The summer of 2018 plan was to finish what we set out to do: to take Johnny out to the final six ballparks. Baseball schedules are not always well aligned, so I headed out solo to knock off Kansas City and Minnesota alone, before making my way west to Seattle and a rendezvous with Tommy. He had just completed the 4th grade and flew out to join me. Together we scattered ashes in Seattle, drove across the upper part of the USA to Milwaukee and finally, Chicago. 30 ballparks, four years, 23,513 miles and ultimately, one big promise fulfilled. Here is the journal of our final season. Enjoy.
I hear things during the night. A car alarm, the restaurant dumpster gate swinging open, a 5am freight train whistle. Usually I fall back asleep after the familiar disturbances but sometimes I check the phone and am unable to rest. Last night was restful until the morning was met with a loud, steady thumping of water bouncing off the wooden deck outside my window. The torrential rains quickly increased with intensity, enough to drown out my 6am foghorn alarm blasting from the bedside android phone. I swiped that nuisance silent and hugged my pillow for another forty minutes before rising up to make coffee. There is a certain peace found when it's time to rise but the low atmospheric pressure and warm sheets tell you to stay put. I was content.
So I got up and twirled the window blind rod to see the action. It was both impressive and daunting knowing that I would have to place a few final items in the bus before pulling out of the driveway. That chore would have to wait.
This much is true, the Keurig will be missed. Pushing a single button for that first cup of joe has made me soft. That ends today. For the next forty two days I will be on the road to finish a promise made to my son. Made to myself. Today mark's the final leg of a four year journey to scatter Johnny's remains at the last six major league ballparks. We have left a pinch at 24 out of 30 thus far.
The morning was typical of that for any traveler. A few last minute items packed, checks written, the thermostat set and a final walk around of the bus that had been prepared yesterday.
The engine cranked over easily and I let it warm up for five minutes while recording the odometer at 15,913 miles. 1st gear was engaged precisely at 12:55pm with Tom Petty's 'American Girl' playing on the stereo. Off we go towards Key West, FL.
The roads were dry now and a quick stop to mail out some items had me thinking that work is done for today. Sure, I will work from the road - I must, but now it was time for a moment to think of that little boy who I love so much and how I miss him. His photo is right on the dashboard and the smooth glossy finish of the print is nothing like the touch of his skin. I didn't reach fourth gear
before the tears starting flowing. It was a nice release. I let this happen from time to time. A good cry alone and out loud is ok with me.
In no time at all the Turnpike morphed into US 1 and the Overseas Highway. The ride was smooth, save for some crosswinds in the middle Florida Keys, but the cool temps and overcast skies kept Sunday drivers off the roads. A stop for gas and a quick drive-thru meal kept me on pace to reach tonight's target at David and Heather-May's new home on Stock Island, about zero kilometers from Key West. I parked in their brilliant white stoned driveway after recording 181 miles of uneventful driving on this rather gloomy weather day. Tomorrow I will head over to the Southern Most Point Marker for a photo, and in twenty days I will be diagonally across the continent at the northwestern most point. I thought it would look cool on a map someday.
I am happy to be here tonight and look forward to the rest of the trip. Day one, check.
Cock a doodle f'g doo. Don't get me wrong here, I love the Florida Keys, the laid back bohemian lifestyle and the people that live there. But the roosters... well, as one prominent author based here put it in print no less, Roosters are Assholes. Seriously, there's a book you should check out by David L. Sloan as well as other fine works.
I enjoyed the cushy bed with sheets so soft Pharaohs would agree the thread count exceed the highest standards. The Sloanderosa house was quiet so I crept out silently around 8:30am heading south. If in Key West, a fun breakfast nook to try is Cuban Coffee Queen. I had the Sunrise Special for $5.50 plus tip. Worth the wait, no drive-thru, no drama, just blissful bites and sublime sips of café con leche. And I continued south, as far south as possible on this 2 x 4 island, all the way to the "Southern Most Point of the Continental United States". The typical tourist line here is 20 deep for that all important pic. I just stopped in front, pulled the brake, kept it running and snapped a few shots. Luckily the people in the frame weren't too ugly. Another milestone met. Goodbye Key West. I always enjoy the spectacle.
