The Mighty Mississippi

The Long Way to Wisconsin

When you start out from Crestview, Florida and intend to wind up in Wisconsin, the shortest route is through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  But nay, nay, my friend. Been there, done that.

It was one of Clay’s dreams to watch the barges slowly make their way up and down the Mississippi River and not be in a hurry.  Just sit on the bank and contemplate one’s navel.

So, we left Crestview and drove due east, making it to Vidalia, Louisiana on the first day.  The AllStays app is amazing- showing us both real time location on a map, then you can flip to a satellite view to make sure the beast will fit (65 feet with toad attached). This works well for rest areas and truck stops as well. Since we boondock (stay overnight without hookups and live off our generator, batteries, water and dump tanks) on the way to longer stays, we need to know if truck stops have pull-through parking, as we cannot back up in the RV with the toad (towed vehicle) attached.  Not all truck stops are created equal, but you need to know this ahead of time.

Riverview RV Park, Vidalia, Louisiana

 

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We stayed at the Riverview RV Park on the Mississippi River.  The GPS voice pronounced it “Muh SISS a pee”. Being a word nerd, I giggled at that and kept repeating the mispronunciation. Clay has to put up with a lot.

The RV park is smack dab next to the river. You have to cross the levee to get to it, and sometimes it is closed due to river flooding.

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Sideways tug blocking part of the Mississippi River– I wonder if they ever got it turned around?

We got situated and then walked along the river.  I also floated in the pool on my super duper Swimways Spring Float ($15 from Target online). A delightful floaty thingy with a small blow up rim and pillow and a mesh bed. Folds up into a small circle. Small is good in an RV basement (the bay doors you see under a rig).

Natchez, MS

The next day, we crossed back over the river and toured Natchez, MS- the start of the Natchez Trace, an overland route which ran from the river through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Flatboatmen would sell their goods and boats (as lumber) in New Orleans or Natchez then make their way back by cart or on foot over the Trace. Plantations shipped their cotton south to New Orleans or upriver to St. Louis or Cincinnati.

Industrial progress sometimes has unintended consequences. The cotton gin (a simple machine used to separate the fluffy cotton from the prickly seed) allowed an increase in speed of processing cotton which then caused the planting of more cotton to keep up with the mill’s need for product. But this meant buying more slaves to do the unmechanized planting and picking.

Before the civil war, Natchez had more millionaires than any other city in the U.S and most of the antebellum mansions were spared during the war.

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Stanton Hall

Longwood was an interesting octagonal mansion that was started right when the Civil War began and never completed inside. The succeeding generations of owners lived in the basement level and the rest of the top four floors were left open and unfinished.

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Longwood

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Four stories of unfinished faded glory- looking up through the central gallery

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Longwood – bare bones

Vicksburg, MS

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Vicksburg National Military Park

After a few days, it was time to head upriver to Vicksburg, the site of one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War- where the Union Army staged a brutal siege of the town and finally captured control of the Mississippi River, dividing the Confederacy in two parts: east and west eliminating their ability to re-provision over the river.

But, we didn’t want to spend the night in Vicksburg, and didn’t want to leave Zane unattended in a WalMart or rest area, so we got a satellite view of the Vicksburg National Military Park and saw there was bus parking. We’re as big as a bus, right? No problema.  I was driving and, as you enter the parking area, there is a sharp right turn, then a guard shack on the driver’s side and a stop sign planted in the center of the two lane road on the left. About 10 feet apart.  Eight foot wide Zane towered over the guard shack as I crept past it, trying not to bump my mirrors on the shack’s roof, and trying to keep that pesky stop sign in mind. It was a tight squeeze. Then an immediate sharp left turn into the parking lot, where we slid into the first spot we could find.

Whew.  Yay for satellite views and nerves of steel (or at least really tough nylon cord).

A guy walked up to Clay later and said, “How in the world did you get that huge RV in here?”  Clay replied, “I didn’t. My wife did.”

We took a quiet drive in Squirrel (our toad) through the battlefield. The signs of where each regiment was stationed along the battle lines (blue for the Union, Red for the Confederacy) as well as marble monuments at each state regiment’s position illustrated the tragic story of the long and dreadful battle.  One child born in the caves the residents of Vicksburg lived in during the bombings was named Siege.

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Union cannons

We also saw the ironclad boat, USS Cairo, which had sunk during another part of the war, and was dredged up in the 1960’s and reconstructed. It was a feat of engineering and its ironclad sister ships were responsible for securing the river for the Union.

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USS Cairo Ironclad

Heading North to West Memphis, Arkansas

Then it was back on the road, part of the way driving on the Natchez Trace, a lovely two lane road through quiet woods and cotton fields.


