Sweet Home Alabama

Days: 56
Kilometres Travelled: 262
Total States Visited: 18
Total Kilometres: 11,575

Ready to mix things up from the mundanity of the last few days we indulged in our first IHOP experience - and boy, what an experience it was! We discovered a loophole to the ridiculous portion sizes where an 'omelette with a side of pancakes' sustained us both for breakfast and most of the rest of the day. Plus it was delicious!

Finally we made it to the border of Alabama, the iconic namesake of the infamous song. After taking the obligatory photos we decided to stop in Mobile and visit the USS Alabama, a decommissioned battleship from WW2. We somehow lost 2-3 hours on the ship with self-guided tours followed by another lost 1-2 hours in the nearby hangar and submarine - besides being very cool to see, the history was absolutely captivating! 

We hit the road and witnessed the sunset from Josie as we crossed into Mississippi and arrived at Biloxi, a bizarre casino city perched on the edge of the gulf. We checked into our hotel only to discover we’d missed our booking - Sack had booked the wrong date! Many dollars poorer and vowing never to let the boys arrange accommodation again, we snagged the last available room and spent the night in 5-star luxury complete with a cheeky gamble.

Gulfing Around

Days: 52-55
Kilometres Travelled: 730
Total States Visited: 16
Total Kilometres: 11,313

We continued our exploration of the Florida coastline from the comfort (and discomfort for the rear passengers) of Josie as we soon realised there was not a lot going on in these parts.

Despite witnessing some kind of drug deal at the skatepark where we stopped for lunch, our afternoon was very uneventful and we arrived in Crystal River to discover the main attraction was closed. With poor internet, no manatees to visit and lots of rain, the highlight of our day was dinner at Denny's - and for the boys, being eyeballed by the local supermarket check-out chick. 

Coastal Highway 98 gave us beautiful scenery but not a lot else; our next hotel seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, aka Wakulla Beach. However, it did provide a very pleasant setting to swim, drink and play card games to escape the oppressive heat (an oasis if you like). It also gave us our first authentic American bbq experience at a local restaurant ''Hamaknockers" where we ate a ridiculous amount of meat and vegetables drowned in butter to celebrate more than 200 days of travelling for Sack and Sponge. The festivities continued with 1L cans of Fosters beer found at the local 7eleven, a bag of M&Ms and some riotous laughs at our hotel. 

Our journey around the gulf continued, punctuated with scenic coastal drives and bridges, plenty of palm trees, towns with cool names but terrible cafes (Apalachicola, we're looking at you) and swims at beaches the temperature of bathwater. Fort Walton Beach offered us some decent tacos and margaritas on the beachfront (enjoyed on more than one occasion), while the balmy tropical evenings invited us to stay out and enjoy the photographic opportunities of the jetty (also home to a friendly pod of dolphins).

With not a lot going on besides gentle warm beaches, tropical air and plenty of indulgent food, we were practically ready to join the rest of the Florida population in their retirement...

Clearwater Revival

Days: 50-51
Kilometres Travelled: 160
Total States Visited: 16
Total Kilometres: 10,583

Back on the road and in need of a little RnR, our next stop was Clearwater Beach - a quintessential beachside town that invited warm sunny days and relaxing by the water. Unfortunately we didn't quite get either, but still managed to unwind with long walks on the beach, some hacky sack and very good coffee. 

4 Days, 3 Theme Parks, Unlimited Fun

A visit to Orlando, Florida would not be complete without visiting a theme park or 3 - and that is exactly what we set out to do over the next 4 days. 

We kicked things off at Universal Adventure Island with some thrilling rides that seemed to leave us either legless or soaking wet. Our adrenalin eventually gave out around 4pm, and resembling drowned rats, we retreated to the comfort of Hooters to revive our spirits and fill our bellies. 

Day 2 saw us at Universal Studios, where we indulged in more thrilling rides and marvelled at the incredible stage sets and props for every 'land' within. Each of these themed areas had incredible attention to detail that made the whole experience so much more captivating and immersive - we felt (and probably acted) like big kids. 