A bucket list for many is the drive to Key West on the Overseas Highway. It really is an amazing journey, more southbound than north, but as the crosswinds swayed the top heavy bus to and fro today, I was happy getting back on to the peninsula. A good hour rest in Florida City enabled some email responses, phone calls and of a memory from a trip to the area here with the Cub Scouts when Johnny was in first grade five years ago. Happy memories are bountiful. I glad we made so many. I wish we made more.
Later, I met up with Guillermo the mechanic for a final tweak close to the big curve by Alligator Alley, but really there was nothing needed. He did a great job and I am grateful for that and his insistence on a final check before I truly head away from home base.
Gray skies make driving easier as the sun is a non factor and the temperatures are lower, but we have had so much dank weather lately, some blue would be nice. As I crossed into Naples the sun peered through the clouds and cast a nice shadow of the bus alongside me as the compass pointed north.
The roadway was smooth and we just kept on going. I needed a pitstop and when parked checked out nearby camping in Fort Meyers. There happened to be a Super Walmart across the roadway from McD's but my handy camping APP let me know that they do not permit overnight RV's (most do). The other nearby campgrounds that popped up had restrictions too about RV class, age of RV, 55+ aged humans so I chose one just 7 miles north, just off I-75. It was immaculate and now that it was past 5pm, the answering machine left no indication of availability or "honor system" self check-in so I left. Having another hour of daylight made me choose tonight's free stay at Camp Walmart in North Port, FL just south of Venice.
I logged 351 miles over a 12 hour day with 3 long breaks of 60 minutes each. If you can answer my average MPH, you attended and passed the fourth grade.
I'm in my element here, having fun and realizing more and more how great my parents are.
Cleared out of the free parking spot precisely at 7am today. Thanks Sam. It was just cool enough where the fan kept me comfy, a rarity in Florida but the dang rainy season arrived two weeks earlier than expected and it hasn't been hot just yet.
I love Google. They can have my info. They if fact do have my info and they listen at times, but they royally screw up when it comes to finding a Dunkin' Donuts 'near me'. Shell Gas stations are not donut shops, right? I should skip those Sausage Egg and Cheese Croissants anyway but it's nicer when I can choose to do so. So I fueled up on an XL foam cup- cream only, and 12.5 gallons of 93 octane. Tracking MPG, costs per gallon, cost per mile and other geeky stuff is what I do. THANK YOU Guillermo! I'm getting 18-20 vs. 12-15 and that will save me 100+ gallons for the trip.
I hit the I-75 around 8am after fiddling with the curtains, mattress, gear and ten minutes of combing a two-day no shower hairstyle the Flock of Seagulls would envy, or loathe. No matter, windows down at 60 fixes everything.
I took breaks, checked the oil, applied 'RainEx', fueled up and rested at an actual rest area which unlike exit gas stations have fewer panhandlers. Email and messages were returned and after a normal travel day I thought the Georgia border made sense for a camp night. Laundry is minimal though current garments need a sandblaster or a good Canadian cleaning. A shower is just the humane thing to do as I am driving with those windows rolled down all the way and Pig Pen is not a Peanuts character that ever got much respect so I am playing it safe.
I ended up just over the border at the Eagle Roost Campground in site # 12 for $34 with 302 miles under the belt.
The shower was hot, the meal was enjoyed and the flowing electrons are powering a chill 70 degrees of heaven. Life is good.
Swiped the alarm button off when it wrecked a dream at 7am this morning. Slept a bit longer and rose ten past 9 to a near empty campground. Perhaps it was the overcast sky or the low hanging Spanish moss blocking the sun. Whatever. Banking sleep is listed on my resume as a skill. I packed up and left Lake Park, GA at 10:15am rejuvenated. Thus far, keeping ahead of schedule permits a late start from time to time.
