Tracking two hurricanes as they head across the ocean towards the South East USA is an effective way to re-live some of the anxieties of your former yachting life.
Our original sailing plan when we had a yacht (new readers please see previous boat/fire/disaster posts…) was to be well north of the hurricane zone in the critical time period of course…. in yacht insurance terms this zone ends at latitude30.5`N which is about where Florida turns into Georgia.
We had scooted the bus back down from Canada on the last day of September, to our “boon-docking” spot near Atlanta, Georgia (free camping in other words) on Rob and Angela’s driveway, to do some anxious/urgent/boring vehicle admin’. However, you can only spend so many hours in the day stressing about that and watching the weather so meantime I tasked myself with:-
- Getting through he fear factor of driving on my own in the USA
- Getting a new ukulele (my yellow uke’ Birdie went down with the yacht)
- Some fitness and exploring stuff!
I have learned some things about myself in this last year of traveling as you would expect, and number 1 is that there really is no one else to kick you up the backside so as to not waste days and freedom and opportunities – I have to kick myself up the backside and get on with it!
Our first bit of exploring was in a beautiful bit of Appalachian countryside and also on those lists of the “coolest small towns in the USA” etc that fill the internet travel click bait. Helen, Georgia made its name as a Bavarian style alpine town, with Octoberfests and gingerbread roof trim on the wooden shops of the high street. I would say that it may have been lovely 30 years ago, but the touristy busy-ness and levels of kitsch have probably peaked.
More successful was my Jeep exploration including getting safely to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, an extensive State Park including two beautiful peaks full of American Indian and civil war history. These trails are THE weekend destination for locals and visitors in the area – basically if you are ambulatory you are going up Kennesaw Mountain at the weekend…
The mountains have a great view of Atlanta and the plains surrounding the city – hence the bronze Civil War cannon. The plains were originally home to regional Cherokee. Their surprising history includes becoming settled farmers with schools, newspapers, American style dress, English-speaking leaders, a Constitution and even African slaves.
When the first USA gold rush started in 1829 in Dahlonega, North Georgia they finally lost the battle to keep those Georgia lands and they were forced off elsewhere on the Trail of Tears.
At various points during our boon-docking stay our friends Rob and Angela would return to their home – usually at 1.00 am in the morning – from whatever adventure or business project they had underway and we would have a drink together, catch upon news and see them off again shortly afterwards!
A trip – me and the Jeep natch’ – to a local music shop sorted me out with a beautiful new ukulele and two music lessons, in which I learned more music theory than I will probably ever use while I learn to strum “Four Strong Winds”. And then we were off again working our way up to North Carolina to visit more old friends.
We were fortunate to only experience winds and heavy rain from the two hurricanes that made landfall in the USA during 2018 but our next stop on the way, at the Dan River campsite in North Carolina, really showed the dramatic effects of a river breaking its banks. Thick “beaches” of sand were laid along the river banks and muddy tide lines were clearly visible 5 feet up the trees and bushes.
It was freakish to imagine the sluggish brown river down below roaring through the woods, over our heads.
Even without the flood damage the campground was rather bleak and treeless. It is unsurprising that many campers have gone the “van-life” route with smaller, more independent vehicles so that they can look for more natural and peaceful camping spots…however we is 36 feet long!
We explored a little local history with a trip to the local town Madsen, but were glad to be on our way again after a few days.
When Keith and Heather Christiansen last saw us, we were meeting for the first time on the river at the bottom of their garden, with all our salvaged possessions from the boat in two bin liners.
We thought it would be nice to call in and say hello again in happier circumstances and show them our lovely new bus – plus more “boon-docking”! It really is a great way to visit people – you arrive, park your home next to theirs, plug it in and stay for a few days without any unpacking, wondering where the bathroom is in the middle of the night or getting under their feet trying to make endless cups of English tea..(that’s me that one)
Our attempt to show them our new free and easy, low drama life foundered somewhat when they got my garbled voicemail saying that I was calling from someones borrowed office phone, we had a tyre blowout on our way and we were stuck by the side of a country road with no phone reception. We were there for about 4 hours in the end.
Did you know one of these massive tyres costs over $500! No, me neither or I probably would have got the upgraded breakdown coverage…They also sound like a flippin’ bomb going off when they blow.
However, we were fortunate to be stuck in such a quiet spot as it meant that the succession of charming state troopers and local police that went past all had time to stop for an hour or so, chat with us, work out if they could help, direct the traffic round us and generally keep morale high while waited for the tyre truck.
We arrived at the Christiansens late that evening.
Their home between the Little River and Elizabeth City, North Carolina is in a real country spot full of fishermen, crab catching, fields of cabbages, soya beans, peanuts and corn, plenty of deer hunting and dense woodlands.
One of the wonderful things about making friends in a place and staying a while is seeing a little of the real life.
Keith and Heather toured us round where they both grew up and explained some of the mysteries of soft shell crab harvesting (requires a lot of sink-like-tanks to observe the exact moment when the captive crabs are duped into shedding their hard shells) and deer hunting with dogs (requires hounds, a strong liking for venison and the ability to snooze most of the day in the truck waiting for something to happen. Plus a laptop to track the dogs).
We also had a taste of riding through the extensive woodlands rather fast on a beefy ATV, clearing new pathways when we got stuck by going straight over scrubby saplings and bushes in the manner of a mini bulldozer. The small grandchildren also crammed into the ATV were clearly used to branches whipping past their heads and sprays of mud and swamp water from under the wheels as we bucked about and they didn’t squeak at all, unlike me!
Our first stay in a State Park in Mississippi, had involved some hair-raising reversing into a too small spot, so we were a bit anxious about our arrival at Poinsett State Park near Sumter, South Carolina. We made it into our sandy, tree shaded plot just fine – maybe we are getting better at this?!
Poinsett is one of handful of parks in South Carolina and 800 parks across the USA which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 onwards, a scheme giving young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
In 9 years, the mostly unskilled young men of the “CCC,” planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters nationwide. The men lived in camps and were required to send most of their wages home. The project also aimed to start an outdoors recreation movement amongst the American population – which was clearly a success!
Poinsett was equipped with many beautiful and sturdy picnic shelters, wash houses and an office with huge open fireplaces, wooden beams and stone columns made from local “coquina stone” (compacted sea shells from when this spot of land was in the sea). These buildings are distinctively from an era where labour was very cheap.
The park rangers office was staffed by a bunch of cool characters, young guys with wonderful manners and a lot of patience, and proper big Park Ranger hats too. The best piece of information we learned was that there are no bears that far south in South Carolina!!
Hurrah!! We could wander the trails without worrying about pepper spray techniques, carrying a blunderbuss or which of us could run the fastest..
One weekend was very full indeed with an extended family reunion of 60 people – again all in trucks and camper/trailers. We were asked a couple of times if we too were related to the “Aldiss’s?” Family members trooped to and fro three times a day with contributions to the buffet.
One dark Friday night a stream of dozens of vehicles with kayaks on top began funneling through the trees into the tent camping area – which is when we realised the park was also close to a popular launching point to paddle the Wateree and Congaree Rivers. After a couple of weeks of foraging for free wood for daily campfires, watching an abundance of nutty squirrels, hiking the trails, cycling and generally enjoying the peace of the lake we felt fully aclimatised to a life in the woods.
And also ready to move on to our next woodland State Park hideaway, an easy 2 hour jaunt to our favourite holiday haunt Edisto Island, South Carolina.