– Birmingham, Alabama to Denton, Texas –

Well, the house is still here. The plants are still alive. The pool still looks inviting. And Ana turned our air conditioner back down to normal habitation temperatures, so all in all, it’s good to be home. Mark, Ripley, and I have another trip planned in just under two weeks, so I’ve got to enjoy it while I can

Our hotel breakfast this morning started long after we left, which was around 6:30 or so. Why doesn’t anyone want to have early breakfast on Sundays? It was raining while we were packing up the car, which would be a bit of a theme for a good portion of the day. Basically next door to our hotel, we found a Dunkin’ Donuts that was already open for breakfast, so we braved the rain and hurried inside to order something to eat. It figures we’d have to end on Dunkin’ Donuts. Everything there tastes so processed. Plus the cook was late, so all of the other people working there were just doing their best until the jerk showed up. Have some respect for other people, cook guy.

Dunkin’ Donuts. Meh.

The heavy rain mostly cleared up not long after breakfast, though we were clearly just on a break. The rain would be back, and with a vengeance. I’m sure Mark was pleased that Dad had to do all of the miserable rain driving later in the day. It sprinkled on and off all morning, though. The clouds were grey until we got close to home, where it’s been 110ºF in the last week, so of course we didn’t get any of the rain. Denton is apparently in an extreme drought this year. Yay.

Anyway, aside from some gas station stops, we didn’t really do much in the way of interesting stuff, which I suppose is pretty par for the course on the last day of such a long trip. We didn’t get to work out this morning, either, which made the day even more heinous. It did mean that we were on the road not long after 6:30, though, which always makes for an easier day. It’s awesome to get so many miles behind you that early in the morning. As a bonus, no one is out that early on Sunday mornings, so until about 8:30, we had a lot of the road to ourselves, even though it was I-20.

Speeding (only 5 over) and pretty clouds

In Monroe, Louisiana, we stopped for lunch. It seems like we always have to stop here on our way home from Birmingham. The town has roughly 50,000 people, so it is large-ish, but nothing to brag about. The real problem is that they only have one restaurant (that isn’t Taco Bell or Subway) that Mark and I can eat at: McAlister’s Deli.

We were rolling into Monroe just minutes after 12pm, and it was the worst mistake we’ve made on the trip. When we saw the line of people (presumably all of the folks that had just gotten out of church) we should’ve driven on, but no, we persisted. It couldn’t take that long, after all. We’d just get our food to go and they’d have it out in a jiffy, right?

Waiting in McAlister’s

Oh, no. We were waiting at McAlister’s in Monroe, Louisiana for about 45 minutes. Can you imagine? For a takeout order. It was packed, people waiting for takeout orders were complaining, we had to complain to get our food… it was an absolute nightmare. I am never going back there. We will just have to eat out of the cooler the next time we are coming home from Birmingham.

The worst part was, by the time we did get our food, it was also terrible. Mark and I had what I would say were legitimately the worst grilled cheeses we’ve ever had. It was basically a regular sandwich roll with a thin layer of cheese melted inside. They used to be paninis.  What gives, McAlister’s? I won’t be back any time soon. Not just to the one in Monroe, either.

Bored in the back seat

We switched drivers at lunch, and not long after, we ran into some pretty serious thunderstorms, as I mentioned before. We were driving along the tree-lined highway, and all of a sudden, the leaves and pine needles started whipping across the road in a frenzy, rocking the car, and positively covering the road in debris. It was eerie. Feeling a little freaked out, we pulled over at a gas station to take a break and watch the storm roll in. It was so, so windy, and the raindrops were the size of marbles. It was bizarre.

Unfortunately, this all led to a thrilling hour or so on the highway where we enjoyed bad traffic, slow speeds, and rain that was at times so dense that you couldn’t see the vehicle in front of you. Mom and I were watching the storm moving on our respective phones, hoping that we’d somehow miss the darkest spots on the radar. The storm seemed to be literally following I-20. It was not a great time. I was also periodically checking the traffic on Google Maps, as there’d been a couple of traffic accidents in the rain, and I-20 was moving very slowly. The worst of it was around Shreveport.

SO much pouring rain

As we crossed into Texas, the storms pretty well stopped. We joked that it was Texas welcoming us home, but the reality seems to be something more like Texas just isn’t allowed to have any rain this year. Mother Nature seems unhappy with our region in particular. Our lawn didn’t need to be mowed, even though we were gone for more than three weeks, because the grass was just dead. I guess there’s always a silver lining, right?

Another few hours down the road, and we stopped at Collin Street Bakery on I-20 in Lindale. It was after 5, and they close at 7pm on Sundays, so they were a little low on treats, but we made do. It was certainly better than not getting anything.

Excited about Collin Street Bakery

If you’ve never been to a Collin Street Bakery, you can find 5 of them in north/central Texas: Downtown Corsicana, I-45 in Corsicana, I-35 in Waco, I-30 in Greenville, and I-20 in Lindale. The downtown Corsicana cafe is the original. They sell bread, sandwiches, cookies, muffins, cakes, cheesecakes, and all sorts of other goodies. They are particularly famous for their fruitcake. I hate fruitcake, so I can’t personally speak to the fruitcake quality, but Mark seems to like it.

They have delicious treats besides the fruitcake, though. Our gas tank was very empty when we arrived, so Dad ran across the street to fill up while the rest of us browsed, then came back to do his own browsing as well. They ended up with a bag full of cheesecake and bread. Mark and I just picked out a few choice snacks for the road. My parents had never been to a Collin Street Bakery, so I’m not surprised they went a little wild. If you ever pass one, I recommend a stop for you, too. It’s pretty good stuff. Even their iced tea is good.

Mark’s frosted peanut butter cookie

If you’ll recall, on the very first day, Mark and I had the Suburban and most of the luggage. Our plan was to drive to Denton first, where my parents would drop us off and we would try to pull all of our stuff out of the car, then send them on home to Gainesville. We arrived around 6:45pm to a nicely air-conditioned house, though it was about 102ºF outside. That’s quite the chance from Canada, even though they were having a heat wave.

It took us almost half an hour to unpack the car and sort through our three-weeks-worth of mess, but it wasn’t too bad, despite the heat. We were so glad to be home. Ripley in particular was very grateful to see her yard. Before my parents left, we remembered to get a group shot of the Atlantic Canada gang before we split up until our next big adventure. We don’t even look that tired.

Made it home! Time for a group shot.

This trip was a lot of fun. We saw all kinds of crazy things, though I think most of the coolest were in Newfoundland. Charlottetown, too, was lovely. It’s great visiting PEI. We saw so many things, and got to do thing we never would’ve at home. I’m really glad we took this trip, and while I’m not sure I’d do the Labrador highway again, I’m glad we’ve done it once.

I’m not sure where we go next. We’ve done most of the east and west coasts of Canada. Maybe our next big three-week trip into Canada will take us to the Rocky Mountain area closer to the middle? Who can say. We are still missing some provinces, for sure. And we still have five national parks to visit in Alaska. I know we will think of something great for a next big adventure.

Mark’s sand science

As for smaller adventures, Mark, Ripley, and I will be heading to the DC area in about two weeks as part of a work trip for Mark. It’s been a very busy summer. We will be in New Zealand this Thanksgiving, which I’m really looking forward to, as well. We haven’t missed a family Thanksgiving before. We are always with his parents or mine, depending on the year. Thanksgiving is just a food holiday, anyway.

Anyway, it’s all done! 24 days, 9,358 miles, 6 provinces, 21 states, and one exhausted Ripley. I can’t wait until the next one!

– Trip Total : 9,358 miles

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