This is part 4 in a series about my Epic Road Trip 2011. If you have not yet seen the teaser, or read the background behind my love for the open road, or even Part 3: The Long Haul, then now would be a good time to get caught up. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
All done? Up to speed? Good. Let’s do this.
Monday, March 7th
Not a bad way to start the day. Another state off the list today, and another Foursquare mayorship under my belt. But today brings more than just a Foursquare mayorship, it brings new, uncharted waters. Today we will cross into Louisiana, the first state on this trip that neither Mike nor I have ever been through.
The other benefit of the day, only 350 miles to cover to New Orleans, a paltry 6 hours of driving. That is, if we take the most direct route. But what fun would that be?
On the way out of the area, we had some great views of the Houston skyline, which in turn convinces us to take a quick detour through downtown to check out the city.
Minute Maid Park is the highlight of the detour, as we only explore 20-30 blocks of downtown, which turns out to be mostly office buildings and one shopping mall.
Eastward we push, still no real idea of where we were headed except for to our first stop in Beaumont, Texas, 85 miles east of Houston, where we stop for gas and to plot out our entry into Louisiana.
As we get back on the road, we decide to take the southern-most entry point into Louisiana as we can, and our sights are set on Port Arthur, Texas.
Not far down the road, we catch up with some fellow Californians!!
Unfortunately, our powers of persuasion did not pay off, and Google did not want to use their Street View cameras to document the rest of Epic Road Trip 2011. BUMMER! Guess we will just have to take care of it ourselves!
A quick turn down Rt-87 has us in Bridge City, TX, a city that definitely lived up to its name. But aside from the bridges, the city offers one of the most interesting sights of the trip… Something Mike nor I have seen before…
This is by far the oddest street lights we have seen, and we cannot really figure out what benefit this design has over more conventional and common designs seen throughout the rest of the country. I guess Texas would be the right place for these though, as these things are HUGE at 30-35′ tall.
Back to the bridges, Bridge City and its neighbor, Port Arthur, TX.
With dramatic bridges over every inlet from the Gulf of Mexico, we are able to get a nice, semi-arial view of southeastern Texas and the oil refineries that provide so much economic support to this area of the country.
Literally have passed 15-20 miles of nothing but oil refineries and storage. Some of these have even been built on man-made peninsulas that extend out into the bays in Texas on the Gulf.
Few quick turns and some, you guessed it, more bridges, we find our entrance to Louisiana. I already feel more french.
More than 1800 miles into the trip, this is only our 4th state we have crossed into and both of our first time down on the Gulf.
Down into Johnson’s Bayou, we continue on the Gulf coast, enjoying the colorful houses that are all raised on stilts or raised ground to protect from the rising sea.
Quick stop for a few pictures in the sand on the Gulf Coast
Slowly winding our way towards New Orleans, LA along the Gulf Coast, the scenery is absolutely beautiful and unlike anything we have ever seen before.
Few more bridges to cross as we head away from the Gulf.
Time to switch drivers just outside of Lafayette, LA.
Once back on I-10, we switch drivers and head towards Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which on I-10 includes the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, an 18.2 mile bridge that crosses the Atchafalaya Swamp. The bridge comes in at the 10th longest in the world and 3rd longest in the United States. Louisiana is home to 4 of the 5 longest bridges in the United States.
After a quick drive to New Orleans, getting checked into our hotel, we headed down towards the French Quarter to see the festivities and fight for some food.
What we quickly find is that the 6 mile journey to Bourbon street is nothing more than 3.5 miles of a parking lot of cars, $35 parking and 20k people downtown. After 2000+ miles on our journey, we are in need of food, not chaos. Back towards the hotel we head, with some great examples of Social Media in business.
Here is an exchange of tweets that is how Social Media should be used. Props to Harrah’s NOLA
In amongst the party that keeps New Orleans going throughout the year, this is a shining example of how Social Media needs to be leveraged to make an impact on people’s lives.
And with that, back to the hotel we head.
Tuesday, March 8th
With any road trip (or any trip, for that matter) it is always important to keep an eye on the weather, as we had been doing for the past few days. A large storm was approaching the southeast of the United States, looking to make landfall sometime Tuesday night.
The original plan was to stay in New Orleans Monday and Tuesday night. With the storm fast approaching, it is a quick decision to shorten our stay and head out of NOLA Tuesday afternoon, as staying in a city that is build below sea-level and has a history of broken levees while a very large storm threatens to drop 6-12″ of rain in 24 hours is not our idea of fun.
All checked out and Rusty in the back seat, we head for the French Quarter again to get a little taste of a more subdued Mardis Gras on Fat Tuesday morning.
We wind our way through a very sparsely populated downtown New Orleans, scouting for somewhere to park the beast.
This morning is quite quiet down in the French Quarter, as we found parking with no real problems. With some parades scheduled to start at 8am and run pretty much all day, there are small groups of people downtown, but not enough to where it is all assholes and elbows.
And what would a party like Mardis Gras be without a few of these guys.
And the tweet gem of the Mardis Gras visit comes with one of the biggest issues at Mardis Gras, the parents who just cannot seem to grow up, or find a babysitter.
Cannot count how many parents brought their kids out, many of them in strollers that are primarily used for holding up the drunken parents.
With a quick tour of Bourbon St, St. Chartres and Royale St, it is time to get on the road and make haste getting away from the eye of this impending storm.
As we begin to head out of the French Quarter, we realize what an effort in futility this will be. 2 hours of weaving through residential areas of town, all 1 way streets, none of them heading the direction we need to go. Once we finally are able to make some headway towards an interstate, we run into a float prep area for the next few parades.
We are FINALLY able to make it out of downtown NOLA and head towards Lake Pontchartrain and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, essentially a 24-mile bridge over the center of the lake and the 7th longest bridge in the world while maintaining the record as the longest bridge in the United States.
A quick stop for food and next up, Mississippi!
A quick turn off Interstate 10 and we head towards Gulfport and Biloxi. Both quaint little towns on the Gulf Coast, we were a little surprised as we enter Biloxi and the amount of traffic on Rt-90 along the coast. After a mile of traffic or so, we figure out why.
Yup, Mardis Gras number 2. A little more family oriented and only a parade through Biloxi, but a Mardis Gras none the less.
As we slowly inch down the road, next to the parade route, I open up the windows and sunroof to see if anyone will toss some beads over my way, since the car is only 15-20 feet from the parade route.
The first beads land a few feet too short.
The next ones smack the back bumper.
The next batch bounce off the hood.
The last batch comes flying in from somewhere in the back, straight through the sunroof and off of Mike’s dome. Someone sign the guy up. I know a few teams that could use an outfielder with that arm.
With Biloxi being packed with people, most of the roads are closed, making parking here a nightmare. While we would love to stick around for lunch, we decide to get on down the road towards Mobile, Alabama, our tentative destination for the evening.
After a quick tour through downtown Mobile, Alabama brings up our 3rd Mardis Gras celebration of the day, our typical plan of finding a hotel room by exploring the city quickly turns into a frantic internet search from the smartphones and tablet we had on us.
The search yields no available hotel rooms in Mobile or surrounding suburbs. With 170 miles between us, we set our sights on Montgomery, Alabama as our next destination for the night.
Up I-65 we head, searching for a pet-friendly hotel room in Montgomery, or somewhere in between. Not far into the drive, Mike comes upon a listing for a Holiday Inn Express in Atmore, AL. With a reasonable price and vacancy, we decide to explore the city to see if we can find somewhere worthwhile to eat dinner, as it is around 4pm.
The town center of Atmore is set a few miles off of I-65, about halfway between I-65 and the Florida/Alabama border. As we drove into town and found it to be nothing more than a very desolate, backwoods town with Burger King being the height of culinary mastery in town, we quickly headed back out. Along the way in, Mike makes the comment that it looks like some of the barns and other structures have been blown away by tornados. We laugh and continue on our way, semi-joking and reassuring ourselves that with a huge storm coming in, we don’t want to stay anywhere close to a town that looks like it has seen its fair share of tornados.
3 hours later, we find ourselves in Montgomery, complete with hotel room and a great recommendation for dinner.
Charles Anthony’s at the Pub restaurant in Montgomery, AL is just what the doctor ordered. Steak and seafood restaurant with healthy servings of both, complete with a pretty decent wine selection, good beers on tap, big, comfy leather chairs and great service. I half expect to see a poker game in the corner, but alas, not tonight. The only thing that would make this place fit the vision in my head would have been a slight haze through the darkness of cigar smoke. I just need my suit and a cigar.
Some light rain begins to fall as we make our way back to the hotel, a foreshadowing of things to come.
Wednesday, March 9th
Thankfully, we made it a lot further northeast last night than we had originally planned. Reports on the early morning news out of New Orleans we that of flooding and some water spouts over Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf Coast, however, the storm was moving very quickly towards us.
As I get back inside from taking Rusty for his morning walk, the thunderstorms hit. Lighting and thunder fill the sky and the reports of even more violent weather on the way. Tornados had just been spotted touching down in Mobile, AL and also in Atmore, AL. Time to thank God we relied on our instincts last night.
We decide to pack up and hit the road in the middle of the storm, following the worst section of weather as it progressed northeast towards Atlanta, just like we were. Our logic was that if we were right behind it, we would not be in the worst of it anymore, but we would also beat the hours of rain to come which surely would cause more flooding.
On the road we go, 185 miles to our destination of Cumming, GA.
The rain never relented as we finally made our way into Cumming, GA to spend a day and a half with some very close friends of ours.
The rain let up that afternoon and we headed out and grabbed some lunch at a local Mexican food joint, followed later by a basketball game for our friend’s son.
The team, heavily the underdog, took their opponent to the last few minutes of the game before they ultimately fell to the much higher seeded team. Great game to watch, especially with the youthful exuberance of the kids on the team, as well as the fact that at that age, they are running scripted plays.
An uneventful day, but a great time with friends, a non-hotel bed and best yet, going to bed without the thought of having to get up and get on the road tomorrow morning.
Thursday, March 10th
Sleeping in? On a road trip? OMG!
Okay, well, I didn’t really sleep in, but I slept until 8am, which has not really been happening on this trip thus far, due to wanting to get up and get on the road.
Today is a slow day. A down day. Something we definitely need on our trip. We have been going for 6 days straight. Day 7, we rest.
After a sushi buffet for lunch, we hit up the Dekalb County Farmers Market to do some shopping for dinner tonight, as well as to make Juliet jealous.
In true fashion of tweetable quotes from the road, this gem comes on the drive back towards Cumming, GA from the farmer’s market.
Oh, the random conversations we have.
Dinner is smashed potatoes, shrimp, good beer and great company. It is days like this that make me miss the south more than normal.
And with that, we close out a very fun filled adventure through Uncharted Waters in days 4-7 of Epic Road Trip 2011.
53 hours of driving
2 days to go
Nothing but a victory lap in front of us