Pretty self-explanatory really…
After a morning getting to know the town of Moab and its locals, we decided to utilise our caffeine buzz (from some VERY good coffee!) and go for another afternoon ride back at Dead Horse Point. There was a trail called ‘Gemini Bridges Trail’ that Sack was keen to check out, but being a loop over 50km long Sponge agreed to shuttle and meet up at the lookout around 30mins later.
In the dwindling light, we went to explore the Gemini Bridges and stumbled upon one of the most epic canyons we had ever seen. It felt like we were in an old Western movie and it was a struggle to comprehend what we were seeing (let alone try and capture it on camera). Unable to take our eyes off the landscape before us, we shared a special, solitary sunset over the vast canyon.
An afternoon sojourn into the aptly named Arches National Park completely knocked our socks off. We were blown away by the scale, uniqueness and colour of the landscapes; it was unlike anything we had seen before. We battled the swarms of tourists (our first in a while) and stopped at almost every lookout in an attempt to soak it all in. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…
Bleary-eyed after a night of relentless thunderstorms and rain, we woke to find the campsite flooded. This made for a slow (and muddy) start as we were unwilling to get drenched in the continuing downpours. Once we finally made it on the road, the stormy skies and drizzle only enhanced the vibrant colours of the Utah plains.
The landscape grew more surreal the further north we went and we saw some amazing canyons and arches (and made plenty of stops). In Moab, we holed up in McDonalds to escape the rain and despaired what to do and where to go. Eventually the rain started to clear and we headed off to ‘Horse Thief’ campground in nearby Dead Horse State Park (definite theme going here).
We found a prime site and took advantage of the break in weather to explore the nearby mountain biking trails. As we traversed the slab and sand trails, we were captivated by the uninterrupted and private views of the phenomenal landscape that surrounded us.
We headed back to site just before nightfall and settled into Josie in an attempt to evade the plummeting temperature. Despite a restful night, we had an adrenalin-fuelled wakeup upon the discovery that we had left Josie’s passenger door open all night. Filled with relief after the consequent stocktake of our valuables and the fact it hardly rained, we recovered with a tea and book for Sponge and sneaky MTB expedition for Sack.
As we followed Highway 64 across New Mexico, we saw some spectacular scenery such as the Rio Grande Canyon and some more of those golden glowing forests. We even saw some Earth houses and hundreds of prowling tarantulas crossing the road (mating season apparently!). Soon enough, however, we found ourselves back in the flat, unexciting plains for more kilometres than desired. We took plenty of photos to pass the time…
Clearly not catering for many tourists, we struggled to find a place to stop for lunch or fuel. Forced to stop in Shiprock, the car facing us at the bowser had what appeared to be a bullet hole square through the windscreen. With Sponge firmly locked in the car, Sack performed the fastest fuel purchase ever and we sped off into the sunset.
We drove through some spectacular canyon lands and made an obligatory stop at the Four Corners Monument, where the borders of 4 neighbouring states converge. Although not as exciting as we hoped, it was pretty cool to see - especially having seen it in so many movies and tv shows. Keen to leave New Mexico behind us, we kept on until the road took us (back!) into Utah.
We awoke to bright blue skies and crisp air, which quickly became hot. Coffee-less, we drove in vain for 3 hours and literally saw nothing. No life. Nada. We finally arrived in Santa Fe and went straight to Dunkin’ Donuts for that coffee - and free wifi. Put off by what we’d seen of the city and prices of accommodation, we left town pretty quickly to get to Angel Fire (our next mountain bike destination).
We found a quirky hotel just outside Angel Fire and, after a quick freshen up, found ourselves in an authentic saloon, circa 1880s. As the only patrons, we spent the evening drinking beer and chatting to the bartender before discovering what a “chicken fry steak” actually was. After a cosy, restful sleep we were feeling optimistic and headed straight to Angel Fire for some mountain biking. The rapid transformation of the landscape as we ascended the mountain was incredible, and beautiful. Fall truly is a spectacular season!
On the chairlift we met a robust 69 year old who insisted on giving is a guided tour of all the trails. It turned out he was the record holder of the most vertical feet descended in North America (after only 4 years of mountain biking!). He eventually left to our own devices for our third run, and we were about to complete our fourth when a storm front came through and the mountain was closed down. The biking vibe soon left us (and lack of fitness caught up with us) and we left to find a camp for the night. We ended up in a very bizarre RV park, where upon arrival we were invited to a group singalong/bbq with an interesting assortment of characters. Despite our skepticism and the discovery that Sean had lost his jeans, belt and our gas lighter, we survived the night and even heard our first coyote calls.
Continuing our journey west, we soon realised there really was a lot of nothing in these parts. We stopped in Junction for fuel, supplies and an interesting anecdote from a local as he described accidentally shooting himself through the knee. Back on the road for a whole lot more of nothing, we indulged in our first Dairy Queen experience to keep us entertained. Pumped on sugar, we drove and drove into nothingness - vast expanses of it - until, finally, mountains appeared on the horizon!
We spent the night in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in a glorified carpark (“campsite”) and were treated to a glittering blanket of stars.
The next morning we were delighted to discover something interesting nearby and stopped to explore the Carlsbad Caverns. We took the elevator down 800 feet/230m to the “Big Room”, which is the largest cavern in the western hemisphere. And boy did it live up to its name! We walked around for an hour or so on slippery, dimly lit paths and soaked in its wonder.
Back on the road we were greeted with another few hours of nothingness, until once again mountains loomed on the horizon. We found camp at Valley of Fires Recreation Area, which is atop an ancient lava field. After a sunset stroll through the intriguing landscape, we were treated to another phenomenal starry night. We watched the stars, listened to Kings of Leon and contemplated life.
