Hellbent on Mardi Gras

Hellbent on Mardi Gras

In order to make it to New Orleans to coincide with the beginning of Carnival we had to leave Portland in the dust and make some time. Seven days to travel 2,530 miles (4,080 kilometers for our fellow Canadians) meant some long stretches of driving were in store for us. So we fueled ourselves up with caffeine and fueled up the van with...fuel and hit the road.

Though we were in a time crunch, we still wanted to see some cool stuff along the way. Our first stop was the picturesque Multnomah Falls in Oregon. The falls would have probably been more picturesque had it not been for a recent fire that had devastated the area. A lot of the surrounding roads were closed and we couldn’t get too close to the falls, but we got close enough to appreciate it’s grandeur.

That night we chose the sleepy little town of LaGrand to stop in for the night, so we went to the Bi-Mart and grabbed some snacks and beer for an impromptu movie night before sleeping in the parking lot. Early the next morning we drove out of town and found an incredible roadside pull off area with a mountain vista where we had our coffee and breakfast. We had planned on taking the scenic route through the Wallowa Mountains to get to the awesomely named Hell’s Canyon, but it was not meant to be. Our ill fated trek took us on a beautiful drive, winding through increasingly high mountain passes and low valleys.

We drove for hours, and eventually we turned onto a steep road that climbed into colder weather and eventually into a remote snowy region. Suddenly, a sign appeared informing us that the road ahead was closed for the winter! We carried on a bit more to find Salt Creek Summit, a base camp for snowmobiles and a dead end for us.

 

As fun as it would be...Unfortunatly the van is not equipped with four wheel drive.

 

There was no internet connection, and no one around to ask what to do so we certainly didn't want to get stuck up there. The decision was made to travel back to the nearest town to ask for guidance through the pass. Upon our arrival we were immediately told that getting to Hell’s Canyon this time of year was impossible. Unfortunately this meant we had to backtrack a few hours to get through to Idaho. We all learned an important lesson that day: always research ahead.

We eventually made our way to Boise, Idaho late that evening with one singular goal: to eat an Idaho potato in one form or another. The first sign we saw advertising just such a thing was “Franci Freez”, a retro looking drive in burger joint with an inviting fire outside. Happy to report: Grade A fries, as promised. Great work Idaho. Couldn’t stay too long in Boise though, as we had an early appointment in Salt Lake City.

 
 

You see, Bonita had read all about the giant Mormon Church and the world famous Tabernacle Choir, which was performing at 8:30 AM. So we had to boogie if we wanted to be there in time. We drove all night, save for a quick nap at a rest stop on the side of the interstate. All that driving paid off though, as we cruised in to Salt Lake City at 8:00 AM, with some time to freshen up and put on our fancy church clothes. It was quite an experience. The Mormon complex is like a huge campus teeming with friendly old people. The performance space in and of itself is worth seeing: using bridge construction techniques the architects designed the building with no pillars for maximum acoustic quality and an unobstructed view of the 360 singers and 110 orchestra members that form the choir. We saw them practicing, and then sat quietly while they live broadcast all over the world. Suffice to say they sounded amazing.

 

Great acoustics. Weird lighting. 

 

After the performance we toured around the campus a little bit, but by this point we were starving so we ventured out into the city on foot, and ended up at a cozy spot attached to a hotel. The TV’s there informed us that it was Super Bowl Sunday, so we figured we had better keep that in mind for our evening plans.

We also had to do some boring stuff like an oil change to make sure our home kept running smoothly. During the oil change we also got the fuel lines cleaned in attempt to fix a pesky problem that had been plaguing the van ever since we bought it: it wouldn’t start after filling up with fuel. It would turn over for a few minutes and eventually rumble to life, but it was extremely stressful every time. Alas, the next time we fueled up we soon found out the curse had not lifted. Nonetheless we had fresh oil in our little home, and we left Salt Lake behind for the mountainous hills beyond the city. We didn’t get too far before the lack of sleep from the night before took its toll and we had to pull over for a nap. As luck would have it, we happened across another gorgeous outlook so we propped the doors open to get a panoramic view and tried to catch a few zzzzz’s...

