This would be our first visit to Pine Tree Lodge a year after Hurricane Ike brought on the devastating storm surge that caused wide-spread destruction the area surrounding Hillebrandt Bayou and Taylor Bayou. It was said that the interior of the restaurant was a total loss and had to be rebuilt from ground up, as I would later find out.
Pine Tree Lodge
I met with Chris, a new rider from Beaumont, at Kroger on 23rd and Phelan at 9 am this morning. Chris has a nice gold Yamaha Vino 125 that he had bought from The Motorcycle Man recently and he was all geared-up and ready to ride. We left Kroger about a quarter after, took the service road along Hwy-69 to West Port Arthur Road, chugging along at a steady 45-mph, and arrived at Rao’s in Nederland just shy of 10 am.
Front row is for scooters at Rao's
Ed strolled into Rao’s moments after we had just grabbed our coffee, and he was in good spirit. The three of us sat out in front, drinking our coffee, and talked about our recent trip to Tail of the Dragon, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia among other things, when Denny & Dewetta showed up on the 260. Soon after, Lindsay made his appearance also, but minus Ron. “Where’s Ron?”, I asked. “Oh, he’s coming!”, said Lindsay. Apparently, Ron was preoccupied at the last minute, riding around on his Yamaha Riva looking for a shop that would add acid to a Prima battery that he had bought for one his other scooters, the Stella. We waited, and eventually Ron pulled into Rao’s after not having any luck finding help. (Maybe we will try Cowboy Honda later, I thought.)
All gathered, it was time to ride. But no signs of Stephen, Bruce, or Butch?
Google-Map is a funny tool with hidden surprises.
Example one: minor local road constructions are not updated in the “Traffic” mode. So we U-turned on Beauxart Garden Road (road-closing) and detoured via Viterbo Road. Piece of cake, right?
Next came example two: (Off-West Port Arthur Road) Kanuth Road turned into Herbert Road. Herbert Road degraded to a gravely road, then turned into a pair of beaten tire tracks on a grassy field, leading to a metal fence with a (presumed) locked gate. Of all places, it put us right next to the High Security Unit at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex, within range from the sniper towers. As we hurriedly negotiated our way back to the asphalt, a security SUV patrolling the outer perimeters of the Pen moved cautiously toward our general direction, visibly alerted by this group of suspicious scooterists. We quickly made our getaway. I have always heard about this place, the Federal Pen. At that moment, I was extremely glad to be outside, not inside.
After some unplanned U-turns and an off-road “Google-Map adventure”, we got back on the right track, zooming down West Port Arthur Road heading north, turning left on Hillebrandt Road. Relief! Devoid of traffic and in the middle of the country, this stretch of road is a pleasant ride, pretty much straight except for a couple of turns.
Hanging a right at Humble Camp Road (sign still missing since Ike), the road began to twist slightly. We entered this area called Lovell Lake, stopping at the foot a bridge over the Hillebrandt Bayou. This area tends to be a little trashy sometimes, but surprisingly not so much on this day. A father-and-son pair had just caught a fish from the bridge. Denny went up to them and learned that it was a redfish. They also said that the fish have been making their runs in this part of the bayou since Hurricane Ike.
Denny at the bridge
Peering through some tall brushes at roadside, there appeared a framed vista of a little island where the bayou bends and tall cypress trees loom straight out of the brown, brackish water, not unlike what you would pay to see at Shangri La.
Roadside view, Hillebrandt View at Lovell Lake
After a quick break we rolled on, over the bridge, leaning right on Steinhagen Road going just north of the Bayou Din Golf Club where the road shifted westward and ran straight into Labelle Road. From that point on it was an easy shuffle all the way south, crossing over FM-365 and Lowell Lake, moments later the unmistakably crunching sounds of the gravely road beneath our tires announced our arrival at Pine Tree Lodge.
Pine Tree Lodge on a Saturday
The place gives little hint that a year ago it was submerged under three feet of water, except if you look carefully enough at the exterior of the building there appears a faint, yet uniform waterline going around the bottom halves of its four sides and the 4″x4″ columns.
Ed had pulled in just ahead of us. We took a break at the edge of the tranquil bayou, resting and watching the gators swim by before stepping into the restaurant. The gators were visibly disappointed seeing their potential meals disappearing behind the shutting door.
Dramatic improvements abound inside. The vinyl-covered tables have been replaced with new Formica ones, nice chairs, the lighting (just right), the new jukebox, everything’s bright, glowing, fresh and inviting. We sat around a long table next to the bar, selected our orders from the new menu, and Tammy the friendly waitress brought me what I had been craving for since I sat watching enviously at someone ordering the exact same dish a year ago–the fried whole catfish. Deliciously flaky, moist and juicy morsels of this southern delight would please any fan of the catfish. I highly recommend that you give it a try the next time you have a chance to dine here.
Man, this is tasty and good!
Stepping out after a satisfying meal, we sat under the covered picnic table and enjoyed the gentle, warm bayou breeze and the beautifully calm water. A few alert and hungry gators from near and far moved precariously close toward the edge of the water, propelled by their powerful serpentine tails, only to be scattered by the hurled rocks of a mischievous boy.
Must be a kin of "Big Al"
Six months after it had reopened, and twelve months after Ike’s destruction, it would be safe to say that Pine Tree Lodge is back, alive and well. As we all sat enjoying the last bit of this warm early autumn afternoon, I kept thinking how peaceful it was at this little corner of Taylor Bayou, and how Nature, with the help of men, has restored itself once more.
Lindsay and friends enjoying an autumn Saturday afternoon
Denny, Dewetta and Ed scooted on home toward Mid-County and Orange by way of FM-365; Chris, Lindsay and Ron rode with me toward Beaumont, twisting and turning our way on Blewett Road (missing a sign, too) through the farmland halfway between Fannett and Beaumont. Not quite as twisty as Tail of the Dragon, but in these parts we must be somewhat creative to use both shoulders of our tires.
Later on at Cowboy Honda, Ron was able to get his battery filled with fresh acid by the attentive parts staff. As the battery was handed back to Ron, the guy simply smiled and said it was no charge. How nice, Cowboy Honda?!