To you rabid fans craving constant updates, I offer my humblest apologies. We haven't had access to the information superhighways since we got on the actual highways four days ago. We are now in Charleston, SC, having our first scheduled "alone time." R is off hitting the shops; I'm in the coffee shop, blogging. Here is what we've seen and heard and felt so far.
We planned to get on the road around 10 a.m. on Monday, and, in fact, we left 30 minutes early. So capable are your beloved adventurers! Ulysses, noble and fearless chariot, is definitely feeling the load he is carrying. Maintaining speeds above 60 mph can be quite challenging, particularly going up hills. Until this trip I hadn't ever seen him hit 5,000 rpms, but when passing other cars or trying to get up hills the needle definitely passes the big 5. We have taken to chanting encouraging words to him. So far, so good.
We arrived at Badin Lake, NC a little after 5 o'clock on Monday. After setting up camp we took the bikes down and did an exploratory ride around the site, zipping up and down dusty gravel forest service roads in the scorching heat. Did I mention it was hot? It was very hot, but we wanted to do something vaguely athletic after sitting in the car for 7 hours. After the ride we drove into glorious El Dorado, NC, popultion one BP station and general store, where we found both fire wood and possibly the most amazing cold beverage ever created, the Cheerwine Slushy.
For those of you who have never experienced Cheerwine (and that's probably all of you not residing in the southeast), know that it is a cane sugar based soda, made with artificial cherry flavors, and when combined with iced slush creates a beverage so cool, sweet and refreshing I fear I will have to return to the rural Carolinas again and again and again just to get a taste of that sweet sweet nectar. Writing that last sentence made my mouth water.
That's me enjoying the Cheerwine slushy. Note the red cup, sans-lid.
The general store where we purchased the godly nectar had a shaded front porch, on which sat a collection of older men, all of whom had come up the hill from the campsite to get some ice cream or a cold drink. One of the men told us that he had started travelling a year ago, and had started his journey from Dallas. He was excited to know that we would be stopping in Dallas on our way to Oregon. We got a little lost on our way back from the general store, but we found our way back to the camp and tried to start a fire on which to cook our corn and our not-dogs. The campsite had this nifty little fire-ring, which was great for preventing forest fires but which made it damned hard to get a good fire going. Most of the campers around us were using charcoal.
Luckily for us a round and friendly man named Tom sauntered up and introduced himself. He was in charge of the camp ground, and had some useful tips on getting the fire ring to work: stick a rock underneath the ring to raise it up and let some air in, then fan it with something flat. I used my very large cutting board. That got the fire going hot enough to cook the corn and warm up the not-dogs. You will notice an orange cat seated at Tom's feet. That's Tom Cat, Tom's cat, who followed him around the camp ground and who came when called, like a dog. Tom was from upstate NY originally, but had lived in Arizona for a decade or so before retiring.
It was a hard night to sleep, hot as it was and threatening to rain. We had the rain fly up on the tent, which killed most of the breezes coming off of the lake. R said that she was so frustrated by her inability to sleep that she almost cried. It took me a while to doze off, but once I did I slept soundly through the night. I imagine my slumbering made it all the more frustrating for my sleepless traveling companion.
We woke up early and had a delicious and nutricious breakfast: homemade blueberry scones (thanks, Mom) and delicious fruit salad (thanks, Dad). Then we geared up for the first ever Badin Lake Quadrathalon: a long hike, a short bike ride, a quick dip in the lake, and then some calisthenics. The hike around the lake was full of surprises: since we were the first out on the trail that day, one of us (me) got to break through the hundreds of spider webs traversing the trail. Wildlife was scarce, but we came across the remnants of a number of large primates who had evidently taken up residence by the lake. (Hard to see in the picture, but the amount of garbage left by humans along the lake shore was horrifying.) At one point we found an abandoned fire ring that contained a pair of women's underwear, a charred bottle of Vodka and an empty can of Hormel Chili. I don't want to know what was going on around that fire.
Here's Rebecca either modeling the latest trend in biking dresses or doing an advertisement for Surly bikes. After our not-so-refreshing swim in the luke warm lake, we had a delicious lunch of PBJ on hot-dog buns, and rode back to the car. After taking hot showers in scorching hot and totally filthy facilities, we ran back to the car, blasted the AC and headed south towards Charleston. We passed through Marlboro County, SC and I did not have a single cigarette. We stopped at a Shoney's before getting on I-95 again; my chicken finger had a cool, pink center, which I sent back for further cooking. For 8 dollars it was our cheapest and worst meal so far.
We went from roughing it in the Uwharrie National Forest to the lap of Luxury at the Inn at Middleton Place. The Inn is on the grounds of Middleton Place, a former rice plantation, which contains North America's oldest formal gardens, built by a guy named Henry Middleton using a staggering quantity of slave labor to make some of the most artificial (and, to be fair, pretty) gardens I've ever seen. The Inn won a bunch of architectural awards and is nestled in the woods overlooking the Ashley River, just north of Charleston.
We unpacked a little, then walked along the "interpretive trail" to the restaurant for a fine dinner of she-crab soup (crab roe, of all things, but delicious) Carolina trout and...I don't remember what I ate. The next morning we woke up and did a two hour tour of the gardens. It was 97 degrees and as close to 100% humidity as you can get without rain. The gardens at Middleton are laid out the way the gardens at Versailles are laid out: along geometric lines. Apparently the whole garden was built along the axis of a right triangle. I cared less about the geometry and more about the occasional shade offered by the many enormous live oak trees. We did find the "romantic gardens," which were much shadier and much less formal and which contained stands of cypress trees emerging from green lily-covered lakes and enormous garden spiders.
We went back to the restaurant for lunch, which turned out to be a mistake. We had quail that looked like a butterflied frog, greens too tough and flavorless for one of us to eat. And my shirt was covered in sweat. Luckily the Inn had a nice pool where we spent part of the afternoon cooling off, then drove into town for a fine meal with a former student of mine who currently lives in Charleston. If you're ever in Charleston we do recommend The Glass Onion, which gets its stock from mostly local sources, has a good beer selection (Stone IPA!) and had a very decent jazz combo playing on a Wednesday night.
We're hanging out in Downtown Charleston today. I'm sitting here typing away; I don't know what R is doing as I type this sentence. Tomorrow we go kayaking on the Ashley River in the morning, then off to Savanah GA tomorrow. Our hotel in Savanah has internets, so expect more regular and less lengthy posts over the next few days.