The Journey, Season 1 Finale

Well, we left Wolf River RV resort on Wednesday morning. Our destination for the day was Jackson Mississippi. Our plan is to stop for the night in Jackson and join the Natchez Trace Parkway just north of Jackson and travel it up to its northern end over the following 2 days.

We travelled up I-49 from Gulfport to Jackson and stopped at the Walmart overnight. There was a lot of construction on I-49 as we entered Jackson and the road was pretty rough for a few miles. This Walmart was reasonably quiet later in the evening. In the morning (Thursday) we made a fuel stop at the Flying J nearby and then drove north to Ridgeway where we got on the Natchez Trace.

The Natchez Trace Parkway extends 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi north to Pasquo, Tennessee near Nashville. You’ve probably never heard of Pasquo before and neither had I. It’s just a four corners southwest of Nashville a short distance. It probably sits just outside of the City limits. The Trace is a two lane road that is “off limits” to transport trucks and commercial vehicles. That makes it a great road for RV’ers and cars and bicycles. It has limited access points along its route so once you’re away from any urban centres there isn’t very much traffic. In some parts you can go for miles without seeing any other vehicle. But it’s the scenery on it that people love. For its whole length it feels like you’re driving through a park. Lots of trees and rivers and fields. There are also many places to turn off the road to hike or take pictures. Rv’ers, though, need to use caution when turning off as many of the turnouts are not friendly to big rigs and anyone with a toad. We are pulling a car on a dolly so we had to have an easy off and on without having to backup. After a time on the highway and because traffic was light, we would just slow down at the turnouts and see if it would work for us or not. The speed limit on the Trace is 50 mph and it is enforced. We did see one car that sped past us pulled over by a state trooper a few miles down the road. For the most part though we didn’t see a lot of speeders. As you get closer to Nashville the speed limit actually decreases to 40 mph.

The last 25 miles or so of the Trace at the north end were very hilly and curvy so it was not really enjoyable for the driver. There was no time for me to look anywhere else except the road ahead. If we travel on the Trace again I would bypass this part. That being said, just a few miles from the end there is a bridge that you travel across that is elevated very high above the valley below and the view is fantastic.

Natchez Trace Bridge

So to back up a little: We drove from Jackson to Tupelo Mississippi on the first day of the Trace. There are some free campsites on the Trace in this area but they are very small and fill up quickly depending on the time of year. There are also some private campgrounds in the area as well but of course you had to pay there. So we decided to try something new…lol. We’ve never been to the Walmart in Tupelo so we went there. Perhaps you didn’t know but Tupelo is famous. This is where Elvis was born. His childhood home is still here and it is a tourist stop. We unfortunately didn’t visit. I was concerned about trying to park our rig there. Next time through we’ll have to see it.

This is a nice Walmart. Very large lot and there seemed to be a separate parking area just for RVs and Trucks. By early evening there were about 6 RVs parked in this area. But unfortunately for us we had a trucker pull in right beside us who had a reefer trailer and both the truck and the reefer ran all night. So, as much as we had a nice spot, I started up the MH and moved. We found another spot that was far enough away that we could only barely hear the noise. I felt for sorry for the other RV’ers who were left to listen to it all night. While I was out earlier I noticed a couple of the small Motorhomes that seemed to be travelling together. One was obviously a rental. They had parked with their doors facing each other. Unfortunately their Walmart boondocking etiquette left much to be desired. They had their jacks down and all slides out. They had their chairs out and were sitting around a campfire. Albeit it was one of those portable propane ones but that is an absolute no no. Walmart allows overnight RV parking in most of their store parking lots as a courtesy to travellers on the road, but it’s this type a behaviour that makes us all look bad. If we abuse the privilege like this we may lose it. It’s not a campground folks. If you want to sit around the campfire find yourself a site somewhere else!

