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.

Ground Zero

The name Waveland, Mississippi should have rung a loud and distinct bell for us, but as we pulled into our campsite at pretty Buccaneer State Park, with the Gulf of Mexico as our view, we were none the wiser. Over the next few days we’d discover reminders of the great trauma Waveland suffered at the hands of Hurricane Katrina were everywhere, primarily through how the tiny town fought its way back to recovery.

This photo is from the Ground Zero Museum, and it was taken right after Katrina hit.

When Katrina passed and its 30-foot storm surge subsided, next to nothing was left of this once-peaceful seaside community. Homes? Gone. Businesses? Flattened. The railroad tracks running through Waveland? Bent and useless metal. It was one of the worst-hit places along the coast. New Orleans got the press, but Waveland also suffered immensely. Twenty-five of her residents lost their lives, including four in just one family.

Memorial to the twenty-five residents.

Our first stop after settling in was the Ground Zero Museum, which remembers that terrible time through photos, artefacts, and a short movie featuring survivor testimony.

Also from the Ground Zero Museum.

The railroad tracks a mile or more inland acted as a mini levee, and some of the homes on the north side of it survived. Everything south of the tracks was washed away.

Many plots that obviously once had homes on them still sit vacant.

But we found the town’s recovery even more interesting. A long line of huge, expensive homes has gone up along the waterfront (with a road between them and the Gulf), which speaks either to the indomitable human spirit or reckless optimism, and we’re not in a position to make the call on which one it is.

Next-door neighbor, Bay St. Louis, recovered relatively quickly. Settled by the French in 1699 under the name Shieldsborough, Bay St. Louis was held by the Spanish, then the British, and only received its current name in 1875. At one time it was earmarked to be Mississippi’s capital city, but Natchez won, only to lose their title to Washington, which lost the honor to Jackson.

It is now a somewhat touristy area, with shops and restaurants and a fun self-guided tour that takes you past 24 historic sites and buildings, some of which survived Katrina.

Built in 1929, this artist’s co-op was once a grocery store. It’s said to be haunted.

Alice Moseley, who became a famous folk artist at the age of 60, lived here.

Cedar Rest Cemetery is also on the tour. Here, we found one of the most heartbreaking plots we’ve ever seen. A couple’s four children passed, one on the day of her birth, one on his third day of life, one in his third month, and one in his fifteenth year. Unbearable.

Also located here is the Angel Tree. We’ll let its marker tell you the story.

Look carefully and you’ll see two angels carved into the branches. Their wings are obvious, but their faces less so.

We took a drive out to Kiln on the suggestion there was an interesting historical downtown to explore, but if there was an actual downtown at all, we never found it. And we tried!

We did find a lovely road lined with Live Oak trees, and a marker for Logtown, founded in 1848 as a community supporting one of the United States’ largest lumber mills. Of course, its 250 citizens still living there in 1961 were “removed” so that the John G. Stennis Space Center could take over the land for NASA’s Apollo Moon Mission Program. *Sigh*

All that remains near the marker is a small cemetery.

We only had four days in Waveland, but we were so glad we added it to our itinerary. Hearing the waves from the Gulf at night, seeing the locals out fishing, and enjoying the laid-back vibe, especially at sunrise and sunset, revived us after our time in the Big Easy. But we weren’t finished with the beach just yet.

Let’s Do A Little FAQ

We’ve had several questions from readers about our trip, this lifestyle, and more, so we’ve put together a little FAQ, in case you’ve been wondering.

I love Ruthie! What’s her story?
We wanted to bring an older rescue dog into our family to give him or her the best final years possible, and Houndhaven had just the right girl for us. It was taking some time for her to get adopted, partly because, according to a Houndhaven volunteer, she “didn’t show well,” (she’s was not overly affectionate to people she didn’t know, at least to start with) but she fit into our family right from the start.

She went through a period of extreme illness shortly after we got her, and during the process of trying to figure out what was going on, the specialist vet told us she appeared to be between the ages of seven and nine, which puts her between 16 and 18 now (we’re pretty sure she’s 16; there’s no way she’s 18). She’s 60% a sweetheart, 30% moody intellectual, 10% diva, and she makes us laugh a lot. Mostly.

Why are you doing a year on the road in an RV?
We’re at an age where, if we don’t see this wonderful country now, we’re not likely to ever see it. We’ve done most of Europe, we’ve been to Africa and South America, and while Asia and other locations are on our list, now was the time for the U.S.

We’ve also spent a lot of time on “other people’s schedule” for our work and in our personal lives, so this was a chance to decide where we wanted to go, when, and for how long.

How can you stand being together all the time in such a small space?
We’re used to it, and we thrive on it. We’re one of those couples who loves being together, and we feel “half-alive” when we’re apart. We have our moments, but they’re rare, and they’re moments. Not only do we love each other, we’re also best friends. It’s a pretty good combination.

How did you come up with those ridiculous names for your vehicles?
It’s a gift! Well, maybe not a gift, but the names did just come to us. Our RV got her name before we bought her, when we were talking about names other RVers have given their rigs, and Susan mentioned a couple and their young son who are doing 15 years traveling around the world in a small jeep they named Dauntless (check them out on YouTube under Hourless Life. They’re incredible!). Simon said, “Let’s call ours Indefatigable.” Susan said, “Yes! And we can call her Fati for short! Hahahahaha!” Perfection, isn’t it?

