Thursday, May 29, 2014

lucky in kentucky

5/28/2014 a Kentucky rest stop

Shoutout to rest stops that have indoor seating areas with access to power outlets! I’m just going to chill here for a bit, instead of cooping up in my car for hours till I get tired. Due to the fragmented nature of my travel, I’m not doing really any of those lengths of drives where you are on the road for 10 hours and then pass out the instant you stop. I generally stretch my legs every 2 hours and get to where I want to be in a reasonable amount of time. I didn’t feel like finding a camp site tonight, but I know there are grounds around. Generally rest stops aren’t near enough to camp sites, so it ends up being one or the other. The benefit of taking the road more travelled: more amenities. The weather has been awful ever since I left New Orleans. I’ve been driving through thunderstorms for two days! Though today was significantly better than yesterday. But the horrible weather made it so that I really had no desire to stick around in Mississippi or Tennessee. Why set up camp in the rain, and be kept awake by the rain, only to have everything be soggy and not fun at all? Granted both states were beautiful, but damn it’s no fun going through storms. I kept my speed low and I didn’t hydroplane, and I kept more than enough safe distance. I did see two cars off the road, but considering I was getting passed I can only assume they were not being smart drivers. I did get a few nice breaks in the weather and got some eyefuls of marshy vistas and lush foliage. I diverted to Natchez to see some antebellum houses, though that was when the weather started getting really bad so my tour was curbed. BUT I met two really nice people: Fred and his daughter Myrtle, at the Natchez Visitors Center. Fred was a ranger and tour guide and just general local history buff. And we talked for a while about travel and the town. Now that I’ve crossed the Mississippi River, the towns are going to get a lot more historically established. So that’ll be cool to learn more about.

I did do a quick tour of the William Johnson House and got my National Park stamps. I can’t help but think of Mom in some of these gift shops, because I know she’d buy several books at each one. There was a country veterinary anecdote book at Big Bend National Park that I know she would have bought.

The weather thankfully picked up as it got later in the day. Seeing the lighter patches in the clouds in the distance is such a welcome site. I pulled into a Mississippi rest stop and cuddled up for the night. The storms came and went, but the lightning stayed more than 5 Mississippis in the distance.

I got outta the rest stop at just before 8, and rolled into Memphis at 11. I parked and strolled around. It’s a nice town, Memphis. But not exactly an early afternoon city. I checked out Beale Street after I ruled out Graceland due to $10 for parking and $30+ bucks for a ticket. Sorry Elvis, I’m not that big of a fan. I got a couple pennies crushed, and checked out the Gibsons for sale in the Gibson shop. There were factory tours, but I wasn’t planning on sticking around so I didn’t go on one. If Dad were with me, we’d go together for sure. He’d probably make mischief. Can’t take him to Red Lobster without him sticking his hand in the tank!

I tried on some hats to further confirm that I don’t really look good in hats, then I set off.

The road from Memphis to Nashville is SO BORING OH MY GOD. It’s beautiful for about 30 minutes, but then it becomes the same kind of beautiful for 3 more hours. Nice lush plump trees and a road gently curving around and up and down. But just on and on. And since I took the Interstate, I didn’t get to go through any cute little towns. Or any hollow shells of towns. Basically anything of interest. I went through a storm, and pulled into a rest stop to wait a bit for it to pass. Nashville had heinous traffic, and at that point in the day with all the driving I just couldn’t be bothered to navigate it just to walk around downtown for an hour or two, so I grabbed a smoothie and Jamba Juice, sat for a bit, then hit the road. It was a nightmare to get out, just so much poorly orchestrated traffic, but eventually I did and I was into Kentucky in no time at all! 15 states down. I’ll be in Kentucky for a while because: 1) there is a National Park here 2) there is a State Park named Big Bone Lick and 3) my friend Dee lives here and I can crash at their place in Lexington, though they don’t have time off work till Saturday so I’ll do the park thing first, then show up at their place all smelly like.

But yeah, this rest stop is nice. Has a place to sit and wall outlets. I’m charging my camera batteries. There isn’t wifi though, and no cell reception. Oh well, can’t have it all.

