Back Out There

It’s fair to say we are, in fact, back out there. Time East, while good for our souls, isn’t out there. It’s home, and all that that conjures. We just left Del Rio, TX after a fine few days at a National Park Service campground. Now we’re in open country – unless you count Border Patrol, which rode my ass the last 30 miles. Since leaving Connecticut, we’ve seen some lovely spots, met new friends, and even visited Sandy! Seeing her with her new owners, Jessie and Christy, was very reassuring. The stars have aligned for them recently, and Holly and I know deeply that Sandy will play a big role in the positive changes coming their way. For us, though, and for now, we are parked overlooking the Pecos River catching our breath. With diligence, we’ll be in Baja California, Mexico within the week.

My writing view along the Pecos River in Comstock, Texas

It first started to feel Back Out There meandering the back roads of the Southeast. We crossed Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida – all on back roads. And while quite a bit of what we see – the people and lives and homes and businesses of the folks in America’s small towns – elevates us, much of it tears at our hearts. I could easily bore people with a different kind of blog called How I See It, in which I would cite problems and solutions of all the ills I see. But I chose to not write that, and rather share my experiences as I roam. A dark side of what I experience as I roam is the daily evidence that this country has turned its back on rural America. And we’re all paying the price for that.

It’s precisely that fact that keeps us moving, looking for the good. Staying at Delma’s place, Sand Hill Farm, in southern Georgia was a boost for us. He’s lived around there all his life, growing up on farms. Now he loves it when people come around to his place. He has a serene 70 acres or so, with a couple horses and a bunch of goats. He made a path in the woods around the whole place for visitors to stroll. Johnny got to meet the horses and goats. The goats were incredulous, which is funny coming from a goat.

Johnny meeting a horse at Delva’s farm
The goats were not sure what to make of a cat
The Nowhere Van at Sand Hill Farm, Georgia

Sand Hill Farm, and our next couple of stops were Harvest Host/Boondockers Welcome locations. This is a paid service we use to stay at businesses or private homes. Out East, there’s little in the way of public land, and even less of a welcoming spirit for travelers to park and stay a couple of days. Out East, you get run off, so these gems we find are that much more enjoyable. As a contrast, where I sit right now along the Pecos River is a Texas Rest Area, and I can legally spend the night – which I will do.

In Alma, Georgia we stayed on a blueberry farm that has been in the family well over 100 years. They’re restoring the original farmhouse to put on Airbnb. Georgia blueberries are not at all like Maine blueberries. They’re bigger and they kind of pop or snap when you eat them. The farm had oranges, too. They don’t sell them, so we had our run of the orchard.

The Nowhere Van at a blueberry farm in Alma, Georgia
Holly collecting our fill of oranges

The town of Alma, Georgia is an example of what I mentioned above. It has the makings of an ideal American town, yet its beauty lies fallow, left aside by the noise and haste and consumerism that blanket the interstates.

Bacon County Theater, Alma, Georgia
Mural, Alma, Georgia
The Hotel Alma, Alma, Georgia

We had lovely driving into the rural northern panhandle of Florida. Our next spot was a lovely three acres of quiet and beauty. We met a few folks there, one of whom was a Life Improvement Coach. I would typically nod and back away following such an introduction, but the conversation was rewarding. I occasionally mention that I taught middle school, and that I found the education business – and I use that term literally – had become corporate and fake. This fellow then asked me a great question: Would I ever like to teach again, unencumbered? It didn’t take me long to answer, to myself, yes. That’s an opportunity I’d like to make happen at some point.

Night image, Greenville, Florida

Our dear friends Jeff and Tracy have been visiting New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival for years, and have become ardent fans. So – though we tend to swing wide around metro areas – we dove straight into New Orleans. My one caveat was that any money we spent in the French Quarter would be on food. We stayed one night in a paid parking lot, which felt safe being alongside a police station. We can see why Jeff and Tracy fell in love with the neighborhood. The vibe of history and culture and music and food is everywhere. On Jeff’s recommendation we went to Mother’s Restaurant for dinner. Let’s just say, worth the detour. For breakfast we went to Cafe Conti, on the street level of a small hotel. Again, wonderful. It’s hard to picture returning to New Orleans – we just need our breathing space – but it did not disappoint.

I’ll mention that we drove through Houston and San Antonio and leave it at that.

That said, it felt wonderful to be back on US90 in Texas. We drove through Uvalde, as we did last year before the shooting. I didn’t stop when we drove past their overflowing memorial in the center of town. I don’t have words for my perspective, nor room in my heart for all those kids. I just kept driving to Del Rio. We stayed three nights at Governor’s Landing, a little ten-buck-a-night National Park Service campground. The big news from Del Rio is that I got the collar on my 18 year old Acadia shirt repaired. I’ve been on a mission for that for months. It wasn’t without its complication, but a wonderful woman named Juanita took good care of the job.

My repaired Acadia shirt

The subtext for lingering in Del Rio is that we wanted to catch live music at Ferguson Motors in Sanderson, TX on the 18th. Sanderson is exactly the kind of little town we love to find. After music and pizza on Sunday, and fresh pastries on Monday, we are going to start to make serious time heading west. While I’ve been writing, Holly has been planning. It looks like a Christmas crossing into Mexico. We’re nervous for the new adventure, and we love that.

Johnny, neither writing nor planning

6 thoughts on “Back Out There

  1. How enriching is this new life experience, give a lot of credit to live your passion….reminds me, in a way of Studs Terkels book, Division Street America. Safe t4avels and happy holidays Joe and holly!

  2. Glad you enjoyed New Orleans. We are there often because my niece lives there. I’ve always thought that it is a place that you need to spend time in to soak up all that it has to offer.

    I think the key to big cities is finding the off the beaten path treasures. When were in Huston we stayed at a Harvest Host brewery. On the way there we past a medium that was lined with food stands. After a few beers at the brewery we walked about a mile to where we saw the food stands. It was like being in Mexico walking past the different vendors. It was a unique experience that we just happened upon.

    But I do understand why you might want to avoid big cities.

    I’m sure you will love Baja! Buen viaje!

  3. HI! I’m not sure if my first comment had gone through, so just in case– My name is Caroline, and I’ve been dreaming of traveling the world in a van the past three years. I saw yours pulling into a parking lot today. I didn’t want to bug you, and I hope you don’t mind my looking up your site– it was just so inspiring to see people doing this in real life, and now to see so many chronicles of your travels. I don’t know how long you may be here for (not posting the location for obvious reasons), but if you need anything, I’d love to say hello! I’d love to help you with some sightseeing here as well if you’d be interested. Thanks for inspiring me today! -Caroline

    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment. We love to hear we’ve inspired others. We are at the Art museum at the moment. If that’s where you saw us we’d love to chat. We’ll be heading out shortly and back in the road. Otherwise we’d be open to sightseeing tips

      Holly and Joe

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