Across the river from Memphis, Tennessee, we found another cool riverside camping spot called Tom Sawyer RV Park. Watched mighty tug boats with huge engines, smoke billowing out the exhaust pipes, fighting the current and sandbars going upstream, pushing 24 barges lashed together. At one point, they were probably only moving 2 miles per hour. Awesome to watch.

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Tug boat barge

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Tug boat barge struggling up river

I quickly got groceries and rushed back to Zane to get ready to attend the Friday night session at the Memphis LDS temple. We drove about 40 minutes and noticed: no cars in the temple parking lot. What?? I checked the schedule on line and everything. What??

Oops. It was Saturday, not Friday. Temple closed at 1pm.

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So, I guess I am officially retired. Cannot keep track of the days.  My phone gets misplaced too now.  For over 20 years, it has been constantly at my side, no matter where I was (and yes, it was near the shower, too) because I was on call for the hospital and my patients.

No longer. My phone is now just a great way to talk to family and text friends and check the internet. How wonderful is that?

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Peace on the river

Wendy

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That Doesn’t Sound Good….

We rolled out of bed to a sunny, beautiful day after an overnight at a truck stop in Tulsa, OK. It’s my turn to drive and I’m going through my pre-flight checklist (as any good pilot would do). Everything checks out so I release brake and start rolling forward between semi trucks to the sound of grinding and screeching and not much forward movement.

“Woah!” We both said in unison, “That doesn’t sound good!”

How suddenly our world can go from trouble-free fun to …. the other thing. We had just left the Newell Coach factory the day before. What bad timing!!

So what was that sound? Maybe it will go away if we pretend it didn’t happen and try again. So I push the accelerator and again we get an agonizing noise. Nuts!

So what could it be? Well, remember last night when we rolled in here and Wendy had a difficult time getting the parking brake to engage? (The parking brake on this beast is a rectangular yellow knob which you pull to engage. When engaged, it releases all the air from the disk brakes and their springs put the jaws of life clamps on the brakes).

So maybe we have a locked brake? Wendy goes out to investigate and hears a constant hissing sound by the main/tag tires. Hmmm. Maybe we have an air leak. But I’m checking the gauges and am showing full pressure on all the air systems. (We sound pretty sophisticated at this point, right? Well, just wait.)

So I call the factory and they ask a bunch of questions and get a specialist on the phone who asks a bunch of questions, which culminates in a suggestion that I look into the belly of the beast (behind and above the main and tag axles) to see if a brake line has come loose.

The ground at truck stops is filthy. The underbelly of Zane is nasty and it’s a really tight space, with 56,000 pounds of beast on top of you and only air bag suspension to protect you from getting squashed. I’m not enthused about getting in there to have a look-see. So the next question is: Do we call CoachNet (for emergency services) or do we see if the small mechanics shop at this truck stop can resolve our problem? We opt for the mechanics shop and meet Luis. (There are people in this world who love to solve problems of this nature and do it with a smile. And Luis is one of them.) He crawls under and around and in and out. I don’t know who cleans his uniform, but, wow!

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Luis hard at work– overshadowed by worried RV owners

Two hours later Luis has jacked up the coach, removed the tag wheel and …. “Ohhh, he says, “I see what the problem is!” I’m thinking, hmmm. What is it: An air leak? Is the brake caliper shot? Who has parts for these things? Luis says, “Let me show you. Do you see the skid marks on the bottom of your coach? You’re dragging bottom! You see this big mounded hump in the asphalt? You’re just in a low spot.”

I had mixed feelings about the diagnosis. On the one hand, Yay! A simple problem with a simple solution! On the other hand, Duh.

But as we looked around the truck parking lot, which is in really bad shape, there was a pot hole that could have swallowed a Smart car, and a trio of trucks hauling 70,000 pound rectangular metal structures: one had tried to get out of lot and his rig slipped its king pin, leaving the huge trailer dropped to the ground, with no jacks to get it back up. It took them as long to solve their problem as it did ours. When they finally got their rig back together, they gave me a thumbs up.

We’re learning all the time. So what do I take away from this? My world is filled with good people who are ready to help me. The Newell factory was right there on the line ready to help me troubleshoot. And there are people like Luis who are ready, willing and able to crawl around in the belly of the beast to discover and solve problems.

What was the bill for this adventure? Would you believe our 2-hours of Luis’s time and equipment cost us only $53?

So how did we solve the problem of bottoming out? Usually, when we arrive at a campsite (or truck stop) we push a little button and the suspension goes from travel mode through a processes of filling and removing air from the corners of the suspension to find level.

It’s pretty cool to hearing little hissing bursts and see the world sway as it finds level. This system also allows you to raise or lower the entire coach. So I simply manually raised the suspension and we s-l-o-w-l-y rolled on out, with the high air suspension alert pinging, found a flat spot a few feet down the road, then put it back into travel mode suspension. No muss, no fuss- just 2 hours of fun and games to start our day. And we got to meet Luis, a really awesome guy.

Clay