...unfortunately the valley seemed to be a popular place to go shooting on a Sunday. Every few seconds the sound of various rifles punctuated the otherwise quiet valley. As we drifted off, a loud bang would echo through the hills, seemingly louder with each passing shot. Unaccustomed to gunfire as we are, sleep was impossible, so we decided it was best if we just keep going.

We made it to the heart of the Moab downtown just in time for the Superbowl, so we pulled into Moab Grill to partake in this great American tradition. Philly won, and JT put on a pretty decent halftime show, so we can check that off the bucket list. More interesting was the little town we were in, which had dramatic rock formations around every corner.

 

Oooooh. Ahhhhh. Imagine this view, but periodically punctuated with gunfire.

 

This is definitely a place we want to come back to at some point, but no time to explore now!

We pulled in at another roadside reststop, which was quickly becoming a new favourite place to sleep since it provided 24 hour bathrooms as well as a safe and legal place to spend the night. It was exceptionally cold in the valley that night, so Dalaney woke up before dawn and started driving in order to keep warm. Bonita slept soundly in the back, rolling around as he drove around the winding, bumpy roads. As the sun was rising, pajamas clad Bonita woke up to take in the view of the desert valley.

After spending so much time in the overcast Northwest, the sunrise was a welcome sight indeed. A good way to start what would become a very scary day.

We arrived early at the the famous Four Corners Monument where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. A very rough parking lot led us to a canyon overlook where we settled in for the morning. Dalaney worked for a few hours and we had a nice breakfast with a great view. The monument itself was pretty cool too. We had fun jumping from state to state and just basking in the sunlight we had so dearly missed.

“Surely the solar panel would be charging our depleted batteries at lightning speed on this bright day!” we thought to ourselves as we checked the meter. To our shock and horror though, quite the opposite was true. Nothing was working at all. Here it was our first real sunny day and our solar system seemed to be completely defunct. We tried everything in our limited knowledge but to no avail. Bonita did some quick research and found a backcountry solar specialist in Colorado. It was about an hour long drive in the wrong direction, but we figured we needed to get this fixed ASAP.

In a modest little cabin in the middle of the desert we found a middle aged couple who agreed to look at our system and help us troubleshoot. Joe crawled into the van and took a look at our system. He admired our handiwork, and the wiring job done by a good friend of ours. Shoutout to our mysterious electrician friend back in Edmonton, you know who you are. After evaluating everything we told him, he postulated that we had overdepeleted our batteries in the overcast Northwest. Apparently when the batteries got too low we should have manually shut everything down so we didn’t ruin them. Each of these batteries carries a hefty price tag of four hundred bucks, so naturally this was dismaying to hear. Joe kindly hooked one of his portable solar panels directly to our batteries to see if he could revive them. According to his meter they were depleted, around 10.9V and our charge controller disconnects at 11.1V hence the system failing, so we sat in the parking lot all day, hoping and praying this would work. Near closing time, nothing was revived yet, so he suggested we come back the next day to resume charging.

In danger now of missing our target date for Mardi Gras, we resigned ourselves to the fact that we might soon become Colorado residents. However, Joe decided to take one last look at our set up and found that a wire had wiggled loose on all the bumpy roads we were on. He tightened it up and the system was back on, batteries still needed to charge more but...! Hallelujah! Such a simple fix, and he didn’t even ask for anything in return for his help. So if you ever find yourself in need of a little solar setup and you are in Colorado, go see Joe and his wife at Back Country Solar.

Back in action, we hit the road with Albuquerque, New Mexico in our sights. Albuquerque has a bit of a reputation as a rough city and we wanted to play it safe there, so we figured we’d try parking in a Walmart parking lot for the first time. Dalaney went in to buy some water and ask permission, but no one seemed to really know what the official overnight policy was. There were clearly people camping out in the parking lot already though, so we settled in for the night. More trouble though. At six in the morning Dalaney heard a commotion outside and peeked out to see a police cruiser rounding up all the campers and shooing them away. Taking this as a cue to leave, Dalaney tried to start the vehicle….no luck. It wouldn’t even turn over. Completely dead. At least we could hopefully ask the cop for a boost. With the hood open and jumper cables in hand, Bonita asked for help from no less than three people who all shut her down. Luckily, a nice lady pulled over unsolicited and asked if we needed a boost. She turned out to be a Walmart employee, so shout out to your super helpful staff, Albuquerque Walmart. Another problem to solve. With a distinct lack of Canadian Tire’s in the vicinity, we turned instead to Auto Zone. The staff there had a hell of a time figuring out what was wrong with our battery: three different employees came out with meters which all said the battery was fine, but the vehicle just wouldn’t start. One suggested it was our starter, but the others disagreed. Finally, the manager Aaron came out to save the day. He quickly discerned that we had a loose connection that a two dollar shim would fix. The culprit again was a loose wire due to bumpy roads it seems. Second lesson learned: next time anything goes wrong...check the wire connections first. Five minutes later Aaron had us fixed up and gave us some great travel recommendations to boot. God bless you, Autozone.

