The plan in June of 2016 was to knock off the southern half of the United States from coast to coast. The Kansas City Royals were missed however due to a scheduling mismatch. It was a very long drive, some 7,855 miles in the old bus but we managed to visit 10 ballparks through 15 states in 43 days. Tommy met me in Phoenix after school let out for the year, and we traveled together across the USA for a full month. In late July, we added the 11th ballpark and some 522 more miles over four days. This trip would not have been possible without the support of so many friends, family, and strangers too. Thank you for the LOVE.
Left Ft. Lauderdale Beach @ 8AM and headed north along the FL turnpike 350 miles (2) breaks for fuel / rest and then settled into RV Camp in "Lake City". FUN FACT 1: When plugging into campsite power, be aware that a surge can blow your AC. The unit was fried. A quick Home Depot trip solved it. Slept.
Drove through the rest of FLA (it's wider than it looks), through Alabama and into Mississippi. Logged some miles, plenty of smiles and was the ire of many truckers, unless they just like tailgating. Similar to Monday, just getting as far west as comfortable. Settled into Indian Point RV Resort, swam, cooked a nice chicken dinner and slept till 6:30AM.
I ate a hearty campsite breakfast and headed west along I-10 to New Orleans about 100 miles away. Cruised Bourbon Street and over to the WWII History Museum for a 3 hour tour. Go if able. It's great. Thought so much of Johnny while here. He loved WWII history, studied it, loved the weaponry and I'm sure he would have enjoyed this museum. Very moving experience. Spending the night at New Orleans West KOA, a nice campground. Ate at Dot's Diner...they put the grease in greasy spoons. Hitting the sack.
It's not all 'peaches and herb'. Headed west today after a late breakfast and lazy morning puttering around camp, cleaning and repacking the ice box. Goodbye N'awllins. 175 miles later, hello Lafayette, LA. The weather dictated a stop here today as Houston is still getting a deluge of biblical proportions. I will be there tomorrow for the Friday night game, 3 hours away. Staying at a KOA tonight. For you city slickers, KOA "Kampgrounds of America" offer better than average accommodations at the same low rates for members. No secret handshakes or anything, just a Flintstonesque grand-poohbah hat ceremony. Got a sweet spot that backs up to the lake. A light steady rain just ended so I will grille up a hot dog and prepare a big salad. Nice neighbors too. Kids were asking if I live in the bus to which I replied yes! FUN FACT 2: When the doors and windows are opened up you have the world at your feet. When stuck inside the “Crampmobile” due to rain, all you smell are feet.
Enjoyed a big campsite breakfast, packed and left Lafayette, LA moments before the skies opened up. Continued west on the I-10 towards Texas with a freshly applied Rain-X windshield treatment, which was worth the effort. The varying precipitation ended at the border, where I pulled into the visitor center for bus rest and laptop time. Houston would play host to the first ballpark ash scattering ceremony tonight and though now only 80 miles away, it seemed right around the corner. I smiled broadly that the first big leg had gone so smoothly.
The ballpark building is literally right off of the exit in the heart of the city. Looked at the weather and figured it made sense to book a room here vs. a campsite 15 miles away as more rain was in the forecast. Parked in as secure a lot I could find, held my breath leaving the bus and dropped my bags in room 207 on Fannin Street. Showered up and walked 5 blocks to “Minute Maid Park”, home of the Houston Astros.
Walked around the venue taking in the sights, sounds and aromas while watching batting practice wrap up. Glad to be here at Minute Maid Park to watch a game and reflect on how Johnny would have enjoyed the differences of this field. Baseball is the only team sport with unique angles, features and dimensions of the playing surfaces but still holds true to centuries long time-honored traditions.
