Saturday, October 25, 2014


Louisiana is pretty much all swamps. Whilst driving thru the state I got the feeling that I-10 was more bridge than real roadway. I-10 was also fairly boring, but upbeat crazy cajun music called zydeco was playing on the radio and kept things interesting. Chris Marquis was bacheloring it for the month with the Mrs TDY, so he offered to put me up.

First night in town we went into the city. New Orleans is an interesting place. I really enjoyed the music and got to see an impromptu jam session near Jackson Square and one of those jazz parades for a wedding. I also enjoyed the food: beignets, po'boys, crawfish, gumbo, and jambalaya. But I hated Bourbon Street. It was like an even seedier version of the Vegas Strip and it smelled like the gutters were full of vomit and urine. No thanks. We got dinner at a quieter place on Magazine Street. Afterwards I quite literally bumped into CGA classmates Eric Turner and Brian Conrad playing chess on the sidewalk outside of a coffee shop. Small world.

The following day Chris and I took a swamp tour. Our Creole guide Jason was a wealth of knowledge both useful and arcane. I learned that gators cannot be sexed by an external observation and their pronounced epiglottis keeps them from drowning. Best of all I got to hold a baby alligator!

Unless Jurassic Park becomes real, this is pretty much as close as you can come to a dinosaur
My last stop in New Orleans was the exceptionally well done World War II museum. It started out years ago as a "D-Day" museum as a tribute to the amphibious landing craft designed and built in New Orleans that won the day in Normandy and across the Pacific. It has now expanded into the nation's preeminent World War II museum, complete with all sorts of weapons, uniforms, tanks, aircraft, boats, and first hand accounts from numerous veterans. I highly recommend the museum.

Germany 0, America 2. #backtobackworldwarchamps

From New Orleans I drove north, linking up with the Natchez Trace Parkway. While it's a much slower way to get to Nashville, the road is a true "parkway" - lined with trees, grass, cotton fields, and historic waysides. There's not a billboard advertisement or tractor trailer in sight for 440 miles. The only catch is that the speed limit (strictly enforced) is 50mph, but that helps you avoid collisions with the 4.3 million deer along the road.

Nahsville was a great stop. I don't know if I'll ever get a hankering to return to Las Vegas, Austin, or New Orleans. But for live music, good food, and a fun time, I think I'll be back to Nashville. I had dinner at Monell's, a southern style restaurant where the food is served family style, ten to a table. Listened to the three country bands playing on each floor of Tooties, one of the more famous honky-tonks. Breakfast at Loveless Cafe, known for their biscuits, of which they make 7,000 per day (I had 5). I toured the Country Music Hall of Fame but to be honest I didn't know 90% of the artists featured in the exhibits. And I got a milkshake at Elliston's Soda Shop, in business since 1937, before leaving town.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, is a short drive from Nashville. I arrived in the afternoon, bought my ticket for a tour the following morning, and then hit the trail to stretch my legs. It's real nice to be back in Appalachia. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED Alaska and the Northwest, but there's something about the smell of the crisp fall air and the crunch of leaves underfoot that makes me feel more at home in these mountains. A loop thru the NPS property on the surface above Mammoth Cave takes you up and down some hills and hollows, along the Green River, and to the origins of the "River Styx" - the place where one of the waterways that has formed Mammoth Cave pops out from underground and empties into the Green River.

Appalachian fall afternoon
River Styx. I wanted to swim in it and become immortal but it was cold and I probably would have forgotten to immerse some critically important body part, like my heel or appendix or something
In the morning I joined my group for a "lantern tour" of Mammoth Cave. What a cool experience! We entered the cave with nothing but a dozen kerosene lanterns and got to see all the cave features by feeble, flickering flame light. Which may sound lame if you are more interested in the scenery but Mammoth has a very rich history and the lantern light really brings it all to life, seeing the cave as the early explorers and visitors did 200 years ago.

Before it became a National Park, the tour guides (often slaves), would allow visitors to sign the cave roof with the sooty smoke from tallow candles
Continuing from Mammoth Cave I stopped in Louisville for a "hot brown," a famous sandwich invented in the city in 1924. It's an open faced turkey sandwich with a rich cream sauce poured overtop, created to satiate late night revelers at the swing dances hosted by the Brown Hotel. I also tried a unique beer - Kentucky Bourbon Ale. The ale is allowed to ferment inside used bourbon barrels, imparting a bit of flavor (and increased alcohol content!). After dinner I found a campsite across the Ohio River in Indiana.

The grand finale of my road trip was a morning in Madison, Indiana. Madison is billed as "the best small town in America" and I think you'd be hard pressed to disagree. Madison was a boomtown in the mid 1850s, building steamboats and ferries for use on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. That business went bust, but Madison has somehow managed to keep it's historic charm (instead of a whole bunch of meth). Practically the entire city is now registered as a National Historic District comprised of well preserved Victorian style buildings. The little shops, restaurants, theaters, and the courthouse along flag-draped Main Street look like they've been time machined to 2014 from 1920. And all I could think about is how awesome it would have been to be a kid and go trick-or-treating along the quiet tree lined streets and alleys of the pretty neighborhoods.

Main Street, Madison, Indiana
It was only 4 hours from Madison to my home in West Virginia. I gave a little whoop crossing the "Wild and Wonderful" state line. It's nice to be back in the Mountain State. I'm a little past peak fall colors, but autumn has always been my favorite season. Chel surprised Mom and Dad with a visit from Baltimore, marking the first time the whole family has been together in Cross Lanes since 2009.

So that's it. Five months. 13,000 miles. Eyes on the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. Glaciers, deserts, redwoods, canyons, mountains, cacti, and caves. It's somewhat difficult to allow myself to unpack after such a long time on the road. I became rather fond of the traveling lifestyle. I sincerely appreciate all the terrific hospitality of friends and family along the way. I thank everyone for keeping tabs on the blog.

I've come to really enjoy capturing my travels in this format, as much for my own sake as a tool to help share with others. You can expect a couple more posts: I was thinking about writing up a bit of an "after action report" to cover how I lived on the road with tips for any fellow minded adventurers  on gear, food, logistics, and living on the cheap. And between family time and hunting trips with the old man (if I shoot anything cool I'll put up a picture) I've got some travels to the DC area and Florida planned for the winter. Keep in touch.

5 months and 13,000 miles of home (things are a bit more organized now than they were in May) 

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