It was still early in the morning and Dalaney still had to work so we drove to old town Albuquerque in search of a cafe.

 
 Look at that adobe architecture. (We learned what adobe architecture was while in New Mexico)

Look at that adobe architecture. (We learned what adobe architecture was while in New Mexico)

 

A brief walk through the town square was sufficient, since most of the shops were still closed that early in the morning. Randomly, we were also interviewed by the local news station about the current state of the economy. So we’re moderately famous in Albuquerque now, I guess. Finally, we found Prismatic coffee which provided wifi and caffeine refuge from our tumultuous morning. Great snacks, and oddly enough there was a shower in the bathroom, which is a tempting proposition for a van dweller. Resisting the urge, we instead used the nearby Snap Fitness to clean ourselves.

Our membership was purchased months ago back in Edmonton. Our thinking was that we could use the 24/7 facilities to work out and shower, since they have thousands of locations spread across North America. It hasn’t exactly worked the way we envisioned, but it has definitely come in handy a few times. Anyways, once we had used their facilities, we didn’t hang around Albuquerque and hit the road yet again. Another looooong stretch of driving, and we found ourselves at a rest stop in Texas, where we spent one of the coldest nights of the trip. There was frost all over the bathrooms in the morning! As a side note: putting on cold jeans in the morning makes it really difficult to get out of bed.

That was also the night we experienced an unsettling experience at the rest stop. It was the middle of the night on a long empty stretch of hiway. We had the whole facility to ourselves it seemed. Dalaney went to use the bathroom, and while he was in a stall he heard someone come in and the door close behind them. All of the sudden, the lights went out. Total and absolute darkness engulfed him and the unknown stranger. Dalaney called out, but no one answered. With some difficulty and great haste, Dalaney made his way out of the stall and to the lightswitch, but no one was there…..OoOoOoOoOoOoOo…..

Our last stop before we hit Louisiana was Dallas, Texas. We stopped in Highland Park Library: the best library to date. Free coffee, great wifi and an impressive fireplace to work by. If only all libraries were as beautiful.

 
 Best shared workspace yet.

Best shared workspace yet.

 

Our last stop before we hit Louisiana was Dallas, Texas. We stopped in Highland Park Library: the best library to date. Free coffee, great wifi and an impressive fireplace to work by. If only all libraries were as beautiful. We didn’t have too long in the city, and would be swinging back through Texas in a month or so, but we did get to do some cool stuff. We drove down the same street where JFK was assassinated, and Dalaney got a haircut at a cool barber school, Blade Craft Barber Academy, and made some friends. Apparently it’s common to serve complimentary beer while at barbershops in Texas, which should be immediately implemented globally. Shoutout to Eder Mijares and Jesse Navarro for a spiffy cut.

Freshly shorn, a little tipsy, and very hungry, we set out to try out a local staple: deep fried steak at Bubba’s Cook Country. I will say this: it was a memorable meal. The deep fried steak was interesting, but not something I’d order again.

 
 Bonita's cautious optimism proved to be unfounded. 

Bonita's cautious optimism proved to be unfounded. 

 

Leaving Dallas behind, we drove for a few more hours the next day to complete our long journey to Louisiana. We had to stop in the Shreveport library to work in the morning, and we also stocked up on groceries in Lafayette, but by that evening we had found our RV campground in New Orleans. The campsite wasn’t much to look at: mostly just a parking lot really. But it had showers and wifi and we weren’t going to get shooed away. Most importantly it provided a safe place for us to come back to after our revelling in the French quarter..but more on that in the next instalment.

Feb 2, 2018 to Feb 9th, 2018