The annual trek to the south a seasonal tradition
When the leaves turn red and gold, when the geese migrate south, setting down briefly on Owasco Lake to feed and gaggle all night long outside our bedroom window, and when the boat is snuggled under its shrink-wrapped winter blanket, that’s when Janet and I abandon our deck chairs at lake’s edge and drive our automobile—laden to the roof with suitcases and junk—to paradise in Juno Beach, Fla.
Thousands upon thousands of us snowbirds commute from our homes in the Northeast to our homes or condos in the Southeast every autumn, only to return the next spring. It is a uniquely American ritual that may die off with the 55-plus generation because of the rising cost of owning and operating property in Florida and other southern vacation states.
We enjoy the drive but other snowbirds prefer to ship their cars and fly back and forth. When you see the humongous car carriers unloading in front of the condos, then you know the “season” has begun. Likewise when you see the car carriers picking up their loads in the spring, you know that the “season” is over.
Instinctual need—The human animal has not evolved much beyond the geese, whales, sharks, or other mammals that are driven by unknown instincts to seek shelter from the snow and cold of winter.
Our routes of travel include Route 81 through Pennsylvania and Virginia to Route 77 in North Carolina, Route 26 in South Carolina, and finally hooking up with 95 that travels through Georgia and Florida. The most beautiful segment of our journey is Virginia, in my humble opinion the most beautiful of all the 48.
The rolling hills and lush landscape of this Colonial state highlight the vibrant colors of autumn as well as the verdant greens of spring upon our return. Our route hugs the mighty Appalachian Mountain chain. Starting in Front Royal Virginia—opposite Washington D.C.—Skyline Drive melds into The Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway and then The Smokey Mountain Parkway and finally ends in The Great Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee.
The parkways generally follow Route 81 and ride high over the mountain ridges. Occasionally, when weather permits and the mood is right, we will drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke to Fancy Gap, Va., which intersects with Route 77 just south of the intersection with Route 81. This beautiful byway takes only a few minutes more and rewards with spectacular views of the Virginia landscape.
Breath-taking view—Some of the scenic overviews overlook 100 miles to the horizon. The driver must be continuously vigilant for the occasional deer or bear that sometimes meander onto the highway from the nearby woods. Oh, and if a passenger is prone to motion sickness, forget the whole idea.
Charlotte, N.C. is the halfway point of our journey and our stop-over point. It is a beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan city totally unlike typical laid-back southern cities like Savannah, Ga. This year, we discovered a new upscale Holiday Inn that, likewise, is totally unlike the typical mom and pop motel. This attractive high-rise hotel features plush rooms with every modern ammenities including a large flat-screen TV, an inside pool, and a steakhouse restaurant off the lobby. We would have expected to pay over $200 a night for such accommodations in a major metropolitan area, but instead, thanks to off-season rates and deep discounts as a result of the recession—our rate was $89.
In spite of the enjoyable trip, we were happy to arrive at our southern home. Florida is worlds apart from Upstate New York but we welcome the change of venue. Several of our friends and neighbors in Auburn join us, some introduced to the area by us. Additionally, we have acquired many new friends from other places in the Northeast. Janet is even able to continue her weekly bridge games with the same Auburn group, unabated.
Florida has undergone a sea of change since the crash of 2008. The explosive growth that produced condominiums on every square foot of beachfront and practically every street corner—or so it seems—has come to a complete halt. Many housing projects as well as commercial building projects were halted in mid construction. Many retirees on a fixed income have seen their investment income greatly reduced, while their mortgage is upside down.
The resultant chaos has reduced property values by up to 50 percent in some cases. This situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future and while it produces opportunities for some, it has created hardship for others.
Meanwhile, Florida remains a haven for those of us who love to be outdoors practically every day of the winter, to swim, and play, and exercise. In my estimation, it can add 10 years to your life and make the golden years shine.