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   TRIP LOG & 2010-11 WINTER TRIP STATS, p. 2


"We do not take a trip; a trip takes us."
~ John Steinbeck
Continued from the previous page.



LA 190 east through Hammond to US 51 south to I-12 (should have just gotten back on I-55 and gone south to reach I-12); east on I-12 to I-59 north through LA, MS, AL, and a little corner of GA. I-59 runs contiguously with I-20 for a while through MS and AL. On the east side of Birmingham we took I-59 north to I-24 and drove east toward Chattanooga.

Traffic and road conditions:

Traffic was much lighter the second day and moved well. There were several construction zones but none of them slowed us down appreciably.

Two-way traffic in a construction zone along I-59 in northern Alabama

I-59 through Mississippi is a very RV-friendly road. Except for some expansion joints north of Hattiesburg that are more noisy than bumpy, the freeway is smooth. I-59 and I-20 continue to be fairly smooth through MS and AL where they run together.

I-459 around the SE side of Birmingham, AL is nice (even scenic), a much better option for RVs than going through town. Per my 2009 trip report, 1-20 through the city was bumpy and there is more traffic and merging to deal with.

Perfect road through MS on I-59

Most of this day was also fairly flat. The terrain got hillier and more interesting between Birmingham and Chattanooga.

Rest areas:

I am totally impressed with the great welcome centers and other rest areas along this route, especially on I-59 through Mississippi and Alabama.

Some of them have free dump stations, which are becoming increasingly harder to find. I took the next two photos when Jim was dumping our grey and black water at the welcome center just inside the MS border from Louisiana:


All the rest areas in MS and AL that we visited or eye-balled from the freeway had handsome buildings, covered picnic tables, large grassy areas, lots of trees, and plenty of room to park an RV. The ones I noted as being particularly nice were at MM 3 in MS and MM 1, 37, 84, and 165 in AL. There are two more rest area pictures below.

Note that the new TN welcome station near the GA border is not open yet.

Diesel prices:

Prices for diesel that we saw in Mississippi and Alabama were similar to those in Louisiana, from about $3.69 to $3.79/gallon. We saw a Murphy's (Walmart) with diesel at exit 152 in Meridian, MS but didn't see the price. We got diesel at the Flying J at exit 104 west of Birmingham for $3.69/gallon. We tried to get one of the chain's new RV-friendly fuel cards but that particular store didn't have any of them. Prices were higher in the short section of Georgia through which we passed ($3.85-3.89).

Above and below:  very nice AL welcome center near the MS line

We were very pleased with continued good (for a truck + 7-ton camper!) fuel mileage today, still averaging 12 MPG. Driving a rather steady 60-62 MPH with few stops really makes a difference, as does relatively flat terrain and only a slight breeze.

Weather and scenery:

We had another great day to travel -- dry, sunny, temps from the mid-60s to the low 80s F.

Our timing for this trip back to Roanoke, although three weeks earlier than originally planned, is actually quite good as far as spring bloom is concerned. I can't imagine a prettier time to drive through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Alabama redbuds along I-59/I-20

The redbuds and dogwoods were peaking through southern Louisiana and Mississippi. The leaves on many shrubs and trees were almost mature. It looked as much like late spring as when we left Brazos Bend.

We regressed in time as we drove farther north and gained some elevation in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee.

By Birmingham the redbud and dogwood blossoms were less developed. There was more forsythia and yellow jessamine, flowers that bloom earlier. The leaves became smaller and were more sparse the farther we drove.

Still seeing pretty redbuds in northern AL

It's great fun to drive north or south, or change elevations significantly, during the spring and fall seasons and feel like you're moving in a time capsule from one season to the next.

Some of the more scenic areas on this day's drive were the wildlife areas through which we passed north of Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana, and the increasingly-hilly terrain in northeastern Alabama.

Parking overnight:

We stayed at the Super Walmart at I-24 exit 174 west of Chattanooga, TN. It is up a hill on the SE side of the freeway. We parked out from the tire center side of the building and got to enjoy a colorful sunset over the ridge of trees behind it:

We didn't see any other RVs in that area. It was away from most traffic and pretty quiet. I don't know if any campers were on the other side of the building. We had good phone, TV, and internet connections.



I-24 east to I-75 north to I-40 east to I-81 north and through Roanoke to our house out in the country

Traffic and road conditions:

Traffic was extra heavy through Chattanooga at 7-7:15 AM, the beginning of rush hour. (Why is is called rush "hour" when it lasts for two or three hours in a major metro area?)

When we're in transit like this we try to stay overnight on the far side of a large metro area so we don't have to deal with morning rush hour traffic but it didn't work out that way when we needed to stop last night. We lucked out, however; despite all the trucks and small vehicles through town, traffic moved very well that early in the morning.

Because we stayed overnight on the far western side of the Eastern Time Zone sunrise was relatively late (7:30 AM). We rarely start traveling while it's still dark but we had an agenda -- getting to our house by mid-afternoon. It was fun to see the sunrise for once:

It's not that far to Knoxville, so we managed to hit part of its rush hour, too (8:30-9 AM). We went right through on I-40 with no problems.

Traffic was pretty heavy all day, especially on I-81, which is a major truck route. The farther north we drove, the fewer RVs we saw. This time of year I'd guess it's mostly retirees who are traveling in their RVs on weekdays . . . and they prefer to stay farther south until the rest of the country warms up!

