June 29: Where Ken Burns Left Off

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Two weeks into our travels and the tow mileage barely broke 500. That’s how we roll, slow and easy while making a call from the road to find out if we can check in early at the next campground. But, the high volume traffic indicative of the east coast more than makes up for the low mileage. We ended our 107-mile day in Savannah relieved to have missed several I-95 accidents that showed up on our Google maps.

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How charming, there’s an outhouse behind our campsite. Actually, it’s a nice bathroom facility and despite it being Mr John’s, is unisex.

Red Gate Campground and RV Resort would be our home for the next 7 nights. Although the RV was parked in a large field with several other rigs and had not one inch of shade, we enjoyed it and the manager was quite helpful. The best part of Red Gate was the horses. And goats. It was idyllic and I made it a habit to get up early each morning to catch sunrise over the horse fields, say good morning to the goats and walk to Patty’s Shack where at least 3 roosters lived with a few peacocks and fowls and many chickens. It was just so dang fun to hear the roosters crow in the morning while I drank my coffee.

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And it was maddenly hot. The southeast states (basically everywhere we had been for the past 2 weeks and planned to be for the next 2 weeks) were experiencing an extraordinary heat wave. This was particularly acute during the two days we visited historic Savannah. On the first day, we took the trolley tour (which picks up at the campground) and rode through the entire district at least twice during that long, hot day. No matter where you look in Savannah, it’s beautiful. The architecture and the squares make that city stand out from all the rest. Savannah is rich with history, culture and architecture all rolled into one colorful city.

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Savannah’s historic district is a feast for the eyes.

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SCAD is all over Savannah, having bought and restored many historical buildings. And where else can one earn a degree in Animation, Interactive Design & Game Development or Sequential Art, to name a few?

Thanks to the 90+ temperatures, the highlight of our trolley tour was a pit stop to the historical Leopold’s Ice Cream shop founded in 1919. We arrived 15 minutes before opening and stood in a growing line of sweaty individuals eagerly waiting for the doors to open. At 11 am, we were in and greeted by several scoopers behind a busy ice cream counter and within a few minutes, we were enjoying Savannah’s cold deliciousness. We also found refuge in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist where my only non-iphone photographs of Savannah were taken.

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In front of Leopold’s, 10:45 am.

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In front of Leopold’s 10:50 am, just another hot day in Savannah.
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Inside the air-conditioned Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

I have to say, our impression of the oldest city in Georgia was clouded by the relentless heat and humidity. Good for us, there were so many other surrounding places to explore. For example, we visited the Wormsloe plantation and after seeing so many breathtaking photographs of the famous Wormsloe Drive, I was both delighted and disappointed that my only photograph of the tree-crowned road was through the front window of our big diesel truck while we drove down the road to the visitor center. Wormsloe is also a Tabby ruin and the story of its owner, Noble Jones is a fascinating one.

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A F350 view of the famous Wormloe Plantation Drive.

Did I mention yet that it was horribly hot? In addition to melting our way through Savannah for a couple days, we visited many other nearby places, Tybee Island (quaint, artsy and extremely crowded), Fort Pulaski (highly recommended), Hilton Head (don’t bother) and Savannah Wildlife Refuge (great place, visit in the fall and winter). I recommend visiting and/or camping Skidaway Island State Park. We had been there before to camp, so we didn’t go in this time, but it is a very popular location for RV camping.

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Our favorite place on Tybee Island and it’s conveniently located on the main road before you get to the beach.
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Fort Pulaski was an unexpected highlights for us and a piece of history we did not learn about it until we arrived in Savannah. Moat-protected, the fort was built in the 1820’s as one of the United State’s Third System forts (post war of 1812).
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Fort Pulaski did not see any action until the Civil War, when the confederate-held fort underwent a 112-day siege against Union forces.
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For over 30 hours, the Union bombarded the confederate fort using experimental rifled cannons. The wall shows the damage to the fort where the “7” shaped damaged area was the union’s attempt at blowing out a rectangle that would have exposed the confederates stored ammunition. The confederates surrendered before the opening was completed. Consequently, the rifled cannons rendered masonry forts obsolete.

We reserved the fourth of July to do something we really wanted to do and that was to  paddle our kayak on Ebenezer Creek. So much of the history in this area centers around the Civil War. Our Civil War history lessons began back at St Mary’s in Georgia, but as we continued traveling north, we opened the story of America’s ugly war like an overstuffed suitcase. Prior to this trip, the extent of my Civil War knowledge could be written on one page with large letters and I have Ken Burns to thank for what little I remembered about it. I certainly didn’t come away from high school or college with any real Civil War knowledge. As our history lessons unfolded, the long-lasting impact of that war became clearer to me. We heard so many war stories but perhaps the one that stood out the most was the betrayal at Ebenezer Creek.

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Vivian getting the inflatable ready for Ebenezer Creek.

