We left home a few weeks ago, so it’s long past time to bring everyone up to date with how things have been going for Odyssey 2.0.
We decided to hit the road the day after Thanksgiving. This timing seemed like a sweet spot: it allowed us to stay home for family get-togethers on Turkey Day, but reduced the chances of encountering winter weather as December arrives. This year’s unusually warm autumn made us hopeful that we would be able to escape south without having to winterize the RV, but that was not to be, as temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing early Thanksgiving week. This year, rather than pumping the plumbing full of RV antifreeze (propylene glycol, which is a pretty pink color, but leaves a lingering sickly sweet aroma in the water for weeks), I decided to use an air compressor to blow out the lines, not unlike what is done with sprinkler systems. I also put a little antifreeze down the sink traps and ran just a bit through the water pump as a precaution.
The day before Thanksgiving we brought most of our clothes, linens, and kitchen items from home to the RV so that we could get out faster on the day of departure. We had both kept detailed lists of what we brought last year, but I had to look at photos to remember what clothes I had packed. Last year we came back to Chicago mid-trip and were able to exchange cold weather clothes for shorts and T-shirts, but this year we will be gone for the whole winter, so we had to bring everything we needed at the outset.
Our first leg was uneventful, and we spent our first night in Springfield, IL, just as we did last year, driveway surfing at the home of our friends Becky and Paul. They were kind enough to let us block their driveway and sleep in their guest room, and further spoiled us by making us dinner (including Paul’s signature Old Fashioned cocktails) and breakfast the next day (Becky’s amazing homemade cinnamon rolls). It was great to catch up with them and their kids. And as a parting gift, Paul gave us some of his homemade chili and curry powders. When I open the pantry I can still smell their powerful freshness. We’re so lucky to have such good friends along our journey.
After a leisurely start the following day we headed to our next destination, an overnight stay at a Cracker Barrel in Cape Girardeau, MO. Since our plumbing was still winterized, we had to eat out anyway, so we figured we would come out ahead by stopping at Cracker Barrel and buying a meal from them in return for them letting us sleep in their parking lot. We generally like CBs better than WalMarts for overnight parking, since they are smaller and typically have little traffic after 10 pm. This one had the further benefit of having its RV parking spaces on the other side of the building from the highway and was therefore relatively quiet.
In the event, we had dinner at a nearby Olive Garden (quite the experience in corporate efficiency- and upsell-driven dining) and breakfast at the CB. I think most of Cape Girardeau was at the Olive Garden; it’s always interesting to experience the slightly-different culture of a new place your first night away from home, weirdly calibrated by the familiarity of a chain restaurant.
We got an early start for our next day’s stop at Tom Sawyer’s RV Park in West Memphis, AR. As far as I know, this park was not mentioned in Mark Twain’s novel, but nonetheless the name is evocative. The park is hard by the Mississippi River, and apparently floods there are frequent. I wish I had taken some pictures of the laundry room/restrooms and office; they were on wheels! All the electric utilities are on top of 20′ poles. So when the flood comes, everything can be towed to higher ground. Fortunately, while we were there the river was calm.
When I reserved our stay at Tom Sawyer, I didn’t realize (d’oh) that we were going to be across the river from Memphis. We arrived late in the day, and after suddenly realizing where we were, made a beeline for Beale Street, the famous Memphis entertainment district. Being from Chicago, we know a thing or two about blues and barbecue, but Memphis has an authentic and deep history of both that we had to sample.
Beale Street has a somewhat-deserved reputation as a tourist trap, but it’s real enough to warrant a visit. A compact district of a few blocks, Beale Street holds an assortment of restaurants and juke joints. We got there in the late afternoon and enjoyed some delicious barbecue and an enjoyable blues set at B.B. King’s place.
We also walked around downtown a bit, which seems to be doing well enough, including some classic hotels and the basketball arena used by the NBA’s Grizzlies. That said, given my years of living downtown Chicago, I didn’t get a comfortable vibe from the area. Sadly, the next morning we saw that there had been a drive-by shooting on Beale Street on the night we were there (two wounded, non-critically). It was an unfortunate reminder of the street violence that we had hoped to escape when we moved to Indiana.
On a much more positive note, I also discovered that the Gibson guitar company had a factory right in downtown Memphis that offered tours (again, it was silly of me not to have noticed this when I was planning the trip; as it turned out, serendipity worked as well as thorough planning). It was a Sunday, so if I’d gone on the tour then, no one would have been working, which kind of defeats the purpose of a factory tour. So I made a reservation for the next day’s tour.
Memphis is where Gibson makes its semi-hollow body guitars, including the classic (and expensive) Gibson Les Paul models. I’m a sucker for factory tours (I can spend hours watching “How It’s Made”, learning how random things like Norwegian snow shoes or Swiss watches are built), but combine one with the history and sex appeal of electric guitars and it’s a potent draw.
I loved seeing how raw wood (maple, poplar, rosewood) is transformed through steam, pressure, glue, sanding, drilling, carving, painting, a few simple electronics and steel strings into a beautiful work of art that, by the way, happens to rock.
Through the factory window the day before, I was able snap a pic of how the process begins: molding layers of poplar and maple into the sides and top.
Aside from a few CNC machines that carve the neck, it’s a surprisingly (and happily) low-tech operation, redolent of sawdust. The consultant in me wants to automate the whole thing; the artist loves the old-world craftsmanship.
On the way out we passed a sort of Gibson “wall of fame”, including B.B King’s “Lucille”. I’ve been taking guitar lessons since April, and have dabbled in the blues on an acoustic guitar. But the blues work much better on an electric. If we had enough room in the RV for another guitar and an amp, I might have gone shopping, but fortunately our minimalist lifestyle prevented this acquisition.
Our last stop before arriving in Houston was the stunningly peaceful and beautiful Atlanta, TX State Park. Just outside Texarcana, in the very northeast corner of Texas, this park sits on a large lake surrounded by a mixed oak and pine forest. Midweek on a warm late November day, we had the park literally to ourselves. I mean, there were no other campers there. None. We had our choice of spots, so we parked in a site that sat on a little peninsula falling off on both sides toward the lake. It was a bit lonely, but we weren’t complaining.
Between the turning leaves on the trees and the weather, it felt like October again. The next day we took a hike on a few of the park’s trails, discovering the seeds of the aptly named Beautyberry bush. Surprises like these are what make this lifestyle so addicting.
Our next day would put as into our home for the month of December, a “luxury RV resort”. Staying in one place for a month would be a new experience for us; in our next installment we’ll tell you how it went.