Sunday, May 6, 2018

Homeward Bound

The main commercial street in Forest is US-221. We found out recently that it terminates six miles away in Lynchburg. That led us to wonder where it begins. We learned that it begins in Perry Florida, near the Big Bend. So we decided to take US-221 all the way from Perry to where it passes half a mile from the farm. This done, we will have driven its entire length.
Since we were already on the west coast of Florida, we just needed to head up the highway to Perry. We couldn’t make it in one day (at our usual rate of travel), so we stopped for the night in Homosassa Springs. We spotted the sign at the entrance to our campground too late to turn in, so we had to turn around. As we turned around in a tacky-looking campground nearby, we realize that we had done the exact same thing a couple of years ago — Déjà vu all over again. We have been doing this enough now so that we occasionally find ourselves staying at the same campground, not necessarily on purpose.
We were now within striking distance of Perry, but Jean wanted to have one more plate of oysters at Ouzt’s Too, where we had eaten on the way down to the wedding (and who had given Gene two checks for free beer). The same people who had told us about the restaurant also said that there was a campground nearby. So that’s where we spent the night. We decided not to walk the busy highway to the restaurant for dinner.
The plan was to have a light breakfast, go to a nearby beach for a short while, Ouzt’s for lunch, and head toward Virginia. Unfortunately, we could not find the Florida map which showed where the beaches were (it eventually turned up in the storage area under the sofa). Jean inquired of the campground host, who had no idea where there were any beaches. Then, to add to the problems, Jean’s stomach started acting up, and she reluctantly felt that oysters would not be the prudent thing to do. So we headed the thirty miles back to Perry.

We found the beginning of US-221 and headed north. Now we just needed to stay on the right road (not generally a problem).  We shortly got into Georgia, which looked a lot like Florida. We spent the night at a very pleasant city/county park campground. In the morning we took a walk around the almost deserted campground and went down to look at the Altamaha River. This is a substantial river; there is a water trail on it for canoeists and kayakers that is over 100 miles long.
The fuel tank registered half when we started, so we kept an eye out for gas stations. The road leads through rural countryside, with few towns, and few gas stations. When the gauge read 3/10ths we got concerned. We pulled into a station but it didn’t have diesel. We talked to a local there, who told us of a truck stop about ten miles away. It turned out to be more like twelve miles, but it was a small, new truck stop and very pleasant. We wondered why they put a truck stop so far from an interstate, but we didn’t argue, just filled up.
The road for the most part goes through small towns with few cities. This is the way we like it. On this trip, Gene started collecting old county courthouses.
Brook County, Georgia
Though there were some other municipal buildings we just couldn’t resist.
Uvalda Police Station

In northern Georgia, we started running into hills. The motorhome would slow way down on the uphill, though it seemed okay on the level (which we had been on for most of the trip). It just didn’t seem to have any power. We crossed into South Carolina at Strom Thurmond Lake, and found a Corps of Engineers campground. We got a great campsite right next to the lake.
View from the campsite

The sunset was beautiful enough to help us forget the problem with the motorhome.

But next morning we needed to do something about the motorhome. We found that there is a Mercedes Benz dealer in nearby Augusta, GA, that handles Sprinters (not all do). We managed to get a service appointment that same morning and drove down the hill into Augusta. After extensive analysis, they said that the non-functional EGR valve (which we already knew about) had somehow over time (I never understood how) caused the turbo to stop providing sufficient pressure. They had one in stock, so they replaced it at a cost of $1,000 (nothing is cheap at Mercedes Benz). Subsequent road testing showed no improvement, so they took another look. The now full-power turbo had blown out a hose. Unfortunately, they did not have that hose in stock, but they could get a new one by tomorrow. So after spending the day in the dealership, we spent the night in their parking lot.
They put the hose on next morning, and this time the road test was successful. The service manager worked some magic and got our total bill under $1,000 and they even washed the rig before turning it back over to us. As we headed back up the hill, the rig was back to its old self. Apparently, the loss of power happened over a stretch of time, and since we had been mostly on level ground, we didn’t really notice it. It really felt good to have the old girl back in top shape. We even found fuel at a good price.
We found a campground not too far off our route and set the GPS to lead us there. As we exited the interstate, the GPS lady said, “Turn left, then right.” We passed under the highway, but the only place to turn right was a freeway off-ramp that split Medusa-like into three outlets.

