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Northwest Overland member blogs detailing each individuals unique experience in preparing for and taking overland adventure travel with their friends and family.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
TAT Day 7
I'm writing this a day late. We woke up at camp in the riverbed to the sound of light rain Tuesday morning, and considering a couple of warnings about possible floods the night before (after all, the reason we were camped there was because of a flood), we thought it might be best to jet out of there. We had a quick breakfast and powered up the steep gravel hill on the west bank of the river.
Oklahoma roads were much smoother for us. Actually, I enjoyed Oklahoma a lot. Part of this may have been because of the rain off and on--temperatures were very pleasant. We hit a few hills here and there, but mostly flat farm land. I think it was probably the best time of year to be in that particular part of the country, because the fields were covered in deep, brilliant green grass, or sometimes tall golden grasses. The sky was sort of roiling with varied greys in the clouds, so it made for a fascinating backdrop, and after a couple of slow, jolting days, it was nice to fly over smooth gravel roads.
We passed a camel. Actually, a couple of camels. They were fenced in, right by the road to the right of the Jeep. My window was already rolled down ("the experience," remember?) so we just pulled up and I took a couple of pictures. One of the camels came over to look, and then he lifted up his head and made this gargling sound deep in his throat--his gut, almost--like something deep in the drain of a very old sink. I remembered that camels can spit. Another short transcript of our conversation:
Erin: "I think he's going to spit at us. Let's get out of here."
Nathan: "Do you think he could hit us?"
Erin: (Picturing the ride for the next 15 hours, covered in camel spit) "Really, let's just go."
Nathan: "But how far do you think they can spit?"
Erin: "Come on! We're leaving!!!!"
We left, and thankfully no spit.
We looked at the amount of roll chart left until our next hotel--have I explained about the roll charts? Well, it's a little late, but let me do that. Some guy named Sam developed the Trans-America Trail, and he created roll charts with mileages and intersections or turns. Nathan bought a set of roll charts from him, and we got sheets and sheets of these maneuvers and mileages, which we spent some good time cutting out and attaching into long strips. These strips of paper were then rolled and put into a little box with two spindles (probably has a name, but I'm going to assume that since I don't know the name, not everyone else does), and you can roll your way along the chart. Sam had developed the trail keeping in mind how far a person might make it in a day, and planning stops at motels each night. Since the trail was developed for duel-sport bikes, and we did it in a Jeep, we went considerably faster on a lot of the roads (on some we went considerably slower), so we didn't pay much heed to the motel stops, except that we rolled the chart by days that way. It just seemed easier.
So, as I was saying, we looked at the amount of roll chart left until the next hotel, and we realized that we would probably be there before noon, what with the smooth road and all. However, we had a lot to do here in Chattanooga before we drive up to Michigan, so we decided to call it a day at that point.
Drove back to Chattanooga, arrived at 4:00 am to David and Montie's, where we crashed in their living room.
One more roll-chart-related anecdote: Nathan's knee spent most of yesterday looking hideous. I made a couple of attempts to persuade him to get stitches, but he held out. Last night, though, (I should say this morning: it was well into the AM) his knee was hurting him pretty badly. So every few minutes he would try to move and end up moaning in pain. I kept waking up every time he made his various hurting/moving noises, but was sort of (almost) falling asleep in between, just enough to have the sort of half-dreams where you mix dreaming with reality.
Most of our time on the TAT was spent with me reading out the miles until the next turn, and what kind of turn it would be. "2.3, left at the T." Nathan would repeat it back, just to be clear, sneak a peak at the little drawing that Sam had included on the roll charts, and we would try to pay attention well enough to catch the next turn without having to go back for it. So this morning, while Nathan was not-sleeping with his aching knee, I was dreaming that I had a roll-chart for my sleep, and that Nathan's noise waking me up was like the maneuvers on the chart. Except I couldn't figure out the mileage in between. But my mind made a strange analogy between intersections and Nathan trying to move. At 6:30 I woke up enough to suggest pain-killers, and he took some ibuprofen. After that he was dead to the world.
Posted by EHenson at 9:29 AM
Sunday, July 6, 2008
TAT Day 5:
Today has been the hottest day--and the most scenic. We left the flood plains of the Mississippi River this morning, killing the last few mosquitoes that still haunted the Jeep, and drove on dirt and gravel roads almost exclusively, through farm and ranch lands to progressively hillier country, until we entered Ozark National Forest. I have been known in the past to speak disparagingly of the Ozark Mountains. And I still maintain that they aren't really mountains (too small). They are, however, beautiful.
