South Cackalacky

I first heard that term from a salty Flight Engineer in my first squadron, in response to “where are you from?”  He was (is) deeply Southern and sharp as a tack, with a thick accent that tended to belie, or at least distract you from, his depth of knowledge and skill.  I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose; he liked to keep people off guard.

“South Cackalacky” sounded to me like a deliberate play on the redneck thing.  Owning it and throwing it back at you with pride.  Or something like that.  It wasn’t his invention of course, I’ve heard it used by many people in various contexts.  On the other hand, it’s not that old a term either, probably no older than the ‘70s/’80s.  A brief internet search on the term didn’t net much, other than the fact than older North/South Carolinans aren’t familiar with it, and no one’s sure where it came from, but there’s at least one hip hop reference from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and a hot sauce named “Cackalacky,” whose owner said something to the effect of “there’s no single word that conveys the nature of the South better.”

Does it though?  I’m not sure.

In my mid-twenties and largely ignorant of the South other than my relatively brief stint in Florida, I didn’t know exactly how to take it at the time.  Frankly I’m still not sure I do, but I can tell you that my impression of the South, at least based on this trip, is distinctly more positive than it was back then.  Neither Carolina has struck me as backwards in any way.  Quite the opposite in fact.  More like places I’d like to spend more time exploring, and that most everyone would find a way to fall in love with if they visited with an open mind and didn’t mind a bit of humidity.

It didn’t seem very “Cackalacky” to me.  But I’m from Southern California and spent most of my adult life in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m not to be trusted.

Here’s an image you may have seen before.  Maybe not.  I can tell you that it was new to me, but I happened to see it on a pilot colleague’s luggage about 2 weeks before we entered South Carolina.

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When I saw it, I asked him what it meant, because it looked somewhat mystical.  Like a secret society type of thing.  “uhhh, the South Carolina flag?” he answered, with more than a little befuddlement.

Of course it is.  And we saw it EVERYWHERE once we entered South Carolina.  There are states (most of them) whose flags aren’t particularly distinctive, and whose residents likely don’t have much knowledge of it.  Growing up in California, I knew vaguely that there was a bear somewhere on it, and I’m pretty sure the background is white.  Living in Washington I had no clue what my state flag looked like.  In fact I still don’t.  And then there are a few states who go absolutely nuts with their flags.  In my very limited experience (i.e. this trip), here they are, in decreasing order of hysteria:

  •  MD  Maryland.  (No kidding, the Maryland flag is everywhere there, and people wear Maryland flag socks, shorts, shirts, etc. and don’t seem to know that this is outlier behavior)

 

  •  TX  Texas.  (This is probably unsurprising.)

 

  •  CO  Colorado.  (This did surprise me. Coloradans, much like Canadians, seem very much to want others to know where they’re from.)

 

  • South Carolina (see above)

There may be more.  I’m just saying that these four have stood out heavily.  I could also speculate that these states’ residents don’t realize that all the other states’ residents aren’t particularly state-flag-centric.  Coloradans might.  Actually, Texans might too, but don’t care.

Our drive up to Charleston from Savannah was pleasant, and not too long.  We ended up at a state park just outside downtown that was exceptionally well appointed, though the on-site water park was either not open yet, or just not open.  The kids loved it though, as did we.

We didn’t have much time there, so opted for a distilled schedule.   On night one we headed into town for a Ghost Tour, which seems to be a common draw for tourists, though the quality thereof, we’ve discovered, varies pretty widely by both city and tour guide.

First impressions:  Charleston is gorgeous.  Wow.  They call it “the Holy City” due to the concentration of impressive churches there, but that’s only a very small part of the story.  Most of the downtown is lit by gaslamps, and has an almost European feel to it.  It’s hard to come up with a comparison because I’m not sure I’ve ever been somewhere similar.  It’s entirely unique.  Great food scene too.

The Ghost Tour was not the best.  In fact it might have been the Ghost Tour that stops us from doing any more Ghost Tours.  But we did get to stroll through downtown at night and see some interesting sights; it’s a great way to see a downtown, if nothing else.

On the next day, after a slow morning, we headed to town in order to catch a ferry out to Fort Sumter in order to continue our Civil War education.  I hadn’t known much about it, frankly, before our visit, and the stories about how the Civil War began are enthralling.

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Fort Sumter is actually quite a distance from Charleston, protecting the bay entrance from a small island between the long barrier islands on either side.  It’s tenuously connected to the barrier island to the south at low tide, which was another strategic stronghold, but it’s otherwise isolated.  It was commanded at the time of the Civil War’s start by a Major, which blew my mind a little, particularly when I read about the negotiations that went on before and during the active fighting.  While I certainly had some great responsibilities when I held the Navy’s equivalent of his rank, they pale in comparison to what he had to deal with on his tiny island in the Bay.  Interestingly, no one in the fort was killed during the 34 hour shelling.

What was most fascinating for me was to read about the extent of the tensions at the time, while trying to relate it to the present day.  It’s one thing to live in a time of dramatic political divisiveness, and (hopefully) quite another to live in a time when those divisions erupt easily into violence and outright warfare.  It’s difficult to imagine what would drive you to that, but I can certainly understand the “slowly boiling frog” aspect to it, where each step leads pretty naturally to the next and only very rarely does anyone step back to look at the big picture and ask the tough questions.

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The girls powered through the Junior Ranger program, with a bit of help from one of the on-site Rangers.  Keeper, on the other hand, took notes for his History course, which Tacco recently discovered as part of the National Park Systems’ websites.