The next day we mixed things up and visited Disneyworld Magic Kingdom (just 1 of the 6 parks!). Although definitely aimed at a younger demographic, it was no less impressive to see the characters and stories of our childhood brought to life with simply stunning accuracy. We ended the day with drinks in Downtown Disney, before dragging our exhausted bodies on the 4 legs of the journey back to the car - a mere ferry, bus, monorail and tram ride to get from one Disney world to another. 

With one day pass left we hit up both the Universal lands again, utilising the 'Hogwarts Express'' ride that connected the parks to literally get the best of both worlds. We went on all our favourite rides until the thrills could not be surpassed and our spirits were satisfied (and yes, adrenalin depleted). Mission accomplished.

Landlubbers Return

It seemed our time on the ship had come to an end when we were woken from our food comas by some very insistent staff, who had no doubt had enough of us by then! We rolled ourselves out of bed, down the gangway and back onto solid ground feeling much more relaxed and a little bit relieved (having left with a few more kilograms and a lot less money than we boarded with).

We walked out our sea legs at the infamous outlet malls of Orlando, treasure-hunting for bargains, and soon discovered a very real weakness when it came to the Vans outlet... any pains from the cruise were quickly forgotten. 

Island Adventures

The next day we arrived at Port Nassau, a much bigger centre with a vastly different atmosphere to the tiny island of Cococay. Once we had made it through the peddlers and tourist scammers at the port entry, we courageously started exploring - without a map. 

After some time, we noticed that the street seemed to be getting quieter, more desolate and downright dodgier, so we turned and went back the way we came. A carpark that we had walked past moments before was proudly displaying a vehicle very much ablaze and suddenly we couldn't walk fast enough. It wasn't until we were back where we started - and one block further - when we realised the importance of knowing when to turn right and not left (we had totally missed the tourist bit!). We checked out Fort Charlotte and the Queens Staircase, before rewarding ourselves (and celebrating our survival) with a beer overlooking the marina. 

Still slightly traumatised, we returned fairly early to the ship and spent the afternoon enjoying our new favourite pastimes; overeating, drinking too much and the odd hand of Monopoly Deal. 

An Evening of Grandeur

After a hard day relaxing in Cococay, we rewarded ourselves with a night out (onboard the ship) to share in the 'Captain's Dinner'. This required a strict dress code, so we dressed in our finest and made our way to the restaurant for yet another 3 course meal (3.5 in our case - it pays to make friends with your waiter!). Copious levels of ingestion were followed by some luck in the onboard casino, making it a very grand night indeed.

A Little Place Called Cococay

Our first onshore excursion was to the secluded, private Cococay Island. The moment we set foot ashore, we knew we were well and truly in the Bahamas - it was just like a postcard! White sandy beaches, warm turquoise waters and glorious sunshine made it difficult not to relax, especially when we found our own private beaches to enjoy. We rounded off our visit with Coronas on deckchairs, with uninterrupted views of the tropical ocean... 'from where you'd rather be'. 

Cruising and Boozing

Our first few hours aboard the Enchantment of the Seas set the trend for our next 4 days of cruising the Bahamas; after checking out our lodgings and briefly exploring the vessel, we soon found ourselves on the deck consuming copious amounts of food and alcohol and having a rip-roaring good time. In fact, the only thing that really changed the entire time was the location of our food and alcohol consumption and rip-roaring good times. We were on a BOAT!!!

The Reunion

What better way to spend a day of waiting than shopping at an outlet centre - or two. That is exactly what we did while we waited for Luke and Kelly to fly in that night, easily losing most of the day scouring for bargains and our 10th pair of Vans shoes (each). Battling thunderstorms and torrential rain, it was a quite a feat - but by 8pm, we were finally organised and ready to go to the airport.

Our first ever drive to an international airport in another country was a little terrifying but went surprisingly smoothly; we learned just how much we appreciate adequate signage, and our new familiarity with airports did not go astray. We waited excitedly but a little nervously at the arrivals lounge; Luke and Kelly were the first contact with home we had in over 6 months and the first opportunity for us to hang out with anyone but each other in a very long time. Then, before we knew it - there they were! 