Nippy got her name when our next-door neighbors in Florida were telling us how much they liked their Ford Fiesta. They named theirs Zippy, and when we bought ours (because our Mazda can’t be flat-towed, and that was important to us), we named her Nippy in their honor. The comedic value of that moniker has been priceless (at least for us; we think we’re hilarious).

How do you choose where you’re going?
We had a “blue sky” itinerary when we started, the result of about four years of research. It covered most of the major highlights west of Florida and Michigan, such as National Parks, scenic spots, oddities, and fabulous cities. Part of our goal was to see how people really live across the country, and part was just to immerse in the areas we were traveling, to see what made them special.
We knew our blue-sky itinerary would change at some point, and when it did, we dropped Oregon and Washington and re-considered how we’d visit California. We referenced the original itinerary document, and re-worked that itinerary to keep the rest of the highlights we didn’t want to miss.

We also agreed at the start of this journey that, if either of us doesn’t want to do something, we won’t do it, no excuses or arguments needed. There is no pressure on either of us to be uncomfortable. Simon was happy to do Going-To-The-Sun Road on his own, and Susan was happy to let him do it alone. We skipped a place Susan really wanted to see because Simon wasn’t comfortable with the gravel road in Nippy. We did Chief Joseph Scenic Byway as a compromise for Simon’s desire to do Beartooth Highway and Susan’s desire not to do it. So far, we’ve found ways to work it out.

What’s it like to drive that big RV?
Simon says: It’s a challenging proposition, especially towing a car. We felt it was essential to take RV driving lessons right after we bought Fati, even though it’s not strictly necessary. You have to maintain 100% concentration at all times, but the view you get from the cab driving through the sites we’re seeing is just superlative. It’s not the most maneuverable vehicle you’ll ever drive, but, on the highway, it drives really well, and you just need to be aware not to get yourself into any places you can’t get out of, gas stations being the biggest case in point. If you aren’t positive about the route out, don’t go in.

What’s it like being a passenger in that big RV?
Susan says: Honestly? It can be magnificent and it can be terrifying. As the passenger, I have no steering wheel, no brakes, and zero control. My job is to be the co-pilot, and there are certainly times when those co-pilot eyes have been extremely useful. I keep constant watch on the GPS info and warnings, on the tire pressure monitoring system, and on Nippy, who I can see on our rear-view camera, and I report them to Simon.  That leaves him free to concentrate solely on the road. We both watch the road conditions, such as rises, descents, and camber, like hawks. Simon has the final say in where he’s comfortable driving and turning around, and I have a say on the smaller things, like “Slow the hell down,” and “Keep her between the lines!” But, ultimately, how the rig is driven is totally his call.

How do you do the basics, like laundry, getting prescriptions, and getting your mail?
Laundry is relatively easy. We have a washer/dryer combo in the rig, and for heavy things like rugs and Ruthie’s bedding, we use campground laundry facilities.
Our prescriptions are through Walgreens, so we call our refills in at the closest one to our location. It’s proven difficult at times, since it has to be done quite a while in advance, and sometimes the refill order doesn’t get confirmed by the doctor until after we’ve left an area, or, in the most recent example, the pharmacist was “overwhelmed” and couldn’t “review it” (whatever the hell that means) even though he’d already filled it, it was just cholesterol medication, and all they had to do was hand it to us. We left town before he could be bothered to “review it.” It then took two weeks to be in a place long enough to call it in to another Walgreens and have a chance of getting it filled.
Ruthie’s medications are even more difficult. Sometimes it takes weeks to find a vet or a pet store that will honor her vet’s refill prescriptions. Thank goodness we discovered Costco pharmacy carries some pet meds!
Young Son deals with all our mail, but there are mail services full-time RVers use, too. We just didn’t need to go that route.

What is this “Wallydocking” you speak of?
It’s when you “boondock” (park your RV overnight on wherever land you can find that’s legal to park on), but in a Walmart parking lot. Entertainment value? Priceless!

Why are some of the photos in your blogs so wonky?
If we knew, we’d fix them! We do know the photos are formatted differently by WordPress, depending on whether you reach the blog from a link on Facebook, or have the blog delivered directly to your email (by being a subscriber, which we highly recommend), or by going directly to our website. We can only apologize!

Your trip is almost over. Are you going to keep going?
Yes! We’re both ready for a break, but we love this kind of travel so much, we’re going to find a way to keep doing it. But for a few months at a time rather than a full year!

Have a question for us? Leave it in the Comments and we’ll do our best to give you an answer!

The Month 11 Travel Map

As keen-eyed blog readers will know, we have just hit the 11 month mark in our grand “A Year On The Road” RV trek across the US. After Louisiana, we arrived in coastal Mississippi, our 23rd state in this epic voyage.

The story so far – 11 months on the road (NB: The pin-points are not our only stopping points – there are more than 60 of those so far!)

Since our last monthly update, we have covered another 181 miles – a totally sedate travel distance at this stage of our journey (especially when we covered more than 2,200 in the first month!).

