Thursday, January 30, 2014

The star on the mountain


El Paso, TX – We are a stone’s throw from Mexico in this far-west Texan city, and less than 50 miles from New Mexico.  As we approached the city, we caught glimpses of the Rio Grande, the great river that defines the entire southwestern outline of the Lone Star state, separating El Paso from a twin city on the other side known as Ciudad Juarez.

Tonight, after supper, we went out in search of a car wash for the Honda. There was a fiery sunset as we left, and by the time we headed back, it was dark. Our route back to the RV park was on a downward slope.  Before us, the whole city was spread out, with its sparkling lights and the dark Franklin Mountains as a backdrop. It was beautiful!

There is a huge star, 459 feet high, on the south side of the mountain, that is lit up every night from six till midnight.  People in the city can pay $50 to light the star for a special occasion or as a memorial to a loved one, and their gesture is announced in the daily paper. It sounds like a lovely idea, and I looked hard to see if the star was visible from our vantage point, but it wasn’t.

The name El Paso refers to an ancient pass through the mile-high peaks next to the city.  It dates back to Spanish settlements in 1598 and missions that were built here some years after that.  When the first settlers came through the pass and crossed the Rio Grande, they celebrated a feast of thanksgiving, on April 20, 1598.  El Pasoans mark the event every year, and claim it as America’s first thanksgiving, before the one held by the pilgrims in 1621.

The steady hum of traffic on the Interstate will be our lullaby tonight.  It’s hard to tell, when booking an RV site, what the environs will be, so we always have earplugs at the ready.  The trade-off is that we won’t have a long trip to the attractions we want to visit.

We covered about 240 miles today – our usual distance for one day.  It was pretty remote for a lot of the time, with vast stretches of desert terrain, studded with scrub brush and cacti, and with tumbleweed from time to time.  In the distance were several mountain ranges and mesas, and the dry ground was grooved with dried river beds that they call draws.

For part of the morning, Val had to battle with heavy gusts of crosswinds on the highway.  With no warning, we would suddenly be shoved sideways by a wall of wind!  We watched the big transport trucks struggling with the same challenge.  It was always exciting when these surprises happened while in the passing lane next to a semi.  Fortunately, the wind died down later on in the day.

Our Texan guidebook gave short descriptions of the towns we passed, and details about their significance.  One grew from an old Spanish trade route, another still grows cantaloupes of extraordinary quality; one is near mines full of talc, sulfur and marble, another has America’s only courthouse made of adobe.  One claims to have had the first rodeo in 1883, in a town where the railroad first brought cowboys and lawmen to its saloons and gaming rooms.  Other towns, too small to merit a paragraph in the book, whizzed past in a puff of prairie dust. The romance of the open road!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where the deer and the antelope play

Fort Stockton, TX – The vastness of the Texas range was brought home today as we traveled from San Antonio to this small town.  It’s about halfway between San Antonio and El Paso at the extreme west side of the state, so it suited us well.  The RV park where we’re staying is described as an oasis, and after the desert-like terrain we crossed, it seems an apt term.

“It isn’t always this windy,” a sign in the park office says.  “Sometimes it blows harder!” The RV is gently rocking now with the wind, and that’s about as hard as we’d like.  We actually opened the door and windows after we got here, delighted to have a bit of warm weather for a change.  It looks like, for the first time in many nights, we won’t have to detach our water hose.

We were glad to get through San Antonio in one piece.  There was such a tangle of thruways going in all directions!  Once past the city, the countryside became very hilly, and we saw condos and expensive homes set up high where residents could take advantage of the view.  This region is called Hill Country, and there are some interesting caverns here that tour buses often visit from the city.

For most of today’s trip, we were in sporting country, where snowbirds and others come to enjoy the wide open spaces and pleasant climate (most of the time), and hunt for white-tail deer, wild turkeys and, when everything else eludes them, squirrels. I only caught a glimpse of two deer all day, if you don’t count the ones that lay motionless beside the highway.

Further west, we encountered the Chihuahuan Desert, a wide expanse of flat land, studded with mesquite trees and scrub plants, as well as prickly pear cactus and, in one small section, round balls of tumbleweed. Spiky agave plants sent up their single tall flower stem to quiver in the wind, which by now was blowing quite steadily.

Large flat mesas came into view, and on top of many of them stood armies of wind turbines, swinging their huge pointed arms round and round.  We also saw quite a few pumpjacks, nodding their large, horse-like heads up and down endlessly.

We passed the turnoff for a town called Iraan, and I looked it up in our Texas guidebook.  The name is a combination of Ira and Ann, owners of the town site.  It has two claims to fame; one is the Discovery Well A No.1, a gusher that, 50 years ago, sent a plume of black gold so high it sprayed a tent city four miles away.  It’s still one of the largest producing oil wells in North America.

The second claim to fame is that Alley-Oop, the comic-strip caveman, was created by V.T. Hamlin when he lived in Iraan.  A theme park, on Alley Oop Lane, commemorates this historic event.

We had supper at the Roadrunner Café, here at the RV park, where they serve BBQ pork ribs and chicken fried steak to hungry travelers.  There were quite a few who were drawn in by the aroma.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Land of the longhorn cow

San Antonio, TX – In the olden days, Texas was pretty well all open range, with sweeping prairies and endless trails, populated with coyotes and rabbits, cacti and wild grasses.  Not so much in modern day San Antonio, as we discovered today.

Sleet was predicted for San Antonio, so we didn’t venture out this morning onto slippery roads in unfamiliar territory. By noon it looked safe enough, so after lunch we decided to visit a couple of museums. With a predicted high of 40F and a stiff wind, indoor activity seemed appropriate.

We checked locations on Google Maps first, and then plugged in the address in the GPS.  In a perfect world, you can count on the GPS to take you where you need to go.  However, in San Antonio, LOTS of roads are under repair!  The positioning satellite doesn’t recognize those orange cones and detour signs, so when you ignore its instruction because the road is closed, the program doggedly tries to guide you back at every intersection for blocks after.

This provided us a tour of downtown San Antonio neighbourhoods which we otherwise would not have seen.  It also gave us opportunities to study maps of the area to figure out alternative routes. We enjoyed several more minutes of travel time to reach our destination.  And we built our character by having opportunities to learn patience.  So it was all very beneficial.