I thought I saw a stop sign in the background, so I picked the middle outlet and turned. I was immediately confronted by three cars exiting the freeway. I jumped a curb and got out of the way. Then I pulled into a nearby McDonalds and watched the scene. Shortly, a local car came down the road and turned into what would have been the first outlet (as I approached it). He stopped briefly, then crossed the exit ramp and went down a road on the other side. I followed his path and found myself on the road to the campground. So what kind of a highway engineer terminates a road in the middle of a freeway off-ramp?
We had a spot in a small campground, next to a babbling brook. It was a pleasant end to a challenging day.
For a while next day we kept seeing these interesting route markers.

Tuesday was our last day on the road. We got an early start and at mid-day we crossed the line into Virginia. Jean called a cousin that lives on our route, but he didn’t answer, so was probably at work. There were no cars in front of his house when we passed. As usual, we approached the only big town on this route (Roanoke) at rush hour, so since we had traveled the last part of this road often, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway and bypassed it. We got back to Forest in time to meet Jean’s brother for dinner. A pleasant end to a good trip.

            Total trip miles – 4,817
            Days on the trip – 50
            Days on the road - 32
Average days run – 150.5 miles
The longest run, 346 miles, was the first day, the next longest, 283 miles, was the last.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


We finished the Great River Road, we attended the wedding, and we visited with Jean’s family. All the things we wanted to do are done. We are footloose and fancy-free; we only need to get back home before the money runs out. But the weather here is much better than back in Virginia, so we are in no rush.

Before we left Palm City, Gene made reservations at the Collier-Seminole State Park, so that is where we headed. Sandy and Anna gave us a routing that avoided all interstates and turnpikes, so off we headed into the hinterlands of Florida (yes, Virginia, there are hinterlands in Florida). First, we stopped at Publix to restock food; but then we decided we needed some other things as well. We figured that we could get everything we wanted at a Walmart. They are everywhere, so surely we would pass one on the way. As it turned out, we saw very few stores of any kind, much less a Walmart, the whole way.
What we did see was lots of rural Florida. At first it was mostly cattle with no crops. Eventually, as we approached Lake Okeechobee, we saw fields of sugar cane. The route they had given us seemed simple, Just three roads to the Tamiami Trail across the state. What they overlooked was that the three roads didn’t always intersect. We had to find our way from one to the other. So there was a little frantic map searching.
We stopped for lunch at the southern end of the lake. When we went to get out, Jean couldn’t find her purse. We both did a thorough search of the motorhome. She called back to the house, but she hadn’t left it there. Finally, on another search, she spotted it on the floor. It was a small, black purse, laying on a black rug. Both of us had missed it several times. Who says camouflage doesn’t work?
The Tamiami Trail (US-41) cuts straight across Florida through the Big Cypress Swamp. We saw more wildlife on a two-hour drive than the rest of the time in Florida until then. We saw alligators, cormorants, anhingas, ibis, and turtles among other things. We got to the park and squirreled ourselves into a spot and settled in for the night.
There are some interesting displays at the park. The first thing you come to is a walking dredge. This machine was designed to walk through the swamp, and was used in the construction of the Tamiami Trail.

This area is part of a huge (900,000 acres) block of land bought by Barron Collier to preserve the environment and especially the royal palms, which are native to this area. He became a millionaire selling streetcar advertising. It’s amazing what humble products can produce large amounts of income.
Royal palms and Collier memorial

We were in the park when some of the air plants bloom. They can be colorful.
Cardinal Air Plant

The park information center is in a reproduction of the kind of blockhouses used during the third (and last) Seminole War.

