Friday, June 17, 2011

South-East Tour Day 8 - Nashville to Smoky Mountains

This morning Kim and I woke to the 7:30 alarm we set on her phone.  We immediately began packing and gradually got the girls up, dressed and fed.
There was a pretty heavy overcast, but we were going to try and get a dip in the lake before we left.  However, as soon as we got fully packed up and down to the lake it began to pour and thunder.  The swim was going to act as our final "bath" before we headed to the Smokys, as there are no showing facilities there.  Since the lake wasn't going to happen, we drove up to the bath house and took proper showers. 
We were scheduled to turn in our rental car today, which meant the GPS had to go with it.  We couldn't find our Tennessee map, so we decided to meet somewhere dry to figure out what to do next.  Kim led us a McDonald's/gas station that had free wireless.  There we filled up our tanks, ate brunch, and pulled up directions on our Chrome laptop, which I copied onto paper.
We returned the rental at the airport, which we are hoping will be alright.  We were supposed to turn it in in Tallahassee.
From the airport we all loaded up in the van and headed East on I-40.  The drive was absolutely magnificent.  I don't try to drive very fast, usually going between 55 & 65 mph.  I only went 70 - 75 on long downhill stretches.  Once I could only push 35, during a long uphill stretch.  Fortunately there were 3 semis in front of me doing the same thing, so I don't think I stuck out too much.
Once we got off the Interstate we entered a little town.  There we ate and picked up groceries.
A few times we thought we may have missed a turn and a few other we almost did.  Driving with just maps and directions, we did have our Smoky Mountains map, is much more nerve racking that the comfort at a GPS guiding you through every turn.  Each time we were sure we were going the wrong way and was about stop, our turn would immediately show up.  Kim and I took this as a sign we should give up quicker if we wanted our turns to show up quicker.  In the park the roads were often completely unmarked which made things really fun.  And what should be only a mile drive seems much longer when you are only going 30 - 35 through winding roads.  My odometer is broken so we couldn't use that to judge distance traveled.
We finally made it into the campground in our site.  It is right next to a little stream.  There is also a full river very close by, which makes for a very comforting background noise.  Kim setup the tens while I played with the kids in the stream, and walked around the campgrounds with them.  We used Katie's tent to store our stuff, and I will be sleeping with Athena and Arianna in our tent.  Kim and Aurora will sleep in the camper, which I set up.
The weather here is very great.  A heavy overdraft, coupled with occasional light sprinkles means we never sweat no matter how much we work or play.  It also provides a gorgeous fog.
Occasionally we'll hear thunder from far off in the distance, but rarely do we actually see the lightning.
We are very low on clean laundry and there are no laundering facilities, so I washed our clothes in the stream and hung them on bungee chords and ropes I attached to some trees.  We'll see if they'll be dry in two days.  We've got our undergarments hanging in the camper, so if nothing else, we should have clean dry undies, which is the most important.
The girls wanted smores, so I tried to get a fire going, but anything I could find for starter was too damp. Everyone got too anxious and just had "row" smores.  Just as everyone else was ready to turn in, and with the help of lighter fluid, Kim's insistence, I got the fire started.  So I was the only one to get hot smores.
Eating the smores was the last thing I did before writing this.  Since the laptop is dead, and there is no Internet for the Chrome-book, I am writing this on notebook paper to type in later.  In fact, my last two entries are in a text document on the laptop, waiting to be pasted in the online blog when I can provide both power and Internet to it.
Now I'm off to bed, and if the weather gets too bad, the lightning is getting closer, the girls and I will move to the van too.

