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Day 4 - Galveston to Port Arthur and Beyond - 130 mi / 210 km

Galveston to Port Arthur

Port Arthur was the only town on the trip that I didn’t make hotel reservations for. The hotel chains were too the north of the city and I didn’t feel like adding an additional ten miles of travel to each of two days when my journeys were entirely to the south.

Original trip planning was a 80-mile ride today (starting with the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry) and a 144-mile ride the following day (with the Cameron Ferry  a third of the way into the trip to Abbeville).  So both days had ferry crossings, which meant I could lose valuable time waiting for ferries. Given sunrise to sundown efforts to cover off the previous windy 100-120-mile days, it seemed unlikely that the 144-mile ride was achievable.  These are my thoughts as I lay in bed at 1:30AM.

I consider Cameron, a tiny town on the other side of the second ferry with one motel. It was fifty miles east of Port Arthur, which would make this upcoming day 130 miles.  So I set these trip parameters:

  • If I could get to Port Arthur by 2pm, that would leave me 4 hours of sunlight to reach Cameron at about 13 mph
  • If I could be off the Bolivar Ferry by 7AM, that would give me 7 hours to do 80 miles, about 12 mph.

I resolve to get up at 5am, be on the road by 5:30 and reach the Bolivar Ferry Landing to catch the 6am ride.

5:30am Out across the street, way out in the darkness of the gulf waters, a string of fiery lights – the offshore oil rigs.

galveston oil rigs

Seawall Boulevard at 5:30 am


Five miles later I'm at the Boliva Ferry Landing – The wind is gusting and tearing at me.  Five miles and my legs are burning and my breath is laboured.

Bolivar Ferry

The cars and trucks roll on first and I'm last on, the ramp being winched up behind me. The deckhand won't let me take my bike into the upstairs passenger lounge, so I find a place to secure my bike along a wall.

The on-board Texas flag sounds like an outboard motor as it vibrates in the wind, trying to tear itself from the flagpole. We lurch away from the dock and the wind rips my rear flashing tail light loose from my back pocket and sends it skittering across the deck under a truck. Damn.

I keep checking my bike, which I had wedged into a handrail as I hid behind a wall.  It's still there, but is getting drenched in the surf and spray that climbs over the ferry’s sides and lashes the cars and trucks. My panniers are soaked and the gears are getting well cleaned by the salty spray. The ferry rocks to and fro as it pulses towards the far shore. 

I'm the only one exposed on the open deck. Hell of a way to start a day.

We bob into the landing, the pilot cutting and powering up different engines to line us up with the dock.  Finally we are secure.  The vehicles roll off, and there is my little red tail-light lying on its back, still alive and on-board and flashing its tiny beacon up into the morning dark. I stick it back in its proper place on my backside and we wheel off the ferry.

A once-over on the bike shows nothing missing.  I re-oil my now-clean gears and squeeze the water out of my bike seat. 6:30 and on schedule.  Off to Crystal Beach I go, the sky growing lighter but still cold, especially since my legs are still salty wet from the ferry ride and the wind blows cold from the north.

The morning’s highway stretches out long and flat. The road sign shows Sabina and Port Arthur as only 57 miles – five hours if I maintain my 12mph average.

The wind makes a mockery of my noble goal to remain focused on my cadence and power in my legs instead of the wind. The wind had two components: a relentless high velocity base wind that never gave up, punctuated by frequent and erratic gusts. 

Even the locals at the gas bar were commenting on the strength of the wind, and last night’s Weather Channel, in covering national weather patterns, made note of the unusually high winds funneling down the US Midwest right through the area I was cycling through.

On the empty highway I start tacking the way a sailboat would, angling into harder wind, then twisting my back so that I use it as a sail.

I'm settling into a groove, my initial average of 10.5 mph crawling up to 11.6 and on track to hit the planned 12mph when suddenly my coastal road disappears.

Mile 35. The highway to Sabina is sanded in and unrideable. I now have an unexpected detour north through High Island. My planned ride through the emptiest and most desolate stretch of highway is replaced by an 18-mile trial directly into the wind. Thus begins the toughest ride in all my years of cycling.

Last Look at the Gulf

Gulf at High Island

Heading North to Winnie

The wind is howling in my ears. I progressively downshift through my gears to keep some kind of tempo to my cycling. A causeway looms and takes me over the intercoastal waterway. 

Terrific view, and I have to hold my cellphone camera with both hands to both steady it and keep it from blowing away.

Down the other side of the causeway, and it's the first time ever that I have to pedal downhill to keep moving, otherwise I stop rolling almost immediately.  I careen back and forth at 6mph – any slower and it would make sense to walk.

My daily average speed erodes from the planned 12mph to below 10mph.  It doesn't look like I’ll reach Port Arthur for 2pm.

