Tired but happy, we awoke to 2016 in New Orleans and the most significant part of our driving itinerary. We decided early in this process to get from Louisiana to The Rockies as soon as possible, so that Nick can spend as much time with his lens out as possible. It also means he can take some pictures. This means that we have a lot of ground to cover over the next couple of days as we pass through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas before arriving in Colorado - that's a little over 24 hours drive in 3-4 days.
The first place we're aiming for is Shreveport in Northern Louisiana. We not really sure what to expect, but it's a waypoint so as long as we can find dinner and a hotel we'll be fine. The drive out of New Orleans is pretty uninspiring, with long stretches of bridged roads and flat environments. We're sticking mostly to the highways, to make the most progress we can, but it means we're travelling on roads that are pretty much the equivalent of UK motorways. Forward momentum is good, but it can be a little wearing with roads like this.
Given our fatigue with these roads, we decided to dive off onto some of the back roads in Louisiana. The environment quickly improves, and we pass flooded fields, tall trees and, finally, some genuine Louisiana swamps (Or is that a bayou? I need to look up the difference). They're incredibly sombre places for something so green, feeling of entropy and decay but still being profoundly alive - they're eerily silent too, you can almost hear the gators drifting towards you.
Towns now are clearly working places, with enormous factories and workmanlike farmsteads scattered infrequently along the two lane roads. We make a wrong turn at one point and it takes us over an staggeringly large steel bridge that climbs high enough to allow large river boast underneath. There's a delightful arrogance to much of the infrastructure here, like the builders of these things just decided that a bridge was needed and set about constructing it with no regard for the constraints of the landscape or the geography.
We stop for brunch at a Waffle House - if you've never been to one of these American institutions before, I highly recommend them. The food is freshly cooked, tasty and inexpensive - but the really draw is the environment. These restaurants are one of the few remaining examples of the catering archetype that fast-food killed, the short order grill diner. Essentially a kitchen, open to the restaurant, with complex orders being shouted out by surly waitresses to poised grills chefs who cook on the fly and stack plates of food together for people waiting at the counter or in the booths - it really feels like a window into a time long ago and a true vision of Americana.
So, we continue to drive on to Shreveport. It's a quiet night in what is actually quite a nice little town, but we struggle to find anything actually happening - I suppose it's a little much to expect the night after New Year's Eve to be particularly wild. After checking into a hotel near downtown, we head to a restaurant we'd spotted on the drive around - we sit at the bar of the Blind Tiger and order beer from Mike, a really friendly bartender who talks us through his range of craft porters, lagers and bitters. Small breweries are everywhere here, much more so than in the UK, somewhat shamefully, and there are typically tens of local drinks to try. We also order food and it's excellent - wings to start, Nick has breaded prawns and I have catfish with jambalaya; it's one of the best meals I've had so far, although the portion size is huge and I have to leave the plated half-touched.
We ask Mike if there's likely to be anything going on in town tonight and he recommends a couple of bars nearby which should be lively - the first is a wash, as is the second. The second place, whose name escapes me now, had three people inside and that's including the bartender. As we weigh up what to do, a cab pulls up and two ladies get out, Rachel and Ivana, who were clearly expecting a better scene as well. We got talking and explained that they'd driven an hour and a half to Shreveport to have a night on the town, so we agreed to have a drink whilst we decided what to do.
What followed was one of the funniest nights I've ever been involved in - both were excellent company, and whose jobs (as a court reporter and a medical equipment supplier) provided with some of the most hilarious and unexpected stories I've heard in a long time. More people arrived arrived eventually, and I got talking to a really nice couple from Texas - our next destination - who recommend some locations for when we're in town. Once they left, we carried on chatting and laughing until we put our newfound friends into their brother's car - Rachel, Ivana; Nick and I would like to pass on our thanks to you both, you made tonight one of the best we've had so far.
Tomorrow is Texas. G'night y'all.