Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #3

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Dalai Lama

 

Thursday, December 10, 2015-Galveston Island, Texas:  Woke to a spectacular sun emerging from the mist shrouded Gulf of Mexico.

2015-12-10, Photo #40

The morning was cool and damp, however the rising suns warmth held the promise of a great day for enjoying and exploring this beautiful Texas State Park.

Yesterday, while driving through the resort section of Galveston Island, we noticed that most tourist related businesses were closed for the season.  By the number of amusement parks, restaurants, taverns and gift shops, we spotted along the beachfront boulevard, I’m guessing that this place must be hopping during the warmer months!

Galveston is the principal city on the island and located as it is on an unstable barrier isle the city’s boundaries continuously change as wind, tide and storms redefine the shoreline.  A devastating hurricane in 1900 leveled the town and took over 7,000 of its residents to their watery grave.  The state hauled in tons of sand and rocks to raise the islands elevation and helped rebuild this important Texas port city.  In the early 1800’s, the area was the haunt of pirates, slave smugglers and other ne’er-do-wells.  Today, this cosmopolitan city of 48,000 folks enjoys prosperity with its prime economic engine being insurance, banking, port services, and tourism.  However, hurricanes are a continuing threat and the limited number of evacuation routes off the island has been a concern which has of yet to be resolved.

Today is a “down day”…..one in which Kit and I rest, relax take care of some domestic chores and otherwise goof off.  Kit’s goal is to get our Christmas cards addressed and ready for mailing so immediately following breakfast she stated:  I need some space with you not in it”!  Not a problem for me as our campsite bordered a nice flat beach with consistent winds…..perfect kiting conditions!

I selected a 1.5 meter power kite from the quiver and attached a 30 foot tail and an 80 foot dual line-set…..turned out to be a perfect combination for the 10+ knot winds.

2015-12-10, Photo #47

Normally a kite flying about would attract attention, a fact that I have to constantly be mindful of because dogs off leash can wreak havoc on a grounded kite and unsuspecting beach walkers can be injured by low elevation flying.  However, today the beach was empty…..just me and my kite, the waves, the wind and a few seagulls…..life is good!

Later, as Kit spent the afternoon relaxing and reading, it felt like a fine time for a bike ride…..Galveston Island State Park features an extensive multi-use trail system that meanders through the 2,000 acre park.

2015-12-10, Photo #43

It is mainly single track, relatively flat and where the trail needs to cross an estuary, wide bog-bridges are provided.

2015-12-10, Photo #41

In addition to the beach and dune area, there are salt water marshes, coastal prairies and fresh water ponds…..a perfect habitat for wildlife.

2015-12-10, Photo #42

Along the trail, local vegetation consists of seagrass and low lying plants…..many that were flowering on this late fall day.

2015-12-10, Photo #44

I spent about two hours exploring the back country of Galveston Island State Park before returning to camp to enjoy a post ride snack and a cold Shiner.  Within minutes, a local came around begging for a few of my crackers.

2015-12-10, Photo #45

I named the rather bold jet-black bird “Polly”.  She looked very well fed and likely panhandle’s this corner of the park on a regular basis.  Polly was pretty quiet…..she just didn’t have much to crow about (pun intended).

Following the evening meal, Kit and I took a long walk along the beach before settling in for the night.  We both agree that Galveston deserves a return visit so it will remain on our ever expanding Bucket List as a preferred future destination.

 

Friday, December 11, 2015:  On the road with the sunrise at 0736 hours.  The skies are clear and the temperature is 65 degrees.  Why so early?  Well we are going to try and meet up with some friends from back home who winter over near San Antonio, Texas.

Kit and I decided to view the rest of the island and depart via the western bridge.  We quickly discovered a much less populated area that lies at a lower elevation to sea level than the eastern end.

2015-12-17, Photo #2

Soon we came to a $2.00 Toll Bridge that crossed San Luis Pass.

2015-12-17, Photo #1a

I’m guessing the toll just covers the toll takers salary!?!?

The main road that travels the length of Galveston Island is the Blue Water Highway.  The few villages we saw appear to be primarily summer enclaves.

2015-12-17, Photo #3

However, when reaching the western end of the island and crossing back onto the mainland, it becomes heavily industrialized with many petroleum and chemical plants dotting the landscape.

2015-12-17, Photo #4

Stopping for fuel near a refinery I found diesel at the lowest price so far!

2015-12-10, Photo #1

Last year, the cheapest diesel was $2.56…..this trip is going to cost us a lot less than previous years!

Heading up a variety of local roads toward the interstate, we rolled through many small country towns.  Near one, we came to a sight typical of rural Texas…..a fellow on horseback riding alongside the highway.

2015-12-17, Photo #5

However, if you look closely you can see this modern cow poke is chatting away on his cell phone!  Is that distracted riding, and is it legal?

As we were motoring through one town, I missed a detour sign and ended up at the literal end of the road….with nowhere to turn around….yikes!!  Fortunately a kindly local drove up in his truck and helped us wind our way through some farm roads back to the main drag…..gotta love the friendly and helpful folks of Texas!

Getting near noon Kit noticed a very nice municipal park as we entered the town of Seaborne Creek, so we pulled in for a break.

2015-12-17, Photo #6

While Kit was making us lunch, I took a walk and spied about a dozen white tail deer sprinting across the park.

2015-12-17, Photo #7

They were moving along at a brisk clip…..bet its hunting season in these parts!

