Low and Slow Part 2 (Savannah)

Think “country” and “living” though.  This post has zero barbecue in it.

One of the many things I envisioned in the daydreaming phase of this trip’s planning, way waaay back when, was discovery.  I was about to write “hidden gems” but that’s not it – there’s nothing hidden about these places, I just had no experience with them.  And then came the actual planning, and I noticed a tendency to want to visit places I had already seen, in order to “show them to the family.”  Granted, my current and former careers have made it such that there really aren’t as many places I hadn’t visited as most folks.  Still though, my default setting when route planning has been a gravitation toward a greatest hits list of places I’d already been.

That thinking would have caused me to miss Savannah, which would have been a horrible shame.

In fact, we still almost missed it anyway.  When we added Tampa to our itinerary we talked about cutting the corner on the rest of the South in order to get back closer to the schedule we had originally envisioned, but wisely decided that it wasn’t that big of a deal to be a week or two behind.  (Behind what?  Exactly.)

It was an OK drive up made a bit more interesting by Tacco’s insistence that we stop at a few of the national historical sites along the way, which in this case happen to be forts.  We’ve now seen a few of those in the South, and are learning much more about the Civil War than I had ever bothered to.  If you sense in my tepid wording some resistance to the stops on my part, you are correct.  At this point in our journey I don’t like to make long drives longer, and I bristle when my hard-planned-for expectations of a day’s travel agenda are violated by a “hey, let’s just do this real quick.”  It’s one thing if it’s been in the plan for a while and quite another when a “real quick” several hour stop is tossed my way two hours into a six hour day, particularly when it involves maneuvering Davista through a crowded city with narrow streets and very little parking.

One byproduct (or maybe consequence?) of traveling in this sort of close quarters with, well with anyone probably, is the discovery of conflict modes, often exacerbated by personal quirks, some heretofore unknown.  This is one that Tacco and I have discovered of late.  My relevant quirk, as described briefly above, is that once I get a short term plan in mind, I develop a completely unreasonable resistance to changing it.  Hers is that she tends to grossly underestimate how long things will take.  Put those together in this scenario, and BOOM!

That said, and I want to make this clear, I’m wrong here.  I need to get over that resistance and go with the flow, especially on a trip like this.  Annoyances over long days and difficulty with parking and traffic fade within days if not hours, but visits to historical sites don’t.  I’m so glad we stopped.  We can and have discussed in the interim how to minimize frustrations inherent in last minute changes of plans, and that was both necessary and productive.   And yes, it’s important that we plan ahead with respect to maneuvering and parking our rig, lest we manage to maneuver ourselves into a position we can’t get out of, or worse.  But at the end of the day this trip is about doing things, not avoiding inconveniences.

Here’s our drive, and we stopped at forts in St. Augustine (Castillo San Marcos) and Fort Matanzas to the south.

To Savannah

The two forts are related, as they were both built by the Spanish to protect an approach via water to St. Augustine, which was of course one of the earliest European settlements on the continent.  St. Augustine’s fort is much larger and protects the mouth of the bay right in town, and Fort Matanzas covers the next inlet to the south, which had been used for sneak attacks previously.

IMG_1127Castillo San Marcos flies the old Spanish flag, and the rangers do an enthralling recreation of a cannon fire into the bay by Spanish soldiers, complete with everything but the cannonball.

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I knew vaguely, when living in Pensacola, that many country’s flags had flown over the city over the years (I want to say five?), but I found it fascinating to think anew about Spain, England, and France (and others) squabbling over the land and the various cities that we now take for granted as ours, with the Native Americans of course watching warily and probably wondering how best to navigate the situation.

Whew, that’s a can of worms.  I’ll close that right back up and move on to Savannah.

Despite living in Jacksonville for six months or so for flight training, I never really ventured north into Georgia, and assumed that the coastline up there looked similar to Jacksonville Beach, which I wasn’t particularly a fan of.

Wrong again.

We stayed at a place called Skidaway Island State Park, just south of Savannah among the wetlands, and it was drop dead gorgeous.  Basically it was the stereotypical Low Country scene, with the Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks, cypresses dotting the wetlands and throwing up their “knees” everywhere, and water creeping in and out of various passages with the tides.  It was lush in a way that felt almost tropical.

IMG_1149Skidaway Island used to be isolated from the mainland until a bridge was built in 1970-ish, and is now a relatively affluent suburb of gated communities, golf courses, and our State Park.  We set up camp and hung the hammocks immediately – it had been quite some time since we had such a perfect hammock-lounging campsite.

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In addition, Firebolt asked that we pitch the tent that she had asked for (and received) for Christmas, so that she and possibly her sister could sleep out.

I had initially pegged Keeper as the family member with the biggest survivalist streak, but of late Firebolt has been taking over that mantle.  She’s been asking me whether she could do a “survival skills” class as part of her homeschooling for months, and I keep assenting but then not finding a good way to implement it.  It doesn’t help that I don’t know much.  Her Christmas list consisted almost entirely of camping / outdoorsy / survival related items, and one of her most dog-eared books over the last few months has been a Boy Scout outdoor skills reference title.

She and Woodsprite did end up sleeping in the tent, but I was scolded by Tacco for encouraging two under-10-year-olds to do an unsupervised sleepout in a place with which we weren’t familiar.  Though I clearly wasn’t as concerned, I did find it to be a reasonable objection, so I dragged our big body-sized beanbag and a blanket out there after we’d said our goodnights and joined them.  It was surprisingly comfortable, with the sounds of the frogs and various noise-making insects lulling us to sleep.