In the last month we have moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Biloxi, Mississippi, and our traveling has been a lot more focused on the areas close by, rather than trying to cover vast distances quickly. Even including the last two months, we have only gone a total of 672 miles in our trusty Winnebago, Indefatigable (or Fati for short).

The last two full months of our journey, from Port Aransas in Texas all the way along the Gulf Coast to Biloxi via Louisiana

Mind you, we have still covered some territory in our trusty tow car, Nippy, putting an additional 2,534 miles on our little Ford Fiesta (and 3,991 in the past two months), which shows that we’ve completely changed the balance of our touring – going shorter distances in Fati but doing more exploration in Nippy.

Now, with just a month left of our travels (but still more than 550 miles from home), it definitely feels like the end of our grand adventure is firmly in sight, which is very hard to contemplate after such a prolonged – and intense – period of traveling.

In total, we have come 9,225 miles in Fati since leaving home, and another 24,604 in Nippy, for a grand total of 33,829 around this amazing country. Eat your heart out, Hardest Geezer!

What We Learned During Our Eleventh Month On The Road

Today marks eleven months since we locked the door to our house in Florida and set off for a year-long adventure in an RV. Here’s what we learned during the past month:

When you’re crouched down in front of the outdoor water spigot getting ready to do your final hand-wash, make sure you know whether the lever goes up or down to turn it on. If you get that wrong, you’re going to walk away with your shoes, your T-shirt, and the crotch of your jeans soaking wet. It’s way worse, too, when your neighbors are out there watching you.

There are times when the weather is forecast to be so dangerous that your only smart choice is to bug out and stay in a hotel until the threat passes. Sometimes, that means driving 300 miles to get past the storm’s reach, which is too far to get an RV out of the way in time. When that happens, you’ll get all teary as you say goodbye – out loud – to your rig, and assure her you’ll be back. It’s truly like leaving a friend, and you’ll worry about her until you get back and know she’s okay. It’s an awful feeling.

When you’re staying in that hotel overnight to ride out the storm in safety, don’t freak out the first time you turn on a water faucet. You haven’t seen that much water come out of a faucet for a long, long time, and it’ll look and sound like a fire hose in action. Remind yourself this is normal.

When you return to your rig after the storm passes, and you find she’s okay, there is a sense of euphoria that reminds you how precious your traveling home and this lifestyle really are.

PJ’s Coffee. Specifically, their Strawberry Rose White Chocolate Latte. This is what coffee should be, and from this moment on Starbucks should be ashamed of themselves.

There are towns where some roads are called “historic,” but what it really means is, the road itself is history. Drive it at your peril.

If there’s a beach road you can take instead of an interstate, and your GPS doesn’t have an almighty conniption about some terrible fate that will befall you if you take it, take it (we’re looking at you, glorious Highway 90 between Waveland and Biloxi!).

We’ve reached the point in our adventure where our Florida license plate isn’t the furthest state away. It feels weird and sad and just a little bit exciting to realize we’re getting so close to home.

Equally, it is impossible to believe we have one month left in this incredible journey. How? How is that possible? (Insert loud crying here.)

The moment may come when you meet brand-new RVers who are trying to find their way back to sanity, having endured one setback after another. Now is your moment. You’ve been there, you understand, you got through it, and you can talk them off the ledge and assure them it’s normal and it’s going to get so much better. Your reward is the relief on their faces. Their reward is, they don’t feel so alone anymore. How perfect is that?

Coming To Terms With The French Quarter

Susan: Let’s go to the French Quarter on Sunday. It’s Easter. Everyone will be at home with their families having Easter dinner.
Simon: Good idea! We’ll grab lunch and then get some beignets at Café Du Monde while it’s quieter.
French Quarter: Easter Parade! Gay Easter Parade! Easter Bonnet Contest! Let the parties begin!

We’d been in the French Quarter twice already, but saved a visit to Café Du Monde and Café Beignet for Sunday, when, surely, the area wouldn’t be so jam-packed with tourists and heavy drinkers.


We didn’t know we were wrong when we set off on Easter morning, though, with a few photo ops in mind. First, we wanted to see the oldest fire hydrant in New Orleans, whose technology changed the face of fire-fighting, allowing firefighters to get closer to the blaze and have the ability to pump water right out of the bayou. It took a little doing to find it, but the adorable little hydrant that looks like a character straight out of a Pixar movie was worth the effort.

How cute is this little guy?

Easter is all about death and resurrection, so what better place to remember that reality than a cemetery? We did a little drive-through at St. Louis Cemetery 3, which felt like driving along a street in Death City, where all the homes are as quiet as the tomb. Many whose Earthly remains are experiencing eternity here were famous New Orleanians.


Cemetery 1, the oldest in New Orleans, is closed unless you take a sanctioned tour. St. Louis Cemetery 2, famous for being the final resting place of many who succumbed to the 1823 cholera outbreak, is also closed, in part because of vandalism, but, if the used syringes strewn around the sidewalk outside are any indication, there is a bigger problem at play.

Next on our list was the Lower 9th Ward. We’d been there in 2013, eight years after the horrors of hurricane Katrina, and most of the homes were still in terrible shape, with spray-paint markings on them from the searchers who went into each one to find out if they contained victims of the floodwaters, and how many.

