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Ashley and Tim Gruters pose with their Observer newspaper in front of the Biltmore estate in Asheville, N.C. Courtesy photos.
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 22, 2011 9 years ago

Neighbors: No Reservations

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

Sarasota — ‘Honey, let’s just keep driving … ’
When Tim Gruters told his wife, Ashley, the night before their four-day tennis tournament trip to Atlanta that he was extending the trip by 29 days and she’d better get packing, she didn’t make a fuss or panic about how she was going to fit 33 outfits into her suitcase.

Instead, because her husband had taken time off before starting a new job and she was on summer vacation as a teacher, Ashley Gruters smiled and went with the flow.

“Tim’s brother, Joe, told him we should take a road trip and hit up some great cities, food and baseball,” Ashley Gruters says. “You know boys — I just let them talk. Then, literally, the day before we left, I believed it might just happen. As a planner and fashionista, I made sure to pack a great travel bag that evening.”

As the Gruters pulled out of their driveway June 16, the thought of leaving Sarasota for a whole month was almost impossible to imagine. Thirty-three days, 14 cities, five baseball games and dozens of meals on the road later, and managing to take Observer newspapers with them on every sightseeing adventure, they returned home.

Atlanta — Displaying athletic ambition
The couple competed in the National Husband-and-Wife Indoor Tennis Championships, in Atlanta. They placed fourth in the tournament, and were ranked the No. 1 husband-and-wife team in the nation.

“We played against teaching pros and Division I athletes,” Tim Gruters says. “Ashley was the superstar, and I wasn’t so good. We get along on the court because she doesn’t make any mistakes.”

When the tournament ended, the Gruterses trekked off to Oakland Cemetery, Stone Mountain, an Atlanta Braves game, the Sweet Water Brewery and Centennial Olympic Park.

Atlanta — Through Georgia to North Carolina
Upon leaving Atlanta, the couple decided to hike up Stone Mountain, northeast of Atlanta, where they stayed for the next 12 hours.

Next on their tour, they headed to North Carolina and discussed options such as whitewater rafting, hiking, seeing The Biltmore estate and eating famous Carolina-style barbecue.

“Tim assured me that whitewater rafting was really fun,” Ashley Gruters says. “I screamed down the river, but made it out alive with memories I won’t forget.”

On the road — Staying entertained …

While traveling, the couple fell in love with the idea of getting the most out of every city and made it a priority to experience everything — especially the food. They took advice from the Food Network’s “Man Vs. Food” show for the best places to eat. They entertained themselves during the drive by playing games such as looking for license plates from all 50 states, keeping a daily blog of their activities and attempting to stay within a $100-a-day budget.

“(The budget was) a little Rachael Ray inspiration,” Ashley Gruters says. “I do not know how she meets that $20-a-day food budget; however, it was fun to pretend that we were trying to make that budget goal.”

Baltimore — An Orioles game and the Big Apple
Arriving on the East Coast, the couple made stops in Washington, D.C, and in Baltimore, where they attended a Baltimore Orioles game. The Orioles’ stadium was one of five baseball stadiums they visited on the trip.

The couple agreed that Philadelphia would be their next destination, followed by New York City.

Arriving in Philadelphia, they gathered suggestions from Facebook friends as to where to consume their first Philly cheesesteaks. Pat’s Steaks seemed to be the top pick, so the couple put the address in their GPS to guide them from Baltimore to Philadelphia. Over the course of their next five meals, they had consumed three cheesesteaks at Pat’s, Geno’s Steaks and Tony Luke’s.

Because Tim Gruters had never visited New York City, the couple decided to take full advantage of everything the Big Apple had to offer: Yankee Stadium, “Spiderman” on Broadway, the Brooklyn Bridge and Wall Street.

“We didn’t sleep much and got the most of our four days in New York,” Ashley Gruters says. “Tim found what he says was the best thing he has ever eaten in his life — the frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity.”
The treat proved so scrumptious that they went back three times.

From New York, the couple drove to Connecticut, where Ashley Gruters showed her husband her childhood home, where she lived before moving to play tennis at the University of Connecticut. The couple also swung their rackets on the courts on which Ashley Gruters grew up playing.

When they reached Rhode Island, Ashley Gruters’ grandparents took them in, and the couple caught up on sleep for the first time in three weeks, relaxed on the beach and spent time on the water.

Boston — Enjoying American pastimes
The couple’s next stop was Boston, where they traveled the Freedom Trail, grabbed drinks at the Cheers bar and Sam Adams brewery, saw a Red Sox game and went on the duck tour. They stopped in Cape Cod, Mass., to visit family, toured the Cape Cod chip factory and went whale-watching.

“As we journeyed to our last stop for a wedding in New Hampshire, reality set in that our trip was coming to an end,” Ashley Gruters says. “We had booked our hotel (in Richmond, N.H.) because driving straight home was not an option. That would have been reasonable if Tim hadn’t made a slight detour.”

It was back to New York City for a last-minute stop for one more frozen hot chocolate before starting the drive home to Sarasota.

homeward bound — Time to rest ... for a little while, at least
“As we pulled into Sarasota, we were happy to finally sleep in our own bed,” Ashley Gruters says. “We didn’t stay long, because the next week we headed to Kansas City for another tennis tournament — and some more barbecue.”


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