Back underway, we rejoined I-10 near the town of Sealy and headed west…..this part of Texas is known as The Hill Country, for obvious reasons.

2015-12-17, Photo #15

Kit’s sister Char, and brother-in-law Donald, used to live nearby and we spent many an enjoyable time during previous Excellent Adventure trips dooryard surfing at their home and exploring this area.  However, they have since relocated back to their hometown of San Diego so nowadays we generally just blow through.  However some RV friends from upta Maine are in the area so we arranged to meet at a mutually convenient Cracker Barrel restaurant.

2015-12-17, Photo #12

Rey and Darlene, are full time RV’rs and spend the summer months in Maine and the winter, here in South Texas.  We had a great time reconnecting and sharing Rv’ing stories and adventures…..thanks folks for making time for us!

Getting late, and with a storm bearing down from the west, we decided to seek shelter in the campground at the Fort Sam Houston Army Base in San Antonio.

2015-12-17, Photo #13

Following a great camper prepared meal, and a nice walk around the campground, Kit and I retired for the evening.

 

Saturday, December 12, 2015-San Antonio, Texas:  Woke to blustery winds and dark skies…..a pretty bad storm is heading in so Kit and I decided to just stay put for another night to let the weather blow through.

We spent the day cleaning up the camper, reading, paying bills online, catching up on e-mail, working on this journal and otherwise just taking it easy.  Looks like most of the storm will pass to the north, so with nothing else to do we read until falling asleep.  Shortly after midnight, a rude awakening startled me from a deep slumber.

San Antonio Storm

The camper was being buffeted by strong winds while thunder and lightning enveloped us.  Torrential rain and what sounded like hail was pummeling the roof.  No one could sleep through that racket!  Well, no one but Kit…..she snoozed right through the whole thing!

 

Sunday, December 13, 2015:  Up, breakfast and on the road shortly before 1000 hours.  It’s cool and a bit drizzly but the worst of the storm is off to the East.  As Kit and I found our way off post, we drove by San Antonio National Cemetery and noticed a familiar sight.

2015-12-17, Photo #14

Wreaths across America, a nationwide program to place a Christmas Wreath on the grave of every veteran was in full swing.  This honor was started by one man from Maine back in 1992 when he donated wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery.  Morrill Worcester of Harrington, Maine wanted to honor fallen veterans ever since he visited Washington, DC as a youngster.  As the owner of Worcester Wreath Company he was able to fulfill this childhood dream and sparked a nationwide movement.

Back on I-10 and continuing westerly, we pulled up NPR on the Sirius XM radio and enjoyed the latest episode of A Prairie Home Companion!  Satellite radio is worth every penny of the monthly subscription.  In addition to selecting most any genre of music and entertainment, one has access to a variety of Public Broadcasting Stations…..all without commercial interruption!

The further we drove, the deeper we got into Texas Hill Country, and the better the weather became as we left the remains of the storm in our rear view mirror.

2015-12-17, Photo #16

It’s not often that a lowly roadside rest on a stretch of interstate is noticed for much more than what it is…..a lowly roadside rest stop on a stretch of interstate.  However if these necessary facilities were ever graded, then the Texas rest areas would surely rate five stars!

2015-12-17, Photo #8

They are the nicest, cleanest and most accommodating rest areas in the nation.  Along with easy and convenient access, they feature plenty of parking for cars, RV’s and long haul trucks.  There is free Wi-Fi, sanitary dump stations, and in most of them an authorized area for overnight stays.  Also serving as regional welcome centers, they have information about the history and various features of the area, and frequently offer complimentary coffee.  There is even a nice playground for the active child to burn off energy after being cooped up in an automobile.

2015-12-17, Photo #9

Some also feature Nature Trails with signage identifying the various plants and trees.

2015-12-17, Photo #10

In an era where many states are closing rest areas to save money, the State of Texas sees the value of keeping the motoring public safe, comfortable and informed!

At one such rest area, just east of San Antonio, I spoke briefly to a gentleman driving this rig.

2015-12-17, Photo #11

Robert had recently returned to the United States after an extensive RV trip to the tip of South America.  Originally from Alaska, he hand built his custom truck camper on a surplus commercial chassis.  His next adventure is to drive to the east coast, put the camper on a ship and explore Europe and Russia!  Now, that’s an RV adventure!

Back underway we drove another hundred miles before hitting the town of Fort Stockton, Texas.  Kit noticed on the All Stays App that there was an RV friendly Wal*Mart in town so that’s where we headed for the evening.

2015-12-17, Photo #18

As you can see, there were already a few other RV’rs in the parking lot and by nightfall, another half dozen joined us.

After gaining permission from the general manager, and resupplying our pantry, Kit and I settled in for the night.

 

Monday, December 14, 2015:  A very restful evening camped out in a level and quiet Wal*Mart parking lot!  Their corporate policy is to allow “overnight parking” (differentiated from “camping”) on store property if not in violation of city ordinances and at the discretion of the manager.  This gift to the RV’ing public comes with some commonsense self-restraints.  Always ask permission, park where directed, do not deploy all your camping paraphernalia (generators, grills, lawn chairs, mats, awnings, etc.) and only extend the slides absolutely necessary to function in your camper.  In addition, never lower stabilizing or leveling jacks…..this could potentially damage the relatively soft pavement.  These basic courtesies to Wal*Mart and neighboring RV’rs are sometimes ignored by newbies (or clowns) that think they are in a 5 star RV Resort, thereby jeopardizing this benefit for everyone.  Fortunately, everyone here seemed experienced and courteous.

