Sunday December 30, 2018 Through Monday January 7, 2019
Sunday, after Leaving The Island, we drove back to San Antonio. The cold front that had made it to South Padre Island the day before was even more entrenched in San Antonio. Temperatures in the low forties plus high humidity were a good match for depressingly overcast skies. At the San Antonio KOA, we found winter again.
Monday morning, we had errands to run. At PetSmart, we bought extra dry dog food for the little guys to eat while at the kennel. At REI, we bought new shoes and looked at different freeze dried foods.
I was hoping to buy a light weight rain coat. Something that I could wear on our trip from St. Louis to Florida. Acceptable coats at REI were running $350 and higher, too much to spend. We ended up going over to Academy. For $150, I got a coat with an unzip-able liner/jacket. Perfect!
New Years Eve was noisy. Noisy neighbors, fireworks late into the night. Train after train after train. The dogs weren’t happy with the festivities. Especially Benji.
Benji has panic attacks whenever there is thunder or fireworks. After a long walk along the Salado Creek Greenway Trail New Years Day, Benji was back to himself. We met up with friends for lunch followed by two games of Mexican Train Dominoes.
New Years Day, winter become even more convincing when rain started falling in buckets after dark. Wednesday, Box Day, we got up at 4:30. The morning dog walking ritual ended with wet, cold and unhappy dogs. After breakfast, we did laundry at a 24 hour laundromat. Back to the campsite to drop off clean clothes and pick the dogs up for a trip to the kennel. After dropping the dogs at the kennel, we returned to the campsite to pack everything up and make a brown bag lunch. Still raining buckets, we put the truck and camper in storage and headed over to our mail service to pick up mail.
Sitting in the car in the mail service parking lot, we ate lunch. Afterwards, we drove to the airport, got our boarding passes and passed through security without drama.
The El Paso flight to San Antonio arrived 1/2 hour late, pushing our flight departure out 1/2 hour. Arriving in St. Louis late, we were picked up by family and driven home.
We hand’t been at our house since Thanksgiving weekend. It was so nice to sit in our recliners and just relax. Thursday morning, I put the pedestal on the dryer (see Pointing Fingers post). Afterwards, we went to Costco to pick up a few things. We bought a new home phone system of five cordless phones. After trying to get voicemail to work on our landline home phone (installed early in November). I called AT&T for help. The IVR system kept trying to tell me how to setup voicemail. Disgusted, I kept repeating “agent” until the system decided I needed a human to talk to. The agent was wonderful and patient. After exhausting what she could do, the problem was referred to a higher support level and got fixed overnight. Meanwhile, I sat down in a comfy chair, played on the computer and watched Law and Order reruns.
Friday was another day of lazy goof-off time. More recliner, TV and computer time. In the evening, we met the family at The MACK Bar & Grill for dinner.
The sports bar was completely jammed with people when we arrived. We waited an hour to be seated.
The drink board is attention grabbing, especially when waiting for a table. Favorite drink name? Irish Car Bomb. Space Pussy was suggested by a member of our party. Too risqué for me.
Fridays, The MACK runs a $5 any hamburger special. The regular hamburger. It came with two patties and the normal fixings. The mooched piece of MACK DELUXE pizza, criss cross fries (AKA waffle fries) and onion rings were all good. Incredible deal. It is a sports bar. They must make their money (usually) off of the drinks.
Saturday morning, we rose early, finished packing for our Florida trip. Linda had come down with a cold and felt puny. On the way to in-law’s house, fueled up the in-law loaner car. At the in-laws, we loaded/reloaded the car with 4 adults worth of stuff.
We took I-64 East through St. Louis and into Illinois as the sun was coming up. The Arch, silhouetted against the crimson red sunrise, reminded me of just how grand St. Louis is. Made me a bit homesick for St. Louis. It also made me wish I wasn’t driving and had my big digital camera with me.
It has been at least 30 years since I had driven through Illinois this direction. Mostly my previous trips into Illinois had been north toward Chicago. The land was so flat. I wondered if anyone makes jokes about being able to see 500 miles by standing on a tuna can in these parts as they do in the flatter parts of Texas (ie Lubbock).
The morning sun was still low in the sky when we exited I-64 onto I-57 South outside Mount Vernon. The light accentuated details in the landscape. I thought prime Illinois corn growing country. Farms and fields looked verdant even though many fields was bare, ready for planting.
Outside Pulleys Mill in southern Illinois, we exited onto I-24 East toward Paducah Kentucky. From here, I-24 runs south to the Ohio River, the border between Illinois and Kentucky. The Ohio looks extraordinarily wide where the freeway crosses it. The land on the Kentucky side of the river appears more rugged in contrast to flat southern Illinois landscape. This was all very new to me, my first time in this region.
Driving through Paducah made me think of Sarah Stewart Holland, a former Paducah city commissioner, who podcasts with her partner on Pantsuit Politics, a reasoned non-partisan pro women grownup discussion on topics related to US politics. This and For The Love are currently the only non-computer, non-photography podcasts I listen to.
