January 29th

        As with every trip, we spend the night before leaving in the camper, in the garage, so that we have a chance to check things out before we hit the road. During the tire pressure check I found a leaking valve on one of the rear tires. This was resolved by a quick trip to Wal-Mart. Just one more of the odd problems we have had while preparing for the trip – the worst of which was having to replace the Direct TV box. The old one had worked fine when we parked the camper 6 months earlier but refused to work now. The replacement does not interface with the antenna control box but we can work around that. This trip is not as planned out as our usual trips so no itinerary for the web site. All we know for sure is that we are meeting up with the Tracks to Adventure tour in New Orleans and then heading towards TX after about two weeks. For today, the plan was to get up at 4AM and be on the road by 5AM. Well that didn't happen. We had worked late the night before getting everything and everyone (cats) moved into the camper so we decided to get up at 5AM. Then there was the trip back to the barn to pick up those items we forgot as well as the last tapes from the VCRs. Add in a fuel stop and we managed to hit the road about 7AM. The road south started out clear but about the time we got to Normal IL we were driving in a snow storm. A combination of rain, sleet, snow and fog continued for about 200 miles. The weather was clear by the time we got to Charleston MO and the Boomtown campground - a deserted little place behind a gas station. After parking the camper I went to the empty office and deposited my $12 in a tiny envelope and slipped it through the slot. With less than 10% of the sites in use the place offered plenty of peace and quiet. A Subway was within walking distance so we gathered our coats and took off. What can you say about a Subway? After a quick sandwich we headed back to the camper and some much needed sleep. Our first 525 miles was behind us.

January 30th

        5AM came way too early but we got up (slowly) anyway and managed to be back on the road about 6:30AM. Our first stop was for fuel at a Flying J just 11 miles down the road. While pumping about 70 gallons of fuel into the camper I chatted with a guy at the next pump. He delivers camper trailers from the manufacturer to dealers all over the nation. In the last 13 months he had traveled over 180,000 miles, sometimes alone and sometimes with his wife. I don't think I could do that much driving. While paying for the fuel I asked them to send out someone to fill the campers LP tank. Once this was done we continued our journey south. The right hand mirror on the front of the camper provided the next bit of excitement. It managed to loosen just enough to be affected by the wind and swivel out of position. After a short stop on an off-ramp to fix the mirror, we were once again headed south. About half way through the trip we stopped for a quick lunch in a rest area. The cats, having settled into their regular travel patterns, joined us as they had on previous trips. At least that was going normally. Back on the road once again, we decided to get fuel before reaching the campground in New Orleans so that we would have plenty onboard in case we needed to run the generator. Rita used our "Next Exit" book to locate a place with diesel. This book has steered us into some of the smallest fuel stops in the past but we thought things would be different this time – not so. The station was so small I didn't think we would be able to get out again without disconnecting our tow vehicle. (I can't back up while the tow is attached.) The fuel pump went at about 3 gallons a minute so it took over 20 minutes of standing there holding the nozzle to fill the tank. Then after a careful survey of the station layout and waiting for a there to be very few cars in the way, we attempted to leave. In a wide sweeping turn, we managed to miss two parked cars by inches, not go over a curb by a fraction and finally managed to make our way back to the entrance. From there it was a straight shot across a four lane road and a hard left followed by a hard right up the ramp to the freeway. There were several nervous miles as we wondered if we had actually hit something and just not noticed it. If the tow vehicle wiped out someone's fender would I notice any noise way up in front? No one seemed to be chasing us so we settled in for the last 50 miles to the campground. The place had not changed much since our last visit 3 years earlier. We were assigned a site just one down from the one we had last time. After getting parked, I attached the window covers and we started to settle in. Before we could complete that process, the Tracks tour people showed up at the door to introduce themselves and give us our ‘welcome' kit. Once they were on their way, I rushed to sign up for the wireless internet access that was available in the campgrounds. Internet in the camper – does it get any better? The rest of the evening was spent watching a little TV and taking a well earned rest. Two 500+ mile days in a row can really wear me out.

