A Trip Down South with Marcia, Mike and Bam Bam – Part 1
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. In this installment, we follow Marcia as she and Mike venture south in Bam Bam, an early Advanced RV build.
December 27, 2019, Friday: Florida by way of Amish Country
About 5:00PM, we depart from home in Bam Bam, built in 2012, one of the first RVs created by Advanced RV. We recently bought Bam Bam back from a young couple who now have too many kids to travel in it. Tonight we will stop at Keim Lumber Company, in central Ohio Amish country, where in the morning we will select lumber to build a reception counter and a conference room table for the new Advanced RV offices.
At 7:00PM, we arrive in the tiny town of Charm, OH, in Holmes County, where we find Keim Lumber Company, a huge building dominating the one main street. We were told that we could stay over night in the parking lot, but across the entrance is a locked gate. We move to the Amish buggy parking lot, find a level spot, and heat up leftovers from home for dinner.
We walk the one block that makes downtown, passing the post office, a Red Wings shoes/harness/boot shop and the Family Restaurant. Soon we are looking out into the darkness, lit only by an Amish farm on the closest hill. A few buggies and boys and girls on brightly lit, fast bicycles pass us. In front of the Family Restaurant, we talk with two teenage Amish boys who proudly tell us that their bikes are electric powered, can go about 20 mph and have a range of 25 miles. They charge them with a generator.
December 28, 2019, Saturday: Amish Country and Marietta, Ohio
About 6:30AM, we wake to the sound of horses pulling buggies into the parking lot. We slept well, staying warm in the 40-degree night, with the heater and updated battery system working fine. At the Family Restaurant across the street, we are the only “English” – non-Amish/non-Mennonite. Our friendly young waitress is her senior year of home schooling, heading next year to Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Indiana, where she will study pre-med.
Keim Lumber is impressive. It is a huge, clean, well-organized home store, selling tools, household goods, and construction supplies, with its own design center. Roy, in exotic and specialty lumber sales, takes us downstairs where there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of kiln-dried local and exotic slabs of live edge boards of all sizes. With Roy’s expert help, for the reception counter we select two sequentially cut pin oak pieces, each about 10 X 2 feet, with interesting grain and knots.
For the conference table, we select two sequentially cut walnut pieces, each about 13 X 2 feet, also with beautiful grains and knots. Keim will fill cracks and knots, and cut, plain, sand and finish all the pieces and deliver them to us in Cleveland in about four weeks. When we ask Roy about the electric bikes, he says he never thought he’d see the day that they would be allowed and that he is “not sure any good will come of it. “
We drive east through the rolling hills of Holmes County, passing well-kept farm houses, green and yellow fields, grazing cattle, goats and beautiful work horses. Many families are out in buggies and lots of teenagers fly along on their electric bikes. Although Google Maps keeps trying to take us back on the interstates through Columbus and Cincinnati, we stay in Amish country toward Marietta, Ohio, waving at families in buggies and taking in the farm scenery.
We have lunch at the historic Lafayette Hotel in Marietta, Ohio, built in 1916 at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingham River, and then walk the restored old town, poking into antique shops, looking for travel-related items for Advanced RV’s new offices. We buy a flat wall hanging made of license plates cut in the shape of the United States and hooked rugs for Bam Bam.
Mid-afternoon we realize that we will need to cover some miles to be in Chattanooga tomorrow for a 9AM breakfast with my sister and her family. I drive in the early evening, enjoying the peacefulness. About 10PM, we stop just north of Knoxville at a Pilot’s and park next to McDonald’s behind a log hauling truck.
