Rest Day: Wildwood, TX

We had planned to spend two nights in Texas with India’s grandparents, and the day off from driving was quite welcome after spending at least 5 hours in the car for the last 3 days. Wildwood is a small “resort town” about 40 miles north of Beaumont, right in the middle of The Big Thicket in eastern Texas. Apparently, lots of people who didn’t want to fight in the Civil War came to the Big Thicket to hide out and disappear, and seeing how thick and dense the trees and brush are here, it’s no wonder that people thought of the area as a good place to disappear into. Right in the middle of this natural hideaway lies Wildwood itself, an oddly arranged grid of streets with lots of homes, a golf course, lake, general store, basketball and tennis courts, a baseball field and lots of peace and quiet separated from the rest of Texas by a guarded gatehouse and the vast, unpopulated expanse of the Thicket. Most of the homes are owned by retirees and weekenders who come for the golf and laid back, slow-paced lifestyle, but there are a handful of young families with children who presumably commute to work every day in Beaumont. Fortunately, we weren’t here to shop for houses, only to relax, recharge, plan the next legs of our journey and visit with the Millers.

After a restful sleep, we woke that morning to a beautiful blueberry pancake breakfast with fruit, sausage patties, coffee and juice. Grandpa Miller’s pancakes had quite a reputation, after hearing rave reviews from Dr. Benjamin Jones, no small lover of all things cake. Ben had the singular opportunity to sample the glory of these flapjacks in the days before our wedding when he was staying at India’s family home in Decatur. Somehow he managed to put away a heaping stack of five; my stack of three and India’s meager two paled in comparison. After breakfast we were treated to a brief driving tour of Wildwood, saw the golf course, the horse pastures, some of the homes that the Millers had considered in their search, and made the trip out to the Post Office where all the residents have PO boxes to receive their mail. There seemed to be miles of paved and dirt roads to explore, along with powerline cuts, grassy fields, and four-wheeler trails to explore, so India and I thought a two-wheeled expedition might be in order, especially since neither of us had been on a bike in nearly a week, and we were both starting to feel a little pudgy and soft from all the sitting, driving, eating and lack of exercise.

We saddled up and headed out in search of some four-wheeler trails that a neighbor had informed us of, somewhere off the campground area in the northeast corner of Wildwood. We crossed a narrow, wooden bridge into the slightly wilder, more wooded section of the town, far from the manicured lawns and well-tended greens of the areas around the golf course.

It took us a little while to find the campground, and we were misled once onto a false trail that went nowhere except to a tiny town in the woods populated with little cat houses, and perhaps ten wild or semi-wild cats that scattered when we rolled up. We quickly realized that this tiny singletrack didn’t lead anywhere and turned around, wondering who in the world constructed the little homes for these animals, and why… It was a mystery that remained unsolved. We eventually found the campground, complete with water and electric hookups for RVs, off a disconcertingly empty street. We would discover that there were a lot of these streets in this section of Wildwood, parts of the town that had been laid out and had streets built, but had very few, if any homes. The campground was even emptier, without a single soul around. We scouted the perimeter and found what appeared to be a trail leading off into the Thicket, but which required the fording of a creek of unknown depth and bottom composition with a sizeable tree branch laying across, making any mounted crossing impossible. We looked at the creek, looked at each other, and considered the idea of shouldering our bikes and marching through the boggy creek, through the muddy abyss and across to the brambly four wheeler trail that would lead us… somewhere. We had come ill-prepared for an adventure of this magnitude, with only a single waterbottle each in the flaming Texas sun, no food, and only a single spare tube stuffed in my saddlebag. And who knew what evils might lurk below the water’s surface? Swamp leeches? Snapping turtles? Alligators? Deadly venomous serpents? The thrill of exploration and the call of the wild were strong, but we turned tail and headed back for the safety of the road. Maybe some other time… We turned tail and followed the four-wheeler tracks along the perimiter of some grassy fields, and then back to the road.

We found a couple of hidden stashes of sandy double-track off some dead-end dirt roads, but after we found ourselves in someone’s backwoods backyard with two dogs barking us down, we decided it might be time to make for the lake and cool off with a swim.

We headed back across the bridge to the more civilized part of town, parked our bikes under a little pavilion on the man-made sandy beach on the lake, and made for the water.

It was warm on the surface, but the water below the thermocline was nice and cool, making me wish I had gills or a four-foot snorkel to allow me to stay down longer.

Moist and refreshed, we headed back to the house on Sassafras Lane for showers, lunch, and some discussions over a map. It was time to firm up plans for the second half of our journey through Texas and into the west. To continue my education in Texan heritage, we planned to make an easy drive to San Antonio the next day to see the “Shrine of Texas Liberty,” The Alamo. We would stay the night there in a bed and breakfast and have some restful sleep and showers to steel ourselves for what awaited us on the day following: a 600 mile grind through central and west Texas, all the way to El Paso and on into southern New Mexico, where we would camp at the edge of the Gila national forest, near the small town of Kingston. From there, we would turn north through New Mexico for a shorter and more scenic drive to Taos, a city just shy of the Colorado border where we could camp in the Carson national forest, and which would put us within a half-day drive into the mountains to Crested Butte, where we would spend 3 nights at the Elk Mountain Lodge riding legendary mountain bike trails and exploring the Rocky Mountains. From there it would be another two days northwest to Portland. Honestly, we were both so excited about Crested Butte that it was harder to think much farther ahead than that.

However, our kind hosts were thinking ahead to dinner, and preparations had begun for a Texas-sized steak feast, rounded off with twice-baked potatoes, homemade rolls and a salad topped with grandma Miller’s legendary French dressing and bleu cheese. We sipped cocktails on the patio while the grill heated up, chatted, snacked and prepared our bellies for wonderful food. The dinner was delicious, but someone decided that I should be given and entire steak to tackle by myself. It was quite a challenge, but I was unable to polish off the massive slab of beef, so we saved a chunk to eat with our eggs in the morning for breakfast. After dinner we looked through the Miller/McGuinn family album that went back several generations and relaxed while our food settled. Then we were off to bed before our trek to San Antonio.

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