Road Miles: 324
Trail Miles: 0
Travel Buddy: RaggedyCrow
I was awakened, abruptly, by what sounded like thousands of pebbles pelting the van. I looked out the window to see showers of pea-sized hail binking off the ground, collecting in little piles. Holy crap! Texas got jokes. I checked to see how RC’s tent was holding up – the fly was shut tight, and the hail bounced off it like it was a trampoline, so that was good. Poor guy. First gale-force winds and dust, now big chunks of hail.
The storm stopped almost as quickly as it started, and we got ready to head out. We’d decided to go into Fort Worth to hit the REI there where RC could pick up the last few things he needed before getting on the AT, and I’m always on the lookout for shoes on sale.
As we were packing up, our neighbors stopped by. “That sure was some storm – y’all get through ok?”
We replied that we were all good. After the perfunctory getting-to-know-you questions (‘where y’all from? How long are you staying? Where y’all headed?”), the husband told us that they were looking for work, and wondered if we knew of anything.
“Oh… well, what kind of work do you do?” I asked.
“We mostly work in the carnival business.” No way – Our neighbors are carnies! Awesome!!
“Wow! I wouldn’t even know how to help you out there… I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright, we’re just a little down on our luck right now,” the man replied, pausing to look at us expectantly. I think he was hoping we would give them some money, which was different, because usually when I pull up to intersections where there are panhandlers, they take one look at me in this beat-up beast of a van and wave, as if to say, “naw, you’re good. I should probably give YOU a dollar.”
Needless to say, supporting our local unemployed carnies was out of both of our budgets, and they took off shortly thereafter.
We got to the REI in Fort Worth, and the contrast between the busy freneticism of the city and the generally slow and quiet pace we had become accustomed to was jarring. There were Range Rovers, Land Rovers, and tricked-out Jeeps crowding the parking lot. Yuppies and yoga moms sipped lattes on the patio of the Whole Foods next door. It felt so weird and alien; I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.
I ended up picking up the Snow Peak Gigapower LiteMax can stove at the REI. I’d just seen Onager’s, and I liked how tiny it is, and especially liked that the pot stand has flip-out leg extensions to create a wider base because I recently picked up a Toaks titanium pot that’s more like half-pot, half-pan. I can boil water for coffee or pasta but also make bacon or a pancake in it if I want. I braved Whole Foods long enough to grab that salami I’d been wanting, and a couple sample cuts of cheese to have for dinner later while RC finished up getting what he needed.
When we got back in the van, I pulled out the atlas to devise the next section of route to continue toward Amicalola. I had no real concept of where in Georgia it actually was. I looked at the overview map of the lower 48, and realized that I also have no real concept of the geography of the eastern United States. I had forgotten about Alabama, and we were still really, really far. RC had to be there to meet up with his hiking partner on the 14th, and today was already the 11th. Shit.
We agreed that we at least needed to get out of Texas today. Now that we were already in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, there was really no way to get east of it without using an interstate. We were southwest of Fort Worth and needed to get and stay as north as possible to stay on the most direct route.
We caught I-20, and I’m practically white-knuckling the steering wheel – so many people! Going so fast! “This is ridiculous,” I think to myself, “I’ve driven from Barcelona to Seville, through Panama City, and hello? I grew up on Southern California freeways, famous for hellacious traffic and obnoxious drivers. Get a grip!” Still and all, I cut north off the interstate as soon as I could, to get to the much more chill TX-154.
By the time we were crossing over Lake Tawakoni, our stomachs were growling, not yet having had any substantial food all day. “Dude. We’re gonna be out of Texas soon. We should probably try to find a Mexican place.”
We looked at each other, wide-eyed. The idea of potentially not having access to decent Mexican food for several months was a terrifying, depressing thought. RC nodded emphatically. “Yeah, definitely Mexican.”
It’s killing me now that I can’t remember exactly where the spot was that we found, just that it was right across from a gas station / convenience store where we topped off, was two words ending with (helpfully) “Tacos,” and that it was below the highway on the westbound side. Mainly it is killing me because the food was DELICIOUS, and super cheap. We each had 3 tacos and split a takeout order of 3 sopaipillas with honey dip, and the total bill including tip was around $15.
At around 7p, we finally hit the Louisiana border. Even though the time in Texas was generally a pleasant surprise, I think we were both beginning to feel like we were never getting out of there, and seeing the state line put a little wind back in our sails. Well, it did until we saw the new speed limit: 55, down from 70. Normally, I would love this, but we were now feeling the pressure of getting to Georgia on time, so maintaining 55 felt like moving through quicksand after having hauled ass all day.
To make things worse, it was getting very dark, very fast. And I mean, pitch-black. Suddenly we were buried under deep tree canopy, passing through, by, and over bayou after bayou. Where the hell did all these big-ass trees and swamps come from? It’s like they magically start right at the state line. It was super creepy! The last stretch to get to the campground we’d found was the creepiest; the headlights barely made a dent in the densest darkness I’ve ever experienced, and the road was bendy with all kinds of little dips, offering a net visibility range of not much.
We finally made it to the main campground entrance, read all of the alligator warning signs (oh yeah… Louisiana has gators. Sweet!), and found that the campground we’d been headed to was closed. Luckily, the Beaver Dam campground is accessed from the same road, so we cruised around and found a site reasonably distant from any neighbors that also appeared to back up to water. The moon had finally come out and was reflected off its surface, casting an eerie glow through the trees.
Relieved the day was finally over, we relaxed with a beer before I passed out from exhaustion, still feeling not at all well with my stubborn cold, and RC was left to pitch his tent next to what he swore was a gator trail. Sweet dreams!