South-East Tour Day 6 - Trip to Memphis

This morning we ate breakfast and left for Memphis.  Kim punched in the address to the Volkswagen dealership in Memphis and we left.  I spent most of the trip driving between 60 to 70 mph and the van held up very well under these conditions.
We arrived at the dealership at 5:15 and I was feeling pretty good about making it when I hit the key and accidentally turned off the van in a place that was not very good for push starting, which kind of killed my high from making it.  Mark at the dealership told me how to get to the place that had my starter, but they where closing in fifteen minutes, and I still had to push-start my van, which wasn't going to happen in time to get there and picked up the starter.
Mark arranged to have them get the starter the next day since we already knew where they where at, which we agreed to.  Kim and I tried to push start the van but it wouldn't work.  Finally a mechanic shop hooked the van up to a large truck with towing cables and pulled me as I popped it into gear and got it started.
Kim was pretty stressed about not getting the starter today, having to push start the van so much today, and that our campsite was so far away, so we agreed to get a hotel again that was near the dealership so we could get it early and I could get started on installing it as early as possible.
This afternoon we ate at a pretty good Mexican restaurant called Happy Mexican and swam in the hotel pool.  I am looking forward to getting our trip back on track tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

South-East Tour Day 7 - Nashville, TN

This morning we awoke to some light rain that only lasted about 45 minutes.  After a breakfast of grits and left-over pancakes we headed to the Verizon store to pick up my new phone.  As it turns out, even though I had selected to have the phone overnighted, it wasn't scheduled to arrive until Monday, at which point we would not be in Nashville anymore.  The guy at the store was extremly helpful and called the campground we are supposed to be at on Tuesday to make sure it was okay if he could ship the package there, and he would send it overnight.  So hopefully on Tuesday I will finally be back in business with my phone ... hopefully.
After the Verizon store we headed to the reconstruction of the Parthenon.  The building was really cool.  You enter through a downstairs area that has an art gallery and an exhibit that lays out the constructions of the Parthenon from concept to a full-scale museum, including a reconstruction of the statue of Athena, which was upstairs.  The whole thing was incredibly cool.  They had cast reconstructions of actual surviving statues from the original Parthenon, and everything was reconstructed with a high level of detail and quality.  A lady who was part of the reconstruction of the statue of Athena was there volunteering to answer questions.  Aurora and her talked on and on for quite some time, and the two of them really enjoyed each other.  Another really cool part was a pair of bronze doors on each side of the Parthenon that stood about 40 to 50 feet high, but they moved with ease with only a slight push.  The plaque said that they where the largest pair of bronze doors in the world, and are not actually part of the original Parthenon, which probably had doors made out of wood.
After that we ate at an Italian restaurant named Maggiano's, which was much fancier than we where expecting.  Howerver, the kids where really well behaved, the service was great, and the food was excellent.  We even got a few compliments from those eating around us about how cute and well behaved our children where.
We followed this with a visit to the Grand Ole Opry Gaylord Hotel.  This was hands down the most amazing hotel I have ever seen.  You could tell from the bricks and windows that the building was quite old, but was kept in very good condition.  The courtyard in between the buildings had a glass ceiling built in, and was completely air conditioned.  A river ran through the different courtyards, and one area had beautiful plants everywhere, coming out of giant rocks, and planted in with the walkways.  Waterfalls, various fish, and beautiful ponds kept the kids well entertained the whole time.  Athena exclaimed that she never wanted to leave the hotel for her whole life.  And even though we walked around for a couple of hours, the kids never complained that their feet hurt, or that they where getting tired.  It came with dissapointment from all three when it was finally time to go back to our campsight.
We stopped at a Walgreens and picked up chocolate, graham crackers, and marhmellows, which we turned into smores back at the campsite.  The kids all agreed that today was a fun day, and we got them to bed in good time so that we can wake up early and swim in the lake before we head off for the Smoky Mountains.

South-East Tour Day 9 - Smoky Mountains

Last night there was a lot of rain and thunder.  The temperature fell quite a bit.  I had long johns in my tent, but they were sitting against the side and where wet.
Kim and I awoke long before the girls.  I got the fire going again while Kim boiled water for oatmeal.  I put tinfoil on the gril over the fire and took turns placing an article of wet clothing from the line on it to dry.  I would get them mostly dry and place them back on the line to finish drying.  The rain was completely gone, and the clouds that were still in the sky did not look threatening.
After the girls awoke, were fed and dressed, we headed towards Cade's Cove to rent some bicycles.  The bike riding didn't go quite as well as planned, but was still fun.  Athena still needs training wheels, and the ones on her rental bike where kind of crooked, which kept her off balance.
Being in the mountains, there were plenty of hills.  Athena and Arianna both had trouble peddling up hill, and down hill they didn't know to ride breaks and would just keep coming to complete stops.  At they very end of the ride Arianna got going down hill and couldn't stop.  The bike eventual fell over and she went down with it.  Fortunately she wasn't hurt badly and calmed down as I carried her, and both our bikes, back to the rental checkout.  Aurora was a prop on her bike going up and down the hills with ease.
After this we headed on to the Cade's Cove loop.  I didn't know it until we got on, but the loop is nine miles long, and the speed limit is 25 mph.  We would have been happy to drive the thing at 25mph, but cars in front of us wouldn't even break ten, and would sometimes come to complete stops.  The road is one-way and one-line wide.  There are occasional turn-offs with signs urgin slower traffic to use them to let others pass, but the slower vehicles didn't seem to use them.
The loop is a preserve of older houses and churches used by the original settler of the Smoky Mountains.  We passed by the first house, not realizing what the stop there was, until after we passed the parking.  Aurora became very excited when she found out what we passed.
The loop has two shortcuts which let you bypass a large portion of it.  We took the first one, which took us to another house, which had a storage house and stable.  We stopped this time and the girls where very excited.  They just loved walking through these old building and didn't want to leave.
When we returned we again got stuck behind slow moving cars that made frequent stops.  At one point while going up a steep incline, a few vehicles in front of us made a complete stop and everyone got out.  After just sitting there for about five minutes Kim got out and tol them they where creating quite a jam.  They could apparently see a family of black bears, and it didn't occur to them that just stopping in the middle of the road as an inconvenience to everyone behind them.
Once off the loop we headed into town to fill up our gas tank.  During our drive we saw a lot of people pulled off the side of the road swimming in the river.  The kids has exclaimed how they wanted to swim in the river.  So when we got back to our campsite and Kim had a long list of packing she wanted to do, I took the kids back on the road to find a place to swim.
The river water was very cold, but once we got used to it the girls started walking upstream.  The river bottom is entirely rocks and it rarely got beyond waist deep on the girls.  I held Arianna's hand as we walked us, since the rocks where very slipper and the current would have been strong enough to keep her under she would have slipped.
We eventually found a good spot where Aurora and Athena played games and Arianna and I took turns throwing rocks.  Arianna thought throwing rocks with me was about as much fun could be had in this world and seemed prepared to do this indefinitely, but eventually we had to return to the campsite for dinner.
Kim and I made rick, broccoli, and corn for dinner.  The cor was especially sweet and juicy.  I cooked it over the camp fire in tin foild after Kim had soaked it in water for a while.
After dinner we exhausted our supply of chocolate on smores.  We loaded the van up with everything that could be packed away and I made the pop-top bed for Kim and Aurora.  Arianna, Athena and I will sleep in the tent again.
Tomorrow we will find one more thing to do in the Smokys and then head into town to find wifi to get directions to our next campground in Asheville, NC.  Hopefully I'll also be able to get a hold of my friend Sean who lives there.

