July 6: Fightin’ for our Rats

Feeling relieved to have survived the 120-mile drive on I-95, we happily pulled into Santee State Park’s spacious Cypress View Campground. We backed in easily to our site that appeared to be the only empty one in the middle of a holiday weekend. The next day, we visited Fort Sumter and Charleston and came back to an empty campground. For the most part, it stayed that way until we packed up and left four days later. We basically had the entire back forty to ourselves while camped at Santee.

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Fulltimers look forward to Sunday afternoons in the state parks.

After our day trip to the coast, we spent the remainder of our time within the state park. Vivian would finally do some fishing from the inflatable kayak on Lake Marion two mornings in a row. Meanwhile, I explored the large wooded state park by bike. I loved every minute of it, except for that one time when I dropped my wallet in front of the RV door and didn’t notice it was missing until I was 10 miles into my bike ride. I raced back to the campsite, not knowing where the wallet had dropped but suspected it was near the RV. And there it was, in clear view next to the stairs where it had laid for an hour.

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Exploring the park with my camera on an overcast day yielded a nice forest scene.
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Meanwhile, my wallet lay all by its lonesome.

Santee State Park is adjacent to Lake Marion, the largest body of water in South Carolina and the result of the largest earth moving project in U.S. history. It is essentially a reservoir along with Lake Moultrie created by the damming of the Santee River in the 1940s. Lakes Marion and Moultrie are separated by a canal and together have 450 miles of shoreline. This, like so many other reservoirs were made to supply hydroelectricity to rural areas of the south as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. And as with many of the other reservoirs, its creation came at a cost. As the largest earth moving project, 160,000 acres of pine forests and swamp were flooded. Submerged in Lake Marion is the town of Ferguson and curious folks in kayaks can find some of the remains of the watery ghost town. One of the interesting views of Lakes Marion are several cypress trees standing in the water. Apparently, the creation of the reservoir was a rush job (we had just entered WWII) and they flooded the area before many of the trees could be cleared.

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Vivian in the kayak
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Her first bass of the trip!

Camping at Santee allowed us the opportunity to continue our intensive history lesson of the Civil War by visiting Fort Sumter near Charleston which proved to be a turning point for me in my Civil War lessons. Fort Sumter is one of many sea harbor forts built along the Atlantic coast as a defense against attacks on important seaports, such as Charleston.

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Fort Sumter as seen from the ferry

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On April 10, 1861, confederate forces in Charleston demanded Fort Sumter to surrender knowing that a resupply ship was on its way from the north. The commander, Maj Robert Anderson refused. On April 12, confederates opened fire with cannons. The next day, Anderson surrendered. The Civil War began and the first death from the war was recorded.

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Ferry to Fort Sumter
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On our way to the fort

As I walked through the fort’s museum and studied each display, it seemed that all the complicated history of the war and the reasons why it happened finally boiled down to one raw fact; cotton was king. Wealthy southern landowners needed slaves to maintain their large cotton plantations, northern banks were woven into the cotton economy and New England textile mills relied heavily on it. Cotton, along with tobacco and sugar was a worldwide luxury commodity and between 1803 and 1937 it was America’s leading export, much of it going to Britain whose textile industry accounted for 40% of its exports. In short, the economics of cotton ruled the land.

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Fort Sumter view of the Charleston Harbor.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade (the middle passage) ended in 1808 but only after nearly 400,000 Africans were transported directly to the U.S. Charleston was known as the slave trade capital, accounting for almost half of the number of people that came into this country. But there was also a second middle passage which involved far more black people and that was the internal or domestic slave trade that peaked from 1830 to 1860 when cotton was king. Of the 3.2 million slaves working in the 15 slave states in 1850, 1.8 million worked in cotton.

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This 10 x 20-ft flag flew over Fort Sumter during the confederate siege. Union soldiers saved the flag and after the surrender, the confederates allowed Maj Anderson to take it with him for safe keeping. It went to New York City where it was displayed at a patriotic demonstration on Union Square. After the war, it was kept in the Anderson family until 1905 and then eventually given to the national park.