It was common for black refugees to join Union troops because the soldiers would give the refugees food and safety in exchange for their labor. However, many other refugees came along by the hundreds, including women, children and older men. This had unfortunate consequences for Jefferson Davis’s troops who were attempting to “march to the sea” into Savannah. As refugees continued to increase in number, the troops were slowing down and there was a food-shortage. On December 3, 1864, Davis’s troops reached the icy and deep Ebenezer Creek. Davis ordered his army to build a pontoon bridge to cross the creek, and he told the refugees that they would be held back for their own safety because the confederates would be waiting for the Union soldiers on the other side. Once all the soldiers had crossed the creek, Davis ordered his men to dismantle the bridge, leaving the refugees stranded. It was estimated there were at least 5000 men, women and children left behind. Meanwhile, the confederate cavalry that had been stalking Davis’s army pressed the refugees from behind, and those that did not die attempting to cross the icy waters, were either slaughtered or captured.

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The Cathedral of Tupelo and Cypress.

The story of the betrayal at Ebenezer Creek was on our minds as Vivian and I paddled through the majestic tupelo and cypress cathedral swamp. I thought I heard voices. The story speaks to us as a reminder that the beauty of the south comes with ugly scars and scab-ripped wounds. I must admit, our motives for RV travels are mainly shallow (e.g., fishing, photography), but we are also eager to examine our country’s history and gain a deeper perspective. As being one of the most significant events in American history, the Civil War is a significant part of our 2019 travels. And the direct connections that the war and its origins have on current events has become clearer to us with each mile traveled.

Our immersion into Civil War history had just begun, there was plenty more ahead of us. As we prepare to continue north, we dream of cooler temperatures. We’ll reach cool air eventually, but we had to put some miles on before we get a break from the heat any time soon.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: Having our RV parked on remote Chokoloskee Island has taught us that some things are totally out of our control with occasional power outages and subsequent boil water notices. Consequently, we rarely bat an eye at such minor inconveniences now and we come prepared. When camping in northern Michigan last year, we lost power twice. We expect that losing power will happen during our trip, but we honestly did not expect to lose water, which we did one early morning at Red Gate. Fortunately, we had some water in the fresh tank that we always keep on hand when traveling from full hook up to full hook up. After a few hours, the campground maintenance folks had it back on, but the moral of the story is, be prepared. If even you go full hook up all the time, you’re going to experience a lapse somewhere down the road.

Issue 2: Not an issue for us, but it may be an issue for you. We haven’t had our TV connected to cable since leaving Chokoloskee. We rarely watched it anyway and instead, use the Firestick to catch up on YouTube video subscriptions or Amazon Prime series. But while traveling we don’t always have adequate Wifi to do that. So, during our travels we have become experts at finding air antenna channels. Using the app “Antenna Point”, we can locate the direction to the closest towers and if we are lucky, capture a dozen or more channels. I think it was through Georgia and South Carolina where we were so delighted to watch original Star Trek episodes while eating dinner. And don’t get me started on my excitement when I found a Mary Tyler Moore marathon somewhere in Pennsylvania! Yes, our boring baby boomer selves often end our evenings watching MeTV, GetTV, Decades and well, you get the picture.

June 21: Friendly Chickens & Zombies in Georgia

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Our languid travels got us barely over the Florida-Georgia border to our next campground where the RV would be well shaded under the oak trees draped thick with Spanish moss that would serve as our home for a week. Surrounded by salt marshes that extend gently toward the ocean, we have a long way to go before we escape the heat and humidity. But that’s OK, there is much to explore in these parts and we are in our element.

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Entrance to the campground
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Our well-shaded site

Our campground park was small, charmingly old and well shaded. The bonus was the friendly kitty that came to visit us during happy hour in our front yard. The kitty, Boots, belonged to the owner. Boots was not the owner’s only pet; there was a chicken (the name escapes me) who also came calling at happy hour. Apparently, Boots and the chicken were kind of lonely. During the winter months, many seasonal visitors become long term friends with the two. For that reason, we hesitated to hand out treats to Boots and the chicken given we were short term residents. Apparently, Boots spends a fair amount of time sitting on an empty lot mourning the loss of her friends when they pull out and we did not want to contribute to her depressed state of mind.

We could have hung out with Boots and the chicken all day, but we had places to visit, the first being the quaint seaside town Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. It is the northernmost Florida city on the Atlantic side. I discovered it from one of those “Top 10” lists, something to do with charming U.S. seaside towns. We really enjoyed walking around the old neighborhoods.

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The 60’s Ford Falcon was timed perfectly.
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Charming homes with a flair
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Historical and over grown

A bit worn down from our walking tour in the relentless heat and humidity, we were happy to find an air-conditioned Cuban Café not far from main street USA. After getting our “Miami 3:05 PM” fix, we sought out more AC at the Island Art Association Gallery. I always love to see local artists’ work especially when it is inspired by the natural world. This art gallery was the highlight of Fernandina Beach.

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Fernandina Beach’s Cuban Cafe
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I learned something new from the Island Art Association – “Photo Encaustic” is a form of art where a photograph is combined with wax. Very cool.

