Sunday, 27 October 2013

Sweet Home Alabama

So our last post ended abruptly as we reached check out time in the motel we were staying in and Ben had to stop writing. Picking up from where we left off, you find us making the final push out of Florida. We were both now fairly fed up with the threat of being killed by panthers, alligators, snakes, spiders and everything in between not to mention being eaten alive by the blood sucking mosquitoes buzzing around at all times of the day and night. Although that said, the night and morning spent in Myakka State Park offered some relief from the ‘squitoes as well as the horrifically humid weather. So with that, we spent the rest of that day making the final push out of Florida. Very quickly we were on the Interstate 75 and both of us took turns to apply liberal amounts of the gasoline pedal. A small highlight was had when we stopped at a rest area just outside the city of Gainesville, which wouldn't have shown up on our radars if we hadn’t known it was the hometown of one of our favourite bands – Less Than Jake. At this point, I pointed out that actually nearly all of their songs have the theme of leaving town, getting out, running away etc somewhere in them. If you’re a LTJ fan have a flick through some songs and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Coincidentally, that was exactly what Ben and I had dedicated our day to – getting out of there! At that rest stop, we nearly had the chance to repay the favour of jump starting someone but his tow truck showed up and I think we were both a touch disappointed we couldn't even out some karma.

More things to kill us
We trucked on, again on the I-75 and then the I-10 in the direction of Tallahassee and then onto some back roads to cut through the state of Georgia once more before finally entering the goal for the day – Alabama! The city of Dothan showed up in front of us and it was early evening by this point, so we were looking for a place to cook and spend the night. It was time for another cheap or free night so some large car parks were eyed up but Ben was not keen. He had a point too, we couldn’t exactly just break out our gas camping stove and start cooking in one so the sat-nav was employed again and we headed down to a rest stop / information centre serving as the welcome point on the Florida to Alabama border. Once again, we were met with signs telling us overnight parking was prohibited and that watermelon rinds should be placed ‘here’ (yeah, we had no clue why that merited a sign either). It was quiet and we decided to take our chances, moved to a quiet area of the rest stop near the back and I started cooking up some food while Ben adapted the Suburban for sleeping. We ate our soup and rice concoction, experimented with coating some tinned pears with chocolate and then made our way to bed.

The next morning, we poured over our inherited and rather beaten up road map of America and picked ourselves a goal for the day – Roland Cooper State Park. It appeared to have a lake and we thought it’d have some nice scenery, plus it’d involve some back road driving to get there. I started out and trundled along to Troy, where we took the opportunity of visiting another Walmart, stocking up on supplies and making some lunch. It was at that point we met our first Alabamains... (Alabamites?). Now the very Top Gear episode that inspired us all those years ago would have you believe that they are all rednecks. A couple of guys pulled up next to us in the car park and got out of a big pickup. We were a little confused when one of them immediately approached us and I felt a little intimidated at first but happily, and strangely enough, the reason he was coming over to us was to do with the writing on our vehicle  - much like in that very same episode of Top Gear. He had spotted our list of states on the back and we had the usual chat with him about where we were from, where we’d been and where we were going. We were happy enough that he seemed to think what we were doing was a great idea, we said our goodbyes and him and his buddy drove off. Our first encounter went a little better for us than Clarkson, Hammond and May I guess! From there, Ben took the wheel and we tried to make it across the back roads to our destination. Unfortunately, as we have discovered quite a few times now, American signs are USELESS! Either that or they don’t exist, or where they do exist they can just be downright misleading at times. After some wild guesses at roads failed, we found ourselves heading towards the outskirts of Montgomery before opting to just plug the sat-nav in and head down some major roads to get there.

Rollercoaster back roads of Alabama
The park was really nice, our camp spot was right next to the lake in a wooded area. We knew when we set off that we’d be getting there a bit earlier than normal and both of us were quite up for the idea of chilling out by the lake. What actually happened when we parked up was we got the Crayola window pens out and started getting arty on the back doors of the ‘burb. Now Ben had already drawn on a tally of the days and states we’d passed through along with our blog URL, and these had been enough of a conversation starter. I used our road map and freehanded a map of the USA, complete with states, which is going to have all the ones we visit coloured in. Ben added on a Union Jack and an English and Welsh flag as well as some funny quotes and banter from the trip so far. With the creative sides of ourselves satisfied, we got to enjoy another beautiful sunset as we cooked food and set the tent up. Both of us were slightly taken back by having to get jumpers and coats on as the night drew in as we’d not had to wear them in quite some time. We chowed down on our burgers anyway and took photos until the light had completely faded. Then we headed out into the woods, armed with our puny torches and collected some wood to build ourselves a campfire, mostly because we could rather than any other reason. When the fire had consumed most of its fuel, we got into bed and settled down for the night, listening to the howls of the wolf packs in the forest. Slightly unnerving because it meant we found another animal which could kill us.

We survived but it was a cold night meaning neither of us slept that well, eventually we dragged ourselves out of the tent and braved the cold of the morning to pour some cereals and drink coffee. We packed up slowly, enjoying the morning sunshine which was nicely defrosting us and picked a route to take us near the next stop: Mobile, Alabama. Now neither us knows how this is actually pronounced yet, so I guess we’ll have to ask someone. I took on the first stint again, put in some miles southwards before turning into a ‘gas station’ to quench the Chevy’s undying thirst for petrol. There, we met our new ‘friend’ Sonny Valentine, a guy driving a Ford Ranger who was asking for a few dollars to put in his tank to get where he was heading. Ben chatted to him while I bought fuel, used the restroom and ATM then I started talking to him about the trip when he noticed the map on the back window. Myself and Ben both find it a little strange that Americans don’t tend to travel out of their own states too often, and Sonny was no exception but the idea of our trip really struck a chord with him and he thought it was a fantastic way to be spending our time. He was so filled with joy, it moved him to hug us. Twice. In what I can only describe as a double embrace where he took me and Ben in either arm and sort of squeezed us together, interesting! We said our goodbyes and Ben took captaincy of our big white boat once more and steered her towards Mobile with the intention of finding a motel on the outskirts. Where we actually ended up is a satellite town called Saraland, a bit like Dudley is to Birmingham I suppose would be how I describe it to our UK friends. We checked in early and enjoyed some rest and relaxation by watching Scary Movie on TV (I’d never seen it before, obviously) and later ordering in some pizza. The blog also received a bit of loving as well as its mobile version which I know quite a few of you have been using. Both of us are chuffed to pieces with the number of you who have been pointing your browsers over here to read our updates and we’re actually up to 1732 views at the time of writing! I’ve actually received a good few Facebook messages of support from friends new and old who have noticed the blog and had a read – thanks guys! So all that is left to do today is check out the city of Mobile and head off into the sunset, but that’s another state, and another post.

Chris =)