Underway at 0900 hours for parts west, the weather is clear and sunny with a temperature of 55 degrees.  Back on I-10 we passed a few interesting rigs…..one was a truck and fifth wheel trailer with a large Jet Ski mounted on the roof of the truck, and the other was a motorhome pulling a trailer that contained a Gyrocopter…..RV folks love to travel with their toys!

West Texas is a lot different than the eastern portion.

2015-12-17, Photo #19

The highways are straight, flat and desolate…..not a good place to experience mechanical troubles.  So it was a bit unnerving when at around 1130, an alarm sounded and the Check Engine Light (CSL) on the dash illuminated…..oh-oh!  Before we could get to an exit, the truck went into Reduced Power (RP) and was speed restricted to 30 MPH…..double oh-oh!!  A few miles later we exited the interstate and parked on the ramp.  The engine sounded normal, and all other gauges and monitors were within normal rangers.  With a giant leap of faith I turned off the engine to reset the logic in the Engine Control Module (ECM). The good news is that the engine restarted right away, the bad news…..it’s still in Reduced Power!?!?  Checking the GPS, we were 25 miles from the town of Van Horn, Texas.  Back on the highway, and limping along in the breakdown lane with the four-ways flashing as traffic whizzed by at 80 MPH was a bit unnerving, but there wasn’t much of an alternative.  Kit noticed a lonely fuel stop off a lonely exit and pulled in to see if there was anyone who might have a scan tool to ascertain what was going on…..no luck, they only sold gasoline and Michelada’s.  Oh, and we now had a flat tire on the trailer to add a bit of additional excitement to our day……triple oh-oh!!!

2015-12-17, Photo #21

Yep, not one, but four Sheet Metal Screws were imbedded in the left rear tire of the camper.  How none of them found their way into the front tire is beyond me…..a flat trailer tire is bad, two would have been terrible as we only have one spare.  Rolling the good tire on that side up a stack of leveling blocks brought the deflated tire sufficiently off the ground to affect a tire change.

Back on I-10 at a blazing 30 MPH and avoiding the hazard strewn breakdown lane we nervously limped along.  A half hour later found us pulling off the interstate into the metropolis of Van Horn, Texas….population 1,960.  Fortunately there was a Loves Truck Stop!  Unfortunately, it’s a truck stop, with no one that can fix a flat or troubleshoot a diesel engine!?!?  However the manager gave us the hand lettered business card of the only repair shop in town, so calling with our tale of woe brought the owner, head mechanic and sole employee to our assistance.

Jose Duarte is the proprietor of Camel D-T Center Auto Repair.

2015-12-17, Photo #24

He is definitely “old school”…..the place had everything one would need for auto repair in the 1950’s!  It is dark and cluttered with the unmistakable aroma of grease and motor oil.

2015-12-17, Photo #23a

Jose, or as he’s called locally, “Camel” (not sure why?) proceeded to take the damaged tire, demount it manually using old fashioned tire tools, repair the two actual punctures (the other two screws never penetrated), then remounted and inflated the tire.  The whole operation was interesting to watch, but the truly amazing part was his technique for reseating the tire bead into the rim without pneumatic assistance.

2015-12-17, Photo #23

Camel sprayed starting fluid (ether) into the deflated tire as it sat loosely on the rim and ignited it!  With a loud “bang” the tire instantly expanded reseating the bead and remaining partially inflated!  Then he just brought the tire pressure up to the required 80psi with and an old wheezing compressor.  I’ve heard over the years that it was possible to inflate a tire in this way but had never actually witnessed the operation.  My wide eyed reaction made him laugh and he said: “That’s the Mexican way”!

Camel then mounted the tire back on the trailer and even stored the spare tire under the camper where it belongs.  The cost?  $25.00!  For about an hour’s worth of work and a whole lot of entertainment!  While paying in cash, I slipped him an extra ten…..you would have thought I’d given him a million!  Gotta love small town America and the characters that inhabit them!  If you ever find yourself near Van Horn, Texas with auto trouble please throw Camel your business…..and tell him the gringo from Maine sent you.

Well, one problem solved, but the issue with the truck remained.  Camel offered to tear into the engine and see if he could fix it…..I politely declined by mentioning that it was still under warranty and needed to get to a dealer.  However it was getting late and El Paso was over 120 miles away.  The prospect of traveling I-80 at 30MPH in the dark for the next four hours didn’t seem very practical, or safe.  So we made our way to a campground outside of town for the evening.

2015-12-17, Photo #25

Will our travelers make it any farther west?  Or will they become permanent residents of Van Horn, Texas…..population 1,962?  Stay tuned for the conclusion of:  “The Not So Excellent Adventure through West Texas”.

Kit’s Bit’s:  Well, this has been an interesting segment of our trip.  The good thing is, I was able to finish the Christmas cards and mail them off.  Also, I spent time walking the beach on Galveston Island.  I LOVE the state park we stayed in, about all I heard for our couple of days there were waves crashing and birds!  The “not so good” thing, the issue with the truck slowing down to 30 MPH and, the flat tire was a bit unnerving (for me).  Fortunately, Bill is so methodical and analytical; he worked his way through it, one step at a time.  All I had to do is concentrate on keeping my mouth shut.  When faced with these issues, he basically, turns into a machine.  In the end, it all works out well but during the process, I’ve learned, after all these years, to just let him do his thing!  It always works out!  How he has so much patience is beyond me.

