Today was purely a driving experience, getting as far Southeast as comfortable. On average, 325 miles is about right, that's 2 tanks of fuel and six actual driving hours. Add in the breaks and it makes for a full day. We left Cape Girardeau, MO at 9:30AM and headed South on I-55 for 2-1/2 hours before reaching Arkansas and stopping for fuel and provisions. We ate lunch here too so as to make one longer stop rather than two or three; which truly impacts the flow of any day, a pet peeve. The plan was to enjoy some legendary BBQ in Memphis but being flexible and adjusting the agenda is needed from time to time. I have had a fair share of pulled pork and brisket anyway. We cruised into Memphis, TN just over the Mississippi River around 2PM. Tommy needed more Harry Potter books so a Google search of 'bookstores near me' was done and a slight 9 mile detour was taken. FUN FACT 7: Real bookstores do not exist in apartment buildings and Google has a warped sense of humor at times. I will call ahead next time. The trip started out very humid and warm today but once we were moving, old school AC cooled us off. The temps remained pleasant throughout the day so we kept on driving. Later, my trusty knee brace used to help stave off pain from the immobilized position on the clutch side, began to wane. Back on the Interstate, we pressed on through a brief section of Tennessee. It seemed like each state near the river wants a piece of that waterway. Hello Mississippi! Having a KOA and camping app to find campgrounds, read reviews and generally 'make it so' has been worthwhile. Tupelo, MS was only one hour away and I noted a Barnes and Noble Bookstore nearby from our destination. Two new Harry Potter books were acquired and we are now settled in for the night. It was a long day, but we are content, dry and looking forward to setting our sights on Atlanta tomorrow.
Willie Nelson sang it, we live it, "On the Road Again" from Tupelo, Mississippi to Tallahassee, FL! Covering 425 miles over 11 hours with a few long breaks, we cruised on both Interstate Highways and State Roads. GPS wanted us to go through Atlanta and that was the plan originally but we headed south earlier and are now in the Sunshine State without any major cities to pass through at peak times. Tommy let out a cheer as we crossed the border. I suspect he has forgotten just how large this state really is. The plan is to finish the trip strong using our passes at Disney while staying at Fort Wilderness Campground - the nicest one in the USA and still amazingly low in cost. The weather forecast called for rain all day which focused our attention towards reaching the Florida panhandle tonight. Mississippi was beautiful with rolling hills and green fields and forests alike. Florida has offered the same topography in this northern region. Soon, the state will lay flat and more familiar places will appear. For now, we have a few more days to spend together, to reflect on the trip, go through the states, the games, the 7th inning stretches and to remember Johnny.
Timing is everything for the most part. I aim to be early, accept when I'm late but arrive precisely when intended. Today was no different. We left Tallahassee after breakfast at 8AM and enjoyed the cool morning air. There's something to driving with the windows down, but something more with the streaming scents of pine trees wafting about and the nip of morning dew streaking across the windshield as the first mile whizzes by. Then, a trash truck blows past and changes the perspective. There was zero traffic around the State Capital which was fine by me. We made a quick stop an hour later at Suwannee Music Park to replace a peeling window sticker, one of the first trips Kristin Sloan and I made in Sweet Pea. Tommy had a vibrant energy today simply because we were headed to Orlando, a magical city that feels like Christmas. The miles ticked off on the odometer more easily as we made our way south. Exit 259 is one we know well and the goal was to arrive with fresh provisions and a clean bus because washing a car while camping is not permitted. We pulled into Fort Wilderness at 3:22PM, dirty and haphazardly packed, sweaty but smiling. We will be here for three nights which unlike many other places traveled to, or rather through, gives us the chance to do the full camping set-up and chillax for a while. Tommy was ecstatic that our campsite was beside a family with kids and after the full unload, laundry sorting, trash run, cooler cleaning and awning deployment, he made friends. Chores come first with camping folks, just like life, and yes, we do a lot of laundry! Tonight we are heading over to the Whoop-Dee-Do Movie House for the outdoor screening of Tarzan. Sadly it is not the Bo Derek version, but Kristin is coming here tomorrow for the weekend!!!!! We are nearing the end of this trip after visiting 10 ballparks to sprinkle Johnny's ashes, and we'd like to do at least one more (Tampa) later this summer before planning the next big journey. Thus far, 14 of 30 ballparks now host this beloved boy, thanks to you; family, friends and strangers alike.