Our first stop was at the Institute of Texan Cultures, a large museum that was built as part of the HemisFair in 1968. Artifacts, photos and stories from more than 20 ethnic groups that settled in Texas from its earliest days are on display.  A section on archeology explains how American Indians lived before Europeans migrated here.  We followed the adaptation of immigrant groups to a Texan lifestyle, as well as milestones in civil rights and demonstrations of pioneer activities like spinning, weaving and quilting.

The trip from south of the downtown to north of it, for our second museum stop, went fairly well, so no character-building this time.  The South Texas Heritage Center is part of the Witte Museum, and its purpose is to highlight ranching, farming, the oil and gas industry, horse culture and life close to the Mexican border.  In the lobby of the center is the figure of a Mexican rancher, standing next to his wooden cart.  The figure has a blank face, and an overhead projector shines animated facial expressions onto it while it speaks to people as they pass by.  It looks very realistic!

With voices, pictures and artifacts, visitors can learn about life out on the range, differences between Mexican vaqueros and their Texan cowboy counterparts, various types of cattle brands, basketry and clothing, the importance of water and how it was collected, and the changes brought about by the invention of cars and the need for oil.  It gave us a full picture of this “wild and vivid land”, South Texas.

More battles with the GPS ensued after this visit, as we dodged orange cones and closed streets to reach our chosen restaurant for dinner.  It was easier to handle the thruway twists and turns back to the KOA after enjoying a good meal.  Especially as no part of the route home was under repair!

Monday, January 27, 2014

History and humour

San Antonio, TX – The wakeup call today was early, as we had booked a bus tour and were being picked up at the campground at 8:15.  We dressed in layers, but Val and I were both wishing we’d worn our winter jackets after a few hours in chilly and windy conditions.

After doing the rounds of pickups, David, our driver and guide, took us to the Alamo, a former Spanish mission where more than 200 Texans were killed by Mexicans in 1863 during the Texas Revolution. Among the dead were James Bowie (the Bowie knife is named after him) and David Crockett, of coonskin cap fame.

Our tour highlighted the diverse history of the area, where Japanese, Chinese, German, Polish and Czechoslovakian immigrants settled at various periods, not to mention the large Hispanic and Black communities who still live here.  We saw a beautiful sunken garden with koi ponds and pagodas, built in 1915 by the Japanese and taken over later on by Chinese owners. 

The River Walk was next on the tour.  The San Antonio River flows through the centre of town, where restaurants and businesses on its banks draw tourists and residents to enjoy its beautifully landscaped tributaries.  Tour boats glide along the water, piloted by guides wearing straw hats.  In the high season, musical groups serenade passers by, and café patrons sip drinks and enjoy Tex-Mex fare under brightly coloured umbrellas.  It was an enchanting part of the city.

At mid-day, David dropped us off near the Alamo to explore the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, a fascinating place where thousands of horns, antlers, hunting trophies and other stuffed creatures were on display.  There were chairs made of bulls’ horns, framed pictures formed by rattlesnakes’ rattles, a marine display of sharks and other fish, plus artifacts from the Texas Rangers, a believe-it-or-not section of weird specimens like shrunken heads and a display, including a bullet-riddled replica of the death car, about Bonnie and Clyde!

After lunch at the saloon, we walked back to the Alamo to explore the shrine and the restored Long Barracks, and see a short film about the siege and battle. We learned that an organization called the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, dating back to the 1800s, was responsible for the preservation and restoration of the grounds.  Their fund-raising, plus visitors’ donations, keep the site going without dependence on government support.

Our next stop was at the Mission San Juan, at the southern end of the city.  Missions sprang up all over the Texas territory when it was under Spanish rule as a means of settling the area.  Franciscan brothers welcomed native hunting-and-gathering groups to move inside the compound walls where they found protection from the elements and enemies, regular food that they learned to cultivate themselves, religious instruction, and a greater sense of community. Spain, in turn, established a stronger foothold in the region as they expanded their territory.  The Mission Concepcion, our last stop, features original painted frescoes, and continues to hold services to this day.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Heat at last!

San Antonio, TX – If you scroll back to the photo I posted just two days ago, you’ll see the visual opposite of what we enjoyed today.  It’s hard to believe we have gone from 20F to 78F in such a short time, but it sure feels good.  We are enjoying it while we can, because Tuesday’s high for San Antonio is forecast to hit only 37F!

We were on the Interstate 10 by 8:25 this morning, and it took us a full hour to get from Baytown, a suburb just east of Houston, to Katy, the equivalent burg on the western side.  Houston is one big, spread out city!  I marveled at the concrete loops and overpasses of thruways we had to negotiate before we finally got to the countryside.

As we headed west, we enjoyed the big sky Texas is known for, and by the end of the day I had seen almost the whole range of things you’d expect to see in Texas: fenced ranches, longhorn cattle, old-fashioned cowboy-type windmills, clumps of prickly-pear cactus, cowboy hats (for sale at the gas station where we stopped), hawks circling overhead. And that big, blue, cloudless sky!

Since it was Sunday the traffic was not too heavy, although we had our share of big transport trucks whizzing past.  When we stopped for lunch, we were delighted to step outside and stretch our legs without having to put on jackets first.

While we were at the rest stop, Val lifted the hood of the Honda and used his new battery tester to see how the charge was doing.  It had dropped a bit, so we let the car motor run while we ate lunch, and by the time we were done, the tester indicated we were back at full charge once again.  It was reassuring to know we had what we needed to ensure the battery doesn’t die on us again.

By a little past one o’clock, we were settled at our site here at the Alamo KOA in San Antonio.  It’s a very big park – 34 acres – and two of the young staff members are the grandchildren of the man who established the camp.  There are lots of trees around, and this afternoon we were serenaded by a cluster of large blackbirds that shrieked like banshees from the branches above us!  At first I couldn’t see them to figure out what they were, so I dug out the binoculars for a closer look.  Then I looked up “birds of south Texas” on the laptop and was amazed to see the huge number of beautiful birds that are native to this area.  These guys were just big, black and raucous, but I’ll be looking for those other ones.

For the first time this trip, we set out our lawn chairs on our little patio this afternoon and enjoyed a pleasant interlude, reading our books, in the great outdoors.  We’ve only driven 2,000 miles for this rare moment!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The high point of the day

Houston, TX – What a contrast from one day to the next!  This morning the sun was shining, and as the day progressed, it got warmer and warmer.  A perfect, fresh day for exploring Houston.