So after we finished driving the trace on Friday we checked into a campground on the east side of Nashville for a couple nights. Our “go to” campground in the Nashville area is Two Rivers Campground which is situated near Opryland. There is a KOA park and a Yogi Bear park all close together in that area. We’ve stayed at Two Rivers twice in the past and it’s a great campground but it is a little pricey. I’m afraid I waited too long to try to get a reservation and they were full for the nights we wanted so we had to go with plan B. We stayed an I-24 campground and although a little cheaper than Two Rivers it just didn’t measure up. The sites were very close together and somewhat un-level. Many of the sites were quite short so space for big rigs is somewhat limited. The campground is currently being upgraded so it may improve in the near future, but as it was, it served our needs for a couple nights.

Elvis Sighting

Saturday, we toured the countryside around Nashville. We went through Franklin, Tenn. and it was extremely busy. They were having an Elvis tribute weekend with Elvis impersonators from around the country participating. We actually spotted Elvis in our campground in the morning before we left. We drove under the high bridge of the Natchez Trace that I have already mentioned. Then through Belle Meade and into Nashville.

We drove to the downtown area and parked, and then a short walk down to Broadway Street. We’ve only been downtown on week days before and weren’t expecting the crowds that we saw this day. It was almost wall to wall people. All the bars were packed and music was blaring out into the streets from all of them. We did walk around and stopped into a few shops. We always make a stop at Earnest Tubb’s record store and we stood in line to get into Jack’s Bar-b-que for lunch. We’ve had Jack’s before and so it was worth the wait. We both had the Bar-b-que brisket and it was gooo-oood (say that like Andy Griffith would it say it). Another walk around for a bit and we were done. We got in the car and drove through town to Music Row. This is the area where a lot of the music industry has their offices and studios. We just took a quick drive through and then we headed back to the campground.

The rain came that evening along with colder air. In the morning (Sunday) we packed up and headed north into Kentucky, skirted around Louisville and east on I-71 toward Cincinnati. We stopped at a Walmart in Carrollton for the night. Monday morning we drove east to I-75 and then south about 20 minutes to see The ARK Encounter. This is located just north of Williamstown. If you’ve never heard of this place, it’s a full size Noah’s Ark. The builders tried to reproduce the Ark to the size given in the Genesis account of the flood. The Ark measures 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. Until you stand next to this thing it’s hard to conceptualize how big it really was. This boat was monstrous. Inside it has 3 decks and there are areas with examples of what the animal habitat may have been like as well as accommodations for Noah and his family. It really is an interesting place. There are many displays inside that address many questions that people may have about this period in history and the story of Noah and his family. If you go, give yourself lots of time. We spent a little over 3 hours there and we felt a little rushed.

We had planned to be back on the road a little earlier but after a quick lunch we continued north on I-75 through Cincinnati and Dayton with our destination being Arrowhead Lakes Resort in Wapakoneta, Ohio. We arrived later than planned but we were met at the gate by our friend Bill Richards. We connected with Bill and Patsy earlier after we discovered we were so close to each other. Arrowhead is a membership park but Bill and Patsy were able to make reservations for us as their guests through Coast to Coast. It was so nice to meet up again. Rob and Pat Aljoe were here too so it was nice to meet up with them again also. We last saw the 4 of them in Yuma at the end of February. One last get together before we all arrive home in the next week or so. The 6 of us got together on Tuesday evening for one last extended Happy Hour. We always have lots of conversation and lots of laughter when we’re together.

Home

Wednesday morning we left Bill and Patsy and Rob and Pat at Arrowhead and began our last driving day back to Ingersoll. I think it took us about 5 hours to get home and we rolled into Ingersoll and our driveway a little after 4 PM. Within just a few minutes our neighbour Norm came over to welcome us home and shortly thereafter our son Josh stopped by. We have a few really great neighbours and Norm faithfully kept an eye on the house and checked it fairly regularly to make sure everything was in order. Josh also stopped in every few days to check on the place and pick up our mail. It sure made it easy to be away in the south for the winter. It was good to see Josh. Even though we chatted on occasion and did some Facetime with Josh and the boys it’s not the same as seeing someone in person. We are looking forward to seeing our Grandsons Aden, Ethan and Seth on the weekend. Josh and the family are going to come over on Saturday or Sunday.