Orlando Florida is hotter than hell in the summer. Tommy and I went to Hollywood Studios at 8AM and had to wait for the gates to open and let us in. But the sweat was already pouring. That's fine! No problem. We entered this very familiar park and headed towards the Rockin' Roller Coaster - which offers the best take-off in the hall of fame of coasters. Then it just does its thing. We watched a "Beauty and the Beast" production. ...'never again' said the boy wonder. Star Tours, Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, lunch and then some AC time with indoor stuff such as Great Movie Ride, Toy Story and Disney History rounded out the afternoon. Some staple attractions are now deleted, making way for our future enjoyment. We encountered a Star Wars Character driven experience which like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" was a crummy commercial, but to Tommy, it was magical. This park for anyone who has enjoyed it would best be served in 2017 after the new enhancements are done. We got back to camp in time to shower and prepare for Kristin Sloan's arrival. She looked amazing. Tomorrow we set sight sets on Typhoon Lagoon!!!!
Blizzard Beach is one of two Water Parks at Disney World and we arrived on time, just before opening at 10AM. The theme here is a ski resort, complete with a chairlift to usher guests from the centralized entry to the peak. Ski chalet stylized buildings are covered with snowy rooftops and all of the signage references a wintry motif, such as "have an ice day". We eventually did all of the water slides offered but the first per Tommy's insistence was "Summit Plummet", which at one point was the highest, fastest and likely the one that inflicts the most bruised butts on earth. It was so hot here today so splashing away the afternoon was a great choice. The lazy river was a group favorite too. The boy enjoyed a boxed lunch that was brought in with us but Kristin and I tried the Cheese Steak sandwiches. Not bad. We were spent by 5pm and returned to Basecamp in loop 800. The skies opened up and as we were already Waterpark wet, we walked around the campground in the rain for a bit. Showers were had and a dinner prepared and enjoyed (ribeye and Caesar Salad) and as the sun fell, our eyes began to as well. Nothing saps you like a low pressure rain storm after a long day of running around in the sun with scorching hot feet. Tomorrow we will see Typhoon Lagoon which opens earlier...
Headed out of camp at 8:30 to get to Typhoon Lagoon, the other Waterpark here at Disney World. Kristin Sloan is a veteran traveler and also likes to arrive in time for the daily opening to beat the lines. We first rode Crushin' Gusher, several times. It offers drops, rises and water-jet propelled inclines. We all agreed that these three slides were the best offered here. Other more typical slides were enjoyed and then we hit the wave pool. This wave pool basically throws an 8-foot tsunami spanning the entire width of the massive lagoon, some 200' and dramatically washes everything and everyone towards the faux shoreline. The first wave literally ripped my sunglasses off, along with the bikini top to a girl whose name rhymes with Twistin’ Foam. We spent an hour here enjoying the waves. The Lazy River carried us around the park several times and a key highlight was the seawater snorkel with baby sharks and rays. Tommy objected, relented and ultimately boasted of how he swam with JAWS' great, great grandson. After two days of walking barefoot on hot concrete we decided to head back to Fort Wilderness. The rainfall did not dampen our enjoyment but as we made our way towards the exit, the lightning did spark the crowds to do the same. Long hot showers did us all some good and we drove to Disney Springs for dinner. This outdoor mall of restaurants, shopping and thousands of guests is not exactly pleasant for a quiet night out but the Italian food we enjoyed certainly hit the mark. We returned to the campground and walked over to the outdoor screening of "Peter Pan". Within 15 minutes we headed back to the site to sleep. The activity of today combined with the sun, the low pressure rain, that large meal and now a sleepy movie just lulled us all towards the comfort of memory foam mattresses. Tomorrow is a travel day and a good night's sleep is needed.
Slept in a bit this morning before packing up the gear, checking the oil and cranking up the bus to head home. Kristin Sloan left before me and Tommy to points south. We drove off precisely at 11AM for the 220 mile final stretch. This campground has always brought joy for me, Tommy and Johnny, and we will return again and again. The ride home was typical; long, slow and hot, but the skies were bright and the roadways were clear. I noticed many smiling faces of passersby and this always lightens the mood. I thought of my son Johnny quite a bit this afternoon and how he would have loved doing this trip with us. He will always be a part of me, perhaps the best part of me and for that I am grateful. Tommy and I unloaded the bus and like most trips, we over packed. Next season, when we knock off another chunk of ballparks during the summer break we'll know better... only 2 of everything ..swim trunks, shorts, shirts and underwear. Well, maybe more than two. The trip officially began along the surf of the Atlantic Ocean in Fort Lauderdale on Monday May 30th at 8AM and that is where it ends, 43 days later, Monday July 11th at 6PM. This journey covered 7,855 miles through 15 states, 10 ballparks, one simple breakdown and leaves us with a thousand stories. It would not be possible without the help of so many of you, be it inspirational, financial or otherwise. I am so grateful for the donations of time and money in making this trip to scatter Johnny’s ashes at the ballparks possible. We set out to accomplish a lofty goal this summer and I am happy to report that we did it. We all did it together.
