Flood

Last week, the Voyager entered the Deep South for the first time, following the old Bourbon Trail through Kentucky and Tennessee, before re-joining Route 66 in Missouri. In week eleven the journey stalls in the Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Patricia has her spectacular say.

Day 71 – Chandler, OK to Denton, TX

Seaba Motorbike Museum

Just a few miles left of our trip along Route 66 but there still remained many weird and wonderful – and incredibly tacky – roadside attractions to visit before we hit Oklahoma City, starting with a petrol station turned motorbike museum in Seaba. Every bike in their collection appeared to have some rather obscure link to a mildly famous film or seventies TV show. For example, one extremely special specimen had a cameo in the background shots of the shows Dallas and Quincy. Truly unique.

Seaba Motorbike Museum

Seaba Motorbike Museum

Slightly further down the road we came across Arcadia Round Barn, a truly historic structure that was built in the nineteenth century and bought by an eccentric Route 66 enthusiast in the 1960’s. It was almost impossible to move inside for the amount of fantastic junk the man, unfortunately now deceased, had accumulated, and indeed created, over the years. I have since decided that a round house is an ideal architectural design that I would quite like to live within in the future. Many thanks to Barn Man, as he was affectionately known.

Arcadia Round Barn

Arcadia Round Barn

From a historic barn to a brand new ‘soda station’ – although I am not entirely sure what one is. Whilst the sugary, incandescent beverages are not quite my cup of tea I could appreciate the fact that at least one new business, however much a risk to the public’s health, had decided to open its doors beside the ailing and aging route. Plus, to give them their dues, they did construct a large, pointless neon structure out front, in keeping with all large and pointless Route 66 landmarks.

POPS

POPS

Shortly after our glucose overdose – the result of which made it impossible to remain motionless – we made our arrival in Oklahoma City, found a laundromat and said goodbye to Route 66 for the final time. Having been the endeavour that I had looked forward to more than any other before the trip commenced, I can now conclude that it did not disappoint and was even more captivating than I envisaged. I am quite sure that I will return one day, probably when I have grey hair and an even more morose disposition, to complete the journey in its entirety.

Route 66 Photos

It was parked outside the non-descript, Oklahoman laundromat that we re-encountered precipitation for what must have been the first time in many weeks. It was all rather refreshing until a news flash on a TV inside the laundromat informed us that we were experiencing the embryonic stages of Hurricane Patricia. Little did we know that the night’s lamentably wild and stormy drive South to Texas would be the start of the most treacherous stage of the journey so far.

Day 72 – Denton, TX to Huntsville, TX

Dallas

We parked an hour’s drive North-West of Dallas, well it should have been an hour’s drive but the road was more like a swimming pool than a highway. When we finally crawled into Dallas the rain actually ceased just long enough to visit the Cowboys supersized American football stadium and the John F. Kennedy assassination spot and memorial.

AT&T Stadium

John F Kennedy Memorial

Having watched many a documentary on grassy knolls and book depositories, I actually knew my way around the place fairly well. Apart from the grassy knoll being more of a muddy knoll and the huge number of tourists taking rather tasteless photos standing on the spot where he was shot, in seemingly sheer joy, it was quite similar to how I had pictured.

JFK Assassination Spot

The Grassy Knoll

Dallas offered little else, apart from brief shelter from the deluge, and it was not long before we had to don our swimwear once more and attempt to scramble to somewhere near Houston. For once our sat nav let us down, badly, directing us off of the Interstate in order to ‘save us fifty-five minutes’ and plunging us straight into a town from the film Twister.

The Road To Houston

Lashing rain, impassable roads-turned-lakes and swelling traffic coming from the Interstate – with countless drivers issuing profanities at their satellite navigation systems – made for an extremely nervous wade through the abyss.

The Road To Houston

The Road To Houston

If you ever get caught in a similar situation I can offer you one piece of advice you should find extremely useful, in fact it saved us on many occasions: ALWAYS let others attempt to cross first. There certainly was not a shortage of confident Texans in oversized trucks ready to carve their way through the lakes and ponds only to come a cropper in the middle and begin drifting in some other unwanted direction.

The Road To Houston

The Road To Houston

Just when things appeared they could not get any more perilous it began to get dark… extremely quickly. With the shocking state of our headlights we simply had to stop at the nearest town, baton down the hatches and hope for the best. A night to test our permeability.

Day 73 – Huntsville, TX to Houston, TX

Huntsville

We survived, slightly damp but not deterred. With the wind picking up as well we contemplated staying put for the whole day. But with water level rising in Huntsville and twenty states still left to visit – and less than a month to visit them – we needed to at least make it to Houston. At worst, shelter would be easier to come by there.

The Road To Houston

It immediately felt like a very poor decision as the Interstate looked like a mechanical graveyard, lined with cars, vans and trucks unable to survive the journey South. As we strolled along the inside lane we saw two trucks outside of us get extremely close to each other. As one attempted to distance itself, the wheels disappeared from under it and they collided, first with each other, and then with the central reservation.

We thought that we be the end of the situation but, unable to stop or stay in their own lanes, both cars aquaplaned back across the road in our direction. One slid sideways and, after almost resigning ourselves to the fact we were going to be hit, missed our back side by about a foot or so. The other continued to skid, went up and over a grass bank and finally came to a halt in the middle of the adjoining slip road.

We pulled over on the hatchings between the Interstate and the slip road ramp to assess the carnage behind. Despite traffic being fairly dense, the two cars somehow managed to avoid contact with anything else and both drivers were up and walking around with what looked like only superficial injuries.

With only one direction we could go, as every side road was flooded, we were forced to continue along the Interstate until we reached Houston. After surviving the most horrific, rain-drenched conditions I have experienced as a driver, ironically, we could not find anywhere in Houston where we could have a shower.