Our plan was to head first for the visitor center, and see about a guided tour of Houston.  It took us about half an hour to get to our destination. Once we located the building, we found a parking space, and headed toward the visitor center, housed in the old city hall.  When we got to the main door and pulled the handle, it was locked!  A security guard came to the door, but only to confirm that, despite the information in the tourist brochure, the center was not open today.

What to do? We walked around a bit, craning our necks at the tall skyscrapers around us, and the spacious city parks.  Very few people were in the downtown. Our guidebook described all kinds of museums and art galleries but without any addresses, to our amazement, so it was hard to know how close they might be.  We walked up to a theatre complex (mostly in search of a restroom, to be honest!) but its doors were also locked.

So, after stopping for a coffee (and restroom visit!), we decided to head back toward the RV park.  We’d been told about a monument not far from the park, so we thought we could take a look there anyway.

The return trip took a different route, so we did get to see a bit of the downtown and environs on our way.  For two or three miles before reaching it, we could see the obelisk of the San Jacinto Monument reaching high above the horizon.  The literature says it’s taller than the Washington Monument by 12 feet, and it’s the tallest memorial stone column in the world, built in 1936. Like the one in Washington, this has a large reflecting pool in front of it.  On the top is a huge stone five-pointed star, built in several dimensions so that it looks like a star from any angle.

The battle of San Jacinto is one we knew nothing about before today, but it was a pivotal event in the development of the United States of America.  “Texas Forever!” was the name of the movie presented in the monument’s theatre, describing how this territory, when under Mexican rule, actually welcomed American settlers to populate the area.  Later on, migration of American settlers became worrisome to the Mexican government and military efforts were mounted to turn them back.  The hostilities came to a head at this place, when 900 soldiers on the American side managed to overcome 1200 Mexican soldiers and seize the land for the US.  This victory paved the way for the acquisition of one third of the total territory of the US in the Mexican War that would ensue in later years, so it has been called one of the decisive battles of the world.

We got a terrific view of Houston from the top of the monument after the film, and learned about the men after whom the cities of Houston and Austin are named, as well as other details about the life and history of the region.  It definitely made up for our bad luck at the start of the day.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Houston, we have a problem!


Houston, TX – So, maybe we got it wrong somewhere, but I always thought being a snowbird meant you got away from the cold by heading south.  We’re not really finding it to be the case – not by a long shot!  It’s so cold here that one of the RV park staff, a resident Texan, suggested we go home and take our weather with us!  But with the nicest drawl.

Houston commuters had a nightmare this morning on the highways and byways.  Overnight rain hit below-freezing surfaces, especially those on overpasses in the region, and turned everything into a skating rink.  The local TV news stations devoted their entire morning segment to the havoc this caused, sending transport trucks into railings, cars into tailspins and tow truck owners into overtime.  Schools and businesses shut down for the day, and kids everywhere frolicked on icy hillsides using anything they could find for sleds.  University students discovered that laundry baskets were great for sliding, and some of them said they’d never seen snow before.

With no particular agenda, we decided it would be most prudent to stay put, but that didn’t mean we sat idle. To push back the cold radiating through the walls and floor of the RV, I dug out our little electric space heater. Not long after, because we had to run the furnace constantly all night, the propane finally gave out.  In order to refill the tank, we had to close everything up in the RV to travel the 50 feet to the filling tank – just as if we were preparing to drive 200 miles.  But before we could pull in the slides on the side and back of the RV, Val had to dig out our scraper and hack away at a quarter inch of ice that had been deposited on the exposed sides.  The mirrors were also coated in ice, so there was more scraping to be done there.

The person who normally pumps liquid propane at the RV park couldn’t get to work because of the ice storm, so the husband of one of the staff had to be briefed by phone on how to do it.  Another staff member who had seen it done went out with him to provide moral support.  I stood well back while the job was done!

Val had detached the hose once again last night to keep our pipes from freezing, but unlike the other times, it never got warm enough to re-attach it today, so we were without water.  The staff very kindly filled our kettle, jug and empty plastic milk bottle so we had something for brushing our teeth and making coffee.  Today’s hot shower in the main building was especially nice!  We didn’t even mind the construction mess around the restroom area, which is in the process of being renovated.

When sanity appeared to have returned to the roadways later this afternoon, we ventured out to do a bit of shopping and take in a movie nearby (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – a fast paced thriller with a rather thin story line).  Then we headed for a Cracker Barrel restaurant, at my insistence.  I was almost as interested in a good meal as I was to see the standard crackling fire that’s always blazing away in their big stone hearth. At last, an interlude of true warmth on a day that has provided very little of same!



Thursday, January 23, 2014

Spaced out!

Houston, TX – Today I finally learned how astronauts go to the bathroom in space. It’s a pretty important technique in a gravity-free environment! We also found out some other interesting details about living in outer space as we toured NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

When we first arrived, the parking lot was almost empty, because it was 20 minutes before opening time.  Soon after, we were boarding the first tour of the grounds by tram.  Our first stop was Mission Control, the very room where the world first heard “one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind” on the day of the first lunar landing.

Our guide, Neil (“no, not that Neil!” he joked) explained that the room-sized computer that processed all the data during the 1969 moon landing only had 5 megabytes of memory – enough to store only 10 of today’s digital photographs!  Messages to other offices were handwritten on pieces of paper that were rolled up into a cylinder and sent through a pneumatic tube.  It was staggering to realize how rudimentary the technology was and what huge risks the astronauts took to accomplish such a historic mission.

We saw the storage building that houses 800 pounds of lunar rocks, and stopped to look at the Saturn V rocket, with its huge cone-shaped thrusters, three stages, and manned capsule.

One of the most exciting stops was the building where scientists build mock-ups for the International Space Station (ISS).  From our catwalk above the working floor, we looked down on NASA staff as they worked with carpentry tools, sewing machines, laptops and a host of complex equipment to design prototypes of space station modules, robots, space suits and other items used in today’s space program.

Even though the space shuttle flew its last mission in 2011, there have been people in outer space continuously since then, traveling in the Soyuz space craft to link up with the ISS for six months at a stretch.  One of the most significant effects of life in outer space on the astronauts, besides muscle atrophy and reduction in heart size, is bone loss – and unlike those other effects, the loss is not reversed upon returning to earth.  This places a limit on the number of times a person can go on a space mission, depending on the individual degree of loss they experience.