Tommy and I went to the Tampa / St. Pete area in Florida this past weekend to complete the 2016 baseball journey. This was the 11th ballpark visited this season and 15th of 30th overall, which added another 544 miles to the trip. Johnny would have loved seeing these ballparks. Tommy I suspect is glad it is half over. We left on Thursday afternoon, headed west across Alligator Alley and settled into the Lazy Days RV Resort to the east of the city around 9PM. This marked the fourth visit for us here. The campground is part of the largest RV dealership in the USA and was designed to let newbie owners the chance to try camping out which means it is well manicured, has a great pool, restaurant, strong WIFI and skilled staff ensuring a pleasant stay. They offer complimentary breakfast too, provided you stroll through the showroom and gauntlet of salespeople. It's sort of like finishing a ride at Disney and exiting through the gift shop, except the staff here drool just a little bit more. We skipped this routine, again.
The weekend was jammed with activities. Friday was spent at Busch Gardens. Saturday we did a TV interview with WTVT FOX 13 Tampa about the trip and then later went to the Rays game vs. the Yankees; Sunday had us leaving early for home. The amusement park here is a fun one day place to visit. Last year when attending a car show nearby, Tommy and I visited Busch Gardens and by spending an additional $10, turned a one day ticket into a season pass. We enjoyed the new Cobra's Curse rotating coaster, the animals, the steam train and then endured three separate lightning warnings which shut every ride down for safety. Leaving earlier than planned gave us the time to shop for new Crocs for the boy wonder. His pair of beloved blue Lego Crocs were actually Johnny's. They had a matching set that they had traipsed around in but this pair was worn out. I will save these shoes however for they took us all on such wonderful adventures, giving us such precious memories. We arrived back at camp to enjoy the pool. Tommy got a kick out of a poolside pizza parlor delivery from a local place and a couple of kids looked over at us enjoying the gooey slices of heaven with jaws agape. Disapproving moms made the meal all the better. It was nice to simply enjoy a pool night.
A Tampa TV producer had contacted me a couple of weeks ago asking if we could share the story when we come to Tampa so we made some arrangements and went live on the air Saturday morning. The set was like any other you'd expect; circular sofa, bright lights, a couple of cameras and a professional staff. The segment went out with a 7 second delay to protect the innocent from any slips, but Tommy and I managed to convey the basic parameters of sprinkling ashes at the ballparks to honor Johnny without using any of George Carlin's seven things you cannot say on TV. No tears were shed during this piece like the last one. It was fun.
We spent the afternoon cruising around St. Pete Beach with a long stopover at Fort DeSoto State Park. My friend Terry Kirkman said camping here is excellent so we checked it out for a future trip. He was right too; great shady spots all along the water. The actual fort was neat and I am sure Johnny would have loved the giant cannons. He was into this sort of thing. The ballgame was at six and the gates opened at 4. We stood in line along with a bunch of Yankee fans eager to get into the air conditioned complex. We entered "Tropicana Field" home of the Tampa Rays and took our normal walking tour and then I realized that I left the little packet of ashes in the bus. Customer Service was very accommodating and upon returning to the dome, the skies opened up like a water-park attraction. Tommy was spared this but I got it pretty good. I was smiling ear to ear thinking that in the grand scheme of things this season, this was no big deal at all. We spent time at the Stingray Tank, feeding and touching actual rays swimming around. We encountered a vendor who said that she saw us on TV and wished us well, saying 'enjoy the game'. We sat in our complimentary seats and watched a fast paced game, eating peanuts and yes, cotton candy. The Rays beat the empire 6-3 and we did our 7th inning ritual or scattering Johnny's ashes while singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". It was not a sad time. It was happy. Some ballparks give me chills, leave me sobbing or even unable to sing, but Tropicana Field was easy. I think Tommy enjoyed this game more than many others and for that I am very happy. Perhaps this is why. We left a large crowd behind who were staying for a country music concert after the last out, but we did so on a high note.
The ride back to camp was a breeze and we prepared for bed with stories of my youth. Tommy loves to hear about my exploits 'when I was a kid in the olden days' and I love telling him. I think he will be an excellent storyteller one day for he loves a good book, a long tale and even a good joke. We rose early and headed out around 8AM arriving back at 12:45. It was a quiet and overcast ride home until we crossed back into civilization. The sun was out now and I dropped him off at his moms. I handed him his soda souvenir cup, his 9th, and said that we are finished for this season. We hit all the parks we intended on visiting and that next season will bring us either along the eastern shore up to Boston or through the mid-west to the great lakes but either way, we are going at it again. He said 'awesome' and disappeared into his bedroom. I drove home alone and knew that he will remember these travels in the years to come. Mission accomplished. Thanks to many people who have helped all along the way.