We took this photo during our visit in 2013. This is not the standard Search-And-Rescue X-code, but it appeared to be search dates and number of victims (zero).

Now, nearly 20 years later, the area has mostly recovered. Some devastated buildings and homes still exist, but we only saw one that still had its markings. Some lots remain vacant, but more than anything, new homes have gone up, which was incredibly heartening to see.

Also from 2013. It’s hard to see, but there is a search code on the house, to the right of the left-hand door jamb.

In particular, we were interested in seeing the so-called FLOAT House, a low-cost prototype home designed to rise to a height of 12 feet if, God forbid, another flood-related catastrophe struck. It doesn’t work, of course, and it, along with 190 of Make It Right homes funded by the actor Brad Pitt, which rotted and crumbled in the Lower 9th’s high humidity, stand as good-intentions-gone-wrong for people who had already lost it all. A $20.5 million lawsuit settlement in 2022 helped redress the balance.

After our failed food runs in the French Quarter, we admitted defeat before we tried a third time, and headed back to City Park for its Café DuMonde branch, and had mugs of hot coffee and steamy beignets in hand in under two minutes. Sitting in the sun with the sounds of the community around us, we pretended we were locals, and thoroughly enjoyed a happy half-hour being normal people.

This is the original location, in the French Quarter, and you’re seeing about one-quarter of the line of people waiting to order. That, and no parking, was why we kept failing.

Simon had been to the National World War II museum before, but Susan hadn’t, so we set a morning aside to pay a visit. The museum had a new exhibit, Finding Hope In A World Destroyed, highlighting the Holocaust, recovery and rebuilding, Black service men’s reception upon returning home, and The Monument Men, complete with reproductions of stolen artworks.

We only took photos outdoors, where there are several memorials.

There was also a mockup of the kitchen in The Secret Annex, where Anne Frank and her family hid. The whole exhibit was quite powerful, and it felt disrespectful to take photos, so we didn’t. Susan had studied the Holocaust in depth since she was in her early 20s, but Simon found the exhibit a bit overwhelming. It took him back to our visits to Auschwitz and Dachau, and the painful reality of those terrible times.

Anne Frank perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp less than a month before its liberation.

He shook it off with a trip up to Vue Orleans for a 33rd floor overview of the city. Ruthie wasn’t allowed, of course, so she and Susan waited on a park bench while Simon checked out the observation deck.

Vue Orleans is in a building right on the riverwalk, and as luck would have it, a Carnival Cruise Line’s ship, Valor, was just making her way out to sea with a whole new group of passengers. We had actually sailed on her with our three boys many long years ago.

We stayed in the Garden District during our 2013 trip to the Big Easy, an area that, like the French Quarter, is totally reliable. You know what you’re going to see (massive wealth), and we were happy to end our time in New Orleans with a leisurely trip down memory lane.

From The Red Stick To The Big Easy

New Orleans wasn’t a new city for us. We’d been there before, but anyone who has visited the Big Easy knows it’s never the same and it’s always the same and you can’t be certain of what you’ll get. The French Quarter is a perfect example – dynamic and predictable at the same time. We love it and we hate it, so, naturally, we made it our first day’s destination.

As luck would have it, we arrived mid-week, so after we settled in at waterside New Orleans RV Resort and Marina we went into the city for Lafayette Square’s big Wednesday Concert Series. Locals make good use of the concerts, and it was easy to see why. Plenty of food and booze, good Jazz, and the concert was free.

We bugged out after Trumpet Mafia finished their set, and we headed over to the French Quarter to get our fix of iconic New Orleans and massive, inebriated crowds. To be fair, most people were probably at least somewhat sober, but the area’s open-carry alcohol policy is always in full swing, leading to happy pedestrians rambling in the streets and traffic nearly at gridlock.

Bourbon Street, not yet at full capacity.

Lafitte’s dates back to the early 1770s and is said to be the oldest bar in the United States

The upside to driving Nippy through the masses was the chance to thoroughly enjoy the architectural details that make New Orleans such a great city. So much of it is just beautiful. It’s one of those locations that, once you’ve seen it you never forget it.

We drove through City Park the next day, primarily for the big dog park, which we discovered was only open to those with a membership. The park itself, however, blew us away with how much it offered, and we could only imagine how fantastic it would be to live nearby. Anything you could ever want from a community amenity could be found there. Storyland for young children, a mini amusement park for older kids, botanical gardens, Putt-Putt golf, all manner of enjoyment on land and on water, and, we noted, an outlet of New Orleans’ famous Café Du Monde.

We didn’t stop, other than making a sprint for the porta-potties after all our morning coffee and tea, but we would return here later in the week for a good stroll, and during that time we discovered the enchanting Singing Tree, adorned with lots of wind chimes that created a gentle, pleasing sound with each breeze.

Sweet, blessed relief! But not for us. They were all zip-tied shut.

Here’s a sneak peek at the Singing Tree, which we didn’t see until our next visit.

It has some gigantic clangers.

We headed out of the park to San Bernardo Byway, making a stop at Chalmette National Historic Park and Battlefield site of 1815 Battle of New Orleans, between American and British forces. Chalmette Cemetery is right next to the battlefield, with 14,000 graves of soldiers from the War of 1812 through Vietnam. Freeman Cemetery is here, too, with the graves of slaves.

