Target: South Carolina
This is the story of my three days of adventures in North and South Carolina as well as going to Florida.
Day 1: Longing for Florence
Rain on I-75 heading south through Tennesee
The time had come to leave Lexington. My plan from home had originally been to drive to the town of Florence in South Carolina where my good friend April lives with her children. Unfortunately, she had had to temporarily move to Oklahoma with her boyfriend before planned. It was meant to have happened AFTER I my visit, but now we had actually passed each other while my father and I drove FROM Oklahoma and Texas and they drove TO the state. Ok. I say passed each other, but in reality we had actually taken different routes on different days, so it wasn’t as if we had been able to wave at the other car like ships passing in the night. In the middle of the country. On a highway.
Ok, I think I have better abandon that metaphor before I get myself into too deep water… On the highway. The fact was that April was in Oklahoma and not Florence, so instead I would spend a few days with my friend Alexandra in Florida, but not until I had stayed a day or two in Florence anyway. First of all it’s a good place to stop on a trip to Florida from the north since the I-95 goes right past the town and second because I had planned a visit with another friend, Vanessa, in Wilmington, North Carolina and Florence was strategically well placed for such a visit as well.
Well that was a bit of a narrative detour before I have even left Lexington yet, but to get on with it, I was up at 6 am so I could get the last stuff packed up and get out the door as early as possible. It meant that I was out of the hotel before 8 and after a trip through the morning traffic, I drove southbound on the I-75 on which I would stay for the first couple of hundred miles to Knoxville in Tennessee. The first hour went smoothly. I was driving through the mountain range that separates the Tennessee River valley from the Kentucky flatlands and it was going swimmingly (there is that nautical metaphor again), with beautiful vista’s and fun turns and climbs.
At the small town of Jellicoe, I hit the Tennessee border and paused to take a small bio-break and get some breakfast and after that, things stopped being smooth. Tennessee was in the process of improving and expanding the I-75, down through the mountains so that meant closed or narrowed lanes and a lot of traffic. The drive down from Jellicoe to Knoxville was probably the worst and most annoying on the entire trip and a route that SHOULD have taken a bit more than an hour ended up lasting nearly 2.5. Nonetheless I was still making decent time since I left so early and I did make it, without too much hassle, to my father’s and mine mother road, the I-40. Then the heavens opened in a classic American rainstorm and that naturally made the traffic around Knoxville about as slow as the trip down the mountains had been.
Despite the downpour I got without problems to where I-40 turns south through the Blue-Ridge mountains. The rain didn’t pass entirely, but lessened and now mostly came in squalls, which meant that I could speed up a bit. At the same time it also meant that the grip and vision was better on a stretch of highway that, as my father has often mentioned, is the most twisty and dangerous stretch of interstate in the US. Nothing happened either to me or others though and I made it safely to Asheville, NC where I switched to I-26 towards South Carolinas capital Columbia.
I was enjoying being back in familiar territory from previous trips on the last stretch down through the mountains, until I hit the piedmont area at Spartanburg and continued southeast. As soon as I was out of the mountains the sky cleared and the temperature quickly rose to the 100 degrees that I had expected in this area, and after that there is little to say about the last part of the days travel. At Columbia I changed to the I-20 and followed it to Florence where I arrived at around 6PM. Somewhat later than I had anticipated in the morning but not bad at all. I found a hotel and then drove out to sightsee and take pictures of the town, where I hadn’t been for 3 years, so as to prove to April that I was actually theren even though she had chosen exile over my company J.
Around 7.30 PM I had seen and taken pictures of most of the town, so I found a Walmart for supplies and then returned to my hotel where I walked across the street to a local Ruby Tuesdays for a dinner that was excellent as usual. After this I returned to my room and relaxed for a few hours after the fairly long drive (550 solo miles) before bedtime as I had to be ready for the visit to Vanessa the next day.
Day 2: The Medusa in the fort.