The park is next to the road leading to Marco Island. Jean’s brother worked there one summer while he was in college, clearing mangroves, etc. by hand. We drove down there to see what they made of it. As we crossed the high bridge we saw high-rises in the distance. The island has become a high-priced area with condos, McMansions, and gated communities. The land has been cut into numberless canals so that every house is on waterfront and you can park your boat in your back yard. We were looking for a public beach, but the only one we found charged $12 to park, so we passed it up.
After leaving Marco, we finally found a Walmart and got the things we needed. We were hungry by then, so we took a chance on a place called Bob’s Burgers. We try to eat at local places rather than chains as often as we can. We had no idea what to expect but we soon found out it was not your basic burger joint. My hamburger came as two patties on the halves of an English muffin. They were topped with onion rings stuffed with mushrooms. There was a bowl of au jus and thick French fries. Jean had a standard cheeseburger with a side of really good cole slaw with cranberries and pecans. Everything was done right.
Next day, Saturday, we just hung out at the campground. It was too hot and muggy to think of trying out a hiking trail. Gene did some more work on the latch to the armoire, which wasn’t catching again. Jean did some reading and Gene did some writing. In other words, a quiet day. Mostly sitting in the air conditioning, listening to Preservation Hall jazz and Cajun music from our new CDs.
After the relaxation, Sunday was busy. We left the park early and drove down the road to the Walmart. We both needed to get prescriptions refilled and we needed groceries. The prescriptions took longer than we hoped, but by afternoon we were on our way again. Our first stop was Koreshan History State Park, where Gene had secured a reservation. After checking in, we turned around and headed back down the way we came.
Our destination was Sanibel Island, but we decided to go by way of a long, narrow peninsula and some islands rather than attack the traffic in Ft. Meyers. In retrospect, that was not the smartest way to do it. We had visions of a pleasant drive with water on either side. In fact, it was very much like A1A, driving mere yards from the beach but not able to see it for the houses and condos crowded together. As we approached Ft. Meyers, the beachgoer traffic got quite heavy, and it was a relief to get back on the mainland and Ft. Meyers itself.
When we finally crossed the causeway onto Sanibel, we decided to go all the way to Captiva. We had never been to Captiva and the map showed a public beach all the way out on the end.  We drove to the end of the line and sure enough, there was a beach with parking. There was also a sign warning that there was not enough room to turn around for any vehicle bigger than a pick-up. That sign was just past the last place where we could turn around. So we just continued on into the small parking area. We found a parking place for our 22-foot motorhome right next to a sign that said “no vehicles over 20’.” Again too little, too late.
We bought an hour’s worth of parking, unloaded beach chairs, etc., and headed to the beach. We made good use of the time we had. Jean found several nice shells. Sanibel and Captiva are known for their shelling. Here on Captiva we were finding shells on the whole beach, not just the tide line.
The beach was not crowded, except for one space filled with umbrellas and lounges. We figured that area was in front of a hotel or similar facility.

Ponytail Palm
We had arrived at this motorhome trap late in the day. By the time we needed to leave, enough cars (in the right places) had left so that there was no problem turning around to leave. The day had been hot, so we sought out some ice cream. It tasted so good! At the ice cream place is where we saw a ponytail palm, which we had never heard of before.
Back at the campground, we were parked in a handicap space, so it was paved and handy to the bathrooms. The natural growth in this area is a dense mix of pine, hardwoods, and palm trees, with a thick understory including saw palmetto. The sites in the state parks are carved out of the jungle, so that even though the parking pads are close together, you can barely see your neighbor.

The park we were in includes the site of the Koreshan Unity village. Koreshan is one of the utopian communities that sprang up in the nineteenth century. This one lasted for about 70 years, though it only had about 100 or so members. They built a village and an economy in the wilds of Florida at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries (yes, it was pretty wild then). The park contains what is left of the town, about fifteen surviving buildings, one of which is still used for performances. We spent about an hour there before getting back on the road. It is one of those interesting places you never hear about until you run onto them in your travels.
Leaving Koreshan in the early afternoon, we spent the next several hours traveling up the coast. We stopped in the late afternoon in another state park (Oscar Schrerer — don’t ask me who he was). Here again, we are in a slot carved out of the jungle. There is a short path at the back of the site that leads to a small river. We really like the Florida State Parks, though it is hard to get a campsite during the season. Thanks to Hannah’s wedding, we are on the shoulder of the season and getting a spot for the night is easier. It is also hotter, so that is the downside.
View from the motorhome

