Trailering Magazine Archives - Featured Articles
The Migration (Trailers and Snowbirds)
It begins as it always begins. By late October the first cars and the trailers and the RV's point south, seeking an early escape from yet-to-arrive wind chills and ice. But it is a migration away as much as it's a migration toward. The most popular destination is Florida, aptly named "the sunshine state," but many of the travelers find refuge in South Carolina or Georgia. We say "many" because millions of cars and tow vehicles and boats and trailers and RV's travel the familiar paved paths called, among others, "Interstate 75" and "Interstate 95." Today, these migration routes are roads much traveled.
Interstate Highways began in 1956 as a way to quickly move people while also serving as part of America's defense system. An example can be found in Georgia where long sections of Interstate 75 are straight. The design is intentional because this is where aircraft can land to help protect the southeastern part of the country. There are no overhead wires and the Interstate played a key role during the Cold War when there was concern the Soviet Union could invade the U.S. from Cuba to Florida or Georgia. Today, the invasion is friendlier. And, this time of year, it comes from the North.
Interstate 95 runs from Houlton, Maine 1,926 miles south to Miami. It is the king of Interstates handling more traffic than any other road in the country. Interstate 75 has as it's start Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and travels 1,775 miles to Ft. Lauderdale. Both super highways carry the majority of travelers to, and from, their winter escapes. Both, too, are the topics of study by a pair of men who have devoted their lives to the stories found along every exit. Dave Hunter writes the popular Along Interstate 75 (Mile Oak Publishing Inc.) and has just published the 2001 edition. Tom Gilligan writes the I-95 Exit Information Guide as well as an online edition of the book on the Internet at (www.usastar.com/i95/homepage.htm).
"The roads running east and west aren't as interesting," says Hunter, who has been writing the Guide since 1993, "and it's because they are a slim corridor of history and culture. But if you travel along I-75, you cross routes used by DeSoto in 1540, Daniel Boone about two hundred years later, you cross Civil War battlefields and you pass high tech centers such as Oak Ridge. It's a wider spectrum of history." From January to June, Hunter is on the road (in this case, literally) recording the sights, sounds, stories and, of course, the menus that are found along both the north and southbound lanes.
Hunter's view of the Interstate takes in more than what he sees through the windshield. "My wife and I drove I-75 to see the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton (Ohio Exit 58). On display are more than 300 military aircraft and missiles including the Boeing 707 that served as Air Force One for presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon (1962-1973). This was the aircraft that carried JFK's body back from Dallas in 1963 and it's where President Johnson was sworn into office. While we were looking at the aircraft, I noticed a fellow standing off to one side who seemed to have a familiarity with the layout. It turns out he was a member of the flight crew that served on board the aircraft during JFK's presidency. I bought him a cup of coffee and he just started talking about his experiences. This happens all the time along I-75. And the museum is well worth the time spent."
The I-95 site always catching Gilligan's attention is called "South of the Border." The name is appropriate because it is, indeed, just south of the North and South Carolina border. "If you are looking for the definition of 'tourist trap,' this is the place," says Gilligan who admits he stops there as often as possible. Travelers will see signs promoting what can be found (food, rides, shopping-including electric cacti and salt and pepper Shaker sets in the shape of the South of the Border namesake,Pedro complete with a Sombrero)for hundreds of miles north or south of the exit. One sign to look for says "You never 'sausage' a place." "Just about any cheap and tacky way to remember your stay can be found here," says Gilligan. "South of the Border" is so big, it even has it's own exit.
How many people make up the migration? A 1996 study by the University of Florida shows the state has an average of 472,000 temporary residents (those who reside in Florida five months/year) on any given day. The number jumps to more than 971,000 in January and drops to no more than 113,700 in August. Both Hunter and Gilligan agree with those figures saying the snowbirds begin the trek south as soon as the autumn foliage season ends in the north. Sarasota County, (which includes popular destinations like Siesta Key, Long Boat Key, Venice and Northport) with a population of 223,558 had 1,243,968 tourists in 1999. And there's another figure upon which everyone is in agreement: The number of travelers not only to Florida but also to the South during the winter is going to increase. Within the next 30 years, the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business research predicts the state's permanent resident population will increase as much as fifty percent.
