Since I first started mapping out this 506-day adventure I had circled the 1400-mile, four-day trip from Virginia to Austin, TX over July 4th weekend as the toughest four days on the entire journey. It was a long way and the holiday weekend meant full campgrounds and extra traffic.
But we needed to get to a work event for me in Austin so we did what we do on this trip: we find the fun. We’ve also been sweating for 10 days straight.
Leaving Virginia (which we loved), we drove through both Carolinas down to Jess’s family in Wrens, Ga. It was a rare opportunity for everyone on the Rabun side of the family to be there including kids and spouses from Charlotte, Minneapolis and wherever we’re living. Since it was Independence Day weekend, we went for a triple scoop of America: fireworks, Ed’s famous homemade ice cream, burgers and hot dogs, lemonade and swimming in the pool. It was great to see everyone, including the recent honeymooners and Jess’s cousin-in-law Brad who we hadn’t seen in years. Best we can tell, it had been 2009 since we were all together.
Jess and I have found that when we’re staying in a real house, we wonder how we’re going to go back to living in the RV — but when we’re in the RV, we wonder how we lived in a house for so long. I have no idea what that means.
While in Wrens, we also got an oil change and washed the motorhome before we slogged 1000 more miles on the RV. In other business, the most redneck moment of the trip came when Jess and her mom washed three dogs in an old cooler. Not the one we used for ice later.
From Wrens, we went across the wide part of Georgia over to my Grandmomma’s house in Lanett, Ala. We’d just planned on a quick stop to stay the night — which of course meant a huge lunch spread with chicken-pot-pie, spaghetti casserole, congealed salad, two pasta salads, lemon pie and ice cream pie (which is my favorite all-time of anything ever). Oh, and aunts, cousins and my parents. My Grandmomma talked a little bit about the trips she and my Grandpa used to take in their camper with the Vagabonds. I remember them having a huge camper, but from the photo she has, we think it was only 19 or 20 feet. We were also able to stock up on muscadine jelly since we ran out of our stock that we’d made. It’s a casualty of a boy who eats PBJ every day.
It’s been really great to have everyone on both sides of the family offering support and advice for the trip. They are family, but they still don’t have to be supportive of something crazy like this. So far, everyone seems to be, so that’s a big plus for us. Now, if only we took pictures when we were together …
With full bellies and a full fridge, we hit the road.
We had an easy drive down through Auburn, Montgomery and Mobile. I always like the way you can feel the Gulf Coast as you approach. One tree with Spanish moss here or there. The dirt starts looking sandy. The billboards start getting beachy and the other cars around you start looking loaded up for the beach. I also love the bridges that come with being near the coast and Mobile has some cool ones.
On the trip, we got to meet up with one of my old newspaper friends who is still in newspapers. The famous Creg Stephenson and I worked at the Anniston Star together and still stay in touch on a Braves email exchange. I hadn’t met his wife and he hadn’t met Braden, so we met up near where they live in Theodore AL and swapped travel tips. They had recently been to the Dakotas, so we picked their brains about that. They told us about Custer State Park, where we’re now booked for three nights later this summer. I once heard Creg describe Texas in the summertime as “Africa Hot.” Plenty more on that later.
Our stay for the night was an alligator farm that’s part of the Harvest Host program in Moss Point Miss. It’s home to dozens of alligators and one nervous cat. I could take photos of alligators for days. Even though they were in captivity, it’s still a rush for me to see them. We got to toss pellets in for them to eat, and even though we knew that’s what we were doing, it was still startling when the eight- and nine-footers lunged through the water at the pellets.
On the way out of Mississippi, we hit Davis Bayou, which is a unit of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Braden got another junior ranger badge and it was a pretty cool visitor center located right off of Highway 90. There, I saw the Waco Mammoths National Monument on the map and the ranger told us it was a great place to stop. More on that once we get to Texas.
We also drove through Biloxi and saw Jefferson Davis’ home from a distance. We’d seen Lincoln’s already so it only seemed fair. I was intrigued by Biloxi and I’d like to check it out some day. Who wants to go? We may need a chaperone.
Somewhere in Alabama or Mississippi we picked up some hitchhikers. Several hundred of them actually. RVers hate ants and nowI understand why. Very quickly they were everywhere: ceiling, cabinets, walls countertops. We stopped at an Ace west of Biloxi, put out four liquid baits and they were gone within two hours. Thank goodness!
Once in Louisiana, it was fun reading the roadsigns and wondering how close we were to the Cajun pronunciations. Jess is pretty great at this game. Or at least she’s fun to play it with. Foun-taine-bleau!
Louisiana is famous for a lot of good things but also for bad roads which were fairly noticeable when
driving a house on wheels. On the drive along I-10 and 12 from Biloxi to New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, Jess left her FitBit in the master bed. She checked it when we stopped just across the Texas stateline and it said she had taken 7700 steps. Luckily the RV appears to have held up to the beating. To be fair, Louisiana did have the nicest state welcome center I’ve ever seen on the Atchafalaya River off I-10. I’ve never had an animatronic snapping turtle, raccoon and stork talk to me at any other welcome centers.
No, we didn’t stop in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. We will be back for three days in New Orleans this fall and wanted to do it right on our first trip.
My biggest disappointment at this part of the trip was that we didn’t stop at a Bucc-ee’s. They are the biggest convenience stores I’ve ever seen (the size of a small Kroger) and they advertise them 160 miles ahead with clever billboards like “You can hold it! Bucc-ees 70 miles ahead.” I’m not sure why we didn’t. Something about the temperature being one-hundred-and-awful degrees makes us want to just cruise along in our air-conditioned bubble.
I also regret not getting a good look at the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. An intense rain squall hit us right before the bridge, which made for a wobbly and exciting ride over long, exposed span in our 12-foot x 25-foot rectangle. It’s always a big deal to me when you got over a major river (map nerd alert!) and it’s tough to get more major than the Mississippi.
For the first time on our trip, we started driving without a reservation for the night. All Jess did was find a big campsite 15 feet from the boardwalk to an almost empty beach at a $20/night state park.
Sea Rim State Park was great. We stayed there on the night of the 4th, but still share 5 miles of beach with only two other families. The campground apparently used to be much bigger, but Hurricanes Ike and Rita destroyed much of the park. In fact, the road in front of the park used to go all the way to Galveston, according to the rangers, but when a hurricane washed out a bridge in the late 1980s, the road was not rebuilt. The road just dead-ends a few miles past the park. Welcome to the Gulf Coast!
On the way we drove through Port Arthur Texas, which I’d read about in a book I enjoyed a couple of years ago, “Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places.” Port Arthur had it’s own chapter. I’ll say this about the oil industry (what else can I really say while chugging along at 8 mpg?) the size and scale of the equipment is pretty staggering.
We did find some tar balls on the beach (thanks BP) and a lot of litter, but otherwise everything looked ok. On the drive in, we even saw a Roseate spoonbill which is a pretty awesome looking bird. It was flying while we drove so no pictures. Sorry, loyal blog readers. If you’ve read this far into this post, you can definitely consider yourself a loyal blog reader.
Now, off we go deeper into the heart of Texas!