Our next point of interest was Anna Maria Island, off Bradenton. But first we had to go through Sarasota. That is the town the Ringling Circus eventually settled on for their winter quarters, and eventually the Ringling’s home. Gene always notices the references to Ringling since their home town was originally Baraboo, Wisconsin, where he is from. He grew up seeing movies in the Al Ringling Theater.
We drove up a long string of islands, some of them very busy and some of them very tony. We finally came to Coquina Beach (part of Bradenton Beach). This is one of the best beaches we have been to (and we have been to a lot). There is extensive free parking (including an area for RVs), much of which is in the shade. One of the nice features is a broad, tree-shaded area between the parking and the beach. There are picnic tables there, and even cabanas.

The beach has fine, white sand, good to walk on. There are concrete groins to control erosion, with piles of shells next to them. A treasure-trove for Jean. There were not the usual sandpipers, but we did watch a busy willet working the water’s edge.

 We stayed until we started getting red, then went on to Anna Maria for lunch. Back on the mainland, Jean found a campground in Palm Harbor. We just had to endure miles of heavy traffic in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater area. Once there, we had a layover day. Time for laundry again.
Mostly laundry (one of the dryers was very slow) and relaxing. Next day, Wednesday, we were back on the road, heading north. We had one more stop we wanted to make, Tarpon Springs. This town is best known as a center of Greek sponge fishing. We headed down to the Sponge Docks.

This area is non-stop tourist traps, crowded and hard to find (free) parking. We drove around a little, checking it out. We found on-street parking a couple of blocks away, and headed for the strip. We ended up talking for a while with a gift shop clerk whose family (now the shop owners) had lived for a number of years in Williamsburg.
On our walk around, we saw this restored old sail-powered sponge boat. There is still a lot of sponge fishing, but much more modern now.

One of Jean’s goals in this very Greek area, was to get some more mastiki, a spice she uses when she makes tsourekia, a Greek Easter bread (which she likes so much she also makes it at Christmas). We had been here before, and she found it in the same Greek grocery she got it the last time. All told a successful visit.
That finishes the stops we wanted to make in Florida. From here on we are basically heading home. However, there is a wrinkle. Jean’s brother is now suffering a second bout with “the crud” (so called by his doctor). Jean had a long-lasting bout of it last winter, and all are urging us to hold off getting home until he is better. We don’t know how that will work out, and what other adventures await us on the way home. Stay tuned, same time, same station.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Palm City

           We arrived at our destination (Palm City) a day earlier than we had scheduled. This was fine with our hosts, Jean’s son and family. We basically kicked back for the day. Gene spent a lot of time on the computer, catching up with emails and newsletters. 

But the next day, it was time to take care of the last details of the upcoming wedding. The bride’s mother (Anna) had spent many years as a florist and wedding planner, and pulled out all the stops for this one. She and several of the family that came for the wedding spent most of the day decorating the church. They spent much of the next day decorating the hall for the reception.
The wedding itself, on Saturday, had all the bells and whistles and then some. The only problem was that by then Anna had totally worn herself out. She made it through the ceremony by sheer grit, but then her husband took her to the emergency room and she was kept in the hospital until Monday afternoon. All the hard work paid off though, the wedding was a smashing success. Everyone had a good time, but she had to enjoy it second-hand as friends kept sending videos of the goings-on to her phone.