Heavy traffic along I-81 in rural southern VA

Rest areas:

The rest areas going northbound on I-40 and I-81 in Tennessee were all open but we didn't stop at any of them. We didn't need one until we got to Virginia -- and then, of course, I couldn't find one when I was driving and needed to go to the bathroom!

Sunrise farther north of Chattanooga

There are a few "trucks only" and "cars only" pull-offs along I-81 in southern Virginia. They aren't marked on our current AAA map and were either packed (the truck ones) or too small for our RV to park (the car ones). The AAA map also shows no northbound rest areas between MM 1 and MM 128.

So I got off the freeway at Chilhowie (exit 29).

That was a mistake. The streets were very narrow, traffic was heavy at lunch time, and there wasn't a good place to pull over to park for a few minutes. I ended up parking in a grocery store parking lot and Jim had the pleasure of driving north for a few miles along narrow, curvy US 11 before we came to the next entrance to I-81. He didn't want to go back to the freeway the way we got off.

I-81 in southern VA

It would have been better for me to wait until I saw a truck stop like Flying J to pull off.

It would have been even better if our AAA map had shown the perfectly good rest area at MM 61!! It looks like it's been there for a while so I have no idea how AAA missed it. I probably could have kept driving to reach it if I'd known it was there.

Too bad other states don't have the caliber of rest areas we saw in Mississippi and Alabama.

At least most of the rest areas along our route from Texas to Virginia were open. Some states still have some closed rest areas because they can't afford to keep them open.

Diesel prices:

The only place we got fuel the third day was at a Pilot station east of Knoxville, TN on I-40 at exit 358. It was $3.77/gallon, which was average for the prices we saw in TN and VA.

Lots of forsythia in bloom on I-81 near Salem, VA (just south of Roanoke)

That day we were in much hillier terrain and gained a couple thousand feet of elevation on the way to the Mt. Rogers area in southwestern VA. Most of the time while Jim drove he was going a little faster (65-67 MPH) than the first two days; he could "smell the barn" and wanted to get back to our house. I kept the pace at about 60-62 MPH when I drove.

Despite all that, we still averaged over 12 MPG of fuel.

Weather and scenery:

This was another great day weather-wise -- mostly sunny, dry, with temperatures ranging from the high 50s to the low 80s F. in TN and the 70s in VA, where we were mostly at a higher elevation.

The entire route that day was very scenic, with hills, mountains, rivers, forests, and lots of spring flowers.

Fruit trees in bloom at the I-81/I-581 intersection near Roanoke

Earlier types of spring flowers were in bloom as we progressed north. Daffodils, forsythia, and redbuds were pretty as far north as Knoxville. Early fruit trees like crab apples, Bradford pears, and peach trees were about done blooming. The dogwoods weren't out yet, and the leaves were more sparse than farther south.

Between Knoxville and the Mt. Rogers area we regressed seasonally by one or two weeks. Not only were we going mostly north, we were also gaining elevation. There, the fruit trees were just starting to open their pretty pink and white blossoms. It was too early for daffodils or forsythia -- or very many leaves on trees and shrubs. It still looked more like late winter than early spring.

Bradford pears line the boulevard along Orange Avenue in Roanoke.

By the time we got to Roanoke's lower elevation (about 1,000 feet) we were back into early-middle spring, as you can see from the last three pictures above.

Daffodils, forsythia, Bradford pears, peach trees, crab apples, and other flowers are at their peak right now. We missed those blooms last year when we didn't get back to Roanoke until early April. I got to see how nice the 300+ daffodils in our flower bed look now after dividing and replanting them two years ago after they got done blooming:

In another week or two the redbuds and dogwoods will be in full bloom, then azaleas.

The whole Roanoke Valley looks great! It's a nice time to be back here to see the progression of spring flowers.

Parking overnight:

Our house! It's ironic, but our yard is one of the best campsites we've ever had. Too bad it isn't closer to the Rockies.


I mentioned that on Sunday I was surprised by the amount of trash we saw along the freeways in Texas and Louisiana.

Unfortunately, I became increasingly appalled the farther we drove. It was like that all the way back to Roanoke. It's clear to me that some people need to take more pride in this beautiful country and stop littering.


Total days in the camper = 103

Average camping fee cost per day = $9.39, our lowest yet

Other costs = unknown. We keep track of what we spend on food, diesel fuel, propane, gasoline, laundry, maintenance, repairs, vehicle insurance, and other related travel costs but we never add them up. What "counts" is that we live within our means.

McDowell Mtn. Regional Park in the Phoenix area, a great place to hang out in the winter  (12-15-10)

We have kept the above stats for only the last three extended trips and aren't motivated to spend the time to go back to add up the costs and days for previous trips. In comparison, we averaged $11.10/day for camping fees over 131 days on our Winter 2009-2010 trip and $9.94/day for 153 days on our Summer 2010 trip.

Our winter trips have always cost more than our summer trips because we can do more "free" boondocking and find more half-price national forest camping opportunities in the summer. In the winter we need electricity more. The main reason our average camping fee was so low this winter was that we camp-hosted at Brazos Bend for six weeks and didn't have to pay $12-25/night for state park or military installation campsites during that period of time.

Camping at McDowell Mountain Regional Park in December

Next winter we are considering staying in Arizona longer. We have learned a little more about boondocking opportunities there and might check out some of those locations instead of paying campsite fees for two or three months at parks in Texas.

Cost isn't the main reason, however. We want to find someplace that's consistently warmer in the winter than what we've experienced in southern Texas the last two winters!

Next entry:  why we had to cut our trip short -- an update on our knee problems, training, and summer travel/running plans

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil