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Day 1: The Long Haul West

Today is the day! We departed on our Great American Western Road Trip. We left late, of course, and it was totally my fault. But, we got on the road and made it to our pre-planned destination, so all is good. This was a long haul day. We startied in Florida, cut across Alabama, made a surprisingly interesting stop in Mississippi, and finished the day in Louisiana. We relied on Harry Potter and some in-car research on the Atchafalaya River to keep us busy, and sane. Read on...

Day 1: Pensacola. Florida to Bossier City, Louisiana

I wrote on the intro page for this trip that everything for this trip had been planned and all that was left was the going and the doing. Well, that was a big fat lie…. Or really wishful thinking on my part, I guess, because there was still a lot of preparing left to do. Mostly it was the packing, and the packing, and the packing-- So. Much. Packing.

Part of my research for this trip was how to pack for 28+ days on the road. We decided to go with a bin system instead of suitcases. My parents measured and found bins that would fit most efficiently in the back of their Honda Odyssey. On Monday we dry fitted the bins.

For the record, I did not recommend, nor do I endorse, using the large double bin seen in this photo.
That was my parents’ choice and carrying it is all on them.
We spent 4th of July packing the bins with clothes, foul weather & hiking gear and food supplies. The bins work well with our ebags packing cubes.

We color code by family member and I number each packing cube:
1) PJs, toothbrush, socks & extras (pretty much what’s needed to get ready for bed)
 2) 1st week clothes-- we use the roll method)
3) Additional outfits, plus colder weather clothing needed later in this trip, plus dresses for our girls. 
This morning I loaded the bins in the van. We made some minor adjustments and added bags with the SLR and GoPro cameras. We also made grab bags -- one for active play at picnic areas (balls w/velcro gloves, bubbles, etc....) and a second with swimsuits so one adult can take the kids directly to the pool upon our arrival at the hotel. Oh, and the fruitcake... yes, fruitcake, real honest-to-god homemade fruitcake. There will be more about that later.
I felt like I packed fairly well (meaning lightly) for our family of four. But, my parents had things they wanted to bring for their 50th Wedding Anniversary Party. So, in addition to ALL this stuff in the back of the van, we also have a Yakima Skybox 16 on a car top rack. Honestly, I don’t even remember what all is up there. Some of it is a “secret” according to my mom. (insert eye roll emoji here).

The inside of the van is also stuffed to the gills with a combination of food and games, books & activities for the kids. I’ll probably add a post with everything we brought for them to do. We had to bring a lot because I have banned electronics in the car… for now. As far as the kids know, it’s for the duration of the trip. We’ll see if I stay true to my word on this. I did give myself an out, if needed.

Florida to Alabama
From my parents’ house to the Alabama State Line is only about 30 minutes. Before we even got on the Interstate, the kids were already into the activity books my mom made for them. The books are pretty amazing -- she was a school teacher, a geography teacher no less.
Kit had a road sign scavenger hunt today

We chose to follow I-10 through Mobile, Alabama, so we were through to Mississippi quickly. We picnicked at the Mississippi Welcome Center.
We realized here that mom had left all the snacking veggies and
boar’s head lunch meat in the fridge at their house (first #tripfail)
Kit and I checked out the inside of the Welcome Center and found that Mississippi has really upped its game. There were some very interesting wood sculptures inside and out. There was some good interpretive signing on the fauna in the area, in addition to nicely placed tourist literature. There is also a model train museum that was not open today.

Outside the Welcome Center there are some short nature trails in the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts the rest area. The ladies at the Visitor’s Center Desk kindly refilled our water bottles. Of course, they added ice because this is not only America, it’s the south, where people like to fill their glasses all the way to the brim with ice and then pour their beverage over, just filling in all the little spaces in between.

I know most people think traveling America’s interstates is pretty boring driving and even more boring riding. But south Mississippi, from the Escatawpa River to the Pearl River, is a treasure trove of memory for me. The towns along this stretch of highway-- Moss Point, Pascagoula and Gautier-- were the hometowns of so many of my summer camp friends as a kid . I daydreamed through south Mississippi. While I stared across the marshes and into the pine forests, many happy vignettes of memory played out before my mind's eye... and I really was a little sad when we crossed into Louisiana. 

We breezed through Louisiana with the help of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on audio book. I hastily shot video as the narration began. I wish I had video of the 5 minutes prior to this for contrast. We were able to get the Stephen Fry versions, which are, by all accounts, much better than the American narrations, of all 7 Harry Potter books from a friend. (Bedankt, M. You saved us many headaches today!)

The most interesting part of our passage through Louisiana was the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, also known as "America's Foreign Country." This is the part of Louisiana where "Louisiana French" is most widely spoken. It's an amalgamation of the French spoken by the Acadians who immigrated from Canada down the Mississippi and the Creoles who originated in the West Indies. A little bit of vocab from Spanish and English, as well as from various Native American and African tribes, rounds out the regionally spoken language. This is also where the cuisine New Orleans is famous for-- gumbo, red beans & rice and etouffee-- originated. Zydeco music was also born here. In short, the Atchafalaya is the very heart of what New Orleans and the whole state is famous for.

It is swamp country. The road through the wildlife refuge is elevated for several miles on the east side of the Atchafalaya river itself. The Atchafalaya is also a dam-controlled river because, at one time, it threatened to bring down the mighty Mississippi by stealing the bulk of the big river's water flow. The river was trying to change course. This would, obviously, have had deleterious effects on the thriving economy of the port of New Orleans. So, the Army Corps of Engineers built a series of locks and dams, blocking the river from changing course-- altering the course of nature.

In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain wrote, "ten thousand river commissions, with the mines of the world at their back, cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or define it, cannot say to it 'Go here,' or 'Go there,' and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at." But the USACE did and the river hasn't torn it down, yet.

So, today, we crossed the Mississippi River, both a physical and mental barrier in our country. We continue west tomorrow across Texas. We will cross the 100th Meridian, leaving behind this wet, humid east and enter the arid west. More on this tomorrow...

The Humid East and the Arid West
Credit: Earth Institute at Columbia University

« Yesterday: The Plan - Tomorrow: Day 2, Shreveport to Amarillo»

All Posts From Our Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

All Trips From Our Assignment to Nicosia, Cyprus

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