The last day we spent with the Kuster Family was a bit of a lazy one. We hung around the house and got ready for the next day’s ride to Alabama, and ate at Tom+Chee for dinner. For those who have never heard of this glorious eatery, the theme is grilled cheese and tomato soup, AND they offer gluten free options which include a separate kitchen space for gluten free preparation. They even had gluten free beer! Since the last grilled cheese I ate had to be somewhere in the ball park of 2 years ago; I was thrilled to have a grilled cheese, chunky tomato soup, and an ice cold beer. It is the best rainy weather food for - you guessed it, crazy down-pouring rain (way to go Brennan and Adella on the spur of the moment run to the car). Tennessee had provided us with the longest stretch of sunshine yet, but she apparently decided she was sad to see us go, so she poured buckets to say goodbye.
Thankfully, when we set off in the morning it had stopped raining, giving way to a gorgeous day for a drive. We got ourselves some coffee and fantastic muffins from a dedicated gluten free bakery called The Wild Muffin and hit I-65 on our way toward The US Space and Rocket Museum in Huntsville, Alabama.
From the parking lot the Museum does its best to get you involved by staging to-scale information posts about each of the planets and the distance between them. These informational posts line the walk way leading up to the doors of the museum and right in to the gift shop (aka the Sun). As per the theme of this trip we encountered another field trip, which actually was several field trips. Needless to say it was hundreds of kids. It was nice seeing them so interested in the space program and all of the history behind it. Honestly the museum did an incredible job making exhibits as interactive as possible so children would be more likely to pay attention and learn. The museum offered rides which were fairly grounded in the spirit of the astronauts training, as well as included interactive attractions which allowed an individual to occupy the space where an astronaut trains, in order to provide perspective.
Outside they displayed examples of The United States’ Military prowess with the Chinook Helicopter, Rocket Launcher Tank, missiles, etc. Massive vehicles and marvels of design, rocket power, and function. While wandering around underneath the fragments of our countries’ accomplishments, we realized we were in fact starving. Instead of playing Russian roulette with the museum grill food ($12 hamburger anyone? Oh you wanted cheese…that’s extra), we opted to stop at a nearby Cantina Laredo. It was close to 90 degrees outside and the cantina provided a lovely air conditioned atmosphere, a welcome oasis from the midday sun. Bellies full, we headed toward Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama.
When we got to the park it was around 5:30PM, which meant that the camping store to register your site was closed, so we had to register for a site at the entrance of the park. This took some time because unbeknownst to us, Oak Mountain State Park is over 10,000 acres of hiking, biking, equestrian, boating, beaching, fishing, archery, zip lining and summer camps. And we decided to show up, with no reservation, 2 days before memorial day weekend. Go team! Thankfully, the campsite had exactly one space that would accommodate our needs as a car-tent set up. AND! We were finally not camping in Mud! (which is odd, because if “My Cousin Vinny” taught me anything, it’s that Alabama is famous for its mud)
We set up shop in a tucked away corner at the end of a cul-de-sac. Super sweaty, hot, and tired we collapsed in the tent in our underwear, reminiscing about air conditioning. We settled for a bottle of wine, and got comfortable for the night. That’s when we realized there were quite a few traffic stops happening outside of our campsite. At first we thought we were being paranoid, but as the night wore on, more and more stops were being made in front of our car-tent. A trail head was about 75 yards away from our site, so we thought maybe that’s what everyone was stopping for, but we couldn’t figure out why they were stopping at our site instead of the trail head. The next morning, we woke up to the sound of children laughing and riding their bikes around the cul-de-sac. Most notably, a little girl yelling “Look GiGi! It’s a car-tent!” Joe and I laughed, but mostly didn’t think anything of it. We headed for the bathrooms to brush our teeth, and we were stopped by our campsite neighbors…who also had an Element which happened to be orange. They had never seen a car-tent setup before and were very interested in the idea. We chatted about camping, they congratulated us on our nuptials, and wished us many children (we don’t know if that was a blessing or curse). We thought it was funny, but again, didn’t think much about it. We started to get ready to head down to the registration office to book another night when we met Tom.
Tom is a volunteer at Oak Mountain State National Park, and came to check our registration for the site. He then asked us where we were from. When we told him we were from New York he balked and said “Ha! The’ ain’t nobody from New Yoawk he’, eva’!” He double checked the tags and reminded us that if we were staying we better get down to registration because he had heard all the spaces were sold out. So we put the valuables away, and went down to the store. The clerk asked our name and as we said Celeste, the man behind him turned around and said, “Oh, ya’ll are in the Element?” Turns out the Orange Element, complete with car-tent, was the talk of the Campground. They confirmed that people had in fact been doing drive-bys and taking pictures of our set up the night before. Alas (in spite of our new found celebrity) we had been bumped from our site, and the only spot left required a long hike up a steep hill. Tom encouraged us to take it because he was genuinely worried that with no reservations anywhere, we would have nowhere to sleep. Joe and I, although ever appreciative, ultimately decided to head out on the road and roll the dice with a campground that was south of Montgomery.
Our original plans shot, we ran back up to our camp and broke down our site under the watchful eye of its next inhabitant’s den mother. A late start meant a late breakfast. No time to waste! We stopped at The Funky Muffin and had ourselves some doughnuts (I had a cinnamon and Joe enjoyed a chocolate glazed) and we split a blueberry muffin. We did some driving and stopped at Zoe’s Kitchen for lunch - an amazing little Mediterranean chain that offers fresh ingredients and safe options for me. Satisfied with our find, we hit the road to set up camp in Greenville.
We pulled into Sherling Lake and met Bill. When Bill found out we had a car-tent and ultimately we would prefer to not park separately from the car, he offered us one of the spots normally reserved for a camper at no additional charge. Grateful for the flat ground, (which was originally not the case) we set up shop at the hottest time of the afternoon in Alabama. Dying from the heat we collapsed in the tent and hid from the afternoon sun. That of course didn’t mean the neighbors weren’t intrigued by our home. Two little girls who had never seen anyone camp “our way” kept riding their scooters past yelling “Mama look! Have you ever seen that?! Do you think they live like that?!” and “You think they home?!” Honestly not in the mood to entertain we hid in our tent and prayed for the cooling gift of darkness. We pulled up “Finding Nemo” and counted the amount of cars that slowed as they passed us. We got up to 8 before finally falling asleep.