Seven States, Public Baths, Alpacas, Gators, Biking, and Bev’s Birthday!

Alright, how is everyone? We’ve been having too much fun and moving around a LOT. Like, seven different states a lot. Let’s catch up, shall we?

We left Florida on February 8th. We were keeping a little secret from Ross’s family. You see, his wonderful mother, Beverly, was turning the big 6-0 on February 11th, and her family was throwing her a party at Aunt Sheila’s house near Memphis, Tennessee. Last time you looked at a map of the U.S., you noticed that Memphis and Florida are a bit distant from each other, right? It wasn’t “in our plans” to go, but we’re free-form traveling nomads so what actual “plans” were we interrupting? Exactly. This was too important to both of us, so we decided to go, but not tell anyone just yet.

We continued along our Gulf of Mexico path out of Florida’s panhandle and stayed at another GREAT Harvest Host business: Gulf Coast Alligator Ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi. You read that right. More “gatahs.” Now, getting there was interesting for us as we had a couple “firsts.” We drove through our first tunnel with the THoW in tow. Although I knew from the many signs and a quick Google search that our tall tiny was way below the maximum clearance, I am certain I held my breath for the entire length of the (thankfully) short tunnel. We also had our first misdirection by our Good Sam GPS system developed for RVs. We bought it because you can enter the dimensions of your rig and it is supposed to calculate appropriate routes for safe driving. It has done well, but I, being the generally untrusting individual I am, always check it against Google maps. We still highly recommend it, and if you want one get it here:  Rand McNally RVND 7730 LM RV GPS with Lifetime Maps and Wi-Fi For whatever reason, our GPS led us in a convoluted circle around our destination instead of directly to it. It was as we were driving down a generic, normal road with no shoulder that we both noticed a very low hanging, large limb. Ugh. Can’t turn around. Looks possibly high enough to clear it, but we can’t be sure so we creep along trying to avoid it. Nope. I hear a terrible, awful, no good, very bad screeching noise. Oh, our poor solar panels. Oh, please sound worse than it is. Please, please, please. We finally get to the gator ranch, set up, and inspect. There is no visible damage, and it proves to continue to work after the incident. Sigh. Big sigh. And big glass of wine that night, to the background noise of grunting alligators. The next morning, we did a walking tour of the alligator ranch because that airboat tour would have frozen us to death. By the way, if someone would have told me that the second we crossed the border out of Florida the temperature was going to drop 40 degrees, I would have stayed in the Sunshine State. Anyhow, we really enjoyed the tour and the knowledge of the guys running it. Everyone remembers Hurricane Katrina. How could anyone forget it? But, I feel as if the media mainly covered New Orleans and not really any of the other areas hit, including Moss Point, Mississippi. There is a sign showing the water level where Katrina devastated that area and the alligator ranch. I believe they told us it was about 14.5 feet high. 14.5 feet, y’all. Now, the fences around the animal enclosures are not 14.5 feet tall. Do you know where I am going with this yet? C’mon, stay with me. Before Katrina, they had close to 250 alligators at the Ranch ranging greatly in age and size, some of which were over 15 feet in length. When they were finally able to return, there… were… two left in the enclosures. Like, one, two. That’s it. Gone. My jaw dropped. These giant, practically dinosaurs were just out en masse. Yikes. And the kicker is that the Ranch is surrounded by protected lands so they couldn’t just go out and collect their own alligators. They’ve slowly grown again to around 80 gators. Ross and I even got to hold a 3-year-old alligator. So fun!

At this point, we decided to “make a wrong turn” and head north toward Memphis. To break up the drive, we stayed at another fabulous Harvest Host business: A Stroka Gene-Us Alpaca Farm in Stringer, Mississippi. Don’t these alpacas look like they’re about to drop the hottest album this year?

img_0216Mary Ann Stroka (get the name now?) and her husband Terry were fantastic hosts. They had water and electricity, and we even had the opportunity to help put up some fencing. We got a tour of the farm and met their four Great Pyrenees dogs: Thunder, Lightning, Snow, and Ice. After doing a little shopping in their alpaca products store, Mary Ann taught me how to card and spin the alpaca fibers. It is an interesting process and amazing how many things can be produced. Terry had mentioned that it was National Pizza Day, and somehow, he ended up going into town to pick up our ordered Pizza Hut pizzas. We then sat around their dining room table eating pizza and talking like old friends. Harvest Host is such a great experience. I would have never thought that is how our day would have gone, but it was so much fun!

Following our awesome alpaca farm stay, we started our last leg toward Memphis. Through some sneakiness of Aunt Sheila and Ross’s sister Stephanie (who just got engaged! YAY!!), we knew Ross’s parents would be arriving that evening. We basically drove all day to get there, which was fine except for Mississippi’s rough roads. Good grief, the jostling was ridiculous. Anyhow, we got there and let the dogs go in the house first. I truly think they were surprised to see us. Yes! Success! We also met with a newspaper reporter on Saturday who interviewed us for an article in their local paper, The Bartlett Express. It was fun and the writer, Carolyn Bahm, did a great job. You can see the full article here. We had a fantastic weekend celebrating Beverly with Ross’s family. Have you played Lipless or Speak Out? You know, that game that you try to say phrases with that crazy device in your mouth that takes away the function of your lips. If you haven’t, do it. Go buy it right now. Just click here and ship it today Original Lipless Hilarious Mouth Game Family Pack or Hasbro Speak Out Game. We played altogether, and there were so many tears from laughter that night. Aunt Sheila took videos of everyone, and we laughed just as hard watching those as we did actually playing.

On Monday, we headed west to Hot Springs, Arkansas after a fun send-off lunch with Aunt Sheila and her husband Dan (thanks again!). We stayed at Lake Catherine State Park for two rainy days, including Valentine’s Day. On that holiday, we explored the country’s smallest National Park. Did you know they still have traditional, working bath houses on Bathhouse Row? We didn’t. Ross was intrigued. So, we went to Buckstaff Bathhouse. It was a different experience. For $33 per person for an hour, we were separated into males and females and stripped down to simple white sheets. There were bath attendants that led customers through the public bathhouse to giant original bath tubs to soak in the natural Hot Springs water full of minerals, then through a hot towel station, steam station, sits bath, and finally a hot/cold needle shower. Ok, side note: I thought as a nurse I see more naked people than any other profession, but I think the bathhouse attendants (some of whom have been there for 50 years) win that award. They are all very professional about it, but I wonder how their first ever days of work went. It was interesting, and I am glad we experienced it, but I don’t think that is something I feel the need to repeat. Ha!

We left Hot Springs and travelled to our next stop in Springdale, Arkansas. Saddlebock Brewery is another fun Harvest Host site where we were allowed to boondock in a big open field next to some funny cows. The field was behind the brewery and bar. They have a killer IPA on draught. We still have a growler of it in the refrigerator. The owner, Steve, graciously let us stay for two nights so we could go explore the 24 miles of the Slaughter Pen Bike Trails in Bentonville, Arkansas. And, boy, did we! These trail systems are managed by the IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association). It was perfect weather. We had so much fun navigating the crazy singletracks mixed with paved greenways filled with features, berms, downhills, ladder bridges, giant skills courses, etc. So. Much. Fun. You’ve got to go.

Basically, we’ve got about two weeks before we’ve got to get to a small town in Texas where I will be working for two weeks. That work thing always gets in the way of fun. I know, I know, says the girl who hasn’t “worked” in, let’s see, close to three months. Life is good. The only major decision we must make right now is which cardinal direction we should point for that time before work. That’s not a bad problem to have.

Until next time…

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