Accommodations on the road
Sat 5 May 2012 - Sat 12 May 2012
One of the more adventure-y aspects of our roadtrop is the question of where we'll be bedding down each night. While we have a couple of necessary pre-bookings along the way -- such as the hostel in New Orleans where we stayed in 2002, and campsites in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone -- most of the time, we're effectively winging it. Do we find a campsite for our compact wheeled space capsule, or boondock in a parking lot somewhere? Or do we cave and grab a motel room so we can shower and stretch out? It's actually been pretty fun figuring it out each day, and I'm glad we didn't plan every stop.
The first night, we lived on the edge, and caught some unwanted attention for it. I had originally jotted down the name of an RV park in Cape Hatteras, but, buoyed by the excitement of beginning the trip and turned off by the cost of the RV park, we chose a different route. We knew we wanted to climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse early the next morning before heading to Asheville, so we thought, why not just head down and see what was there? We found a large parking lot near the beach that was completely empty, silent but for the crash of waves on the beach, and pitch black -- except for occasional flashes of lightning to the south, and the piercing light of the lighthouse itself, less than half a mile away, spinning its beams into the night sky. It was somehow a bit terrifying, but a stunningly beautiful experience -- if I had that night over, I wouldn't have parked anywhere else.
Unforrrrrtunately, it turned out that the carpark belonged to the surrounding national park, and at 7:30AM, we were awakened by a loud rap on the Magnum window. I startle awake even in the most familiar surroundings, so the sudden knocking immediately sent me into paroxysms of loudly squawking "SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!" that I'm sure made an impression on the park ranger standing outside our car. Matt struggled to pull on some pants and find the car keys so he could open a window (yet another reason I still prefer manual winding windows) and face the music. The music turned out to be a brief lecture from the poor ranger about how trashy the Outer Banks would be if everyone just slept wherever they wanted, and a hilariously cheerful Matt countered by showing him our National Park Service Annual Pass and handing out one of our roadtrop.com business cards so the ranger could learn all about our epic trip which had just begun.
We were let off with a warning, which handily makes a sweet souvenir of our stay:
The second night, we found a Super 8 in Knoxville, TN. We were originally planning to find the hotel we stayed at when we roadtripped to New Orleans in 2002, but as it turns out, A LOT has changed in Knoxville in the last ten years. We had a vague idea that it was the Holiday Inn, but the area has evidently come up, because the Holiday Inn was $150 a night, and we weren't going to pay that much on a hunch. The Super 8 five miles away was all of $40.
Day three, we crashed with Dave and Charlene, but the next night, we had our first legitimate Walmart boondocking experience (we had previously made a hilarious failed illegitimate attempt during one of our pre-roadtrop jaunts). About half of all Walmarts around the country allow overnight parking by RV's and other camper vehicles -- if you google around, you can find a list of which ones do and which don't. The important thing is to always call ahead to check, out of courtesy and because each store has the right to change their rules whenever they want. The Walmart outside of Savannah was super laidback about letting us park -- there was an RV and a truck already in situ when we pulled in at around 1AM -- and they had a security guard patrolling the lot, so we could sleep in complete safety.
We did the same thing a couple of nights ago on the way to Miami, but at a Cracker Barrel in Deerfield Beach. The official Cracker Barrel company policy is that overnight parking isn't allowed, but we already knew from reading blogs that, in practice, most of them are fine with travelers who ask to stay. We waited until after we ate dinner and had a long conversation with our server about gas prices and electric cars before raising the question, and without pause, the friendly manager said, "Sure!" He didn't even need our assurance that we would come in for breakfast in the morning before we trucked (well, station-wagoned) out.
Other nights so far, we've stayed at cheap motels - our only stipulation is that the place we choose should look at least as presentable as motels on the X-Files. Believe it or not, there are many, many motels out there that are so dank and seedy, they make X-Files motels look like resorts. Some of them give me a serious Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe.
Last night we camped in Everglades National Park. I had done my research, so I knew that our greatest challenge at the park would be biblical plagues of mosquitoes. American mosquitoes provoke some gnarly histamine reactions when they suck my Australian blood, so I had brought defenses: an Off lantern, mosquito coils, and plenty of DEET spray. I had also whipped up some custom-fit flyscreens for the Magnum which attach to the outside of the car with sewn-in neodymium magnets (strong enough that we could drive through the park at 55mph without them blowing off).
It was a good thing we prepared. Jesus Christ. I was bitten a couple of times mounting the flyscreens at the visitor center parking lot, which had a low density of mosquitoes; the campground 40 miles deep into the park was so full of clouds of mosquitoes, I didn't dare leave the car. Matt went to use the bathroom (stumbling over a camper who had pitched a tent in the men's bathroom in an attempt to stave off the bloodsuckers), and even he came running back as quickly as he could (Matt barely reacts to insect bites, as proven a few years ago during our Egypt vacation, when I was COVERED in excruciating bedbug bites while he appeared completely untouched).
I'm looking forward to our future overnights. We have some more stays with friends lined up, more national parks, and a log cabin in South Dakota.