Back in the main visitor building, we looked at exhibits, walked through space modules and listened to a presentation on living in outer space.  That’s where we found out that every drop of liquid (including sweat and urine) in the ISS is collected, purified and recycled as drinking water as well as for other uses.  Sometimes it’s better not to know everything!

Amazing photos of Mars wowed us in the presentation about future missions.  Robotic rovers on that planet that were supposed to work for 90 days are still sending data back after ten years!  Work is ongoing to send human beings to Mars by 2030 or so, and Gabe, our presenter, suggested that some young audience members might consider being participants. We did not rush to pick up applications!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Lone Star state

Houston, TX – It’s rather unnerving to be barreling along the interstate in completely strange territory, depending on directions from the GPS, only to hear it declare that you have arrived at your destination several miles sooner than expected, and halfway over a bridge where no RV park could possibly exist!

That’s what happened today, and we had to turn quickly to our backup information for the exit number and brief directions. Fortunately, we could actually see the RV park on the east-bound service road as we headed west to the exit point.  So we knew what to look for and approximately where it was.

Getting there was another story, with more chapters than are fit to be described here.  Suffice it to say, we got here in the end.  We are settled in Baytown, Texas, a suburb of Houston which we will use as a hub for our explorations here.

When we went to start the car at the end of our trip today, the battery was dead!  Our towing system requires us to put the car’s transmission in neutral to unlock the steering wheel, but this drains the battery.  We did quite a bit of driving around in Vicksburg, but somehow the charge was depleted anyway.  However, ever-resourceful Val brought a charger with us, so even as we speak, the problem is being resolved. He brought a tester too, but it died on us. With a properly functioning tester, we’ll be able to monitor this more closely.  It’s on our shopping list for tomorrow.

It was a chilly morning when we set out from Baton Rouge today, but the skies were clear and our route was pretty straightforward, once we got through the city.  As we crossed the high bridge over the Mississippi River on the east side of the city, I could look back and see a lot of heavy industrial activity, with smokestacks, huge storage tanks, and great tangles of transformer lines and towers.

Once we were in the countryside again, we rose up on an elevated section of highway through long tracts of swamp that continued for miles.  The vegetation was unlike anything you’d see in Canada, with stands of tupelo growing up out of the water with trunks looking like the grey legs of an elephant and spindly tops festooned with Spanish moss.

The Gulf of Mexico was only about 30 miles south of us, but we couldn’t really see any evidence of it, except for the wetlands.  By lunchtime, we’d made it past the state line between Louisiana and Texas, defined by the Sabine River.  Shortly afterward, we stopped at the Texas welcome center, marked by a huge lone star beside the highway, to find out about the places we’ll be passing through.

A raised boardwalk out the back door of the welcome center gave us a glimpse of swamp life up close.  We could look right down into the muddy ooze below and wonder how the alligators and snapping turtles could find a pathway through the tangle of rushes and reeds.  It was nice to be outdoors without jackets, thanks to the warm sun at last! We’re enjoying it while we’ve got it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Locusts and red sticks

Baton Rouge, LA – Palm trees are lining the terrace around the swimming pool at the KOA campground we’re staying in tonight in Denham Springs, on the outskirts of Baton Rouge.  They are one of the first real signs that we’re actually in the south – and earlier today we saw the first wisps of Spanish moss on some of the trees along the Natchez Trace – another sure sign.

In terms of temperatures, it’s not exactly balmy even yet. Under normal circumstances, it would be 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the day and 40 at night, but we’re seeing nighttime temperatures in the 20s.  That means we have to detach our water hose each night so our pipes don’t freeze, and run the furnace while we snuggle under our down-filled duvet.  But we’re not complaining!  There’s no snow!

Our journey today followed a kind of Z shape (that’s “zee” in these parts!).  We left Vicksburg, heading eastward toward Jackson, in order to take up the Natchez Trace Parkway once again.  The parkway took us southwest, ending just north of the Louisiana state line. At that point we took State Highway 61 to Baton Rouge, and to reach our campground, we had to head about seven miles east of the city along Interstate 12, completing the Z shape.

We thoroughly enjoyed the final 100 miles of the Trace Parkway, with its scenic surroundings, light traffic and excellent driving surface. Commercial traffic is not allowed, so we were surprised to see a transport truck pass us in a northerly direction not long after we started today’s trip.  There’s always somebody who wants to bend the rules.

Our lunchtime stop was at milepost 15.5 (Mile 1 is at the southern end; Mile 444 at Nashville where we started), where we visited the homestead at Mount Locust.  It’s the only structure left of all the stands (or inns) along the Trace, and it has been fully restored.  The homestead was just a home to begin with, but the constant flow of travelers stopping by for a meal and a place to spend the night soon necessitated the building of a four-room guest house so there wouldn’t be bodies bunked down on all the verandahs every night.  They called the guest quarters Sleepy Hollow.

Paulina Ferguson-Chamberlain was the lady of the house and after being widowed twice, she went on to run the homestead, a flourishing plantation and the guesthouse for many years on her own, with the help of her 11 children. She died at age 80 in 1849.

We were a bit sorry to finally come to the end of the parkway and rejoin state and interstate highways.  It was such a peaceful interlude in our travels which we will not forget for a long time.

When we stopped at the Louisiana state line welcome center, we asked the staff how Baton Rouge came to have that name. They couldn’t tell us!  So we did our own research, and learned that native tribes marked the limit of their territory with a red stick.  French explorer Sieur d’Iberville came to the region in 1699 and saw one such stick and used it to describe the spot.  Baton Rouge has borne that name ever since.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Soda pop and Dixie


Vicksburg, MS – One of the neatest parts about traveling is discovering the answer to questions you never really asked, but always wondered about.  Today we learned two such answers!

Our first visit of the morning was to the Museum of Coca-Cola History and Memorabilia. One of Vicksburg’s native sons got the bright idea, in 1894, of putting this new soda fountain confection into individual bottles so that people in the country didn’t have to drive into town for a taste.  Up to that moment, Coca-Cola – and any other soda fountain drink – was only available on tap.  Joseph A. Biedenharn changed the soft drink industry forever.

The first bottles our friend Joseph used were sealed with a plug with a metal rod looped through it.  When drawing on the loop, the stopper would come out with a popping sound.  And that, dear readers, is where the term “soda pop” first originated!  Isn’t that wonderful?

