We continued south on the Trace, stopping for coffee at a place called Lost Gringos in French Camp. Normally I make coffee in the mornings. It’s a process I have outlined painstakingly in previous blogposts and a source of pride. Heating the water to the right temperature, pouring it and compressing it in the air press. Adding more water to make an Americano. It’s the most artistic thing I probably do all day. The problem that particular morning was the lack of fuel.
The night before, as we stayed in the free campground off the Trace, I had been cooking dinner—a re-concocted medley of leftovers doused in Mexican steak rub. It was my usual one-pot creation and a dinner I estimated would take about seven minutes to cook. But four minutes in, the hiss of the propane flames ceased and I sighed, knowing I would have to squat under the sink where the propane cylinder is tapped and switch them out. It’s not arduous by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a process and I was cold, wet, and tired. Switching out the propane is probably the least artistic thing I do all day.
Only we did not have another propane tank. Since the start of our adventure, I have always had a backup tank and we’ve never run out. But now—in the dark, in the nonstop drizzle and 34 degree temperature—that’s when I failed.
“No problem,” I said to Miracle. “We’ll move on to Plan B.”
After spending a week with Bob in Tennessee and seeing his good cheer even when it felt like we were being actively thwarted by the bus, I figured I would take a play from his book and simply move seamlessly onto the next possible step. I would build a fire.
I am a good fire builder. I’ve often prided myself on using a single match to make a pile of sticks jump into flame. But it soon became apparent, as I gathered armfuls of soggy sticks, that building a fire would be futile in this weather. We would have to eat our dinner lukewarm. Then it dawned on me—the coffee in the morning would be the real issue.
“Coffee in the morning is going to be the real issue,” I declared.
“What are the chances there’s a coffee place right off the Trace?” Miracle asked.
“Zero,” I said. The Trace is a national parkway. If it’s anything like the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll have to get off an exit twenty-five miles down the road and then drive another ten miles just to get a gas station coffee. It’s not like you’re driving down the Parkway and you can see the coffeehouse, point at it, and then pull into the lot. I said all this before we Googled it.
“Looks like there’s a place called Lost Gringos right off the Parkway,” Miracle said.
“So it only adds on what… twenty miles?” I said.
“No, like it is right off the Parkway.”
I was incredulous. Still, the next morning, we packed the bus—albeit without our usual sense of aplomb and purpose since we lacked that needed mental lubricant. I checked the the oil and we tottered down the parkway toward this Lost Gringos Coffeehouse.
“I can see it,” Miracle said.
Indeed, from the Parkway you could probably throw a stone into their parking lot if your arm is any good. In total, from the Parkway to their front door, took an extra 20 seconds. Not only was the location surreal, but the coffee was piping hot—much better than anything you’d procure at a gas station or a Starbucks. We talked with the owner, Adam, who told us some of the history of French Camp.
He told us of the Romany Queen’s gravesite in Hattiesburg, so we found a site at Clarkco State Park, built a fire, and then visited the next morning. There’s not a lot to the gravesite, but the reading we did before and after shows some of the subcultures we tend to forget as a society and how recent history is.