Flags outside of Winnie

Elementary school sign encouraging piracy - "where Buccaneers are born"

Mile 55. I finally reach Winnie and take a hard right onto Highway 73. 

Everything changes. The wind now pushes on my left shoulder, and the highway is at a slight decline. Even more important, the busyness of high traffic with the huge long tractor trailers is a blessing.  They roar past, creating a wake that creates bubbles of quiet air that lasted for 5-7 seconds at a time. I'm able to slingshot up to 19mph during these frequent truck passings. This goes on for a couple of hours.

Another causeway over Taylors Bayou (which, based on my growing experience, I think means “muddy slow-moving curvy half-river”). Entire far horizon is spiked with refinery structures:

I hit Port Arthur city limits at 12:30.

Port Arthur

I'm ahead of schedule, and the added piece of trip to Cameron is a go.

Port Arthur Cameron

I negotiate a series of ramps and exchanges to get to Hwy 82S.  Throughout my adventure through Port Arthur I never see houses – only oil refineries.  The highway leads to the biggest bridge I’ve ever attempted.  It has no shoulder and is going to be high, high up with strong winds.  I study the situation:

Port Arthur

At the base of the bridge is a traffic light, and three cycles of green-yellow-red showed an average of four vehicles, with a full minute of stopping time.  The rails on the sides of the bridge are shoulder-high, the driving surface is concrete (as opposed to see-through metal grating) and there is good visibility, plus I am decked out in yellow. Anyone waiting at the base of the bridge can see me.

I line up behind the last car, the light flashes green and off I go.  I'm sprinting up a man-made mountain with a gale pushing me up.  I make it to the top before the first car passes me. I have no inclination to stop and take pictures, but believe me, the view is spectacular, one that you would experience flying in a small plane, but here there are no windows – open air all around me.

Down the other side I go, alternately pumping my front and rear brakes to keep my speed down so I don't overheat my rims and potentially have a tire blow out.  The bridge ends, the road shoulder widens and I look back at what I had just traversed:

I am now in Louisiana, although no sign welcomes me.  I am fully due south for the next stretch and the miserable thoughts and self-pity of that earlier long piece of brutally windy highway disappear as I take it up to 20mph.  Martin Luther King Drive snakes out before me and Cameron is the next prize.

Martin Luther King Drive

The scenery reverts to a scruffy flatness. 

Waterways appear on both sides of the road, alive with the cries and flapping of many types of birds, cranes, loons, ducks. 

More petrochemical plants pop up between the road and gulf seashore.  These are also built on stilts, so that stormwater would roll underneath the industrial equipment.

The shoulder of the road widens as the seashore becomes part of the ride, and the entire water horizon is dotted with offshore oil platforms.

Holly Beach - pockets of human life living in a perpetual post-hurricane existence.  Damaged stilt-houses with house trailers parked underneath.

Holly Beach

Then back to open road

Fire Hydrant left over from better days

I push on towards Cameron, and road veers north, back into the wind.  My legs are tired, and I roll along, stopping often, knowing that I'm very close - the sun is still high enough that I would get to the ferry soon.

Now there is oncoming traffic from latest Cameron Ferry load - I step it up.

Cameron ferry

A final curve in the road and a line of trucks and cars waiting for the ferry.  I make my way to the front of the line.

Cameron ferry

After the cars and trucks are shoe-horned onto the small deck, I walk my bike on and stay out of the way.

In 2005 Cameron was severely hit by Hurricane Rita (two years earlier than Katrina) and the residual evidence is everywhere – warehouses and machine shops with corrugated metal rusted and banging in the wind, streets with flat slabs of concrete - foundations of houses that were never rebuilt.

The former bank is now a trailer with a picket fence next to a slab with huge pieces of twisted steel sticking out – steel that once held a bank vault in place that was ripped out by the storm. 

Hurricane Rita


Cameron's social infrastructure is one gas station with a convenience store loaded with prepackaged sandwiches, one bar, a Dollar General discount store and a restaurant made of two trailers bolted together with an awning covering tables.

I pull into the Cameron Motel at sunset– rather spartan but rebuilt with all new fittings and furniture.  At the lgas station/grocery store I buy frozen Sausage and Egg McMuffin type sandwiches and orange juice for tomorrow’s breakfast, and beer to go with my Po'Boy that I buy through a window at the trailer restaurant.

Today has been my first experience with Cajuns and I admit that my data set is small:  cashiers, cooks, gas station attendants and motel neighbors that speak in a singsongy like of way and parse your questions with answers that require more questions. Examples:

  • “May I pay for this?” – “Sorry, I only do one thing at a time”
  • “Does this road lead to Hwy 73?” – “Kinda.”
  • “Is there a motel nearby?” – “Yes, we have a motel.”
  • “What do you recommend on the menu?” – “Well, everything on the menu has to be cooked, so they all take time.”



Dawgs in Pursuit





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