The museum had samples of that first bottle, as well as a number of other designs before the iconic “Mae West” shape came into use.  Wooden machinery for bottle-washing was also on display, as well as every ping-pong paddle, tray, lunch box, ashtray or other doo-dad with the famous logo that was ever made.  One of Joseph’s friends hand-lettered the first Coca-Cola logo, with its two swirling C’s, and it hasn’t changed from that day to this.

Joseph not only came up with a unique distribution idea, but he also insisted that advertising would be essential to keep the product going, despite the large public appetite.  Others said Coca-Cola would sell itself, but Joseph was ahead of his time.

Vicksburg has two scenic routes which bring tourists to all the main points of interest throughout the town, so we followed both.  We passed gracious antebellum mansions, railway yards, and less affluent parts of town.  We stopped to visit the Old Court House Museum, where a fascinating collection of items from the earliest times are on display, many donated by local families. Confederate President Jefferson Davis launched his political career from this building.

In one display case were examples of paper money, including bank notes from Louisiana printed in English on one side and in French on the other.  The ten-dollar note, on the French side, says “dix”, and in Mississippi, when the merchants would sail north from New Orleans, it was said they had their pockets full of “dixies”.  In time, the people and the region all acquired that name as well.  Something else I never knew and often wondered about!

We visited the cemeteries of Confederate and Union soldiers – where a total of 20,000 Civil War soldiers, known and unknown, have been laid to rest – more than in any other place in the US.  Next, we stopped at the Cedar Grove Mansion, a grand house built in 1840 which is used today as an inn and restaurant.  The self-guided tour gave glimpses of the genteel lifestyle of some of Vicksburg’s more affluent residents.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hallowed ground

Vicksburg, MS – The stained glass windows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, where I went to the early service today, depict beautiful scenes from the Bible, such as the story of the Good Samaritan, which was the one across from my pew.  Six of the windows were crafted by Tiffany’s of New York. But the most unusual display was along the church’s back wall, where those who died on both sides of the Civil War are honoured.  It’s the only known windows to bring Union and Confederate emblems and flags together.

Our tour today of the Vicksburg National Military Park filled us in on many of the dramatic events that took place here in the closing years of the Civil War.  We arranged for a guide, Morgan, to ride with us in our car through the winding roads of the park and explain what happened in the spring and summer of 1863.  Describing these events to tourists is Morgan’s avocation; in real life he’s an elementary school administrator.  He’s also writing a book and running a business of ghost tours among the city’s old haunts.  He certainly had a wealth of information to share with us!

Simple geography is one of the most important elements in the outcomes of the siege of Vicksburg.  The town is on a high point of land, with steep banks overlooking the Mississippi River to the west, and hills and deep ravines providing natural protection to the east.  Union troops spent months devising a variety of approaches, by river and overland, to take the city, while the Confederates fought long and hard to resist the attacks.  Citizens dug trenches and caves to escape bombardments through the night during the weeks-long siege until both sides had reached a state of exhaustion.

Thousands of soldiers died on both sides, and thousands who survived sustained terrible injuries, starvation and disease.  Brothers fought brothers; troops from one state were divided against each other in war but are memorialized today on either side of a single monument. There are more than 1,400 different monuments throughout the park, some the size of large gravestones, and others as big as buildings with heroic statues, marble columns and symbolic figures.

The names of 36,000 soldiers line the inner walls of the Illinois monument (shown here), the most ornate and largest in the park, some of whom died and some who lived.  It was staggering to see them all, each in raised brass letters about a quarter of an inch high, covering the high walls of a space the size of a gymnasium.

It was difficult for me to watch the 20-minute film at the visitor center, which described and re-enacted the battle and siege from the point of view of local citizens, footsoldiers and military leaders, without being brought to tears.  The depth of sorrow and pain and the amount of bloodshed that marked the United States’ formative years is difficult to comprehend.

We were able to lighten the mood later today when we went to Rowdy’s Family Catfish Shack for dinner, where we ate pond-raised fried catfish, black-eyed peas, and corn bread, followed by a dessert of Mississippi Mud Pie, probably the most sugar-dense confection I’ve ever ingested!  I’ve checked that one off my list permanently.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Traces of history

Vicksburg, MS – For the first time this trip, we actually propped the RV door open for some fresh air!  We hit 60 degrees today, with sunshine, and it sure felt good.  Of course, it has since dipped back, but we are taking it as a sign of warmth to come.

The majority of our travel today was along the Natchez Trace Parkway, with just 30 miles at the end on Interstate 20 to take us to the western edge of the state, about two thirds down from its northern state line.  Vicksburg sits on the shore of the Mississippi River, a city of 50,000 and the site of the largest Civil War cemetery in the country – some 17,000 graves of Union soldiers.

It was a gorgeous day for a leisurely trip along the parkway, with its rolling terrain, tall trees and small streams.  Not having to contend with commercial traffic meant we saw very few other travelers in either direction, and allowed us glimpses of deer, herons and even a turtle basking in the sun as we passed by.  The forest this time of year is a lot less lush than it will be in a couple of months, but we could see much further into it as a result.  When everything is in full leaf, the greenery is spectacular, though; we saw it in a short film about the Trace a couple of days ago.

At lunchtime we stopped at the French Camp, a site where a stand, or inn, was built in 1812.  It was converted into a school which has been running since 1822.  Today it’s run as a Christian academy for kids from troubled homes.  We didn’t see any students, but we strolled along the boardwalk to look at some of the historic wooden buildings on the site.  There was a little café serving soup and sandwiches, but we discovered it after we had already eaten in the RV, and we decided eating double meals would only be an occasional indulgence.

For several miles the Trace took us alongside the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, a large section of the Pearl River that sparkled in the sun. It was the most water we’d seen since Lake Ontario – if you don’t count all the stuff that fell out of the sky a few days ago.

Further down the road, we turned off to look at an ancient burial mound, built between 750 and 1,250 years ago.  The remains of some 41 people were located in the mound, buried in three different time periods, according to the historical plaque.  It was a beautifully peaceful spot.

Not long after, we left the Trace and joined the I-20 toward Vicksburg.  It was a bit windy to begin with, but we really felt the rush of wind with every transport truck that whizzed by!  And there were quite a few!  It made the miles along today’s pleasant country road all the sweeter by contrast.

Elvis has left the building

Friday, January 17, 2014
Tupelo, MS – In the mid-1930s there were probably lots of boys being raised by dirt-poor parents living on the wrong side of the tracks.  Only one became the biggest name in rock-n-roll, with revenues in the millions even years after his death.  Today we visited the humble two-room house where Elvis Presley was born, as well as the little wooden church where he sang and worshiped in his early years.

