The Drive from Arizona to Florida!

I’m a little delayed in writing up this post, but I wanted to document our journey from Arizona to Florida before the details got lost to time. So here we go…

After graduating from Penn State in May 2019, our daughter was selected to join Disney’s College Program (DCP) as a paid intern at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Once again, another decision about transportation had to be made. Her stint would run from August through January 2nd and given the vastness of the Mouse’s Kingdom, having the freedom to get around for 4-1/2 months was critical. While there are plenty of potential options, like the last decision, it boiled down to either ship the car on a carrier or drive the car there ourselves.

Of course, we opted for the latter. Driving along the southern route of the United States, largely across I-10, was something I had always wanted to do. Sign us up!

With limited room in the car, we decided that my wife and I would drive and our daughter would fly. We’d plan our trip to meet her in Orlando to pick her up at the airport. Of course, that meant we’d have to have a bit of a head start.

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The journey began at 6:00am on Wednesday, August 14th, with the odometer registering 117,368 miles and the temperature a dry, but warm 99 degrees. Today’s plan was to make it to as close to San Antonio as possible. After a quick stop at Dunkin’, we were on our way.

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When driving a 13-year old car with over 117k miles on it across the country, there’s no doubt that there’s a little worry. My biggest fear was getting through West Texas since there are huge stretches of open land with nothing for miles – let alone a BMW repair shop.

My fears weren’t unfounded. Not even to Tucson yet, only 90 minutes south of home, the AC stopped working. The car quickly became almost unbearable with its recirculating warm air, cooled only by the breeze it created.  Fortunately, it didn’t last long.  I turned it off, opened the windows for a bit then tried it again a few miles later. Thankfully, we were back in business. I couldn’t imagine the drive without air as temps were expected to be in the high 90s the entire trip.

We cruised through Arizona without any further issues and before long, we were in New Mexico and now on Mountain Time, losing an hour. With the mountains of Las Cruses off in the distance, the risks of travel bit us again. This time, we caught a rock off the windshield but were spared any major damage.  Another crisis averted, but it was time for our first refuel. About 370 miles down in 5 hours.

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El Paso was next up. Once you enter Texas on I-10 just west of El Paso, you have about 890 miles before you exit Texas. Amazing!

In and around El Paso, signs of “El PaSO Strong” dotted the highway as we were just eleven days out from the devastating Walmart shooting.

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Now out in the middle of West Texas, and 90 minutes outside of El Paso, we were getting hungry.  Our next stop was in Van Horn. This town of around 2,000 is the westernmost town in Texas within the central time zone – meaning, we lost another hour. Obviously, our options were limited so we were stuck with a Wendy’s meal and quick top off of fuel before the next 6-hour leg to San Antonio with an expected arrival at about 10pm.

With I-10 essentially running straight through San Antonio, we decided to find a place to stay downtown so we can grab a drink on the famed Riverwalk. The internet is a traveler’s best friend as last-minute bookings can be found with the click of a button. We opted for a night in the historic Crockett Hotel, just steps from the Riverwalk, and a bargain at just $58 for a last-minute booking. We arrived at 9:45pm with 118,351 on the odometer – logging 13-1/2 hours of driving and 983 miles.

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After checking in and dropping our bags, we made our way to the Riverwalk for a lite, late snack.  Having spent time in San Antonio in the past, we opted for the familiar since it was getting late. Years ago, Buodro’s was the inspiration for the guacamole I still make today.  I will say, I prefer my version these days.

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No trip to San Antonio would be complete without stopping by the famed Alamo on the walk back to the hotel.

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By 7:30am, we were back on the road. The plan for today was to make it to Pensacola – about 10 hours away, but all in the same time zone.  This would leave us about 7 hours to Orlando on our final day, but losing another hour to the sun.

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East of San Antonio, the Texas landscape finally changes to more green. And it was here we started to see signs for the famous Buc-ee’s convenience stores. We were definitely intrigued by their billboards, but didn’t want to stop “just because”.

After hitting some morning rush hour traffic in Houston and unknowingly taking the scenic route through downtown, we were back on our way.

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On the east side of Houston, in Baytown, there was another Buc-ee’s and it was time for refueling. Finally, our chance to check out the hype.

