Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #3

While traveling I did learn what I didn’t know I wanted to know

William Least Heat-Moon

Sunday, January 16th through Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, Covington, Louisiana:  We enjoyed four days with our friends Johnny and Eileen from our early Navy days in Key West.  Bill and Johnny spent most of the time telling sea stories as Kit and Eileen brought each other up to date on their doings.  Johnny and Eileen undertook their own RV adventure last summer and we had the pleasure of hosting them and their twin granddaughters in Maine for a few days.

On our first full day visiting they invited the rest of the family over to meet us.  Below is a picture of the proud grandparents with their son-in-law and grandchildren.

We enjoyed some great homemade Cajun cooking and for dessert we enjoyed a King Cake, a traditional Mardi Gras treat.  The King Cake has a trinket baked inside called a “baby”.  Whoever finds this small plastic figurine has to provide the King Cake for the next gathering… luck would have it, Johnny found the baby.

The next day Johnny and Eileen shared with us their favorite local restaurant,

“Pontchartrain Po-Boy and Seafood”.  It really pays to know where the locals eat when visiting a new area.  The food was excellent and plentiful.

That mountain of catfish, oysters and shrimp is not sitting on a pile of fries…..that’s all seafood folks!  Oh, for you Yankees, a Po-Boy is kinda like a grinder…..with twice as much stuff between the bread.

Another day, Johnny and Eileen drove us to New Orleans.  We crossed Lake Pontchartrain by way of the 24 mile bridge, the longest in the United States, and they showed us around the area where they grew up.  Touring the 17th Street canal area, we witnessed lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina and the considerable rebuilding effort.  There were many homes that are still uninhabitable as well as properties with only the foundation remaining.  One such lot is the former home of one of Eileen’s relatives.

That levee in the background holds back the water in the canal and is considerably taller than in pre Katrina days.

As a sign of optimism the New Orleans Yacht Club was rebuilt…..on the same footprint, right on the shores of the lake.

Johnny told stories of his childhood days where he made a pirogue (pronounced pee-rog) and dragged it up and over the levee to paddle and fish in Lake Pontchartrain.  Another story has young Johnny swimming, or paddling his pirogue down the many canals, much as kids would bicycle down a street, in order to visit a buddy’s house, get to the store or visit his father who worked on the lake.

Near their old neighborhood we stopped to walk the levee that holds back Lake Pontchartrain.  Even knowing that this area sits at approximately eight feet below sea level it is still amazing to walk up the steep levee, stand on top, and see the homes and businesses on one side and high water on the other.   All the water that accumulates in the city from minor levee leaks or rainfall is controlled and evacuated by an intricate system of canals and pumping stations.  However, as the experts have discovered the city being below sea level had very little to do with the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.  The section that sustained the worst flooding was largely near sea level and was flooded by the massive storm surge breeching the levee in that area on that fateful day.  The low elevation of the city did complicate the dewatering and rescue effort however.

All in all, a great day in an old historic city that has seen more than its fair share of troubles.  Most everywhere we went in New Orleans we were impressed with the warmth and vitality of one of Americas great cities.

Like me, Johnny is a woodworker so we spent a lot of time talking tools and projects.  Johnny is busy building his dream shop in a 1200 foot building he has recently constructed behind his house.  In addition, he has befriended a neighbor, Dave, who is a professional furniture maker and does incredible work out of his relatively small two car garage.

The piece Dave is working on above is made of Swamp Cypress, the official state tree of Louisiana, and is a beautiful addition to other custom pieces he has constructed for a local customers home.

Like Kit and I, Dave is an escapee from California.  In addition to building fine furniture he is an accomplished musician having recorded with a few west coast bands as well as some New Orleans jazz bands.

Speaking of Jazz Bands, Eileen’s grandfather was Emile “Stalebread” Lacoume a blind musician who lived in the New Orleans area in the late 1800’s.  Stalebread has been credited by the New Orleans Jazz Hall of Fame as one of the originators of the New Orleans Jazz sound when in 1897 he founded The Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band; a rag tag group of very young street musicians.  Young Stalebread (second from left) made a lot of the bands early instruments and taught himself how to play the guitar and banjo by listening to the Skiffle Bands of the era.