South-East Tour Day 5 - Stranded in Natchez

Today began really well.  We all woke up and just hung out at our camp site.  The kids glued googly eyes on rocks and ate grits while Kim and I loaded up the Volkswagen.  I made a few rearrangements for where we put stuff so that the middle area wasn't so crowded with stuff.  I even brought out the hose and a rag and gave the van a wash, though I had no soap to really get the hard grime off that has been collected over the miles we've traveled so far.  I also charged up the battery because running the fan and the interior lights had eaten up some of it.
There was a minor problem.  My cell phone had gone belly up on me.  When I tried to turn it on it would go to the boot screen, go black and then cycle back to the boot screen, repeating this loop.  I tried leaving the battery out for an extended amount of time, and then repowering everything, but it did not good.  Even attempting a factory reset just put it back into the boot loop.  I finally had to face the fact that my phone was dead.  Fortunately Kim and I had planned for this possibility and had printed everything out, including directions to each place, and we even had maps of each place we are planning to visit.  I thought this was going to be the worst of my issues, but it turned out to only be a minor blip for the day.
A little after noon we headed up to the ranger station to check in, since we got in too late to check in the day before, and check out.  As we loaded back up in the van it wouldn't start.  I knew the battery was full, so I figured it had to be more starter troubles.  Ever since the starter that was in the van when I bought it went out, the thing has never started quite right, and I've been through a few of them.  This starter is only a couple of weeks old, but given that I had a good battery charged, and putting my keys in the start position wasn't doing anything, I was sure it was more starter issues.
Kim called AAA, got a wrecker issues, ordered someone from Enterprise to pick us to rent a car, and reserved a room at a local hotel.  While waiting on the wrecker and the guy from Enterprise, Kim helped me push the van up hill a little and as she pushed it back in we push-started it, confirming it was starter issues.
At Enterprise Kim took care of getting a car checked out while I called around Jackson, MS and Memphis, TN to try to find someone who could overnight a start, or seeing if someone locally could get it fixed.  The local mechanics where backed up for about a week, and nobody seemed to be able to get a start overnighted.  I finally got the Volkwagen dealership in Memphins, TN to say they could overnight a start, and later they found a shop in Memphis, TN that actually had the starter in stock and for a cheaper price than the dealer.  This was pretty fantastic for the dealership to hook me up with someone locally for cheaper.
With this Kim and I made plans that we would stay the night in the Natchez hotel, fill up the gas tank in the van, push start it the next morning and drive it and the rental to Memphis the next day to get the starter.
The people at Enterprise where really awesome in letting us stay in their building, with our kids who where playing and being really loud, while helping us look up phone numbers to places to call, and letting Kim use their phone while I use Kim's cell phone to make calls.  The girls where really awesome for entertaining each other and being in very high spirits while Kim and I where in a rather stressful situation.
This whole time through the planning at Enterprise I had to leave my van running because there was no good place to park there to give it a good push-start.  I didn't stop it until we arrived at the hotel, which did have a good place for me to park that is on a little bit of an incline that should help with the push-start.
Everyone was glad to have an evening in air conditioning, and to get a nice hot bath, and to watch some TV.  The hotel also had free dinner, a reasonably good chicken parmesan pasta.  After getting fully settled in to the hotel I walked up to the gas station next door and purchased a two-gallon gas container.  I walked back-and-forth filling up the container and then dumping it into the tank of the van, trying to get it filled up so we can make it to Memphis tomorrow without stopping.  I wasn't able to fill the tank all the way up before the station closed, but I will finish that tomorrow.
So this is the break-down I think everyone was sort of expecting.  The engine in the van is rather solid, and I had my mechanic do a lot of work on it before we left to make sure it was in top condition.  Given the number of starters I've gone through in the last year, I'm going to have to have my mechanic look into what is causing that when we get back to Tallahassee.
If everything goes well tomorrow, then when we will only have missed one night in Memphis, and the rest of the trip will be on track to go smoothly.  If not, we'll figure out what to do from there.
I think one thing this trip will have taught us about our family is that, as a group, we are not the campers my family was growing up.  Our future trips will have to include more hotel stays, though I don't believe that using the camper van is out.  The kids genuinely enjoy sleeping in the camper, and I think that as a whole it is a fun traveling vehicle.  It just needs to be reliable, and my family can only rough-it so much.  Perhaps during a time of year when the weather is more agreeable, especially the night temperatures, the family will be up for more extended periods of sleeping in the van.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