The house, with its bedroom and kitchen, still stands where it was built by Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father, with the help of his brother and father, using wood and nails and other materials bought with a $180 loan from Vernon’s boss.  In 1957 Elvis came back to his home town for a benefit concert, and he used the proceeds to buy the property around his little house to build a park for the less affluent children of Tupelo.

As a kid from the wrong side of town, the boy Elvis had no park or playground to play in with his friends, and when they tried to use the facilities in the fancier part of town, they were run off.  At age 21, Elvis thought it was time to make things right for the next generation of kids from his part of town.

This was one of the many stories we learned about the King of Rock-n-Roll as we strolled around the property.  In addition to the house, there is a large building that houses a museum, gift shop and event centre, plus a small chapel built by Elvis fans.  Nearby is the Assembly of God Church that Elvis attended with his parents.  The wooden building used to stand a couple of blocks away.  When it closed, a local citizen bought it and converted it into a two-bedroom home.  Later it was purchased for the Elvis birthplace property and transported by truck to the site, where it was restored to its original appearance.  Elvis sang his first solo, “Jesus Loves Me”, in the church when he was eight years old.

Tupelo is a fairly large town, with wide streets and lots of businesses and shopping centres.  It has an airport and two Wal-Marts, and on the sidewalks of Main Street a number of large guitar sculptures remind visitors of its native son.  The Tupelo Hardware Company is still open for business; that’s where 10-year-old Elvis got his first guitar, a birthday present from his parents that he settled for when his mother refused to buy him his first choice, a .22 rifle.

My own memories of Elvis aren’t those of an avid fan.  He was at the height of his career before I was old enough to be drawn in to the mania he generated with his sex appeal and unique melding of country, blues and rock.  And his beach bikini movies seemed just silly to me!  But visiting Graceland in Memphis in 2011 opened my eyes to his many kind and often extremely generous gestures, and the charities he supported. Last week (January 8) would have been his 79th birthday, though he died at age 42.  In those short years, and from the very humble beginnings that we saw today, Elvis Presley used his gift and talents to make a huge difference to thousands of people’s lives.
[Posted a day later. No wi-fi at our RV park.]

Friday, January 17, 2014

Armadillo sighting!

Thursday, January 16, 2014
Tupelo, MS – Today was the complete antithesis of yesterday’s highways and turnpikes.  A beautiful ribbon of parkway through forests and fields carried us southward from the Music City through Tennessee, a 30-mile stretch across the northwest corner of Alabama and into Mississippi.  Not a sign of a transport truck, interchange cloverleaf, golden arches, or four-lane madness!

The Natchez Trace, as this parkway is called, follows a transportation corridor that has existed from the time of the early natives and the animals they hunted. It connects the Mississippi town of Natchez, near the Louisiana state line, at the south end, with Nashville at the north end. Mile markers along its 444-mile length highlight historic events, such as battlefields or native ceremonial mounds, or natural features, such as waterfalls or panoramic views.  The winding road is only two lanes wide, and the speed is limited to 50 miles an hour, so it was a wonderfully peaceful trip today.

Our first stop this morning, after our trek through the turnpike insanity around the heart of Nashville, and before entering the Trace, was at the Loveless Café, an iconic restaurant where the stars of TV, movies and country music have come to eat the country ham and heavenly biscuits since the early 1950s.  The entrance area walls are plastered with autographed photos.  We recognized Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ulrich among the many.  Our plan had been to have a quick coffee, but the tasty aromas and tempting menu persuaded us to go whole hog, so to speak, and try some of the tasty fare with a second breakfast!  It was worth it!

We enjoyed reading about the Trace’s milestones in our guide, including stories of Davy Crockett, and descriptions of the hundreds of species of birds and wildlife.  Five deer grazing on a grassy knoll perked up their ears and turned tail and ran as we approached, and we caught sight of a couple of others loping across the highway a few yards ahead of us further down the road.  There were very few cars in either direction.

When we entered Alabama, I said to Val that this would be where we’d see the armadillos that were mentioned in the list of wildlife.  Sure enough, a mile or so further along, we saw a little grey mound on a hillside – a real, live armadillo!  Later on I spotted a second one nibbling the grass on my side of the highway.  I couldn’t believe our luck!

Just on the outskirts of Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley, we turned off to see the Parkway Visitor Center, where there were displays of the flora, fauna and Trace history, as well as a little gift shop.  We struck up a conversation with a gift shop volunteer, who told us she went to grade school with Elvis Presley.  Her name was Shirley Hubanks (before she married) and she told us about signing Elvis’s school yearbook and getting him to sign hers.  She told us about what Elvis was like, and about seeing him perform at Lake Tahoe when he got famous. It was great hearing her stories, told in a wonderful southern accent!
[Posted a day late. No wi-fi at our RV park!]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Life in the olden days

Nashville, TN – Today was a day for high collars and cravats, and hoop skirts and bonnets. Actually, fleeces, gloves, and parkas were more like it to ward off the very chilly temperatures that descended on us overnight.

We had booked a bus tour with Peter, the GrayLine rep, yesterday – remember how thrilled he was to have customers?  Well, last night we had a call to tell us the tour was off, because we were the only ones who’d signed up.  The plan had been to visit the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s estate, and BelleMeade Plantation, as part of a six-and-a-half hour bus tour. Fortunately, we had what we needed to take the tours anyway – on our own.  It was a very worthwhile day.

The Hermitage wasn’t far from the KOA campground, so we went there first.  We were met at the front door of the mansion by Jim, dressed with a collar, cravat, caped black coat and….earmuffs!  Not quite vintage garb, at least from the chin upwards, but essential on a day that hovered around freezing.

The gracious rooms inside gave us a glimpse into the lifestyle of the 7th US president in the years after his retirement. He was in poor health, we learned, from a bullet that lodged near his heart following a duel when he was 39 and remained there till his death at age 78.  We were amazed at how many things he accomplished throughout his life, especially considering this major challenge.

We strolled along the pathways of the estate, and saw examples of buildings where Jackson’s many slaves lived, plus the garden where the president and his wife are buried.  The Hermitage was a large and busy farm in his day, but now the fields have been replaced by huge expanses of lawn which, in warmer weather, will most likely be beautifully green.