Managed 60 minutes of driving before stopping off for more RainEx and fuel, a flash-drive gizmo, email, tracking down an elusive invoice and a cup of coffee. Routine stuff.
Hit the road again towards Macon for a three hour stretch through mostly rainy conditions and pulled over for some Chinese food and a camping APP inquiry for tonight's stop. It was steamy all day so having AC is worth the cost tonight.
Arrived in space H-89 at 6:30pm 25 miles south of Atlanta. 'Camp Sardines' aka Atlanta South RV Resort in McDonough, GA is mostly for full timers and it has the appeal of gray paint.
Some days are long and the miles flow. Other days are just busy. 220 easy miles were logged over an eight hour day but like the appeal of this post, a truly gray day indeed.
It must be the serenity of the woods keeping me undercover(s) til past 8am each day. I rose slowly, stretched and stowed the bed away, the first task of the day. So far so good. I broke out the French press coffee pot and boiled water while packing up the basics; AC vent, pillows, trash, dirty laundry and then lowered the roof. Not boiling just yet so I checked the oil, wrapped the electric cord and repositioned the fridge 90 degrees for travel. Now the water was roiling, what mom would say is not quite hot enough but I added the coffee nonetheless. Is it wrong using 100% Colombian in a French press offered by Stanley yet likely made in China? It was delicious!
Poured a second 16 oz. serving and hit the road. I wanted to let the Atlanta area commuters arrive safely today so I left at 9:50am. It's true that NASCAR is hosted at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and also true that citizens try qualifying each morning and afternoon Monday through Friday on Interstate 75. I haven't sworn that much since the last time I played golf.
Hello Tennessee! The goal today was to land somewhere in the Nashville area. The roads here were far smoother and the hills a bit higher. 75 is a very safe roadway. 75 also doesn't go to Nashville. It does go to Knoxville. , Nashville, Knoxville, they sound similar. I actually thought the compass was broken as it read NE more than it should have. More swearing ensued, then laughter. I have it easy. Today was a beautiful day with sunny skies, dry roads and the perfect temperature too. The best news though was that Kristin Sloanhad successful surgery and is back home resting. I regret my timing. I wanted to be there for her.
So I took the I-40 west and my compass fixed itself almost instantly. What a ride! Good climbs, twists and turns, thrilling descents and plenty of greenery all around. With few exits I chose to camp at the next sign of Metropolis which in these-thar parts means the next exit.
I found four possibilities using the handy APP and chose The Bean Pot Campground. Of course I asked! No, it has nothing to do with College Hockey in Boston. Nice folk, a lovely spot #44, a hot shower, salad dinner awaits and I might make popcorn later once the laundry is finished. Today was fun. I logged 267 miles and dozens of cuss words but I'll be going to Nashville and points beyond tomorrow. Now, what did I do what that f'g map.
Rose earlier than usual and had the coffee brewing around 8am. Left camp at 8:45am after a bowl of Cheerios and an everything in its' place packing. Continued across the I-40 westbound for ninety minutes before taking a short break at a well manicured rest area. Some onlookers gave the bus a thumbs up and took selfies as I watched from a park bench 50 feet away eating an enormous Honey Crisp Apple, the best variety anywhere. This is pretty normal stuff. A guy approached me as I was leaving and mentioned that he has an 86 Westy sitting idle at home and that he might just get it going now after seeing and remembering the camaraderie the vehicle brings. We chatted a bit about the trip for a couple of minutes and then I rolled on.
Nashville was only an hour away and I wanted some lunch on Broadway listening to live music. Go there if you haven't been. It has a country Key West carnival atmosphere. The heat of the day, the traffic, no parking and the certain notion that if I stopped here at all I'd be leaving 24 hrs. later kept me moving along.
