Part 1: TN-Houston-CA

The first leg of my adventure has been so awesome!

I left my mom’s house in Tennessee the day before Labor Day, and drove to see a friend in Cookeville. Then I attempted to visit Tennessee State University in Nashville, where I went to school … years ago.

Nashville was so different! Expressways and suburbs that didn’t exist the last time I visited. The street names were all different. Because it was Sunday, everything was closed (I don’t miss that part about living in the south). I tried to find where I used to get really good BBQ when I went to TSU…not only was the place closed, but there’s an apartment complex where the strip mall used to be. Dang.

I finally found some good BBQ at Jim ‘n’ Nicks in west Nashville… I got this delicious loaded baked potato topped with brisket. It was perfect!

Then I had to figure out where to stay for the night. As soon as I bought my RV, I got a membership in Harvest Hosts. You may have heard about them; RVers pay a (really) low annual fee and can stay for free at any number of Harvest Hosts locations.

This was my first night at a Harvest Host. Most of the hosts are wineries; there are also a number of golf courses, farms, breweries, distilleries, and attractions. And they’re in every state; you can stay at an alligator farm in Mississippi or a cranberry bog in New England.

My first night was at a distillery. The Samuel T. Bryant Distillery is nestled off of the freeway near Jackson, Tennessee, and I got the privilege of meeting Mr. Bryant himself and sampling his delicious shine.

Interesting point about whiskey in Tennessee: in order to market and sell your whiskey as “Tennessee Whiskey,” it has to have a certain formula. Anything else is considered moonshine. This is basically whiskey even though it can’t be sold as such. But it’s delicious!

Harvest Hosts

The way Harvest Hosts works is, you find a host on the map, and you call ahead of time to let them know you’re coming. I was in Nashville when I called them, and I would have arrived just after their closing time of 6 p.m. They told me that was fine, and when I arrived.

When I got there, I was greeted with a handful of moonshine samples and a lovely, well-lit place to park my camper van. It was an amazing sunset, too.

I really enjoyed walking around the lovely farm and distillery grounds. I can’t wait to stop again on my way back to Tennessee!

It’s been wonderful to have my family around, and I love them all, but I have literally spent a total of five hours by myself since I got out of the hospital on June 4! A few days on the road by myself is just what I needed.

It was a little bit hot, but it’ll be a nicer night’s sleep once I have my RV and not a converted cargo van.

The next morning, I stopped at the Tina Turner Museum, just outside of Memphis, because Graceland is tacky and lame and Elvis was a pedophile and a racist who made his money off of stolen black music.

This was as close as I got … the parking lot across the street.

ANYWAY, that day I drove through Memphis, Arkansas, and some of Texas; and that night, I stopped for a really great steak … as one does, in Texas. It was my first time eating inside a restaurant after the pandemic hit, but they did a good job of making me feel safe eating there.

That night, my Harvest Host campsite was a little farm near Interstate 20 in Breshear, Texas, called the Bee Happy Farm. I was there just in time to enjoy a lovely sunset.

No bees (haha), but lots of horses, cows, chickens, and a big garden. It was a very peaceful place to finish my steak dinner and spend the night under the stars.

The September Surprise

A little background: My sister was sick this summer as well. Between my hospitalization and diagnosis, and her illness, this summer has been a hard one for our family. The pandemic has been rough on everyone, I think; the isolation and the uncertainty makes for a lot of anxiety even for people without any other problems. When your family is suffering already, the pandemic makes it 100 times worse.

September 12 is my sister’s 40th birthday. I didn’t want her to wake up sad on her big day. My plan (hatched through me, my mom and my sister’s boyfriend) was to surprise her a day or two before her birthday, at her house in Houston.

But I was driving from Tennessee to California. So in order to avoid too much backtracking, I went to Texas — but then refrained from any social media telling where I was, and texting my sister that I was heading west, and making up campsites and checking the local weather patterns (because I knew she was checking the areas for me).

As I was texting my sister, telling her I was, say, in New Mexico, really I was in Louisiana. I spent that night at a brewery in way-south Louisiana, where it was muggier than should legally be allowed, and I was bitten nearly to death by mosquitoes.