We made it out of the airport and to our hotel in one piece, where we talked, drank beer and caught up until the early hours.  


Finish Line in Sight

Days: 39
Kilometres Travelled: 354
Total States Visited: 15
Total Kilometres: 10,057

The coastal drive got much more interesting the closer we got to Orlando, as the A1A took us through Ponte Vedra Beach - and we discovered the $$. It was 30 minutes of continuous luxury mansions, each bigger and fancier than the next, and 30 minutes of getting our minds blown. It felt like we were in an episode of Entourage.

After a brief (5hr) delay at an outlet shopping centre, we followed the A1A all the way through Daytona Beach - aka crazy town. Perhaps it was the national holiday, but there was a definite party atmosphere as we cruised the main street (we even caught a glimpse of the race track - phenomenally huge!).

Finally, we arrived in Orlando and saw the city (and Disneyland in the distance) by night. We had made it! 

Death by Mosquitos

Days: 38
Kilometres Travelled: 232
Total States Visited: 15
Total Kilometres: 9,703

We crossed the border into Florida with a couple of days to spare, and decided to take the scenic route down the coast to Orlando where we were meeting our friends, Luke and Kelly. 

It was a pretty cool but long drive along tidal flats and river inlets until we reached Little Talbot Island State Park, our intended camp for the night. We got one of the last few sites in what we thought was the coolest campground yet - it looked like a zoo, it was so tropical! The thousands of bugs that immediately started crawling over us would surely retreat overnight, we thought.

Humidity at 1000%, we wasted no time in getting ourselves to the beach for our first swim - and learned that the ocean was like a bath. Still, it was refreshing enough and best of all, no bugs! Our swim was followed by beach carpark chilling and a couple of beers, enjoying the bug-free atmosphere. 

At sunset we returned to our camp for toast and death by mosquitos - no amount of clothing (it was so hot too!), mozzie coils or Bushmans could keep them from mauling us and we quickly retreated into the stuffy confines of Josie for the rest of the night.  

The onslaught of mosquitos hit us again the moment we stepped foot outside the next morning, and our patience broke. No pack up, clean up or even breakfast before we hightailed it out of there, but carefully removing the 10cm spider and his web that blockaded our campsite first!

Coast to Coast

Unable to take in any more of Savannah's cultural richness, we headed out to Tybee Island and finally made it to the coast. Our cross-continent quest from west to east was officially accomplished! 

We celebrated with a dip in the strangely bath-temperature brown ocean, followed by beers and nachos in the beachside bar "Fannie's".  

It was here we discovered the anomaly that a motel was the same price as camping, and so on the back of a wonderful day we indulged in another night of luxury with 4 solid walls, our own shower and a television. 


Georgia on My Mind

Days: 36-37
Kilometres Travelled: 422
Total States Visited: 14
Total Kilometres: 9,471

After reading about Savannah in a book by Bill Bryson, Sponge was overjoyed to finally arrive in the city - and it was just as imagined. Armed with tips and a map from the very enthusiastic lady at the information centre, we set out into the heat and oppressive humidity on foot and were blown away at every step. 

We hit up the Market Place and had our first delicious cappuccino in a very long time at the Fox Catcher Cafe, before wandering down to the riverside promenade; a delight of historical buildings and original cobblestone roads (Savannah was established in 1733!). We wandered into a few of the shops before scoring the best tasting and freshly made praline in a candy store. On the sugar high, we walked back downtown and accidentally found ourselves in Leopald's ice cream store - for even more sugary goodness. And everyone was just so friendly!  

With energy abounding, we toured the squares that led to Forsyth Park and were absolutely blown away by the beauty of it all; amazing residential architecture, lush gardens and towering trees adorned in Spanish Moss lined every road and square. Words can hardly describe the feeling of these storybook streets, it was such a surreal and wonderful encounter. 

Carolina Cruising

Days: 35
Kilometres Travelled: 404
Total States Visited: 13
Total Kilometres: 9,049

After waking up in the Smokies, we scoped the rest of the Blue Ridge Parkway (its most esteemed drive) before deciding we'd seen enough and carried on to Asheville. 

