Two Road Trips

I recently took two road trips in my BMW 328i. The first was a trip from downtown Clearwater to West Palm Beach, then down to Ft. Lauderdale and back to Clearwater–all in one day.

The second was a trip from Clearwater with the two boys to visit Grandpa and Grandma in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The West Palm trip was for work. My cohort, Jason and I, left the office at noon, dropped Jason’s car off at my house, then hit the road. Across Tampa Bay to I-275 east to I-4 towards Lakeland, swung around on the turnpike to Highway 98 to Bartow, then Highway 60 east to the Florida Turnpike. South on the turnpike to Palm Beach to pick up another cohort, Dodi, then back up to West Palm for a Spiceworks user group meeting (Spiceworks makes software tools for network administrators). We got there at 5:00, had a quick bite and prepared for the 6:00 meeting. We had the second half of the meeting to briefly talk about our software (VIPRE Antivirus Business) and then Dodi launched into his spiel about the state of malware today.

If you’re into viruses and trojans and worms and keyloggers, oh my! Dodi’s speech was riveting.

We ended off around 8:30 and got out of there just before 9:00pm and drove Dodi down to Ft. Lauderdale to his hotel, then Jason and I high-tailed it back to Clearwater. Heading west, I missed the correct side of the highway to pick up I-75 across Alligotor Alley. The first exit, an illegal u-turn, then we were back on track and drove through the night and got home at 2:00am. And made it to work the next day. Late, but we made it.

On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend my two sons and I hit the road for Alabama and Grandpa’s house on the lake. We turned onto US19 at 3:30 and drove for the next ten hours. My oldest doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so yours truly had the honors.

Once past civilization, driving north on US19 is very pleasant. There’s never a lot of traffic, there’s a couple of towns to break up the monotony, it’s a fairly scenic drive with woods on both sides and the occasional ranch and deserted building. Four hours after starting, it’s I-10 west past Tallahassee to US 231 north to Dothan, AL, home of the Auburn Tigers–and the chief rival of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Continuing on 231 northwest to Montgomery on a four lane divided highway, just like US19, then it’s US 82 into Tuscaloosa. That’s a heck of a drive–a two-lane very hilly road with no shoulders on either side into the bustling metropolis of Centrevillle (don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it) followed by a divided four-lane with no shoulders into Tuscaloosa.

Turn around and come back on Memorial Day Monday, only to get deluged by Tropical Storm Beryl on I-10 and US19. Not to worry, I’ve been in worse thunderstorms.

First off, let me say that Florida has some of the most fantastic beaches in the world. But the gods charged a price, because the central part of Florida is one of the most boring drives imaginable, almost as bad as west Texas. Florida’s interior has a lot of scrub forest and scrawny bushes. And it’s flat, flat, flat. Oh, we hit a couple of hills in Lake Wales, but after that, gawd amighty. It’s a good thing Jason was with me because the drive is boring.

Coming back across Alligator Alley is equally as boring. At night you can usually see lightning in the distance, which will at least take your mind off of the flat, straight, dull, boring drive across very dark and flat terrain. And the drive from Naples up to the Sunshine Skyway is equally bland. Make sure you’ve got good road music.

In contrast, the drive to Alabama is fun. There’s enough change of pace and there’s hills in Alabama. Some of the views are great as you top a hill and can see the rolling terrain for miles around. The two-lane is particularly fun as you come up on slow-moving traffic.

A few years ago, my conversion van ran into intermittent transmission problems in Dothan on a Friday night of a holiday weekend. That was an adventure in worry, wondering whether or not we were going to make it. We did–the next morning. When the dealer in Tuscaloosa couldn’t find anything wrong, the drive back was equally nerve-racking. But it went off without a hitch. Or air conditioning as I suspected a sensor or controller in the engine compartment was going on the fritz when it got too warm.

This time the trip was a breeze. It wasn’t without its challenges, though. It was hot driving up US19. The outside air temp hit 102°, but inside it was as pleasant as you please. The 328i never missed a beat. The temp gauge stayed stuck at dead center and the engine ran smooth.

This was our first road trip in the 382i as a family, and I was concerned about interior space. We were spoiled by the conversion van, with its built-in TV and VCR, bed in back, reclining captain’s chairs and a whole lot of space. My previous car was a 735iL with a back seat that was cavernous. It drove well and the kids had all the room they needed.

The 328i was a little tight, but both the boys were able to sleep. My 9-year old slept in the back and my 19-year old slept in the reclined passenger seat now and then. He plugged his laptop into the converter which was plugged into the cigarette lighter and the boys watched a movie part of the way, keeping both of them entertained.

Even better, the 328i averaged 29.7 mpg over 1150 miles of driving there and back. (I forgot to measure it on the trip to West Palm and back.) I was lucky to get 15 in my conversion van!

Despite being a small car, the 328i makes a great long-distance traveling vehicle for up to three. It’s got enough oomph to pass at highway speeds, very important when you need to make a fast pass on a two-lane before reaching the next corner or hill. The seats are comfy, both for sitting and lying down. It’s cozy (ie, small inside) but not claustrophobic and there’s just enough space that neither kid complained about being cramped.

Road trips. I still enjoy them. There’s something calming about driving for several hours, with an interesting destination at the end of it. But I hate boring cars. If you’re going to drive long distances, drive something that makes you smile.


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