Swamp People and Hot Sauce
I have lived in southern Louisiana my whole life, and for this sport-touring rider, the weather from late October through April is pretty hard to beat. Frontal systems are usually at least five days apart, and in between, the weather is predictably dry and very comfortable. Such was the case on this Saturday in mid-February. I chose a familiar 275-mile loop ride that took me in and around the swamps of Cajun Country. I discovered agriculture and topography, some southern history and culture, and even topped it off with a little hot sauce. Here the people are warm, genuine and oh boy, do they know how to cook!
Leaving fairly early in the morning from home in Lafayette, Louisiana, the temperature is about 50 degrees and the sun is rising into a cloudless sky. My Yamaha FJR1300 is running smooth as silk and my mind is running fast with the excitement of the upcoming adventure. Like many riders, I would prefer to avoid the Interstate, but today’s ride only calls for a short 30-mile stint on Interstate 10. Heading east, I will ride the 18-mile bridge over the largest wetland in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. The elevated slab is a wonderful place to see the Louisiana swamp. On the other side of the basin, I exit the big concrete and run a quick detour north to Maringouin on State Highway 3000. Here, 250-year-old live oaks flank me. With their massive branches and twisted trunks, these majestic giants have taught me important lessons about learning to bend, in order to avoid breaking.
In Maringouin, I turn south on State Highway 77, cross I-10 and continue along Bayou Gross Tete. In my neck of the woods, when in doubt, a rider needs only find a road that parallels a bayou. It will be a curvy and largely desolate experience. This morning is no different, as I lean the FJR back and forth, countersteering effortlessly while I look through each curve. In Plaquemine, I skip over toward the Mississippi River and ride River Road south for a while. Protected from Old Man River by a huge earthen levee, I have the whole land to myself and the visibility seems endless. I am in the midst of sugar country, and the aroma coming through my Shoei lid is wonderful—just a touch of molasses, and I am thinking about a warm biscuit drenched in delicious cane syrup.
Just a short while later, I take a break at Nottoway, a magnificent 1850s plantation home. It has been fully restored in all of its glory, including bed and breakfast rooms and guided tours for visitors that give you a sense of what life was like on a 19th-century sugar plantation.
Now mid-morning, I turn south on State Highway 69 and the steel horse takes me deep into the swamps. The marsh grasses are blowing in the wind along with the Spanish moss from the cypress and willow trees. The music in my MP3 player is playing my favorite songs and the weather is perfect. I am completely immersed in the ride.
Turning still farther south on State Highway 70, I roll past Grand Bayou and note a few fishermen landing their boat after a morning on the water. Heading into the village of Pierre Part, my stomach tells me it is lunchtime. I am in the land of the “Swamp People” from the popular television series, and if one has to be anywhere at lunchtime, then Landry’s Seafood Restaurant is a great place indeed. They have been cooking traditional Cajun cuisine since 1972. For $10, I’ve got shrimp stew served over rice, potato salad, garlic toast and a trip to the salad bar. Despite my very best efforts, I have to leave the last three bites of rice on the plate.
Just outside of Pierre Part, I detour only a few miles to Shell Beach on the shore of Lake Verret. I sit down a minute to reflect and be thankful for my blessings. A bald eagle carrying a twig in its talons flies above me. I reckon it is time to spruce up the nest, as spring comes early in these parts.
Back on the bike, it’s a short run to Morgan City. I then turn west on U.S. Route 90 toward Patterson, where I stop at the Wedell-Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum. The Frank B. Williams family ran a huge cypress sawmill in the early 1900s. Harry P. Williams partnered with his longtime friend Jimmie Wedell, and they were famous air racers during the Golden Age of Aviation. For the low price of free, I tour both sides of the museum. On one side, I learn about the swamp logging industry and marvel at the crudeness of this early machinery. Over on the other side of the museum, many planes are on display and there is an interactive video that showcases an aerial race. I highly recommend it for anyone in the area.
Now mid-afternoon, I gear up and take State Highway 83 toward the Gulf Coast. Again, sugar cane fields flank me on either side. I stop at Cypremort Point State Park and ride down to the beach at Vermillion Bay. The tide is out and I walk a while and do some beachcombing. The salt marsh is distinctly different than the fresh water swamp I witnessed just a couple of hours ago. There are fewer trees and the ones present are much smaller, and shore birds and migratory waterfowl are everywhere. I feel fortunate that they have allowed me to play in their sandbox today.
With one more stop in mind, I turn south on State Highway 329 to Avery Island. This place is home to one of the largest salt domes in the country. Mines thousands of feet deep line the coast here, where workers extract salt for everything from road de-icing to the salt shaker on your dining room table. Avery Island is also known as the home of famous Tabasco hot sauce, that magical elixir that turns ordinary calories into something delicious. There is a quarter-mile driveway of hard-packed gravel to negotiate, but there is plenty of parking as they have recently updated the facilities. For $5.50, I take a self-guided tour of the plant, witnessing everything from pepper plants in a greenhouse to the barrel storage warehouse and the factory where the pepper sauce is made, aged and bottled. There is even a store where you can sample snacks made with Tabasco (the ice cream was “unusual” to say the least).
From Avery Island, I jumped back on U.S. Route 90 for the short 15-mile ride home to Lafayette. I pulled into my driveway rested and refreshed. My personal battery was as charged as the motorcycle battery. I could not wait to tell my wife about my great day!
(Via Rider Magazine)