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was a young musician who played for the aging Stalebread who then commented “that boy’s got chops”.  Evidently Stalebread had a great ear for music as Satchmo went on to be one of the greatest Jazz performers of all time.  Below is a more recent photo of Stalebread (far right) and The Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band.

Kit and Eileen spent part of one day shopping.  While they were at the local grocery store they were caught goofing off by the butcher and generally causing a ruckus.  The girls took a liking to the handsome fellow but alas old Lazar Wolfe the butcher was still pining over Tzeitel from back in his hometown of Anatevka.  So they made do with the retired Lutheran Minister who happened along next.  The three of them had a grand old time visiting and playing with the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Alas…..all this fun must come to an end as we need to continue our westward trek.  Tomorrow we plan on spending a great deal of time on some Southern Louisiana back roads.

Kit’s Corner:

We had a great time visiting with our friends in Covington.  We thoroughly enjoyed the family gathering with their son-in-law, granddaughters and one of their friends.  We also loved the tour of the outskirts of New Orleans to see the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the rebuilding effort.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #2

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,
nothing remains quite the same.
Through all of the islands and all of the highlands
if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.

You may have noticed the quote block I added to the masthead above.  Over the years I have collected meaningful quotes about travel, adventure and exploration from the likes of Mark Twain, William Least Heat-Moon, Jimmy Buffett (above), Jack Kerouac, Bill Bryson, John Steinbeck, and other writers of note.  I find these gems to be inspirational and will try to feature a different quote in each future journal.  In addition please share with us any of your favorite travel related quotes that you have come across–Bill

Saturday, January 15, 2011:  Woke to sunny skies, light winds and temperatures in the 50’s.  Great weather for us but others in the campground were complaining about the cold weather.

After a stop at the commissary, exchange and gas station we pulled out around noon and onto US-90 heading west.

In the last journal I mentioned we had a new traveling companion.  He is a small stuffed animal that has been entrusted to us by Stephen, the son of my cousin’s Mark and Ruth from Pennsylvania.  Stephen is in the third grade and is participating in a school geography assignment where a stuffed animal and notebook journal is sent to friends and relatives who are asked to write in the journal about their particular area.  Since Stephen knew that we were preparing for an RV trip he asked if his traveling animal could accompany us.  Of course, we were delighted to participate in his school project and as a bonus we thought he and Mr. Bill could keep each other company.  Here is a photo of Mr. Bill with Stephen’s traveling animal…..Marvelous Monkey.

It has been two years since we traveled US-90 through Mississippi and a lot of rebuilding has occurred since Hurricane Katrina made her devastating landfall five years ago.  There were still a great many coastal lots with just foundations remaining of what once was someone’s beachfront paradise.

Most of the rebuilt homes were either being placed on raised foundations or, in many cases they were rebuilt on tall pilings.  However that has been tried before to little effect.  It’s hard for man to build a structure that can combat Mother Nature’s fury.  Some folks have just given up and decided to sell.

As we crossed Bay St. Louis we decided to detour south on Beach Boulevard toward Waveland, Mississippi.  The roadway was rough and in many places it was completely washed out or covered with deep sand.  The local folks that still live here and are continuing to rebuild were gracious in accommodating my slow progress and frequent stops to take pictures.  You gotta love the spirit and determination of the people of the Gulf Coast.

We didn’t see any remnants of this summer’s BP oil fiasco and the beaches looked as pristine and beautiful as always.

As we neared the town of Waveland I stopped to take a picture of a small brick building sitting in the middle of a very large lot.  Curious, I went to investigate, and that’s when I realized that the brick building was actually a bank vault that should have been housed in a large bank building…..the bank building was totally gone!  Blown away by Katrina!!

We passed many areas where work was going on to reclaim and stabilize the tidal zone of the bay.  It looks as if the entire stretch of Beach Boulevard will need to be rebuilt as well.

A bit down the road we came to the local Catholic Church.  The original church was memorialized by offerings on and around the destroyed churches foundation.  You can see the new church in the background……what a testament of faith!