We were very pleasantly surprised by this city; a walk around downtown showed it was a rare pocket of hippies and corporate resistance, a delightful escape from the corporate and consumerist driven metropolis' we had been immersed in so far. Beautiful old buildings, an abundance of natural product stores and Indian restaurants lined the streets - even the service station had no signage or ads!

As much as we liked lingering here, we had places to be and made our way south. En route we discovered the cheapest petrol yet for just $1.859 USD per gallon (about 70c AUD) and just had to fill up, a bittersweet contradiction to the sentiment of Asheville just minutes before. 

We made it to Baker Creek State Park, where $22 USD got us a lakefront site with power, water and a beautiful sunset.

Smokin' it Up

Days: 34
Kilometres Travelled: 190
Total States Visited: 12
Total Kilometres: 8,645

After a very tedious day spent in the waiting room of a local mechanic while Josie had her brakes repaired, we finally hit the road. Before long we found ourselves in the Smoky Mountains, and decided it was worth the detour to check them out (and why not test out Josie's new brakes?). 

As we ascended into the mountains on yet another epic road, we were surrounded by lush tropical-looking forest and spectacular views - and managed to catch sunset over the Smokies. Breathtaking!

Music City

Days: 33
Kilometres Travelled: 558
Total States Visited: 11
Total Kilometres: 8,455

Early on a Sunday afternoon we rolled into Nashville (after a detour past Loretta Lynn's Ranch to se the amateur AMA MX track and an exorbitantly priced Belle Meade Mansion & Plantation) and were hit with the ultimate Sunday-sesh vibe. The atmosphere in downtown Nashville was simply unreal; every single bar (and there were heaps) was featuring a live band, resulting in different genres of live music cascading onto the streets. Every few steps was another bar with another tune, and we strolled merrily along soaking it all in.

The visual backdrop of Downton amplified its auditory richness, with rustic industrial architecture making it one of the coolest cities we have visited. Definitely on the return list!

Our senses exhausted, we cruised on the i40 towards Knoxville where the struggle to find somewhere to camp became all too real. Finally, we surrendered to our fatigue, need to shower and 'over it' feelings and stayed in our first motel in over a month. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. And we got free waffles for breakfast! 

Meeting and Greeting

Days: 32
Kilometres Travelled: 431
Total States Visited: 11
Total Kilometres: 7,897

Almost as dramatically as the scenery, the people changed from state to state too - but one thing that never changed was their outward friendliness and, in our case, genuine excitement at meeting 'real Australians'. 

In Little Rock, we stopped at the visitors centre; a delightfully restored house over a century old with white weather boards, large verandah and big shady trees. We got chatting to the proud local at the desk, who not only told us where to find a magnet (we learnt our lesson) but called us a "handsome couple" and that Sponge was "pretty for all the freckles". Egos suitably inflated from such surprise compliments, we went for a walk through the marketplace area (as recommended to us) and decided we really liked it; there was a very nice vibe to the city. And yes, we found a magnet.

After 2 uneventful hours heading east on the interstate, we finally crossed the Mississippi into Memphis! It gave a spectacular greeting from the bridge, followed by a spiderweb of freeways that left us a little disoriented and desperate to get out. We stopped briefly at a mall to find Sean some new thongs - a task harder than it sounds. In the one store with the one affordable pair of 'flip flops', our sales assistant must have been suitably intrigued by us; we saw him speak into his headpiece and moments later, another staff member approached us with a look of sheer wonder on his face as he learned we were Australian, and driving all the way to Florida. Crazy, man!

This sense of wonderment we seemed to evoke carried through to evening, as we set up camp in Chickasaw State Park. Sack was becoming especially good at making friends with the neighbours, and by the time Sponge had made 1 round trip to the toilet we were already invited over to our camp-neighbours for some beers around the fire. We spent the rest of the evening in the company of 3 very real and very local Tennessee folk, who were about our age. There were many moments of incredulity as we learned a lot about each other's countries and social habits (especially around weapons and gun laws), and many good laughs were shared. Nothing like learning from locals!