December 29, 2019, Sunday: High Falls State Park, Georgia
We are up at 6:30AM, Mike gets coffee at McDonald’s and we are on the road by 7:00AM. We push to make it on time to a First Watch in northeast Chattanooga, where my sister and her husband are waiting for us, and my nephew, his two teenage sons and a 10 year-old daughter soon join us. After a fun time catching up, we drive with heavy I-75 traffic and intermittent rain into Georgia. At High Falls State Park, north of Macon, we stop for a hike down to the beautiful falls and then do a three-mile loop through the woods. Crossing the bridge, we walk to the site of an old gristmill and then walk along the rivers edge to the remains of a brick power plant. Now, it is sunny, hot and humid.
Although the traffic on I-75 is a little lighter in the afternoon, we stop about 5:30PM, at a Pilot’s, still in Georgia. We finish up soup and salad from home and are in bed by 8:30pm.
December 30, 2019, Monday: Clearwater Beach, Florida
Mike is up at 4:30AM and suggests we hit the road to beat the traffic. I reluctantly get in my seat. About 6:30AM, we stop for coffee and at 8:30AM stop again to make smoothies. At about 10:30AM we make it to the Hampton Inn in Oldsmar, near Clearwater, where Mike’s sister, husband and son are staying. On New Year’s Day, their other son, Jacob Herbers, is punting for Minnesota in the Outback Bowl game against Auburn in Tampa.
We shower in the RV and head out to Clearwater Beach to meet the family and join Jacob and the Minnesota team for an afternoon at the beach. The causeway to the beach crawls and we have to park ½ mile from our meeting point at Pier 20. We walk the beach with the family, while the huge football players do a tug of war and play in the sand and water.
We regroup at the Hampton Inn and go to Flemings Steakhouse for dinner. Exhausted from our long day, but feeling good about making this family time, Mike and I spend the night in the Hampton Inn parking lot.
December 31, 2019, Tuesday: Sarasota, Florida
We take our time in the morning and head down to our friends’ house in Sarasota, arriving about 12:30PM. We relax in the afternoon and for New Year’s Eve we enjoy dinner at Hyde Park Grill in downtown Sarasota. Downtown is hopping with people, with live bands at each of the four quadrants, amusement park rides for kids, and a huge lighted pineapple poised to drop at midnight. We are home by 11:30PM.
January 1, 2020, Wednesday: Outback Bowl Game, Tampa – Minnesota upsets Auburn
We head to Tampa early, not sure how traffic and parking at Raymond James Stadium will be. At the stadium, we buy Minnesota hats, meet up with the rest of the family, and cheer for the Minnesota team as they get off the bus. Our nephew punts well for his last game and Minnesota, the underdog, beats Auburn 31- 24. It is the most exciting football game we’ve ever seen. We drive back to Sarasota and collapse early.
January 2, 2020, Thursday: Sarasota, Florida
In sunshine and 70-degree temperatures, we walk St. Armand’s Circle and Lido Beach. We go downtown for dinner and enjoy live music by the Ventura’s at Mattison’s Grille.
January 3, 2020, Friday: Camping at Lido Beach
It’s another warm, cloudless day in Sarasota. Since our friends are going out of town, we move to street parking in front of Lido Beach. We walk the beach, and enjoy our gulf view from the camper, with just the fan keeping us cool. For dinner at St. Armand’s Circle, we meet a former employee of ARV and his wife, who moved here six months ago.
January 4, 2020, Saturday: Madeira Beach/St. Petersburg KOA
This morning it is cooler, with a heavy fog and light rain. We walk to Lido Beach Resort for coffee and the morning papers, and then fix parfaits in the van for breakfast. Mike goes for a run. We shop at Whole Foods and head north towards St. Petersburg. After a stop at Walmart for camper supplies, we arrive at the KOA Madeira Beach about 5PM.
When we stayed here five years ago, it cost $80/night, the most expensive campsite we every used. Now, it is $106/night, at a site with no sewer or water. We remembered camping under big pine trees, with lots of open space. Now, every inch is developed, with many more permanent motor homes, park models, and cabins. We are the only Class B in over 400 sites. We walk the park, amazed at the size of the Class A’s and 5th Wheels. People are friendly and the view over the bayou at dusk is lovely. We eat dinner at the picnic table illuminated by a portable light and a half-moon.
