Loving Louisiana

Louisiana has presented plenty of challenges over the last six days and 170 miles. Every obstacle has been well worth the effort thanks to the beautiful scenery and a great deal of generosity and kindness from those I have crossed paths with.

Terry dropped me back off at the Louisiana State Capitol building in downtown Baton Rouge on Monday, December 14th. After enjoying temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s for the previous week, I was in for a few days of 40 and 50 degree weather. I didn’t think 50 degrees could feel that cold until I walked through the South. When coupled with humidity, a little wind, or no sun, it can feel downright frigid. The cold gets deep into your bones!

From downtown, I walked north on Highway 61 towards the John James Audubon Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. 61, also known as the “Scenic Highway,” was industrial with miles and miles of oil refineries until I was well north of town. Locals have nicknamed this part of Baton Rouge “Gotham City.” However, the city is implementing an urban reforestation project for a five mile stretch on vacant land the lies between neighborhoods to the east of the highway and industrial developments to the west. The urban forests will act as a buffer between the residential and industrial areas. What a great use of that land!

Urban reforestation just north of downtown Baton Rouge.

After 24 miles of walking, I reached the Southern Belle Truck Stop and Casino. Nashiqua, the friendly woman working the register, gave me permission to camp on the property. I turned the trucker’s lounge into a “walker’s lounge” and was able to spend some of the chilly evening inside. Thank you for the great camping spot, Southern Belle!

In the morning, I began my long awaited walk across the Mississippi. Despite hitting the country’s mightiest river in downtown Baton Rouge, I needed to walk 30 miles north in order to cross the river safely (and legally). The John James Audubon Bridge was well worth the walk! The beautiful bridge rose high over the muddy Mississippi and offered expansive views in all directions. The bridge’s cables are painted gold, giving it a gold plated appearance from a distance.

After walking through tree tunnels for much of my walk, I was thrilled to arrive in an agricultural portion of the state after crossing the Mississippi. I traded bayous, forests, and swamps for wide open spaces and sugar cane farms – and I was crossing fewer narrow bridges! I could see for miles in every direction! It was also harvest season, so watching farmers hard at work harvesting their crops entertained me for most of the afternoon. The highway shoulder was littered with sugar cane stalks that had flown out of the back of semi-trucks during transport.

Near the end of my day, I ran into a bit of a problem. I came to a mile long, narrow stretch of the highway that ran along the top of a levy. Fortunately, I found a side road that ran parallel to the main highway through the adjacent bayou/flood plain. PJ and I just had to do some three wheeling down a steep hill to get there. I spent a blissful six miles on the quiet road and listened to happy, chirping birds the whole way. I also made friends with a few construction workers who were making repairs to the flood control system. One of the men has been in recovery for four years. We had a great chat about our respective recoveries in the bayou!

The dirt road I walked on the left, with Highway 1 on the right.

I spent night two after leaving Baton Rouge at another gas station in Batchelor. It dumped overnight, but I stayed dry, cozy, and warm in my tent!

As I made my way further northwest, more and more sugar cane fields had already been harvested. That was sweet for me, because it meant less harvest traffic. Highway 1 continued to have a massive shoulder as I made my way through the small communities of Simmsport, Yellow Bayou, and Hamburg. I had a pleasant encounter with a man named Kevin late in the day. He offered me a ride before I explained what I was doing. He wished me a Merry Christmas and sent me on my way with 20 bucks for a hot meal.

I stealth camped in the woods off Highway 1 near Moreauville that night before pushing towards the southern end of Alexandria in the morning. The sun finally came back out and I was ready for some miles!

I decided to follow Highway 114 (a three mile saving “shortcut”) en route to Alexandria. Midway through the 12 mile stretch, after hitting downtown Hessmer, I took a left instead of a right. I realized it after walking south for two miles. I found my way back to 114, but my misdirection added three miles. Some shortcut, huh? PJ will never let me live it down. And although I expected minimal shoulder space on 114, I wasn’t expecting so much traffic. It was a tricky, narrow, and often frustrating stretch.

An older man saw us walking by his house and curiously asked “Why are you on this narrow road instead of that big highway?” Great question!

Another man asked if I was out collecting cans. “Nope, just out for a long walk,” I told him.

Despite the challenges, there were plenty of sights to enjoy on the 12 mile stretch, including countless beautiful homes and some fall colors.

Once PJ and I were safely back on the shoulders of Highway 1, we put in another 20 miles on the luxuriously wide shoulder and ended the day on the south side of Alexandria after walking 33 miles on the day.

I didn’t dawdle much in Alexandria. There was a storm with one to two inches of rain forecasted to move into the area the following afternoon. Without any services between Alexandria and Leesville, I decided to beat feet to Leesville.

My strategy worked to perfection. I walked about 72 miles in 48 hours and made it to Leesville an hour before the torrential, cold rain settled in. But let me tell you, my feet were beat after that feat!

Midway between Alexandria and Leesville, I met Adam. Adam works in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas traveling to different dental offices and buying their used dental supplies. He saw me a few hundred miles back and was wondering what I was doing. We visited on the roadside for a while, and talked about his job, my walk, spirituality, and the benefits of walking. Adam loves walking to relieve stress and relax. I was also able to share my story with him and explain how walking is an integral aspect of my recovery. Thank you for the company, Adam!

Thanks to a Christmas gift from my good friend, Gary Anderson of Oberlin, KS, I had a roof over my head during the storm at a Best Western Hotel. Gary and I met during my first walk in Oberlin in 2015. We have grown close over the years and I am proud to call him one of my best friends. He has helped me immensely during my recovery. Thank you for the perfect Christmas gift, Gary! And compared to the other hotels I have stayed in on this trip, I won’t have to worry about bed bugs this time around!

I ended today about 25 miles from the Texas state line. I expect to be in the Lone Star State Monday the 21st. And my sister, Katy, is picking me up near Lufkin, TX on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday weekend in Galveston. I cannot wait!

Favorite Three Pictures

Endless horizons in Louisiana farming country.
Highway 28 between Alexandria and Leesville. I love when a road stretches far off into the distance, like a perfectly placed ribbon effortlessly dissapearing on the horizon. I can see where I’m going, but I’m never sure what I’ll find when I get there.
I was able to have an unobstructed view of the sunset – a rarity on this walk – just south of Alexandria. What a great way to end the day!

Trip Stats

39 days, 890 miles walked.

Jars of peanut butter consumed – 28

Roadside change count – $3.25

Miles per shower in Louisiana – 94

Bridges crossed in Louisiana – 58

Favorite roadside find – a Louisiana “trailer” license plate. Perfect for PJ!

Lookout drivers – PJ is officially licensed!

Until next time, walk on, and Merry Christmas!

-Ben

2 thoughts on “Loving Louisiana

  1. Hi Ben, looks like you had a few extra miles you traveled the past few days to get where you are going, but these obstacles are brought on to you & PJ for a reason. One may never know what they are or were, we just have to thank God for giving the strength to moving on. I am sure Texas will have open arms for you & PJ in the coming days. It’s a big state. Have a Merry Christmas and a great time at your sister’s. My favorite picture was The Dirt Road ~ Be Safe ~ Walk On

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    1. Merry Christmas Bonnie! Thank you for the kind words! Texas has been challenging but rewarding so far, with plenty of pleasant encounters so far! I’ll keep trudging on! Happy New Year and God bless!

      Ben

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