Monday, January 25, 2010

Road Trip: Stennis Space Center & Fort Pike, #1, part 1

This was the second-coldest day I've spent (second only to that bicycle ride to work) on the road as far as temperature, but this one seemed colder at times.

It was December of 2006; I'd been hoping to drive down to Kennedy Space Center to see the night-time shuttle launch sceduled for early that month. But things fell through with the other 3 guys who were supposed to be going, and I was the only one able to go--assuming I was willing to drive my '92 Tracker and camp in the damn thing.

If it were a hardtop, maybe. But it's a ragtop--and that zip-up rear window never zipped back after the one time I was able to get the zipper loose. I tried several things to at least make the window close up, if only to keep the neighbor's cats from shedding hair all over my seats. I ended up sewing bungee cords around the three free sides (the bottom is held to the tailgate by clips), then sewing fish-hooks with the barbs cut off to places around the opening.

Cats can't get in...but the weather isn't bothered. I have a tarp for that, but I can't drive the thing with the tarp up. That's an important detail.

Kennedy was out. I decided that I was going somewhere, but I didn't want to go to Fort Gaines or Fort Morgan. Had to be something new and reasonably close, so I picked Fort Pike in Louisiana and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, just because it was on the way.

Dec. 8th dawned freaking cold, something like 27F with a wind chill below zero and 15-20 mile per hour winds gusting to 25 to 30 out of the west. I loaded up the Tracker, hit the highway, and cranked that heater all the way up.

Good thing I had a coat and gloves. The heat felt good right at the vent, but from where I was sitting it might as well have been off. At least I was driving into the wind--but every time an 18-wheeler passed me, covering me in shadow, the temperature in the Tracker went down 20 degrees.

Interstate 10 is dead boring, an endless double-ribbon stretched between metropoli (or what passes for them in Florida), with little to catch the eye. The most interesting sight is probably the approach to Mobile, Alabama, as you're coming across the bay. This was a year and change after Hurricane Katrina sent a sizable storm surge up Mobile Bay. There used to be restaurants, gas stations, and such at the mid-bay interchange between I-10 and Highway 90, but most of those were reduced to skeletal steel or pilings and loose planks. The battleship USS Alabama had been rocked a noticeable amount, and one of the interchange ramps was knocked off its pilings. Through the Wallace Tunnel, through Mobile, past the I-65 interchange, and I-10 settles back down to its boring gray sleep-inducing self. Across the line into Mississippi, remembering a bumper sticker--"Paddle faster! I hear banjos!"...over the Pascagula River...amusement at the ever-present casino billboards: "Welcome to GAMBLE! GAMBLE! G A M B L E!!!!! Are you gambling yet?!"...interesting whisps of cloud, high up, catching my eye, and I try to get pictures, only to later realize that the camera was more interested in the Tracker's dirty window glass...Stennis is 11 miles away, now a mile...exit, a left, a right, winding access road to rest area.

Stennis Space Center's welcome center is part of the rest area. Not much there, aside from an impressive Apollo Lunar Module display, complete with the boot prints and signature of Apollo 13's Fred Haise.

The LEM looks pretty big when it's mounted several feet above your head. But it looks pretty small for something that took men down to the surface of an unfriendly moon much colder than I was feeling that day.

I was looking forward to seeing more and went to ask about the next bus to the Space Center itself.

Would you believe I missed the last farking bus? Yup. It left for the Center at 2:30 p.m. I probably passed it on the way into the rest area parking lot.

To Be Continued...

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