It is a Holiday Weekend and I know the roadways will swell with people so I picked up the highway outta there knowing a return trip for a sports weekend should be scheduled, and soon.
A goal when planning the trip was a run through a certain forest bordering Tennessee and Kentucky so I set my sights on Crossville, TN and found a gas station in town for a another cool down and fill-up.
That's when it happened.
No start. It cranked over, strong even - but it just would not fire up. I thought maybe it is just too hot still? Again, same result. So I waited. I lifted the lid and checked the engine over, all seemed normal, even the oil was clean and just over the full mark. Twenty more cool down minutes elapsed and nada. So I called my guy and he answered. He gave me pointers I did not know and I followed them. There was some spark emanating from the center coil wire and when I made contact with metal and tried again it started! For a second. Then a man asked in a low southern drawl accent "ain't got no spark?" He said the method is right and then jiggled the ignition coil lead, stating it must have wiggled loose, "fire that thing up" and Sweet Pea came back to life. He walked away grinning saying have a nice day. I recalled how the same thing happened before with the fuel pump lead back in Kansas circa June 2016. I was going to eventually get to checking the leads but am not at all embarrassed to say a helping hand is greatly appreciated. I called Guillermo and he was relieved saying a similar thing happened to him once. Off I went down the road, sitting slightly higher in the seat, smiling. Rough translation for the mechanically challenged "a wire was loose which gives oomph to the car and it was fixed by squeezing it - problem solved."
A short drive later brought me into Dover TN, the entry to 'The Land Between The Lakes - A National Recreation Area'. As I cruised into this forest along the twisting turns of hilly terrain I thought of how lucky to be in such a majestic place and believed my cell service would cease at any second, as it should. The large wooden sign was a 'must have photo' so I stopped for a pic and a couple driving a jeep pulled over asking if I had been in Key West on Monday - due to the green bus with the smiley face tire cover. How funny is that? What a small world. This roadway slices through 150,000 acres of timberland complete with bison viewing areas, boat launches, picnic areas and basic camping spaces. $7 gets you a 3- night pass so I stopped and purchased a permit.
So here I am. 'Sugar Bay Campsite' under tall oaks just east of Kentucky Lake. A few families are tent camping nearby and another is in a towable trailer.
226 fun miles were recorded today, including a minor hiccup, along with some nice conversations and one serendipitous address for the night. It is damp in the mountains but I am on high ground and ready for bed. What a great day.
Was up and out early today with coffee in hand. Pretty cool staying within a National Park area. Thanks Teddy. Completed the north trek out of The Land Between Lakes and headed west.
The ride was long but fun with combined interstate and rural highways. Lots of twists and climbs and fun drops too. Took a break by "Current River" where dozens of people we floating along on inner tubes. Checked out a cool spot offering free camping within Mark Twain National Forest just 124 miles away and drove forever through rolling pastures and extended viewing of far away mountains. Plenty of switchbacks and lower gear climbs made the trip quite exciting.
Took the detour which led me down a dirt road and across a few streams directly into a road closed, dead end. Literally, the bridge was just gone. 2.5 miles from the destination and I had to reroute. At that point, a campground made instant sense. GPS service was cutting out but a worker at the jobsite gave me shortcut directions to an RV park nearby- which out here is only 11 miles away. He was spot on with the directions and although I had to pay for camping tonight, I did shower and there is a really nice view. The hostess here is from Dade City, FL and knew of Bug Jam - a famous VW car show so I think she gave me a primo spot, maybe the last and only spot.
Dinner was prepared and enjoyed but now, after 345 miles and a full workout for the bus on the twisty roads, we are both spent.
