MONDAY, MARCH 21: HAMMOND, LA
TO W. CHATTANOOGA, TN
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
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
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.
I am totally impressed with the great welcome centers and other rest
areas along this route, especially on I-59 through Mississippi and
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
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
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 12½
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
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
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
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.
MARCH 22: CHATTANOOGA, TN TO ROANOKE, VA
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
WINTER 2010-2011 TRIP STATISTICS
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
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
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil