Thursday, June 11, 2009

Days 29 to 33 (June 9-13) East Bound and Down

After our great weather for camping in Amarillo, we headed South and East towards Houston and quickly returned to the hot weather that we had fled Savannah to escape. You can only delay the onset of summer for so long, I guess, and we got an extra month of enjoyable (and occasionally downright cold) days so we'll have to be content with that.

On Tuesday we made it as far as Springtown, Texas (West of Houston) where my friend Corrie lives. I haven't seen him in a while so it was good to catch up. We just ordered a pizza and sat around talking most of the night. He just finished building his garage so it was cool to check that out. On Wednesday morning we were walking around his property and heard a rustling in the bushes. I turned and saw the tall grass parting and something was coming right at me fast, then it changed direction and it became apparent that it was a fairly large reddish brown snake. It stopped right near Max but I don't think he ever saw it, so I had to get him to jump and run towards me to get him away from it. At the time we thought it might be a copperhead but upon looking at photos later I don' think it was, it didn't have the right pattern. Probably a yellow-bellied racer or something similar.

By late morning we were on the road again, heading towards Houston. We had seen Baker City, Oregon, which was a starting point of the big cattle drives down the Oregon Trail early last century, as well as North Platte Nebraska where those cattle were loaded onto trains to Houston. So of course we had to go by "Cowtown," the old Houston Stockyards, where the cattle coming down the Oregon Trail eventually arrived. We took a little walk around but the heat was building rapidly so we were back on the road, through Dallas, and East out of Texas into Louisiana.

We camped north of Shreveport Wednesday night at Cypress Black Bayou Park and set up camp, then went on a grocery run. As we walked near the lake as it was getting dark, I noticed some clouds coming in from the West. I checked the radar on the iPhone and didn't like what I saw, so as it got dark I broke down the tent and we went to sleep in the jeep. It was hot at first, but by about 10 the thunder and lightning started and I knew we didn't have long before it cooled off. A very intense lightning storm moved through for about an hour which kept Max panting and shaking. By around 11:30 it quieted down and we got some sleep.

On Thursday morning there was more rain coming through so we just grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road. We drove downstate to Slidell, near New Orleans, where I thought we could find an affordable hotel. Camping was no longer an option in the heat. We got a hotel but the room wasn't ready yet, so we took a drive around Lake Pontchartrain and into New Orleans. I had been here before for a week in November of 2000 so I had a pretty good feel for getting around the city. It took me a while to realize that the area where I had stayed last time (Read Ave) looked so different because it had been pretty well destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. That, of course, wasn't shocking so much as the fact that the buildings were still there, up but with windows blown out, the lower floors boarded up, roofs caved in, etc. Some buildings were little more than skeletons. Some areas had been razed and rebuilt, like the new Lowes on the corner, but almost everything else looked like the storm came through much more recent than 4 years ago. We took a quick ride through the French Quarter and stopped long enough to take a quick walk along the Mississippi River.

The heat forced us to retreat back across Lake Pontchartrain, this time across the Causeway that I had wanted to go across the last time I was here. It's about 24 miles across the water. Back to the A/C in the hotel for a few hours. We took a walk at a nearby park after dinner as the sun set but even then it was still pretty hot, around 90. So, without really being able to take any long walks, it's time to head home. We'll shoot down I-10 to my parents' house in Ponte Vedra tomorrow and visit with my old friend Brandon and his family Saturday (who are vacationing from Arizona). Then we'll head back to Savannah Saturday night.

The numbers:
33 days
25 states
11,000 miles
550 gallons of gas

It was a great trip, certainly something I'll always remember. I really think Max enjoyed most of the trip, at least until we re-entered the hot weather in the last few days. As slow as he's gotten the past few days, these are the same temperatures that we left in Savannah a month ago so we essentially got an extra month of good living. We had a lot of great hikes along the way, saw many interesting animals, and experienced an incredible diversity of landscapes as we drove our big loop around the country.

I suppose in the end I didn't learn anything new as much as put into practice something that I already knew, which was a pretty big factor in why I quit working for Nebraska Book to begin with. We've got one shot at this life. I remember this quote from Stacy Peralta a long time ago that stuck with me. He said, "Give all you've got to give now because when it's over you're going to look back, I promise." None of us will reach the end of our lives and regret not spending more time at work or making more money or buying more things. But we will all eventually lose our friends and loved ones (one way or another) and we will all run out of time to do all the things we want to do. You never know when the bad news will come. Find a way to spend time with the people (and animals) that make you happy, experience life with them, and do all the things you want to do in this world. Don't assume that you can always do those things in the future, because put it off long enough and eventually you'll be wrong.

Like I said at the beginning, I really did this blog as an easy way for me to document the trip's high points for my own memory, more like a journal than anything else. I never thought so many people would take an interest and follow along. That put a weird kind of responsibility on me to keep going, stay positive, and find new and fun things for Max and I to do. I feel that we were remarkably successful, beyond anything I could have anticipated. For that, I thank all of you reading this.

I really have no idea what lies ahead for me and Max. The future is a pretty blank canvas, which is both scary and a great opportunity. I just hope that we remember to keep this spirit of exploration and adventure alive. Whenever life gets too monotonous, shake things up and do something exciting. Use your vacation and sick days. And if you need a loyal companion to share the adventure of life with, a good dog is hard to beat.

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