THURSDAY JUNE 4th @ 81,522 MILES Tommy's last day of school ended a bit early. He kissed mom goodbye and we then headed off to Fort Lauderdale to get in the bus and stop by Kristin's office before heading out on the highway, at 1:15PM. Four and a half hours later, just north of Orlando, the bus suddenly lost power and we pulled over to the shoulder of the Florida Turnpike. She was running hot and hard for the first leg and the goal tonight was Ocala, FL about 60 more miles. After a good 45 minute rest, she fired up and we limped along. Something was amiss though as we did not have full power. It must be something simple. A campground was just 2 miles away and when we pulled in, a handyman basically climbed inside the engine compartment and quickly discovered that one of the spark plug wires had come loose. He cleaned the connection and she fired up strong. I tipped him for his effort which saved me a tow and a mechanic fee and we pulled into our site just after dark. This hiccup had me worried at first but VW's are simple to fix so long as you know what to look for. I felt a bit foolish for a second and then got over it. The pool was open until ten so we went for a swim and then showered and slept.
FRIDAY JUNE 5th: We left Clerbrook, FL at 9:44 AM and headed north up to I-75, into Georgia, entering the state around 1:55PM @ 81,923 MILES. We loved Georgia and drove until 5:30 PM where we camped in PERRY, GA for the night. Cool campground, lots of trees but no swimming pool. This was a simple one nighter anyway so we just ate dinner, showered and hit the sack around 9PM.
SATURDAY JUNE 6th: Atlanta driving was like a Nascar road course with all the hills, curves, highway splits and lane changes. Fun stuff in the bus. We cruised all day and the low mountains were beginning to strain the bus so we simply took more breaks. Tonight, we would find a campground with a pool and we settled in Heiskell, TN just north of Knoxville. The "Volunteer Park" RV campground with cement pond was blissful. Tommy performed spectacular cannonballs. Lovely people. Made traditional pancake breakfast (Sunday) and off we went.
SUNDAY JUNE 7th: Kentucky offered more hills and the bus was tired. It took a full day to reach Cincinnati but we made it to Chris and Carol Oberholzer's place in Loveland, OH and we spent two nights in actual beds. These people; this family, define what love and community are all about. Superb human beings. Joey was so great w Tommy. He is going to be a great dad someday. Loveland is a great hamlet! We listened to live music a few doors down and turned in for the night.
MONDAY JUNE 8th: Monday offered us the chance to bike along the old converted R.R. tracks along the 'Little Miami River' and the canopy was lush and peaceful. Italian Ice's were enjoyed after sampling pizza @ The Works. Tommy loved the passenger railcar dining setup and later, skipping stones on the "Little Miami River". We attended the Reds v. Phillies game at Great American Ballpark thanks to Jacque and Dr. Brian Bach. AWESOME club seats in 301 with free food - and tasty brews. Johnny was there too. He would have loved the great seats. I spread a pinch of his ashes during the 7th inning stretch while singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". The tears streaming down my face felt good. Very therapeutic. We always sang this together and the moment, this song, will forever have gravity for me. Thanks to Chris and Carol for being such amazing people.
TUESDAY JUNE 9th: We left @ 645 AM Tuesday morning to head on up to Sandusky for 2 nights at Cedar Point Amusement Park. We pulled into our finely manicured campsite ready for fun. One perk included complimentary tix to the park after 4pm. "MILLENNIUM FORCE" (roller coaster) was conquered and Tommy wanted more. He was just tall enough to ride and we knocked off many thrill rides here. This park kicks Disney butt in terms of thrills. We enjoyed it all. Did some laundry and hit the sack...exhausted.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 10th: Wednesday was snooze day. We went to the lame pool and then hit the park again at 5pm. Tommy wanted a roller-coaster night and this 7 year old is a bona-fide thrill-seeking junkie. We closed the park to his dismay. I was wiped. Thankfully I packed up before we went to the park.
THURSDAY JUNE 11th: Thursday had us leaving the park to head out to Cleveland for the Indians v. Mariners game at noon. We made it easily, parked, got cheap tix and some ballpark grub. Progressive Field is cool. Pre-Camden Yards architecture but still great sight lines. Tommy has been a great traveler and as such enjoyed Pepsi, Cotton Candy, Pizza and M&M's. The game was fast paced and the 7th inning stretch offered another opportunity to include Johnny. I can't tell you how hard this is but how good this feels. We planned this trip and I am grateful that he gets to be there, in part. Johnny loved this game and it is through baseball that we had an amazingly strong connection. Had some VW brake issues and worked through with the help of Steve of AutoWerks. VW peeps are solid helpers. Drove to "Nelson Ledges Quarry Park" in Garretsville, OH after the VW assist this Thursday night and set up one heck of campsite for the 3 night Classic Rock music festival. People here love the bus. Surreal. The group next to us have a kid coming tomorrow Tommy's age so he will have a playmate. Things thus far have been GREAT.
FRIDAY JUNE 12th: Camping, when you have the right gear and are actually enjoying the outdoors, can be so much fun. Tommy loves to help out. When assigned a task, he owns it. Together, we set up two hammocks, our own porta-potty with privacy tent, generator for A/C and lights, BBQ grille, dining table, awning and chairs. Many fellow campers stopped by to look simply because the vast majority of guests were tenting it this weekend and our setup was sweet. Tommy points out that the van is not a van, "IT'S A BUS". The sun was up and after a simple late breakfast we walked about a half mile to the 'beach' and the ledges to take a swim. It was hot even with the ample foliage and the roadway was mostly downhill, dotted with campsites and a steady stream of newly arriving weekend party people. This concert weekend had a lineup of Classic Rock tribute bands, most notably PINK FLOYD, RUSH and LED ZEPPELIN and it was going to pack them in for sure. We reached the crowded beach and decided to go to the cliff instead. This whole area was ripe with food trucks, vendors selling tie-dye clothing, and other typical festival wares. We reached the top of the cliff where a lifeguard was floating below in a kayak running the show. Tommy kept peering over the ledge while young dudes were doing back flips and dives off of the 20 foot drop. The boy said that if I jumped, he would jump. I told him to wait for my return and after climbing back up after my standardized plunge, he said ok. The lifeguard shouted "ok, clear" and Tommy just ran and jumped into the abyss. IT WAS AWESOME! The lifeguard was a pro as she instructed me that Tommy needed to pass a swim test and sport a special wristband, but I knew he would be one and done. People cheered when he reached the summit again. Adults on the fence about going over the edge began slinking away in shame from the 7 year olds courage. We headed back to camp, a bit taller, a bit older. The skies opened up and we were drenched beyond the wetness of the plunge; soaked to the core. There wasn't a word of complaint during the cold uphill challenge. Who is this kid? The bus was a haven. With a change of clothes and a PBJ sandwich he was content. We were high and dry, as opposed to many neighbors. The afternoon rains came and went. We walked down to the beach to hear the bands play. The stage area was small but the crowd was alive complete with hula-hoop twirling flower children and hippies of all ages; along with that not so faint aroma permeating the air. After an hour we returned and slept. Friday was a good day.
