Thursday, March 2, 2006

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Yesterday turned out to be a day of some frustration.

After leaving Milton, we had an uneventful drive through Pensacola, and, in fact, US90 runs along the western shore of Escambia Bay, which we found to be quite beautiful. We did notice more and more hurricane damage, though, as we proceeded south and west.

From the western edge of Pensacola, we retraced our route of last January, down to Perdido Key and along the gulf into Gulf Shores, Alabama. Sadly, the scene along there was eerily reminiscent of that earlier transit, over a full year ago. While not yet fully recovered from Ivan, Katrina slammed ashore and undid much of the progress. We did note that many of the damaged structures from a year ago are gone, I am guessing due to the bulldozers I forecast then, although some may have been taken by Katrina's surge. We also noted, in contrast to last year, that enough progress has been made in the area that many buildings are again occupied, and many local businesses are open. Still, though, a sobering drive.

From downtown Gulf Shores we drove the 25 miles or so west down the peninsula to the ferry landing at Fort Morgan State Park. We arrived noonish for a 1:15 ferry, and so spent half an hour or so walking around historic Fort Morgan. Constructed at the beginning of the 19th century as part of the defenses of Mobile Bay, in a style typical of that period, the fort became famous during the civil war. As the last bastion of confederate blockade-running, the union fleet, under command of Admiral D.G. Farragut, pressed a massive attack in 1864. As the fleet approached the fort, USS Tecumseh struck a confederate torpedo (what, today, we would call a mine) sending the ironclad to the bottom and causing the fleet to hesitate. This prompted Farragut to issue the now-famous command with which I have titled this post.

What I did not know, before arriving at the fort, was that it was refortified at the dawn of the 20th century as part of the US coastal defenses. The newer batteries for the large rifled guns are built in, around, and sometimes through the earlier fortifications. It is a weird and stark contrast, concrete bunkers inside of a brick-and-earthen pentagonal fort. Even the modern fortifications had been abandoned by WWII.

Nervous about getting a spot on the ferry, we cut short our tour and lined up at the ferry landing a good half hour before departure. And there we were, in the middle of the line, when the ferry pulled up to the dock and we realized, to our great disappointment, that there was no way Odyssey could embark the ferry -- the ramp was at too steep an angle, and she would certainly low-center on it, thus sidelining both us and the ferry until a tow truck could be summoned.

As we watched the ferry sail away, we consulted our trusty GPS and it's built-in tide tables to see if, perhaps, by waiting for a later ferry, the tide would come in enough to flatten the ramp to the point we could embark. Unfortunately, we discovered that, notwithstanding a high-water mark a good two feet above the waterline, all the rest of the day's ferries would be at even lower levels. Reluctantly, we left Fort Morgan and backtracked all the way to Gulf Shores.

We did stop in at the Gulf State Park, which claimed to have a few spaces left. The campground is in the middle of a huge recovery effort, and they are making good progress. That being said, we found it, in its current condition, to be rather unappealing, and, since it was only 2:00, we decided to press on to Mobile.

As it turns out, we have a club in Mobile, so we decided to find some nearby parking and have dinner there. We called the club and got some directions and the low-down on the parking situation, and headed into downtown. After driving around for 15 minutes or so looking for stealth boondocking locations, we decided to put Odyssey into a pair of metered spaces, where $0.75 bought us the last two hours before meter enforcement ended. At which point we called the ClubLine for our dinner reservations, only to be told that there is no dining at this club until Thursday night. Why, we wondered, did the club not tell us there was no dining when we called for directions? We told them we were coming for dinner!

We still had our paid-up time on the meters, and the dish was up and on-line, so we spent some time tracking down Wal-Marts and restaurants in Mobile, finally settling on an Olive Garden with a Sam's Club nearby. As it turned out when we arrived at the Olive Garden, it is in a shopping center that is maybe a 70%-30% mix of going concerns and for-lease stores. We parked in the back behind one of these latter items, and here we are still this morning (map). Urban stealth camping at its finest -- dark, quiet, undisturbed, and stumbling distance from a restaurant. Louise couldn't resist spending an hour or two in the stores after dinner, though, and came home with some new bedding.

I'd love to tell you what our plan is today, but my prediction track record over the past few days has been poor. I'll just say we are going to try to stay near the gulf, starting maybe near Pascagoula. We're not going to try to see Dauphin Island, chalking that up to a casualty of the ferry fiasco, and we did the loop south of here and into Bayou La Batre last year.

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