January 31st

        We slept a little later today before taking a much needed shower. We had not had an opportunity to take a show on either of the last two mornings so we were definitely in need. It felt great to get the grease out of my hair and dirt off my body. The weather was overcast and the forecast showed rain for the next three days – welcome to New Orleans. We decided to have lunch at a place I had read about on the internet – Bud's Broiler – so off we went. It was a small place but they had excellent chili burgers. After a lunch that seemed over too soon we headed off to find a Super Wal-Mart – the RVers friend. We spent quite a bit of time roaming the aisles before checking out with 18 items. Back at the camper, we decide to sign up for the campground shuttle to the French Quarter that left at 5PM. We would have to find our own way back or wait for the shuttle back at 9AM the next morning. In the time that remained before taking the shuttle I took a moment to empty the black and gray tanks for the first time this trip. As I pulled open the value on the black tank the drain hose ruptured and sprayed me with partially digested sewage. I quickly closed the valve and grabbed the hose to stop the leak. After a bit of cleanup, a new hose and a change of cloths we headed down to catch the shuttle bus. We were the only two people in the bus. I guess it was because of the impending rain. After getting dropped off in the French Quarter we walked, in the rain, down to Margaritaville for supper. After way too much food we slogged our way through the rain to Bourbon Street. Our first beer was at The Funky Pirate. Big Al, their main blues singer, did not come on for a couple of hours so we headed on down the street. We had decided to catch a taxi when we got to the other end of Bourbon so we had to stop at several places to get our full load of beer in just one pass. Fat Tuesday's was our next stop. We were the only people in the bar – too early for the real party people. The bar at the far end is called Utopia. It had been remodeled since our last visit and had a good band playing. They no longer had tap beer so I ordered two cans of Bud Light and threw $10 on the bar. The bartender said $10.50. In shock, I gave him another dollar. Bummed out by having to pay so much for what originally was to be our last beer of the evening I decided to extend the night. After finishing our beers we headed out to find a street bar. These are basically doorways through which they sell beer and Hurricanes. Since it was still raining, we finished our beer under an awning. During this time we got a call from our friend Chrissy back home. After getting an update on the goings on back there we ducked into the Old Absinthe House for a few more beers. Looking out the window there seemed to be taxis going by all the time so this was a good place to be the last bar. After several rounds it was time to travel back to the camper. The taxis all seemed to have gone home so we waited a while in the rain for one to come by. The campground has a contract with one of the cab companies to transport people back from the French Quarter for $25 so we flagged a cab from that company. The driver refused to take us for that rate. After all, it was raining and we really needed the ride. $40 dollars convinced him and we were off. We chatted with him on the way and got him to give us his phone number and agree to transport us again on Fat Tuesday – if we needed it - when it will be almost impossible to get a cab. The fare that night would be $100 for two people or $150 for up to six people. Quite a bit but at least we would get a ride. We will see how that works out next week. Once we got back to the camper we capped off the evening with one more beer before turning in.

February 1st

        It rained all night. I woke up off and on during the night and could clearly hear it hitting the roof of the camper. With rain to look forward to and a little beer induced lack of ambition we decide to sleep late. At was about 11:30 when we finally wandered out to watch a little TV. Still raining. A container of soup that had been sent along by one of our friends back home became lunch. It was excellent – she is quite a good cook. More TV and more rain. We had brought along a number of VHS tapes containing the shows we had been too busy to watch the final weeks before leaving so we took this day to catch up on some of our favorite shows. During the various shows I took a moment to update this diary. Later tonight I hope to get it posted to the web site. As supper approached we discovered another item we had left behind – the frozen pizzas in the basement freezer. I am sure they will have a healthy layer of frost on them by the time we get home. I have heard it said that after three days of rain even the largest camper will feel like a shoe box – we may get to test that. It is 6:00PM and it is still raining. The weatherman indicates that tomorrow will be better but we all know they are only guessing. Tomorrow we meet up with the Tracks group again and start our New Orleans adventure. Tonight will be TV and internet work. The rain has slowed, maybe the weatherman is right about tomorrow.

February 2nd

        Our first day with the tour group. We meet at 12:30PM so no need to hurry this morning. A bit of surfing (internet in the camper!!) and TV watching before we got ready. The people started gathering for the bus more than 30 minutes before the leave time. We decided that 15 minutes was enough time to be early so we delayed leaving the camper for a bit. Once we did get in line we were offered a choice of playing cards. I drew a 4 of diamonds – we will get to sit in the 4th row on the passenger side of the bus. A Queen would have had us sitting next to the toilet. A nice way to mix up a group of people that don't know each other. While in line we start to meet the other 'Trackers'. Nice people, outgoing and spirited. Honorable mention for just plain craziness goes to 'Big Bird'. After boarding the bus we rode to a buffet at a local casino. A very nice buffet with 4-6 people at each table – more mixing and more nice people. Following the lunch there was a brief meeting to discuss the overall tour and a few changes to the published schedule. From there we traveled to one of the local places of interest – the Drestreham Plantation. A nice tour of a well maintained historical site. Back on the bus for the ride to the campground. After greeting the cats we made a quick trip to Wal-Mart for a few supplies and a stop at McDonalds for supper. TV and web site work filled the remainder of the night.

