles on this tank of gas. The GPS altitude showed 100 feet. It was 120 when I started that morning. That's how flat is Louisiana.

    When a problem really is a problem.
    Last summer in Wyoming I got some "bad gas". As it got toward the end of the tank, the engine began to sputter and misfire, first a little, then more and often. It was cleared up by adding dry gas (alcohol) to draw out the water. But the feeling of that first misfire was something I remembered clearly. In Boutte, 20 miles from my destination, I felt a misfire. It cleared. A minute later it misfired again. Pooh. I am about as far into this tank as I was in Wyoming, so before things get worse I'll just pull into that station across the street and fill up.
    Pull up to the pump, squeeze the clutch, reach for the key to turn it off - and the bike is dead. Engine is off, lights are dead. Even the GPS, which is wired directly to the battery, is dead. This time it is not the kill switch.
    Rather than panic again, I start diagnosis. Strange. All the fuses are ok. Not a single light anywhere, and even the FuelPlus is blank, which, together with the GPS, means the battery is either suddenly, instantly, dead flat (unlikely) or there is a loose wire to the battery. Open it up, wiggle the positive cable - nice and tight. Wiggle the negative cable - more like wave the cable. It flops out to the side. The tang at the end of the cable has sheared clean off. It was not corroded, it broke because of repeated flex stain. I managed to slide the remaining stub of the broken tang under the battery nut and snug it down, but this was not going to last. For the next 20 miles I stayed in the right lane behind slow trucks because if it broke loose again, the engine would instantly shut off. How propitious that it happened as I came to a stop at the gas pump (and those 'misfires' that warned me were from the metal beginning to separate).
    When I warily wandered into Westwego, lifesaver Lyle helped me find a replacement cable-end at a auto parts store and in the literally freezing chill of the next morning we made the repair permanent. The cause, as pompous BMW service technicians would say, was the customer trying to improve on BMW design. I have one of the early Westco maintenance free batteries in the bike. These were made with vertical 'pins' instead of horizontal screw post connectors like the standard BMW battery. To connect the cable, I had to rotate it 90 degrees, leaving the end of the tang pointed up. Apparently, normal bouncing of the seat above this in the last two years pressed enough stress on the tang to cause failure. If you have a Westco (or a Panasonic, which is the manufacturer) with pin terminals, check to see there is no contact on the cable! Zat vas nicht designed fur zis!

384 miles
Leesville LA117 Long Leaf Vista LA119 LA1 US167 LA107 LA362 LA361 LA10 LA359 LA103 LA347 LA86 LA31 LA182 US90 LA20 LA1 LA3199 US90 Westwego
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

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