One tradition that I have always enjoyed is the 7th inning stretch singing of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". Johnny and I sang this song and I loved taking him to games. Now, I sing this song and remember how lucky I was to have him. I scatter his ashes during this song. I did this tonight along the center field wall overlooking the warning track. Though I did not have direct access to the field I am satisfied that part of Johnny is now part of this field. This is why I am traveling to these parks; to once again take him out to the ballgame and in my own way see these unique places that we looked forward seeing together for the first time.
I purchased an Astros decal for the bus and walked along the city streets back to the hotel alone but gratified.
HEADING OUT MAY 30 2016
Hotel sleeping was nice. Peeked out the window and Sweet Pea was still there, undisturbed. Showered and headed out of Houston on the I-45 towards Dallas at 9:30AM for a 260 mile stretch. The rain ended 30 minutes into the northerly drive and the roadway was clear. Thus far hardly any traffic and aside from the Florida turnpike, zero tolls. Stopped for fuel and coffee and eventually turned west to Arlington, south and west of the Big D. KOA was full but I settled into the Treetops Carefree RV Park easily enough around 4PM under blue skies. Setting camp takes 30 minutes (electrics, A/C, gear arranging, trash, curtains) after which I showered off the day’s miles. The schedule originally had me arriving here Sunday with a Monday night Rangers game but the smooth drive has allowed for banking bonus days to use at National Parks later and I figured why not see the game tonight?
A nice hot shower and Uber ride to see the Texas Rangers at "Globe Life Park" horrible name, amazing ballpark, and I was in to see Seattle with nosebleed $15 seats. Walked the perimeter, enjoyed a brisket BBQ sandwich in center field and realized the game began at 8, not 7 due a to Kenny Chesney concert next door at AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys. This area is massive and has football, baseball, a convention center, Six Flags Amusement Park and a water park, all in one gigantic area. First pitch was a called strike- viewed from better seats mind you until the third inning when my cell needed charging. There I met Big Mike from Texarkana who gave me his ticket to row 4 on the 1st base side next to the foul ball 'gettererer' gal. VERY nice seat indeed. Exciting game and the Rangers were in control. I was relieved when the 7th inning stretch came. "Take me out to the ballgame" was enthusiastically enjoyed by the hometown crowd between "God Bless America" and "Deep in the heart of Texas". Even though I could not reach the playing surface to scatter this pinch of Johnny's ashes, the electricity from this group of fans was fine right where I was. He would have loved this ballpark. One of my top three now.
I bought a window decal for the bus and left early to beat the crowd.....which is funny now because all of the neighboring venues had the same idea and 7,500 people tried stealing my Uber. This was the only wait for anything all trip and I just exhaled and waited an hour for a ride. It was a perfect weather night and the Rangers won. How fitting.
Time to get moving again. Headed west out of Arlington at 8:15AM along the I-20. Absolutely perfect weather day -sunny, breezy and warm. There were dozens of motorists giving the thumbs up and peace signs today. I leisurely did 300 miles to enable a National Park day, which will be in addition to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The landscape was greener than I thought it would be, but the chief farming crop in these parts is wind. Hundreds of giant windmills dotted the horizon. When I pulled into East Suburban RV Park in Big Spring, TX, Janet greeted me with the biggest smile, admiring the bus and offering me a free spot for the night if I did not need power. Thank you I love power to crank the AC and $10 later I was in hooked up in site 31.
Still figuring out what route I will take in the morning. At this writing, I have already washed the bus, did a much needed load of laundry, cooked dinner and showered. Perhaps a trip to Roswell or to Carlsbad? That I will figure out over breakfast.
Left Big Spring, TX after a full breakfast with a full tank of gas and a fresh bag of ice. I took on 3 extra gallons in the auxiliary gas can "just in case" as I headed off the Interstate towards Carlsbad, NM on Highway 176. This roadway was fun, desolate and lined with oil wells pumping for Texas tea.
New Mexico initially looked the same and after a tank refill and bank deposit for a yacht charter ( I love transacting business on the road), i drove out of Eunice, NM and the scenery improved. Yellow wild flowers and sage brush lined the lone roadway for miles. There was a fun undulating pulse to this byway complete with whoops and twists; quite foreign for a Florida driver and the sky was an intense blue.
