This week started off with a bit of a blinder.
One of the key stops on the ‘Blue’s trail’ through Mississippi was the little town of Clarksdale. According to Morgan Freeman’s club there, it was ‘ground zero’ for Blues – where it all started. Whilst the ground zero club had some good live music, Reds’ across the road was what we were hoping for: an 80 year old dude, sat on a stool with his guitar, strumming out some blues in this old Juke joint (pronounced Juk – and interestingly where Juke box first got its name from). It really was what I was hoping for, and hopefully we’ll find more little places like this on our travels.
The next day we headed off to Vicksburg, a major American civil war region (pretty much the death knell for the Confederate Army, after being besieged for months by the Union forces). The town itself is very much a tourist town, and I think Civil War lethargy over the last couple of weeks, meant we perhaps didn’t give it the time it deserved. But, I’d like to go back if possible.
With a bit of discussion, we thought we should definitely go for Mardis Gras, as it was a couple of days away, and we were too close not to give it a whirl (the sky high prices, and booked up RV parks had previously put us off). Meg found a truck stop not too far from the French Quarter, and so we headed off, via a quick stop at Natchez – apparently the wealthiest town (per head) at the start of the civil war than any other part of the US (the houses still standing, that we saw, definitely proved that).
Mardis Gras was great. The main floats bit was a little bit disappointing (think trucks dressed up in tissue paper, with people in masks chucking beads into the crowds), but the French Quarter parades & milling about were great. Essentially every artsy resident of New Orleans, dressed in whatever random clothes they could find in their cupboard, drinking, dancing and generally having a good time. There were block parties on every street corner, and just a jovial atmosphere all around. Add the amazing looking architecture of the French Quarter, the cool neighbourhood bars, and it was a mix that I can’t wait to go back to (which I think Meg agrees).
We’ve now made it to Austin (via Breaux Bridge swap/bayou stuff) and are happily camped at our first ‘base’. The luxurious Royal Palms, “Manufactured Home & RV Community” whereby we have a little strip of grass, a slab of concrete, cable, electricity, laundry and a huge list of do’s & don’ts. But, the good news is that Meg has got some work lined up at a bakery in town, and I have volunteered my services for the SxSW festival which rolls into town in a few weeks. In the interim, there is 101 little jobs that I need to be getting on with in Milton, as well as trying to get back into doing some exercise – with both of our brand new second hand bikes ready to be utilised, and a depleted bank balance, this has helped force the fitness/diet issue (we have perhaps been living a little too much like our mascot Milly the Sloth over the last couple of weeks)
After a last minute scramble, as usual, we hit the road. It was weird and exciting knowing a random mention in July of this year is actually being executed. We were heading for Nashville but planned to stop in Lexington to see Colonel Sanders grave because why not? We’re going to try to take a random pit stop each day in an effort to slow down something we’re not used to. Not having an end date, a meeting point, a finish line, or really much of a fixed agenda is new and should be an interesting change for us. We’ve always been more of a seen it, check, move on sort of duo so Milly the sloth hangs from the cupboard to remind us to slow our roll.
We went ahead and boondocked in a Wal-Mart park lot as we arrived to Nashville quite late. Boondocking is a new word in our vocabulary, we’ve got a lot of new words being added to our vocabulary, grey/black water tank, full hook ups, plug ins, there’s a lot to learn, and as usual we’re just going to learn as we go. The fact that the generator didn’t start the first time we started it was a bit worrying, but we persevered and it kicked on eventually. We’re just not really sure how much power we’re drawing, how often we need to use the generator or really anything electric or power related.
Nashville was great, we managed to park up in a truck stop overnight and walk into the city, a little note to self that it never hurts to ask if you can park somewhere, it was free to park, safe and very convenient. New in Nashville seems to be the slogan, everything is new but it’s still a very small city. It’s become a very hip city and that can be seen everywhere, we swung by Jack White’s studio, a coffee shop and distillery in an old car warehouse, a co-op of small huts for local businesses and lots of good bbq. Each plate I have gets better and better.
We left Nashville and took a pitstop in Lynchburg just south of the city to tour the Jack Daniels distillery, I highly recommend it though I had to translate nearly everything for Jonathan, southern accents are apparently very difficult for him to understand, I imagine it will only get harder from here. After 3 very cold nights in Milton the relative luxury of a campsite where we could plug in and use the heater all night were a godsend. It is unseasonably cold. It’s always unseasonable cold when we got on holiday. But luckily we’re not up North, which is getting hammered.
We swung down towards Mississippi to have a look at Elvis’ birthplace (hint, it’s a tiny tiny white house) then went back toward Tennessee to hit Memphis. There’s a lot to see in Memphis even if the city itself isn’t much to look at. Blues artist crawled up from Mississippi into Memphis to make a name for themselves and any musician who was anyone in blues, soul or early rock and roll cut their teeth in Memphis. We toured, Stax records and Sun records who had very different approaches to their tour and both of which were very worth our time. We switched gears and went to the National Civil Rights Museum, which the motel where Martin Luther King Jr was shot has been renovated into. Also very much worth a visit, though you’d better carve yourself out a lot of time, the museum is very big. We camped up next to the Mighty Mississippi and realized we’d only been on the road a week, how could that even be possible? The rest of our plans are loose, Mardi Gras is the 17th and we don’t have to be in Austin until the 21st. We have a lot to learn, a lot, we really have very little idea of how anything works in Milton. But we’re settling in.
So, there were a number of reasons for originally wanting to buy our own van and converting ourselves (e.g. like a Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter van):
However, the US threw a few early curveballs. As previously mentioned, firstly, they don’t have a lot of what Europeans would class as a motorhome (said converted Sprinter van) – instead, as RV’ing is a popular past time, and the Americans like to travel around their own country - which has wide roads & lots of space, the campervans are proper RV motorhomes (even the smallest ones, are still longer & wider than European campervans). Secondly, because of the popularity of RV’ing, factories churn them out, so the market is awash with them, and therefore you can actually pick & choose any which kind of model you want. And finally, I naturally have a limit in my abilities, and putting in plumbing & the electrical requirements was something that was way above my station, and something we were not going to risk leaving in my hands. And this final point, is what ‘pushed’ us down buying a 2nd hand RV route (trying not to sound like a wimp who bottled in when push came to shove!) – we spoke to a few RV mechanic/renovation places, and the quotes we were getting back to just put in the electrics & plumbing was exorbitant (in one instance, the quote was c.$30,000 – and that didn’t include the cost of actually buying the van itself)
So, to bring us back to this last week, it was a case of getting Milton (our RV) to a state inside that we were happy with. Meg naturally wanted all pretty, flouncy, patterned stuff and bright colours. I wanted navy blue. Just blue (perhaps with a dash of white to add a bit of contrast). After a lot of backwards & forwards to Home Depot, and TJ Maxx, and Ross, and 101 other cheap interior/knitting/homeware shops we were starting to build a nice pile of ‘stuff’.
Thankfully, this week we were staying with Meg’s brother & family, and so it was a lot easier having a (warm) roof over our heads when it came to painting and decorating, and the pain that is renovating anything (word of warning – paint spray guns = paint gets everywhere. EVERYWHERE).
But, after 5 days, we were at a point where the walls were painted (a slightly more yellow than anticipated) and the cabinets were painted (a slightly less white than anticipated) which meant me could finally hit the road with a large chunk of the aesthetics sorted. Naturally that was a priority over anything mechanical. Mechanical stuff we’ll know won’t work once things fall off, or fail. And that’s what we’re going to have to be ready to accept next…