We left at 6:45 AM, trying to get a jumpstart on D.C. traffic and as luck would have it, we were very fortunate. This entire trip has bestowed superb driving conditions. We passed on through the area and into Virginia. At mile marker 12 I spotted the first VW vintage vehicle, a 1983 Vanagon going north. We both waved out the window like goofballs. So hard to believe that in all of this driving I have not seen a single "BUS". North Carolina is roughly 200 miles of driving and I really wanted to get as far south today as possible. We trudged along for 12 hours and 45 minutes after taking several breaks winding up in Santee, SC at mile marker 98. Today was long and hot. We covered 483 miles in the bus. Tommy never complained once. He read, he and I played "I spy", we talked about the highlights; Cedar Point, the ballparks and of Johnny. We blasted AC/DC and spread smiles all along the interstate. Tonight we camped at a Hampton Inn. Everyone deserved it. We enjoyed the pool for 90 minutes, showered up and slept like logs. After feasting on breakfast we washed the bus and trailer next door and headed south at 9:50 AM.
South Carolina could use some funds to smooth out the bumps. Seems like we feel shadows in this ride anyway but wow, pretty bumpy roads. Georgia was only two hours away. We cruised around 50 MPH much of the trip, especially in the heat. The trailer, nicknamed "Pea Pod" to go along with the Bus "Sweet Pea" tracks very well but with the added weight and an under horse powered engine to begin with, the slow and steady approach has proved to be wise. The air temperature has been nice all day as we have left the heat wave to the north. I spotted more interesting road kill; an armadillo. The return leg of any trip is less thrilling and this was the case today. These last couple of days have been by design merely travel days, heading south to reach a rendezvous for Tommy to meet up with Roseanne, and for me to meet up with Kristin and Eileene and Tod Sloan in New Smyrna Beach. Kristin and I will do the famous 'bicycle and bar tour' in NSB over the weekend. Tommy is set to head off to Disney with mom, but we have this day and night to enjoy before the meet-up. All along, this trip was somewhat planned in my head but each stopover was not exactly known. Yes, I figured it would take 3 nights to reach Cincinnati and the first ballgame, 2 nights in Sandusky, OH at Cedar Point Amusement Park (the only pre-paid reservation of the trip), a pass-through in Cleveland for the day game, followed by 3 nights at the musical festival and then another quick day game in Pittsburgh. This was the crux of the plan. The other stops were determined based on how we felt and what was available. All proved to be ideal for the given day. So, this was my last night with Tommy in the bus, so I picked out a cool place to stay in St. Augustine, FL. 'North Beach RV Park' was one of the best spots imaginable. We were 100 yards from the shore in a canopied site out of a storybook. The live oak tree hammock provided amazing shade and serenity. We had site # 1 which was adjacent to the main walkway leading to the pool and laundry / shower area. Many, if not every camper passing by stopped to check out Sweet Pea. This is normal; as is Tommy being at the ready to inform anyone that it is a bus, not a van. We enjoyed the pool for about 90 minutes, showered and dined at a lovely restaurant overlooking the beach. I did a late night laundry as Tommy slept and then retired.
Breakfast was simple and after packing up a bit late today, we headed out for a one hour drive south around 11AM. New Smyrna Beach is a lovely beach town and we parked downtown to meet up with Roseanne for lunch. The ride down with Tommy today had me reflecting on the whole trip. I mentioned to him that we went through ten states over fourteen days and did everything that we set out to do. We took Johnny along and spread his ashes where he was always happy, during the time honored 7th inning stretch. We conquered roller coasters, jumped from the ledge, and thrived at camping, driving thousands of miles, enjoying each day morning to night. Tommy and I needed this trip. We needed to be together and bond. He and I never had one on one time like this before. We got along so well. He never complained. He helped around camp. He won every game of "I spy" He performed spectacular cannonballs. We tried to honor Johnny in a way that just made sense and we promised that we would continue to do so forever. We hugged every day and we created solid wonderful new memories together. We took a big step towards healing. Lunch was nice and pleasant and as the gear was transferred into the minivan from the bus and the waves goodbye faded in the distance, the van rounded the corner, the trip ended. This was the best trip ever.
Kristin arrived with Tod and Eileene and I was so happy to see her. It had been two weeks and she looked beautiful. I had checked into the Wild Dolphin hotel, right on the beach and showered up. We all dined at a lovely bistro and then caught up over drinks at 'Traders' during some great people watching.
I parked the bus on the beach and did the full setup with the awning and music, seating and cold beverages too. The water temp here is ideal. What a great full day of relaxing in the sun, shade and surf. We stayed for hours and J.R. and then Jim and Sharon joined us. We showered and went to dinner at "The Garlic". What a great restaurant.
Today is the famous "Bicycle and Bar Tour". We had breakfast next door at Toni and Joe's before meeting up with J.R. at 10AM. The seven mile ride on the sand would be a good challenge and after a couple of minor adjustments, off we went. Tod took a break at Chase's bar where we could all meet up later and the rest of us pushed onward. Six miles later, tired and drenched with sweat, we pulled into JB's Bar to begin the tour back to town. The blazing sun and light breeze did little to cool anyone down, but off we went, one after another. The ride took us past private homes and condo towers along the shoreline. We managed to lose Jim and Sharon on their tandem bike but found them an hour later at Chase's Bar. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and pushed on to the Beachside Tavern. This place was awesome, had a live band, was sweaty and cheap. We stayed here 90 minutes. We returned the bikes to the hotel and went next door to Toni and Joe's for a final drink before showering and dinner. Tonight we enjoyed Clancy's Mexican Restaurant, the best Mexican in NSB. The only Mexican in NSB.
After breakfast we headed back to Fort Lauderdale. The five hour trip was typical; slow, hot, lots of peace signs, thumbs up and photos. We pulled into the driveway precisely at 3:30PM 84,452 MILES. Overall, a great trip, one that I will look back on with fond memories of the bus, camping, Chris and Carol, music, baseball, Kristin, Eileene and Tod, Jim and Sharon, New Smyrna Beach and bicycles, of my beloved son Johnny who I will always treasure, but most of all how much I love Tommy.
18 - Days Away (15 with Tommy)
10 - States Visited (Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina)
2,930 - Miles traveled door to door
11 - Campground nights
4 - Hotel nights
2 - Friends house accommodations
0 - Sightings of Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari
15 - Road kill deer, 1 headless - yuck
2 - Road kill armadillos
1 - Road kill gators
0 - VW Bus encounters (shocking)
1 - VW Vanagon sightings
2 - Vehicles I passed (gotta respect the Amish)
50 - Average MPH
3 - Ballparks visited (Great American Ballpark, Progressive Field, PNC Park) Marlins Park was done earlier (opening day)
1 - Music Festivals (Classic Rock @ Nelson Ledges Quarry Park)
1,000 - smiling faces, peace signs, thumbs up from other people
2 - Mechanical issues (loose spark plug wire - fixed, low brake fluid - fixed)
0 - Complaints
2 - Very Happy Campers - thanks Tommy