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #2

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015So come on hitch your wagon to the happiness I’m draggin’

If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you

Kacey Musgraves

 

Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6, 2015-Biloxi, Mississippi:  In the past, we have traveled a more southerly route and landed on the Florida panhandle.  From there, after a few days down time, we meander westerly on US-90 enjoying many different Alabama and Mississippi Gulf Coast towns.  This year we made tracks for Biloxi, Mississippi which lies on the, once again pristine, Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

2015-12-10, Photo #12

Biloxi, a town of 44,400 folks, had once been the capital of French Louisiana.  Then in 1720 fears of exposure to tides and storms caused the bureaucrats to move the capital west to the supposedly safer City of New Orleans.

Mississippi was also ruled by the British and then Spain before becoming a territory of the United States where it was admitted to the union in 1817.

My first visit to Biloxi was courtesy of the US Navy in 1968 when the town was dominated by the shrimp and oyster fleet.  Today gambling in large casinos make up a major portion of the economy.

2015-12-10, Photo #11

However, before the legalization of gaming in 1990, gambling could be enjoyed in the back water Juke Joints that peppered the Southern Mississippi bayous.  Back in 1968, this was surreal experience to a young Southern California sailor……I’m sure many of those joints still exist!

The law that authorized gambling also required structures devoted to actual gaming be built on “marine vessels”.  This was in a nod to riverboat gambling and in deference to the very politically powerful religious constituency.  With these stipulations, casinos along the Gulf Coast were built on large floating barges.

Then came Katrina…..and every one of the floating casinos broke free of their moorings and traveled inland to wreak havoc on the small town of Biloxi.

Billoxi Floating Casino

Yep…..that huge structure was, just a few days prior, floating in the Gulf!  One smaller barge based casino actually travelled several hundred yards inland and deposited itself smack dab on top of a small motel…..yikes!  The law was quickly amended and today casinos can be built on dry land and there are presently nine thriving casinos in the town of Biloxi.

2015-12-10, Photo #13

The hurricane also destroyed 90 percent of the homes and business that had stretched along US-90, a number of buildings have not been replaced leaving empty lots with only foundations and driveways as evidence.  There is a federal effort to buy up these now vacant lots along with other less damaged parcels in order to establish a Hurricane Protection Zone.  Time will tell if that initiative gains any traction.

Another artifact to Hurricane Katrina was the many Oak and Cypress trees that lined US-90 but succumbed to the ravages of wind and water.  Rather than removing the dead trunks, an artist by the name of Marlin Miller meticulously sculpted them into marine themed memorials.

Katrina Tree Art

Talk about finding the silver lining in a in some dark scary clouds!  There are 50 of these sculptures scattered along the coast from Alabama to Louisiana.  At the visitors center there are maps of the locations and they have become a major roadside attraction.  Folks actually make a pilgrimage to spot and photograph all fifty…..a great road trip and a way to enjoy the beautiful Gulf Coast!

2015-12-10, Photo #14

Keesler Air Force Base, in addition to hosting a very nice campground, is the home of the 81st Training Wing and also the temporary home of a friend from back home.  Ken is the son of square dance friends Dave and Susie and he is currently stationed at Keesler for training.  We were delighted that Ken could spare some time for us.

Ken

Ken enlisted in the Air National Guard interrupting a successful career with the Maine Department of Corrections.  A bit older than many Air Force trainees, Ken’s leadership potential was quickly realized when he was assigned the position of Senior Airman.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable day visiting with Ken, driving down coastal US-90 and dining at a local hotspot The Half Shell…..

2015-12-10, Photo #3

…..where we enjoyed great conversation, fantastic seafood, and a few local barley-pops!

2015-12-10, Photo #2

Thanks Ken, for spending the day with us and thank you for your service to our country!

Camping on Keesler Air Force Base allowed us the opportunity to explore this very nice military facility.  In addition to visiting the Base Exchange and commissary to re-provision we took advantage of the excellent walking path that circles most of the base.

2015-12-10, Photo #5

One does have to be cautious when venturing anywhere near a body of water, however.

2015-12-10, Photo #4

Our walk took us by the base picnic grounds and small boat marina.

2015-12-10, Photo #6c

Where we stopped to rest and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the grounds.

2015-12-10, Photo #9

What a pleasant park with old stately Southern Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss.

2015-12-10, Photo #6b

At the marina, I noticed there were a few boats in the water but many had been pulled for the winter.

2015-12-10, Photo #8

A real shame because it was a beautiful boating day…..light winds and temperatures in the low 70’s. Even the fishing pier was vacant on this sunny weekend day!

2015-12-10, Photo #7

Back in the camper, we made preparations for a morning departure. This has been a great stay in Biloxi and a very nice visit with a pleasant young man!

 

Monday, December 7, 2015:  Departed Keesler Air Force Campground around 1000 hours under sunny skies with a temperature of 73 degrees.  Decided to forgo the quicker I-10 and head west on the parallel US-90…..a much more peaceful and picturesque route.

2015-12-10, Photo #15

The state highway mostly follows the Gulf Coast of the United States and offers many places to pull a rig over and enjoy the scenic beauty of the white sand beaches.

2015-12-10, Photo #16

Kit and I enjoyed walking along the shore which this time of year is absent the throngs of folks that populate the area during the height of summer.

2015-12-10, Photo #17

Back on the road, we rolled through the multiple small towns that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  Many places had not been rebuilt and here too vacant land with crumbling foundations remained where once stood majestic southern beach cottages.  I find it odd that most of the news focus during this difficult time was centered on New Orleans when many other Gulf Coast towns were just as devastated.