Tom Gilligan and his family have been traveling I-95 for more than 25 years. "I think I-95 travelers are a kind of cult," he says, "and in many ways that interstate highway is a modern day Route 66. These people aren't, what we call, short-trippers. You see a fellow road warrior at a rest stop in Georgia and the next day you'll see them again in New Jersey.
Both Hunter and Gilligan urge interstate travelers to get off the road and explore the older parallel routes. ""I-95 and I-75 are like traveling down those water slide tubes, "says Gilligan, " because you have no idea what is just outside the Interstate corridor. I try to drive on US 1 or US 301 parallel to I-95 and it is like stepping back into the 1950's. You will come to a town and suddenly get the feeling you're in Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show." Hunter says he's never viewed I-75 as a way to get from point A to point B. "It is a destination," he says, adding, "and that's why people are enjoying the journey more than ever before."
BEST ICE CREAM: Mayfield Dairy, Athen, TN
BEST DINER: Whistle Stop Cafe, Juliette, GA., GA (this was featured in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes).
BEST BBQ: Pit Stop BBQ, Tifton, GA
Hunters I-75 Tips:
(1) Gas is cheapest in Georgia (Georgia also has the cheapest I-95 gas prices).
(2) Stop at a state's Welcome Center and pick up a free copy of Market America or the Traveler Discount Guide which contains hotel coupons (web site www.eig.com). Arrive at a hotel after 6pm and present a coupon and chances are good you will be given a discount of up to 45%.
(3) Don't use rest stops after dark.
(4) Snowbirds who are "mall-walkers" should know about the Piqua Mall (Exit 62) in Ohio. It has an access door that is open all the time and those travelers in need of a vigorous, or not so vigorous, walk after a long day on I-75 should keep it in mind.
(5) If you are in need of food that isn't mass-produced, check out Louie's on the Lake (Exit 134 in Tennessee, one-half mile to the east of I-75.). Louie's has a great "tater skins and spinach artichoke dip."
BEST BBQ: THE GEORGIA PIG, Brunswick GA (EXIT 6, one-fourth mile east of I-95)
BEST PANCAKES: Aunt Sarah's Pancake House, Roanoke Rapids, NC (exit 176)
BEST ICE CREAM: Carl's Ice Cream, Fredericksburg, VA. (exit 133) on Princess Anne Street. It's open from Valentine's Day through November and be prepared to wait in line (it moves quickly).
BEST ATMOSPHERE: The Shell House, Savannah, GA. (Exit 16). All the tables at this seafood restaurant have a hole in the middle where you throw your scraps. It opens at 4pm and you will do well to get there early.
Gilligan's I-95 Tips:
(1) From Boston to Richmond, Virginia, southbound travelers are facing continuous travel through urban sprawl and heavy traffic. Driver attention is a constant issue.
(2) Stay in the center lane where possible. You have a better opportunity to more safely negotiate sudden lane changes or exits. Also keep in mind trucks passing you on the right will block highway signs and exits so think ahead if you are looking for an upcoming exit.
(3) I-95 at night is one car for every 100 trucks.
(4) For the traveler going between Florida and Maine there are three must-see places: In the small seacoast town of Ogunquit, Maine you'll find a fishing community called "Perkin's Cove" and "The Marginal Way," an old Indian trail with great views along the rocky Maine coast. In Virginia, make the time to travel east on I-64 for less than an hour and visit colonial Williamsburg. And in the Carolinas, you will find great bargains at the outlet stores that are located at many exits.
(5) Shortcuts to keep in mind: Take I-295 around Richmond. It's a parallel route to I-95(43 miles) but it's faster because I-95 goes through the cities of Richmond and Petersburg. And I-95 construction is still going on through Jacksonville, Florida so travelers should take I- 495 around the city.