Six Month Check-in: The Southern Leg

OK, so really as I write this, it’s closer to being seven months since we started, but half a year is a pretty good time frame to think about when it comes to measuring progress, so I’m sticking to the six month thing. It’s been two[-ish] months since we last wrote in this blog. Two months? That can’t be right. That doesn’t seem like enough time relative to all the things we’ve done on this leg of our adventure. But at the same time, it’s also difficult to think about how fast the days have been flying by. Time is weird like that.

But let’s stop talking about the elasticity of time and talk about this crazy adventure.

At the last written blog post, we’d ventured off from Atlanta (again) and charged forward to places that we hadn’t been to before as a family. Exciting times were afoot! Er… a-wheel? Travel life needs better words.

First stop, Santa Rosa Beach, in the Florida panhandle. It was still February, so it was nice to get out of the North Georgia hills and get some warmer weather. Of course, it was still February, so we weren’t exactly experiencing balmy let’s-only-wear-tanktops-and-flipflops temperatures. But, that didn’t stop the boys from putting on trunks, running over the incredibly white sands, and splashing in the gulf. Plant life in the area was a funky mix of pine trees and palms, and the place we were staying at was a state park with all kinds of trails running throughout that were great for biking and walking.

The site was also close to the office of one of Heather’s freelance clients. They’d never met in person before, so that was particularly cool… especially seeing physical copies of her work all in one place. We did say we wanted to see people we know along the way during this adventure, so this was a great start to that.

Also, I picked up a used bass guitar, but that’s a subject for another blog post, I think.

Next stop on the journey was the Big Easy. Yup, New Orleans… and Mardi Gras happened to be smack in the middle of our stay. That did result in a bit of an, um, unexpected educational experience for the boys, but we all handled it like champs. We did a few of the requisite things: hunting for beignets in the French Quarter, watching street buskers, and parades. Oh, the parades! Never go to a Mardi Gras parade thinking, “yeah, we’ll just be there for a couple hours and then go do something else.” That doesn’t happen. If you show up, you’re committed to at least half a day. Fortunately, the weather was nice.

But we did other things in New Orleans, too. Biking in the park was especially nice (also, MOAR BEIGNETS!) and we took some time to go on a swamp tour, catching sight of all the wildlife available there before the mosquitoes got really bad. It was also the start of crawdad season, so it was incumbent upon us to plow our way through a big ol’ tray of those delicious multi-legged critters. Nom. I also found a kung fu school that was gracious enough to let me train with them for the couple of weeks that we were in town. They even shared cake with me when celebrating the rank advancement of the school’s instructor.

From there, we moved farther along the Gulf Coast toward Houston, where we actually stayed in three different places. First stop was actually just outside of Houston in Beaumont, Texas. The drive from New Orleans to Houston isn’t long, just over 6 hours or so, but it’s good to pace yourself and your time. So we did. We took advantage of the drive and spoiled ourselves a little bit by spending a couple nights in a hotel in Beaumont. Why Beaumont? It’s a small oil town, but it also happens to be the home of some long-time friends (hi Dave and Katie!). That makes the place huge for us. It was amazing to catch up and hang out. Also, there’s a park there with the largest alligators that any of us had ever seen in the wild. At least twelve feet long. Bigger than we’d seen on that swamp tour.

Next stop was in Houston proper, roughly northwest of town in a little place called Spring Creek Park. This little gem was such a cool find. Not only was it free to stay at, but there were trails throughout and—this is the clincher—the park had its own archery range. One of the things we decided to take along with us on this crazy ride was our bows. The boys had done a bit of archery before we left and really enjoyed it… and I had gone and built myself my own bow (again… that’s another blog post). It was super cool to be able to bring those things out to an outdoor range and fling some pointed sticks at some targets.

And there were more people to catch up with in Houston! We met up with my long-time creepy internet friend, Kate (hi, Kate!) and my cousin, Dana (hi, Dana!). There was much talking and food and catching up.