I-24 changes direction from mostly south to mostly east as it curves around Paducah. Past Paducah, I-24 skirts the northern end of Land of Lakes National Recreation Area before changing direction yet again. This time, I-24 heads mostly southeast. Just driving through Kentucky on the freeway was enough to see that Kentucky has a number of State Parks worthy of further exploration. As we drove past their exit signs, I couldn’t help but wish we were traveling in the truck with our camper instead of a car with our in-laws. Don’t get me wrong, traveling with the in-laws is fun and I enjoyed our journey with them. It is just that I’m haunted by the idea that there is always a bit of nature I’m missing every time I pass a state or national park without stopping.
We expected Nashville to have more traffic. I think I could easily drive our RV through this city without trouble. We just stayed on I-24. Somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga we ran into mountains. Not Colorado Rocky Mountains but hilly non-the less.
We stopped for the night at Kimball Tennessee. In Kimball, we ate a late lunch at Cracker Barrel. The overworked waitress, struggling to keep up in the unusually busy restaurant, botched our order. One of the plates of chicken fried chicken was missing the chicken fried chicken. Two sides were missing. Oops.
The Holiday Inn Express was perfect. Our lunch was enough that we all skipped dinner.
Sunday morning, all of the baggage was repacked into the back of the car. With four adults in such a small car, the trunk area was overflowing.
I don’t recall if it was before or after Chattanooga where we ran into a 6% downhill grade that had two places for runaway trucks to abort. I’ve never before seen runaway truck ramps on the left side of the road before. At the top of the grade, there were signs instructing drivers with gross vehicle weight ratings within certain ranges to keep their truck speeds below a set speed. The heaviest trucks were limited to 35 MPH downhill. 6% grade doesn’t sound all that impressive. It wasn’t until we passed the second empty runaway truck ramp that we saw an 18-wheeler smashed up on the left and uphill side of the road. The tractor was impaired in the rocks. Multiple wreckers were straining to free it. It had the look of a wreck where the driver wouldn’t have survived. But for The Grace of God.
Chattanooga is definitely in the mountains and has a reputation for trains. Is it the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or the struggles Nineteenth Century trains had getting over steep grades like ones found around the Tennessee mountains? There are signs for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. More signs for Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. If these two attractions weren’t enough to wet the appetite for a train lover, the National Model Railroad Association is headquartered in Chattanooga. More to explore.
After Chattanooga, we turned south on I-75 to head toward Atlanta Georgia. I had flown to Atlanta a number of time before. This was the first time actually driving through Georgia. What beautiful country. Again, like Tennessee, Georgia seems to have plenty of interesting sounding State Parks to spend time in. What gorgeous country.
I stopped renting cars on business trips to Atlanta after learning how to use MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority). MARTA made it possible to avoid the traffic. It isn’t that Atlanta drivers are mean. Far from it. There are just too many cars and not enough roadway.
I was a little nervous about driving straight through Atlanta on I-75. We could have chosen some sort of bypass route but they all added at least an hour onto the drive time. We crossed through Atlanta mid morning. I could do a Sunday morning Atlanta crossing in the RV. Traffic wasn’t particularly heavy and the Atlanta drivers were more well behaved than many other major metropolitan areas I’ve driven through.
We reached Macon Georgia before lunch. We took the I-475 shortcut to miss the big I-75 loop around Macon. At the Macon Applebees, I had a Southwestern Steak Salad. This is the first time I’ve been in an Applebee’s in almost 10 years. The menu has been modernized and at least in Macon, the food and service were excellent.
We reached the Candlewood Suites in Valdosta Georgia mid afternoon. The in-laws wanted to watch the Bears playoff game on TV so Linda and I went out to dinner without them. The Bears lost by one point. We ate at Sonny’s BBQ. Sonny’s is a regional chain. It reminds me a bit of the Texas regional chain Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. I had a barbecued turkey plate with two sides and garlic bread. I’ll be eating at Sonny’s again. They are all over Florida.
Candlewood Suites is a chain of residential hotels. Each room comes with a kitchen. Sometimes the rooms have normal stoves and sometimes they only have two burner ranges. This room had a recliner which Linda promptly claimed. With a cold, sleeping in a recliner is often easier than sleeping flat.
Monday morning we loaded the car up and stopped in McDonald’s at 7:00. I got my usual Egg McMuffin meal with coffee. In-laws finally convinced me to try drinking my coffee using a straw. They said it would keep the coffee from burning my mouth.
I tried drinking coffee with a straw. It worked. I could sip coffee through the straw without burning my mouth. Big win for me. When we stopped for gas at a Flying J, I tried the method again. It didn’t work as well. The second coffee cup was much taller. The second straw was longer but had a smaller diameter. Not sure what combination of differences accounted for the hotter coffee reaching my mouth. I’ll have to experiment some more to figure it all out.
When we reached the Fort Myers area, we stopped in at the in-laws and had lunch at a nearby restaurant.
The eighty degree weather was most comfortable. We were back in summer again. After lunch, the in-laws dropped us off at the Holiday Inn on Edison. For dinner, we went to Edison’s Lab, a restaurant in the hotel.
We were literally the only diners in the restaurant. The Jerk Alfredo looked good but neither of us knew what jerk meant. Linda asked the waiter who kindly explained that jerk is a Carrabian Island way of seasoning food. He also said that it wasn’t hot spicy, just spicy and gave food a slightly woody taste.
He was right, the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Alfredo was super. The empty restaurant did fill up later that evening after busses arrived loaded with passengers for a special event. They also filled the hotel which was noisy until midnight.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!