But the coolest thing about the battlefield was, it was inherited by a freed Black man, Jean Pierre Fazende, after the Civil War, who partitioned it off and sold plots to former slaves, creating Fazendeville. The not-cool part is, the National Park Service essentially took back the land in 1966, some say to “honor the sesquicentennial,” other say it was done to break up the community for voting and school segregation reasons. Either way, the thriving village was destroyed, and those who had homes there ended up in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which later suffered the most damage from the levee failure after Hurricane Katrina.

This plantation home was built on the former battlefield in the 1830s

The Byway also passed through St. Bernard, where 81% of the buildings (20,229 houses) were damaged on Aug 29, 2005, due to Hurricane Katrina. Then Issac hit –twice—in 2012. Seventeen miles south of New Orleans, the area is practically surrounded by water at the best of times, but when the sea moved in during the hurricanes, devastation happened.

A long stretch running parallel to the single road to Shell Beach is lined with dead trees, on both sides.

We ended at the tiny fishing village of Shell Beach, a funny little place that’s pretty much just one street, with a quirky sense of humor.

We took another drive through the French Quarter hoping for a stop at Café Du Monde or Beignet Café, but again, it was a no-go. But this visit turned into a reminder that you never know what you’re going to see, and we saw some stuff.

This lady set up some sort of fortune-teller opportunity, right in the street.

We don’t even know what to say about this. Some poor guy had to stand in the middle of the street to take their photo.

This doesn’t look like much, until you realize that’s Chewbacca in between these two people.

Instead, we stopped at Rouse’s grocery store to pick up something for dinner, and discovered Louisiana is even more serious about its crawfish than we thought. Cookin’ ‘em up in the parking lot, sellin’ ‘em inside the store, fresh and ready to devour. What a wonderful world we live in!

Our next road trip was out to swamp country, starting at Norco, home to the Bonnet Carre Spillway flood control operation. Now, we’re not engineers, so maybe this is an important feature for flood control, but we did wonder how the big spaces between the spillway’s wooden slats were going to stop much water.

You can’t see the wooden slats in this photo, but they had gaps.

So many homes and businesses we saw along our drives still stand as stark reminders of the hurricanes’ power.

This destroyed home still had clothing in the closet.

A few metal roofs told such a detailed story that it was easy to imagine every moment as the roof panels were being tortured and stripped away by the wind.

We then passed through Garryville hoping to find the Timbermill Museum Pond Trail, but when we arrived it seemed the museum and its trail packed up and went home a decade or two ago, and were nowhere to be found.

It was supposed to be here, but it’s not.

But no matter. Our next adventure was a giant gator hunt, so our excitement level remained high. When we found it, we snapped a dozen photos like the tourists we are.

Note the gator’s eyeball. Menacing or comical? You decide!

The next day found us heading south on 310 and 90 through series of small, rural towns, with random ships on one of the canals. Much of the area south of New Orleans is strips of land with water on both sides, so fishing, crabbing, and shrimping are the main ventures, along with big industrial refineries.

Bayou Gauche prompted a little detour off our path, mainly because we liked the name.

Most of the photos of destroyed homes (above) were taken in Bayou Gauche. It’s an area experiencing dramatic change, as you can see by the mansions just across the bayou.

We drove on to Leeville, where we veered onto a massively long bridge to Port Fourchon, the furthest south we could go and still be on terra firma.

There have been many, many times during our trip that we’ve “felt” how hard-working our fellow Americans are, and how much our own lives are surrounded by conveniences of every kind. The rural, coastal areas of Louisiana impressed us with the level of self-sufficiency they require, and the ability to survive in such harsh and natural locations.

We’d packed a lot of New Orleans into just a few days, but we weren’t done yet.  

Baton Rouge Round Two

Louisiana was proving to be a state of surprises and contrasts. Human-made refineries amid raw, natural wetlands; the humblest of homes just steps from mini-mansions; and, as we meandered its riverside roads, the undeniable elegance of antebellum plantations, timeless and serene and evoking a certain nostalgia even though neither one of us ever lived that life, but with the specter of their past impossible not to feel.

We’ve seen several plantations that still stand in Georgia, so we were eager to see how Louisiana’s compared. With that goal in mind, each time we toured within Baton Rouge and beyond its borders we looked for plantation homes. Some remain private residences, and some are open for tours or function as B&Bs.

Carter Plantation is a bit of an anomaly. It now sits in the middle of an upscale residential community, and while it would have been considered a relatively large home in the 1800s, it’s fairly small by today’s standards, and certainly in comparison to its immediate neighbors. But it boasts the status of being on the National Register of Historic Places, and is set apart from other plantations because it’s the first in the county to be owned by a free “person of color,” African-American Thomas Freeman. Freeman and his slaves (!) worked its 2,000 acres until 1838.

Carter Plantation

Carter Plantation’s new neighbor

Built in the style of an English cottage in 1790, Butler Greenwood Plantation is also relatively small by Georgia standards, but it was a thriving agricultural concern back in the mid-1800s, when nearly 100 enslaved people worked the cotton, sugarcane, and indigo fields. It’s a private residence, largely unchanged since the 1850s.

