Monday, November 24, 2014

Alabama, Arkansas, I do love my Ma and Pa...

After our Florida vacation, we headed to Mobile, Alabama. Our host was this wonderful enthusiastic man named Kenneth, who had been renovating his house and working on becoming sustainable with rain harvesting, composting, chickens and gardening. Kenneth took us downtown, where we had drinks with some of his friends and even met an alumni of Tressa's alma mater (UCSC), who had started a non-profit bike workshop that gave people the opportunity to fix up bikes and buy them by working hours at the shop helping others to do bike repairs. The next day we visited the workshop, where the others' rescue dogs trotted about amongst the industrious people and up-turned bikes. We strolled around downtown Mobile, observed a park full of incredibly fat nearly tame squirrels, and chatted with Kenneth about home over homemade pizza. Our last day in Alabama, we dropped Finn off at the vet to get fixed and then headed to Blakely State Park, which came highly recommended to us by Kenneth's friends, and while poor Finn was under the knife, so to speak, we enjoyed a leisurely hike. We're happy to report he is a much mellower kitten because of it.

From Mobile, we through the bottom of Mississippi to get to New Orleans. On Wednesday we surfed with a wonderful working traveler named Jessica, who inspired us with her successful and nomadic ways and treated us to tacos. Thursday, she was headed to Mexico, to meet her boyfriend who was on a long term bicycle trip, and she was even kind enough to give us access to her house until her Air BnB guest arrived on Friday. On Friday afternoon, we couldn't help but go explore the haunting site of a Six Flags theme park that was abandoned before Katrina and never reopened. On Friday night, we were treated to an uncharacteristically classy experience by our sponsor, Camlow Cellars; you can read more about that night here.

Our last night in New Orleans, we visited Frenchman's Street, which we were told was somewhat less of a shitshow than Bourbon Street. We perused a cute but crowded little artisan alleyway full of handmade jewelry, clothing, art, and even voodoo talisman, complete with preserved chicken feet. A fun little band played on a street corner and we rummaged through old books and chatted with artists.

From NOLA we headed to Jackson, Mississippi, where our hosts informed us matter-of-factly that was simply nothing to do. Luckily, they had some pretty great dogs, so we were happy snuggling puppies and working on some crafting projects in their living room. In Jackson, we endured our coldest night yet, reaching a low of 21 degrees. We slept in lots and lots of layers and burrowed deep into our bed lasagne, where Finn joined us. We managed to sleep surprisingly comfortably, although getting out of bed was another story. Our last night in Mississippi was spent at a Mexican restaurant where our hosts' friends were gathered in a party for their neighbor, who was scheduled to begin six months of house arrest the subsequent day — complete with a "Happy House Arrest" cake. Needless to say, things got a little weird.

Although we'd already been to Tennessee, we felt impelled to spend a little time in Memphis, so that was our next stop. We spent our first night with a sweet woman named Rachel, who collaborated with us on a vegetarian version of Memphis BBQ, as well as some green beans, and a seven layer salad, which is apparently a Southern tradition. The next day we met up with Kat and Dustin, a wonderful pair of transplants with a majestically fluffy cat named Koz, that was supposedly the antisocial type but eventually warmed up to Finn. We joined them for some trivia at a nearby Irish pub that night and after running some errands the next day, we decided to check out the infamous Beale Street.

We didn't get far before a rather zesty man approached us about a charity program for homeless people, and although we don't have much money, we did rustle up some fruit snacks we'd been hauling around since Burning Man as well as a few other food items we could spare to part with. We checked out the general store, the Elvis statue, and then went to the Peabody Hotel to watch their famous ducks march on a red carpet from the water fountain into the elevator, which was quite the scene. That evening, Kelsey joined Kat and Dustin for a group run that culminated in free beer and pizza.

Arkansas was next; first we visited the Pinnacle Mountain State park for a short but vigorous uphill hike to a gorgeous vista, where we encountered an absurd amount of ladybugs, one of which made it's way into Tressa's mouth. After our hike, we drove to Fayetteville. Our host, Zach, was a philosophy student and professor, who lived with a philosopher, and took us out for drinks with more philosophers. Fayetteville is quite the bustling, football-happy college town, we found. We had a leisurely Sunday morning, tried unsuccessfully to introduce Finn to the resident cat, Sophia, and then drove to Crystal Bridges — a free museum recommended to us by a lovely woman we met in the parking lot at Pinnacle Mountain. The museum was quite worthwhile and we spent several hours exploring, while outside it began to rain, and the windows were illuminated with sporadic lightning.

We have just entered our 45th state, Oklahoma. Only 10 short days until we will be back in California, and we can hardly believe our journey is coming to a close...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

So two scruffy van dwellers walk into the luxurious Hotel Monteleone...

No really, we actually went and stayed at a four-star luxury hotel in the heart of New Orlean's French Quarter on Friday. How, you ask? Well, it was all thanks to Camlow Cellars, one of our biggest, most generous sponsors.

People actually quite often ask us how we are able to take such a big chunk of time to travel — it can sometimes seem absurd that two twenty-three year olds are able to traipse at their leisure across the country. The secret is a combination of things: hard work, foresight, creativity, and scrounginess. Before leaving, we worked our buns off. We did some rough routing and mileage calculation and tried to figure out how much money we needed, and then to save that much money. Tressa does social media work, so she continues to work from the road to keep afloat. We spend a lot of money on gas and very little money on anything else, we eat simply, we avoid pricey tourist traps, we urban camp and couch surf.

