The Beaver, The Beach, And The Bygone Brave

How do you burn through five hours when you’ve only got a 90-minute drive between campgrounds, you have to leave the first one at 11 a.m., you can’t check in at the second one until 4 p.m., and you have no idea where to find a place big enough to park a 36-foot rig and its tow car? You stop at a massive Buc-Ee’s, that’s how!

We were pretty tired of Buc-Ee’s sandwiches, but salad is always a good choice, so we gassed up Fati, grabbed two Cobb Salads, sat in the parking lot for a very long time (with a couple dozen other RVers), and on the way out we took a photo of Buc-Ee’s “No (trucks)” signs we’d seen when we stopped on our way to Tallahassee ahead of the storm. At that time, there were about 20 signs crammed into a long row just outside the parking lot, which read like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no……” and made us laugh. Some of them got knocked down in the wind, so the joke wasn’t quite as funny anymore.

This was not for our salads and tea. It’s for 3/4 of a tank of gas.

Imagine 20 of these, just a foot or two apart. Is it just us, or is that funny?

Over the course of the week, we took several drives along the Gulf and its bays, taking in the magnificent (expensive) homes between Point Clear and Daphne, and Fairhope’s lovely little downtown. One of the stoppers for us is the hurricane risk. And that’s a big stopper, right up there with snow. And dust storms.

Our campground was south of Mobile, but we took a drive to the city and were surprised, once again, by the giant houses, many of which were just a street or two away from very modest homes. There is a lot to like about Mobile. Pretty parks, lots of history, and an interesting downtown with lots of personality. If Savannah and New Orleans had a baby, it would be Mobile.

We felt pretty special when we came upon a park that had just that very day re-started its fountain after a long refurbishment. A couple of representatives were walking around asking people how they liked it, so we assured them it was a mighty fine fountain indeed.

We grabbed lunch from an Irish pub that had come highly recommended, and laid our tablecloth down on a grubby bench (the only seating in an otherwise beautiful park) for a picnic. Here is my “social media” face from our al fresco lunch.

This is how I really felt about that bench.

This is Simon eating a Shrimp Po’Boy that’s as big as his head (yes, he ate it all).

And this is a Live Oak in the park that waves its hands in the air like it just don’t care, but is also so old it has to balance itself a bit by holding on to the sidewalk.

At the risk of sounding like we’re on some cemetery kick lately, we did visit the Confederate Rest Cemetery for its historical value. It is unquestionably right and fitting to remember your glorious dead (each one of them some mother’s son), and to keep their sacrifice in mind, and the cemetery certainly does that.

We did stare in mild disbelief as we read the monument put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which reads:

Forever now, among the immortal dead, whose dust belongs to glory’s dreamland, sleeps the fair Confederacy. Right principles can never die. No cause for which the brave have bled in virtue’s name, for which the true have kept the faith, for which the dead have died in holy martyrdom, was ever lost.

Ummm….so much to unpack about that, isn’t there, starting with exactly what those “right principles” were all about.

On the back, it reads:

Furled in our conquered banner, but its folds, rich in immortal memories, bore no stain save the blood of her matchless heroes.

The monument went up in 1941. 1941! We have big feelings about that, but will leave you to your conclusions.

We’d been passing billboards for Lambert’s Cafe – and the actual restaurant itself – a few times, and decided to drop by to see what all the “throwed rolls” fuss was about. And yes, indeed, they do throw hot rolls at diners. Want one? Just put your hand up when the roll guy (or gal) comes by, and he (or she, or they) will whip one at you. Brilliant!

Hot rolls! Who wants hot rolls!

The area’s best attraction, however, was our campground. Gulf State Park is ginormous. Its hugeness is part of its charm, though, because it offers the largest amount of space between sites that we have seen on this trip. And, like Biloxi Bay, it feels like traditional camping, with pine trees, 28 miles of well-used walking and biking trails, and campfires around us each night. We could get used to this!

