Following Your Nose

JourneyIslandStyle

April/May 2015

Follow your nose, it’s bound to take you somewhere interesting.

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Oh Happy Place!

A few weeks ago we embarked on this journey to discover parts of the American coastline that most never get to witness; we failed.

Well, we failed in that the journey did not go exactly according to plan. It is taking place, just not the way we envisioned it. We left about two weeks later than scheduled, spent more time on the road getting to where we are now and have been storm bound for the last two weeks. Oh I could have forged on and braved the elements like a tough little outdoorsman but I simply did not want to. The thought of beginning this journey with foul weather was; well, just no.

Now to bring a clear picture of where we are right now I’ll start with this, we are in Pirates Cove, Josephine, Alabama.

Pirates Cove is an anomaly in space, time and culture, there is a vortex here that entraps the unwary and ensnares the vagabonds. People have turned up here and simply never left, and if they do manage to leave, something drags them back. We very well may become one of them.

Here’s a brief overview of our journey so far; I may, at some point in future describe in more detail the various parts of the journey getting here, but for now a brief overview will suffice.

We left Santa Fe,NM, and headed down highway 285 with the intention of getting some good distance down. We got as far as Roswell, NM, and spent some time the next day looking for aliens. After Roswell,… about an hour after Roswell, we reached Brantley Lake near Carlsbad, NM.

Brantley Lake, in the middle of this region, has fish so loaded with DDT that eating them is prohibited, catch and release only. DDT!!! I thought that stuff was banned? I have no idea if the mining of oil has anything to do with it, but it does make one think.

Then to the Carlsbad Caverns, what an amazing place, eerie shapes and shadows lurk around all corners and the sense of being on an alien planet or realm carries you through the whole experience.

Traveling through southern New Mexico was another surreal experience, we had no idea that oil extraction was so prolific. For hours we drove through oil fields, big mechanical cranes bobbing their heads up and down to bring up the crude oil, burn off flames as far the eye could see and the smell, holy dooley the stench was overwhelming.

After the shock and awe of the oil fields, and oh, the road 285 through southern New Mexico became a rough goat track from the constant passage of oil trucks. During the last section of the oil fields, we popped into Texas with no indication of crossing the border, and then we eventually found an oasis; Balmorhea, pronounced bal-more-ray.

Balmorhea has a natural spring around which, in the 1930’s, a pool was built, with diving boards, picnic areas camping grounds and fish to watch as you swim around.

Each day over 15 million gallons of water emerge from the San Solomon Springs in the depths of the pool and flows through with a year round temperature of 72 to 76f, the heat is absorbed from the rocks through which it flows. The deepest water is around 25 feet and scuba diving is enjoyed here,… it’s a desert!

Anyway, from Balmorhea we started heading east on interstate 10. Now, we felt we were traveling slow on 285 but on this highway the speed limit is 80mph and we felt like slugs; oh bugger, those big trucks just seem bigger when they’re going so much faster! But it was not all bad. We found that a high percentage of the traffic also only ran at 65mph so we would tuck in behind a trailer of some sort and use them as rolling protection.

We continued on I-10 into San Antonio. I had some serious reservations about getting into this level of traffic; remember I’m just a lad from a small country down under and these big cities can get a bit scary. However all worry was in vain as the drivers we encountered were extremely courteous, to the point of slowing slightly when I turned on my indicator and they would flash for us to move over… in front of them!

What is this mysterious place? Who are these weird people? Have we slipped into a parallel dimension?

San Antonio … Now here was a place that really surprised us. It’s a large city with big highways and crowded malls yet we found the best KOA to camp in at the heart of the city. The staff are unbelievably helpful and the park is very laid back. At the front gates, the bus will take you into the river walk district and this is something to be enjoyed and explored with good food and great drinks.

In the heart of the city is the world renowned ‘The Alamo’, and as usual the image is far larger than reality but this does not diminish the significance of the resolve shown by the soldiers of the time.

In addition to The Alamo, is one of the funkiest bars I’ve ever visited, Moses Rose’s. Moses was the only one who, when Col. Travis drew a line in the sand and asked for the famous decision to be made; who of my men will stay, fight and surely die defending the Alamo or walk away and live? Well Moses thought about the question and decided to walk away to the riverside area and drink frozen margaritas instead of taking a dirt nap.

Some may consider his decision to be a cowardly action, however if he did not make that decision then the story of the Alamo may never have been told. And more importantly, Moses Rose’s Hideout Bar and Grill would never have come into existence and we would all be more the poor for it.

Then we jumped back on I-10 toward Houston, and oh yes we’re back in the real world now of cranial rectal insertion.

We wanted to bounce through Houston before peak hour traffic and from all appearances we managed to hit it smack in the middle of peak hour, the traffic was nuts. We later found out that we really did miss the peak hour; it’s just always like that!t

In our pre-trip research we had seen some photos of Port Arthur, TX, and thought it would make a nice stopover. It seemed to have some nice beaches, a small harbor and a little quaintness to it, even if somewhat industrial, boy were we wrong.

In fact the best aspect we witnessed here was the sign, ‘You are now leaving Port Arthur’. What ever it was that we drove through had us both watching to see if any cars pulled out to start following us. At one point a police car came screaming out onto the road a few cars back behind us and I thought, “oh crap here we go.” It was after the car directly behind us and not just a little siren squark and flashing lights, these guys rounded that car and screached to a stop in front of them trapping them in. Yep that sign was a mighty fine thing to see.

At this point we were completely knackered from driving all day, and dealing with traffic in Houston and having heart palpitations in Port Arthur. Man, we were just looking for a place to camp for the night.

Casey found a small RV park on the Internet. It was about five miles off the highway and so we tried to find it. We took an exit off the highway, turned onto the road we needed and found ourselves back on the highway. I thought that after all the squiggling the off and on ramps did we were heading back to Texas, but we weren’t! We were moving further into Louisianna, without an exit for quite a ways.

No worries, we can deal with that, we found the next exit and got back on the highway returning to where we needed to go and again got off the highway and immediately did the exact same thing. Well I did the exact same thing. Casey told me to turn up a road but I thought it was dual lanes coming at us from over a rise. I did not want to risk it and we found ourselves getting back onto the highway; again!

Eventually we did get off the interstate and found the road we needed. It was a very dark road at this time of night and a road with nowhere to turn around, even if we needed to. It seemed to take us directly into the heart of banjo country. In fact when we got to the RV park and “The Chad” came out to see us, he was dumbfounded that we had even found the place. He said, “we don’t get many people not from around here, here.” I was the first Australian he had ever met and he allowed us to stay for free. Thanks, Chad. You’re a very cool guy.

To put a little perspective to the scene, when Chad was deciding where to put us for the night, he was looking around and saying things like, “over there should be okay, but don’t go near those other campers, they’re a little weird. Have a good night, see you in the morning.” Hmmm, where’s the shotty?

In the morning we headed back to I-10 to continue our journey East again, making our way towards Pirates Cove, Alabama. Between here and there is a little town called New Orleans, or as the locals say N’awlins. Our intention was to bypass New Orleans, being a big bad city and all, and head straight to Pirates Cove.

As I said, that was our intention, however as usual it did not quite happen that way. The highway kind of dog legs and we did not see the signs soon enough. Hey presto we’re heading into New Orleans! This turned out to be a wonderful thing. So wonderful in fact that instead of spending just the night and riding on, we spent two nights and saw some amazing stuff in the old French quarter. There is definitely a very unique vib to the French quarter.

A bit further along I-10 we, eventually, got to the country roads that would bring us to Pirates Cove in Josephine, Alabama and what a difference. We went from 85 mph highways into little state roads of 55 mph, even we felt like it was sooo slow!

Now as we approached Pirates Cove, there were hardly any cars on the road and it felt quite lonely. Then around one bend, lo and behold, a car park overflowing out onto road. What the hell? Little sleepy hamlet of a place and we find ourselves crawling between parked cars on the side of the road!

We parked a short distance away and walked over to find the owners. Paul says yep no problems with starting our sea journey here, just need to find a spot to park, which is not going to happen anytime soon.

Of course as the crowd of the day dispersed, we did find a place to park the car and trailer, and the perfect little space to assemble Wilber over a couple days.

The locals warned us of the vortex that exists here, phooey to that says I.

Then the thunderstorms came and stayed for two weeks, yay!

Now three weeks later, after the urging from many people including Karl, another of the owners, we decided to enter Wilber in the Wooden Boat Festival and now I’m warning people about the nature of this vortex that will not let certain people go. It’s real I tell you!

So you may be wondering if I’ m devastated that I had this big journey planned with Wilber and the world conspired against it. The thing is, life happens. You can get bent out of shape trying to fight it, or you can embrace it and go with the flow. Going with the flow feels a lot nicer, so we’ve taken to following our nose.

The upshot of all this is that following your nose and allowing the world to lead you someplace you had not even considered can open up an all new unexpected world of adventure, we just need the courage to take steps forward even if the path is unknown.

 

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