South-East Tour Day 4 - Audubon Zoo

This morning begin with the hot moggy Lousiana air putting us all a little on edge.  Kim and I did what we could to get everything packed and loaded up, but I think to any bystanders we just like crazy people as we tried to get our grumpy kids and our grumpy selves ready for the day.  Once fully packed we hit the road headed for the Audubon Zoo.
On the way was a police trap checking to make sure everyone was buckled.  When we pulled up he looked in and said, "Is everyone buckled?  ... Ok, got on through."  I think he only noticed Kim sitting in the middle as we where pulling away.  I'm not sure what we would have done if he had seen her and started to ask questions.
At the zoo we met one of Kim's old coworkers at Fairview, Rhonda.  She was the star of the day.  She paid for all of us to go the zoo including lunch, snow cones, and gifts for the girls.  Aurora was really excited to see the elephants, while Athena was looking forward to the gorillas.  Our last stop was to see the giraffes, which Arianna had been asking about since we first mentioned we would go the zoo a few days ago.
Along the way we saw all sorts of cool looking monkeys, giant snakes, poisonous frogs, and some really stout rhinoceroses.  The rhinos where my favorite part.
The kids had a great time.  I started to catch a headache towards the end, which I tried to wash away with some Advil when we got back in the van.
We headed west on I-10, and then North on 55.  The last ten miles on the I-10 route was bridge, and stayed a bridge as we pulled onto 55 for another twenty miles.  We passed over beautiful lakes and swamps as we drove over the bridge.  It was too bad I was unable to enjoy it as my headache only got worse.  When we departed I pulled over at the first town so that Kim could drive.
I slept off and on most of the way to Natchez.  As we got closer the GPS took us through dirt roads and through some very country neighborhoods.  What we didn't pass by was any signs indicated that Natchez State Park was coming up.  When we finally reached our "destination" we where getting in kind of a panic as it was passed eight o'clock, and our destination was not where the GPS had taken us.  We went a little further, and then turned around.  While Kim did this I tried to figure out where to go passed on Google Maps and the instructions given on the Natchez Sate Park website.
By this time Kim and I where rather stressed out and I took over driving.  It turned out that the state park entrance was just a couple miles beyond where the GPS had told us to go.  There is a back entrance that is gated off, which is where Google Maps took us, and there is the main entrance a couple miles beyond that.
Once at our campsite Kim and I were in good spirits again.  She took the kids off to take showers while I prepped the van for sleeping.  When Kim came back I took a shower as Kim prepped the kids for sleeping.  After the kids climbed into the top, I told them a store where I retold the story of today, but I replaced us with a family of gorillas who visited the zoo to see the humans.  In my story, the youngest gorilla wanted to see the tall-people exhibit, the middle gorilla wanted to see strong-people exhibit, and the oldest gorilla wanted to see the tall-people exhibit.  The girls thought this was really funny, and they where in good spirits to go to sleep.
Then the girls got really hot.  I put the box fan in the top sleeping area blowing right on them, and I put Aurora's hair up.  Arianna went to sleep pretty easily, but Athena and Aurora had a pretty hard time getting to sleep in the heat.  Kim and I have to settle for the small fan that only plugs into the cigarette lighter.