As a lucky happenstance we came upon Buccaneer State Park and decided to investigate.  In talking to the ranger we learned that the park was just about back to full operation. Following Katrina, what was left of the campground was used by FEMA and other storm recovery agencies as a local base of operations.   Asking permission to drive around we noticed many new and very desirable camp sites with full hookups.  Also, there were walking and biking paths around the surrounding coastal forest.   We thought of staying right here for a few days but we are anxious to get into Louisiana and a reunion with old friends.  However we will definitely stay here during a future trip.

It is currently 1400 and the temperature is 58 degrees under bright blue skies.  We decided to take advantage of the location and pull over for a late lunch which we enjoyed along with the ocean view out our window.

Continuing west we crossed into Louisiana at 1530 and headed for Covington on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and a visit with our good friends Johnny and Eileen.  Arriving a half hour later we were showered with southern hospitality and invited to set up for the night in their dooryard, or what I like to call, “The Johnny Reb and Southern Belle RV Park”.

Next Issue… with Johnny and Eileen…..stay tuned.

Kit’s Corner:

It was interesting to see the progress, or lack of, in the Gulf Coast area.  It appears that only about 20% of the property owners have elected to rebuild.  Many of the properties are for sale.  Most of them are just bare, with a few signs of the hurricane left.  The properties that have been rebuilt are very nice.  Also, there is still quite a bit of road work to be done in the area.  Much of the beach road was blocked off due to construction.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #1

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”-Mark Twain

Monday, January 11, 2011:  Well seeing its 1-11-11……seems like a good a reason as any to head south.  Well, that and a mongo snow storm that’s supposed to hit New England tomorrow.  So throwing caution to the wind (and snow) it is off we go.

Where, you ask?  Not totally sure…..basically same travel plan as the past two winters.  We head south, and at some point we turn right.  In a month or so we should be in the US southwest where we will bounce around in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah.  And due to a stroke of incredible good fortune…..the road that leads to the southwest of the United States passes right by our house!

Now, in order to get warm quickly, I would really like to head due south.  However traveling that route would get us pretty damp just south of Harpswell, Maine.  So we need to head more west than south… least for a day or two.

We pulled out of the driveway under cover of darkness, at 0400, honest!  Yep….up, dressed, and on the road at 0400.  So “why so early” you ask?  Well, there are two storms coming from different parts of the country and heading this way.  One trundling across the south where we are heading.  And another storm sneaking across from the Midwest which will impact where we need to travel through.  It looks like we have a very narrow window to thread the needle between these two storms before they merge and gang up on New England.  Wish us luck!

It’s 18 degrees under bright starlit skies and the traffic is very light.  Arrived in New Hampshire an hour later, stopped to make a cautionary check of the tires, wheels and hitch connections and noticed the temperature had dropped to 11 degrees…..yikes!  We made an uneventful transit through Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

That pesky toll booth west of the Tappenzee Bridge is still in place and still only collecting tolls from trucks and RV’s… just sail through in a separate lane.  Something fundamentally wrong about that system.  I understand and accept paying a higher toll because our rig is bigger and heavier than an average passenger car but there were hundreds of cars that zipped past the toll lane as we waited in line to pay $4.50 to finance their ability to do so.  Just plain wrong.  OK… my soapbox.

It always amazes us that we can travel in seven states in the first day of our winter trips.  Out west it can take days to travel through one state!

Even though Lucy (remembers Lucy?) is a great help in staying un-lost, Kathy is a very valuable participant as she applies her common sense and map reading skills.  Here is a photo of Kit (sound asleep) helping to navigate.

We have the honor of being accompanied on this years adventure by a small fellow of intriguing curiosity.  We acquired him a month ago and he and Mr. Bill (remember Mr. Bill?) have become fast friends.  The little fellow is a perfect addition to our traveling family and appears to enjoy himself as we begin to pinball about the United States.  Stay tuned for a bio and photos.

Late in the day we ran into some flurries and light snow, so after traveling 11 hours and logging 540 miles, we moved our tired souls off I-81 into the Pennsylvania town of Carlisle.  However the exit we choose led to a rather sketchy area so we pulled right back on to I-81 and continued south.  Soon we came across a sign that read “Army War College” next exit.  On a hunch we exited and found our way to the main gate.  Discovering there was a military lodge on the post we decided this was a safe place to park the RV and a convenient place to stay.  Our first example of “road magic” this trip…..and on the first day!