We intersected I-10 just west of Bay Saint Louis and at 1245 drove across The Pearl River into Louisiana.  After a quick stop for lunch, it was onward toward Covington, Louisiana and the home of our dear friends Johnny and Eileen.  Arriving at around 1400 we were offered our first opportunity this trip to Dooryard Surf!

2015-12-10, Photo #21

Eileen fixed us an incredible meal of Potato Soup and a fresh salad.  As a special treat, two of their three granddaughters, Gracen and Shelby, the twins, were able to join us!  Katelyn, at age 20, was busy at work.

2015-12-10, Photo #19

After dinner, we sat around and reminisced about our shared Navy experiences as young married couples in Key West, Florida.  Following a great visit that lasted into the evening, Kit and I retired to the camper for the night.

 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015-Covington, Louisiana:  Up to sunny skies and temperatures rising into the 60’s.  After breakfast it was off to explore the area.  Johnny wasn’t feeling well so elected to stay home and rest while Kit, Eileen, and I headed to H. J. Smith and Son’s General Store.

2015-12-10, Photo #23

Like many rural country stores back home in Maine, H. J. Smiths has everything and anything…..in other words, if they don’t have it, you don’t need it!

2015-12-10, Photo #22

One room is devoted to old merchandise haphazardly arranged in what the proprietor calls a museum.

2015-12-10, Photo #24b

Need an adult human skeleton?

2015-12-10, Photo #24

Yep….they have one!  Apparently this old fellow was used many years ago in a secret ceremony by the Knights of Pythias.

How about an early cast iron coffin?

2015-12-10, Photo #24a

Yep…..that too!  These were used in the early 1900’s during the Yellow Fever epidemic.  If a family member had succumbed to the disease and was to be honored with a wake, it was prudent to have a sealed cast iron casket made to protect the mourners.  They could pay their respects by peeking into the glass porthole centered over the deceased’s face.  This particular coffin was discovered during a local school expansion and was unceremoniously exhumed by way of a backhoe.  It had rusted through on the bottom so what remained of the remains was given a proper Christian burial in the town cemetery.

After an interesting, and a bit unsettling, shopping experience at H. J. Smith’s it was time for some refreshment, so off we went to the local brewery in Abita Springs.

2015-12-10, Photo #25

Abita Brewing Company built their brewery right on top of the pure and natural artesian spring that the area is known for.  As a result, this distance from source to the brewing tanks is just a few feet resulting in a very high quality beer.

We intended to enjoy a tour of the brewery’s production facility but there weren’t any being given that day…..however, a nice young woman by the name of Rachel offered to give us a private tour!

2015-12-10, Photo #26

Rachel, a local and recent graduate from LSU with a degree in Petroleum Engineering, gave a very thorough and entertaining tour of Abita’s inner workings.  I have taken a number of brewery tours over the years, from large corporate production facilities to tiny brewpub operations and I’ve come to realize the smaller, the better!  There is nothing like seeing a small independently operated brewery and listening to the enthusiasm of the staff.

Following the tour, Rachel invited us to sample the wares at the onsite taproom.

2015-12-10, Photo #29

We choose different products to get a through sampling of Abita Brewing’s offerings.  My favorite was the one on the far right in the photo below.

2015-12-10, Photo #28

It was a stout featuring oysters, known as Bad Mother Shucker!

Bad Mother Shucker

The beer was smooth, flavorful with a hint of salt and possessed one of the more descriptive and unique names in a field of unusually named beers that appear in the world of microbrewery.  I picked up a few bottles, however since Abita uses no preservatives they have to be consumed within two weeks…..should not be a problem!

Next, we headed to Pontchartrain Po-Boys for a late lunch.

2015-12-10, Photo #30

An absolute favorite of mine for their fried oysters, can you tell why?

2015-12-10, Photo #31

We have enjoyed Pontchartrain Po-Boys on just about every trip through this part of Louisiana, and it has become a favorite of folks back home as well…..right, Brian?

Returning to the house, we presented Johnny with a takeout order of Shrimp Gumbo and found him feeling much better.  The four of us spent the rest of the evening once again chatting about the good old days before trundling off to our camper for the evening.

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015:  Up and on the road early with a quick stop at the North Shore outlet of Café’ Du Monde.  We ordered two travel mugs of their famous Chicory Coffee and a half dozen of their more famous beignets!

It was 0745 as Kit and I traveled along I-12 heading west…..the weather is sunny with temperatures in the mid 60’s.  About an hour later we merge onto I-10 and soon crossed the Mississippi River at Port Allen, Louisiana.  Soon we were motoring over the Atchafalaya Swamp on an elevated roadway.

2015-12-10, Photo #34

I reported out on this natural area in one of last year’s Excellent Adventure posting, but suffice it to say this is an incredible Louisiana bayou region full of Cajon legend and lore!  We stopped at the visitor’s center to stretch our legs, view the informative displays about the area, and enjoy a beignet break.

2015-12-10, Photo #33

Back on I-10, Kit spotted our first oil well at mile marker 51, and a few miles later encountered the Westlake Refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  A few minutes after that found us crossing the Sabine River into the state of Texas.

During various other Excellent Adventure trips, we have explored a lot of southern Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Coast.  However one area we have not been visited in over 40 years was Galveston Island…..so that became our next destination!