Last night, in the stormy nightmare of Mississippi, I was thinking about how big events in my life are only big upon later reflection and contextualization. There are a few “dang this is big” events that I know are big as they are happening, but largely it’s the things that I don’t think much about that come to have meaning later. Such as Carmen telling me about this band she is forming while at Grandma Marilyn’s memorial service. Anyway. Trying to get some shut eye in a car that is being pounded by a thunderstorm is something that could be described at length in sort of that on the road journey type romanticism, but in the moment I was just like, uhg, sleep please. So I don’t really feel like I’m being affected by this journey, but I think once I am done and go on to the next chapter, I’ll see the changes. Myrtle told me that she thought I was brave and that she wouldn’t be able to do it. And Shayla, one of the girls from New Jersey, said she was too high maintenance to sleep in her car like I was. I don’t really consider myself brave, I just think of myself as someone who does stuff that needs to get done. And things need to get done for various reasons. For mental health, for peace of home, for adventure, for whatever.

I remember also when I came back from Japan, I was all about being someone that had been to Japan. Then years later I would mention it, in college say, and people would go, “you’ve been to Japan?” So I wonder how long will I be “hey, I drove across America to all these state” person.

5/29/2014 7:30 am a Subway in Munfordville, Kentucky

One of the rest stop workers, who were always present and I wonder if they have people there on 24/7 shifts, advised me to take a coupon book. I opted to use the buy one get one free Subway sandwich coupon, as that would give me something to eat later in the day. I had a pretty good night sleep, in rest stop sleeping terms. I adjusted the way I sleep back to reclining in my chair. No rain, no storm. It looks like it’ll be a beautiful day. I’m going to try and find a beverage with some pep in it in Munfordville and then continue on to Mammoth Caves Nationa Park! There is a lot to do in Kentucky, and it isn’t a gigantic state. I keep forgetting that the states in my Atlas are not to the same scale, so getting a hang of the different distances within each place is something I need to readjust. I need to factor in a bourbon distillery visit into my planning, but that is just a matter of figuring out which one intersects best with my driving.

All that rain has really cleaned my car.

11:39 pm Dee’s apartment

Wow! Kentucky is not a big state and is pretty easy to pop around. From Subway I went to Mammoth Caves National Park. A free to visit, pay to go on a tour national park. I went for the 9 pm tour, and there were oodles of people. The cave systems were not the beautiful caves of Carlsbad, but more the worn out and mined caves of… well caves. Still, it was fun to walk through the systems. And there were a few tight squeezes. Two hours in total, though I spent about as long in Carlsbad and saw so much more that made me go ooooohh, and I wasn’t even timed on a tour for that. Anyway, it was nice but I’m in no hurry to go back. I drove on to Bardstown and at the Heaven Hill distillery I realized I was in another time zone! One that Mammoth Cave does not pay attention to. So I’ve lost an hour. I went on a mini little tour thingy, which was a video, a little talk, and a little tasting. So I got to taste a smidge of fancy Evan Williams and I got a bourbon chocolate. I’m a fan of bourbon so it’s nice to be in a place where there are oodles of distilleries. It’s even called the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail”. It’s my Napa Valley! I drove on to the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was way out on winding road that several times made me think I’d gone a wrong way. Also the backroads of Kentucky lack pull outs and shoulders and just generally places to stop and check maps (my phone was refusing to find a signal). But I made it there in time to take the freebie mini tour, and we were allowed to stick our fingers in the yeast vats and try the stuff. It wasn’t alcoholic or tasting really like whiskey, it was more just textured yeasty…stuff. Still, the room smelt good as a whole.

I had a helluva time getting back to 61. So many backroads that are ambiguously named and directioned. Did I mention the lack of pull outs and shoulders? But I did get back to 61, and then towards Louisville, which I skipped to head north to Big Bone Lick State Park. Ha, such a funny name! And only an hour and a half from where I finally picked up GPS (in Elizabethtown I believe). But the camp site was $23 a night!! Way too expensive for a tent camper. So I was about to find another rest stop (which were nearby unlike in other states) but then I found out my friend Dee isn’t working tomorrow and I could stay at their apartment in Lexington tonight! YAY! And it was only an hour drive down, so extra booyah. So I headed on down and got their at around 10.

