After wrapping things up in Virginia, I bopped down to Asheville, North Carolina for a night. Lovely place – lovely people. It seems that my “extended family” on the road is expanding with every new location I explore. It’s amazing, really. I’m continually humbled by the hospitality and warmth of others. I don't mean to sound glib - it's a phenomenon that really deserves an essay unto itself.
From Asheville, I spent a day driving down to Mobile, Alabama. Cruising through North Carolina and Georgia, with my wheels all but boiling underneath me, I decided that it might be time to consider throwing down the cash for an air conditioning overhaul. Driving shirtless with the windows down at 75 mph can only get you so far when both the temperature and humidity are hovering in the high 90’s. Not to mention the magnifying effect that car windshields seem to have on the southern sun.
I pulled into a campsite near Mobile, where the pickup truck idling 30 feet away was blasting “Sweet Home Alabama.” Exhausted and overheated, I decided to sleep in my hammock instead of my oven on wheels. Unfortunately, the air was as still as the dead armadillo I had passed on the side of the road an hour earlier. I set up a camp chair next to my sling, and used it to gently rock myself back and forth. Better than nothing.
After some time of this, I was startled by a sensation of being grounded. Apparently in my addled stupor, I had failed to double back one of the straps that held the hammock in the air, and it decided to fail, depositing me gradually back onto terra firma. Grumbling, I got up and re-hung the hammock, making sure to cinch down the straps and secure them fully. Slightly embarrassed, but proud of my problem solving efforts, I hopped into the sack and gingerly attempted a few rocks to and fro. Aside from a slight creaking, it seemed stable. My eyes fluttered, and I entered into that strange, half-dream state that total fatigue brings before full sleep. The space behind my eyelids seemed to drift above my swaying body, and I spun aimlessly in the ether of semi-consciousness. Then my unsuspecting tailbone slammed itself into a protruding tree root with enough force to whiplash my back into the rich Alabama topsoil and knock the wind out of me.
Once I finished rolling around and producing that pathetic glottal fry that accompanies such impacts, I got up and threw myself into the van, leaving the cruel hammock to lay in the dirt. The next morning I found that the plastic buckle on the strap that I was using had snapped in half. Next time I’ll use webbing.
In the morning, I took off early enough to make it to an exciting church service in New Orleans. St Augustine Catholic Church, to be precise. They were having a brass band leading the worship, in celebration of the Satchmo Fest that was taking place that weekend. It was a hoot.
I spent the day in the city, with a lovely and charming tour guide. We didn’t take the customary inebriated walk down Bourbon St, but we cut across it enough times for me to get the full olfactory experience of that particular part of town.
It was actually a wonderfully interesting city. We saw a proper brass band play, wandered through Audubon Park, and checked out an art fair (I almost bought a shirt with a crawdad on it, but then realized that it was a women’s cut tank top. Then I almost bought it again. Then I didn’t). If it wasn’t a million degrees there, I might have stayed longer.
As it was, I was on my way to El Paso, Texas, where I have a friend. He’s worked with kids in Juarez for close to 5 years, and I’ve visited him a handful of times in the last couple. It’s a pretty special place for me, and I was antsy to get there. So Monday morning, I decided to start the long trek across the entirety of Louisiana and Texas.
Guys, that’s a long way. And it’s hot. So hot.
I know that I’ve complained a lot about the heat so far on this journey, but this particular day deserves some recognition. The mild hours of the morning were spent driving through swampy, humid marshlands (one was called the Atchafalaya, which is fun to say), which had the back of my seat soaked in sweat, my shirt in the passenger seat, the windows down, and the (warm) fan at full blast, even with the mottled shade that the trees provided. Then, around high noon, I exploded into eastern Texas, with the cloudless sky and desert expanse to greet me. I won’t go into the electrolyte-draining details, but by the time I hit Columbus, my shirt was wrapped around my head and I was dreaming of tinted windows. It was about 6:30 pm, so I forced myself to stop at an air-conditioned Wal-Mart to re-normalize. I wandered next door to a grocery store to load up on frozen vegetables (place bag on head until thawed, then eat until full), and sat in the shade until the sun set.
As it turns out, driving at night is way better than driving during the day (assuming that it’s a million degrees out, you don’t have air conditioning, and you’re driving an insulated tin can). It was probably still 90 degrees in the cab, but to me, it felt amazing. I made it to San Antonio, got caught for an hour in the most poorly marked construction detour in the history of on-ramp repairs (it was bad), and crashed at a rest stop around midnight. In Texas, they let people sleep overnight in rest stops. That’s a beautiful thing. Please take notes, most other states in the union.
Not wanting to let the sweet, sweet, darkness go to waste, I catnapped for a few hours, and merged back onto my dear friend, Highway 10. We had been together for almost 700 miles over the last several days, and we had only 500 left. The next hours went by blissfully, and I rolled into El Paso around 1 in the afternoon. Then I slept.
(I have an appointment with a dealership in Tucson to get the air conditioning looked at)