I split the drive home over three days. I left late on Wednesday, after one last breakfast and chauffering with Sadie, after which she gave me a hug which surprised and touched me. It felt weird to start a long drive so late in the day, when normally I’ll take off at first light, but I was happy to have that last interaction, and visit a favorite Durham coffee shop one more time.
I stopped in Charlotte and had a short visit with MyLoan, glad I could touch base on my way out and establish a lasting relationship. It felt like so long ago that I met her, still so early in the Summer, but we got along just as well as I remembered.
I got as far as Atlanta before stopping to make camp. I was overly optimistic about how much daylight was left, as well as getting stuck waiting for the campground host, so I wound up making camp in the dark. Thankfully I’m well practiced setting up by myself at this point.
There was some unfortunate light spillage, but otherwise a pleasant night at the campground. It felt weird that this was not just another small adventure outside Chapel Hill, and that tomorrow I would be continuing South instead of turning back North. I so rarely cut long drives into multiple days, at least not if the whole point is just to get from A to B. The whole thing felt like it took place is a suspended state, and each time I snapped out of it, hundreds more miles had passed.
The next day I stopped in Montgomery, and visiting the state house and civil rights memorial. Alabama is weird, I remember having the same thought in Birmingham, in that Confederate statues remain standing right beside commemorations of the civil rights movement. Especially with my home city currently surging with protests (and righteous ones), it was sobering to be in a place that casts Racism and oppression in such stark light. It’s harder, I think, in Alabama, to pretend like these things were so long ago that it’s done and settled. It all feels visceral and recent when you see how little has changed in the places where some of the boldest acts took place.
It was swelteringly hot when I stepped outside my car. I don’t normally mind the heat, but I think because I had convinced myself it was starting to be autumn, I just couldn’t accept it. I did not spend much time walking through down town, instead sticking to indoors and shade.
A few hours South of Montgomery, and I hit I-10. Which meant that I could get home even if I lost my maps. That was the first time, although well past the half-way point, that I really felt like I was no longer in range of my Summer home.
I took the long route, to skim the Gulf Coast and drive through Biloxi, which I had visited over twelve years ago with my mom and sister. I went to put my feet in the Gulf, and quickly backed away again when I noticed the globs of jellyfish that had washed up on shore.
I timed my next stop much better than the night before, and set up to camp near the shores of Lake Ponchatrain, in Fountainbleau state park. I set camp by daylight, and got to the lake for sunset.
I had the lake front to myself, and enjoyed strolling under the spanish-moss-swathed canopy to get to the boardwalk as the sunlight waned. Across the lake, two highly isolated thunderstorm systems flanked the dark glow of the sunset, the occasional bloom of lighting flickering through them. I could barely see what might have been the lights of New Orleans at the far end of the bridge.
I had not planned to get in, but something compelled me to walk into the shallows and sit in that warm Southern water. And not just to get away from the swarms of mosquitoes. But oh man were they swarming.
I sat in the lake, feeling the lap of the water, watching the light show across the way, and it felt like the Bayou South embracing me, and welcoming me home. But so, too, would seeing the St. Louis gateway Arch feel like homecoming. Or stepping once again into the stuffy studio in Saxapahaw, or punching in the code for Jenny’s garage. So many places that feel like home.
Eventually I walked back out, and scrambled to my car as quick as I could to escape the cloud of mosquitoes. It was beautifully dark and quiet night at the campsite.
I slept so well.