Remember that verse in the song?… Like going to LA via Omaha? Well that was our trip home from Florida this year. With COVID-19 already changing our plans to travel further south in Florida we decided to listen to the advice of our friends, John and Sharon Rudolph, and take the Natchez Trace Parkway home. That meant we’d need to head over Natchez, Mississippi and take the 444 beautiful parkway miles all the way up to Nashville, TN.
All we can say is… WHAT A TRIP! We did it in two full days of driving. We stopped at the Jeff Busby Park at MM193. It has 18 dry camping spots that have a view, picnic table, fire ring, paved parking… and it’s free!
Lots of emotions took over us as we traveled. It’s natural to compare the Natchez Trace Parkway to the Blue Ridge Parkway near our NC home. The Blue Ridge Parkway has tons of mountain vistas with views to die for. The Natchez Trace Parkway has a few of those, but more and more historically significant stops.
Even though we had plenty of smiling, laughing moments we had one very emotional moment. It happened when we stopped at the slavery graveyard. Just being there where slaves were buried without even providing headstones for those who lived and died as slaves on the plantation. It makes you just sick to think about it. Slaves… how could our country have this heritage to look back on. All we can say is we are so glad things are better in our country these days. Things still are not the way they should be. There are still many, many racially sad people and attitudes happening in our land. The color of one’s skin still seems to influence people’s opinion of you… no matter what the color of your skin. So… better than it was? Yes! Are we there yet? No way!
Here are a few of our favorite photos from this trip:
First of all, there is no actual scientific evidence for bad events coming in bundles of three. But, you’ve heard that too, haven’t you? It sure did seem to happen to us as we spent our winter traveling around exploring sunny, not quite so warm, Florida. If you follow us on our YouTube channel, http://youtube.com/c/VANTREKKINGlifestyle, then you know we really enjoyed our trip in the sunshine state in our little Travato van. But, as we look back now on that adventure, it is clear to see that 3 specific near misses occurred during the two months.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT #1
The first happened on February 5, 2020 as we were awakened by tornado warnings near our campground in Saint Augustine, Florida. We went to bed knowing it was going to be a windy and stormy night but ended up frightened by warnings of tornados touching down within what turned out to be several miles from us. When you’re in your home and a tornado comes near you, btw we’ve had that happen within 100 feet of our couch at home, when it happens and you’re in your home it’s a scary thing. But, when your home is a little 21-foot van and it happens… well, it kicks up the pucker factor to 10 in a hurry.
As it turned out we were fine… in fact the folks around us who were sleeping in tents were fine too… wet, but fine. We did have lots of tree limbs around us and up on our van. But, it does make you think… about what if’s… about what should you do? Just how do you keep yourself safe in a small van when there’s a tornado coming? Well, we are lucky… we subscribe to YouTube TV so we kept our eyes on the local news and watched as the tornado actually headed north of our location. Had it not changed directions we would have: 1) Moved our van to a parking lot that had no trees around it. And 2), we would have hunkered down in the bathroom facility at the campground. Not the most perfect of places, but much, much better than being inside our van. As it turned out we were lucky… just a few limbs on the top of the van and a bunch of tree crap on the windshield and a restless night.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT #2
Our second near miss, and man was it a real near miss, happened on 2/26/2020. After a few weeks of fun and sun, hiking and biking and even swimming with manatees and snakes, we were ready to end our time in Florida and head to Mississippi to prepare for traveling up the Natchez Trace Parkway. We were traveling at 70mph on I-10W just minding our own business and talking about all the things we were going to do over the next few days, and as always, the weather. It had turned cold… well, cold compared to our 60-70 degree days we’d spent in Florida. Then it happened…
Out of nowhere a grey Ford F-250 pickup truck lost control in the east bound lane of I-10. It all happened so fast. I saw it jerk to the right and then over compensate and lose control to the left. He shot through the median and the wire guardrail thingy and before we knew it he was literally heading right towards us. Both of us going at least 70mph and no time to waste. Does you life pass before your eyes at a moment like this? Well, some say that it does. For me my mind went into a mode that only happens when fear pushes adrenaline and your brain goes into safety mode. Faced with a big truck barreling at you going the wrong way on an interstate the natural reaction would be to hit the brakes. I did the opposite. I stomped on the gas and swerved as hard right as I could without losing control of our top-heavy van. The truck missed us… but barely. Close enough that I could see the eyes of the man driving. Close enough that I was sure he was going to hit the now exposed rear end of our van. But he missed us. He did not miss the red pickup truck and it’s two passengers right behind us. I watched in shock in the mirror as the driver of that truck hit the brakes, his wife threw up her hands and then they hit. You could hear the collision even though we were by that time many feet away from it. Both trucks lifted off the ground and then the may lay of vehicles swerving and sliding behind them… it was, well horrible. A scene that replays in my mind every time I pul onto an interstate now.
