Charleston, SC to St. Marys, GA – Bailey, the young woman at the hostel, told me that there really weren’t a lot of restaurants serving local food in Charleston. There were three local breweries but they were “eh”. She handed me a room key and told us the code to the back door. Of course, we could park behind the hostel. We drove twice around the block before we found the driveway, parked and tried to walk into a house with three cat cages and a broken refrigerator on the back porch that wasn’t the hostel at all. After one more loop around the block, we finally we found the parking area, hiked our bags up the narrow wood staircase to a two-bunked room, and staked out our sleeping space. Thus began a road-trip of the Deep South, this time with my 27-year old sidekick named Lucy.
Our itinerary began in Charleston with plans to drift south through Savannah, down into Florida and pick up Highway 10 west to New Orleans. North from there included blasting through Arkansas, Oklahoma and the ever-long state of Kansas. Our destination: Denver, Colorado, by September 2. At least that was the plan. Friends of Sawtooth Brewery fame in Knoxville donated a Styrofoam cooler to the cause, keeping my Tennessee sourdough starter alive for the ride. The cider from the pressing the night before I left Sewanee, TN, was starting to ferment and needed to be on ice before I lost it to vinegar.
Lucy and I had taken a history of social work class together. We wanted to visit civil rights sites, perhaps combine good food with a little history and maybe a few ghosts. We agreed to sleep cheap. Attached to her iPhone and debunking Bailey’s naysaying about the lack of great food in Charleston, Lucy GPS’d us to the Hominy Grill a few blocks from the hostel. We dined on fried green tomatoes and a Big Nasty – fried chicken smothered in biscuits and gravy. The beer was local and, at the recommendation of our waiter, we turned downtown for a ghost tour of the Old City Jail.
Old City Jail now houses the American College of the Building Arts, a school training students on historical preservation and building. Paulette, our tour guide, admitted that she was a high school social studies teacher who didn’t believe in ghosts until something pushed a brick out of the wall and it fell close to her head on one of her first tours. She showed us the brick. We were inside the darkest room of the building, breathing in dank air and maybe ghosts. She mentioned that the light in the old morgue was not on when she gave her last tour. It flickered. Lucy and I huddled together and checked to be sure no one was behind us. Paulette, a little spooked by the place, asked if we could please come back inside with her to lock up the building as the clock struck midnight. The city ghost expert, she said, told her not to sing “Jesus Loves Me” – this only made the ghosts angry.
We woke the next morning with plans to head for the beach. Stopping at Collective Coffee on our way to the Isle of Palms, we heard that Charleston was by far a better place than Savannah. (But Georgia’s on my mind!) And yes, shark attacks did happen. We rested on the warm sand of Isle of Palms (our first island) and headed back to the coffee shop for more beta on the area and caffeine before we headed south. The man who made our coffee was friendly and I asked him to stay in touch due to his farmer-tendencies. Once back in the car, we couldn’t remember his name….Travis? The whole drive to Savannah, Lucy searched for him on her iPhone but he was not in the cybersphere and he never wrote me back. Siri, the degenerate iPhone app, tried to help by sending us one block west, one block south, one block east, back onto the road we were on before. I’ll admit that I cursed her. Lucy laughed.
In the interest of cutting our expenses, we decided to camp on Tybee Island outside of Savannah. The campsite appeared to have been freshly flooded, both because of its dampness and plethora of mosquitos. We slapped our legs to kill the buggers, admiring the homes built on stilts, and then drove into Savannah for burgers at The Public. We took pictures of ourselves at the site where they filmed the opening scenes of Forrest Gump. Returning to Tybee, we emptied the tent of mosquitoes by headlamp and slept in the muggy flooded air. This was not our best night of sleep but the showers were clean. The next day, we visited the Second African Baptist Church for a picture of where Martin Luther King, Jr. first delivered his “I have a dream” speech as a sermon. A homeless man let us take a picture of his dog, a lab mix that looked more like a pit-dachshund mix. Then we lost ourselves by accident across town, and filled our bellies with delicious Screamin’ Mimi’s Pizza before heading to St. Marys, GA.
St. Marys is just on the border before Florida. We decided to spring for a cabin at the St. Marys KOA, a lovely little campground a stone’s throw from the Cumberland Island ferry landing. I’ve stayed in many KOA’s but this one was pristine. Lucy studied for her LSAT and I chatted with a close friend, Kelly, who lives in the area and escaped her kids to come visit. The next morning, showers were clean, the gardens were lovely and I even threatened to make us late by waiting for the staff to make me a free waffle in the morning.
It was clear and humid as we boarded the ferry to Cumberland Island, a National Seashore complete with mansion ruins and feral horses. We had five hours before the ferry left back to the mainland and planned to walk east from the SeaCamp ferry landing to the beach. We tromped down the trail through the palmettos and live oaks strung with Spanish moss – a haven for chiggers. Past the dunes, the Atlantic ocean roared. Lucy, raised in landlocked Colorado, soon hollered from the high tide line that there was something alive. Should she throw it back? I ran up the beach. Maybe it was a seal? A great blue heron? Instead, she stood over a clam that some bird creature had dropped, uncracked. We picked it up and threw it into the ocean – made a difference to that one!
Horse hoof prints dotted the shoreline and, as we walked the boardwalk to the Carnegie ruins on the south side of the island, we finally saw the horses. A foal drank from his mother and the mare kicked at the mosquitos as the fiddler crabs scattered at her feet. Scraping out an existence, the horses, we read, were dismal to the dunes. It was unclear what the National Parks were doing to control their intrusion but for the tourists, it was a highlight. No shark teeth were found on the west beach of the island as we hoofed it back to catch the 2:45pm ferry.
Exhausted and sunburned, we slept on the boat ride back to St. Marys and began the three-hour drive to Chattahoochee, FL, asking ourselves, “Who goes to Chattahoochee?”