Nottoway Plantation, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of plantation home that drips with the style of its time. You could easily imagine Scarlet O’Hara sitting on the porch with the Tarleton twins complaining about “war talk,” though frankly, my dear, Tara was nowhere near this grand.

Today, it’s the South’s “largest remaining antebellum mansion,” and it’s hard to wrap your head around the size of this place. At one time it held 176 people in enslavement, doing the brutal work of sugarcane production on the owner’s 7,000+ acres. Now, it’s a hotel that also does tours.

This is the back of the house!

Oak Alley doesn’t shy away from its history of enslavement, and it includes an exhibit that tells the stories of the human beings forced into labor in the plantation’s sugarcane fields. Tours of the slave quarters and the Big House are offered, but we arrived too late to take one.

We passed several more over the course of our final week in the areas surrounding Baton Rouge, including the magnificent Whitney plantation, setting for scenes in the movies Django Unchained and 12 Years A Slave. Its history includes some of the most brutal aspects of slavery, but its modern face is turned toward telling that story through the voices and experiences of the enslaved. It is marked out as a designated “Site of Memory,” (in this instance, a location in which a significant point in history, held in collective memory, is contained) as well as being on the National Register of Historic Places.

If Georgia’s fictional Twelve Oaks and Louisiana had a baby, it would be the Whitney.

We didn’t discover the names of the following plantation homes along the scenic Great River Road, but they gave us a fairly clear idea of what neighboring homes of wealthy land-owners would have looked like, pre-Civil War.

Over the course of this trip we’ve been so appreciative of the places that look the uglier aspects of their past straight in the eye, call it what it is, and strive to educate toward an understanding of those events, unfiltered by bias.

Louisiana is, of course, far more than its past. Our tour of the downtown area turned up lots of interesting sights, including Louisiana’s Old State Capital, the WWII destroyer USS Kidd, Red Stick Market farmer’s market, and the fascinating Sing the River Sculpture, which reminded us of The Bean in Chicago.

Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center made for another easy drive and gave us the chance for some fresh air in natural surroundings.

You can take the kid out of the jungle, but…

How moody!

Susan still wasn’t up for much cooking, so we decided to grab lunch at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, which started in Baton Rouge in 1996. We’re not big fast-food people, but we had to agree, these were some pretty terrific chicken fingers, and one order was enough to split (3 for Simon, 1 for Susan).

As our time in Baton Rouge wrapped up, we decided the only area we hadn’t really seen yet was to the north of the city, and a day-trip found us in Natchez, Mississippi, just across the Mississippi River. So often during our travels we’re led to something special, and this road trip was no exception.

We grabbed lunch at Pig Out Inn BBQ solely based on its funny name, splitting a scrummy chopped brisket sandwich with sides of potato salad and baked beans. It was all delicious, but those beans…Susan could easily have made a meal just of those (which would be a bad idea later that night in a 36-foot space, so she didn’t).

The unexpected highlight of the day, however, was the Natchez Powwow, which we stumbled upon as we walked along the riverside, celebrating culture through dance, music, food, and camaraderie. Everyone was welcome to join some of the dances, but we stayed off to the side, since we had Ruthie with us. We did check in advance to make sure photos were acceptable, and were told we were welcome to take photos and video.

Dances circled a tent in the center of the ring, where drummers and singers were located, and people moved along the dance route in whatever way moved them. Some shuffled, some danced alone, some danced shoulder-to-shoulder, and it was so beautiful we forgave ourselves for getting a bit misty-eyed.

Beautiful, powerful women!

I love the generations in this photo.

Baton Rouge and its surrounding areas surprised and delighted us, and it’s certainly an area to which we’ll return. We are reminded again and again how blessed we are to experience the events and meet the people that make this country so diverse and compelling.

Striking A Balance With The Big “Red Stick”

In 1699, a French-Canadian expedition led by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville made its way along the Mississippi River, and came upon bloody cypress sticks driven into the ground, with fish and the heads of sacrificial bears attached at their pointy tops. These markers signified the Houma Indian and Bayou Goula tribes’ hunting borders, and spawned the name Baton Rouge, or “red stick,” which was the next destination in our Year on the Road journey.

The drive between Lafayette and Baton Rouge turned out to be an adventure in itself, and we were delighted by the scenery on both sides of the 18-mile-long Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. This was real Louisiana stuff; bayou all the way, with people fishing from boats right there along the split highway. Fantastic!

A long, long bridge with a great view!

How pleasant is this?

You know there’s gators in there!

We missed getting the photo, but there are people fishing in small boats in that waterway.

Our first week combined lots of rest for Susan, who was still testing Covid positive, with as much touring (and her fully masked up) as we could possibly do. Tiger’s Trail RV Park proved to be blissfully quiet, with lots of open space that made staying “home” scenic and comfortable.

Isn’t this peaceful? Lots of space around us. That’s the casino in the background.

We had earmarked several Scenic Byways, and because Tunica Trace Scenic Byway was the shortest, we made it our first drive. But this is us, so if you’ve been reading the blog from the start, you already know it won’t be as simple as getting in the car, ambling along joyfully, and ending with happy memories of a relaxing excursion.