February 3rd

        Up early today, the bus leaves at 9:00AM. I ran to McDonalds to get breakfast before we got on the bus for our next day of activity. First up was a Swamp Tour. This is the third swap tour we have been on during our various visits to New Orleans. This was also the first trip during which we did not see a gator. That is if you don't count the one the tour guide has raised and keeps at his house. That gator is 15 years old and about 5 feet long. He carries it around and holds it like a baby with it's head on his shoulder. He let people in the group hold it – not for me, thanks. Lots of nice bird pictures and the tour guide had interesting stories so it was still a worth while trip. From there we went to lunch at a Picadilly cafeteria. Good food and plenty to eat. Back on the bus for the journey to Kern's Mardi Gras World in Algiers. Very big place. We had walked to this place during an earlier visit to New Orleans but had not paid to take the tour. Now that we have taken the tour I can say it is worth the money. Lots of things to look at and learn about. I even found a key chain for our friend Jenny back home. Board the bus and back to the campground we go. A quick check of the e-mail and I found a note from JT regarding his web site. The rest of the night was spent working on his web site.


February 4th

        Up real early today!! The bus is leaving at 7:45AM so we roll out of bed shortly after 5AM! No run to McDonalds today as our first activity is breakfast at Brennan's. A famous French Quarter restaurant where the prices are way higher than I would ever pay for a meal. The food was very good but not the usual items I would start the day with. It started with a baked cinnamon apple covered with cream followed by Eggs Benedict and then Bananas Foster for desert. Good but still weird. We then had some free time to wander the Quarter before boarding the bus for our next activity. Rita and I toured a couple of souvenir stores before finding our way to the local Harley Davidson shop. Rita found a sweat shirt she liked and then we were on our way. Next stop – the French Market. They sell fruit and other food stuffs but we never buy any of that. We head down to the flea market section and wander the aisles. After a few purchases we were on our way again to meet the bus back at the Gray Line terminal. Once the bus arrived, we boarded and began a 3 hour guided tour of the city. The tour guide provided lots of history and local color which made the tour very enjoyable. The tour included a stop at one of the many above ground cemeteries. We had visited one of these on an earlier trip and believe me, when you have seen one your have seen them all. The tour then wound it's way all over the city and we enjoyed the sights. We got back to the campground about 3:30PM and after greeting the cats jumped in the Jeep and went to Pizza Hut for supper. Bananas Foster will only last you so long. Back at the camper once again, we spent the remainder of the evening watching TV, drinking beer (hey, we are in New Orleans) and doing a little web site work.

February 5th

        Bus leaves at 8AM today. Up, at'em and out the door we go. Our first stop is at the Court of Two Sisters for brunch. The place was not quite open when we got there so we had to stand around a bit before we could go in. They have a very nice buffet for $25 that includes coffee or tea. Soda is an extra $2.50 a glass – no refills. The food was great. From there we walked over the Mardi Gras museum located on Jackson Square. Two floors of Mardi Gras history that was well worth the visit. After we finished the tour we had almost 3 hours to kill before the next event. We headed down Decatur stopping at the various gift shops. From there we headed to Bourbon St. in search of a beer. The Funky Pirate filled the need. After a couple of beverages had been consumed we walked on down the street. The street was already crowed with people and it wasn't even noon yet. I saw a guy with a 2ft x 4ft board into which he had cut various sized round holes. The holes were marked 'Small', 'Mouth-full', 'Average', 'Large' etc. He labeled the board 'Hooter Meter' and he was actually getting women to lift their tops and bras to measure their bare breasts in the holes. Only on Bourbon street. We had more beer at Fat Tuesday's before finding our way to the river walkway that leads to the Natchez loading dock. After standing around for a while and eventually getting our group picture taken we boarded the boat. We had hoped to sit outside on the upper deck but soon discovered it was too cold to do so comfortably. Eventually we found our way inside and spent the remainder of the cruise being entertained by a jazz band called The Natchez Stompers. A pleasant cruise. From there we boarded the bus back to the campground. Supper and TV finished the evening.