January 5, 2020, Sunday: St. Petersburg
We walk the Pinellas Trail east towards St. Petersburg, wearing our down sweaters against the windy 58 degrees. At a deli, we have coffee outside. When some Floridians see us, they say, “You must be from Michigan!” “No, Ohio!” Back at the camper, we clean up and drive into St. Petersburg to visit Roy Bookbinder and his wife Nancy. Roy is an American blues guitarist and singer/songwriter who tours the country in his Winnebago ERA. We met him about six years ago when he was performing at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights and came to Advanced RV for some camper repairs. When he has stopped since, he gives us lunchtime performances.
Later in the afternoon, we park at the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel and go for a walk in downtown St. Petersburg. A few blocks from the Vinoy, at the Parkshore Plaza, we hear live rock music and find our way up to the open air second floor courtyard, where we share a table with some locals, have a beer and enjoy Betty Fox’s band. At 7PM, we meet our friends from Ireland at the Marchand Restaurant at the Vinoy Hotel. It is great to see these friends, whom we’ve traveled with for thirty some years. They were in Tampa for an engagement party for their son, who is marrying a Tampa girl.
January 6, 2020, Monday: St. Petersburg and the Salvador Dali Museum
After breakfast with our friends, we walk Bayshore Dr. along the waterfront to the Salvador Dali Museum and catch a tour with a docent who helps us see the visual illusions and understand the symbols of many of the paintings. Outside we explore the Dali sculptures and enjoy the architecture of the building. In the evening, we have drinks at the Canopy Rooftop Lounge and dinner at The Birchwood.
January 7, 2020, Tuesday: St. Petersburg and the Chihuly Collection
This morning Mike notes that in Bam Bam we have been 51 hours off the grid and the batteries still have a 37% state of charge. We run the engine for about 20 minutes to make sure we have plenty of battery until we depart tomorrow.
Today, we walk Central Ave to the Chihuly Collection and a glass blowing demonstration at the Morean Glass Studio across the street. For dinner, we enjoy Sea Salt at the Sundial Plaza.
January 8, 2020, Wednesday: Back to Sarasota
Our Irish friends depart and we drive back to our “home away from home” in Sarasota, where our kind friends once again open their home to us. I do laundry and borrow shorts to wear in the Florida heat. We all go for a long walk and then go for dinner at Mediterraneo.
January 9, 2020, Thursday: Everglades National Park
We head south to add Everglades National Park to our list of national parks visited. On the way, we stop at Collier-Seminole State Park and walk the 0.9 mile Royal Palm Nature Hike on a boardwalk through mangroves and salt marsh. On the way out of the park, we walk around the old Bay City Walking Dredge and try to figure out how this huge 1920’s machine “walked” itself over newly cleared swamp land, dredging up limestone to make the base for SR41 through the swampy Everglades.
At 3:45PM, we arrive at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, a simple structure of three attached trailers, just in time for the last Boat Tour of the day. With about a half dozen other people, we board the catamaran and power into the shallow estuary and Ten Thousand Islands. The captain and a tour guide point out oystercatchers facing into the wind on a piling, brown pelicans, ospreys on their nests atop pilings, great blue herons, cormorants, a tri-colored heron, white ibis, and a pair of flying wood storks, an endangered species.
We motor to an island covered with white pelicans, migrated here for the winter, which are three times the size of brown pelicans and all white with black wings tips. Ahead of us, we see the Gulf of Mexico at sunset. A school of dolphins play in our wake as we motor back. At the Island Café in Everglades City, we eat good blackened local grouper, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob and key lime pie. We sleep at the marina parking lot next to the Visitor Center. It is quiet and the temperature is perfect.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, coming next month. Marcia, Mike, and Bam Bam continue to explore the Everglades before heading to the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa.