Friday, November 25, 2011

North Louisiana

Apparently the CFiTT wore me out. For the next week I didn't touch the bike (either of them, actually) or set foot in the woods. I more or less slept, ate and worked and I really didn't feel like doing much else.

I snapped out of it last Saturday though, or at least went through the motions of snapping out of it, packed the kids and a big pile of outdoor materials into the truck and headed to North Louisiana.

Years ago we'd vacationed for a week with my in-laws in a cabin at Jimmie Davis State park on Caney Lake, near Chatham, LA.

 Caney Lake Sign

That probably doesn't help much in identifying its location though. Chatham is near Jonesboro. Equally obscure? Ruston? Never heard of it? Yeah, pretty much anything north of Baton Rouge is unknown to the outside world. Caney Lake is in the middle of North Louisiana. That still might not help though because there are actually two Caney Lakes up in the middle in North Louisiana or three if you want to get really technical. The park we stayed at sits on the southernmost Caney Lake.

The last time we were there, except for the 100+ degree heat, we had a great time. This year, we hoped to reprise that great time, only instead of doing it in the middle of the summer, we chose the Thanksgiving holiday. We hoped for cooler weather, but we figured that it would still be relatively warm because, hey, it's Louisiana and Louisiana is always warm, right?

Not really.

 Gloomy Caney Lake

Sunday morning, the lake was beautiful but it was also freezing cold. The night before I'd slept right up against one of the outside walls and I really could have used one more blanket than I had.

We weren't deterred though. The weather can always change.

There's a church at the end of the road that leads down into the peninsula that the park sits on so we hit their 10:30 service. As fate would have it, they were having a potluck lunch, had tons of food and invited all visitors, including us to join them. I didn't go for the casseroles but there was ham and turkey and pork tenderloin and several kinds of rolls and it was all very good though I think the pork tenderloin was the best.

After church we ran by the Wal Mart in Jonesboro to get our fishing licenses and a few supplies. These days, Wal Mart doesn't screw around. Employees are all but forced to take breaks.

 Take a Break

You will take your break.

We were in the middle of checking out and our cashier had to go find another cashier to finish ringing us up.

By the time we got back to the cabin the weather had indeed changed entirely. It was still chilly but the sun was out and it looked like it could turn into a nice day.

We went for a little boat ride.


We even did a bit of fishing later in the day but we didn't catch anything.

For whatever reason, that entire day, from my waking moment, I'd had a splitting headache and I was ravenously hungry. It was like the second day of that Shining Rock adventure from a few weeks back. Everything took tremendous effort. No matter how much I ate, I couldn't fill the black hole in my abdomen and no matter how many little naps I took, there was no shaking the fatigue. For some odd reason I had to pee like a half gallon every 20 minutes or so too. Yeah, that's gross, but it would be conspicuously absent if I didn't mention it. And, no, I didn't drink 3 cups of coffee or a dozen cokes. I'd had zero caffeine for days. I have no idea what was wrong but the spaghetti dinner Kathryn made that night finally fixed it. It was weird. Within an hour of dinner I felt substantially better and the next day I felt normal.

No idea.

The next couple of days kind of ran together as every good trip should.

It rained Monday night and part of Tuesday I think but otherwise the weather was comfortably warm and beautiful.

Each morning my father-in-law Don, Isabel and my wife's brother-in-law Ryan (He's my wife's sister's husband. Is he my brother in law too? I think of him as my brother-in-law but now I wonder if he technically is or not.) would get up early, eat some cereal, head out on the lake, fish until lunch, then head back in. Everybody else would be up by then. We'd eat, play Dominoes, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Uno or some other game. Then everybody else would go out fishing for a few hours. When they'd come back we'd play more games, eat dinner, play even more games and eventually fall asleep.

The games were fun. The food was delicious. There were football games on TV some nights. I found an extra blanket. It was great.

I don't remember which day but on one of our earlier fishing excursions, I caught this little bass.

 My Only Catch at Caney Lake

It was only noteworthy because it was the first fish of the trip. Later that same day, we all ended up hooking a few each but they were so small that they couldn't really even get their mouths around the worm and nobody managed to actually land anything.

Don did catch this tiny guy near the end of the trip. Again, it was noteworthy because at that point, anyone catching anything was a victory.

 Tiniest Bass Ever

He threw it back though.

Though we didn't catch much, our outings on the lake were still interesting in other ways. One morning we watched a red fox skulk around somebody's backyard. We also saw several deer, one of which waded into the water, then swam across the lake about 500 yards ahead from us. There were also, of course, a million birds: coots, mallards, diving ducks, blue herons, egrets, red-tailed hawks, crows to harass the red-tailed hawks... We even saw a couple of pelicans which I didn't think ever made it that far north.

Toward the end of the trip, Don and Kathryn had better luck and did manage to catch two more food-worthy bass. On the last night we grilled them up with some Tony Chachere's (pronounced sash-er-ees) and ate them. They were delicious but they definitely provided fewer calories than we burned catching them.

We only grilled out a few times but every night we built a fire, roasted marshmallows and made smores. I say we, but I'm not that big of a big fan of roasted marshmallows, so I had fun building the fire but I left the marshmallows and smores to the rest of the crew. Wal Mart sells these gigantic marshmallows now that are designed specifically for smores, but they were apparently really, really nasty and nobody liked them.

Also, it would seem that my mother-in-law didn't get to play with fire often enough when she was a kid and must have developed some sort of latent pyromania. I like building a fire and all but this was another level. She REALLY enjoyed the fire, way more than the rest of us, even more than the kids.

We played lots of games and one that we played most nights was Telestrations. Seriously, if you haven't played this game, you need to go buy it and play it with 6 or 8 of your friends, directly. One person writes a word or a phrase, then the next person draws a picture of it, then the next person guesses what the picture is supposed to be and writes that down, then the next person draws a picture of that, and so on. Sometimes the original word more or less survives but sometimes it diverges hilariously. It's actually more fun if people suck at drawing or guessing. The pictures are usually pretty great too. I don't remember what the word was here, I think originally it was toothbrush, but by the time it filtered through a couple of kids it had become Moustache Comb and here's Sophie's rendering of that:

 Moustache Comb

Yeah, that's right. Moustache Comb.

We were all pretty impressed with both the girls' drawings actually. They must get it from their mom. I definitely couldn't have done as well at their ages.

I'd brought my mountain bike and both of the girls' bikes so on one day, I think Tuesday, Sophie and I went riding around the park.

 Riding With Sophie

The roads were quiet and there are only a few miles total.

 State Park Road

We rode around the various camping loops and down to the beach.

 Caney Lake Beach

It's a little hilly in North Louisiana, but nothing like most of the stuff the girls and I ride in Georgia. Still, Sophie was having a really hard time. I didn't know it then but she was coming down with a pretty bad cold and that was the first sign of it. She forced a bit of a smile here but she was miserable. The idea of even riding back to the cabin from the beach seemed impossible.

 Me and Sophie at Caney Lake Beach

Poor little girl.

On Thursday she was too sick to do much of anything and slept most of the day. She's getting better now but she's still not well. I'm still waiting to catch it. It did occur to me though that maybe I'd caught it already and that's why I'd felt so bad that one day. I guess I'll find out in the next day or two.

Ryan's brother Eric lives just north of Jonesboro and owns a piece of land with a pond on it. They have a bunch of ducks there now and we went over to feed them.

 Ducks at Erics Pond

I actually got to see them mating. It was interesting. There were definitely a couple of males who were confused about their sexual identity. They are still a little young though, so hopefully they'll figure it out soon, one way or the other.

We also fished for a few hours and I caught a few that were even smaller than the one from Caney.

 Catch at Erics Pond

I showed Isabel and Kathryn how to fish with a plastic worm though and both of them caught bass within minutes of their first cast. Woohoo! We didn't keep any of them though, we kept thinking we'd have better luck later. Hah! Little did we know.

I think it was on Wednesday that I went running around in the woods for a few hours by myself. The last time we were there, the kids and I explored the old remnants of a trail system but this time there was a trail head...

 Boggy Creek Trail Sign

...and interpretive signs...

 Interpretive Signs

...and an actual, no kidding trail.

 Boggy Creek Trail

The official trail wasn't incredibly long or interesting and it just wound around on flat terrain. There was a little spur though that led down to the lake though...

 Caney Lake From Boggy Creek Trail Spur

...and from the signage, I learned what one of the trees I'd seen near our cabin was. I guess because it's at a similar latitude, most of the trees of North Louisiana match the trees you'd see in Middle to North Georgia. There are a few that I didn't recognize though, including some tall bush with leaves like a blueberry bush but with dry, seedy, virtually tasteless purple berries, and another tree with big, leathery purple berries.

I never figured out what the first one was, but the one with the leathery berries is Buckhorn.


The berries have a strong laxative effect. That's good to know. I'm glad I didn't eat any of them.

I wandered all over the park. There are a dozen "trails" that lead from the various camping areas to other camping areas or to the beach. Most of them are either cuts the utility companies made to lay underground power lines or drainage pipes but people clearly use them to get around the park.

I also found the same set of nearly reclaimed trails that the girls and I had explored last time and bushwhacked around a bit too. There's some old homesite or maybe an old cabin or something at the southern end of the park.

 Old Homesite

We'd seen it from the boat. It's not clear why it was torn down or why the pieces weren't removed. They appeared to have been there for a long time.

I walked all over but for some reason my legs felt like I hadn't walked a mile in my life. I had sore joints and muscles. The soles of my feet hurt. It wasn't cold though. I have no idea why it was so difficult. I kept pressing on, thinking I'd warm up but I never did. When I got back to the cabin, all I wanted to do was lie down. I'd only been out for a few hours but I felt like I'd been walking all day.

I'm not sure but I think I took a short nap and got back up around 4 or 5. I remember feeling normal again around then.

That evening, Kathryn and I sat on the dock and watched the sun set.

 Sunset at Caney Lake

The next day was Thursday, Thanksgiving day. We'd done most of our celebrating the night before though. We'd even eaten a deep fried turkey and stuffing. I'd planned on taking a day to go ride some of the North Louisiana trails and Thursday ended up being the best day to go do it.

First up: Lincoln Parish Park. I'd last ridden there some ten or twelve years ago when I still lived in Baton Rouge. Back then it was a difficult trail. The climbing was murder and the terrain was so technical that I'd invariably flat or break a chain. Successfully riding two laps was a monumental feat of endurance and skill. Would it still be so difficult?

Only one way to find out.

It was Thanksgiving day but on account of the previous night's celebration, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving day. I'd be surprised to see a store or a restaurant closed, then I'd remember, but then I'd forget again after driving a few more miles. As such, it surprised me when the park gates were open but there was nobody at the front office.

 No Charge

"What? Thanksgiving was yesterd... No. It's today!" Free admission!


I parked down by the beach.

 Lincoln Parish Park Beach

Lincoln Parish Park is just north of Ruston, Louisiana and therefore by some pseudo-associative/transitive property that I'm inventing right now, Lincoln Parish Park is also just north of my alma mater, Louisiana Tech University. So, not only had I ridden there several times when I lived in Baton Rouge, but during my pre-mountain-biking college years, I'd played frisbee on the beach, grilled out in the picnic area, swam and fished in the lake and so on. In fact, if you added it all up, I've probably put in twice as many hours doing that kind of stuff there as riding.

When I arrived there were several groups of riders coming off of the trail. They all appeared to be done with their respective rides and heading home. It was like 10 AM and I worried that there might be something going on that I don't know about, but no, they were just out early, probably getting a ride in before heading off to visit the in-laws.

The first few miles of trail were just what I remembered. You skirt around the outside edge of the park...

 Lincoln Parish Park Trail Open

...then dive into the woods and twist around and around...

 Lincoln Parish Park Trail Woods

...before popping back out and running along the edge again. Occasionally you cross a stream or a road or run into a feature of some sort like this weird gas contraption.

 Gas Contraption

I guess that it has something to do with natural gas exploration, or at least that it used to in antiquity. North Louisiana is oil and gas country and there are wells everywhere. This one is in the middle of the woods but I'm sure at some point it wasn't. It may still be in use for all I know.

The terrain was as technical as I remember but the hills seemed a lot more shallow. The only one that lived up to the memory I had of it was Tomac Hill:

 Tomac Hill

You drop down that hill then roll across the flat into a jump. The hill was as steep, fast and fun as I remembered but the jump used to be much more of a launch ramp. I barely caught any air this time and I was trying.

I shouldn't say that was the only hill that lived up to its memory. At the very end the trail dives down off of the dam that forms the lake into a dense stand of pine, turns around and runs directly back up the same steep hill. In the past, I'd never been able to climb the hill and again, I was unable to climb it. I had plenty of energy but it just gets so steep that I ultimately couldn't get traction. I'd have had to have built up more speed lower down. Maybe next time.

After spinning a loop on the "XC" route, I spun another on the beginner route which is really just the same as the XC route with detours around the really technical or strenuous stuff. After that I took a paved trail around the lake. I don't remember that trail being there before.

The lake. Heh. In '98, my roommate let a bunch of Black Convict Cichlids go in there.

 Lincoln Parish Park Lake

They may still be there. There are definitely large carp in the lake that probably started out as pet goldfish, or at least there were in the late 90's.

I rode around the various park roads too, just to get GPS data for them. Gotta get data for the roads too, I mean come on.

Driving out of Lincoln Parish Park, I felt both satisfied and disappointed. Satisfied because in the 12 years or however long it's been since I last rode there, I've improved enough that the trail wasn't all that difficult. Compared to the difficulty of the Middle-to-North Georgia cross country trails that I do 6-hours on, I'd say it was a little below average. Tons of fun, but only moderately difficult. I was disappointed though, for kind of that same reason. The trail used to feel epic and monumental; you struggled up every climb and were rewarded with long, blazing descents, assuming you could manage to find the right line and hold it through all the crazy twists and turns. It just wasn't like that this time and now I'll remember it differently. I guess a lot of things are like that though. It's like when you take your kids to Disney World. It's still fun but you remember it being so much bigger. I guess I can't reasonably be upset long term but at the time it made me sad.

