KOUNTZE, Texas — For a moment during Thursday’s ride, I felt like I was in a video game about a cross-country bicycle trip, in which the avatar is faced with multiple, simultaneous challenges to determine whether he is worthy to pass to the next level.
First, there was the truck following close behind me on a narrow road whose driver honked when he wanted to pass. Then came the uphill to a railroad crossing just as another rain squall lashed my face. Finally, a mean-looking dog bore down on me from the right.
I survived all of the challenges of Dolen, plus torrential rain during the first 15 miles of the ride and a brutal headwind during the last 13 miles along Farm Road 1293 into Kountze. So I assume I’ve passed to the next level of the game.
Actually, the Big Thicket of 120 years ago would be the perfect setting for a video game in which the avatar has to find his way out.
John Caplen of Georgia traveled through this region in 1887 and wrote:
“I have been in the heart of the Big Thicket in Polk and Hardin counties, Texas, for ten days. Nothing can be seen except the tangled underbrush and tall trees. In a ride of 150 miles through these counties, there is one continuous growth of tall pines, oaks, magnolias, and numerous other forest trees. As far as the eye can see, it is the same. The tangled undergrowth and fallen trees block and interpose an almost impassable barrier in the way of any kind of vehicle …”
The Big Thicket has much diminished since Caplen passed through here. Logging and development have left only remnants of a primeval wilderness once inhabited by bears, panthers and wolves.
The remnants are now organized into the Big Thicket National Preserve, created by Congress in 1974: nine separate land units and six water corridors spread over 50 square miles in seven counties.
Because of the immense diversity of its flora and fauna, the Big Thicket — a 97,000-acre swath of East Texas’s Piney Woods — was designated by UNESCO in 1981 as a Biosphere Reserve.
Because I have relatives in nearby Beaumont, in the southeastern corner of Texas, I’m somewhat familiar with the area and have ridden my bike several times from Beaumont to Sour Lake, a round trip of about 35 miles. The terrain between Beaumont and Sour Lake, where Texaco was founded in 1903, is very flat, with elevation changes in inches rather than feet.
That’s the sort of terrain we can expect on Friday as we ride about 65 miles from Kountze toward a crossing out of Texas at the Sabine River to Merryville, La.