Of course, that wasn’t the fault of my awesome Harvest Host, which provided a lovely spot to eat dinner and relax before the sun went down. The Bayou Teche Brewing tasting room and pizza parlor was closed due to COVID-19 (a common theme on this road trip, unfortunately), but they were nevertheless very welcoming.

I really feel like the $90-ish I spent (for one year) on Harvest Hosts has already paid for itself.

I’m still kind of bummed that I wasn’t able to taste their beers (by the way, check out my Instagram page to see all of the sampling of local beers I did in Tennessee and Texas!)

The next morning, I was catching the sunrise in the bayou.

It was great. One of my best friends from San Diego got a job a couple of years ago as a roofing contractor, going to areas hit by natural disasters and providing roofing services. She was just south of Alexandria, so I hid out with her for a day or so while telling my sister I was tired and couldn’t talk because I had been driving through the desert.

I got to catch up with a great friend; I got to play an awesome surprise on my beloved sister; and I got to eat tons of Cajun food! It was a win-win-win for me.

I stopped in Alexandria first, and asked a local where the good Cajun food was. He took pity on my California accent and pointed down the road, saying “go on to Pamela’s.”

Dude was right. I got a “Bayou Bowl” of a smothered pork chop with gravy and red-skin-on mashed potatoes, plus two sides (mac and cheese and green beans for me), and cornbread, and a slice of cake.

For like $11.

I am not in California anymore.

After I split all this into several meals in the van and at the brewery, I met my old friend Belinda, and we went to Ken’s Fausto’s Cajun Restaurant in Kinder, Louisiana.

That is not a typo.

It’s the sign…

… or at least it would be if the sign hadn’t been blown away in Hurricane Laura. It’s on their signature spices, too.

I love this place. It was so cozy.

The food there was so impeccable. The fat, juicy Gulf shrimp were perfectly spiced and grilled, the coleslaw was crispy and fresh, even the roll was like heaven … like a donut without the sugar … super fluffy inside, almost crispy outside.

My shrimp snack attack did not stop in Louisiana. Once I got to my sister’s and she was surprised (which wasn’t as perfect of a surprise as I had hoped for, but I am getting used to dealing with things not being exactly the way I want them to be), we continued to throw down on Gulf shrimp.

Simply put, fish and shrimp are two things that taste better the fresher they are. The usual Japanese shrimp, fished and frozen right away to preserve freshness, is just fine. It does the job if you want shrimp. There’s nothing wrong with it.

But Gulf shrimp. It’s so juicy and fat. It’s as fresh as you can get it when you’re in Louisiana or southeast Texas. There’s no flavor comparison. So we ate a lot of it.

Naturally, we also ate a lot of BBQ. Texas BBQ is mostly smoked meats, very heavy on the beef, with very little sauce – if any – involved. So it’s rare to find a good smoked pork rib in the Lone Star State, but I managed to locate a pretty amazing one in Houston.

After I left Houston Sunday morning, I drove pretty fast to get to San Diego before my doctor’s appointment at noon on Tuesday. I stayed at a cheap motel in Las Cruces Sunday night because there was no Harvest Host nearby — there really isn’t anything at all nearby — and also it takes forever to get through that part of Texas. Anyone who has ever taken a road trip or driven that route knows that the freeway in west Texas can tell you, it can feel like it goes on forever.

Luckily, I made it safely to New Mexico, then the drive from Las Cruces to San Diego was surprisingly short and easy. I was at my friend’s house near downtown San Diego by sundown, and fresh and ready to see my doctor the next morning.

I had to get a quick shot of a very light chemo (tumor-killer) drug, and an infusion of a drug to make my bones stronger. (The breast cancer has spread to my bones and the tumors are trying to weaken them.) I also had an MRI of my brain and a CT scan of my upper body to determine if the cancer has stopped spreading or growing, or if it has progressed further.

I find out today what the results are. Wish me luck!

(Donate to my GoFundMe here.)

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