There is camp clean and there is road grunge and unfortunately my hygiene has surpassed both. No, I do not look like Tom Hanks in Castaway, but I have started talking to Mabel in similar fashion to his Wilson. I am at the point where it doesn’t matter, any impression will be forgotten in a few minutes. The connections I am making are fleeting and I don’t feel the need to impress anyone. But today it has gotten to be too much; a full KOA makeover, to include cutting my Joe Cocker sideburns, nails, and a shave are in order. I hate long hair and have never had it, the thought of it touching my ears drives me crazy. If it was up to me I would go the full Bruce Willis but I am accused of a misshapen head so my style is more budget Fabio. I do feel better after the cleaning effort.
We pack up and bid farewell to our spot of the last two days, HWY 27 will bring us true West and into Alabama. We drive into a big blue sky filled with white puffy clouds, the colors crisp and clear and it seems like a typical Southern afternoon. There has been no escape from the heat wrapping us in its moist cloak. Thankfully we have air-conditioning and it helps Mabel to plot our course. She has gotten skilled with the GPS, I just have to punch in the numbers as her paws are too big. We will pass through Plains, Georgia, home of former President Jimmy Carter.
I didn’t originally intend to stop in Plains; some think Jimmy Carter’s Presidency was one of goodwill, others one of weakness. I was only 13 when Reagan took over the Oval Office, more concerned with baseball and football. But this trip is about America and Plains has its place in our history so we make a hard-right turn and pass by the old Plains High School. The building has been converted into the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, including a condensed version of his four-year term and the part Plains played in it. The building was neat and I felt like I was in a real, old-time school. It had that summer vacation feel, an airiness played down the halls, no gloom of impending assignments permeating from the rooms. The auditorium has been left as it was in President Carter’s time as were a few classrooms. Otherwise it focused on the Carter Presidency and his time in Plains. I walk amongst the exhibits noting his achievements and look at the pictures, some old and some new at one time. I sit behind the desk in the oval office recreation and take a picture of the Nobel Prize before exiting back in the heat.
Mabel and I walk down to the Plains Main Street to find the post office and mail a few post cards. It is small with stores on one side and a train depot on the other. Uncle Rico could throw a football its length, maybe a block or two. No luck on the post office, closed for a two-hour lunch so we head back, thankful the side walk is covered from the sun. I pass the Carter Feed Store, now concerned with souvenirs and Presidential memorabilia and a young couple were sitting in front. They were dressed as working in an office and I don’t know how the gentleman could be wearing a tie in this heat. He asked if Mabel was an Akita, a good guess and I tell him her story as I continue to sweat. He had been to Bloomington, MN for business and remembered the REI building on 494. “Grass is green up there this time of year.” he states. I agree and wish it was here too. I pass him a card and hope he looks at the blog, they seemed like a nice couple. Mabel and I rush through the heat towards the car, crank the AC and continue West.
I had seen Providence Canyon State Park on the map and found out it is Georgia’s answer to the Grand Canyon. It is on the way so we decide to stop, pay our $5 to park and check it out. The park is not very large, but the canyon, if we are to call it that, was really neat. Obviously not on the scale of the Grand Canyon but still worth the time even in the heat to walk the rim. Large orange and white spires of soil rise from the tree lined floor. The cliffs are equally spectacular, their striations playing out against the sun.
We set out to find the welcome center and path to the canyon’s bottom travelling along the fence line, a tidy picnic area to our back. No luck as we walk back and forth finally extending the trek past the picnic benches, a couple confirming we are on the right track. It was distant, the heat affecting both of us, Mabel sprawling on the cool brick floor of the center. No way either of us are walking to the bottom so this excursion provided only an addition to today’s step count. Back we walk to the cool air conditioning.
