Wednesday, April 09, 2008

We'ver Run Out of Road: 30 Hours on Bolivar Peninsula

You won’t schedule a spa massage in Gilchrist, Texas on the Bolivar Peninsula along the Texas Gulf of Mexico. But, you will find Gulf waves to pound and splash stinging salt water in your eyes. You will find sandy beaches to naturally soften your calloused feet.

You won’t order dinner and a cocktail in a white-linen tablecloth restaurant. Ironically, the Fire House Restaurant is a ruined charred shell across the street from the Gilchrist Volunteer Fire Department. But, you can buy fresh shrimp any day except Monday at the market in Port Bolivar. And, you will find cold Budweiser in the beverage aisle of the Gulf Coast Market.

We didn’t plan to visit this seaside town. In fact, it’s not even a destination featured in the Texas State Travel Guide. Ed and I ended up here after a day of traveling in the Coach through Houston to the San Jacinto Monument. We wanted a quite place to boondock for the night away from the drone of Interstate 10 traffic. Texas Highway 124 seemed busy too, so Ed drove until he hit a “T”. To the left, a barrier warned that the roadway was closed. Straight ahead lay soft sand and the crashing surf of the Gulf of Mexico. Our only choice when we ran out of road – head south on route 124.

Ed swung the coach into a large shell and dirt parking lot. “I am done for the day,” he announced giving his jeans a tug as he moved out of the driver’s seat. The plywood sign leaning against the wooden utility pole warned: Church Property. No Parking.

“Honey, didn’t you see the sign?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.” He read the sign on the front of the flat roofed building that didn’t look like a church to me, “Are you saved? Is your eternity heaven or hell?”

“Not that sign,” I snapped, “…the one that says no parking.”

“I’ll take care of that,” he promised. Ed found two kids, one had more red-headed freckles than Ed, who coincidentally happened to be the nephews of the pastor. They woke her from a late Sunday nap to ask for permission for us to stay the night. We could park in the lot as long as we didn’t block cars coming to the youth meeting on Wednesday night. Amen!

I am crazy about waves and beaches so I couldn’t wait to cross to the dunes to the shore. Little by little, as we walked the beach, Ed ended up carrying my shoes then, gray hoodie and then my camera. I kept inching into the surf hiking my shorts more and more until a “Big One” crashed into me and soaked me to my waist. Wet now, I let my shorts hang and held my shirt to my midriff. Eventually, it became soaked too. Ed stayed on shore snapping pictures of a soggy, happy wife until sunset. I fell asleep that night content, listening to the rhythm of the surf.

I thought we be pulling away so when Ed suggested over our morning coffee that we stay a day, I quickly agreed.

We drove our Toyota to the end of the peninsula where a free ferry shuttles commuters to Galveston 24-hours a day. Once again, we’d run out of road.

In Port Bolivar, we noticed that most shrimpers had docked their boats. This day, Monday, they mended nets and welded repairs to the boats. There’d been a weekend catch of “Jumbo” size shrimp. We could see them but not buy them. “Whole-sellers only,” we were told in broken English. If you are a wholesale vendor, you can buy 100 pound mesh sacks of shrimp any day direct from the shrimp dock. It was tempting to buy 100 pounds and just eat until I burst, but reason over ruled.

We followed signs to Joe’s Crabs and knew for certain we’d arrived by the sign “You Are Here: Joe’s Crabs.” Joe told us that the cost of fuel is “putting a hurt on the shrimpers and his crab business.” Nevertheless, he had set some of his traps in the morning. He’d set more later that day. We interrupted from his preparation - cutting mullets, bait for his next set of crab traps.

“I can’t raise my prices because no one will buy the crabs. Some of the shrimpers are cutting back on how often they go out on the water to save fuel,” Joe explained. Fuel is just part of the formula challenging men making a living off the water. “I have to take care of my equipment too,” commented Joe. “Parts and labor to repair to my engines and boats can run up to a thousand dollars or more. These costs can drive you out of business.”

Joe wants to tough it out, stick to crabbing and selling bait to the diminishing number of weekend tourists coming from Houston or Dallas. It’s what he knows how to do. He’s lived here all his life. He met his wife here, raised a family and rooted himself in the home that once belonged to his wife’s grandmother. He’ll spend the rest of his life here.

Making our way back up the coastal road, we stopped a fishing pier. A man from Quebec told us RVers could boondock for free here. “Had he caught any fish?” “No.” It seemed that he was not alone. People didn’t care if they caught anything. They lounged in lawn chairs, sipped cold beers, and relaxed in the sun. Hanging from the electric line above the bridge and pier, many a miscast line and lure dangled in a fisherman’s work of art overhead. Only, the pelicans and a long-beaked sea bird made successful catches at this popular fishing haven.

“Enough, enough sightseeing and visiting with folks!” I complained to Ed. The sun had warmed the day. I wanted a swim. And, Ed did too!

How is possible that no one else wanted to jump in the waves, cool off in the water, feel pull of the current, or enjoy the spray of a wave crash against you? We had the beach in Gilchrist all to ourselves, a private beach, at least for the day in the place where we ran out of road.

Route #3: I-10 to Winnie, Texas; Rt. 124 South to the Gulf of Mexico

April 6 & 7, 2008

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