The best thing about February is it's a short month. Since we last spoke, we have traveled 2,733 miles, visited seven National Forests, and surveyed 25 campgrounds. Hey, we've been busy.
About a year ago, we met with Joe Meade and some of his associates at the Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. There were several reasons for this meeting. One was to obtain Headquarter's blessing and a letter of introduction. It was decided an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) would be the best approach. After 11 months, this document has been approved and sent to the District Rangers in the Southern Region (maybe nationally).
The effect of having Headquarter's introduction is delightful. Why? For one thing, several years ago a group representing itself as a "German Tourist Bureau," requested information from the Forest Service District Rangers. Some provided information and later received a bill for its publication. Now we are no longer seen, initially, as representing a similar scam. In other words, we are legitimate. Another way the MOU has helped us is we no longer have to limit our conversations with just the front desk folks.
We have noticed a few subtle differences in the Forest Service personnel in the National Forests of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Prior to arriving in South, we had remarked on a lack of minority campers. In retrospect, there were not many minorities in the campgrounds or District Ranger Offices. However, in the past month this has changed. Also, a larger percent of the Forest Service people we have met are "homegrown." Few have been transplanted, most are from the South and from the general area. The advantage is they have a greater knowledge of the area and enjoy talking about their Forest. They are also very excited
about what we are doing which makes the long miles and longer hours seem shorter.
While in Mississippi we took a few days to visit an old friend of Fred's - Dr. Keith McLarnan and his wife, Carolyn. They now live in Hattiesburg; one of the biggest little towns we have visited. After a tour of their beautiful home (the kitchen was Suzi's favorite; the "gathering" room was Fred's) we enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local restaurant and hours of pleasant conversation.
One individual in our party who has totally enjoyed February is Tory. The limited number of campers and fleas have made her life very pleasant. She is pretty good about staying with us on the trail, so we take her off the leash every once in a while when hiking. And, she seems to find sentry duty much more relaxing with the squirrels hibernating and children aren't riding bikes through our site. One serious problem continues to be ticks. They have one type called "seed ticks" which are about the size
of short grain of rice and very difficult to find until they swell up.
Another thing we have noticed, especially in the South, is the number of towns with the same name. It is a bit confusing take a nap and wake to see Richmond 75 miles. Or that the next exit is for Brooklyn! You'll find a Centerville in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Of course, there are some towns that have totally unique names - Whynot, MS., Quitman, MS., Bunkie, LA.,
Natchitoches, LA., Gun Barrel City, TX., and Zavalla, TX., just to name of few.
Let's face it February in the Deep South is worse than up North. In the south you must suffer through the worst parts of winter (cold and grey days) with none of its beauty. As the end of February approached there were some signs of warming - we saw daffodils and Japanese magnolias blooming. March will be an "off" month in Texas as we await the arrival of Spring in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Our plan is to wander down the Gulf Coast to Corpus Cristi and than leisurely work our way back up through the state to Oklahoma. Texas is a big state with lots to do. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, please let us know.
Suzi and Fred