Monday, June 13, 2011

South-East Tour Day 3 - New Orleans

Today we toured the French Quarters of New Orleans.  Like most big cities, parking was insanely expensive, especially for someone like myself from Tallahassee where parking is almost always free, and if it not is just a couple of dollars, or usually even less.
We didn't get too far from our car before Athena started complaining about having to walk.  She has never been much of a walker, and it didn't seem like today she was going to start being one.  We pushed through a few blocks and I spotted Peaches Records.  We went in.  Kim and the girls got some Skittles while I perused their records.
They had a lot of really great records, but they where way overpriced.  Most of the good ones where $30 or more.  There where a few good records that could be had for around $5, but I wasn't about to pick anything up regardless.  I'd doubt I could get any vinyl all the way home before it completely melted in this summer heat.
After the Skittles where finished we walked a few more blocks down and then realized we should probably get some food soon.  Kim had prepaid for food at the House of Blues on  I would have not picked such a corporate place, but Kim was awesome for getting so many things taken care ahead of time, and the food there was good, so there was no reason to complain.
Unlike The House of Blues in Orlando, this one, praise Allah, had sweet tea.  The service was great, the food was good, and the kids perked up quite a bit, have been properly refrigerated, and tummies made full.
When we got back on the streets the kids where in very good spirits.  We trucked along, passing street performers, almost all exclusively sitting around age of ten, passed artists showing off their distinctively New Orleans art, and went into some of the tourist trap shops.  The youth of the street performers was kind of unsettling.  One has to wonder if these kids are really the ones getting the money put in their box.  The tourist trap shops are really annoying.  They sell all sorts of horrible apparel with stupid sayings on them like, "I got bourbon faced on shit street" and stupid stuff like that, with the mandatory "New Orleans, LA" tag underneath the quote.
We stopped at CafĂ© du Monde for some beignets.  The place was absolutely packed with customers, and we had to search to find an empty table.  A man stood outside and sang songs, mostly spiritual hymns, while the patrons of the cafe clapped, sang, and offered him money.  We ate our beignets, took silly pictures of our faces covered in powdered sugar, watched the birds eat food form the ground, and then started back to the streets.
We went to the outside market, which was pretty bare, and then stopped at Fiorella's for some cool drinks.  Fiorella's was my stop.  I've been wanting to visit it since seeing the video on youtube of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's version of Comlicated Life, which features this restaurant.  We where too full to eat any food so we just sipped on waters and sodas.
At this point it was getting pretty late, so we started to head back.  This time the kids where understandably tired, so Kim stopped with them at the intersection of Decatur St and Bienville St and I went to get the car.  The parking fee was $16.  On my way back to get them I overheard some hippy girl talking on her phone say, "You should see this rusty pile of shit.  Yeah ... yeah.  I don't think he's looking to sell."  She then turned to me and said, "Hey, would you be willing to sell this thing?"  I shook my head so she replied in a very nice voice, "You should take care of it," and then she walked away.
On the way back to the campsite the kids where pretty tired, as where we.  Overall, we all had a lot fun, and saw lots of cool stuff. New Orleans is a place I'd like to visit again some time with just Kim and myself, so we can go do all of the night life stuff and see some jazz bands.
Tomorrow we are planning on going to the local zoo, and, if we have time, to the Louisiana Children's Museum, and finally head towards Natchez Trace.  We will probably take the interstate and just go the same slow speeds we would take on the back roads.