Piecing together a variety of US and state highways we headed south of Houston toward the eastern entrance to the island.  On the GPS the route appeared to cross Galveston Bay by way of a bridge, however as we got closer it was obvious that a ferry ride was in order!

Soon we were crossing a massive bridge in the appropriately named town of Bridge City.

2015-12-10, Photo #35

The view from the summit was something else……unfortunately I couldn’t get Kit to open her eyes long enough to snap a few pictures so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

As we approached the ferry terminal the highway closely paralleled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

2015-12-10, Photo #36

So close that there were numerous signs warning of potential water in the roadway.

Around 1530 we arrived at the ferry terminal just in time to embark and were soon underway.

2015-12-10, Photo #37

The trip across Galveston Bay took approximately 30 minutes, and since it was operated by the Texas State Highway Department as a transportation artery, it was free!

After landing, and a short drive up the island, we made our way to our destination for the evening…..Galveston Island State Park.

2015-12-10, Photo #38

Following dinner and a few cocktails Kit and I enjoyed a nice sunset over the sand dunes and sea grass of Galveston Island, Texas.

2015-12-10, Photo #39

Goodnight…..stay tuned for more adventures of Bill and Kit on their 2016 Excellent Adventure.

 

Kit’s Bit’s:  Wish we could have stayed a little longer at this state park.  It was so nice and peaceful and walking on the long stretch of beach was delightful!  As always, we enjoyed our time with Johnny & Eileen.  It’s always fun to share old times with them and compare our paths from over 50 years now.  We were also fortunate to spend some time with the twins, Gracen & Shelby.

Gracen and Shelby-2015

Both are in high school now and very busy with their studies and after school activities.  We missed Katelyn, their older sister, as she was busy at one of her two jobs.

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal # 1

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

It’s a road trip, it’s about adventure,

it’s not like we have somewhere to go.

John Green

Monday, November 30, 2015:  It is currently 0330 hours on a cold morning in late November.  The cricket’s roared and Owl hooted as our two intrepid (or is that inept?) wanderers leapt from their deep slumber to enthusiastically greet day one of their six month winter RV trek to parts of America yet to be decided.  The cricket sound was actually emanating from Kit’s iPhone alarm, however our resident backyard Owl was in fine hooting form on this late fall morning.  Also, the term “leapt” needs to be taken with a grain of salt, or two…..not unlike a good Tequila which results in less morning leaping……don’t ask how I know that!

After loading the adventure-mobile with a few last minute items, warming the diesel engine sufficiently to pull the 12,000 pound camper and filling our coffee travel mugs we are ready to roll.

2015-12-05, Photo #1

Kit and I trust that all had a great Thanksgiving holiday, or as our daughter calls it, The Festival of the Beige Food.  For the past few years our family has merged Christmas with Thanksgiving into what has become known as “Thanksmas”.  Our gathering this year included our Maine family (no pun intended) and a couple of the kid’s friends.

2015-11-27, Photo #8

Our grandson Joe and his girlfriend Abby and cousin Katie once again handled the food prep and it was outstanding!  We had a great time and were able to say goodbye to everyone before heading south.

As we quietly roll through the sleepy streets of our hometown in Midcoast Maine, the skies are clear and the temperatures hover near twenty degrees.  Every year I marvel at the civil engineering masterpiece that allows us to pull out of our driveway and utilize an interconnected roadway system that provides wheeled travel to many corners of our great nation……thanks President Eisenhower!

The fact that we would actually be on the road today had been in doubt.  Earlier this month I took the camper to John at my preferred RV shop for its annual maintenance of repacking the wheel bearings and checking the brake systems.  Now keep in mind, our current unit is only 10 months old and has been performing flawlessly.  However when John removed the wheels and drums he discovered this!

27-5L Brake Shoe

That is one of our brake shoes and it isn’t supposed to have chunks missing!  A few scratches and some reduction in thickness is normal for the miles we have on the camper but that level of deterioration is definitely not normal…..and this condition affected two of the four brake assemblies!  A quick call to our dealer in San Diego resulted in a call to the trailers manufacture which resulted in a call to the maker of the axle assemblies, Dexter Axle.  The good news was that all would be covered under warranty and the better news was that Dexter agreed to replace all four brake assemblies and their drums…..essentially giving us brand new equipment supporting all four wheels!  The bad news was that these parts weigh over 200 pounds and shipping by surface freight would take a few weeks.  Following a plea from us that the shipping time would impact our desired departure date, Dexter agreed to ship the parts via FedEx and they arrived in three days.  That was great…..however it was also Thanksgiving week where John and his crew were to take a well-deserved four day weekend.  The parts arrived on Tuesday morning, John replaced all four brakes and drums, adjusted and road tested the camper, and performed a final adjustment all before closing shop!  All is good in Bill and Kit Excellent Adventure world!  A quick personal endorsement of the crew at Coastal RV, www.coastalrvrepair.com.  If you need any work performed on your rig, I highly recommend them!

So, with renewed confidence in RV manufacturing and repair folks, Kit and I trundle south on I-95.  At 0503, as we pass the town of Saco, I dutifully honk the trucks horn as requested by or friends Randy and Jean…..did you folks notice?

Following a brief stop at the Kennebunk Travel Plaza to check wheel temperatures and tire pressures, we continue into New Hampshire and soon enter the state of Massachusetts where we stop at a Mass Pike Travel Plaza for food, fuel and some walking about time.

Back underway, we connect to I-84 and continue west into Connecticut.  Soon the formerly moderate traffic began to slow, eventually coming to a crawl.