This ride was filled with bright sunshine and fresh dry air. The temperature was ideal for any traveler to cruise along with the windows down. The bus is air-cooled after all and when it's hot, more breaks are needed, but today was so nice. The miles just rolled on by effortlessly.
I pulled into the Carlsbad, NM KOA around 2:30 today with the goal being to catch up on emails, publish a video and plan out a route covering the next few days as I am indeed off the planned route and that is ok.
This campground is beautiful and very well managed. I set up the basics (water, electric, A/C) and then took a plunge in the sparkling pool. It was chilly, but nice. The arid air had me dried off in no time as I returned to the bus to grab the laptop and answer emails over an early dinner.
So it has been just over a week on the road and the trip is going great. I am fully prepared with Clark Griswold tirades if needed but the spirits are high, the weather is great, people are nice, and the bus has not let me down like his “Wagon Queen Family Truckster”.
Left behind the Carlsbad, NM KOA at 7am and headed north to check out Roswell, NM the official host to UFO's, aliens and atomic bombing since 1947 about 60 miles away. Clark Griswold drove 400 miles to see the second largest ball of string - which might have been a better choice. The quirky museum was a hoot and many storefronts were into the whole alien totem motif. Luckily, this stopover was on the way towards White Sand National Monument by way of "Lincoln National Forest". I spent the requisite $5 on admission, probed around for 20 minutes and realized 'Barnum' was right.
I filled the tank and headed west on Sagebrush Road which lead to Route 82 into no man’s land. This road was really fun to drive and featured many twists, dips and spaghetti western vistas; and an ever so subtle ascending slope. 62 miles in was "Lincoln National Forest" and the adventure ride really took a whole new turn; and lots of them. Plenty of GoPro dashboard video was recorded to try and capture the increasing greenery, sharp turns on the snakelike road course built for a race car which will be posted as time allows.
Cloudcroft, NM has a ski slope at the apex of this roadway elevation 8668 feet. FUN FACT 3: VW buses need more air and fuel at higher elevations and Sweet Pea was running slower than usual. This is an easy fix with a quarter turn on the carburetor to enrich the fuel intake and will be done in the mountains that follow. The descent began from here and having a manual shift vehicle makes a noticeable difference. Driving switchback turns was certainly fun. The bus clung on to the mountainside roadway like a kid on a roller coaster, with no hesitation or sense of uneasiness. Surely this VW has scathed a similar fate in another owners time. Perhaps it was just the 25 mph speed. I pulled over here to take in the sights of the valley below and it was so worthwhile. Flat Florida has great beaches, New Mexico has a raw dry beauty that has only been scratched for me.
I pulled into the KOA Alamogordo, NM campground around 2:30 today after logging exactly 201 miles. Thus far the journey to sprinkle Johnny's ashes at the MLB ballparks has netted 2,178 miles over nine days or on average, 242 daily miles. No wonder I'm sleeping so well.
Left the friendly KOA in Alamogordo, NM at 8:30 this morning to head over to the “White Sands National Monument” 15 miles away. This was both a recommendation from a friend, Dave Koster as well as part of the 'Today Show' featuring a few National Parks about a month ago. What a great park for this journey. Everything could be explored very easily from the bus as well as on foot. I drove the bumpy 9 mile loop which resembled an icy boilerplate surface, stopping for a nature walk and a dune exploration. Summiting a 40 footer, the park’s true beauty was showcased against the backdrop of the distant San Andreas Mountains, the source of the cool talc-like powdery confection called gypsum. Used primarily in drywall, thankfully due to conservationist’s, none of this massive cache is used for anything but our enjoyment. This was the quietest place on earth, as if in a vacuum. I think the boys would have loved this place. Tommy will see parks after we connect on Saturday – a highlight for me is seeing his reaction to the beauty yet only imagined.