Instead we made it to Walmart and ate chicken in the café with others sheltering from the storm. Just like a rainy caravan holiday from my childhood we decided to embrace the situation by getting out the board games and the beer – not so much from my childhood – and try to savour our time off the road.

Shelter In Houston

Day 74 – Houston, TX to Baton Rouge, LA

The never ending tropical storm continued shedding its deluge throughout the night and into the morn. After checking weather updates we realised we were stuck in a Catch 22. The more ground we caught up, the longer we stayed under the clouds of Patricia. We were literally following the storm on its path around the Gulf of Mexico. We decided that the best course of action would be to let the storm pass over us and catch up the mileage later on.

So just the short drive out of Texas to the capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge. I wish there was something different to write apart from the fact it was another perilous drive, through flash floods and high winds, but that has become the norm this past week. It could be worse; we could be stuck in Utah.

The Road To Baton Rouge

The Road To Baton Rouge

On our way through Port Arthur – another quite stunning coastal Texan oil refinery city – we heard a loud bang as our two windscreen wipers decided to destroy each other and abandon their posts, falling into the pool below. We managed to make it to a petrol station and were just preparing to say a few kind words about Patricia when a man came over an offered his assistance.

He guided us to a nearby auto parts store – was not easy to get to without wipers – and despite my protestations, proceeded to attach our new blades in the lashing rain. If they had broken anywhere else, on the Interstate for example, we would have been in a trickier situation than David Cameron walking into a butchers so we had to count our blessings and, once again, the generosity of a complete stranger.

The Road To Baton Rouge

By nightfall we reached Baton Rouge, or at least what was left of Baton Rouge as most of the roads were underwater. We were forced to take shelter at a leaking Buffalo Wild Wings at precisely the time that the Philadelphia Eagles were playing, remarkable coincidence. We parked for the night at the highest point in Baton Rouge, in a car park that was starting to flood…

Day 75 – Baton Rouge, LA to New Orleans, LA

We woke up to remarkable silence this morning as the sopping onslaught actually paused for the first time in five long, gloomy days. The clouds were still grey but we did not care one iota, it was not raining, much. We planned a careful exit route through the Baton Rouge Bayou and made for a place immune to the dangers of flooding, New Orleans.

The Road To New Orleans

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Our first glimpse of the Superdome on the horizon signalled our belated arrival, we had a lot of catching up to do so we headed straight to the French Quarter and, eventually, dropped of the Voyager. The second we got out of the car it began raining again. Exasperated, we headed down Bourbon Street in search of somewhere that was dry and vended alcoholic beverages.

New Orleans

New Orleans

Not a problem in New Orleans, but nearly every bar was empty and the atmosphere flatter than a beaver’s tail as the storm had evidently taken its toll. We would take the party back to Walmart car park and, as the weather must surely improve tomorrow, return at dawn.

Day 76 – New Orleans, LA to Pass Christian, MS

Although it was a little after dawn when we returned the weather had improved, at least sufficiently for New Orleans to wake from its sodden slumber and spring into life. It remains one of the very few places in America where alcohol can be consumed on the street and, judging by some of the passers-by, the rule, or lack-of, is fully embraced.

New Orleans

New Orleans

We decided to join in the communal pastime before searching for Joan of Arc’s golden effigy. The Maid of Orleans, from which the city derived its name, holds a prominent place overlooking the main street through old New Orleans. She certainly would be an interesting character to spend the afternoon going down Bourbon Street with. As it was, Shu and I meandered through the charming, narrow streets with the sound of jazz music in our ears and the smell of Cajun chicken in our nostrils. The epitome of a stereotype.

New Orleans

New Orleans

I have yet to witness a place so utterly obsessed with Halloween as here. Nearly every house plastered in decorations, whilst the quite remarkable quantity of witches shops appeared to be doing a roaring trade. I imagine the night of October 31st in New Orleans to be some occasion. Unfortunately, we could not stay longer than this afternoon before we had to make our way over the Mississippi River for the final time and into the state that bears its name.

New Orleans

Final Crossing Of The Mississippi

Day 77 – Pass Christian, MS to Venice, FL

Long Beach, Mississippi

Oh joy of joys. You would not believe how happy we were to wake up to this sight. Blue skies, beach and the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Today would be the day to make back the time we lost caught in Patricia. A ten hour, six hundred and seventy-mile trip around the Gulf of Mexico; a journey not far off the length of the United Kingdom. Not that it troubled us, we were just thrilled not to have to go for a swim to get to the bathroom every morning.

Long Beach, Mississippi

When thinking of Mississippi state, beautiful coastline, white sandy beaches and palm trees were not really what I imagined, but that is exactly what we got the whole length of the Gulf Coast. It looked exactly like a postcard from the Californian coast, but without any skaters, surfers or orange-skinned joggers.

Gulf Coast, Mississippi

Welcome To Alabama

We crossed the short Mississippi panhandle and into the equally short Alabama panhandle. Our lunch break in Mobile – outside an impressive cathedral, at least in American terms – would be our only interval before attempting to travel as far as we could down Florida until our eyes became bloodshot and we started picturing flying alligators on the horizon.

Mobile Cathedral

Mobile Cathedral

Shortly after our arrival in the Sunshine State, number thirty-four, we crossed the twenty thousand kilometre mark for our journey and, rather depressingly, instead of the odometer continuing on past this figure, it reset itself back to zero. Blow. The designers of the Plymouth Voyager did not imagine that anybody would ever use their car for a trip this long. Only another ten thousand or so to go…

Odometer Fail

Odometer Fail

Next week the Voyager basks in America’s panhandle as it reaches as South as South goes before a meeting with some rather famous characters in Orlando.

Total kilometres: 20,635

J

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