We did a crowd sourced fundraiser that many amazing people and companies donated to — and this is where Camlow comes in. Camlow approached us about the possibility of choosing their own reward for our fundraiser, an option we hoped people would have fun with, and they did just that. They gave us a few bottles of wine and asked that in exchange for their donation, we take photographs of the bottle exploring America as a part of a Social Media campaign that we've had a ton of fun with. Now, as we come to the last leg of our journey, Camlow surprised us with a reward of our own; one night of pure luxury!

We checked into the Hotel Monteleone on Friday evening, a bustling and resplendent establishment far fancier than anywhere we've been thus far. Our room included not one but TWO luxurious beds, and we played music and danced around as we tried to figure out what in gods name we could get away with wearing for the next event of the evening — a sumptuous Creole dinner at Muriel's Jackson Square!

We walked the crisp, lively streets to the restaurant where we poured over the menu and tried to look casual and did our best not to devour the tasty warm bread and butter on the table too ravenously. Kelsey savored a cocktail called Honey Child, a sweet honied berry concoction, and Tressa lost it over a minty, cucumber cocktail called Autumn Rain. I hope you're ready for a blow by blow of our dining experience, because we want to brag a little:

(Left) Spinach and Granny Smith apple salad with sweet onion, walnuts, smoked blue cheese and sugar cane vinaigrette. (Right) Wood grilled eggplant roulade with three cheeses - goat, ricotta, and mascarpone - on baby arugula with smoked tomato-butter.

Muriel's Vegetable Soiree: Lentil quinoa cake with cilantro sour cream, roasted beets with horseradish vinaigrette, haricot verts with red pepper aioli and sweet onions, flash fried zucchini with creole tomato jam and feta cheese.

Pan Seared Maple Leaf Duck Breast: Roasted brussel sprouts, butternut squash hash and roasted duck.

Creme Brûlée

Sweet Potato donuts with caramelized pecan dipping sauce

After coffee and dessert, we decided to check out Bourbon Street, which was just as crazy, if not crazier, than we imagined — a long cacophonous stretch of wobbly bridesmaids and rowdy swarms of friends, plastic cups in hands, while people called down from balconies, hurling beads at cheering women and the occasionally lucky dude, and religious people decried the whole scene in clusters around big crosses, yelling into megaphones, and doormen danced to stay warm, vigorously waving passersby into their establishment, promising $3 shots and bull rides. We had a few drinks, wandering from bar to bar, people watching, befriending a leash cat and a street dog, watching a rather enthusiastic cover band of older men and their plump wives shaking their butts in wild and boozy adoration.

After a few over priced shots and beers, we meandered our way back to the hotel, where downstairs there is a famous bar that is an actual slow-moving carousel, so we stopped in to take a few photos of the Camlow bottle enjoying an evening at this historic watering hole before heading to bed, but were unexpectedly swept up by a rather inebriated local that thrusted us upon his friend group, and before we knew it we were circling the carousel lounge with them, chatting about New Orleans, about the aftermath of Katrina, the sense of displacement and community effort that went into rebuilding, until the bar closed. We felt incredibly lucky to be able to casually ride the elevator up to our cozy quarters and conk out.

Thank you so much Alan and Craig, we had such a wonderful time taking Camlow out on the town! Check them out on Facebook and Instagram to see all the photos we've been taking with the bottle, and California friends, keep your eyes out for this awesome duo's wine release.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

One month remaining!

After leaving South Carolina, we headed to Savannah, Georgia, where we met our new host, Nick, a tattooed, fire-fighting father that took us out to the big sprawling Bonaventure Cemetery, full of ole crooked tombstones shadowed by big trees full of Spanish moss. We fell in love with all those big, mossy trees — the South was really beginning to look like the South.

Savannah is one of those magical places where you can drink beer on the streets, so in the evening we did just that, strolling through the picturesque squares, sipping on Georgia beer. We walked along the waterfront where a few big piratey looking ships were docked, and even befriended a wonderful retired couple that has been traveling in their boat for the past 14 months. As we strolled, we even ran into Nick's other two surfers, a woman from California and her English traveling companion, who he miraculously recognized from their CouchSurfing profiles.

It was fun being in a house full of CouchSurfing enthusiasts, sharing a big tasty breakfast on Nick's sunny porch and swapping stories. That afternoon, we drove to out to Tybee Island, had a quick bite at The Crab Shack where we got to watch baby gators lounge in the sun, and then strolled along the beach a bit, before taking our leave in the early evening, headed South towards Florida.

Evan was scheduled to fly into Miami the day before Halloween, so we did a bit of Halloween thrifting and bought some craft supplies with which to make our Fantastic Mr. Fox costumes: Kelsey would be Kristofferson, Evan would be Ash, and Tressa would be Agnes. Miami was HOT. We picked up Evan and checked into a cheap motel for the weekend. On Halloween we headed to Churchill's Pub, which was actually recommended to us as a fun cheap spot and possibly the oldest punk bar in Miami by an artist we'd met in Detroit. It was fabulously divey and we had an awesome night drinking cheap beer and listening to music.

Our weekend in Miami with Evan was all around mellow and hot and lazy, and before we knew it we were dropping him back at the airport and then heading north towards Indian Harbor Beach where Colin and Jill (Kelsey's pop and bonus mom) were waiting for us in a fancypants beach front condo with seashell themed couches that felt a little bit like heaven after a motel room so cheap that we literally didn't even have a trash can. Soon we were strolling along Cocoa Beach, sipping on piña coladas in the hot tub, playing Scrabble and the game of Farkle Linda and Jack gave us in Maryland, lounging on the beach and generally RELAXING.

It's been nearly a week of vacation wonderland, though, and the road is calling. Florida is our 40th state, and we only have 8 more to go and just about a month left ahead of us before we are back in California. It's strange to see the end of the journey approaching so quickly — November snuck up on us! But we are excited to plunge back into the adventure and get deeper into the South.