We stayed in New Orleans over the New Year and were pretty amazed to find that there was an RV park right in the French Quarter. Then we found out that it cost $250 a night. So instead, we opted for Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburb of Westwego, a short, 20-minute drive from the city center on the other side of the Mississippi, all for just $20 a night.
Here, we were in a right next to a cypress grove and swamp, where air boats were taking tourists out on alligator-spotting tours, but we didn't even need to venture that far to appreciate the local wildlife, because our campground was full of armadillos. One of them resided right where we were set up, and each time that we returned to the campground after dark, we found him (or her) noisily digging for grubs around our trailer. Shane was so excited about this that he would have been outside taking photos all night every night if it hadn't been raining.
Another big bonus of camping in Westwego, which is a large fishing area, was that we were right next to several seafood stalls, where you can buy fresh shrimp starting at $3.50 a pound, crawfish, crabs, scallops, red snapper, bass and trout, as well as alligator meat, frogs legs and a huge range of sausages; basically everything you need to cook your own Creole feast.
The downside of camping next to a swamp was that when we had torrential rains for a couple of days, the campground became pretty swampy itself, with the roads in and out covered in over a foot of water in some places. This did not present a problem when driving in The Beast, which has massive tires, along with everything else, but we wouldn't have wanted to try it in a normal car.
What can we say about New Orleans itself that hasn't already been said about its 400-year French, Spanish and American history, its amazing jazz heritage and its incredible music scene today, its 18th century architecture or its food?
Many visitors find New Orleans intoxicating and we were no exception, but after many weeks camping in remote, rural areas, and having just visited Biloxi and Gulfport in Mississippi, which were pretty tiny by comparison, we were even more excited to experience such an amazing confluence of cultures and to be back in a big, vibrant city, pulsing with life. Needless to say, we fell for NOLA immediately.
We loved the St Charles Streetcar, the oldest continuously operated streetcar in the world; the elegant avenues and mansions of the Garden District; the beautiful City Park, containing New Orleans Museum of Art and its amazing sculpture garden; exploring Tremé and Louis Armstrong Park; walking around The French Quarter and The Marigny at dusk as all the gas lamps came on; browsing in independent bookstores; enjoying the hip vibe of Uptown; eating chargrilled oysters. We particularly loved the fact that you could walk up Frenchmen Street and hear world-class music emanating from most of the venues along it.
A big thanks to all our family and friends for their excellent tips, especially to Kathryn’s brother-in-law Martin, a jazz musician in the UK, who suggested we found out where his friend and reed player James Evans was playing and headed there. We did so and saw him play a great set with Aurora Nealand and The Royal Roses at The Maison on Frenchmen Street; one of several local bands that we loved.
When it comes to jazz venues, by the way, we could have spent every night propping up the bar at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street hearing incredible music (such as Sarah McCoy, pictured in the main photo above), but if we’d done that, Sonny would have had to learn to drive. Just ask CNN’s Don Lemon.
A massive thank you also goes to our friend Elana, who having lived in NOLA, gave us a huge list of things to do and places to visit, including where in Uptown we could dance on a pool table and eat cheese fries until sunrise, which we didn’t quite manage, and where we could order a chilli cheese omelette as big as our heads, which we definitely did!
This weekend, we stayed at a campground in Luray, Virginia, a short drive from the Thornton Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park. From here, we drove Skyline Drive down to the southern most tip of the park. Shenandoah National park was established in 1935 and it's easy to see how the Skyline Drive capitalized on the new popularity of the motor car. The drive follows the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains for a total of 105 miles, with lots of places to stop off and picnic, and offers incredible views to the west and to the east over the mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, from 75 overlooks. The photo of Shane above was taken at Stony Man Overlook at an elevation of 3,100 feet. We arrived just after the peak for fall foliage, but the luminous colors of the trees bathed in sunlight set against those still in shadow and the beautiful fall light refracting through the foliage took our breath away anyway. It took us about two hours to drive the southern-most two thirds of the Skyline Drive, but you need about three hours to drive the whole way.
Quite by chance, Shane's friends Russ and Steph and their two kids Josh and Emma were also staying in Shenandoah for the weekend. It was fantastic to see them and we all hiked together up Whiteoak Canyon, which allowed us to see six waterfalls in total and more amazing views in glorious fall weather. We didn't use any filters on any of these photos, by the way. The light and the colors were perfect. We just hiked from the bottom of the canyon to Upper Whiteoak Falls, which was about a six miles round trip, but you can also reach the Upper Whiteoak Falls in about an hour's hike off Skyline Drive. It's definitely worth the effort.
We also purchased our annual pass, which will give us free entrance to all the national parks and federal recreational lands across the US from the rest of our trip. The best thing $80 can buy, if you ask us, quite apart from the fact that it has a polar bear on the front, which made Shane happy. This is only our first national park and we've already used it three times in Shenandoah!