This is the only picture anywhere near worth posting that I have. As a member of the wedding party (honorary grandfather) I really couldn’t carry a camera, and what little I got with the phone was pretty blurry.
Next morning, some of us had brunch with the bride and groom before they left for the honeymoon. We met at the same restaurant we had stopped at when we left Palm City last year. We even got the same waitress. Later on we visited Anna in the hospital, where she was looking much better.
That night there were several thunder storms here in Florida. We were at the bottom end of a long band of storms that extended all the way to Canada. They were very strong farther north. There was a string of tornadoes, that extended from Greensboro, NC to Stuart’s Draft, VA (just north of Charlottesville). One of them went 20 miles through Lynchburg. We got pictures and updates from the folks back at the farm. The tornado went up a commercial street about two miles from the farm. Jean’s brother could hear the characteristic train sound as it went past. Much of Lynchburg was badly torn up, though we haven’t heard of any casualties. The farm, luckily, suffered little damage and never lost power.
Somehow, Jean’s brother blamed us. He pointed out that every time we leave bad weather happens. It hardly snowed all winter, then they had four snowstorms the week after we left. Now, a tornado. I don’t know if we should head home with some good Florida weather, or stay away where it’s safe.
Following the wedding, there was a lot of cleaning-up and packing-up to do but no rush. Some of the guests from Indiana stayed a few days longer to help, but there was also time to enjoy the area. Wednesday morning the women of the party drove to the beach in the dark to watch the sunrise and walk on the beach. So Jean got some more shells for her collection. Later that afternoon, they went on a shopping trip, so everyone should leave here happy.
Back from the shopping, the two remaining visitors packed up and left to catch planes back home. We will be leaving tomorrow, though we will see a little more of Florida before we head back. Considering the temperatures they have been having at the farm, we will be taking our time on the road home.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Haste to the Wedding

The title of this episode is from an old dance tune. It describes what is happening in this part of the trip. We have finished the Great River Road, visited New Orleans, and looked around a little (not enough) in Cajun country. Our next event will be Jean’s granddaughter’s wedding, but first we have to get there, all the way across Florida on a diagonal. What adventures await us along the way?
Our first stop was to go back twenty miles to Port St. Joe. Jean’s phone did not update the time when we crossed into the Eastern time zone, and there was supposed to be a US Cellular store in St. Joe. It turns out there is none in St. Joe, so she went in to a Verizon. When she got there, her phone was showing the right time. They explained that where we were camped, her phone was hitting a cell tower in the Central time zone, thus the difference.
On the way out of town we pulled in to a gas station. It turns out that the only diesel pump had a small car in front of it, unoccupied. Right next to him was a big drink truck, getting ready to unload. Luckily, we still had plenty of fuel, so we pressed on.
Along the way we passed another lighthouse, so we took a picture. Many of the lighthouses along the Gulf coast are of a steel, skeletal construction. It is interesting to see the differences.
Crooked River Light

While waiting at the Verizon store, Gene checked on camping possibilities ahead. We would have liked to stay at St. George State Park, where we had stayed before, but they were full. A couple of other places we tried were also filled. Finally, we found a possibility at the Sopchoppy City Park. We had difficulty finding it (which made us hope others had difficulty, too) but finally got there after some back-tracking. It is a nice, quiet park with camping sites along a lazy river. There were plenty of spaces.

One of the other campers did not have an RV as such. Instead, they had a C-Dory, a 23-foot cruising motorboat on a trailer. It is for them an amphibious RV. They travel around, and when they are on land, they camp and live in the boat. When they get to a destination on the water, they launch the boat and cruise for a while. They are from Idaho and do this all over the country. Gene was impressed.

This campground has no check-out time, so we were lazy in the morning. Some fellow campers told us about a local joint down the road. They said the magic word, “oysters,” one of Jean’s favorite foods. We left later than usual so as to get there for lunch. It turned out to be farther than we thought, but was worth the drive. It is really “country,” with walls filled with pictures and dollar bills.

