We started driving south on Christmas night. After an early dinner with the Kings, we put in about six hours of driving, which got us as far as Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Traffic was surprisingly heavy that night, but never slow.
In the morning, we woke to gray skies over Carolina and a heavy, wind-driven rain. (This rain would later fall as snow in Philadelphia.) It was about to become a long day, and a longer drive than we had imagined.
We learned on this trip that driving with the camper in the wintertime is different from the summertime in some important ways.
First is the weather – much likely to have an all-day disruption. If you think about it, storms in the summer tend to be intense but brief, or slow and steady. Winter brings both slow and intense. That was our lot as we trudged across the Piedmont.
Second is daylight – there’s a lot less of it in the winter, as you know if you’ve ever tried to get a suntan by sitting outside in January. The difference between July and December around us is about 5-6 hours of daylight, if you can believe it. Driving the camper at night takes more concentration and requires me to slow down for safety and visibility.
Finally, wind. Winter storms on the East Coast usually come with a chaser of west-to-east wind. When you’re driving north or south, that means a crosswind. Our van and camper together have as much surface area as a small sailboat, and they’re about as responsive to a stiff breeze.
All of this to say: We can (and did) drive safely. Getting the job done meant slowing down. I’ve since concluded that the right daily distance in the winter will be about 500 miles (800 km) as opposed to our summertime max of 700-800 miles (1,100-1,300 km).
Long story short, though we had originally planned to power through to Tampa on the 26th, we stopped for the night in Jacksonville to get some rest and allow a few more hours for the back end of the storm to pass. The rain stopped by Lumberton, North Carolina, but the wind was with us all day and all evening.
The morning of the 27th broke cold and bright in Jacksonville, with temperatures an un-Florida-like 34F/2C when we left the hotel. Everybody slept in the van while I finished out the last few hours of driving into Tampa.
Tomorrow: Robert Is Here, and so are we.