After leaving Montana for the season in October and towing my camper through, count them, FOURTEEN states, I’ve had lots of adventures. (Which I would’ve told you about already had my computer not broken down on me). Now certainly, I’ve had plenty of what you might call “learning experiences”, and become a savvier camper hauler. Those lessons, and what the whole point of this winter road trip is all about, will have to wait for their own stories. This post will just be to get ya’ll caught up on the gist of my journey through the south in the last couple months. It’s been full of beautiful scenery, pleasant surprises, friendly encounters with locals, and best of all, visits with old friends.
Autumn is my favorite season, so after leaving behind the yellow larches and aspens in Montana and the vestiges of fall in Minnesota, I had lots of fun crunching through leaves again in the central south. I’m quite fond of Arkansas, so I hung out there catching up with old friends and getting some short hikes in. You can read about some of my previous Arkansas adventures in older posts here and here.
Some freelance work had me on a side trip to Tulsa, but then it was further south to Texas where I had more friends to visit. I had no intention of driving my camper into the daunting Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis. So I discovered a website that was new to me, called Hipcamp. It takes the Airbnb concept but applies it to camping. I got to park my camper cheaply in someone’s horse pasture. And you know, I’m all about horses so this was perfect. It was here however, that my microwave busted, probably because I plugged my extension cord into a poorly wired barn.
Nevertheless, it was great to see friends! I felt like I had a back stage pass to the historic parts of the city, like the famous stockyards. Literally, we got an impromptu behind the scenes tour of the largest, oldest Mexican restaurant I’ve ever seen, complete with meeting the owners’ parrot. Someone in Fort Worth tried, unsuccessfully, to steal the tires off my friend’s truck. This was probably the most negative thing to happen on my whole southern adventure over these couple months. It made me glad I’d parked in a horse pasture. I’d rather say goodbye to my microwave than my nice new tires…
A little further south down in Waco, I played tourist some more by visiting the Magnolia Market/silos from the TV show “Fixer Upper”. I feel like Joanna Gaines would approve of the way I’ve decked out my camper. And I really relate to Chip’s glee on demo days when I’m making my “improvements” to it.
As I was getting itchy to head east, a massive rainstorm drenched the south. I opened the door of my camper to find the campground hosts had placed a pallet in front of my door. This nice gesture prevented me from plunging ankle deep into floodwater. The weather system out east was piling snow onto my destination- North Carolina. So, I lollygagged another couple days before showing up on a friend’s doorstep in Louisiana.
I had never been to Louisiana before, but I could tell immediately that it was a unique place, very unlike its neighboring states. My friend said things like “I’ve got a pirogue down in the bayou” and took me to a local restaurant where we could order Sazerac and dishes I couldn’t pronounce. I was introduced to a kennel full of curs and catahoulas. Before I left I gathered up some pecans in the yard. It all felt very authentically Louisianan. More storms were forecasted so I felt the push to move along, but I’ll need to explore this part of the south more someday.
Crossing the Mississippi took me by surprise, and so did my reaction. I think I shouted in excitement. See, I’m from Minnesota, and so is the Mississippi. And here I was, a thousand miles from my homeland, on this grand adventure, and so was the Mississippi! How long does it take the water to get this far? Did we leave Minnesota at the same time? In between pondering these thoughts and binge listening to podcasts, I was across the state of Mississippi in what felt like no time at all.
Specifically, I’d been listening to a podcast called S-town. It details a bizarre and unfortunate series of true events in a small town in Alabama. The overall picture of Alabama that I’d formed in my mind was bleak to say the least: A sketchy place full of guns, drugs, drinking, racism, corrupt cops, wife beaters, and animal abusers. And, more guns.
Sure, that town exists. I’m sure a town like that exists somewhere in every state in America. Luckily for me, my experience in Alabama was lovely. The clean pine forests and all the logging trucks reminded me strongly of parts of Montana and Minnesota. Churches far outnumbered bars. But certainly, there were guns, because I saw quite a lot hunters in camo and orange emerging from the forest as evening approached.
It was dark when I found my campsite for the night; I had a lot of hunters to compete with. When I stepped out of the camper the next morning, I was treated to this serene wood, birds chirping, and a calm lake. So maybe parts of Alabama are scary, but my drive through turned out to totally peaceful.
Georgia offered yet more pine trees and, suddenly, a particular country song made a lot more sense to me. I had expected more fields of, I don’t know, cotton? Now I was creeping myself out with another unnerving podcast, Up and Vanished, which takes place in Georgia. But from what I could see, the whole deep south is a lot more pleasant than I’d ever imagined. And all the people I encountered were friendly, helpful, and not about to shoot me.
The stormy weather finally caught me again as I made my way through the Carolinas. I had signed on to “wwoof” for two weeks in North Carolina. Wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is volunteer work. In exchange for light labor, the wwoofer gets a place to stay, meals, and learning opportunities. This was my first time wwoofing, but I’d done this same concept before on a horse farm in Germany. You can read about that experience here.
My host in North Carolina had a horse farm. It was all very déjà vu to my time in Germany, especially when a second wwoofer arrived who was from, guess where, Germany! It was pretty fun having a buddy and we went hiking nearby and explored Raleigh together. My host was also great about taking us out to experience the local community, from favorite restaurants to flea markets. This is what’s great about wwoofing or similar hosted gigs- instead of feeling like a tourist on the outside looking in, you get the real deal from the inside out.
As I’d been moseying further south and further east, I’d been following the changing leaves and felt like I was in an endless autumn. Plus, with all this slow-paced travel and no 9 to 5 job, I didn’t have an awareness of time or current events. It was here in North Carolina that winter and “real life” seemed to catch up with me. Of course, I didn’t get a white Christmas. Rather, it was a foggy and soggy one. But besides the hot-cocoa weather, the holiday itself had the effect of bringing me back to reality and the concept of calendars.
But then my computer broke and I had an excuse to mentally check out again. Is this what retirement feels like?
After my stint of wwoofing, I set up a more permanent-ish home base in South Carolina for the winter. From here, I’ve ventured into Georgia and North Carolina again for more adventures and friend visits. Tallulah Gorge and Panther Creek Falls were absolutely gorgeous. I camped a night in my hammock here and soaked in the scenery, chock full of waterfalls. Who knew Georgia could have so much to offer!? And the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is pricey, but cool.
I betcha I’ll be back up in those mountains again soon, but first, the coast is calling me…. Since I have my computer back now, I aim to post regularly again. Stay tuned!