The food was good, too.
Then back on the road. We followed the coastal highway, but this part goes around the Big Bend area, where there are few roads near the coast, so it was all pine woods. We spotted a couple of signs advertising a Worm Grunt Festival. We couldn’t imagine what that could be, but weren’t eager to find out. Not a very exciting day. We found a campground that had a space open (rare this time of year) and settled in early for naps.
Next day (Saturday) we headed out fairly early. We drove down the road to a big restaurant for breakfast. The breakfast was also big; we each took home what amounts to a full serving of country ham.
After breakfast, we drove to the town of Inglis and topped off the fuel tank. Our goal is to drive across the peninsula to the Atlantic side, so we headed off on county 40. When we got to Dunellon, we lost the route (no road signs) and wandered about lost for a little while. We finally found a road that would take us to Florida 40 and were back on our way.
On the way across, we spotted a feed store that had propane. Since we were almost out, we pulled in. It was a short while before they closed. That turned out to be slowest propane fill we ever experienced. It took 30 to 45 minutes to take on six-and-a-half gallons. No one was pleased.
Pressing on, the rest of the run was uneventful and we made it to Ormond Beach by mid-afternoon. For those interested in statistics, Florida at that point is about 120 miles wide. We drove to the beach and thanks to the off-and-on rain, we were able to find parking at the beach front. While Jean enjoyed the beaches on the panhandle, she doesn’t consider it a “real” beach unless there is surf.
Ormond Beach

The beach in this area is wide, flat, and hard-packed sand. In the early part of the twentieth century, car makers used Daytona Beach for speed trials. For, instance, in 1906, Stanley Steamer set a record there of 120 mph using a special race car that was dubbed “the Flying Teakettle.”
After Jean got her beach fix, we headed south on US-1 and began looking for campgrounds. Jean found a promising one, but they didn’t answer their phones, so we went looking for it. That turned out to be a problem, hampered by trees in the median (we determined it would be on the left, of course) and a heavy rainstorm. We finally found it, and they had space available. It turned out to have a really good laundromat (oh, the things RV people dream about), so we booked another day and next day did a serious laundry.
Sunday was mostly a lay-back day. We did the laundry, but beyond that Gene spent a lot of time on the internet, catching up with email, etc. One of the interesting neighbors in the campground was the tractor of tractor-trailer rig parked in a site. Gene noticed that the big fifth-wheel hitch had been replaced with a platform holding a three-wheel motorcycle. There is a RV-size fifth-wheel hitch behind that, so it is assumed that there is a really big trailer someplace.

We continued down US-1, which we will follow almost all the way. At Melbourne, we turned left and crossed the bridge to the island and beach. This area is called “Indialantic.” I guess they ran out of “Beach” names. There was ample parking at the beach, though it had meters. The meter we parked by had quite a bit of time left on it, so we lucked out. This beach has a little softer sand than Daytona, though not as hard to walk on as Gulf Shores, AL.
Things are quieter after Spring Break

There was a little surf and a few people were trying it, but only one guy on a stand-up board seemed to be having any luck.

Today is Tuesday. We had planned to arrive on Wednesday, but we are close enough to make it easily. In order to spend some time in Sandy’s driveway, Gene dumped the holding tanks before we left. He needed to stretch the hose out full length. As soon as he started pumping we had a geyser in the yard. There was a hole in the hose. A bit of duct tape fixed the problem for now, but it looks like another repair is in our near future.
It was sunny when we left the campground, but the weather deteriorated as we went. We ran a couple of last-minute errands, and as we left after the last one we drove into a waterfall. The heavens just opened up; and the GPS wanted to put us on the interstate. We weren’t interested in the interstate, even on a good day. So we killed the route and drove back to 1.
The rain eased as we went, so that by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped long enough for us to get settled in and up on blocks as needed. That takes us to our destination. We will hang out here for an unspecified period. See you for the return trip.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Alabama and the Panhandle

It’s Friday morning so it would be hard to find space at a campground, but that doesn’t bother us. We are heading east to spend Easter weekend with Helen, an old friend of Jean’s. Being basically a travel day, we get on I-10. We pass through New Orleans (again), Biloxi, and Mobile. We cross Mississippi at its narrowest point and head into Alabama. It is pretty much flat country. By late afternoon we are driving down string-straight county roads past widespread farms. We see mostly cattle, ‘since the fields haven’t been planted yet.
Helen and her extended family live on five acres way out in the country. It is very quiet at night, no trains rushing by. The only sound is an unhappy cow off in the distance somewhere. Saturday turns out to be a busy day. We get an early start, since Helen has to take her grandson, who is in the high school band, to town. The band is playing in the Sausage Festival. This is apparently an area settled by German immigrants, and the Sausage Festival is a big event.
We walked up and down the rows of vendors, peddling just about everything imaginable. There was even someone grinding corn meal on a 1920’s one-lung grist mill.