SATURDAY JUNE 13th: The private outhouse mere steps from the bus was genius. Having gallons of bottled water and real soap to clean up equally made sense. Seeing that we were leaving early Sunday morning, we enjoyed PANCAKES today. They were great! The neighbor's son Jack (8) was Tommy's new buddy and he was amazed that the leap off the cliff was made. His mom Michelle was very sweet and they all went on a 'nature walk' as I hung up items needing to dry out. The forest just holds in the moisture. We enjoyed camp most of the day. I grilled hotdogs for lunch and fed the neighbors. Later, a medium rare bacon wrapped tenderloin and chopped salad. We all walked down to the stage area together, through the "WARZONE" where you do not want to camp, though it is a spectacle. This was more like an artist colony complete with up-lighted trees, DJ booth, giant projector screen, bonfires, performance artists milling about and much more of that scented air. It was a scene, it was unique and it was captivating. The main stage was only 100 yards from here and through the woods, the PINK FLOYD laser show was already visible. We enjoyed the music, and for me, "wish you were here" has taken on new meaning since Johnny died. A performance artist fire show took place on the beach following the concert featuring fire-eaters, jugglers, flaming hula-hoop girls and a guy off in the distance, alone at the beach whipping flaming chains against the rocks to emit a buzz saw of sparks into the night. What imagery. We walked back through the warzone which was ramping up for a night of insanity but it was off to bed for us. What a finish to our time at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park. It was off to bed and an early start for us.
SUNDAY JUNE 14: All packed up and out of the campground by 7:45 AM. Today is the final ballpark visit in Pittsburgh, 90 minutes away. The bus is slow and we always leave early to reach our destinations ahead of schedule due to potential breakdowns, slowdowns etc. We have not passed any cars since leaving the driveway in Fort Lauderdale. This is normal. This is life in the right lane. This morning however we managed to pass two consecutive family groups likely heading to church. The rolling hills on this country Ohio road through the misty morning farmland was so beautiful. And the clickety-clack of those two horse drawn Amish carriages was a symphony as I passed them doing 22 MPH, lightly chuckling and pumping my fist. Tommy didn't seem to care but I grinned for ten minutes. The Interstate into Pittsburg goes from forest to city in the blink of an eye; just like Cincinnati. We parked near the ballpark, bought tickets at a kiosk and cued up to be let in. Tommy was given an Andrew McCutchen wrist band on this kid-promo day as we entered the park. Very impressive ballpark with great views of the Alleghany River, Roberto Clemente bridge and the city skyline. Tasty and varied food choices too, though the concession walkways were a bit tight. The game was exciting and fast paced. As the 7th inning rolled around I found myself a bit more choked up trying to sing the "Take me out to the ballgame" song. Perhaps it was the last park of our journey, perhaps it is because I just miss my boy. Tommy is still a bit hesitant in sharing the scattering of ashes but I know someday he will ask to participate. There is plenty of time for this. There are 26 more ballparks to see. The Pirates beat the Phillies 1-0 and after a cell phone repair, we headed east on the Interstate out of the city. We pulled into a campground at 6:45 PM to rest for the night and headed for the pool. The emerging storm allowed us just 30 seconds of bliss before the siren blew and we had to retire. I am glad we did because this rain, thunder and lightning was intense. It lasted much of the night. I read more of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" to Tommy and we both feel asleep.
MONDAY JUNE 15: We left the Fox Den Campground in New Stanton, PA at 8:55 AM. Washington D.C. was the goal today. The hills and tolls of western Pennsylvania are quite taxing - literally. At 4:30 PM we arrived with newly acquired provisions at the Cherry Hill Park, just north of D.C. Having spent a ho-hum night with little amenities, I figured we should splurge a bit. You can get a lot more with just a few extra bucks when camping and this place was great. We enjoyed the two swimming pools, did some much needed laundry and ate in the restaurant. I like my BBQ better, but this was also nice. Tommy has been such a great sport. Where has this boy been hiding? Whenever this way again, we will certainly stay longer. After showering we settled in for the night, very relaxed.
TUESDAY JUNE 16: 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.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 17: 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 Symrna 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.
THURSDAY JUNE 18: 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.
FRIDAY JUNE 19: 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.
SATURDAY JUNE 20: 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.
SUNDAY JUNE 21: 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.
BY THE NUMBERS
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)
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
2015 TRIP 18 DAYS - 2,930 MILES
SEE VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF PAGE
Copyright Dave MacDougall. All rights reserved.