The desk clerk, a young Army wife, asked my rank.  When I told her she seemed confused and said “I don’t know anything about the Navy…..what did your rank insignia look like, was it an oak leaf, or an eagle or….?”  When I told her there was a star and…..she immediately interrupted me and said, “Well you qualify for a suite” and assigned us a really nice room… even had a private outside entrance.  I guess a Navy Senior Chief is a big deal to the Army.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011:  Bill’s up at 0530 and out roaming the hallways of the lodge looking for coffee.  The kitchen wasn’t operating yet but I was able to get some coffee out of a single cup machine.  It was terrible!  So back to the room where the mini kitchen had a coffee maker and all the fixings… was terrible!  By now (12 Noon) Kit was up so we both went to the dining area and enjoyed a nice breakfast with fresh brewed coffee…..this coffee was terrible as well!?!?  An army may travel on their stomachs but their coffee is probably the same stuff the paint their battle tanks with.  Navy coffee is far better…..just like the Navy football team!

It did snow overnight, about 3 inches, but the sun is shining brightly with a temperature of 28 degrees.

The Army War College post is an interesting place.  It is the second oldest post in the Army and has graduated many distinguished patriots.  Among them are Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, US Grant, and Norman Schwarzkopf.  The curriculum is tailored for officers of senior rank and covers a variety of disciplines in modern warfare.  Looking around I discovered this place has more colonels than a popcorn factory.

Underway at 1000 and headed straight for a Dunkin Donuts.  Back on I-81 we continued south.  The roads were clear and dry and the traffic is light.  Well, except for the long-haul truckers that make extensive use of this southbound artery.  As I have mentioned in the past, I always prefer to travel nestled in amongst big trucks then being buzzed by the average commuter that has an overwhelming desire to get past us just so they can slow down and exit in the next mile.

As we traveled south on I-81 we past many intriguing and interesting places.  We have explored this area of Pennsylvania in the past as we have family in the area but we need to come back again soon when the weather is more temperate.  There is so much to see and do.  The problem is that the prime time to RV in Pennsylvania is the prime time to enjoy our home state of Maine.  Oh the difficult dilemmas of the retiree life.

In addition to Pennsylvania we cruised through Maryland, West Virginia and entered into Virginia all before noon.  Now we don’t normally like to travel interstates and make big miles but it is still cold, mid 20’s, with intermittent snow showers.  We are on a mission to get south…..and warm!

Around 1600, as we rolled through Christiansburg, Virginia we noticed a billboard for a Cracker Barrel restaurant with the sought after RV icon in the lower corner.  This means good food and parking available for RV’s.  The place was deserted due to the snow, cold and wind.  However we were shown to a table by the big fireplace and had an excellent meal.

Right next door there was a Quality Inn with plenty of parking and good rates.  So we decided to call it a day, which makes sense because it was still light out.  If it had been dark we would have called it a night.  Anyway, we spent the rest of the evening catching up on e-mail and the news especially the memorial service from Tucson.

Christiansburg is near Virginia Tech where another lunatic gunned down innocent people in 2007.  It is a sad day for America and especially for us as Tucson is our adopted winter base of operations and we have many friends and family living there.  The talking heads say that this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere but it is inconceivable that it happened in Tucson… of the most beautiful, welcoming and  laid back cities in the southwest.

Thursday, January 13, 2011:  Up and on the road at 0830 under cloudy skies and gusty winds.  To make our traveling even more entertaining, snow is predicted.

The wind, coming from the west, was quite strong and had an effect on the handling of the truck and trailer.  But fortunately there was little traffic and I just slowed down and watched for any ice on the road.

A few hours later we crossed into Tennessee.  If the south is the Bible Belt of the US then this area is the Bible Buckle.  Every mile or so there were churches with huge crosses rising from the ground.  Some of these structures were giant 50 foot plus models made of steel girders that looked as if they could support a bridge span.

Around noon the snow started to fall and the wind remained strong… strong that most of the snow in the air just stayed suspended and never had a chance to accumulate on the highway.  Other than wind buffeting the driving was actually pretty good.  The traffic remained very light and we saw very little noncommercial activity on the road.