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We also took a little detour to check out the dead horseshoe crabs on the sand bar.  I’ve only ever seen those on East Coast beaches – they’re downright prehistoric looking things and I wouldn’t want to have one crawl up my leg.

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We opted for a Low Country dinner that evening, at a restaurant on the water.  Wow was it dense.  One staple is “She Crab Soup,” which takes its name from the fact that crab roe is mixed into the soup, which has a cream/sherry base to which crabmeat is added.  It was delicious.  No doubt.  We all agreed.  But it’s hard to imagine eating more than a “cup” of it.  In fact none of us was inclined to have more than a few spoons full.  That’s how rich it was.  Kinda like [spoon 1] “That’s GREAT!”  [spoon 2] “hm, still good, but man that’s heavy.”  [spoon 3] “uhhh…  I like that still, but I’m done.”

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We enjoyed the dinner greatly, but it was one of the only times when not one of us suggested looking at the dessert menu, and we hadn’t even finished the food on our plates.  That’s telling.  If you’re going to live in the Low Country you probably need to ensure you’ve got a solid exercise program.

After another short stroll through Charleston’s quaint downtown in order to shake off some of our dinner-induced lethargy, we headed back to our campsite for our last evening.

Charleston, as it turns out, is another inflection point for us.  Though it’s not our furthest east point (that honor is reserved for our starting point in Annapolis), it is the point at which we turn west for the last time, which is somewhat poignant.  For so long this adventure has seemed more or less endless given how much more travel time we had ahead of us, but suddenly we have an indication that we’re approaching something resembling a final stretch.

Our next stop is Asheville, NC, which is only the second destination we will have found impressive enough to visit twice.  Technically our first visit was part of our “shakedown” trip and not the actual year’s journey, but it left quite an impression.  Tacco’s was different than the rest of ours (and is fascinating in its own right) but we all left Asheville the first time with a desire to return.

First, though, we stopped at Congaree National Park, southeast of Columbia, SC.  Never heard of it?  Neither had we.  This was another target of opportunity foisted upon me somewhat last-minute-ish by Tacco.  Remembering what I had resolved after our last minute agenda changes in Florida, I did my best to suppress my “BUT OUR PLAN WAS TO KEEP DRIVING…” instincts and assented to the stop.  And I’m glad I did.

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Though it wasn’t the most impressive National Park we’ve seen (I get the impression it’s most effectively explored via canoe), we took a thoroughly pleasant hike on a raised, wooden path through the tidelands.  Amusingly, there is a “mosquito meter” at the trailhead which gives you an idea what to expect from blood-sucking pests along the way.  Mosquito meter

Fortunately we hit it at the right time – the dial had been set to “Mild” for our hike.  I’m not sure we’d have gone through with it had it been higher.

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It was an excellent way to break up our drive and spend an early afternoon, and we learned about skinks (one of whom is pictured below), crawfish chimneys, and cypress knees.  Entirely worth it.

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Another factor is creeping into our travel decision-making, however, and it’s not a welcome one.

I suffered from a bout of sciatica a few years back that quickly turned me from feeling 100% fit and healthy to staring down the barrel of partial disability.  It was disconcerting, to say the least.  I began to notice a pain in the back of my leg that was exacerbated by getting into certain positions that I wasn’t always able to reproduce.  That wasn’t overly concerning, but it devolved relatively quickly into a searing pain down my leg and up into my lower back, which sitting for long periods (i.e. flying, driving) made significantly worse.  I was able to function, but I couldn’t really exercise, and once it got to the point where part of my foot began to get numb and a sneeze or a cough would just about bring me to my knees in agony, I took action.  My primary care doctor’s first response was “well ok, let’s get you on pain killers then.”  Um, what?!? That was not what I expected.  I wanted to fix it, not mask it, and I certainly wasn’t ready to be the old guy with the bad back yet.  I appreciated her desire to help me feel better, but no, that didn’t jibe with my plans.  An MRI revealed my L5-S1 disc bulging out to the right side (which was likely the cause of my pain, but not certainly), as well as considerable asymmetrical core muscle atrophy tied to the car accident that had nearly taken our (Tacco and my) lives back in 1999.  So I saw a different doctor, a D.O. this time, and opted to attack it from multiple angles, including diet, hydration, physical therapy, acupuncture, and rolfing.

And it worked!  I was only out of work for about 6 weeks, and the improvement came pretty quickly.  I was never certain whether one of the angles worked better than the others, but was thrilled with the results.  Never got the pain killers.

It did rear its head again once more about a year after the first time, but not nearly as severely, and with a few visits to the rolfer and some renewed attention to my posture and gait, it disappeared quite quickly.

Well, it’s back.  The good news is that it’s not as severe as the first time, and is only in my leg (not my back), so exercise and activity are still very much on the table.  In fact being active seems to be the thing that makes it feel the best.  The bad news is that sitting for long periods seems to be what’s bringing it back and making it worse, and this lifestyle doesn’t really provide me any way around that.  About 5 or 6 hours driving is all I’m beginning to be able to manage without undue agony.  Flying is better, as I’m able to adjust my position often and don’t need to use my feet except when on the ground or takeoff/landing.  But driving hurts.  Plus I can’t just make an appointment with my rolfer this time unless I want to fly back to Maryland.  I do have Tacco and her acupuncture needles and healing skill, however, which is a blessing.

We’re both watching this closely and hoping it’s something we’ll be able to beat back.

Now it’s back to the other Cackalacky, and cheery, beery Asheville in the hills.  Or the mountains, depending on who you’re asking.  We’ll see how Cackalacky they are.  I’m ready!

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