Today is Sunday, and every small town through which we drove was almost completely shut down. I was able to surreptitiously gain access to the men's room in a closed gas station in one town, the owner of which gas station I thank heartily for forgetting to lock the door. In another town there was one gas station open, and I think that was the only place of business open in town--it was hopping. The local police force (a very pretty lady) was out eating country-fried steak, and people crowded the aisles. A couple of hours later, we were passing an awesome-looking general store and cafe in another of these typical small towns when a short downpour began. We would have loved to wait out the rain in the general store, but what were we thinking?!? It was closed. Sunday.
Here's how hot it was: we ate lunch standing knee-deep in the cold, if somewhat murky, water of Dare Creek where it flows under the overpass. There wasn't any place to sit on the banks that wasn't lush with poison ivy. But it felt so good that we stood the entire meal. Then back to the Jeep where we drove with the AC off and the windows open--it saves gas, and it's more of "the experience," as we like to term it.
Passed a GMC truck that had slid off the road. The driver had been pulling over for a passing vehicle in the narrow way when his truck lost traction and fell into a tree. When we drove up, two tow-trucks had winches hooked to the front of the GMC, ready to finish off the entire passenger side by pulling it past said tree and up onto the road. Fortunately, before they could entirely screw the owner of the truck, the boss showed up and reminded his young-looking driver that their truck had a boom and it was perfectly possible between the two tow-trucks to pull the pick-up out from the side. We left the situation in good hands. :)
We're camping in another real camp-ground, located at the top of such a rough road that we are the only guests in the entire campground. It's like a state park-type campground, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 30's. The managers live nearby, and as we were making supper (pizzas in a frying pan), their two dogs came by to visit. They were the sweetest, most laid-back dogs I've ever met. They laid right down and chilled. The big one would hardly even move when we tossed him a scrap of pizza crust. I named them: the big one is Bernie, and the little one is Fleabus (he seemed to be scratching fleas). We assumed that they are boys. We didn't check.
We did not cover so much distance today as we have been, but for great reasons. We had great roads, some pretty rough, but all beautiful scenery. At one point the road followed a ridge that dropped so quickly on both sides that we could see green ridges wrinkling out past the valleys on either side. Also crossed several lovely rivers. The heat made it difficult to enjoy it all properly--we were sticky and miserable and cross. We're camped up on another ridge, though, with a breeze blowing across through our tent, so my temper has smoothed out considerably, and all is well.
Posted by EHenson at 10:13 AM
Saturday, July 5, 2008
We drove Mississippi today. It kind of felt like we came in through the back door. We drove through hills and woods, on tiny dirt roads which, if they have not already served as the setting for a Pulitzer-prize winning novel about darkly hidden family secrets, stubborn caste prejudices, and the strange friendships that transcend them, well, I'm sure they soon will. After a few miles of peering into the small but enormous lives of back-woods Mississippians, we passed into flat farm-lands. After that, the rest of Mississippi was more of the same, between tiny woods communities and the considerably nicer farmlands in between.
Today has afforded the most off-road-ish driving so far. We had a higher dirt-to-pavement ratio, and we got to drive on a couple of mud-splashing roads, a two-track, and a couple of levees. At one point we missed a turn, and Nathan turned the Jeep around in more of a slide than a turn. Awesome!
We met with two couples who were traveling the TAT in Russian military motorcycles (make: Ural) with sidecars. Those things are pretty sweet: they look like they were made in the 1950's, but they are 2006 models. I guess the Russian military just found a design that works and stuck with it.
Bathed in another creek, this time a shallow one underneath an old timber bridge. Had to stop for pigs. I got pictures of that. Nathan was non-plussed by my compulsion to make friends with the lovely pig who was blocking our way. I'm not sure why...
We passed into Arkansas this evening, where most of the crops are rice in--well, you don't call them paddies in the U.S., do you? Whatever; they are still growing in water. There are lots of rivers and swamps, too, to the point that we were concerned about finding a dry place park the Jeep for the night. We started looking for campgrounds in the nearby towns, but the nearby towns had populations around 700. No camping.
One town (Hazen) has a couple of motels, and all of a sudden a hot shower and AC sounded so tempting (last night was extremely damp and sticky, even though it wasn't too hot). The GPS showed a tiny road running parallel to the interstate that ended up right by the motels. We thought that would be more fun, and it was certainly the most direct route from where we were, so we took off down a tiny dirt road through the woods. It involved driving around a gate, but we were soon traversing more of a leaf-covered path-ish thing through even thicker woods. The brush soon became high enough that we couldn't quite see the road, but we could see a set of tracks where someone else had recently driven, so despite an increasingly softer and wetter ground, we pushed on. Until we came to a river with no bridge and a steep bank. We got stuck on a bank of earth that required a bit of winching, but no harm done.
