Six things that have surprised us along the way so far, less than three weeks into our 52-week adventure:
The quality of the roads, especially in Texas.
Most of our 1,500 miles of travel so far have been on state and county roads across rural Texas and Louisiana, but even in the major cities along the state’s perimeter the thoroughfares have been pothole-free with wide shoulders neatly mowed – and speckled with early wildflowers.
Dallasites wouldn’t recognize I-35 at its origin near the border. We felt like we were driving on a ribbon of satin on the portion around Laredo.
Even the tiniest farm-to-market roads are smooth and regular – truly a joy to drive on.
The range of gas prices
It pays to price shop. Along the edges of Texas from about Del Rio to the Louisiana border, we saw a price range from $2.04 in Port Lavaca to $2.59 in Sabine Pass.
That’s more than a $10-spread on 20 gallons. And we’ll be using a lot of 20-gallons.
We almost ran out of gas in one long, sparsely populated stretch across southwestern Louisiana. We limped into Kaplan with the red warning light on and gladly pumped a few gallons at $2.61 even as we suspected more reasonable prices down the road. True enough: We filled up a few miles further at a more modest $2.14 – and were stunned to see another station selling gas at whopping $2.68 less than a mile from that one.
How little time there is to read
Dallas Morning News subscriber and former Airstream traveler Eulaine Hall of Dallas warned me about this last fall when I wrote a column inviting readers to recommend place-specific books for me to read along our perimeter trip. I suspected she was right when I read her lengthy and lovely email, including site recommendations from her “memory book of favorite places,” but I underestimated how right she was.
We’ve been on the road more than two weeks and I’ve progressed barely 20 more pages into William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey into America. I started it before we left Dallas and am loving it, but it was more than a week into our trip before I found barely an hour for some quiet reading time.
Too many maps to study, birds to identify, bike trails to explore, beaches to comb, sunsets to watch, gourmet campsite meals to create and savor. I need to work on this.
Our Wonder Washer
It turns out this plug-in device was one of our best purchases in prepping for the trip.
It’s so simple: You pour in a gallon of water, a bit of soap and a small load of light laundry. The motor in the base automatically turns the top canister this way and that way for whatever time period you set. Then you toss the soapy water (biodegradable!) and add fresh to rinse. Hang to dry.
The Wonder Washer (about $60) is great for light shirts, underwear, dish towels, socks, etc. We can even do our sheets if we like – one at a time – enabling us to go weeks without visiting a laundry mat. Joy! Rapture!
How solidly bikes travel on front
Attentive readers of this blog may be weary of our bike-transporting travails. But this is a major deal for us, and I’m happy to report that – so far – the front-of-the-Xterra option (sans seats and cover) has exceeded our expectations.
Our beloved bikes are as stable as a bolted door and we’ve found a way to minimize to almost nothing the driver’s visibility impairment. Most surprisingly of all, the Bug Juice quotient has been – so far – nonexistent. I didn’t even need to clean the car’s windshield until we were more than 1,000 miles into our trip.
Perhaps this will change as the seasons shift and we enter other parts of the country. But for the time being, we are more than satisfied with this transport strategy – and much relieved.
Lack of mosquitos
Speaking of bugs – and I feel like I’m inviting trouble here – we have been pleasantly surprised by the lack of insects so far, including, for the most part, the dreaded mosquitos.
Mosquitos are generally drawn to Georges and me like bees to honey and I’m mildly allergic. But we didn’t have to break out the Deet until last week when we hit Sea Rim State Park on the Gulf just shy of the Louisiana border.
We cut our planned two-day stay at Sea Rim in half when the mosquitos that seemed non-existent on the beach one evening swarmed in full force the next morning. But other than that – with liberal use of repellant and showering every now and then using the surprisingly sweet-smelling made-for-dogs flea-and-tick soap – we seem to be faring well on this front.
At least for now.
Who knows what Florida holds….