Spring Creek Park has a maximum stay duration of a week, so we spent our last Houston week a bit farther north, near Lake Conroe. This one was a bit farther out from town, but in the park itself, there was a lot more for the kids to do, so we spent a large chunk of our time just hanging out there. That said… we did drive into Houston’s to witness a bat emergence from under a bridge in the middle of town.

From there, we plunged toward the middle of Texas and plopped ourselves in Austin. I’d been to Austin, but no one else in the family had. We stayed there for almost three weeks and still hardly scratched the surface of all the things to see and do there. That said, we had one of our scariest events there. A tornado touched down less than 20 miles from where we were staying. Yikes. We should make a blog post just about that at some point. Despite the unfortunate damage where that tornado hit, things remained safe and undamaged where we were.

But yeah, Austin. So much to do there… and near there. And the whole place is super dog-friendly… like almost excessively dog friendly. Bowser had fantastic time there. In fact, there was this really fantastic open dog park close to downtown where we saw the bat emergence from Austin’s bat bridge (personally, I liked this one more than Houston’s). But that dog park was totally sweet. Right on the river. Lots of dogs… and no gates… and no troubles. Weird, right?

And there were more people to meet! We drove down to San Antonio and met up with fellow formerly-in-Atlanta-now-fulltiming-in-an-RV family (hi, all of you!). And we got to catch up with my old buddy and his wife that I hadn’t yet met (hi, Jiann and Jana!).

Austin was great, but the road continued to beckon… and we listened. The next bit was a long (looooong) haul from through the high desert of west Texas (and that little nub at the bottom of New Mexico) over to Tucson, Arizona. But, as before, we paced ourselves and took a couple stops along the way. First stop was in Fort Stockton, Texas where we did an overnight at a very small little RV park run by a very nice lady who invited us for drinks after we got ourselves situated.

We got back on the road to head for our next waypoint in El Paso, Texas where we were going to pull another couple nights in a hotel while we get some maintenance work done on the motorhome (nothing broken… just standard mechanical stuff: oil change, transmission flush, brake check… that kind of stuff). However, the check-in time for our hotel was pretty late in the day and we didn’t want to spend half the day hanging out in the hotel parking lot (there was a big dust storm happening there… blech). Fortunately, we found a really cool place to occupy our time on the way: the little, literal oasis in Balmorhea, Texas. Seriously, I would almost suggest that you drive out into the desolate, empty high desert in west Texas just to check this place out. It’s the largest pool in the world fed by an underground spring. Swimming with fish and turtles in over an acre of spring water is the best possible way to kill a couple hours en route to anywhere.

Eventually, though, we made it to Tucson. This place, I think, surprised all of us. Sure, the days are hot and the evenings are cold, but the view… oh, the view. Plus, no one in our family had ever been through a cactus forest. We also learned that Arizona is the Australia of the United States, in that it’s the state that’s most intent on killing you with it’s array of venomous plants and animals. So that was exciting. But so was checking out Tombstone and the planetarium and Thursday night trivia… which I totally (and embarrassingly) kicked ass at (hi Mac!).

And thus we close the southern leg of our journey. Or at least, we’re closing this part of it. There are a few places that we’re definitely going to be returning to, one way or another. It’s been a crazy two months… hell, it’s been a crazy six months. We’ve been doing this fulltime traveling and working family thing for over half a year now. What’s more amazing is that we’re all happy and functional. I daresay we’re all having a great time. Sure, there are up days and down days…. and up and down moments within those days, but that part of our lives isn’t any different than before. The difference now is that even though we’re going through our normal daily patterns, we’re doing them in all these fantastic places with fantastic people. That is something that has us stoked for whatever comes next.

And what, exactly comes next? Well, from here, we point our noses north for all the cool things to behold in the mountains (and an effort to escape the desert before the summer hits in earnest). Northern Arizona, Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, Colorado… get ready. You’re next!

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