August 18 – 24 The Carolinas and Georgia

We took a “rest day” at the Lake Gaston which comprised of no schedule, no crowds, no obligations with a view of the lake in a wooded campground. We were again fortunate with the weather as it was mild, with cool evenings and the humidity wasn’t noticeable. We did housekeeping such as cleaning the rig and doing the laundry, otherwise we worked on our French Visa, language lessons and read.  It was a perfect area to unwind.  When I say this it may come as a surprise, but we have been on the move for months with a few pit stops with friends…but that also seems to include touring.  Rarely do we sit and read like we used to do on our camping trips back when we were still employed.  No news is good news! 

Sunset at Lake Gaston, North Carolina

We had a long drive to Charleston, SC so bugged out early.  We were staying at the Riverview Holiday Inn, another opportunity to “hotel” it for a few days; we might as well use up those points! The weather was fine when we arrived late afternoon, and then a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched it while sitting at the bar on the top floor, from there we also had a wonderful view of the bay while catching up with our friend, Sohayla, who we put up for a few months in Portland while she was interning at Adidas. 

Post libation, we returned to the RV to finish packing up items for our stay.  We could hear the thunder getting closer, and then, before we knew it, it was right on top of us. The sky lit up and the atmosphere around us went seismic.  The thunder was the most deafening I had experienced.  We hustled back to the hotel just before mother heaven unleashed her fury.  The rain fell so hard we couldn’t see the parking lot from our room!  This drama went on for a few hours.  

After the storm dissipated we got a decent night’s sleep.  We picked up our rental car and headed out to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and toured local historic sites.  

I visited the Aiken-Rhett House – a historical house that was built in 1820 and later occupied Governor William Aiken, Jr who owned vast property and housed slaves to serve the household.   He owned 878 slaves who maintained his vast cotton and rice plantations.  The house itself is “preserved,” not “restored.”  The paint and wallpaper have deteriorated into 200 years-old peeling remnants including damage from Hurricane Hugo; this reveals an authentic record untouched by modernization.  The house itself is as grand as any plantation house you can imagine, yet in the outbuildings lie the kitchen, laundry and stables where the slaves were housed.  While it’s possible some slaves were treated humanely, African American history bears out the starvation of many slaves while their masters lived in opulence.  Some who defend slavery saying the “North was equally oppressive,” ignore the true plight of these slaves.  Even those who managed to survive were not free to exercise the inalienable rights as a human being.  

The tour focuses on the slave aspect with commentary from local African Americans highlighting their plight; many tours show the homes for “historical reference,” overlooking the legacies of those who made the everyday running of the household possible. On this day the heat and humidity was oppressive and the large rooms and verandas were designed to allow for a cross breeze that somewhat mitigated the warmth. In the kitchen, despite the heat, the fire in the large fireplace was kept burning to ensure any hot water for tea or cooking was immediately available to the Aiken family.  The kitchen, laundry and accompanying rooms were small and must have been horribly stifling. The death of one 7 year-old-girl from starvation is pointed out as an example.  

Aiken-Rhett House including the slave quarters housed in the kitchen and laundry

Here I witness the decaying remains of a forgotten existence while wiping the sweat from the back of my neck, even though I was barely exerting myself.  I imagine the servants preparing elaborate meals; wondering how many tried to extricate – or in this case no doubt – steal leftovers to keep from starving to death; and wondering if they were punished if caught.  

While the South argued that abolishing slavery would ruin their economy, they treated their animals better than their slaves.  The mansion is now peeling away the truth, revealing the rot of a bygone era; the lathe and plaster unable to stand up to the elements of change.  

We decided to hop over to Sullivan’s Island to browse around and grab a casual lunch while watching the vast array of scantily clad beach goers promenade the main drag, or hauling their chairs to the beach.  This rounded out a pretty casual day and we headed back hoping to dodge any storms looming on the horizon.  