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The next day Keeper and I started the day with a ride through the trails.  Completely flat of course, but beautiful.  I’ve been attempting to stay on track with my master plan of making a mountain biking lover out of him, but it hasn’t been as easy as I envisioned.  Lots of places where we’re staying don’t have decent trails nearby, and his bike is working against him to an extent.  I say “his,” but in truth he inherited mine, a 23 (!) year-old Gary Fisher hardtail from back when suspension was a new thing.  It’s a “limited edition Grateful Dead” version of one of Fisher’s first mountain bikes, which is amusing since I could only name two or three Grateful Dead songs, if pressed.  Anyway, she served me very well through four years of pounding the muddy trails in Whidbey Island and Anacortes (with the occasional jaunt to Hawaii via P-3), three more in The Netherlands, a blissful high-elevation year in Park City, and then the rest of my adult life thereafter.  I got a new mountain bike for Christmas two years ago, and was thrilled to pass my old beater on to Keeper once he reached my height on this trip – which by the way I absolutely did not expect at age 12, but that’s an entirely other story – in truth, though, she’s about dead.  The front suspension, an elastomer type (you can’t find those anymore) has lost all elasticity.  The shifting is sloppy at best, and the brakes are getting dangerously close to not doing their job at all, with no easy fixes available.  You just can’t find those parts anymore.  Plus she’s heavy.  Countless hours of criss-crossing the country on top of the Toad can’t be helpful either.

He’s been game to ride with me every time I suggest it, but the writing is on the wall – assuming we settle in Bend, we’re going to need to invest in new bikes for all three kids, and Tacco too likely.  That’s ok, though, feeling justified in maintaining a stable of outdoor toys is one of the things I’m secretly looking forward to.  Shh..

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So yes, a gorgeous ride through the island’s trails was a perfect way to start the morning, and from there we moved on to exploring Savannah proper.

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I hardly remember “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” (the movie – I didn’t have the pleasure of reading the book), but the one scene that stuck with me was John Cusack, playing a New York reporter who has traveled to Savannah to investigate a murder – I think?? – excitedly calling back to his home office and telling them how awestruck he was by this place, and then concluding with “…and everyone’s drunk!”

I am in full agreement with his awe.  The second part I don’t quite buy but I do see where it came from.  I’ll get back to that briefly in a sec.

It’s a stunning city.  The downtown’s hallmark are it’s “squares,” which are found every few blocks and serve as lush mini parks.

Savannah

They’re a little hard to pick out from the satellite view, but basically they make the already charming downtown even more so, and extremely strollable.

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We didn’t have a game plan for the day, so parked the car somewhere central and stroll we did.

One thing that stood out immediately, and here I’ll return to Cusack’s quote, is that Savannah is somewhat of a party city.  It took very little time to lose count of the bachelorette parties in progress, and this was the middle of the day.  There are quite a few of these mobile bar on wheels things, which I had first seen in Bend by the way, and every one we saw had a group of women yelling “wooooo!!!!” every time they were acknowledged or saw something they appreciated.

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Keeper was a little befuddled by that, having not been in this sort of environment before, and I had to try to figure out how to explain that yes, that seems to be what women in a party situation do — they yell “woooooo!!!” a lot — and no you’re right, men don’t tend to do the same thing in the same situation, and no, I don’t have a better explanation than that, but just roll with it and don’t think about it too much because it’s fun.

We had our observations confirmed soon thereafter when a tour guide informed us that Savannah is far and away the number one bachelorette party destination in the South.  The “carry drinks around in the open” rule helps too I’m sure.  Interestingly that stat doesn’t hold for bachelor parties, however – my guess is that the guys tend to head west to New Orleans.

At any rate, it does contribute not only to a celebratory atmosphere, but also to Savannah’s vaguely feminine character.  It’s difficult to explain, but it makes sense when you see it.  She’s like a classy, well-dressed Southern belle with a deeply (and maybe darkly) playful sass driving everything along just below the surface.

We opted for a horse-driven carriage tour of downtown in order to get a little insight on things and give the kiddos a break from walking.  Despite Keeper’s initial resistance to the mode of travel, it proved to be an outstanding way to see the city, as well as to scout out restaurants for dinner.

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IMG_1156Reasoning that we’d go with full-blown Low Country cuisine in Charleston and that our bodies could only handle so much of it, we went for a highly recommended Asian restaurant instead, and it was a hit all around.

Upon our return to Skidaway, we discovered that we were in time for a Ranger-led nighttime walk through the tidal marsh, which was a perfect bookend to Keeper & my bike ride across some of the same trails that morning.

She explained at one point that she had just returned to Skidaway after several years living in Maui, and had been yearning to be back.  She then added that “that should give you an idea about how special a place this is…”  It did.

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The rangers’ info made the tidelands even more fascinating to me, and one of the interesting things we learned was how to spot spiders in the underbrush at night.  Much like the back of animals’ eyes will reflect a blueish light at night, a spider’s eyes reflect green.  But they’re tiny of course, so you need to get the light to reflect directly, and the way to do this is to hold a flashlight tightly next to your eyes, shining out at the same area you’re looking, while being careful not to kill your night vision by shining the light in your own eyes.  What you see as you look around are hundreds, thousands even, of these tiny green twinkling dots, each one of which, upon closer inspection, sports the remainder of a spider hanging out trying to eat and not be bothered.  Even arachnophobic Keeper found that cool.

So far this trip, we have yet to have a park ranger-led program be a “miss.”  They’re not something I would’ve sought out in the past, but as I’ve said many times now in this blog, wrong yet again.

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Chalk that up to another benefit of this year.

Tomorrow we head up to Charleston, and I’ve heard amazing things.  Evidently there’s somewhat of a long running Savannah / Charleston rivalry in place; I’m very much looking forward to gathering the data to weigh in personally.

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