Cotton’s value was considerably lower than that of slaves. Slaves were three times more valuable than livestock and twelve times more that of the entire U.S. cotton crop. While the price of cotton and land declined, the price of slaves increased. And we can thank the cotton gin for that by increasing slave productivity tremendously, which led to higher profits and increased demand for slaves. On the eve of the Civil War, there were over 4 million slaves in the United States, owned by a relatively small portion of the southern population. Slave-labor cotton was so profitable it took a civil war and over 600,000 lives to end it.

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The American flag flies proudly at Fort Sumter, under the watchful eye of a park ranger.

By the 1830s, abolitionists were becoming more influential. And when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published, it started a wave of anti-slavery sentiment. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe, he said to her “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” And the abolitionists had their martyr in John Brown after he was tried and hung for treason following his attempted raid on Harper’s Ferry. Not only that, immigrants mostly from Germany and Ireland during the potato famine of 1840s and 1850s became an available pool of low wage laborers, decreasing the need for slavery. One by one, northern states began to abolish slavery. Finally, the creation of the Republican party in the 1850s and subsequent election of its first presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, got the ball rolling in the right direction, except there was a powerful resistance and it all began in South Carolina.

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We’ve learned so much from our national park service.

What began at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 and ended at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865 was the tragic result of a clash between a slave-dependent economy and the very fact that slavery is wrong. It is befuddling to think of how so many poor men, simple farmers and laborers joined a confederate force to fight their neighbors when the reality was that the secession attempt was about maintaining slave-dependent wealth. Somewhere in there, people were riled up into believing that the federal government was going to swoop down and steal all their rights. While abolition was moving the country in the right direction morally, it would be at the expense of a very powerful institution and the wealth it brought to many white people. In short, the federal government was taking away the right to own human beings as laborers for personal gain. In Michael Shaara’s partially fictional book about the battle of Gettysburg “The Killer Angels”, he describes a scene where a union soldier asks some confederate prisoners why they are fighting. When they answered, “We’re fightin’ for our rights”, the union soldier confused the word ‘rights’ for ‘rats’ and was even more confused to learn the confederates were not fighting for slavery.

As cliché as it may sound, we have put our home on the road and have gone to look for America. And it is this leg of our trip that we have become so immersed in the Civil War, that it seems every day we think about it and try to wrap our minds around this country’s great tragedy. How could this have happened? After so many lessons learned on this trip, it remains incomprehensible.

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Oh, and we did stop to see the Angel Oak.

During our stay at Santee State Park, we welcomed temperatures below 80 degrees during these final days of our low country tour of the southern states. Soon, we would begin making our climb into the Appalachian Mountains and maybe, just maybe feel a cooler breeze. But first, we had more southern hospitality to enjoy.

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Cypress trees in Lake Marion. Those are cypress ‘knees’ in the foreground. Their purpose is not known, but they likely have several purposes including aeration and support.

RV and travel issues and concerns

Issue 1: Laundromats or lack thereof. Our laundry duties come once a week. So far on this trip, we have stayed at campgrounds that offer nice laundry facilities – that is until now. Vivian who is usually the one in charge of laundry will do a Google search and read the reviews of local laundromats. There was only one laundromat in the nearby “town” of Santee and it got horrible reviews. And now we know why, the laundromat had seen better days decades ago. While waiting for the wash and dry cycles, we stayed on guard unnecessarily because every person doing their laundry looked completely exhausted and defeated, so safety was not threatened in the least bit. After that, not a day goes by that Vivian does not lament the fact our 32-ft RV cannot accommodate washer & dryer, and dreams of one day upgrading to one that can.

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That little flow meter has come in handy.

Issue 2: We bought a flow meter to attach to our water hose so we could evaluate how well we conserve water. We learned while at Santee that we could get it down to about 12 gallons per day, including both of us showering each day. This knowledge will come in handy when we find ourselves in a campground without water or sewer hook-up, and that day is coming.

 

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.