It’s so awesome to have a friend to stay with, and to meet someone in person who has been a pen pal type friend for years! And to have conversation flow perfectly with no awkward like “hey nice to see you in person” type conversation. We traded stickers! And they have tomorrow off from work, so we’ll go do something fun. There is a distillery in Lexington.

Oh! The street signs in Lexington, well some of them, are illuminated! The ones on main streets. It’s so legible. Santa Cruz could learn a thing or two.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

rabbit rabbit

So my time in New Orleans has been a bit of a wash. Spent most of it in my hotel due a combo of being hungover from Sunday and the air quality just getting to me something fierce. I don't know if it's just extra muggy, or something swampy is coming in, but the wafts of cigarette smoke I keep walking through are particularly bad. I think smoking is largely being phased out on the west coast, with all the distance laws, and very few of my friends are smokers, so being around a TON of smoke. Uhg.

So while I'd like to visit Roswell and Oklahoma City and Austin and Kansas City again, and camp some more in Missouri. I don't think I'll be in much of a hurry for New Orleans. I'm not into music enough to really get enthused about the venues and live music (which applies a bit towards Austin as well). Movies and art are the main attractors for me, when it comes to cities. Give me good theaters and awesome museums and nature. Oh and clean air. So it's like, visiting an awesome city is awesome but if there is nothing in it that is immediately I MUST SEE THIS, then it's really wasted on me.

But I did have some fun! On Sunday, I set out to Coop's to get the rabbit jambalaya which Garth recommended. It was nearby, which was awesome. There was a line at the restaurant, but I asked the dude working the door, "hey, what's the wait if you are just by yourself?" and he said "there is room at the bar" and he opened to door for me. Points for travelling by yourself!

So I got my jambalaya, which was amazing. It has everything in it, and rabbit is surprisingly tasty! The ladies next to me at Coop's were Kathrine and Shayla (I believe) and they were from New Jersey. They were spirited and awesome and they bought me drinks! Which is why I was hung over. Haha.

But yeah, they bought me a drink and this dude from across the bar bought us all drinks. And he tried to follow us to Cats Meow, a two story karaoke place, but we linked arms and ditched him in the crowd. Cats Meow was a melee. So many people drinking on a Sunday night! But it was a fun spectacle. Large crowds of people doing karaoke on a stage with back up dancers. Everyone was friendly. But I burned too bright too fast, and opted to return to my hotel while the going was good. I had put in the hotel in my GPS as a favorite, so it was easy to just pull it up and follow the instructions. Though I hadn't left the French Quarter so it was a short walk along crowded streets.

But oh I paid for it. I got out for a bit in the morning and got some beignets. But the open air and the smoking crowds at the cafe made me nauseous, so I returned to the hotel where the air was fresh and cooled. And I spent time just in my room, watching TV, hydrating, and slowly munching my way through beignets and carrots.

The first time I had a beignet was in Kyoto. I had some awesome ones at Brenda's in San Francisco.

In the late afternoon, I set out and walked around the city for a bit. A lot of establishments were closed due to it being Memorial Day, which was a bummer. Bars were open, but I wasn't about to make a repeat. So yeah, I just walked around. Lots of statues in New Orleans. It's a nice city, but oh the air got to me. I'd visit again, but maybe when I have more plans about what to do. I sort of just showed up without Googling activities, so I had no plans besides "being there". With Oklahoma City, I at least googled museums.

But it was nice to have a bed and shower and quiet for a couple nights. Almost been on the road four weeks now! Dang!

I could have later check out, but I kinda wanna hit the road. I've got my rest, I'm feeling better.