This place is absolutely amazing. Take the best parts of a Pilot Truck Stop, Circle K (or Sheetz, Wawa’s), Total Wine, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Arizona State Fair, Target, Cracker Barrel, and mom & pop restaurant, roll it into one and you have Buc-ee’s! That, in my view, makes it a must-see.

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Mascot…

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Sparkling bathrooms, including showers…

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Meals ready to cook…

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Buc-ee’s Merch…

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Meals ready to eat…

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Merch from many of the “local” teams…

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And sooo much more!

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All fueled up, we made our next target, Baton Rouge – home of the LSU Tigers and the start of our SEC/ACC Stadium Tour. We decided to hold out for lunch until we hit their campus. The drive from Baytown was another 3-1/2 hours across the rest of Texas and halfway across Louisiana .

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LSU has a beautiful campus with a ton of construction. Plenty of shade trees across the campus and brick buildings everywhere. We decided to grab lunch at The Chimes, just steps away from the campus. Of course, a Po Boy was the choice.

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Before leaving, we stopped by Tiger Stadium to grab a few pix. Billy Cannon, LSU’s only Heisman Winner (as of this visit) is on prominent display, along with the mascot. Little did we know that LSU would start their 15-0, College Football Championship season later that month with Joe Burrow (Burreaux if you’re from Louisiana) leading the way and picking up LSU’s 2nd Heisman Trophy in record-setting fashion.

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Back on the road, we got re-routed off the I-10 by Waze and ended up well off the standard route. Another stop for gas and we found this unique feature of Louisiana. Drive-thru Daiquiris!

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We passed through the 80 miles of Mississippi in about an hour.

IMG_6420Next up was Alabama. We were pushing it to make Pensacola Beach before sunset.

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Unfortunately, with the rerouting in Louisiana, we were now behind schedule and had the sunset (and Mobile) in our rearview mirror as we approached the Florida state line – about an hour away from Pensacola Beach.

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We pressed on and made it to a Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola Beach for dinner. Finally, a cold beer after a very long day. Almost 13 hours of driving and another 770 miles covered – much slower than yesterday due to the long stops at Buc-ee’s and LSU.

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By pushing it today however, we were back on track to be less than 7 hours from Orlando and would be able to make it a more casual day.

The next morning, we were up and out again before sunrise and on the road by 6:30am. Along I-10, we saw what we thought was an escaped inmate running through the median of the highway. Go figure.

About 3 hours later, we made the side trip to Florida State University’s campus in Florida’s Capitol City of Tallahassee. This was nowhere near the beauty of LSU, but Doak Campbell Stadium was very impressive.

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We were happy to learn that it was an orientation weekend – so the gates to get inside the stadium, directly onto the field, were open! We walked out to the stadium to snap some photos. As soon as I set foot on the turf, I was quickly reminded to stay off the grass.

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We also grabbed a few shots of Osceola and Renegade, FSU’s mascots at the “Unconquered” statue.

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Back on the road, the next stop would be lunch at the University of Florida in Gainesville – just over 2 hours away.

Again, the campus did not impress. Maybe I’m just not a fan of downtown campuses. It’s set in the middle of town with no distinct character. In fact, the street we came in on lead us directly in front of the stadium, which again, sits in the middle of town. I don’t know how or where tailgating would take place. Maybe I need to visit on Game Day!

With a little rain moving in, we wanted to get back on the road quickly. We grabbed a quick, quality bite at the Metro Diner and continued on our way.  We left so quickly, we actually forgot to grab any photos of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp”. Argh.

It was the right call. Heavy rains slowed us down the rest of the way – that and I’m sure what was a rain-caused accident. We passed through Ocala and skirted the western edge of The Villages before we were met with heavy rush-hour traffic in Orlando. Even with the delays, the timing was perfect as we pulled into the hotel at 5:30pm and 119,600 on the odometer.  We called an audible and had our daughter grab an Uber to the hotel. She landed at 4:30pm and arrived shortly after us!

All told, seven states, 2,232 miles and over 36 hours in the car.  Sure, you can do it quicker, but why? There’s so much to see along the way.

This trip marks the fourth time I’ve driven across this amazing country – each one on somewhat of a schedule. I long for the day when I can hop in the car and wander through the small towns off the interstate – stopping along the way to see more unique roadside attractions and our nation’s natural beauty while taking in all that is America.

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Stop wondering! Start wandering!

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