In Knoxville we finally left I-81 and jumped on I-75 crossing into Georgia at 1500.  Driving around Birmingham, which still had a pretty heavy snowpack from this week’s storm we noticed lots of tire tracks in the snow where dozens of folks had slid off the highway and drove into the median strip.  Mile after mile we were amused by these telltale signs of hapless folks that received a rather abrupt and rude introduction to driving in snowy condition.

An hour later we crossed into Alabama and the Central Time Zone.  We pulled off the highway in Gadsden, Alabama and sought shelter at a brand new Fairfield Inn where we scored a very nice military discount.

Friday, January 14, 2011:  Up early and after an excellent continental breakfast we hit the road under sunny skies and a temperature of 11 degrees.  Yee Gads…..this is colder then when we left Maine.  What’s going on?!?!  At this rate we may never get to camping.  I might have to sell our trailer to a southern gentleman with a sunburned neck so he can turn it into an ice fishing shack.

As we sat in the hotel parking lot letting the engine come up to temperature before putting it under load a man walked by, saw our license plates, and came over to visit.  Come to find out he was from Belgrade, Maine which is about 30 miles inland from where we live.  We had a nice time sharing stories and swapping information.  He and his wife are headed for the Florida panhandle and promised to look us up in Maine this summer.

Come midmorning the temperatures had already passed 32 degrees and looked to be heading considerably higher.  At 1023 hours under bright sunny skies with a temperature of 36 degrees, after traveling 1,332.1 miles from home, at an latitude of N33 22.137 and an elevation of 408 feet above sea level we officially ran out of snow on the ground.  (Gotta love that GPS… much useless information at the tip of my finger!)  We heard on the radio that for the first time in many a year there was snow on the ground in 49 of the 50 United States!  Here is what that looks like:

As we entered Browns, Alabama we noticed a field that contained a few cactus (or is it cacti, or cactuses?)… this is a good sign!

Near the town of Catherine, Alabama we noticed that the trees and grass was greener…..another good sign!

Near the town of Calvert, Alabama we noticed a man on horseback, riding along in the median of the highway, large bags hanging from his saddle, wielding a long pole with a sharp spike attached to the end…..picking up litter.

Skirting the city of Mobile and heading for I-10 we noticed the temperature has hit 51 degrees…..yet another great sign.  We may finally be out of the cold and snow zone and looking forward to starting the RV’ing portion of our five month RV trip!!!! (Five months???KT)

Decided to bypass Pascagoula, Gautier and Ocean Springs, Mississippi as we have explored those areas extensively in the past.  We stayed on I-10 heading west until we neared Biloxi where we dropped down to US-90.

We need to re-commission the trailer by draining all the antifreeze from the pipes and getting all the systems up and running.  So we checked for site availability at the RV park on Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi…..totally full.  Next we called the RV park on the Seabee base in Gulfport…..totally full.  However they said we could dry camp in the overflow area so we set our course for there.

The Gulfport Navy RV park is brand new, as is a lot of the base and surrounding area, courtesy of Hurricane Katrina.  The park is large, quiet and very well laid out.  Upon checking in with the campground host we learned that the reason both military RV parks in the area were full is that they are homesteaded all season by dedicated gamblers.  These folks come in the fall, battle for a site, set up their winter homes on wheels, then ply the casinos that are clustered in this area of the Mississippi Gulf Coast while making the rounds of the “all you can eat buffets” at the casinos that offer senior discounts.  Some folks have weird hobbies.

Since we were dry camping I first located a fresh water spigot and proceeded fill and flush my water system.  Then we set up in the overflow field, plugged in the generator to recharge the two RV batteries, and settled in for the night.

Stay tuned as we officially kick off the 2011 Bill and Kit Excellent Adventure.

Kit’s Corner:   Thankfully, we’ve had an uneventful trip so far.  The five month thing, not sure where that came from as I’ve been counting on 3.5 – 4 months.  Anyway, we will work that out.  It has been nice to be in warmer temps, although the cold doesn’t really bother me.  Just the ice and wind.  We’re looking forward to visiting our good friend in LA and spending time with their family.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma