Sunday, September 10.
Scott drove to the Park Office this morning to use their cell signal to call Sandy and Milton. On the road just outside the parking lot, he encountered a very healthy looking black bear who sauntered into the bushes at the truck’s approach. After his return to camp, we had a nice conversation with the two women camped in the next campsite in a Minnie Drop, a Winnebago model smaller than ours. We compared notes about our rigs, and told them about the Winnebago Minnie Facebook Users Group. They are both physical therapists and when their son graduates high school in five years they want to work four months on a contract PT job, and then travel four months in the RV. Good plan!
Then we realized it was almost 10 a.m. and we had to jump in the truck and get into Hawley by 10:30 in time for the Hot Yoga class at Hawley Fitness in the Hawley Silk Mill. We normally don’t care for hot yoga but this was only heated to about 90 degrees and was pretty comfortable. Emphasis on many standing, balance postures, which we need to do more of! The teacher, Debbie, is from Long Island and speaks with a strong LI accent, as do many people here in the Poconos.
We stopped at the IGA for a few items and then drove to Hemlock Farms. Robert wasn’t feeling well, and Scott wanted to stay in and monitor the Hurricane, so Paula and I went out for a wonderful walk on a network of trails in the state forest bordering Hemlock Farms. Map, hand drawn by Paula:Perfect weather, interesting and varied terrain, exciting encounters with ATVs, and found objects returning to Nature.
Back at the house, we used the wifi to check on the Hurricane and to post some blog entries while Paula made an amazing dinner of Pesto Genovese, balsamic tomato salad, and steamed cauliflower, with mixed berry pie and yoghurt for dessert. Wow!
Monday, September 11. So sad to leave this pretty park in convenient proximity to such good friends! Uneventful drive in beautiful cool, clear weather through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania on I-84 past Scranton to I-81 into Maryland and West Virginia where the weather turned overcast. We stopped at a commercial RV park near Martinsburg, WVA — an open field with rusted farm implements strewn around, and the park office in a derelict vintage Airstream trailer with a torn screen door. But it had full hookups and all the utilities worked so we happily paid $35 for the privilege of using them overnight. It was a convenient place too because there was a shopping center 8 miles up the road so we drove there to the Home Depot and bought some hurricane aftermath cleanup supplies such as reciprocating saw blades and a rechargeable lithium ion battery powered chainsaw. We bought an extra tank of propane too, and gassed up the truck.
Tuesday, September 12. Martinsburg, WVA – Pleasant Garden, NC (300 miles)
Morning in WVA
As of today we are still unsure about the status of our house after Irma, and the fate of Sandy and Jim’s place in Naples, along with their gorgeous sailboat “Sunshine” anchored at Marco Island. So, we have to time our drive South to ensure we do not get there too early, to avoid gas and power and traffic problems, or too late, to take care of whatever needs taking care of….
We leave about 11AM, knowing we will hit the rainy remnants of Irma. The roads are busy, curvy, hilly and yes, very wet. The countryside is lush and green and inviting. We hit truck stops for gas, enjoy the best State visitor Welcome center in Virginia.
The trip is interspersed with phone calls and messages, as we know Jim and Sandy are on the road as well. Over time, we learn that, despite lots of downed vegetation, both houses are ok, we learn later that the Sunshine, due no doubt to the efforts of Christa and Jim (while Sandy recovers from a test procedure), is also ok.
We get stopped due to the jackknifing of a tractor trailer across both lanes of 220, just in front of us. It is on a curve and we get locked in by traffic behind us. After some clearing for emergency vehicles, we are given the chance to back out, wending our way through the maze of emergency vehicles, and are able to get to a backcountry road that takes us out, eventually, to 220 South of the accident. Later, we come across two more accidents, but we are delayed only another 30 minutes or so.
With great relief, and about 6 hours later, still raining, we arrive at Hagan-Stone town park, just south of Greensboro. Parking is tight and we are alone in a loop in the woods, small sites and not exactly level. But, the park is beautiful, many amenities, and we can relax. Right away, we agree to spend 2 nights, and to purchase supplies and do errands tomorrow. For now, we decided to forego a search for a small propane powered generator, thinking now that the power will be on when we arrive home, given that we want to enjoy some more parks, and not travel too far or fast at this point. Helen makes a perfect dinner and that is all I remember.
Wednesday, September 13.
On our way out to do our errands we drove around this park, admiring the many well kept facilities including the Aquatic Complex with a beautiful playground, pool and water slides which unfortunately closed for the season after Labor Day weekend. Then we drove north into Greensboro and found the Planet Fitness gym. We worked out and then enjoyed hot, high pressure showers. A short drive from there brought us to a laundromat where we did our wash, and just across the street is a Walmart where we did our grocery shopping. All very convenient! And all day there were calls and messages from dear friends and family checking in with us. Thankfully everyone is safe and escaped relatively unscathed from Hurricane Irma. Not for the first time on this journey we have the opportunity once again to say We are SO LUCKY!
Thursday, September 14.
Continued on our way south today, on Interstate most of the time. Shorter drive than usual — under 200 miles. Our destination: Sesquicentennial State Park on US 1 just north of Columbia, SC. This is a surprisingly rustic park amidst suburban sprawl. Our original site #17 was tight, uneven, full of rocks and roots, and with a giant mud puddle covering 1/3 of the site. The one next to it, #16, is better so after a conversation with the camp host and a phone call to the park office, we settled in there. After lunch and a rest, we ventured out again, having discovered from seeing a billboard that there is a Planet Fitness less than 1/2 mile from the park entrance. We worked out, showered, got gas, mailed a letter, found a Publix supermarket (our first in 4 months!) with a yoga studio next door. South Carolina specialties at the gas station: On our way back to the park, Lynda called to say that her folks’ power had just come back on in Naples. Then we heard from Milton that our power is on in Homeland! Good news all around!
Friday, September 15.
Packed a few snax and hit the road for the 24+ mile drive to Congaree National Park. Here is a quote from the Park brochure on birds: ” Congaree National Park protects the largest remaining tract of old growth floodplain forest in the United States. Regular flooding (natural seasonal flooding of the undammed Congaree River) has helped to create a forest with rich biodiversity and produce trees of enormous size. The floodplain and adjacent Uplands are important habitats for a variety of bird species who either call Congaree home or use it as a place to stop on their long seasonal journey. Because of this, Congaree National Park is today considered a Globally Important Bird Area.”
This is clearly an underutilized park, certainly when compared with other parks we have visited like Mesa Verde and Glacier. There is no entrance fee, no crowds, and only 2 small, primitive campgrounds. The Visitor Center is beautiful, and the rangers are happy to welcome interested visitors. Seen at the Visitor Center: A skeeter meter, and wisdom from John Muir.
And some resident wildlife: Spider and blue-tailed skink.
A 2.4 mile self guided boardwalk tour starts at the Visitor Center.
There were plenty of trail guides at the start of the walk. The boardwalk takes you over wet, swampy stretches which we learned consist of an eight foot thick layer of mud, a mixture of clay and decomposing leaves called Dorovan muck.
This muck filters the water, keeping the floodplain and the Congaree River clean. The depth of the muck, along with the long, warm growing season (and the absence of human intervention for about 100 years due to the remoteness and difficult terrain), promotes the growth of the Big Trees for which the park is famous.
On the trail we met a fellow hiker named Wayne who revealed that he sold everything 12 years ago and has been traveling cross country in his 19′ travel trailer every since, volunteering at National Wildlife Refuges. His favorite: Bosque del Apache near Socorro, NM, famous for the seasonal sandhill crane and snow geese migrations. Tempting!!
We craned our necks constantly on this walk, marveling at the size of the trees — this forest has some of the tallest deciduous trees in the entire world — many familiar (bald cypress, loblolly pine, American beech), and unfamiliar (sweet gum, water tupelo). The water tupelo is recognized by the swollen base of the trunk, and the moss which can indicate the depth of seasonal flooding (10 feet on average!)The ranger had told us about a place on the boardwalk that intersects with the Weston Lake trail which you follow through the woods over a bridge, and then leave the trail on a “social trail” that leads to the current champion loblolly pine. We did this, although we missed the social trail and continued on the Weston Lake trail for quite a distance, crawling under huge fallen trees blocking the trail, before doubling back to the bridge and finding the social trail and the champion tree.
This was a peak experience. It was a perfect example of the benefits of “forest bathing.” There was an inexpressibly fresh smell in the air almost like the tang in the air after a lightning storm. It seemed to me that it was the smell of the trees exhaling oxygen and the ozone being replenished.
But here too, as in so many of our unique, protected places, there is cause for concern. Less than 5 miles up the road there is the Westinghouse Columbia plant that manufactures nuclear fuel rods. I don’t know if the Dorovan muck could ameliorate the effects of a leak of nuclear materials into the nearby Congaree River…
For some reason, this short, level boardwalk hike wiped us out. Maybe we need to become re-acclimated to the heat and humidity, although it made us feel right at home! We drove back to our trailer, lay down and rested. We talked about going back to Planet Fitness, working out, showering and using their wifi, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we had sautéed tempeh, onion and broccoli for dinner and prepared ourselves mentally for our penultimate day on the road.