2015-12-05, Photo #2

Yep, some hapless commuter made his Monday even worse by playing bumper cars with a fellow motorist.  There were two travel lanes clear and the highway patrol folks were on scene trying to get folks to keep moving, but alas everyone in front of us felt a need to roll slowly by the scene and observe the aftermath.  Over the years, we have labeled this voyeuristic quirk of human nature to ogle another motorist’s misfortune as “An Accidental Roadside Attraction” (pun intended).

Passing the scene of the accident and getting a nice long look, we were rolling through the state of New York by mid-morning.  Historically, I steer far north of the big scary city of nine million souls and ten million bright yellow taxies.  They don’t take kindly to a rube piloting his forty five foot recreational vehicle anywhere near their domain so I choose to cross the Hudson River by way of the Hamilton Fish Bridge.

2015-12-05, Photo #3

As you can see in the photo above, the skies have become overcast and around noon, as we cross the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, it begins to rain.  The temperatures are in the mid 30’s so icing isn’t a big concern but we slow our travel and proceed cautiously anyway.

Outside Scranton we hop on I-81 and head south.  The rain increases in intensity as the temperature continues to rise.  I-81 is a major north-south long haul trucker route and at least half the vehicles along this interstate are professional truckers hauling their goods to market.  We feel very safe traveling side by side with these huge rigs, much more than traveling next to a local commuter that possesses this uncontrollable urge to get around us only to slow and exit.

The afternoon was uneventful as we slowly ticked off the miles while stopping frequently for time to stretch our legs, to grab a snack in the camper or for fuel.  At 1610, we pulled into an Applebee’s Restaurant for an early dinner after which we made our way to our traditional first night lodging at a nice Fairfield Inn outside the Pennsylvania town of Carlisle.

2015-12-05, Photo #4

So, why haul a 30 foot camper 574 miles only to stay in a hotel?  Well, to begin with the camper is winterized and not ready for overnight accommodations, and secondly after thirteen hours on the road we are in need of some pampering.  After a few fresh baked cookies and a mug of hot chocolate, we retired for the evening…..goodnight!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015:  Kit and I are up at a reasonable hour following a very restful sleep.  Looking out our 3rd story window at the camper I noticed a lot of rain…..fortunately the temperatures were in the 40’s so it should be an OK travel day.  We enjoyed a very nice complimentary Continental Breakfast and hit the road at 0949 for points south.

2015-12-05, Photo #6

The Weather App on the trucks information screen showed a slug of rain coming from the west courtesy of winter storm Melvin.

2015-12-05, Photo #5

However the traffic was light and we plodded along stopping only for exercise, lunch and fuel.  The only excitement of the day was when an unusual sound suddenly started to be heard from under the rig.  I was 90% sure it was tire noise from a change in road surface, but there was that 10% chance that something could be seriously wrong.  Decided to pull off at the next exit and as soon as we hit the off ramp the noise disappeared.  I took the opportunity to park the rig and check everything out anyway…..happy to report that all was OK.

At 1045 we crossed the Mason Dixon line and immediately started seeing billboards for the Waffle House, Bojangles and the ubiquitous giant crosses.

2015-12-05, Photo #12

Welcome to the south!

Crossed into West Virginia at 1057 hours and on into Virginia at 1124.  An uncontrollable urge came upon us to shift the Sirius XM radio system to Willies Roadhouse!  Listening to Willie, Waylon and the boys completed the southern immersion!

Deciding it was far enough south and going to be warm enough to sleep in the camper, we pulled off the interstate in Lexington, Virginia and located a Wal*Mart to re-provision.

Back underway, we used the iPhone App “All Stays-RV” to locate a highly rated campground in the small town of Natural Bridge, Virginia and at 1545 we pulled in for the evening.

2015-12-05, Photo #7

As I recommissioned the camper, Kit made up a delicious meal which we enjoyed with a nice Cabernet and a loaf of fresh homemade bread thoughtfully provided by our neighbor back home.  After some time on the iPads it was off to snoozeville.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015:  Up to cool and rainy weather.  Following breakfast we called our grandson Jack to wish him a Happy Birthday.  We broke camp, and by 1007 hours Kit and I were back on I-81 heading south.

2015-12-05, Photo #10

Another long slow travel day as we tried to head far enough south where we can feel reasonably sure it will be safe to make a right turn and head west.  Other than the occasional stop for some exercise, fuel or food we doggedly meandered along crossing the Tennessee border at 1332 and then moving over to I-40W before intercepting Interstate 75 which led us further south.

The weather suddenly cleared and the sun popped out which raised our spirits enough that we decided to celebrate by stopping early.

2015-12-05, Photo #13

So at 1645 Kit found us another very nice camping opportunity in Athens, Tennessee.  Simply called The I-75 Campground, it was an ideal stop for an overnight stay…..convenient, rustic and cheap, just our style!

2015-12-05, Photo #14

As the name implies, I-75 Campground is alongside the interstate…..however there was very little traffic noise as it was drowned out by the rushing waters of nearby Mouse Creek.

2015-12-05, Photo #15

As you can see, Mouse Creek is anything but mousey.  The relentless rain of Superstorm Melvin caused the normally placid creek to spill over its bank and flood the surrounding area.  Even though the rain had cleared out, there was a damp chill in the air as the sun set over the western hillside.  Never the mind…..Kit was content to bundle up and enjoy some iPad time before calling it a day.

2015-12-05, Photo #16

Goodnight!