I dreamed of photographing the driftwood beach of Jekyll Island, so the next morning I got Vivian up and out the door by 5 am to make the hour-long drive to the beach so I could capture sunrise.

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No that is not a zombie, just me carrying my tripod and camera.

The sunrise was lackluster and the tide was low, so my vision was not met. But the eerie driftwood trees stood out as they always do and I couldn’t help but think of how they might look in the dark surrounded by zombies. Come to find out, zombies have been here before (apparently season 7 of the Walking Dead) and they were back for the upcoming season 10, just hours before we arrived on the scene. I didn’t know this when we first got there and stumbled onto a large shipwreck half buried in the sand. Turns out it was a Walking Dead movie set and dismantling had commenced later that morning. Thankfully, we just missed the zombies.

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There’s a story in there somewhere, stayed tuned for season 10 of the Walking Dead.
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I tried my luck at another driftwood beach, this time on Talbot Island.

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One of the highlights of our visit was the Okefenokee swamp, Georgia’s largest wilderness and the headwaters for the St Mary’s and Suwannee Rivers. We felt at home there, a familiar place where alligators and snakes thrive, and it was so dang hot. Native Americans referred to it as the land of trembling earth where unstable peat deposits tremble when stepped on.

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The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge offers paddling trails to remote camping platforms. We will be back!

We took a boat tour, led by an honest-to-God peat lovin’ swamper who proudly announced he was 6th generation Okefenokian. He then asked where we were from. Vivian said “Chokoloskee Island”. Oddly, the Okefenokee native made a joke about the name Chokoloskee and mumbled something about it being a mouthful. That’s how I expect most people to respond, but not a 6th generation Okefenokian (that’s pronounced O-key-fe-no-key-in), especially given Chokoloskee is short a syllable. Funny sounding names aside, our guide explained to us that the swamp was built upon peat, not mud as he reached down to grab a handful of it. He further explained that if you got out of the boat, you jump up and down on a patch of land and the movement would be felt by someone standing on another patch of land 50 feet away. Land of the trembling earth.

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There’s peat under those waters, and yes, gators.

Our travels are steeped in history lessons and learning new words and phrases. I had never heard of Tabby Ruins until this trip. I learned about Tabby ruins while driving to and from our campground many times and passing a small, unpretentious sign that read “The Tabby Ruins”. Finally, curiosity got the better of us and we investigated the ruins on our last evening. Tabby is a term used to describe a concrete made from crushed oysters, lime, sand and water. The ruins that are the remains of forts, plantation homes and commercial buildings can be viewed along the coastline from north Florida to South Carolina. They are so popular that there is a travel guide. https://www.tabbyruins.com/

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These ruins were once a Sugar cane mill.

Here’s another interesting tidbit – within the Kings Bay naval base on the nearby St Marys River, dolphins are trained to guard it. We learned about the dolphins from the docent at the St Marys Submarine museum whose husband was a navy sailor – except he got horribly seasick and consequently, the navy decided he would serve them better in a submarine. We spent an hour at the museum which included a wonderful video showing life on a submarine (we later learned that the video left out the most interesting parts) and many artifacts and documents from WWII submarines. However, the highlight was the unplanned “15-min before closing” discussion we had with the docent that turned out to be the most fascinating of the tour. Besides the dolphin story, she enthusiastically shared many tidbits of intriguing information about submarine life or “silent service” that are way too many for this blog, but here are three; oxygen gets made, the most important piece of equipment is an ice cream machine and toilets explode.

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The two of the three essentials for happy hour here in southern Georgia – the thermacell and a fan.

Our week among the salt marshes and driftwood beaches ended too quickly as we began to prepare once again to hit the road. If it were not for the oppressive heat, we would have explored more, particularly Cumberland Island. But that’s OK, the best part of having home on wheels is we can come back.

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Kindred spirits, Everglades friends of ours bought a home on Crooked River. We were fortunate to visit them there and enjoy their backyard view.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: We noticed some bubbling of the decals on the fifth Wheel (2018 Grand Design, Reflection 303rls). You may think this is benign but what can happen is water build-up inside those bubbles. After speaking to Grand Design, we learned the bubbles could be addressed by popping them to release any water. Done, problem avoided. Later in the trip, we stopped at Grand Design headquarters that was on our route picked up a replacement decal. Connie and Vivian 2, RV imps 0.

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Looks worse than it really is, easily fixed. Later in the trip, we were in Elkhart and visited the Grand Design headquarters where we were given a new decal to replace this one. I can’t say enough good things about Grand Design’s costumer service, they have been very good  to us.

Issue 2: We are on the move frequently on this trip. That does not leave much time to clean our home on wheels. But it must be done! Regardless of your view (Atlantic Ocean, Grand Tetons, Lake Powell, or whatever majestic scene you are enjoying), you must clean your house. Exhausted from constant heat while exploring the sites, menial indoor housework was a welcomed reprieve.