South-East Tour Day 2 - Bayou Segnette State Park

This morning Kim was the first one up, followed by Athena and Aurora.  I got up last and began getting things packed up.  Arianna woke up very last.  She slept in the bottom bed with me.  Aurora and Kim slept up top.  Athena slept with Angel and Ashton.
Ashley made a breakfast of sausage patties and eggs.  There was also a bunch of watermelon my grandfather bought.  We were worried that there wasn't going to be enough food, but after cooking everything there was just enough to fill everyone's bellies.
Kim and I slowly got everything ready and eventually got things on the road.  After leaving the camp grounds we stopped by a Tom Thumb gas station for some ice and gas.  We then went across the street to Wal-Mart to get some other needed supplies, including letting the kids spend a little bit of the money we got for them to buy a toy to entertain them on the road.  Arianna got a mini version of the classic Fishing Game.  Athena bought herself a toy pony, and Aurora just got a bag of Skittles.
We kind of took our time in Wal-Mart because being in the air conditioning was feeling pretty nice.  However, we eventually drug ourselves back outside to the van and left around 12:30.
The initial estimation our GPS gave us to arrive in New Orleans was a little over four hours.  We had planned our trip so that we wouldn't be spending much more than four hours on the road each day.  I don't think the Google navigation software does a good job at taking into account the time that in-town driving has on stopping, going, and just generally having to drive slowly.
We stopped after about two and half hours on the road at a restartaurant called Saucy Q's.  It is a local Bar BQ place with some really great Bar BQ sauce in Mobile, AL.  Kim found herself eating french fries just to have something to dip into the sauce.  Everything there was really good, and it was worth pushing our already late lunch back a little bit to have some great local cooking.
One of the great things about taking the back roads is all the cool towns you get to go through, and all the really nice scenery.  Interstates have a habit of looking almost identical no matter how far you travel them.  The back roads of west Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana are absolutely gorgeous.  The bad part, and this was really rough, is that our actual time from leaving Pensacola to arriving at our destination was almost eight hours, including gas and food stops.
The kids where absolutely amazing.  For them to be on the road that long and maintain the mostly (mostly being a strong word here) good attitudes was unexpected.  The Nintendo DS, and CR-48 laptop (tethered to my Android phone) helped a lot.  So did the toys the two girls purchased.
I drove the first leg of the trip, and Kim took the second.  Athena got the treat of riding in the front today, something they are taking turns doing each day.  So Aurora played with Arianna a lot, which was very helpful.
The coastline in Mississippi is something you don't here much about, but it was really great to drive through.  Kim was pretty jealous that she was having to do the driving at the part because the sites where so great to look at, but she had to keep her eyes on the road.  Aurora was very taken by the sites too.  There where a lot of old houses along the way that where just magnificent.  You could also see the remaining foundations of many other homes that where presumably swept away by Katrina.  There was also a lot of brand new homes that where probably built sometime after Katrina came through in the remains of fallen homes.
The entrance to Louisiana is really awesome.  There are beautiful swamps filled with tall swamp grass that go on for miles and miles.  We also noticed a very strong coffee smell which we think might be Chicory plants growing in the area, but we'll have to research that later.
New Orleans appears to be a very diverse town where lots of cultures have taken route.  We passed by a very large Catholic monastary-looking area, followed by lots of Catholic churches and other Catholic features.  There was also a decidedly Asian area with what looked like Buddhist temples, and lots of other Asian culture buildings like restaurants and Buddhist worship areas.
There was also jumps from very poor looking areas that suddenly, and the turn of a single street, turned into very ritzy neighborhoods with mansions for houses.  What we didn't see much of was any sign of regular middle-class sections.
Finally towards the end sanity began to break down as we made our last few turns to get into the state park.  Finding the campgrounds was confusing because the signs didn't exactly lead you to them.  We first found ourselves at a boat landing area, and then we turned around and found ourselves going down what looked like a road under development with big tractors and dirt movers parked everywhere.
I used the Google map to try to guide us into the camping area but what looked like an entrance to the camp area was in actuality roped off.  By this time Kim was freaking out so I took over the wheel and just drove around the rope and into the campsites.  It looked completely empty when we first entered.  All the sites where vacant.  I continued to drive until we finally found a few sites with occupants.  Finally, we found our site, and there was even someone else camping in the site next to ours, so we felt reassured that all was well.
When we pulled in and parked Aurora began freaking out, after a very long trip of being very calm and in good spirits.  She was absolutely inconsolable.  She started getting a very nasty attitude towards her sisters and I had to put her at the bench away from everyone else.
I set up a tent we brought with us, so that we could put our stuff in it to keep the van empty.  As I got everything set up and moved everything we didn't need into the tent Aurora finally slowly settled down and then Athena got very grumpy.
We where going to have Kim take all the girls to shower so that I could get the bus set up and we could sleep.  I was going to shower the next morning.  However, Kim was not up to taking all three girls with Athena acting the way she was, so we all went up to the bath house and Athena bathed with me.
She cried very loudly the whole time, and Kim and sisters could hear her through the wall.  When we where finally bathed we went to wait in the van and I let Athena lay down on the bottom bed, which I had pulled out. Upon laying down she was instantly settled down.
When we got back to the site we got the bus all setup, and finally got each of the kids quited down and sleeping.
We are thinking about taking the Interstate, at a slow speed, for some of our future drives to save on time, even though the scenery won't be nearly as beautiful, because that much time on the road can really be draining, and we where really planning on keeping our road time to a minimum since a two week vacation of mostly driving isn't really much of a vacation at all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