Our first day on the road was not boring. We had a minor scrape, two flying kitchenware incidents, and a series of 'thrown into the deep end' trailer learning experiences. On the way to our first destination in Gettysburg, we stopped at the house of a very old friend in Allentown, PA. On arrival there we realized that the fridge had not latched properly, and the contents had been sprayed around the interior by bumps and potholes. Luckily the food and bevies were intact and there was no damage.
The truck, which we refer to with love and a bit of fear as 'The Beast,' performed amazingly well. Shane never had to put his foot to the floor even on the steepest hills on I 78, and there was nary a shudder nor wobble from the trailer. We feel great about our 'err on the side of max power' truck and hitch selection strategy. The hitch was not only hella strong but also very easy to connect and disconnect, now that we have perfected the 'mule kick protocol.'
The total drive time to our first destination was under 4 hours, and we arrived at the Gettysburg campground in the early afternoon. More learning opportunities immediately presented themselves: We managed to guide the trailer into our site on the first try, but realized that the 'leveling' should be checked while you are still hitched, so that you can put boards or some other material under tires to provide lift as needed. We also learned that our 30Amp electric cable is only ~25ft long, so locating the back of the camper further than that from the 'hook ups' is...not ideal.
Upon arrival we also discovered that, when properly latched, the refrigerator holds its contents just fine over big bumps. The cabinet over the kitchen sink, not so much. So before we could move our yowling cat into the camper, we had to clean all interior surfaces of broken glass and about 1/2 lb of fine grain sugar, among other intact items such as 50 teabags, jelly jars, and pyrex. Live and learn - that storage space is now the 'potato chip cupboard.' Keystone camper design engineers, if you are listening, please add safety latches to the above-counter cabinets.
The rest of the set up was a breeze, many thanks to our trainer, Shane's father Jerry Sesta. After experiencing what towing was like for 4 hours, the F250 without the trailer felt like driving an Aston Martin roadster. Sonny is settled and has been enjoying indoor time and outdoor time and everything is exciting and new for all of us. The weather here has been perfect and we are looking forward to seeing what Gettysburg has to offer.
Yesterday, we stopped back into New York for Shane's last day of work and to run some final errands in the city. Here we are driving over the Williamsburg Bridge for the last time in a while. We're not actually driving a bus; that's our diesel pick up truck, aka The Beast, chugging along. Actually, leaving was rather emotional.* We've been so busy getting ready for this that leaving the city and not seeing friends or family on either side of the Atlantic for a while was a pretty abstract concept, but now it's really happening. We've lived in New York for 20 years between us; longer than either of us has lived anywhere else since we left home. We met each other in the city and have made so many incredible friends there from all over the world. We love you hard, New York, but we'll be back!
*Just after this footage was taken, we sat in traffic for an hour waiting to enter the Holland Tunnel, which dulled the pain a bit.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
One month ago today, we picked up our new trailer from the dealership in Harrisburg, Pennsylvannia. Here's a not-so-great photo of all 28 foot of it and our truck at the dealership. Our first task, or more specifically Shane's first task, was towing it a couple of hours down I-78 and then reversing it out of a country lane, over a narrow wooden bridge spanning a creek and into Shane's parents' yard without wrecking it. So far, so good. Thank goodness Shane's dad, our expert trailer consultant, was there to help us unhitch it, level it and put down the stabilizer jacks. We are such newbies. Hopefully, by the time we get back from this year-long jaunt, we might actually be getting good at this.
Shane's parents have kindly housed our trailer at their New Jersey home ever since, while we dashed around Brooklyn like crazy people packing and moving the rest of our stuff into storage, getting our apartment ready to rent, tying up things for work and sorting out healthcare, registering our trailer, buying camping gear, saying goodbye to friends and generally preparing for life on the road. By the way, if you ever consider moving your own furniture and all your possessions down seven flights of stairs out of a walk-up apartment, just don't!
We finally arrived back at Shane's parents' place in our overladen pick-up truck at 1am on Saturday – sweaty, tired and disheveled after a extra long day of cleaning and moving boxes – with all the stuff we will need for a year, plus a cat.
Ever since, we've been at Shane's parents while we get ready to leave. Just a few weeks ago, we were both working hard and living in our nice, comfy Brooklyn apartment, which has a bath tub, among other luxuries. Now Shane is unemployed and we're living in the trailer in his parents' yard.
Now that we're here, though, we've decided that this camping business is great! What on earth took us so long? We have full water and electric hook up for free and just have to walk across the yard for hot meals, drinks, snacks and unlimited quantities of home made pie. Sonny has checked out every cupboard inside the trailer, had several walks in the yard and has been plied with fresh turkey. Last Sunday, Shane's mother even cooked us and the whole family a early Thanksgiving dinner, and as we won't be seeing them at Christmas, baked some mince pies for the Brit, ie Kathryn.
Christmas and Thanksgiving all in one day and it's still only mid-October. It would be great to see some national parks and all, but maybe we should just stay here for a year.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.