An early start: we met for breakfast at 6:30, only to find they don’t start serving until 7 at the weekend. Keen to get going we headed off without waiting and got breakfast at an H-E-B supermarket instead.
We head out of San Antonio on I37 then took Route 181 heading south and east toward the Gulf of Mexico passing through Floresville, Karnes City and Kenedy. The weather was glorious: warm and sunny.
The 181 becomes the 239 and passes through Goliad, where we stopped. Goliad is a charming, unspoilt little town, which has a market on the second Saturday of every month, which just by chance happened to be as we passed through. We took a look around the market, which was fascinating. It is probably a good job that we have to travel light, or we would have come away with all manner of interesting stuff. Sadly none of the cafes were open yet as it was only 10:00am and they didn’t seem to open up until lunch time.
We got back onto the 239 and stayed on it until we almost got our feet wet in the Gulf of Mexico, stopping for lunch at Whataburger, a chain I hadn’t heard of before, but can thoroughly recommend.
Another thing I noticed as we travelled is that throughout Texas we cross numerous small bridges. These are mostly over what look like dry river beds, and they are called something River or Creek or Draw or, occasionally, Canyon, although they are pretty pathetic as canyons go. Today, for the first time I noticed the odd Bayou – we must be getting closer to New Orleans.
We then turned north and east on the 35, running parallel with the Gulf of Mexico coast through Port Lavaca, which holds the state record for the highest wind speed ever recorded with gusts up to 170 mph recorded during Hurricane Carla in 1961. Thankfully we had none of that today.
We crossed an impressive bridge over Lavaca Bay and continued on past Matagorda Bay, through a small town called Blessing and onto Bay City, where we stopped briefly. I was glad for the stop as I was seriously flagging by this time. I’m not sure whether this is due to riding in bright weather (I seemed fine when it was raining!), whether it is just an accumulation of riding or, and this is my fear, a reaction to food intolerances, which do make me seriously drowsy. It is difficult not to eat the wrong things and, if this is the problem, it may be too late to start now.
Whatever the cause, I was sufficiently revived by the stop to continue, and we passed through Sweeny (which seems to be missing an ‘e’, but it is also missing Regan and Carter. That doesn’t stop the theme tune from that much loved 1970s police drama being lodged in my head though. Thanks Sweeny!)
We rode into Freeport, due south of Houston, where we had planned to stop for the night. However, during the day we had had several conversations with strangers (who always seem to be far more friendly when we stop in gas stations and cafes than you find in the UK) along the lines of: “Hey, are you guys off to Galveston?” “Yes, why…?”
It turns out that there is a large motorcycle rally going on this weekend in Galveston: the Lone Star Rally, described as “the country’s largest four-day biker event”, which seems very specific in terms of duration to distinguish it from, say, Sturgis or Daytona. Nonetheless, it is obviously big.
One option was to stay in Freeport as planned and commute in, but several of us were not keen on an additional 80 mile round trip at the end of the day. So after some discussion we decided to push on for another hour and stay in Galveston instead – the benefit of our flexible hotel planning. Against expectation we managed to book a hotel room using some ‘borrowed’ Wi-Fi.
We drove on through Freeport, which was spectacular. In fact, I could have spent all day and a whole memory card in my camera just on this last 40-odd miles. Founded in 1912, Freeport is a seaport which saw substantial economic growth when the Dow Chemical Company arrived in 1939; this is now the company’s largest manufacturing site. The city had a population of just over 12,000 in 2010.
The initial impression of the city is therefore one of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic industrial horror story. Large manufacturing plants dominate the horizon with smoke belching from numerous chimneys into a sky suddenly becoming heavy with menacing rain clouds.
We then crossed an impressively step and tall bridge, and as we crested the brow we were met with an entirely different vista: there was the Gulf of Mexico, with a landscape of wonderful, pastel coloured wooden buildings, all built on tall stilts.
We rode onto the Bluewater Highway (Route 257), which runs past Swan Lake (I kid you not!) onto a thin strip of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Christmas Bay. The road here is signposted as a hurricane evacuation route.
As we progressed, the initially simple buildings became more and more grand and elaborate; it also began to rain slightly, but thankfully quickly fizzled out. Looking in the rear view mirror, the people further back weren’t so lucky; it looked like a serious storm. We also begin to encounter more motorcyclists; sometimes in ones and twos, sometimes in groups; almost all on Harleys.
Another impressive bridge took us over San Luis Pass onto Route 3005 across Galveston Island. This is a barrier island about 27 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and West Bay on the other.
We passed through the city of Jamaica Beach, the former burial ground of the Karankawa people, and into Galveston. Despite being on a narrow strip of land, Galveston takes up 208 square miles and is home to 47,700 people. It is also where Sheldon Cooper comes from in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
We booked into the Beachcomber Hotel, which is a two storey motel. It is nice enough, but quite basic considering it is by far our most expensive hotel so far – were not sure if that is because of the rally our just the norm for Galveston. After freshening up we went to dinner at an excellent Mexican restaurant, and then took a walk down the front to the main rally site.
Bikes continually roared back and forth along the strip, which was lined with bikes and people. The bars and motels were packed and every car park was filed with bikes and huge pick-up trucks. The noise was intense. Eventually, after a foot-aching 2 or 3 miles we got to Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and the main area where there were a variety of stands and a stage with a band playing enthusiastically. All of this was free.
The experience was fascinating – there were bikes of all shapes and sizes, some extremely radical. By far the majority were Harleys, but there were a handful of Japanese “rice burners”, generally ridden by younger riders, who mostly seemed to be Hispanic or Asian. There was a much more diverse demographic of biker than you tend to get in the UK, with Hispanic and black people well represented. Walking along the strip was like passing through different neighbourhoods.
Tired and foot-sore I was glad to get back to the hotel and, as we now have fewer miles to do tomorrow, I get a bit of a lie in.
Miles today: 289
Total miles: 1953