Beautiful! Serene! Peaceful! Oh-oh.

We try to find a balance between research and allowing for discovery when we choose the places we’ll tour, so we knew we’d be on a designated Byway (Highway 66) through the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area, featuring rolling, forested hills. What we didn’t know was that Highway 66 isn’t paved, it’s only wide enough for one-and-a-half cars, and no one will come to your aid if you break down or blow a tire because there’s no cell phone service in the forest. Plus, there’s bees. Hundreds and hundreds of giant bees, who follow your car for the entire 20-mile trip.

It’s like something straight out of a Bob Ross painting.

And then the “uh-oh” began.

All we could think of was blowing a tire and having to change it with a thousand of these angry bees swarming around in a murder rage.

Poor little Nippy lurched and pounded and battled her way through, and we were incredibly relieved when we finally reached the end of the Byway and hit solid pavement.

And then there was this.

We were slightly less relieved when we came to the end of the pavement and were face-to-face with the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison, home to what the locals call “the real bad boys.”

Back away quietly, Simon.

But we’re glad to have the story, since we lived. If not for having to watch the road every moment for massive potholes and downed trees, it would truly be one of the most wild and beautiful drives we’ve done so close to a major city.

We drove on to St. Francisville for a glimpse of The Myrtles antebellum plantation, whose current owners call it one of America’s most haunted houses. Up to ten people are said to have been murdered at this former slave-owning plantation, but documentation indicates it was really only one.

That one person isn’t the ghost most people agree haunts the place, though.  Instead, Chloe, a former slave hung by her neck until dead for the poisoning of a former owner’s three children, still walks the grounds. Problem is, it seems none of the plantation’s records include a slave named Chloe, two of the children actually died from Yellow Fever, and the third lived a long-ish life. Even so, hauntings are fun when no one gets hurt.

A caretaker named William Winter took a bullet on one of the house’s side porches, but doesn’t seem to spend any time in the house now that he’s enjoying the afterlife.

Susan was still testing Covid positive, so we were finding a balance between touring and napping, and a quieter day was on the cards. Louisiana State University wasn’t far away, so we popped over to see the Indian Mounds and pose with a statue of the university’s mascot, Mike the Tiger.

What we didn’t realize was that Mike (at least, the seventh incarnation of the original Mike, who died in 1956) has his own habitat right there on campus grounds. We had thoughts about that particular brand of captivity, but it was still incredible to see such a glorious cat as he sunbathed, yawned, stretched, and found a nice rock to flop down on, to the delight of all onlookers.

Mike doing what Mike does.

And now…a nap!

We had a good, long drive around the campus’s lake area, where huge homes enjoyed one of LSU’s prettiest views. And that’s saying something. Of course, Michigan State University is the most beautiful campus in the country, but LSU is certainly right up there. Simply gorgeous, and those Live Oak trees…!

One of our lasting memories of Louisiana, and especially Baton Rouge, will be these gorgeous Live Oak trees. They’re everywhere, and they’re just stunning.

There were several Scenic Byways we hoped to explore, and Southern Swamp Byway was next on our list. Our first stop along the byway was Cajun Village, a small collection of restored Acadian dwellings made into boutique shops with a distinctly “bayou” flair.

Simon went into the Coffee House and came out with two hot drinks and a bag steaming with three fresh-made beignets, those crispy-soft, fried delights absolutely drowning in powdered sugar. And since he bought them, there was nothing to do but eat them. So we did.

The deliciousness!

The destruction!

Bayou Francois wasn’t far away, so we brushed the powdered sugar off our jeans (and our phones, and our seats, and the floor) and made the trek out into the wilderness. The bayou’s big appeal is fishing and kayaking, but those were off the cards for us. Even so, the drive to the bayou was punctuated by gator sightings, hundreds of birds, and an up-close view of an Exxon Mobile Pipeline plant surrounded by hundreds of acres of swampland.

A rocky road runs through swampland on both sides.

Most of this isn’t solid ground. So many creatures live in there.

Giant gator alert! There were several biggies here, as well as a few smaller ones.

A stark contrast between natural wetlands and burn-off from Exxon Mobile’s plant.

After a few days of touring, we needed a quiet day (and by “we” I mean “Susan”), so one of us slept much of the next day away and the other (Simon) went to see Dune 2 at a nearby movie theater (fully masked, of course, and with only three other people in the theater), then checked out the casino that supports Tiger’s Trail campground.

The casino and hotel are quite elegant, and are situated right off the Mississippi River.

At that point we had a decision to make. We had planned to move on to New Orleans after a week, but there was so much to do in Baton Rouge, and we felt we hadn’t done the area justice yet. True to the very best of Southern hospitality, the staff at Tiger’s Trail were absolutely brilliant in extending our stay, and their kindness was, without a doubt, the key to a better recovery for Susan and more time in a wonderful city for both of us.

The Bayous Beckon

Hello, Louisiana! Home to vast acres of rice fields and crawfish farms, and weird, sticky-uppy stalks that we discovered were sugar cane, one of the state’s primary crops. Hello, Covid, too, which put a major damper on our touring, with its ferocious exhaustion and coughing that had Susan bedridden for four days straight.