We were shaken. We pulled off at the next rest area, which happened to be the Mississippi Welcome Center. If you watch the episode from this date then you’ll see from our conversation that many things were going through our minds. We were thankful. We were grateful. We were in shock. We were sad. We cried. We prayed. We remembered loved ones lost. You see, this was too close to home for Lynn. We discussed that maybe we were more likely to have an accident because we travel so much. Law of averages support that theory but the reality is you are better at driving because you drive more so there’s that. We asked each other if it was time to just hunker down at a home in the mountains and stop traveling. As you know, that would be a major decision for us. But Lynn reminded me that her mom was killed in a head on accident just a mile from her home… on a Sunday morning… driving to church. So… it can happen anytime and any where. And for the second time in a few weeks we were reminded that life is precious and life is short.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT #3
We gathered our wits and nerves and continued up I-10 to our destination and then a few days later we pulled onto the Natchez Trace Parkway heading to Nashville, TN. Originally we had planned to spend four days exploring this national treasure, a 444 mile two-lane parkway that follows the path of the historic Natchez Trace. But weather once again was in the news… in the form of lots of rain and early spring major thunderstorms rolling our direction. So after looking at the weather projections we felt like we could make it safely to Nashville in 2 days so we drove to the campground half way up the Trace. The next morning we left early and took in as much as we could of the beauty of this parkway and pulled into Nashville 2 days early on March 2, 2020. We didn’t have a reservation and we could not get any of the campgrounds on the phone so we headed to the Cedars of Lebanon State Park, hoping it allowed late check-ins. It did. Tired from a long day of driving and the stress of the traffic through Nashville we turned in pretty early. We slept well until early morning when we heard the winds howling. We did not get up and check the weather then and we had not checked the weather before going to bed. We should have done both of those safety things but did not.
When Lynn woke me up early the next morning she was holding her phone and pointing at a news article. TORNADOS TOUCHED DOWN IN NASHVILLE! Since then we’ve all seen the devastation that occurred. We safely lived through it… in fact we were sound asleep in the van when it roared by just a mile from our campsite. Our watches didn’t warn us… our phones didn’t warn us… the rangers didn’t come around warning us… we were oblivious to the danger that roared by us.
Needless to say, much has changed since that day. Many lost their lives during those storms. Many lost everything they own during those storms. The campground we were at was damaged and is closed. As we drove out of the campground entrance we turned right to head to the interstate (another stinking interstate was what we were thinking). But we quickly stopped worrying about that. Just 5 minutes down the road houses were missing. On the interstate rooftops and signs were lodged 50-100 up in trees. Entire forests were leveled. It was a war zone.
Our plans were to spend several days enjoying the music, food and hiking in Nashville but the tornados changed those plans. In fact I-40 west-bound was a parking lot and the city closed off access to keep folks safe. We decided quickly that it was time to head home. Another factor in this decision was we were already seeing signs that the country was afraid of a pandemic and we were too. It was our third TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT moment on this trip and we’d decided this particular trip was over! It was time to head home. So we left our campsite and drove home and spent that night safely sleeping in our own beds.
MAYBE THERE’S SOMETHING TO THIS…
So do bad things come in three’s? When the second thing happened many warned us to be careful… the third bad thing was coming. It did! But luckily we were just close to these bad things… granted too close for comfort… but really just close. But it does make you think about these old wise tales and the superstitions we have embedded in our lives.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
With every serious event that happens to you or your family you learn something… at least those who do not want to repeat history learn something from it. So what did we learn?
Life is short and precious and you should hug those you love often and frequently.
Check the local weather EVERY night before going to be when you are camping in a van! Every night!
Make sure location services is turned on on your phone and watch and make sure you subscribe to severe weather alerts.
Drive defensively! Especially in a big van that is top heavy. But really no matter what you drive… drive defensively. Learn to pay attention to your peripheral vision when driving… not just what’s in front of you.
Don’t be DISTRACTED when you’re driving. Incidents like the one we faced on I-10 happen in just split seconds. Had I been texting, checking my phone or the map or anything we likely would have not lived through that accident. I’m not saying I always follow this rule but I’m saying I wasn’t when that happened and I’m glad I wasn’t. And… it is a good reminder to do better.
Pet Car Restraint System! Many of you have warned us that should we ever be in an accident our furry co-pilot would be in danger. We get that now. I’m not sure what we can implement to make her safer but we are researching options and plan to make Maggie safer although maybe a little more ticked off at first when we’re driving.
Life Is Short! Life Is Precious! We’re hoping we’ll get to travel around again this year in our van and explore the nature and beauty of this country that we love. But right now… with all that’s going on in our country… the world… Just living is enough and should be enough… life is so precious and we all need to do our part to keep it that way.