I didn’t have a plan for Alabama and it caused some concern. I felt lost when I crossed over the state line at Eufaula. Steinbeck mentioned Montgomery, which will be our first TWC reference point since Abingdon, Virginia. So, I knew I was headed there, but unsure of what comes before it. Hungry, I stop at a McDonalds and you may not believe it, but I have tried to limit my visits to the Golden Arches. For those times I do stop, I pay in cash to hide the evidence. I walk in and notice mine is the only white face in the restaurant. I am aware of this difference as I think everyone else is, but think I am the only one that considers it. I walked into their normal, much like me walking into an all-white restaurant is normal for me. So, I now feel what it is like to be in the minority, more aware of my surroundings, alert to the differences and wondering if something will happen. Is this what a black male feels like in his everyday experiences? The folks in the restaurant did nothing to make me feel this way, and we all went on about our business. I waited and they served me my food and then I left. I bring this up because race is still a segmenting factor in society, much like it was when Steinbeck drove through on this leg of the trip. He was sickened by the racism he saw in Louisiana and decided to push through to home, the journey poisoned by people’s hatred. To me, I am now in the deep South, different from the South I just left and I don’t know what I will find.
We take HWY 82 North to Montgomery but divert to Moton Field where the Tuskegee Airman trained in WWII. The airfield is a museum to their struggles and achievements and consists of two hangars and some outbuildings. It is almost 5:00 when we mosey down to an open hangar door and walk inside. There are a few airplanes on static display and we are greeted by a female park ranger starting the close-up process. “Can I bring in the dog?” I ask. “It’s one of those seeing eye dogs, isn’t it?” she replied. I knew what she meant and didn’t pose a correction but instead responded with a “yes”. It is a nice museum and Hanger 1 is original while Hanger 2 was rebuilt. I walk to Hanger 2 and tell them the other ranger allowed Mabel inside and they agreed as well. There is more factual information in this hangar and we see the story of not just the pilots but the support personnel as well. There are exhibits of post war racism and the integration of the Armed Forces. A large P-51 hangs from the ceiling. We finish the tour, I can sense the rangers wanting to go home.
Survival mode kicks in and I think about camping for the night. Luckily, we find the Gunther Hills Camp Ground, an Army Corps of Engineers site about 10 miles from Maxwell AFB. I pull in, two toy haulers in front of me, and hope I can get a spot. One of the men looks at Arabella while his friend registers, the attention becoming normal. Thankfully there are plenty of sites in this hidden little gem, the woman behind the glass processed our registration with typical government efficiency. There is a sign stating no swimming at the campsites with an alligator cartoon and I confirm that Mabel should stay away from the water.
The Army Corp of Engineers operate many sites like this but according to the camper in the toy hauler, they are hard to find. There is no consolidated list, but instead campgrounds are listed according to district. If you don’t know the district then you can’t look up the campground. She went as far as to look at Google maps for large areas of green surrounding lakes on their route and then drilled into what the area was. It seemed to work as she found this one. These sites are well worth the effort if you like state park type camping.
We are settled in a pull through spot, no backing up tonight, and close to the bathrooms. I take Mabel for a walk and stop at one of the toy haulers, the seasoned camper sitting outside. She is intrigued with Mabel and I tell them our story. Mabel entertains with an interest in chasing the squirrels. They are a travelling pair from Florida heading to Utah, but taking their time with it. Soon all four have gathered and we talk about travel and RV’s and motorcycles. Three of the four are retired from the Florida DOT where they were engineers of one sort or another. Now they have time and the intent to travel, maybe see how roads are designed outside of Florida. One of the men is new to RV camping, having camped forever in a tent, and he is suspicious of the comfort. He speaks of many wives and different camping trips, some including motorcycles and I gather he is seasoned in a variety of experiences. His girlfriend has golfed the Sag Harbor course, coming over from Essex, Connecticut on a friend’s boat and staying at Marine Park. It truly is a small world. His RV is used and he is determined to find why the ground fault indicator outlet trips when it rains. The other RV is brand new and I am given a tour to see that it not only looks more comfortable than Arabella, it is more comfortable. No scooching through a small door for entry. The living room doubles as a garage for the motorcycle, but there is an added recliner that looks very comfortable. We talk until it's time for dinner and I offer to pick some stuff up at the Dollar General store just down the street. Did you know they sell beer at the Dollar General? That place truly has everything! You heard it here first, check Dollar General’s stock. We are tired so call it a night.
Tonight, I am thankful for the Army Corp of Engineers and their campground program.