These fields are everywhere. Some are rice fields, some are crawfish ponds, and some are both.

The virus’s nasty symptoms hit the night before we moved from Beaumont, Texas to the peaceful oasis of Parkside RV Resort in Broussard, Louisiana, but at that point we thought it was a bad cold, or maybe allergies. We’d been so careful; didn’t dine in restaurants, our touring was all outside and just the two of us (plus Ruthie), so Covid wasn’t at the top of our minds. It was only two days later, when Susan said, “I’d better test to rule it out,” that we knew the awful truth.


During our pre-test time of innocence we took a little drive around Broussard, exploring the downtown area by car. It’s a cute city center, very compact and approachable, and we liked the small-town feel in a place we thought would be much, much bigger. It also offered a hint at the transition Lafayette seems to be going through.

The historic area is going through a change, but certainly retains its small-town charm.

Two features really stood out for us as we drove around: the Giant Live Oak trees and the above-ground cemeteries. We’d seen this sort of cemetery during a visit to New Orleans years ago, but they still stand out as curiosities, especially as so many of them seem to be in the back end of nowhere, or smack in the middle of the city.

The Live Oaks are so dramatic, and incredibly beautiful.

Susan had a little rally five days into it, so, with her fully masked up in an N95, we hit the road for the Bayou Teche National Byway to Morgan City. We had been wondering exactly what “bayou” meant, since we thought it meant a big, swampy waterway with cypress trees in and around it, but very back-woodsy, dark, and mysterious due to all the trees. The kind of place Huckleberry Finn would have been born and grown up, where ‘possum and squirrel were always on the menu.

Instead, it’s a French version of the Choctaw word “bayuk,” meaning (roughly) a creek or small river, which was what we were seeing every time we saw a marker for a bayou, including Bayou Teche (literally, river snake, or “snaking river”), which was once the original course of the mighty Mississippi River a few thousand years ago.

Bayou Teche

There may be those among you who have unexpectedly encountered the transfer of illegal goods from one car to another, as we have seen on occasion, but only in Louisiana would that transfer of goods involve crawfish and shrimp. And that’s exactly what we saw while waiting to gas up Fati at a Walmart. These two fellas negotiated the sale of crustation packages tucked in a cooler full of ice for quite some time, while holding up everyone in line behind them waiting to get gas.

The next day, Susan was free from the feeling of having been kicked in the face by a donkey, but still coughing and incredibly tired, so we opted for a drive along the Cajun Corridor Byway that runs between Delcambre and Kaplan, south of Lafayette.

This is how Susan did most of our touring, when she wasn’t flat-out asleep in the rig.

Simon’s appetite made up for Susan having none at all, so a visit to Suire’s Cajun Restaurant and Grocery Store for lunch was in order, being somewhat of a local institution. We knew before we even started the trip that Louisiana would be a non-starter for Susan, food-wise, due to a rather nasty shellfish allergy, so having no desire to eat was a blessing in disguise.

Some of the best food we’ve had has come from some of the humblest places.

He’s got the goods!

Simon had no such restrictions, and went for the Boudin Plate, a homey assemblage of Boudin sausage, rice, gravy, a dinner roll, slaw, beans, and a brownie. Delicious perfection!

The kind of food you scarf down, then sop up the tattered remains with a biscuit.

We detoured further south for a drive along the White Lake Birding Trail after lunch, and while we couldn’t do any of the walking trails, the road through it rewarded us with wildlife sightings and reminded us of our beloved Apopka Wildlife Drive in Florida. We saw lots of gators, some deer, hundreds of birds, and a mammal that was either a muskrat, a beaver, or a woodchuck. Probably a beaver, possibly a woodchuck, but we’ll never know for sure.

This is definitely a gator.

Cooking dinner was out of the question, so we made a quick stop at Hebert’s Meats for pre-made Etouffee and sausages, which Simon could dine on for the next couple of days. Somehow, we only have one photo of the outside of the store, and none of the fine offerings within.

Susan’s rally was short-lived. The next morning her oximeter was showing some worrying numbers, so it was off to Urgent Care, just a quarter-mile from our campground. Two chest X-rays later (mercifully, both clear), we were sent home with a six-day course of steroids, an antibiotic for a brewing secondary infection, and a coupon from the doctor to help us afford a $500 inhaler.

While Susan slept the rest of the day away, Simon went back to St. Martinville to see the Evangeline Monument and the Acadian Museum. The monument is a plaque in front of a massive Live Oak tree, the fourth representative of the original tree made famous in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s tragic poem, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie about the exile of Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755.

When we set out on this year-long adventure, our perception of Louisiana was that it was a less prosperous state, but as we drove around we began to see a pattern. Big houses and mini-mansions were rising up right next door to the most humble of homes, mobile homes, and RVs being used as homes, both in the towns and perhaps especially in the more rural areas. Something was clearly happening (gentrification; it’s gentrification), and when we arrived in Baton Rouge a week later, our curiosity about this trend kicked into high gear.

Our week in Broussard and Lafayette was far too short, especially given the days “wasted” by sleep, but we thoroughly enjoyed what we did see. Louisiana’s southern coast had definitely impressed us so far, as did the Southern kindness and generosity we’d encountered, and we were eager to see more.