After a quick lunch, we set off for BelleMeade Plantation, to the south and west of the city.  We would never have found it without the GPS, which took us on so many twists, turns, pikes, parkways and interstates that it made our heads spin!

As we waited for our guide to show us through the mansion, we chatted with the only other couple in our little tour group.  They were the Olsons from Olympia, Washington, and they told us they’d come to Nashville to see their two sons perform the song they had composed.  “Sunrise”, by the Olson Bros Band, had won a national songwriting contest, and the boys won $5,000 and a trip to Nashville to perform it and meet with some agents.  They were clearly very proud parents.

Inside the BelleMeade mansion were large rooms with high ceilings, opulently decorated with brocades and crystal chandeliers, carved wooden furniture, ornate ceramic vases, and silver tea services.  We were allowed to walk right into each room (instead of peeking in the doorways, as we did at the Hermitage) and examine the everyday objects of their lives, such as quill pens, leather-bound books and bone china teacups.  It was quite an eyeful, but afterward Val declared he was “plantation-ed out” for the time being!  So we’ll check that off the list for a while.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Music in the streets

Nashville, TN – A misty, fresh-washed morning greeted us today with a clear, peach-coloured sky and not a trace of rain.  While Val went for his shower, I strolled over to the office to find out about things to see in Nashville.  I was introduced to Peter, the GrayLine bus tour representative, at his little desk.  I guess bus tour organizers don’t have a lot to do on a Tuesday in early January, because he nearly fell over himself with delight at having a customer to serve.  It was a bit of a challenge for him, because we had hit the high points on our last visit in 2011, but he had some good suggestions.

For today, we decided to drive downtown and stroll along Broadway Street, where we could stop in at the restaurants and bars that offer live musicians throughout the day.  It was a bit early for lunch, so we headed north toward the State Capitol building, and went inside to see about a guided tour.  Crowds of men and women in business suits were flowing through the doors as the guard checked our ID, greeting each other like it was the first day of school, so as we waited with them to catch the elevator up to the main floor, we asked a woman next to us what was happening.

She told us it was the opening day of the legislature, and she was an aide for Dr. Joe DiPietro, the president of the University of Tennessee, who was standing next to her.  She graciously introduced us, and he told us he was there to find out about funding for his institution.  We felt a bit like party crashers in our casual clothes but no one gave us any sense that we were not welcome.  It was kind of exciting to see state representatives in their finery, all set to start a new year. 

The building itself was quite grand, with paintings of previous governors on the walls, and sculptures of President Andrew Jackson and President James Polk set into niches near the large marble staircases.  We learned that slaves and convicts quarried, shaped and transported the limestone blocks that went into the building’s construction in 1845.

Just a block or so from the capitol building was the Tennessee Museum – and admission was free!  So we spent an interesting hour looking at artifacts from prehistoric times through to pioneer days and the antebellum era.  There were exhibits about US territorial expansion, Davy Crockett, and early lifestyles.

Music was spilling out of the restaurants back on Broadway when we got back, and we stopped at Rippey’s BBQ restaurant for a pulled pork sandwich.  A girl band was just packing up on the small stage when we got there, and another started to set up while we ate.  By the time we finished, they were just starting up, but we were not inclined to linger for too long.  Not every performing group skyrockets to the top from their first gig!

Back at the Nashville KOA, one of us made use of the laundry facilities and the other opted for a siesta, followed by a map-and-computer session to figure out the next couple of waypoints on our journey. With brochures, guidebooks and the internet, it’s not hard to assemble all the information we need!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mother Nature's car wash


Nashville, TN – If there was the slightest trace of Ottawa road salt anywhere on our car or motorhome, deeply tucked away in some crevice or groove, today’s drive took care of it totally.  Great swaths of rainwater swept over every surface of both vehicles for all of the 140-odd miles we covered on Interstate 65 between Elizabethtown and Nashville.  Val cranked up the wipers to full speed several times, and back to regular speed, and only a few times to occasional speed when the rain let up a bit. Both vehicles are now gleaming as if they just rolled out of a carwash – and it was free of charge.

In spite of the inclement weather, we’re happy tonight, because for the first time since our departure, we get to sleep in our own bed with our own comfy pillows and cozy duvet inside our little home on wheels!  We’ve set up at the Nashville KOA where we stayed in 2011 on our way to Arizona, so there are some familiar landmarks as well.

Setting up again after putting the RV in cold storage (so to speak) over the winter takes some doing, because the plumbing system is filled with pink antifreeze and every single household item that could freeze (dishwashing liquid, frying pan spray, toothpaste, you name it) has been removed.  Also, we haven’t used any of its amenities for several months, so we have to relearn where everything is and how everything works!

In addition, we had to stock up on everything from bran flakes to salad fixings, and when you’re shopping in a store where all the brand names are different, it takes almost twice as long (do they have white tuna packed in water? Which brand of peanut butter has the least sugar? Where do they keep the raisins?).  However, we managed to find everything on our list and cart it all back and find places for it all, so we’re back in business.

It’s not exactly warm here.  Frederic, the young man who registered us, said there was snow in Nashville a couple of weeks back, and the forecast low overnight for the next few nights is going to dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so we’ll be using the furnace for sure.  Good thing we filled up the propane tank when we pulled in.  Still, it is much milder than we’ve felt in a long time, and when I stepped outside a few minutes ago, I actually heard the chirping of a robin nearby!

After our challenging shopping trip, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner out at Cracker Barrel, a popular restaurant in these parts.  The chain provides down-home food like meatloaf and biscuits in a country home setting, featuring a huge open fireplace and decorated with farm implements and vintage signs.  It was so comforting to enjoy a hot cup of tea and a good dinner after a damp afternoon.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kentucky's rolling hills


Elizabethtown, KY – It’s only been a few days, but we are already feeling the embrace of the south in many small ways.  First of all it was the fare at our breakfast buffet this morning—hot biscuits with sausage gravy, and packets of instant grits where you’d normally find oatmeal (although there was oatmeal as well).

Then it was the gentle twang in the receptionist’s words when I called to make our hotel reservation this morning – punctuated with “honey” – and the huge letters painted on the water tower in Florence, next to the Interstate 75 as we drove along: “Florence, y’all!”  And tonight, at the Cracker Barrel restaurant where we went for supper, we enjoyed catfish served with more hot biscuits, and encouraged our server, TJ, to keep chatting so we could enjoy his charming southern accent.