Supper out At Chuck’s Roadhouse in Ingersoll

Well, we’re home. That concludes this years’ Odyssey. I could call this adventure “There and Back Again” but I think Bilbo Baggins already used that title. We had a fantastic adventure nevertheless. We drove many miles, met lots of people, experienced lots of new things and saw lots of new places. We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to take to the road, and now that I’ve retired at least we have begun the adventure. The Journey has begun. Kim has put a sign in the Motorhome that says “It’s Good to be Lost in the Right Direction”. I like that. Thanks for sharing our Journey with us. I’ll periodically be posting blog updates throughout the summer (by now you know how regularly to expect them). We look forward to many things throughout the Summer. Our calendar is already beginning to fill. And not least of all will be seeing many of our Winter friends here and there this summer. Have a wonderful season in the North and, God willing, we’ll all meet again next year in the southwest desert.

The South Coast, New Orleans and New Friends

So I’m way behind in my blogging.  I’ll try to bring things a little more up to date with this blog and then I’ll maybe catch up on the next one.

When I last posted we were arriving at Wolf River RV park in Pass Christian, Mississippi.  Thursday was a bit of a relaxing day.  After lunch we drove to the beach at Long Beach.  That is just a little east of Pass Christian.  US 90 travels all along the coast from where we are to Biloxi to the east.  The beach on one side and homes and businesses on the other.  It’s interesting to see all of the newer construction (especially homes) being built on stilts.  After hurricane Katrina went through many of the buildings were destroyed.  If not by the winds, the storm surge was so strong and high it knocked over most everything.  There are still some older homes that withstood that storm, but most of them were on raised areas.  There are some beautiful homes all along the coast.  We stopped at a beach near Gulfport and Kim and I walked the beach for a while to do a little beach-combing.  It was a beautiful day and the wind was from the north so the water was very calm.  Kim managed to find a few things but there was no beach glass to be had.  If you are in this area at some point be sure to spend some time along the shore.

We decided to venture into New Orleans on Friday, so we headed out relatively early.  It took about an hour to drive into the city.  The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way in.  Parking is at a premium in the city, especially near the French Quarter, and that is where we were headed.  I had tried to read up on the parking ahead of time so I knew approximately where to go.  We found parking along the river within a relatively short walking distance to the quarter and parked in a compact car spot.  We made sure we weren’t hanging over the lines designating the short space.  If you decide to park close to the Quarter be prepared to pay quite a bit for parking.  It cost us $35 to park for 3 hrs.  If you go over your time or you are parked in a no parking zone there are many parking attendants who are quick to give you a ticket. Your ticket will include a boot being applied to one of your wheels.  They don’t seem to tow vehicles very much.  But the boot is a quick money grab for them.  To have the boot removed you must call a number on your ticket and they will remove it for $98.  When we arrived back at our car we had about 10 min left and there was an attendant busily issuing tickets and putting boots on wheels.  We heard him on his radio letting his people know he had just placed 17 boots on in our little area alone.  There were going to be a lot of unhappy people when they returned to their cars.  A full sized pickup was parked next to us and his was also a compact car space.  I noticed his boot was on.  So if you park in New Orleans be aware of the parking police.  There are some alternatives.  There are parking areas further away where you can leave your vehicles and take transit in to the city but of course they are a little less convenient.

So enough about parking.  We toured around the French Quarter for our time there.  It was a Friday but it was very crowded.  On the main streets it was wall to wall people.  We walked along Decatur St. which is the street that runs close to the River.  There are lots of shops along here as well as restaurants.  This is also where you will find Cafe du Monde which is popular for its Beignets.  We wanted to try some of them but there was a long line of people waiting to get in so we passed it by.  We walked along some of the side streets and checked out the buildings.  There are some really nice historic buildings in the Quarter.  Many with balconies overhanging the streets.  We also walked along the famous Bourbon St.  This is mostly all bars with a few eating places as well.  I know this is a popular area for visitors to New Orleans, but we found it very unsavoury, dirty and smelly.  Once down the street and we were done. 

There is a parklike area in the Quarter called Jackson Square and there were lots of artists displaying their wares and also some buskers.  Right next to the square is a Tobasco Country store and we did go in to look around and buy a few items including some Tobasco Louisiana Steak Sauce for our friend George Yates.  There was a jazz band playing near the square that was very good.  It looked like it might have been a family group.  There was a Sax, Trombone, Tuba and Drums.  They played real dixeland jazz and they were good. 