Thursday, December 3, 2015:  After a very restful night Kit and I woke to sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 40’s.  Following our morning routine, we were on the road heading south before 1000 hours.  Forty-five minutes later found us rolling through Chattanooga, Tennessee and at 1057 entering the state of Georgia.  A mere twenty minutes later we were crossing the border into Alabama and encountered the Central Time Zone.

Getting close to the noon hour and needing a break, we pulled the rig into a highway rest area outside the town of Springvale.  While Kit prepared lunch, I did my daily check of tire pressures and temperatures and looked for anything else possibly amiss on the rig.  While so engrossed, a young fellow happened by and noticing the rescue bicycle hanging off the back of our camper, struck up a conversation about bikes.  Billy, mentioning he was also a “loose bike nut” (a rather dangerous affliction) led me to the rear of his camper to inspect his motorized bicycle.

2015-12-05, Photo #17

Imagine my surprise when I spotted the Maine Plate!  And an even bigger shock when he mentioned he grew up in Topsham, a neighboring town across the Androscoggin River from where Kit and I reside!  And both being rather small towns we knew many of the same people!

As a youngster, Billy lived near the Middlesex Road on Pelletier Pond and his father owned much of the land that became the housing development, Bay Park!  His sister, Jeannine still lives in the area and her best friend Linda is also a friend of Kit’s!  So Billy rang up his sister in Maine and handed to phone to Kit where they discovered even more mutual friends…..a small world indeed!

Billy is an accomplished musician playing guitar in a variety of bar bands in Maine as well as the south.  He currently resides in Foley, Alabama where in addition to his music career he builds and sells motorized bicycles.

2015-12-05, Photo #18

Sourcing the parts from Canada and locating a suitable donor bike, Billy creates these diminutive motorcycles using small gasoline engines keeping the horsepower under the limit that would require registration and licensing in most states.

However, Billy’s real claim to fame, at least in the south, is as a musician in an Alabama rustic country band where he plays lead electric saw!  Um, that takes some splanin’…..not a traditional “electric saw” with a spinning 7 inch blade, Billy’s electric saw is an old Stanley crosscut handsaw that he modified with an electric guitar pickup and controls.

2015-12-05, Photo #19

Sitting in the threshold of his camper, and with 18 wheelers pulling in and out, Billy grabbed a violin bow and played us a wonderful rendition of “Somewhere, Over the Rainbow”!  Welcome to the never-ending cast of interesting characters that enrich our experience on the roads of America!!

After an hours break we were back on I-75 continuing southerly looping around Birmingham on I-459 until we encountered I-65 which we took on into Birmingham.  Nearing our self-imposed daily time/distance cutoff parameter, Kit called Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base to see about vacancies in their base campground…..fortunately they could squeeze us in.

2015-12-05, Photo #20

This military campground was built alongside a manmade lake and features full hookups and ample recreation opportunities.

2015-12-05, Photo #22

A nice place to overnight and a nice destination campground as well.  About half the population of the campground appears to be active US Air Force families assigned to the base.  It was nice to see kids romping about and exploring the woods and waters of the area.

After a cocktail, nice meal and some reading time it was an early turn in evening after an interesting day on the road.

Friday, December 4, 2015:  Up to clear skies and temperatures rising into the 50’s.  Kit and I took a stroll about the park before breakfast and breaking camp.  Heading out at 1000 hours we rejoined Interstate 65 and continued south.

2015-12-05, Photo #26

After two hours of easy driving we pulled off the highway and into a rest area for a break and a bit of walking.  Entering the visitor’s center I spotted Leo being cuddled by his owner Emily.  I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, so after an exchange of courtesies I was allowed to hold Leo.

2015-12-05, Photo #25

Leo is an adorable Iguana and very docile.  His coloring is incredible and, according to Emily he makes the ideal pet.

2015-12-05, Photo #24

Leo’s diet is principally lettuce and chocolate fudge!  He has his own FaceBook page…..just look up Leo Isbell to follow his adventures.  Wow, two consecutive days and two encounters with very interesting people…..we are on a roll! (No pun intended).

After our visit with Emily and Leo we once again hit the road toward the south.  Just outside Mobile, Alabama we crossed the Tensaw River Delta via an elevated roadway.

2015-12-05, Photo #27

At 260,000 acres, this National Historical Landmark is the largest wetland in Alabama and drains a significant amount of water from LA (lower Alabama) into Mobile Bay.

Interstate 65 abruptly ends at I-10 resulting in one of the few Exit 0’s we have encountered over the years.

2015-12-05, Photo #28

Deciding it was time to head west…..we turned right and followed I-10 on into Mississippi stopping at the Welcome Center to call ahead for availability at the Keesler Air Force Base campground.  They don’t take reservations, but said to come on in as they will hold a site open for us!  Dropping down onto the more scenic US-90 we continued west till arriving at the town of Biloxi.

2015-12-05, Photo #29

Pulling into the campground we set up for a few days stay.

2015-12-05, Photo #30

We intend to explore this portion of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and visit with an old friend from Maine who is stationed in Keesler……stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start on this year’s adventure.  So far, the trip has been much easier than previous trips.  About the only thing I can attribute this to, is the fact that our new camper is way more comfy than the previous one.  Now, mind you, it’s a little longer and much taller which gives Bill more to fuss about but he even seems to be way more comfortable in it, although he would never admit it.  As I sit here typing, he is enjoying sitting in his Lazy Boy recliner – something he swore he would NEVER even use!  Yes, I think we made the right decision, despite all my nagging and his endless research.