Sorry that New Orleans isn't a more exciting report. But I am getting a sense about what I want in a place to live.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

south into the bayou

5/20/2014 10:15pm a rest stop right after Boonville, Missouri

I’ve finally figured out the best way to sleep in my car: I drape a pillow over the arm rest and drape my legs over that, so my feet are on the passenger’s seat. Then I have a pillow against the driver’s side door, so I am sleeping sorta sitting up, but it’s also slightly reclined. And the eye mask is wonderful. So I’m sitting like that right now at the rest stop. Hopefully I can get a good night sleep and not be bugged by a squirrel in my car. No sign of him, but it wasn’t a big rodent. Tomorrow I’ll drive into Columbia and get my oil changed. Then I’ll figure out what I want to do in Missouri. St. Louis? Mark Twain National Forest camping? There are options. I could do with some more camping. Two days in some state park that hopefully has a shower…

Anyway! Kansas City! Is a pretty cool city. It has a lot going on in lots of different areas, and woah is it warm. Also: heads up if you are visiting, lots of things are closed on Monday. And Tuesday. The main museum was closed today, but not the contemporary art museum. The Kemper. Kempler. The… that one. It had hammocks outside, and I took a late afternoon nap in one. Not a long nap, thankfully. I wasn’t burned. Interesting art installation to have: hammocks. I say more museums should have them. It’s a good feature. The museum had free admission, which was nice. Not a big museum. I saw some great Thiebaud etchings. I really liked Paula Rego’s Recreation. I found it odd that one of their pieces, the medium was described as “silkscreen ink”. Uhm… There are many kinds of ink that go through screens. Which one is it? Acrylic? Feh.

There was a Jamie Wyeth painting with a whole bunch of whale bones. Interesting bit of repetition in this trip, as there were actual whale bones at the last museum I visited.

My first stop in Kansas City wasn’t the museum, but Hammerpress. The letterpress studio where Karen interned years ago. I didn’t name drop her, I just procured a few cards and looked at all the nice letterpress stuff they had. The guy working the shop recommended I go to “Little Freshie” for a snow cone, which I did! I got the pear green tea cone and it was delicious. I ate it and read a bit of the Hockney biography. I wandered around that area for a bit, then drove on to the museums. I was suspicious of how easy it was to find parking wherever I went. Suspicious in that “can I really park here for free for under 3 hours?” way or the “is this actually a permit area and I’m going to get a ticket?” way or the “is this really a parking lane or are the other cars on the street delusional?” way. But no tickets!

After the museum (and hammock nap) I went to YJ’s Snackbar, at Karen’s suggestion. The dinner special was an hour and a half away, so I got an iced coffee and let my brain solidify after being melted in the heat. I read, I drew, I talked to one of the fellas in the café. It was a great hole in the wall, three tables inside with lots of flotsam on the wall type place. Very charming. The dinner special was a soul food plate: pork, muffin, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, collared greens I think, rice with sausage. It was the perfect size to consume as well, and I gobbled it up! So good! I highly recommend YJ’s if you are ever in Kansas City.

Once my tummy settled, I hit the road. I opted to continue east on 70, as I was unsure if I wanted to go to St Louis or head down, but both would be options. And Columbia is a major intersection on the Interstates so I’ll figure it all out tomorrow. Once I get my oil changed.

And I should probably wash the bugs off the front of my car. There is starting to be a build up…