South-East Tour Day 1 - Big Lagoon State Park

Today we drove form our home in Tallahassee to Big Lagoon State Park.
Kim and I woke up around 7:30 this morning and we started doing the final stretch of loading up the Volkswagen, and cleaning up the house.  I made a breakfast of eggs, hash browns and toast.  The girls are usually up between 7:30 and 8:30, but when they where still not up around 9:00 we went ahead and woke them.  After feeding everyone and getting them ready for the day, we headed out.  We had to drop off Mollie with a pet sitter Kim found on Craig's List, and then we left town.
I drove the first leg of the trip all the way to Fort Walton Beach, taking Highway 20 almost the whole way. We dropped by a Subway for lunch, but ate in the car.
We arrived at the campsite around 4:30, making our trip around five hours, including the stopping for food and gas.  The kids where mostly well behaved on the trip, with the usual "I'm tired", "I'm hungry", and "How far?" along the way.  The bus held up like a champ the whole way too.
Nick and his family had stayed the previous night at one of the two campsites we had reserved, the night before. Him and my grandparents where already in their site when we arrived.
After getting settled in, Nick helped us install a boat seat in the back for Kim to sit in while I drove.  He also helped me install second cigarette lighter in the dash, which is going to be crucial so I can charge my phone, and have another appliance, such as a fan, going.
The beach at Big Lagoon isn't really the nicest in Florida, but the kids surely didn't mind.  The water here is very calm, and there where plenty of other children around our children's age to keep them company.  Aurora had something sting her on her chest so Kim took her back to the camp grounds.  Towards the end Arianna and I made a big sand castle, which was nothing more than a big pile of sand we made from digging a hole in the beach and laying the sand from it in one big pile.  We found a hermit crab that we put in our hole, which was full of water, and declared our crab as being a citizen of our castle, which we where the rulers of.  After that it was time to head back to start getting things prepared for dinner.  Arianna lost her Star Wars sunglasses somewhere in the water.
Kim and Ashley went to the store to get supplies, since raccoons ate all the food Nick and Ashley had purchased the previous night.  Nick cooked up a meal of cheese burgers, corn and baked beans.  We spent the rest of the night with the kids keeping an out for raccoons that where constantly on the alert to find some abandoned plate of food.
We finally wound down the night with Kim taking Aurora to the showers, Athena sleeping with Nick's family, and me putting Arianna down to bed.
All of the kids have agreed that so far they are having a really great time and are very excited about the nights to come.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

South-East Tour Day 0 - Getting Ready

Starting tomorrow (technically today since it is past midnight) we will be heading off for a two week adventure across the South-East in our 1980 Volkswagen.

We will be heading West to New Orleans, which I've been really wanting to visit for quite some time. We will then head North to Nashville, going back East through Nashville to Asheville, NC, then back down South and probably home.
We still have not yet planned our trip past Asheville, but it will probably involve a stop in Augusta, GA and a final stop at the Okefenokee Swamp State Park.
I have been able to use this trip as a way to motivate us to get some things done on the van that I've been meaning to take care of for quite some time.  I had my mechanic do some major engine work.  Kim and I also made curtains for the windows.  In fact, we just got done after midnight finishing the curtains.
The three girls are really excited about this trip, and Arianna has asked practically every day, "Are we going to start our trip tomorrow?"  Some mornings she'll even ask if the trip is starting that day.  So tonight I made a big deal out of how we would be leaving first thing tomorrow morning.  So yeah, we're all pumped.
Here's what we have planned so far.
216 miles. 4:29
Saturday 6/11: Pensacola, Fl Big Lagoon State Park Sites 50 & 51
222 miles.  4:43
Sunday 6/12: New Orleans Bayou Segnette Site CI074
Monday 6/13: New Orleans Bayou Segnette CI074
180 miles. 3:46
Tuesday 6/14: Natchez Trace Parkway Natchez State Park 044, Campground B
Wednesday 6/15: Memphis, TN Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
Thursday 6/16: Memphis, TN Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park
6/17: Nashville, TN Seven Points Campground
Saturday 6/18 - Nashville, TN Seven Points Campground
Sunday 6/19 - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. Elkmont Campground, site A7
Monday 6/20- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. Elkmont Campground, site A7
Tuesday 6/21- Lake Powhatan State Park Asheville, NC Site 21
Wednesday 6/22- Georgia Somewhere
Thursday 6/23 - Georgia Somewhere
Friday 6/24- Okefenokee Swamp State Park
Saturday 6/25 - Drive to Tallahassee
Katie, Kim's sister, will be watching our cat for us.  We have paid an animal sitter to watch our dog Mollie.  I've now got to get back to the rest of our packing so I can hurry up and get to bed.
Oh yeah, and Kim has her own blog going on at