Next up: Lake D'Arbonne (pronounced dar-bone). There were allegedly 5 or 6 miles of trails, all "easy" and "scenic". Sounds good.

I headed northeast to Farmerville and began searching for the park. There are actually two Lake D'Arbonne State Parks, or at least two properties belonging to the park. The one nearest to town didn't look like anyone had been there in months. Leaves all but covered the road and limbs had fallen all over the playground equipment. I kept looking.

Ahh. Much better.

 Lake Darbonne Sign

The lady at the front office was on the phone and continued to talk after I drove up, then went outside and rearranged some cones while she talked. I had all day so I didn't really mind, but it was unusual. I waited at least 5 minutes before she even acknowledged that I was there. She was otherwise very friendly though. It was odd.

I got a map at the front office, drove all around the park looking for a trail head, eventually decided there must not be any particular trail head and just parked at the Visitor Center...

 Lake Darbonne Visitor Center front of a big awesome sculpture.

 Lake Darbonne Sculpture

It looked like a semi-decomposed artifact that had been dug up and partially reconstructed. I'm sure if I knew the history of the area, it would speak to me in some particular way but, I was at a loss. I'm also sure that if the Visitor Center had been open, I could have asked. "Dangit, why is it closed? Oh yeah... Thanksgiving."

The map showed a big loop running around the outside of the park and several trails that cut across the diameter. I figured I'd spin a big loop then zig zag back and forth to pick up the rest. First though, I had to find the big loop and that turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.

The map showed it "right there". I should have been able to see it.

My first attempt put me on a fishing pier. The views of the lake from the pier were gorgeous.

 Cypress at Lake Darbonne

Caney Lake has very little of the Bald Cypress that I generally associate with Louisiana but Lake D'Arbonne was shot through with it.

Beautiful views or not though, I needed to find the trail. I'd seen big, huge signs all over the park where the various trails crossed the various roads, why was it now so difficult to find the trail from the lot in which it would seem most visitors would park?

After literally 10 minutes of searching around the parking lot and behind the Visitors Center, I finally realized that the trail somewhat anonymously crossed the squiggly little paved trail that led down to the fishing pier. It was literally in the first place I'd looked. I'm a genius.

Once I was on the trail, it was hard to lose. There were little arrows every 20 yards or so. In some places, you could look ahead and see 6 or 7 of them. And it was good that they were there because the trail didn't appear to get much use and in a lot of places, the trail itself was indistinguishable from the surrounding woods.

 Trail Markers

I did manage to get lost a few times. Once I kept misreading an arrow and ended up looping back on myself over and over. "Oh, I have to go RIGHT, not LEFT." Wee. Another time though, it honestly wasn't my fault. The signage is big and easy to follow:

 Trail Signage

Except when it leads you 90 degrees in the wrong direction. Those arrows should be pointing to the right. Straight ahead there's just a playground. The Yellow trail does cross the field beyond the playground but at right angles to the direction you'd be going and the white trail is dead to the right.

I think that was the only error though. Otherwise the entire system is well marked.

D'Arbonne wasn't all that exciting. The singletrack was kind of soft and slow and virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding woods. The doubletrack was like this:

 Lake Darbonne Doubletrack

There were some hills though. I climbed and climbed and there were several long run outs, so it was fun but it was also pretty anonymous. A sign by the Visitors Center alleged that there was some diversity between the trails. I'll give them that the yellow trail was somewhat different at the south end, and that the white trail where it runs through the various campground and close to the lake is interesting, but otherwise, it felt like I rode the same 300 yards of trail ten thousand times.

It wasn't bad though, it just wasn't great.

I'd had two more trail systems on my list, just in case I somehow managed to get through Lincoln Parish Park and Lake D'Arbonne early but it was closing in on 6:00 and I'd be out of daylight in an hour. I packed it in.

For about half a second I thought of grabbing some good local cuisine in Ruston, maybe at Ponchatoula's but then I remembered again: "Thanksgiving." Heh. I headed back to the cabin.

That night we cooked the fish in the manner that I mentioned earlier and burned the last of the firewood. This morning we packed up our gear and headed back.

The fishing was a little disappointing but everything else made up for it. It was great spending time with everyone and it was nice to have a trip where we mostly rested and relaxed. Usually I'm either walking or riding or at least driving around all day and it was a nice change of pace. Who knows when we'll get the chance to do it again but I'm already looking forward to that day.

No comments:

Post a Comment