Except for one thing: there was an uncommon number of mosquitoes in the w oods there, and during the winching, they moved into the Jeep and set up shop. I took a picture of mosquitoes on the Jeep's roof. They hung like bats from the roof, dropping down for tasty little snacks.
Good supper, shower, and AC tonight.
Posted by EHenson at 7:50 PM
Friday, July 4, 2008
Nathan calls this the hottest day yet--I was maybe hotter yesterday, but it's been pretty warm and sticky here. We left this morning and hit some of the best trail so far. We had more dirt roads today, and lots of creek crossings.
The thing that makes the TAT so great is not just the off-road part (although I can't think of much more fun than sliding around on dirt roads in Nathan's Jeep). It's the opportunity to see the best part of the country. Typical American travel anymore means endless, soul-sucking miles of interstate with the same truck stops and fast-food chains to continue the monotony. The TAT goes by farms and state parks and wildlife areas, and when it goes through towns, they are the tiny back-woods kind with gas pumps that don't take credit cards and stores that are run by toothless people with heavy southern accents. Dogs here have the good life, with room to roam and hunt, wooden porches to sleep under, and the occasional cow to harass.
We passed through an Amish or Mennonite (or something) community. On one of the farms, one boy was driving a team to mow the hay while another boy, his father, and another young boy were driving the huge hay wagon, piled high overhead with fresh-cut hay. They looked like a picture, so quaint, but I wouldn't want to be out haying in such hot weather.
We crossed the line into Mississippi this evening, and we liked it so much up in these hills that we decided to stop and ask for a place to camp. We figured we might be pushing our luck after such a wonderful experience the other night, but we tried anyway. We stopped at the home of Molly, who drove us just down the road to some logging/slashing/burning land where we not only have a great view of the surrounding hills, but where we were able to set off our fireworks, too. I lit one of the big ones, and I burnt my right thumb and forefinger.
I'm about ready for bed. It's late, after having set off a double-load of fireworks (they were buy-one-get-one-free). Here's hoping for cooler weather tomorrow.
Posted by EHenson at 7:49 PM
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Day Two TAT I:
Sorry about the cheesy subject line. I couldn't resist.
Woke up a bit late this morning, but we made good time anyway--TN is a lot of paved roads besides some dirt and gravel. Last night our awesome hosts directed us to a swimming hole just off the road we were traveling, so this morning we donned bathing suits. The trail included a bridge that went over a relatively small creek, but a lovely clear pool developed just by the road. We pulled off, grabbed the Camp Suds and a towel, and I got to jump in first. It was cold. I did not jump in. I edged. Nathan manned up and got right in the water, and we both washed off a bit. You will see a pretty picture of us in the water, if I can post pictures. Right now, posting consists of stealing a bit of wireless from a hotel or something, so it will probably be a while.
Nathan made it up to the Jeep from the creek before I did, and when I came back, it became clear from the various clothing strewn about that Nathan had changed clothes. All of his clothes. By the side of the road. And I had the towel. I'll just leave that lovely picture to all of your imaginations. :O
I think my favorite part of today's drive was when there was a bridge out. We found our way around on some tracks that were even more off-roadish than the TAT has been putting our way so far. The two-track we found met up with our proper route in the woods, but there was a gate. We considered driving around it, but couldn't. I took a picture in the sort of hopeless "so close, yet so far" mood. Then Nathan tried the lock on the gate and found it to be dummy-locked, so victory after all. We drove through feeling like highway bandits, and then I returned to re-dummy the lock. Except I couldn't get it to hold. It kept looking just plain open. Nathan came to fix it for me. Except he accidentally closed it all the way. So, to whomever had his gate dummy-locked, we are sincerely sorry. Especially if we ruined your day.
We also passed a farm with llamas, donkeys, peacocks, and reindeer. !!! Oh, and another farm with yaks. I swear they were yaks--long horns like a steer, but with long, matted hair in dreds. Interesting stuff.
We are camping tonight in a real, if mildly seedy, campground. It was there, just off our trail, so we decided to go with it. We have met some very nice neighbors already, however. The roof-top tent draws quite a bit of attention. If only we were staying through tomorrow, we could be eating baby-back ribs with a really nice guy from Florida. Or partying in a much rowdier style with the people who camp permanently "up on the hill" (we've already been warned against them twice).
The trail is treating us well, with good windy roads and interesting sights. Have a wonderful Independence Day. Later!
Posted by EHenson at 7:47 PM