This morning I lie in bed in the dark, with the wind howling through our hatches and a gently wave rolling us to and fro. I couldn’t sleep as I struggled to remember his name. Was it Cornbread? Dinky Donut? Snickerdoodle?
We’ve been back on Shiloh from our US road trip for just over a week. And the memories are fading. The states blur along a path of my mind, further and further back and sadly I know that most of it will disappear forever. But there were some places, some people, some experiences you just can’t forget. Things you couldn’t make up if you tried…
Mr. Muffin was a State Park Camp Host who took his job seriously. Tucked up under Hot Springs Mountain in Arkansas, the campground was beautiful, framed by a clear river on one side, and in the distance a highway of some sort. Pumpkin Toes protected the premises, circling constantly on his golf cart. And his curiosity led him to slide his two stubby legs, under two gargantuan bum cheeks, down off his perch, and he’d waddle into each campsite bright eyed, to meet the visitors. He was all grins as he slid out his pudgy pink hand to shake. “Welcome! I’m Fudge Ball!” (or something like that). He explained in his syrupy southern drawl, that he and his wife had been camp hosts for a few years at this site. He gave us the camp rules, then asked us what it was we had there on the table?
“Smoked oysters. Great with crackers and cheese.”
He crinkled up his childlike nose but his eyes remained excited and alert. “Can I try? Never heard a nuthin’ like that!”
So we fixed him one and watched, amused, as he stuffed the fishy little package in his mouth. And the reaction was priceless. He barely managed to swallow and quickly asked for some Coke or anything sweet. We rolled around laughing but found him a drink.
And with that, we had a new friend. He stayed for quite a while, completely enthralled by these foreigners from so far away. He’d never left America. Figured they all ate weird stuff like what we’d just fed him! His accent kept us a captive audience as well.
|Marita & Biscuit|
The next morning Cream Puff pulled up in the golf cart with his wife Love Dumpling to meet us and we all laughed and stood for photos. He gave us his business card. And there it was written in black ink. ‘Biscuit’. It was Biscuit! He explained that it was a nickname that stuck hard and he’d accepted it and embraced it long ago. Biscuit sold Dutch ovens and ran Dutch oven cooking classes. And Biscuit became a dungaree wearin’, twinkie lovin’ memory…
And he and the bath houses and gorgeous town we found there in Hot Springs would not have been discovered if we had done the road trip we’d imagined. Road trips should be fluid in their planning. So that when Harvey and hurricanes like him try to thwart your fun, you simply re-route. Arkansas and Oklahoma were not on our agenda. Never imagined discovering the suburban bliss and gentrified downtown of Tulsa. Couldn’t have known the remote beauty of Beaver Lake and a log cabin complete with true southern hospitality and a lot of massive spiders to welcome us! And it was through cruising we met the friends who welcomed us to these places.
|Bath House in Hot Springs, Arkansas|
|Our friend Dale's lake house, Beaver Lake Arkansas|
And then there was Texas. Americans joke that Texas is a country in itself. It definitely has a personality. In Texas the endless fields are dotted with head bobbing machines that suck oil up from the deep endlessly. In Texas we tasted other-worldly brisket. In Texas you can also get a 72 ounce steak. Free if you can eat it all. It is advertised everywhere. It’s all about BIG in Texas. And there are rodeos.
We found ourselves a real, genuine rodeo. And now I can say I know all about mutton bustin’! In most states it would be considered child abuse but in Texas it’s a lively sport. Toddlers and little’uns hang on for dear life to a fluffy sheep who is let out of the pen and dashes at full speed across the muddy arena. The fans go wild in the stands, music blares from the speakers and the MC urges them on. Meanwhile down in the arena, a tiny child has slipped down under the animal with the speed and agitation and has fallen hard onto the dirt and most likely been stepped on by the panicky animal. Mothers and fathers run out and scoop up the bawling kid while the fans cheer. Texas.
New Mexico was enchanting. All terra cotta homes and Native jewelry and art galleries, and small towns and Pueblos up in the mountains that are a catch all for hippies and cowboys and Mexicans. And more cruising friends welcomed us into their beautiful home. I fell in love with their green hatch chili peppers.
There was Durango in Colorado, which led to Silverton – a place lost in time. A cowboy town nestled between two mountains where you can imagine the stand-off in the street just like in the old Westerns. Where the old steam train pulls in twice a day, chugging black smoke and hooting to announce it’s arrival.
And the knuckle biting mountain edge, no railings drive up into the mountain town of Ouray, the Switzerland of America. Places you didn’t know existed but now will never forget.
And then there are the places that you planned for, imagined in advance and held the highest expectations for. The four corners where New Mexico meets Arizona, meets Utah, meets Colorado. The actual Four Corners Monument is a Native run gathering of ramshackle curio stands and abandoned food trucks surrounding a stone plaque. The $5 entry fee covers the salary and bus fare for the grumpy lady who has come from a reservation far from here. A bit of a let down really.
However, all around is beauty. Places where atheists believe that gods have been here. Where a natural world unfolds like a fantasyland of rock in epic proportions. Shapes, caverns, colours. It is all one could imagine and so much more. And the hikes down into the depths of the caverns are humbling. Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Zion, Valley of Fire. Wow.
From the swamplands of Florida, we found ourselves in forests and then deserts. Such diversity!
But there was also routine. Technically, a road trip that lasts longer than a month is a lifestyle. It begins to take on it’s habitual schedules and rituals. Even if it involves driving somewhere further, somewhere new nearly every day.
Daily, after a three hour drive or so, armed with carts and a humble shopping list, we found ourselves in a Walmart in Sulphur Oklahoma or Tucumcari New Mexico or New Iberia Louisiana, we would buy a bag of charcoal, a bag of ice, some meat, some salad, some sweet potatoes, some six dollar wine. And then we’d set off in our travelling beds, to find a campsite for the night.
Campsites in southern Texas where mosquitoes descended in thick black clouds of doom and banished us to our vans for the evening. Swatting, swearing…
Campsites in the mountains of New Mexico where elk in heat screamed in the distance and frost collected on our wine glasses.
Campsites in remote reservations where we refused to pay $15 for a bundle of firewood, found ourselves completely alone with nature, and ran around gathering in the wilderness instead.
So many campsites.
A couple Airbnbs, a few nasty motels. One so nasty it belongs on an episode of crime scene investigation instead of my blog post.
And in between, Route 66! Graceland! Las Vegas strip. Hoover Dam. A corner in Winslow Arizona. New Orleans! We even visited Chip and Joanne’s Magnolia in Waco Texas on my Mom’s leg of the trip. We got around.
We covered some miles. 6100 to be exact. Not all miles are the same though. And they definitely can’t be measured in number.
We can only measure by Biscuits and mutton busters, Hello Kitty glasses at the Mexican border in El Paso, the Tabasco Factory, beignets at Café du Monde, random grazing bison on the side of the road, and priceless moments with Mom.
|Unfortunately I had to share these beignets|
|Good times with Mom!!!|
And then there are friends. It ties us back to the magical world of cruising and I marvel at how far and wide the ties take us.
We had three massive cruiser reunions as our trip finale. St Pete, Punta Gorda, Fort Pierce. Taken in by friends, we shared sailing memories, shared our trip stories and confirmed for ourselves how special this life we live, truly is.