There are also a lot of activities, making it feel resort-like rather than just a campground. Simon loves live music, and one of the events was a free outdoor concert, so we packed up our chairs, poured a couple of G&Ts into our travel mugs, loaded up Ruthie, and spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour listening to a musician who plays Gordon Lightfoot music, having been a good friend of that artist. He also told us the real stories behind each of Lightfoot’s songs, many of them quite heart-wrenching. There may also have been tears when he sang Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a tragedy that happened in Susan’s home state of Michigan.

We had to move sites part-way through our visit, but the 50 yards it took to get to the second site was child’s play. Yes, we had to pack up the rig as we normally would (with a few exceptions, like not putting away our stuff in the bathroom, and bringing Starlink into the kitchen area rather than boxing it up), but we had a corner lot, which meant even more privacy, and also a view of the main road through the campground, which allowed for exceptional rig-watching.

Our second site. Look at all that room!

Now that we’re in the final month of our Grand Adventure, we’re doing a lot of rig-watching. We’re ready to stop for a while, but not ready to stop forever, so we’re eying smaller rigs we could be comfortable in for a few months at a time. We’re not sure we’re ready to trade in Fati yet, though. Decisions, decisions!

Riding The Storm Out

There are times when getting from Point A to Point B is a functional undertaking, and the Interstate gets you there quickly. Then there are times when the scenery is so appealing, the slow roll along a small road is worth the effort. Our trip from Waveland to Biloxi was one such drive, and we ended up taking the road less traveled three times during our stay, twice with great pleasure and once as a torturous, screaming nightmare.

Highway 90, our old friend from previous drives, gave us a non-stop view of the Gulf of Mexico as we made our way to Biloxi in Fati, and, for a change, we planned ahead and had sandwiches ready for a beachside lunch.

With our windows open and a glorious sea-salt breeze blowing through the rig, we soaked up the bliss even as we ruled the Gulf coast out as a place we could live. One thing we’d hoped to discover during our Year on the Road was a place we could be happy settling down when we’re ready to leave Florida. We’d come so close a few times, but hadn’t yet found just the right fit.

Biloxi Bay RV Resort and Marina was certainly the right fit for the next week, situated right on the bay, with mature pine trees that give it the feel of a genuine “camping” experience. There’s something about pine trees that makes a campground feel…I dunno…cozy, I guess.

Our first day trip took us out to Davis Bayou for a hike along the trails, and while the man at the Visitor Center recommended two trails we could take Ruthie on, they proved to be hard going and didn’t lead to a big pay-off at the end (like a lake, or some other scenic “Wow!”).

Our little girl’s harness used to fit her. Now she’s shrinking.

As we were heading out of the park in Nippy after our walk, we detoured down a small road just beyond the Visitor Center and found a big inlet with kayakers and boats and guys fishing with rods and with nets, and a Blue Heron named Reggie. Score!

We chatted with the fishermen about their catches, how long they’d been fishing the inlet (forever), and any dining we shouldn’t miss while we were in the area. One of them mentioned TatoNuts, and the exchange between him and his cousin went like this:

Him: TatoNuts has the best donuts. They’re like no other donuts.

Cousin: That’s because they’re made with potatoes.

Him: No, they’re not.

Cousin: Yes, they are. That’s why they’re TatoNuts. It’s the “tato” part of TatoNuts.

So, of course, we got some. The line to get in was out the door, and while only a few of their donuts were made with ‘tatoes, we couldn’t taste the ‘tato in the nuts we bought, but still agreed they were yummy, made even better by the fact the owners seem to be Disney fans, if the photos on the wall were anything to go by.

We spent the next day at home, eager to see the event the whole country was talking about. We were forecast to have an 89% solar eclipse view, with just 3% cloud cover. What we got was a zero percent view with 100% cloud cover and pouring-down rain.

But it didn’t dampen our spirits. We turned on the TV and watched the coverage from all over the country, and were thrilled each time a massive cheer went up from those who did get a great view. We take our joy where we can find it!

But the weather wasn’t done with us yet. A massive, dangerous storm was rolling our way, with a forecast of tornadoes, golf-ball sized hail, and wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour or more. We’ve ridden out big storms before, but with the threat of flooding and tornadoes, we made a snap decision to get out of harm’s way, which was 300 miles and two states east, in Tallahassee, Florida.