5/22/2014 Table Rock State Park, Missouri

Oh man, that night after writing that blog post! What a show. So that mouse (not a squirrel) was STILL IN MY CAR! It started scurrying about at 11 pm. I set out a bag with some candy in it, hoping it would go in the bag and I could snatch the bag and take it outside and release it far, far away from my car. But it didn’t take the bait. It continued scurrying about. I tried to lunge for it with a towel when it was on my dashboard, but no luck. Then I remembered: Walmart. Most are always open, and when I googled it, there was one 8 minutes away! So at 2:30am, I entered in my jammies, looking frazzled and tired and headed for the kill aisle. Traps! Poison! Hurray! I got some snap traps and set them with peanut butter and set them under my seat and on the dash board. And I waited… and the mouse didn’t go for them! I added some Ritz to the traps and set them both in the back, and the mouse did go for it! And I sat in my seat, still and eagerly awaiting the sound of the snap. But it never came. The mouse wasn’t setting off the traps! It just got the snack and … didn’t die! So I returned to Walmart and bought glue traps, because if it was too small to set off a trap, it should be small enough to get stuck in glue. When I returned to my car, the mouse was on my dash and quickly vanished into the steering column!! If it nibbled some wires that I need, I’m going to be so pissed (and hopefully not in a car accident). So I set a trap on the dash, two in the back, and one on the floor. The sun was starting to come up at this point, but I did get some sleep. And I was woken by the sounds of struggle from the floor glue trap. There it was! Caught! I grabbed a bag and quickly put the trap & mouse in the bag and poured out my water bottle into the bag, drowning the mouse and putting it out of its misery. I know there is a way to release a mouse from a glue trap using vegetable oil, but I didn’t want to buy yet another thing and at the end of the day: it was vermin. It wasn’t a lost animal that found its way into my car. It was a pest, it was getting into my dashboard, it would just find somewhere else to scavenge. It wouldn’t go “into the wild”. So I don’t feel bad about killing it.
At 7:30ish I wandered back into Walmart, changed, got a victory doughnut, and drove to Jiffy Lube. I got my oil changed and the Jiffy Lube manager told me that Table Rock State Park is a great park, so that is where I went! Though it was slow going. I had to stop and rest my eyes pretty often. Never got a full nap, but little bits here and there. It’s rough driving on just a few hours of sleep. And I wasn’t about to pump myself full of caffeine for, what, 4 hours of driving? I could take my time. And even taking my time, I still arrived with plenty of daylight.

Branson, Missouri is an interesting town to drive through. All the attractions seem to be family oriented, and run by families. Lots of team shows. Like a PG Vegas, but with no one I’ve ever heard of. I got a chocolate crème pie at a 50s diner and that was a nice cool treat. I drank a bunch of ice water too. Hydration is important! It was a short drive to the park, and there I got a site, returned to Branson and got a 5 dollar Subway footlong for dinner and breakfast, and got back to my site. Set up my tent. Had a lengthy, cherished shower, and then ate half my sandwich, worked on my scrap book and journal, then went to sleep right as the sun went down.

And oh did I sleep. It was warm, not windy or rainy, and just all around wonderful. I woke up 7ish and then just let myself nod back asleep. I’ll take my sleep when I can get it.

I showered once again in the morning, and had the other half of my sandwich. I think I’ll go find another State Park in Missouri, camp there, and then go down into Arkansas tomorrow. But first I need to restock my food: bread, PB&J, apples, carrots. Need em! This isn’t a big state, so it’ll probably be only (only!) 3 hours of driving.

3-4 hours: easy no problem, 4-6: oi this’ll take a while, 6+: well, I’ll just plan a day to drive towards there and find a rest stop.

5/25/2014 Suds n Stuff Laundry, Alexandria, Louisiana

Oops haven’t updated my blog in a while! I’m doing my laundry. I was running low on clean clothes, and due to how much I’ve been sweating I’m not about to rewear worn clothes. So I’m washing my clothes. I slept at a rest stop on I-20, and at just about 6 I set Alexandria into my GPS. But my GPS halted and I missed my exit, so I ended up taking much longer, but it was a beautiful scenic route. Just small roads winding through small towns with fluffy trees that I wish I could identify, and crops, and fields, and just beautiful scenery. Even a few herons. It was a great drive that reminded me of those accordion picturescapes, the way the trees came up in batches.

So I guess I left off at Table Rock. I got out of the campsite at the last minute allowed. I checked out the visitor’s center for the dam, and then decided that Lake Wappapello sounded great for camping. Catchy name. It was a nice drive across Missouri. It’s another surprisingly scenic state, but I guess being near the river creates for some lush landscapes. It isn’t dry like Texas and Kansas. It got dark. And then there was a lightning storm to my left. But that wasn’t wear I was going. It was just flashes far in the distance. I ended up pulling into a shop on the side of the road to ask them to show where I was on the map (GPS wasn’t getting satellite connectivity for whatever reason). Bless the shops that exist on roads that are not all the time traveled. The benefit of Interstates is the ubiquity of the same 5 shops, but they do become dull commonly tread vistas. I’ve been seeing lots of nice small towns, but more husks of towns with caved in buildings.

Anyway, I got into Lake Wappapello late at night, and got a spot for the night. The sounds of nature were so loud! Just insects going at it, and toads too probably. It was marshy and I swore to get some bug spray as soon as possible. No bug bites on this gal!

Noise aside, I did have a good rest. I got up early though, because in Missouri there is no self pay. Gotta pay the camp person. I like the self pay, because then you just put up a little ticket and people know you paid. Without it, there is the worry of some person bugging you to pay or maybe a fine for failure to pay! But just gotta play it camp by camp.

Wappapello was a boating lake, not really a swimming one. I prefer swimming. But I also like salt water. Fresh water lacks … substance.

Anyhoo. After Wappapello I went south on 67 towards Arkansas, and crossed the border in no time. My accent now absolutely singles me out.  67 goes diagonally down through Little Rock, then I swerved off to Hot Springs. No camping available at the nearest campground to the park, and the Hot Springs National Park is urban, not so much a park park. So it was in the downtown of the town of Hot Springs, and it was more buildings to visit than landscapes. I like the landscape parks. I decided to try Lake Ouachita State Park before deciding to sleep in my car, and there was a spot for the night! Spot 69, which was my spot at Wappapello as well. The tent site had a nice little platform, and it was in the woods. Really lovely park. I didn’t get one of the lakeview sites, but that’s okay. I came in at just under 13 minutes for tent set up. There was still plenty of daylight, so I went for a swim at one of the swimming spots. It was nice to get a bit of exercise after so much driving and driving.

I had a PB&J and showered and sat in my tent and read and had an early night sleep.

And an early morning due to my tire being flat! Someone left a note on my windshield, and also informed me when I crawled out of my tent in the morning. It was a full on obvious flat, so I doubt I would have missed it. But my camp neighbors came to my rescue! Thomas and William had my car jacked up and the spare tire on in less time than it took to unload my truck to get at the spare. I had rolled over a nail, which was thoroughly imbedded in the tire. Thankfully I bought road hazard insurance at Wal Mart! So all I had to do was drive to the nearest one and get it fixed for free. But seriously, William and Thomas (and Thomas’s daughter Alyssa who tended to the daddy long legs) were just great. How awesome to have helpful people like that around.

The Wal Mart was only 30 minutes away, by way of slower streets, and I got it repaired with nary a hitch, and then I was back up to Ouachita. I got my site packed up (blessedly, there was a 3pm check out) and I went down to Hot Springs. I got my journal stamped and did a little self tour of one of the historic bath houses, but to get an actual bath was thirty bucks! I’m not paying that to just get a bit of a soak. It was free at Big Bend! And that had better scenery.

I drove up to the Mountain Tower vista, then plugged in Monroe, Louisiana into my GPS and headed off. I crossed the border when there was still daylight. It was dark when I procured my bug repellant in Monroe, and 10 when I got to the rest stop. The weather is muggy, but not as hot, but muggy makes any heat worse.

So now it looks like my laundry has finished rolling in the dryer. Going to give it a feel. Might put in a few more quarters. One guy, Terry, commented that I look from out of town based on how I dress. If only he knew I never dress like I belonged anywhere. Haha.

5/25/2014 6:30 pm New Orleans, Louisiana

Got my laundry folded and filled up my tank and zoom I was outta there! I took the scenic route down 90, and it was lovely and scenic and warm. I treated my car to a car wash because it was getting a bit … dirty on the outside. And bug splattery. I finally, after 50+ dead ones on the road, saw a living walking armadillo! It was super cute. Hopefully it isn’t dead by the time I’m writing them. They don’t seem to have good odds.

Nothing too amazing happened on my way to New Orleans. Traffic only got dense when I was a minute from the hotel (which Dad cashed in some points for, thank you! I’ll enjoy having a bed and being able to walk around the French Quarter!). I checked in at 4:30ish. Unpacked way too much stuff from my car, but it would take longer to sort out 2 days worth of stuff than it would to just take half the stuff out of my car and lug it up. So my car is in valet, and I have two nights in New Orleans. I better get on that! I’m showered and ready to go. Garth recommended a place for po’boys, so I think that is dinner for me sorted. See you on the flip side!