Somehow we made it out of Houston, complete with a record fast service and new shoes for Josie, and set off to… somewhere. A quick Maccas stop helped us find McKinney Falls State Park, which was helpfully close to downtown Austin (though we paid the price for it!). After being checked in by a nice grandma, we relaxed at our site before checking out the nearby falls at sunset.
We were surprised to discover Austin had a clean and friendly atmosphere, which kind of reminded us of Nashville and Vancouver put together. We saw the sights before enjoying some G&Ts on 6th Street, listening to a live piano battle and later, some blues. The next morning we went back into town for some coffee and to find a food truck for which Austin is renowned (and recommended to us by a friend). Much to our delight, we found a Thai truck and indulged in pad thai, tom yum and pork dumplings for the road. However, we barely made it out of Austin before we could no longer resist the smell, and practically inhaled our first Thai meal (with actual spice!) within seconds on the side of the interstate.
Extremely satisfied, we moseyed on and soon found ourselves in wine country. After a quick stop and purchase at Grape Creek Vineyards (one of the oldest vineyards there), we headed to Fredericksburg (a town evidently settled by Germans, complete with a marktplatz). Inevitably, we ended up at the brewing company for beers and a pretzel. Feeling a bit tipsy, we decided to camp at nearby ‘Lady Bird’ - which revealed itself to be a bizarre camp spot between a gridiron field and an airstrip. We watched both as the golden hour kicked in, followed by a late dinner and early bed.
After getting flooded out of our campsite, we didn’t waste any time getting back on the road and driving along the gulf. We discovered there was a whole lot of nothing on this route (not even coffee!), although every man and his dog seemed to be out fishing. With nothing but coastline (and some pretty cool houses up on stilts), we soon made our first ferry crossing along Highway 82. A pod of dolphins escorted us across, and once on land we were promptly hit with more torrential rain.
We knew we were about to hit Texas by the enormous silos and factories on the horizon, literally demarcating the state border. There followed an hour or so of industrial monstrosities and vile, unpleasant odours. Driving in Houston was like nothing we’d ever seen before - the freeways were like spiderwebs, not only an average of 8 lanes wide but also stacked 4 roads high! At one point, we counted 14 lanes of traffic. After a long day on the road, we were extremely grateful for the relative luxury of our hotel and happily indulged in TV, long showers and Panda Express.
On the morning of our 100th day on the road, we begrudgingly woke before dawn to take Luke and Kelly to the airport. Still half asleep, we left NOLA and caught a magnificent sunrise in our rear view mirror. In the soft dawn glow, our surroundings took on an ethereal quality with fog hovering densely above the rivers and an enormous flock of birds that all took flight at once from a sugar cane field. We soon forgave the early start.
We made it at last to Avery Island, home of of the infamous Tabasco sauce. After a very enlightening tour of the factory, we sampled some raspberry chipotle and jalapeno ice cream (and probably never will again). From here, the road took us to Palmetto Island State Park where, despite the lush surroundings, we soon discovered a distinct sparsity of ablutions and why every rig in the park had its own golf cart! A sudden massacre by mosquitoes had us retreating into Josie early for some much needed rest.
After an even more challenging wakeup than the previous day, we set out for sustenance and discovered the therapeutic goodness of Popeye’s Chicken for curing hangovers. Greased up, we set about exploring the French Quarter at a much gentler pace and saw more great street music, sampled pralines and an abundance of hot sauce to keep us going.
The evening took us to Frenchmen St, a street known for its live music venues such as ‘The Spotted Cat’ (THE place for local music), and an artist night market. Yet again, New Orleans delivered the goods with its food, music and art and we were very, very satisfied.
We awoke sore and sorry for ourselves the next day, but were instantly revitalised by the delicious “po’boy” we ate for breakfast at the famous Mothers’ restaurant (a quintessential New Orleans treat). More than satisfied, we explored the French Quarter by daylight including the Mississippi River, Jackson Square, Royal St, Bourbon St and the French Markets. Sponge was in architectural heaven with the French and Spanish influences abounding.
Even more amazing was the live music on every street corner, with incredible musicians and all kinds of music. One in particular (Yes Ma’am) caught our attention and we purchased our very first authentic NOLA cd!
After a siesta at the hotel, we returned to Bourbon St for some more drunken debauchery. We kicked things off at Felix’s Oyster Bar where we watched oyster shucking over dinner (and ironically, no one even ordered them). We soon found ourselves with more drinks (‘grenades’) and inevitably at a strip club, where we were so poor we could only just afford the $1.25 beers between us. Needless to say, we were not the favourite patrons of the evening…
After a reluctant departure from our luxurious hotel (sweetened by another IHOP feast), we hit the road to New Orleans. On the drive we witnessed some of the destruction still remaining from Hurricane Katrina, which really hit home about the damage she caused.
Our arrival was an interesting one, as we were mistaken for contractors rather than guests! After clearing the confusion with the hotel staff regarding our nondescript white van and less-than-fancy appearance, we finally checked in and lazed about by the pool until we mustered the courage to head into the French Quarter.
As can be expected, we had a riotously fun evening in the action-packed Bourbon St. After several beers and cocktails, we caved to Willie’s Fried Chicken for dinner - with a hurricane slushy on the side. This was followed by another hurricane at Fritzel’s jazz bar, where finally we ticked off another bucket list item - live jazz in NOLA. Amazing! It is quite a wonder we made it back to our room that night…
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
With nothing but clear, smooth waters for sailing we spent the last day of our cruise revelling in the luxuries we had come to very much enjoy; food, beers, games and sunsets (all enjoyed in levels above excess).
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.