Georgia. Our plans for Georgia changed more than any state on this trip so far. Originally, we were going to stop through Athens to see one of Miracle’s friends and then wander south into Savannah before taking the A1A into Florida. Then, we interviewed my former neighbor, Ben, and he told us about his pal who lived in Atlanta. Awesome! We’d make a side trip to Atlanta after Athens and then go south. None of these things happened.
The cold, as I have stated ad nauseum in this blog, came quickly in the mountains. We had a single temperate night in Tennessee before things really got too cold to be enjoyable. (Remember, this is a journey to see and experience things, not test the limits of our bodies. We are travelers—not survivalists.) Miracle’s friend had moved suddenly and we hope to catch up to her in the coming months. Routing through Atlanta became less practical and we headed for the coast fast.
We spent a couple days bumming around Savannah—a very cool city with plenty of parks, bars, and affordable parking (Portland, ME, take note). We did the river walk and grabbed a drink at Collins Quarter—an extremely cool, friendly, and dog-welcoming establishment run by Stanley Tucci’s stunt double. (For real, this place loved Jolene and the staff here was excellent. From what we deduced Stanley Tucci redux—or, better yet, Stanley Twocci—was the manager and he is running things right. He spoke to the staff with respect and everyone appeared to be motivated to work. It’s funny how the labor shortage changes when a workplace treats the employees well. But I digress.) The cocktails were beyond excellent. Miracle had the Gins and Roses and I had a cocktail made with sage. You can always tell when a drink is made with real ingredients—when the froth is made with egg white and the simple syrups are mixed rather than poured from a bottle bought from Kroger. This place exemplifies mixology. We also ate a trendy joint called Treylor Park where I had shrimp and grits tacos and Miracle had a fried bologna sandwich made with mortadella and topped with a fried egg. Everywhere the food was excellent.
A couple things we noticed: The streets are old school. Some are still cobblestone with switchback turns down to the waterfront. Many are one-way with the parks in the center acting as a traffic circle. The homeless population is astounding. Many of them populate the parks. History is everywhere down here. I mean there’s a historical marker every fifty feet and a monument every five hundred feet. The history seems to hang in the air and the air is… heavy. Because the history is morbid. I don’t need to see slave markets, especially when the signage refers to them as “centers of commerce.” The earthworks (built by slaves) that defended the Confederacy? I’ll pass. There are literally hundreds of monuments built to white guys who killed for a living and nary a mention of someone who tried diplomacy or valued education. There’ll be those who say the monuments are meant to remind us of the past or educate and I’ll say sure; however, schools and libraries and things with more depth than a 50 word inscription on a plaque are probably a better vehicle for education and our reminders of the past should reflect that exploited black labor built the south, not heroic white men. Still, the city is pretty.
The campgrounds down here are a wee bit more expensive, but probably for good reason. The campground on Skidaway Island was easily the quietest campground we’ve slept in. The facilities were super clean. The staff was friendly. And the trails you could access from the campground were great for an early morning run. And the run was like a tumble through the jungle with loops that take you through marsh and then into thick palm tree forests, across streaks of sandy earth, over the aforementioned earthworks, and through middens (a place rich with clam shells from the indigenous peoples, making the soil rich for atypical trees like the red cedar). I returned sweaty and happy.
We kept heading south, staying at another Harvest Host called Georgia Peach World—a kitschy, family farm that bragged of its petting zoo, cafe, wine slushies, and Christmas lights. If anyone knows Miracle, you know that they had her at Christmas lights. They had me at wine slushy. Listen: this place was not our normal scene, but it was an absolute blast. Miracle bought dried corn to feed Stephen, the resident donkey. We bought a peach and a blueberry wine slushy (it was in the 70s, folks!) and walked around the lights.
From there we headed inland to the Okefenokee Swamp—a place we were referred to by David Dotson, an interview we had in Tennessee. He told us this place would be unlike anything else we’ve seen on this trip and he was right. The drive into the swamp is long. Like going 70 mph and not seeing a car for a half hour long. The Okefenokee Swamp is 400,000 acres of federally-protected land and home to about 12,000 alligators. There is no cell signal and the wildlife and flora are pretty much prehistoric. The mosquitos sound like incoming missiles. The lily pads are like green floating manhole covers. The palmetto fronds stick up like fans made of broadswords. Long leaf pines soar into the sky and it seems impossible that they don’t simply snap off in a strong breeze. We did see three alligators—a tiny one, a medium one, and one that qualified as dinosauresque (the pics really aren’t very good, so not sharing).
When it was time to shove on, the bus wouldn’t start. I can’t really go into details for reasons of security/pride, but the staff at the campground—namely the rangers Brian and Joseph—were incredibly kind and helpful. They helped me troubleshoot, let me use their cell phone to call Norm, our ever-trusty mechanic, and were even incredibly gracious when the diagnosis of Ryan-is-a-dolt became clear. These gentlemen were easily some of the best park stewards we’ve had the good fortune of meeting.
Now on to Florida.