The roadway from here was met at 10:30 and the climb through the San Andreas Mountains was breathtaking, likely due to the elevation. I spotted the first VW bus in an auto repair / body shop lot getting ready for paint. I beeped the horn wildly. Nobody cared. The balance of the day was getting back in a more westerly direct route towards Arizona on the I-10. Gorgeous roadway, particularly through “Cochise Stronghold” and “Texas Canyon”. I smiled when that sudden total recall hit me from my youth that featured the Time Life Books TV advert about the old west. “Somewhere up in these thar hills, no white man will ever know where, the Indians buried Cochise, the greatest of the great chiefs”. Both ranges must have influenced the Imagineers designing Big Thunder Mountain at Disney as well as Warner Brothers and the Roadrunner cartoon because it looked so similar. One of those critters scampered across the highway and I wish I had hit the horn because it does in fact sound like 'meep-meep'.
Today netted nearly 300 miles which had me hitting the pool seconds after the campsite was set. A long hot shower later and a short video update led into dinner and subsequently this entry of today’s events. Another day that will be long remembered as remarkable, just like the son I am trying to honor on this trip.
Felt like a monumental day. I left the Benson, AZ KOA behind (empty) as in Twilight Zone freaky empty, and headed West towards Phoenix. It was nice but wow, everyone was gone early.
The desert was hot and for the first time I spotted a legitimate cactus flying by me at 57 MPH. They are 'Alive in Tucson' BTW. Had planned to stay 3 nights at a Scottsdale RV resort that just had a weird vibe so I hit up the cool app covering anything / everything camping USA and found paradise 3.26 miles away in Tempe. I think I have the best spot in the place because the dude loves VW. There's a large tree in my spot tossing out a giant shady retreat throughout the afternoon which will make the 107 degree 'dry heat' afternoons feel more like 97. Hey, after driving nearly 3 000 miles without AC this isn’t bad at all. Surely it would kill an ordinary man. I am so grateful for kind people.
Set up camp slowly, deliberately, because I will be here for three nights. The pool was heavenly. I do swim in a great pool regularly back home at Kristin's place, but after a long drive each day, water be good for the soul.
Camping prices vary across the board from place to place and without justification, reasoning or occupancy factors. I have found the difference not being more than a $20 swing, so I really like this low budget venue that delivers BIG on location and service. Nice people here too.
Met a guy from N. California who is on a trip with his boys to visit colleges and see the final 8 ballparks to finish their quest of seeing them all. Couldn't muster the courage to tell him of my trip. Figured it was better to let him have his moment and enjoy his sons glory. Maybe another time. Normally this is not an issue to just say it straight out; to put it out there, but today was about his kid. He liked Fenway Park most of all BTW. Later, he stopped by to chat about baseball and then I told him of the true purpose of the trip. He paused me, went and got his two sons and returned with them so that they could hear the story about how keeping your promise is important, no matter the cost.
This experience is truly one that is helping me to appreciate the greatness in life. We are in this together and then again we are alone. I feel like there is a whole group of people supporting me and me them. Ultimately, we are braving this as one. I feel that.
Back in the world, today was the last day of school at Manatee Bay Elementary and a special award, the "Johnny Award" was presented to a 3rd grader who simply was an overall great kid, something we hold dear about our son. I am so grateful that Johnny made a difference in his life. I know that he was destined for greatness; that he was going to change the world. He changed my life. I am proud that he was my son and that this wonderful school recognizes Johnny in such high regard too - thank you.
So, this city is really beautiful and having light rail train service across the street enables a great stay without the need to drive anywhere. I will explore the area tomorrow, but know this, every mile, minute and moment has been worthwhile. Thanks for your support.
Slept in. It was so nice just having a day to goof off and really rest. The only duties were work / Laptop time and a train ride into Phoenix to do some banking. TOMMY flies into Phoenix tomorrow.
TEXAS HIGHWAY 176