It was quite a week of preparation. There never seems to be enough time to get ready, and a number of our preparations had to wait until the last couple of days. With this long of a trip, the refrigerator and freezers are turned off, so all food in them had to be given away, taken with us or thrown out. Similarly with the pantry – if it would not be good when we got home, it had to come with us. It all went down the wire.
When our departure date arrived (too soon), the trailer was packed to the gills. Food occupied most of the cabinets in the living/kitchen area. The freezer was packed with no room for ice. And the trailer weighed in at about its maximum allowed weight of 17,500 lbs.
Departure was a little later than planned because of last minute loading, cleaning and house shut-down, but we made it on the road before noon. Fortunately, our destination was not far on the first day; just south of Chicago, where we would stop for the night and spend time with a cousin who lives in that area.
We pulled into the Kankakee South KOA and were led to our campsite for the night. Although not packed, the place seemed surprisingly full for a Wednesday night in April in Kankakee. As a happy surprise, my aunt and another cousin also drove down for the day, so one aunt, two cousins and five kids arrived at the campground. After tours of the trailer, the playground was thoroughly checked out. The only unfortunate thing was we missed the baseball game of my cousin’s other child, which was called early. In all, it was a great evening of catching up and we were so glad that we were able to make this our first stop.
The next day was our first full travel day. It was uneventful and we arrived at Trail of Tears State Park around 4:30 pm. We had a site on the Mississippi River with a large grassy area next to us. Our neighbors were a motorcycle gang (group?), but they were actually pretty quiet except when the bikes were running.
We took our first trail walk of the trip. Although only about a mile total, it was pretty and it felt great to stretch our legs. The park has a number of longer trails and we hope we make it back to spend more than just a night here.
The park visitor center was still closed for the season, but a ranger actually came out when she saw us (around 6:00 pm) and talked to us for several minutes. It was very nice of her. And the good news is that the visitor center was opening the next day, so at the cost of a later start, we could spend a little time there.
Day 3 of our trip was our longest of the trip down (and hopefully the longest of the entire trip). It started with us breaking camp and parking all 50+ feet of Annie and the Beast at the visitor center when they opened, taking over most of the parking. Fortunately, there were no other visitors. We watched the National Park Service movie on the Trail of Tears and quickly checked out the displays on both the natural history and environment as well as the events before, during and after the Trail of Tears period. Within an hour, we were on the road and heading south.
Campgrounds with good reviews were pretty rare in the area we wanted to stop in. There was a decently rated campground in Texarkana that we had pencilled in. That would have been a pretty long day, but would have still left another long day to go and we had an appointment that required us to be at our daughter’s house by 4:00. In the end we decided to push onward and try overnight parking at Walmart.
By the time we arrived it was after dark and everyone was very tired. We missed the main entrance and instead entered from a side street only to find a bar preventing tall vehicles from entering or leaving the Walmart parking lot. After a moment of panic, Oma got out and directed traffic around me while I backed up and was able to pull through a fast food lot back to the highway and then into the Walmart lot from the main entrance.
We compromised and extended the shorter slides that allowed us access to the bedroom and the kitchen, but left the dinette slide in. This made us wider but not obnoxiously so. Forty-five minutes of generator time recharged the batteries to about 92% and let us use the microwave to heat up dinner.
By morning we had neighbors around us. Another 45 minutes of generator time and the batteries were back up over 90% again, Oma’s coffee was brewed and breakfast consumed. We’re not sure if we’ll ever overnight at Walmart again, but it did allow us to do a real-life test using the generator (worked great) and also try living in the trailer without all of the slides extended (less than ideal).
The long day before paid off today as we were now only about five hours from our daughter. We survived the Houston traffic and arrived about 2:00. The trailer fit in their driveway (just), the 50A outlet they installed for us worked perfectly, and soon enough we were set up for four days at Chateau Houston.