Before we left the quarter we did manage to try some beignets.  We went to Cafe Beignet..  The line at Cafe du Monde was still very long.  The line at Cafe Beignets was much shorter but it still took 45 minutes to get in and sit down.  Beignets are a square donut-like pastry covered in powdered sugar.  They were good but not what I was expecting.  Our parking time was just about up so we went back to the car and headed over to the Garden District.  Our impression of the French Quarter when leaving was a little meh.  Not real impressed.  We’re glad we went and saw it and some of it was nice, but overall it didn’t live up to all the hype.

The Garden District is fairly close to the French Quarter and is known for the large old homes that line the streets.  We had a walking tour map that we got at the visitor centre in the Quarter and so we toured around the neighbourhood on foot.  In the centre of the Garden District is an old cemetery that is surrounded by a high wall.  As were arrived they were closing the gates for the day so we didn’t get a chance to walk around in the cemetery.  I took a couple photos through the gate.  The cemetery is filled with large family crypts.  These are very old and this cemetery was used by the former affluent residents of the district.  The homes in this area are beautiful.  This is a must see in New Orleans.  There are many different architectural styles and they are all very unique.  Very Nice.  We spent about an hour and a half in the area.  Oh and the parking here is on the street and its free for 2 hours.

So that was our day in New Orleans.  I had hoped to see the ninth ward which is where the brunt of the damage from the levees breaking during Katrina was felt.  But we had run out of time, so maybe if we’re here again we will see that.

We met a couple here in the RV park one afternoon.  Brad and Shelley were their names.  They stopped by one afternoon and we chatted together for quite a while.  They are from the Gulfport area and live in their 5th wheel full time.  They stay here in this park in the winter and then head north in the summer when it gets very hot here in the south.  They returned a little later in the afternoon and invited us on the back of their golf cart for a little ride along the river.  It was a short ride back to an area with a small beach where people like to have campfires and such.  During our conversations Kim asked them where the good local places are to eat and they gave us some suggestions.  Its always nice to ask local people where they like to eat cause you know they are the good places.  They actually invited us with them for lunch the next day at a small local restaurant.  We went to Martha’s with them.  It’s only open for lunch during the week and lunch and dinner on the weekends. Each day they have a different special.  Today the special was Red Beans and Rice.  Kim loves red beans and rice.  The restaurant was fairly small but large enough for probably 40 people or so.  It was almost packed.  And we were probably the only non locals there.  Martha’s probably doesn’t show up on search engines like yelp or trip advisor.  But the food was great.  Kim had the rice and beans and I was unadventurous and had a BLT with fries.  There are a fair number of choices on their menu with some southern dishes in the mix.  Probably one of the best places we’ve eaten at on this trip.  Thanks Brad and Shelley for inviting us.  We spent another evening with Brad and Shelley around their campfire.  Southern hospitality at its best.

We went to the beach a couple more times during the week but none of the other days was as nice as the first.  The winds were blowing in from the gulf and the water was rougher and the winds stronger. We did stop at the Visitor’s Centre near the Lighthouse in Biloxi. This place is very nice. There is a display inside that gives some history of the area and talks about the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. It is well put together and worth seeing. When we entered the Visitor’s Centre we signed the guest register and listed our home city. As were walking around inside a fellow walked past me and I said “Hi” like I normally do. A few minutes later he walked past again and said… “Are you from Ingersoll?” He told me that when he signed the register he noticed our names from Ingersoll and when he walked by and I said “Hi” he knew that I was probably the one from Ingersoll. He said no one around here says “Hi” like that. LOL. This guy was from Otterville, Ontario about 20 minutes from Ingersoll.

Of course we couldn’t leave the area without going out for a catfish dinner one more time.  As we did on the way west back in January, we went to Jenny’s Catfish restaurant in Ocean Springs, east of Biloxi.  Kim had catfish and this time I had the Southern Fried Chicken.  Both were excellent.  The portions were quite large so we had leftovers to take with us.

Hope you enjoyed this belated post. I’ll try to bring it up to date on the next installment.