Day 224: So long Texas, hello Louisiana

26 February 2011

Location: Katy (Texas) to New Orleans (Louisiana)

High Point:  Good beeping day, we had lots of people beeping and waving to us as they passed us on the highway.

Low Point:  Spending the whole day driving on a pretty soulless main interstate road.

No Point:  Interstate roads when your max speed is approx 55 mph.

The day started with a fabulous home cooked brekkie with extra “biscuits”, aka scones, ‘to go’ to keep the hunger at bay on the long road ahead, thank you Gerry, Susan & Tiny.  We had met our hospitable hosts at the Elks lodge the previous evening and they very kindly offered us a bed for the night in their lovely home.  We just had time for a quick tour of Gerry’s new RV (Recreational Vehicle), complete with an outdoor flat screen TV, before hitting the road for some serious mileage.

It was the “dream team” upfront for the first hour, Gem in the Navigators seat and me driving.  On FTFE we try to avoid travelling through lots of big cities on the route as we feel we get to see the real America in the smaller towns, also negotiating the traffic and city streets can be time consuming and on Stage 8 we are particularly up against it time wise.  On this stage so far we have had to skirt closely around two very large cities, El Paso and Huston, both in Texas, and it always seems to be on my driving shift 🙁

The city bypass roads can be up to six lanes wide, are usually incredibly busy and have a minimum speed limit of 45 mph.  When you’re travelling in a 7.5 tonne truck at around 50/55 mph and other vehicles are not keen on allowing you to change lanes when you need to, this can be pretty hairy!  Things were going OK however until we hit some major traffic, as it turned out due to roadworks, and then when we got moving again we discovered that the route we wanted to take to avoid the interstate road to New Orleans was closed.  So we ended up on the interstate all the way, about 12 hours.  As we can’t actually hit, or even get particularly close to, the speed limit of 75 mph we don’t benefit much from being on them and we find the drive on the smaller roads a lot more interesting.  Spending the entire day on an interstate can be pretty dull.   The roads are un-relentlessly straight, and actually on this particular stretch also rather bumpy, and the scenery often consists mostly of billboards, retail parks and service stations.  I guess at least the service stations are better and so frequent we don’t struggle to find a “rest room” when required.

I am utterly amazed at quite how knackering I am finding my hour long driving shifts, I think the others are a little more used to it now but I start to struggle after only 40 mins behind Martha’s wheel.  It’s easy to see why Steve has developed a serious coffee habit.  I don’t drink coffee, although I’m beginning to wish I did,  I can’t work out whether a coffee addiction would be preferable to the extreme sugar consumption I am currently relying on to get me safely through the last 20 mins of my driving hour.

As we headed east along the southern states of North America from Texas into Louisiana the colours of the stunning beautiful desert landscape we have become used to began to change.  We started to see water in the creeks and rivers rather than the dry river beds that had been so common.  The grass is green again and the trees plentiful.

As we arrived into New Orleans the first stop was at the airport to pick up Rebecca who had flown in from Chicago for the weekend to meet Martha and catch up with Steve.  She brought with her, hot off the press, some copies of the wonderful children’s book she has written about the FTFE journey.  The book was illustrated by another of Steve’s friends, Nicola Wallis, they are talented ladies!  Check out the book her if only to have a chuckle at the illustrated version of Steve!

With Rebecca onboard we made our way to the fire station where Captain Holmes had organised for us to stay. Thank you Captain Holmes and all at Station 7.  We received a warm welcome and were given a tour of the Fire House.  James, Gemma and Steve tried out the pole and we all got very excited about the ample laundry facilities, meaning the prospect of clean socks and t-shirts!  One of the great things about this trip is visiting the fire stations and chatting with the fire fighters about what we’re doing and their experiences.  In New Orleans there was a whole other aspect to our interaction with the fire department due to Hurricane Katrina.  The fire station where we were staying was actually underwater following the hurricane and we were shown photos of the damage and saw how the facilities have changed since.  Our sleeping quarters for the next two nights was to be a trailer in the grounds of the fire station, which was used to house the homeless whilst houses we rebuilt in the aftermath of the hurricane.  The trailer had definitely seen better days.  All in all a pretty humbling experience.n

The good news for the day was that although we wouldn’t be in the city for the actual Mardi Gras day we would get to experience the warm up parties and some of the parades.  Tired but hungry and excited to be in New Orleans we headed into the French Quarter to soak up the carnival atmosphere and to sample the Soul food, we’ve been eating Mexican for a whole week, delicious as it all was a change was certainly welcome!

After dinner we met honorary FTFE crew member Steve Shopman who will join us for the remainder of stage 8.  Steve Moore on Steve Shopman “this man is a complete legend. He is one of the few people to  fully complete a circumnavigation of the world on 4 wheels and has been the ultimate point man for help and advise on the logistics of this expedition. He has also sacrificed both cost and personal time in building / hosting our website. After all this time it is superb to finally meet him”.

We somehow managed to overcome our tiredness and made the most of the rare opportunity to let our hair down and spread the FTFE word.

A great end to day 224 go crew!  🙂


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