Each time I make it to eastern Texas, I savor the welcome or goodbye from the edge of the pine belt. Just east of College Station after hundreds of miles of hill country oaks and juniper, tall stands of shortleaf pine fill the forests. Returning to forests with the damp smell of decomposing soil, swampy wetlands and the sweet pine scent is almost a religious experience after the prolonged period of time in the arid southwest.
The Sam Houston National Forest contains a network of logging roads snaking through the sandy pines. The sound of motorboats on Lake Conroe drift for miles on the dense humid air. Out on the highways of east Texas are many trucks towing 250hp bass boats to the lake.
Stands of uninterupted long leaf pine once stretched hundreds of miles to the Atlantic but have since been mostly destroyed through logging and deforestation. In certain areas efforts are being made to restore these valuable habitats where Red Cockaded wood peckers drum away and the Great Horned Owl hoots after sunset. To my southern ears, few sounds are sweeter than the ebb and flow of wind through the needles.
A busy row of green caught my attention and upon further investigation led to a leaf-cutter ant nest. The 30 foot trail, nearly arrow straight, was dotted with active red ants carrying their nutrients home. I tread lightly in camp, aware of these routes, then set my tent in a safe location to avoid any damage.
Crossing Toledo Bend and the dam, a blue sign welcomed me to Louisiana and a pavement hump marked the transition to rough and worn pavement. Red clay hillsides and deeply rutted roads like chocolate milk greeted me. Cypress trees dotting the dark tanin stained ponds and bayous were a welcome sight and ushered in a flood of paddling memories.
Portions of Fort Polk are open to hunting as a WMA so I took the shortcut through the old post. The landscape was thoroughly managed to restore long leaf pines. The similalry aged 30 year old trees grow with almost no understory and a floor of knee high grass reminiscent of a savannah. The intoxicatinG mixture of pine resin and sweet hay heated by the sunshine and blown on humid southerly winds from the Gulf fills my helmet. It is a great day for taking my time and savoring the sublime conditions with no traffic, perfect weather and comforting familiarity of scenery. Coming back to the pine forests of the deep south is like returning "home", whatever that means...
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.