Our Sunday video is up. Until we get to travel again, there will only be two more travel videos from our channel. It makes us sad to think that and to honest we are itching (like all of you) to get back out there. But, this episode is a good one!
We left Apalachicola and headed in our van to Destin, Florida. There we stayed at a State Park RESORT, saw the most amazing beach sunset, showed you how we quickly do a Cousin Eddie and gave you our review of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
It’s our hope and prayer that each of you who are so much a part of this crazy adventure we’re on in our van is safe and healthy… and that you’re heeding the warnings and staying home and distancing yourselves from being infected by this virus and… doing your part! We hope this glimpse into our travels in some way brightens your day!
It all started with a How-To video we did about planning a trip. To show an example of how we use the app RV Parky we created a trip up the Forgotten Coast of Florida. We had all intentions of continuing down the Atlantic side of Florida until we reached sunny beach weather. We planned to spend a few weeks fishing and soaking up the sun and head over to the Gulf coast of Florida, visit with friends and then head back to our NC home.
What changed? Well, the trip looked so interesting to us we decided to think about changing our plans. Then so many folks commented about what fun things there were to do if we were to do that trip that well… they talked us into doing it. So off we went.
The first leg of the journey from the east coast of Florida to the Panhandle took us to Central Florida (sort of). O’Leno State Park, where we took a 12-mile hike and experienced for ourselves the wonder of a river that disappears underground and the reappears 3 1/2 miles later.
We then continued west, with a planned stop to swim with the manatees at Crystal River. Warm weather came early to the Gulf coast and the manatees took to open water to find an abundance of grass and practice their version of social distancing. So we saw one manatee (which was still pretty cool) and lots of snakes.
From there we continued north and west to the SopChoppy area of Florida. Haven’t heard of SopChoppy? Well, it’s a small community on the Ochlockonee River that has a great city park and an awesome small Florida State Park. The fun here was getting to experience the famous White Squirrels at our campsite as well as the peaceful rivers and hikes.
And with that we arrived at the official Forgotten Coast of Florida. Even though we’d driven by here many times it was the first time we’d stopped to get to know the area. The highlight of this portion of the journey was the time we spent in Apalachicola. While there Maggie, our sweet little rescue pup, got dressed up and took part in their annual Mardis Gras Dog Parade. We took a few detours while we were here too. The first was to cross the beautiful bridges over to Saint George Island and take a hike on the beach and trails at Saint George Island State Park. We also drove out to Cape San Blas and visited one of the most pristine sugar-sand beaches we’ve ever seen.
“From Sea To Shining Sea”! There’s a reason this line of the song is so true. We just loved so many things about the Oregon coast. So many breathtaking vistas and hikes. And so many unique places like the infamous tunnel to Short Beach in Oceanside! In this mid-week video we show you that tunnel, the beautiful remote beach and a really cool Harvest Host you can take advantage of if you’re traveling through.
It was just another day in the life of visiting the PNW in a Travato. We continued down the Pacific Northwest seeing the shortest lighthouse, the oldest tree, the most unique tree and the shortest beach. Smiling all the time at the beauty of it!
In this episode we take off further south down Highway 101 in Oregon. Our first stop is at Cape Meares Light, where we not only got to see up close the smallest lighthouse but we also got to see the biggest and oldest Sitka Spruce and the famous Octopus Tree. If you know us and know Lynn then you know she loves trees… so this was a major big event for her. We left there and traveled just a few miles down the coast and stopped at Short Beach, where waterfalls drop fresh water into the Pacific Ocean at high tide. And… Lynn spent some time searching for agates on a beach that is world famous for them.
We are so glad you found us and watched the video. Keep in mind, we’re not pros at this. We are just two people traveling the country in a little Travato van and sharing what we find, experience and learn with you. Our friendships we’ve made through these videos and channel are the real treasure and we truly appreciate each of you who leaves comments and reaches out to us. Keep connecting with us! See you down the road soon we hope. Until then… Happy Tails!
ALL IN ONE GREAT PNW DAY… HUG A TREE! TOUCH A CLOUD! HAYSTACKS GALORE! BEAUTIFUL OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK… WOW!
Some things you have to experience in person. Like the Pacific Northwest. If you’re like us you dream about… you put it on your bucket list. But, if like us, you live on the east coast it is just so… well… far away. As we were coming home from our Alaska adventure we decided now was the time so we turned right and headed as far north and west as we could go in the lower 48. We took the ferry and started our trek down the coast of Washington. We camped right beside the water. We climbed into the clouds for a hike at Hurricane Ridge. We gawked at 100s of haystacks on the beaches. We walked through an actual rain forest in the rain. And we parked our Travato camper van right beside the ocean for the most spectacular sunset we even experienced.