The next day we magically dodged the thunderstorms that were pretty vocal through the night and arrived at the Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, just north of Charleston.  These gardens house a swamp complete with alligators.  While that sounds a bit creepy, it is really quite stunning.  We started our tour by dropping into the butterfly farm; it’s like being tickled when they fly around your head.  They had a swallowtail that had emerged from its cocoon and Monarch caterpillars feeding on Milkweed; we used to plant Milkweed in Portland to attract Monarchs.  It was quite the whimsical experience being surrounded by these flirtatious aeronauts.

Monarchs, caterpillars and a Swallowtail emerging from its cocoon

We moved onto the boat dock and set sail through the deadcalm of the swamp, surrounded by partially submerged trees, buzzed by dragon flies and the cicadas with their perpetual serenade.  After about ten minutes Bob noticed a small alligator eyeing us near the lily pads; he eventually went under.  We dodged the trees and followed the markers though it would have been difficult to get lost.  We would stop and float for a while to see if anything else would emerge from the depths, but mostly enjoyed the magical calm.  

The gardens are actually a cypress black water swamp that had been wiped out by hurricanes and floods but lovingly resurrected, and we were enchanted by the whole experience.  And it was only modestly crowded, which made for a lovely afternoon.  

We went back to Charleston and went shopping at the Historic Charleston Market where I picked up a Sweetgrass Basket; a basket weaving craft that was passed down from the African heritage of former slaves and are now collectible works of art.  It’s great to browse around this sector, while they have the big box stores they are peppered with boutique shops and galleries.  I thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetic of Charleston; not New England and not quite Florida – though you see an attempt at Flamingo kitsch. 

We passed bold Greek revival mansions with their huge verandas; verandas are definitely part of the culture – we’re not talking just porches, but expansive, inviting terraces where you can catch a cooling breeze in style.  

We ended the day with a final dinner and farewell with Sohayla, who was just as lovely as ever, not knowing if or when we would be seeing her again.  But that is the case with so many folks we have visited on this trip – we hope that some do make the effort to visit us in France.  

We headed out to Georgia the next morning, specifically Commerce, overnighting with Keri and Sean, more of Bob’s friends from Adidas.  It was a long drive and we arrived late afternoon and spent the evening catching up.  We had to leave abruptly the next morning as Sean had tested positive for Covid😥

We headed out to Athens, touring the architecture; more massive mansions built in the early 1800’s housing the elite of Georgia.  

Architecture in Athens, Georgia

We then took the back roads through Macon County and its tree-lined highways. We sadly came across a new type of road kill: Armadillos.  These I had not seen before.  

We overnighted at Southern Dreams Ranch –  a Harvest Host in Americus. We parked up near the stables with a backdrop of peaceful green fields.  We visited one frisky stallion who would run up and down his corral and whinny to the heavens.  Since we were essentially dry camping we were thankful for the cloud cover and soon the temperature dropped, and we found ourselves surrounded by a cooling breeze.  We feel fortunate on the weather front so far, and this is one of our last boondocking venues which is fine, since we are heading further south and will be glad for the air conditioning along the Gulf and once we pass back through New Mexico we will be dealing with the late summer heat of Arizona and California.  

It had rained off and on through the night, otherwise it had been dark and quiet into the morning and we got a restful night’s sleep. We woke to an idyllic view of the fields and the whinnies coming from the nearby corral.  We were not in a rush as we didn’t have far to go to get to Tallahassee. We caught up on our reading and journaling, glad to be drifting if only for a morning.  

A dreamy landscape in Georgia

Taking the backroads through Georgia and the Carolinas gave us yet another slice of Americana:  It is a misty world, with impassable jungles skirting the highways, the trees suffocated by voracious vines, then fields appear, pushing against the unrelenting forests of southern pine, the air thick with perpetual dew.  Some of the houses and estates are quite impressive; less Greek revival but still sprawling all the same.  

We continued our lazy morning then headed out to Tallahassee through through the peach orchards of Macon County.