There was a small oom-pa band (drums, accordion, and euphonium) that took Gene back to his childhood amongst the Germans in south-central Wisconsin. He even sang along a little bit in German. Later, the high school band came on. It was a jazz band and it was their first public performance. They acquitted themselves well, playing a wide range of songshad  from Glen Miller (Pennsylvania 6-500), to Weather Report (The In Crowd), to Cab Calloway (The Mooch — without the Heidie-Hi’s). It was impressive.
We had breakfast before we came, which was probably a mistake. When they started serving sausages and sauerkraut we weren’t hungry yet. When we were hungry, the lines were way too long. The festival had a bit of a country fair feel, with a display of old tractors.

We left the festival and got a delicious lunch in a fish place. Gene needed some supplies from a drug store, so that was the next stop. We both had gotten pretty shaggy, so Helen took us to a Quick Clips where we were made presentable. Finally, the errands were done and we headed for the beach. Being a holiday Saturday, it was not as crowded as one might expect; we walked out and enjoyed it for a while.

A lot of family showed up on Sunday, and we all enjoyed a delicious meal. Afterward, Helen’s great-granddaughter, Scarlet, ran around the yard eagerly finding eggs.

Monday, everyone was all business, so we headed east for the Florida panhandle, one of our favorite places. By now our water tank was almost empty and the holding tanks full. In fact, there was water sloshing around in the galley sink. We definitely needed a campground with facilities. That could prove to be a problem. The western end of the panhandle is a heavy tourist area, and we were in the middle of Spring Break. We checked in with some of our favorite state parks, but they were all full. Gene finally found one quite a way further east that had two campsites available. They couldn’t be reserved, strictly first-come-first-served. The problem was that they were at least a three-hour drive away.
Touching base with the park two hours later we were told that there was now one site available and two other rigs headed for the park. The race was on. When we finally got to the office, after passing two “Campground full” signs we saw one motorhome with Ontario tags already there. We went in anyway and learned that there were actually two spaces left. He took one and we took the other, for three nights. First stop was the dump station, where I could almost hear the motorhome breathe a sigh of relief. Then on to our site, where we filled the water tank. That done, and hooked up to electricity, we were home free for the next couple of days.
Next morning, we headed to the beach. The park was doing a controlled burn, but the wind blew the smoke away from us.

The tide was high but dropping, and we walked along the tide line looking for shells. Jean found a satisfying number. We watched a kite surfer set up his rig and launch. His board had a foil on it, the first one we had seen. The wind was strong enough to give him about two feet of lift. He was moving so fast it was hard to keep him in frame.

We talked with a couple of fishermen, then headed back to the rig. We took naps (life is tough) and headed out in search of groceries (and flip-flops for Gene). We ended up in Port St. Joe. This is a nice-looking town. We had a delicious lunch in downtown St. Joe and went to a big Piggly Wiggly. It looked familiar, and we realized we had shopped there on a previous trip. After restocking what we needed, Gene went next door and bought some expensive flip-flops (is that a contradiction in terms?). At the waterfront there is an open frame lighthouse. It being broad daylight, we couldn’t determine if it is active or not.

Next morning, we woke to overcast and light rain. Not much beach crawling today. Since we were there for the day, we decided it was a good time to do laundry. Apparently, so did everyone else. There is one coin-operated washer and dryer, which was doing a booming business. Finally, about 4:00 we got a load in the washer. A little later the sun came out, so we had one more walk on the beach.
All told, it was a pleasant and restful two days. But it is time to get moving again.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

End of the River

We left New Orleans on Monday, retracing the same route that we took in. Shortly, we were at the point on Route 18 (part of the Great River Road) where we turned off to go into the city. The road runs right along the levee, so the river was just yards away but you couldn’t see it. This far down the river, the fields are occasionally interrupted by heavy industry.

