Austin-area residents are fully aware that only during the months of March, April, October, and November, does the brutal climate of Central Texas allow top-down motoring or day-long motorcycle riding.
Although my biker buddy Nathan Gibson and I had recently returned from a 10-day biking adventure to Sturgis, SD in August, we were both eager to get in at least one more good ride before winter overcomes us. So, when I suggested an overnight jaunt to the cutest town in the south, Natchitoches, LA, Nathan, as always, was eager to sign on. Not only is the destination stellar, but the route from Austin has to be one of the most desirable rides in all of Texas… out Hwy 79 from Round Rock, through Taylor, Rockdale, Crockett, Lufkin, and beyond. No freeways, no traffic, 70-75mph speed limits (err.. that is until you reach the Louisiana border, whereby the good governor Bobby Jindal presides over an inexplicable 55 mph limit, on the same exact highway!)
But, the story is better told by published writer, author extraordinaire, and perfect riding partner, Nathan Gibson (management takes no responsibility for the following content!) Oh, be sure and watch the short video of the trip, following the narrative.
I must jump ahead in my little story to say that Natchitoches, Louisiana is hands down the most beautiful town in the United States that I have ever been visited. Founded in 1722 (first city after the Louisiana purchase from the French), it is situated on the beautiful Cane River only 50 miles from the Texas line half way between Shreveport and Baton Rouge but nothing like either of those cities nor any town in Texas that I have ever seen. The hanging baskets that line cobble stoned Front street between the rows of quaint shops and restaurants put me to mind of Victoria, Canada or Flores, France. The shear charm of the city is like a concentrated version of Charlestown, South Carolina. There is no “junk” to be seen here. We are visiting the third world country of Louisiana so there is a high degree of probability that major “junk” can be sited within15 miles but this little city is truly a flower among thorns. Phil said it best, “it is like Disneyland or a movie set, almost too perfect.” To steal the famous quote by General McAuthor, “I shall return”.
Phil started initiated this motorcycle adventure (again) and I am indebted (again). He had survived a busy month and was ready to get the hell out of Dodge. Good riding weather had arrived, winter was only a few short months away and the road was beckoning. I had survived a steady regiment of my morning coffee, reading the Wall Street Journal, walking my dog, Jasper, and rounding up a pool buddy for the afternoon….so I needed a break as well.
We strategically dodged the morning traffic on 620 in our flight out of town. Not because we are strategic but because the contractor to whom I handed my house off was running an hour late. We did not waste out time. While waiting, we devoured delicious muffins that Dorothee had baked just that morning. How she puts something in the oven and makes it come out that moist with the perfect amount of sweetness is totally beyond me but whatever magic she does, she does it consistently, and I am definitely not complaining.
Before you knew it we were between Round Rock and Taylor passing an untold number of large but nearly empty new car lots. Who comes to this part of the world to buy cars? The answer is “no one.” About 25 years ago the city fathers of Austin invented an inventory tax to be imposed on car dealers and other businesses, which is based on the amount of inventory at “year end.” Any dealership with half a brain cell bought cheap farmland in Williamson County and established a new car lot. Mid-December about 80% of the cars living on I-35 south magically move to the Hwy 79 between Round Rock and Taylor. For some reason in January the dealerships need the cars back on I-35 south. Amazing.
As I was saying, we found ourselves approaching the Taylor bypass. It is rare to see out tax dollars well spent but the to bypass Taylor is money well spent. The only thing not painful to look at in Taylor is Louis Mueller’s BBQ founded in 1949 on main street. Other than that there is nothing I have seen in Taylor that a good tornado would not improve. But moving on, the threat of driving through Taylor is good training for driving through Thorndale and Rockdale, both of which got stuck in the Great Depression and are still waiting for the New Deal. Once past these three eye soars, the views were uplifting. Lots of pasture and small farms with the black dirt and cedar trees turning to tillable land, hard wood trees and pines.
The roads were good and the speed limits were tolerable at 70 and sometimes even 75. Speed limits are interesting. The real limit as in where you will get a ticket is the speed limit plus 10. They give you 5 and you take 5. After that, you are likely going to meet a new friend who is definitely going to be happy to see you.
We had only gone 99 miles and it was not even 11am when we stopped for fuel. Forget that we had just had some awesome home baked muffins, Phil asked if it was too early for lunch. He followed this up by saying that we were approaching a mom and pop restaurant where he had once eaten the best chicken fried steak in the entire world. Phil is a foodie and does not pass out his compliments lightly. Of course it was not too early to eat, but oh dear were we stuffed, but happily stuffed. (Dixie Cafe, Hearne, TX .. your editor)
The riding between our pig out brunch and our afternoon beer stop was delightful. We pretty much had the road to ourselves. The scenery did not change much and we were delighted that it did not…just rolling farm land with the types of trees changing at times. Why do some trees prefer to live in some areas and why did we in the hill country have to get the damn cedar trees? I can understand it that when you are going up a mountain the tree types change with elevation. Various types of hardwoods at the bottom followed by cedars then pines then firs then different types of firs. In flat east Texas it must be the soil. Cedars must not need soil, so there you have it. The price of living on a rock is to have Cedar fever.
About 145 miles from our chicken fried steak orgy, Phil had another brilliant idea. “Is it too early to stop for a beer?” In a town of about 15 thousand people and a town that looked otherwise progressive, there were no beer joints, only antique stores and churches. No wonder the citizens looked so unhappy! We were not giving up and did finally found a pretty nice Italian restaurant that had something resembling a bar. The owner was the only one there and was happy to see us but not happy that he had no other customers, it was lunch time and we only wanted a couple beers.
At less than 400 miles, Natchitoches, Louisiana was a very short ride day for Phil and I, but a perfect ride day. It took us into another world. The first thing you see coming into this fairyland town is to oldest university in the state of Louisiana and it looks charming. Universities are the repositories of great knowledge. The best students from the best high schools bring in a lot of knowledge and leave with none of it so all the knowledge accumulates right there in the University.
We did a short walking tour by the river, did a little research of the menus of river side restaurants and found our no tell motel across from the University.
We showered and were off to a fabulous outside patio dinner overlooking the river. Perfect ending to a perfect ride day! Yea!
Nathan Gibson – Lake Travis