The extent of the storm’s reach meant we couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough in Fati. We’ve already described on our Facebook page the awfulness of leaving her – our home and our friend – so I won’t go over it again. We spent two nights in a hotel, got sandwiches and salads at Buc-Ee’s twice, and the reunion with Fati was sweet when we returned and found her totally undamaged.

After five visits to Buc Ee’s, what hasn’t he tried yet?

The next day dawned bright, so we visited Mississippi State Sandhill Crane Wildlife Preserve and did a one-mile hike. We didn’t see any Sandhill Cranes, but we have them in our yard in Orlando, so it wasn’t a loss. We did see tiny Spring flowers starting to bloom, and were reminded of the start of this big adventure, when those same flowers were our roadside companions.

The visitor center had a few bird displays, so we didn’t strike out completely.

As we drove back along Highway 90 toward Biloxi, the eastbound lane was funneled down to one lane with traffic cones, and every turn-off for several miles was blocked by police cars and barriers. Police and sheriffs from neighboring towns drove up and down the cordoned-off lanes. No one was getting off that road, and traffic was slowed to a crawl or less. What in the living hell was going on?

Our hour-long conversation progressed along the lines of A) This looks like they’re trying to find someone. Human trafficking, maybe? Or drug dealers? B) Is there a terrible accident ahead? Can’t be that, since the traffic cones and barriers were set up well in advance, and there are miles of it. C) Is this…an event? Why all the firetrucks and ambulances and police? Maybe a protest? What day is this? It is an anniversary of some terrible thing? D) It’s got to be a protest of some kind. Every single person we’ve seen for miles has been Black, and roughly the same age. What the hell has Biloxi done to them?

It was none of that. When we returned to Fati and looked it up on the news, we discovered it was Black Spring Break. Black Spring Break (a.k.a. Black Beach) draws Black college students from all over Mississippi to the Gulfport/Biloxi area, for the chance to have a fabulous few days of fun while also remembering the state’s dark days of segregation, and subsequent desegregation of Harrison County’s beaches spurred by the 1959-1963 “wade-ins” that took place right where Black Spring Break unfolded in front of us.

Why the massive amount of law enforcement and emergency medical services? In 2023, a shooter injured five people during the event, including a police officer. This year was not going to see a repeat of that violence. What we saw was thousands of college kids enjoying a gorgeous day at the beach. And while the roadblocks slowed us down immensely, we were thrilled to have seen it once we knew what it was, and what it meant.

During the rest of our stay in Biloxi, we poodled around with no particular plan, other than paying a visit to the local institution where everyone goes for barbeque, even though it’s freaky and jam-packed and it looks like it hasn’t had a good clean since Hector was a pup. Longer, even. Like, maybe, never.

Oh my lord gawd sweet baby Jesus!

The Shed is the sort of place Susan doesn’t even want to drive past. The kind of place where the likelihood of food poisoning appears to be high. But travel makes people brave, so in we went.

We were the only ones wearing masks (of course we were!), so we got suspicious looks, but who were these people to judge us? They stuck dollar bills to the ceiling with plastic forks, and most of the floor inside is just gravel, so nuh-uh! They don’t get to judge!

We split half of a Combo Platter of smoked turkey, bbq ribs, sweet potato casserole, and collard greens (with the odd but apparently obligatory slices of thick white bread on the side), and saved the rest for later. Every single bit was fantastic. Fall-off-the-bone ribs, moist and meaty turkey, the kind of sweet potato deliciousness you wish you could recreate at home, and collard greens that make your eyes roll back in your head and your mouth make “yummy” sounds.

It was all going so well until an employee brought out the bread pudding Simon forgot to grab at the pick-up window, and when we said how scrummy it all was, she said, “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never eaten here.”

It’s not what you want to hear when you’re sitting at a restaurant that appears not to put the slightest emphasis on hygiene, but since the number of days it takes to suffer from food poisoning has already passed as I type this, I’m just going to say she’s really missing out.