Grain elevator

After a while we approached a bridge across the river. In the confusion of roads converging on the bridge, we lost track of the GRR (LA-18). We picked up a business route south, and eventually got to LA-23, the last leg of the Road. This goes to Venice, the town closest to the mouth of the river. This road runs through a few small towns, but mostly sugar cane. Surprisingly, it is four-lanes divided. We saw very little traffic. Finally, approaching Venice, the road narrowed to two lanes and the pavement was a little rougher. Shortly, we came to the end.

This is as close as you can get to the mouth of the Mississippi without a boat. We finally did it, the whole length of the Mississippi River!

End, or as close as you can get

We went to a nearby marina restaurant and celebrated with drinks and a meal (Jean had oysters).

What next? Here we are, in the heart of Cajun country, let’s see what we can find. We headed back up to US-90 and turned west. We found a campground and set up just yards from a busy railroad. What’s new?
 Next day, we got a lot of information in a visitor center, and headed south along Bayou Lafourche. Again, the road followed right alongside the bayou, but this time we could see it. Again, we went through small towns and big fields. But this time, instead of the heavy industry along the Mississippi, we began to see a variety of boats tied up to the bank. The farther south we went, the more there were and the bigger they got.
In the little town of Lockport we stopped to see a wooden boat museum. There we learned the history of the classic bayou boat, the pirogue. These were originally dugouts.

The type is still used, but now they were made out of plywood. Gene got into a long conversation with a pirogue builder that works at the museum — to the point that he forgot to take any pictures. While there were a lot of pirogues in the museum, there were some other boats as well. There were some traditional rowboats. The Cajuns generally rowed them standing up and facing forward, similar to New England fishermen.

Bigger boats were also used. There was a display of a larger sailing boat called a “lugger.” This is basically a traditional French design, though they were often sailed by Italians.

Sailing lugger in the museum

There was also an example of a more modern motor boat.

Leaving the museum, we got back on the road south. We followed the bayou ‘til we got to the end of the land. This was followed by a toll bridge. It didn’t take our EZ Pass. While Jean was digging out some money, the toll-taker waved us through, saying that the vehicle ahead of us had paid our toll. The bridge took us eight miles out into the Gulf, surrounded by marshy islands. Then we turned onto a ten-mile causeway through more marsh, which ended in a bridge onto Grand Isle. We drove most of the length of the six-mile island, filled with typical barrier island architecture and business, to get to a state park. It was just before the 5:00 o’clock closing, so we got a site and set up.
This is a very good campground, with ample space between sites and lots of green grass. The tent sites are on the beach, which is flat and firm.

There are offshore breakwaters, which helped minimize erosion since there was a strong onshore wind that day.

Next day we took a short walk on the beach. Jean found a few shells. There were a lot of crab burrows, from the size of a pencil to a couple of inches across.
Crab burrow

It was chilly in the wind, so we headed back over the dune to the campground. We asked the camp hosts where we could do some laundry and they informed us that the campground had a laundromat — and it was free! It took a little driving around to get to it, because even though it is for campers only, it is located in a bathhouse in the day-use area. It had fairly new washers and driers, and a used book exchange, so we got a new book out of the deal as well.
We stayed over another night, but next morning (Thursday) we pulled up stakes and headed out early in order to beat an approaching storm. We didn’t want to be crossing that high bridge if there was going to be a strong wind. We had thought to stop at the Folk Life museum back in Lockport, but pressed on in rain. We continued on to Thibodeau, where we hoped to get some leads on Cajun music and dancing.
We found a museum in a state park. There we saw good exhibits about Cajun life and history. We also saw two films, one on birds of the marshes and another had interviews with Cajun musicians. We had a long conversation with one of the rangers. Among other things that we learned were that the music was always yesterday or next week.
We had some dinner in a local Cajun-style place, did some shopping, and settled in for the night at Walmart. Tomorrow we head east to visit a friend and work our way to SE Florida for a family wedding.