I am really enjoying Missouri. The people are so friendly, the countryside is amazing and those roadways are a thrill for the bus. I left the kid friendly campground after a full Sunday breakfast and slowly climbed through some hills on route 76, 60, and 176. The pace of the past few days has left me with time to dawdle and I've done enough of that at camp earlier on during the trip so I wanted to spend more time seeing the heartland. This part of the USA is good ol' for sure! I went through a dozen small towns Mellancamp wrote about. (Cassville, Wheaton, Diamond, Neosho) among others. A Hipster Mennonite even flashed a peace sign from his horse drawn carriage. I smiled broadly tooting the horn in response - a moment forever etched in time. I took the long way using rural roads with whoops and dips the likes this Florida resident never gets to enjoy. It was like a roller coaster.
Breaks were taken and eventually I ended up on the I-49 Northbound towards Kansas City for last 60 or so miles.
257 miles were spent from 10am to 7pm, each one worthwhile. I parked, set the bus up for the night and took a shower in the swankiest campground bathroom anywhere. Even when i got my toe stuck in my shorts and did the hopping dance, stepping on the floor, you know, I didn't cringe about it like yesterday.
Dinner was simple and now I'm off to bed. Tomorrow is the 25th ballpark; Kauffman Stadium, one that I am truly looking forward to seeing. Special thanks for some hook-ups too, care of Marti Bowden-Huffman - more on that later.
Memorial Day is a singular time that we focus attention on our fallen soldiers, without whom none of us would know life as it is now. I am grateful today and every day for those that serve. Thank you.
Today was a simple 60 mile drive but more so, a day where five people, perhaps more behind the scenes, truly pulled in favors, strings, opened doorways and just flat out helped me out. Marti Bowden Huffman called upon Traci Cole and I am laying in a king-sized bed tonight vs. Sweet Pea at the Marriott Downtown. She also put it out into the universe that I was going to the KC game tonight and called upon her friends to source a ticket and parking pass. In stepped Shannon Shumate Doser and Chris Fry to reach out to Brian Himstedt with the team. I enjoyed watching a great game from the front row in section 304 - very swanky! I should have caught a foul ball. It was right there, a one in a thousand game chance. Sorry. No excuses. I missed it.
"Kaufmann Stadium" is 46 years old but it has a modern feel, excellent food and bar options plus a very loyal fan base. The familiar smells, sights and sounds were present too. I strolled around the perimeter stopping at several kiosks and the team store in search of a window decal for the bus but none matched the need. The staff were friendly, earnest and helpful. I'm betting that it is more about the Midwest than a sales management training style. I asked three people where to find the best BBQ within the park and they all said Sweet Baby Ray's, but do not judge KC BBQ on the ballpark version. Come back to the city and spend two days trying this place or that place. They each lit up when discussing this close to home personal subject.
The game was fast paced early on and then settled into a strategic pitch by pitch chess match. As the near full moon crept higher and higher into the darkening sky the innings rolled on by. Being Memorial Day, the scoreboard posted factoids of ball players called to action over the years. The accompanying music was reverent. God Bless America was sung and the ensuing 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' song was too during the 7th inning stretch, but I could only muster the six words. I stood motionless just thinking of Johnny and how he would have enjoyed this place, the people and sampling the intently discussed food. That boy would eat anything. His ashes now lay in Row A, seat 12 of Section 304. An all-star view for a MVP. I left the game during a late inning pitching change after the Royals gave up three 8th inning runs, driving back to the hotel content that the trip thus far, the miles, time and energy are so very much worth it.
Prior to the game itself, somebody within this group contacted Channel 41 Action News and Cynthia Newsome did a nice piece about the trip.
Pretty awesome day! I must say that the Midwest reputation of selflessness, caring and love are unmatched. Thank you for making the visit to your fine community unforgettable. I truly appreciate the "Royal Treatment."
Pulled out of the protected valet spot at 8:10am and headed north on Interstate 35 forever. One stop yielded the window decal, a coffee and a multipack of Boulevard Beers. Hello Iowa. I've never been here before. The winds were pushing the bus all over the road and after a long day covering 301 miles a final decision was made to call it a day. Here we are in Clear Lake, IA settled in for the night. Minneapolis is the goal tomorrow, a mere 120 miles away.