Probably the nicest development has been the warm weather.  We actually saw the sun for a good part of the drive today, and aside from a few icicles on some rock faces we passed, there was no sign of anything frozen!  Our winter jackets were really too much for the short walk to the restaurant this evening.  I left my scarf and hat behind.

Our route took us through Cincinnati – Ohio’s third largest city – and across the Ohio River on the same road we’d traveled coming back from New Orleans last spring.  From that point, though, we turned off the I-75 and headed southwest into Kentucky and toward Louisville.  This city is named after King Louis XVI of France, and is most known for being the site of the Kentucky Derby.

We took the I-75 into Louisville and followed the GPS instructions to connect with I-65, but in all the profusion of concrete arteries through the city centre, we ended up hearing a plaintive “re-calculating” from the device when we thought we’d followed the instructions correctly.  So, after a bit of a detour through some secondary roads and a few stressful words between pilot and co-pilot, we found ourselves back on track.  We are so spoiled to have a machine that can pinpoint our position from a satellite hovering over the planet and (eventually, anyway) get us to our chosen destination!
Elizabethtown is just south of Louisville, just off Interstate 65, and the town is named after the wife of its founder, Colonel Andrew Hynes, who established a homestead here in 1793.  Kentucky is a very pretty state, with rolling hills, streams and farms, and that famous blue grass that is so nourishing for the horses that are raised here. We are enjoying the sight of green fields, and I imagine Kentucky must be a lovely place to visit in the summer months.

 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blow ye winds


Springboro, OH – We are just south of Dayton, Ohio tonight, after a very wet and windy drive.  There was a thick fog in Windsor this morning when we pulled away from the hotel and headed for the Ambassador Bridge, which would take us into the United States. (Today's picture is of the bridge as we saw it last year, returning to Canada.)

As we crossed the bridge we could barely see its huge trusses and cables, so getting any kind of view of the area was out of the question.  I was hunched forward in my seat, trying to read the directional signs for RVs through the mist and fog as we approached the border crossing.  Even though I could make them out, we still had to be redirected by an attendant!  Someone should go through all those hoops with the eyes of a newcomer so they could see how unclear the signage actually is!

Our border official was unsmiling and terse as he shot questions at Val and requested a look-see inside the RV, opening the bathroom door in case we were harboring any fugitives in the tiny space.  Still, we were not searched beyond that, unlike the van ahead of us in the line.  So we bid farewell to our native land and headed past the factories and mean streets of Detroit, shrouded in the mist, dodging some sizeable potholes along the way.

Sudden gusts of wind made Val grip the steering wheel a bit tighter as we left the urban areas and passed fields and farmhouses.  The windshield wipers got a good workout today as well.  At least the temperature did not dip to freezing levels, so it was just wet, not icy.  We actually caught glimpses of green grass in some areas, even though it had been extremely cold and snowy only days before.

Our route followed Interstate 75 the whole way.  Michigan went by quickly and we then entered Ohio, passing through Toledo and on toward Dayton.  The concrete walls at the Dayton interchanges were decorated with space shuttles and biplanes to remind us that we were passing through the area where the Wright brothers’ airplanes first slipped the surly bonds of earth. 
There’s an airplane museum nearby where visitors can actually take flight in a replica of the first plane.  Val said he was really not tempted to see what it was like seeing the ground drop away from a machine made of rags and old bicycle parts.

Springboro is a suburb south of Dayton where the country’s most affluent neighbourhoods can be found, although we didn’t see them from the interstate.  The town was also a way station for fugitive slaves using the Underground Railway to find freedom.

Brisk winds were still whipping our hair about as we walked from the hotel to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  We were glad to get back to our room afterward, armed with hot drinks from the dispensers in the lobby.  Nice touch.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Westward ho!


Windsor, ON – If you were headed out on a long, long journey and wanted to start it right, you probably wouldn’t find a better way to do it than we did yesterday. We spent our first night out in Acton, ON with a couple of dear friends, Scott and Mary Jane, who not only wined us, dined us, and put us up in a cloud of down-filled comfort, but also pulled out maps, guide books and travel photos of their trip to California and filled our imaginations with wondrous ideas of where to go and what to see. 

To back up a bit, we got up bright and early yesterday morning to accomplish all the last-minute tasks in the house and in the motorhome. We were blessed with a clear day that was comparatively warm after many days of bitter cold.  That made hitching the little Honda FIT to the back of our motorhome a lot easier, since the best way to make the connections properly is with bare hands. We pulled away at last, around 9:30, and headed for the open road. 

Highway 401 was clear and bare and the sun shone most of the way, except for a cloudy patch shortly before we reached Toronto that swirled a few snowflakes about us.  Once we got past the big city, we could see, in the bush, grim evidence of the recent ice storm that crippled the area over the Christmas holidays. It reminded us of Ottawa’s storm back in 1998 – and of Mother Nature’s amazing ability to overcome such challenges.  Now, in the Ottawa area, there is little evidence of the damage that looked so terrible all those years ago.

Cleanup crews with trucks and equipment were clearing broken tree limbs and debris in and around Acton when we arrived shortly after four in the afternoon.  Scott came out and hopped in his van to lead us to a parking area near their home where he’d arranged for us to leave the motorhome and car overnight, and then drove us back to the house.  That’s when the wining and dining, and a wonderful evening of catching up on news and adventures, began.  We had so much to talk about that it was hard to tear ourselves away and get some sleep.

The aroma of bacon, eggs, toast and coffee greeted us this morning, and we sat at Scott and Mary Jane’s new kitchen island while they completed breakfast preparations.  Scott also concocted a spectacular smoothie for us to take with us, made with carrots, kale, bananas, blueberries, cranberries, chia and flax seeds, yogurt, ginger and coconut, all liquefied in their Vitamix machine!

A soft snow had fallen overnight, so we had some sweeping off to do on our rig.  We had hoped to be able to swing the RV and car around in one arc to exit the parking lot, but it was just too tight!  So we unhitched the car, made the turn, and hitched it up again.  It didn’t take too long, and then Scott led us to the turnoff where we parted ways.

The highway was messier today, and it was foggy for a while on the 401 headed for Windsor, but later on the ceiling lifted and the road cleared a bit. The clatter of ice plates flying off the roof of the RV startled us the first couple of times as the temperatures rose, but now the snowy cap is gone, to our relief – and we don’t think we sent any vehicles behind us into the snowbanks with the debris!