Almost sunshine at Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina
Like the day before I got up early and got ready for the day. Vanessa lives south of Wilmington on the Cape Fear peninsula, and I had a good three hour drive to get there, so once again I was on the road before 8. I took the I-95 north until it intersected with US-74 and then it was just 2 hours through woods and villages, before I hit the outskirts of Wilmington.
When I got there, it was about 10.30am so you wouldn’t think there was much traffic around the city and southwards towards the tourist towns at the Cape Fear beaches where Vanessa lives, but you would be wrong. It was mid-July and there was an exodus of beach goers on the road out of town so the last planned 15 minute drive ended up taking almost 45. Nonetheless I arrived safely and was greeted by Vanessa, as well as her fiancé Andrew and their dog Derp.
Vanessa is an artist (I have bought a good bit of her work over the years, she is really excellent), a youtuber (Under the name Modern Medusa https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdlL_r8F3Q0p07vhXwkah9w), model and equality activist, aside from the day job she had back then in a pet store/kennel and we have spoken online for years, but like with Shannon a few days before, it was the first time I ever actually met her, so it was a happy experience. I had gotten hungry so we went to a local Thai place after having run a few errands and ate lunch there for a few hours.
I had never talked to Andrew before, but unlike Shannon’s husband George, he was an extrovert and very talkative so we got along like we had known each other for years, and after lunch we drove back to the house and continued chatting so much that we almost forgot that Andrew (who worked at the same animal place as Vanessa back then) had to go to work, but we did manage to get him there on time.
Since it was still only 2 pm and I didn’t have to go back “home” until 4, Vanessa and I decided that we would drive out to the end of Cape Fear, which, beyond an excellent beach and a great view also hosts the remains of Fort Fisher. The fort is from the American civil war and the site of one of the more famous later battles of the conflict. The north had blockaded all the southern ports, and only Wilmington was at this point (Late 1864) open to smugglers and blockade runners. Fort Fisher was built to protect Wilmington and The Union wanted to take it, to close the last harbor open to the confederacy. The first attack under General Butler failed miserably and Butler got fired. However, he was also a member of the US congress and he left for Washington to complain and try to get reinstated. He was actually in the middle of testifying that the fort was unassailable, when the news arrived that his successor, General Terry, had taken it a day earlier.
Since there is also a park at the fort where Derp could go for a walk, it was a perfect place for a trip and we walked around there for about an hour studying the fort and letting the dog do what the dog had to do. After that we went down to the local beach promenade to get something to drink (It had been a rather hot day) and I got a chance to buy some souvenirs and take some pictures. It was now a good bit later than my original planned leaving time, but I had had such a great time that I wish that we had planned for an extra day. However Vanessa had to get to work herself and since I had 3 hours back before another long driving day in the next day, we said our goodbyes after I had brought her back to her house.
It had been an extremely fun day and I hope I can get there again to hang out with her and Andrew sooner rather than later. A trip up (or down) the eastern seaboard only to meet friends must be in order. The trip back to Florence was easy and painless and back in town I found a Subway where I got a few meatball Marinara sandwiches to bring back to the room to eat before going to bed.
Day 3: Return of the Penguin Girl
Lexie looks innocent at Zaxby's after spilling coke all over the floor
As previously mentioned, since April had chosen to flee (J), I had decided to go down to Florida for a few days to visit my best friend Alexandra. I had not seen her for almost a year so I was quite eager to get there. So despite it only being a 5 hour drive, I got up early again and left the hotel as soon as packing and dressing would allow. Since the I-95 very practically was right next to my hotel and it goes directly to Flagler Beach where Alexandra lives, I had a very simple driving schedule ahead of me. Get on the interstate and stay there for 5-6 hours. Due to this, there really isn’t anything to tell regarding the first part of the trip until I actually reached Florida. The traffic wasn’t bad at all and except for an entertaining motel billboard ad, around the small town of Hardeeville north of Savannah, Georgia, I remember very little of interest from it.
When I hit Florida though, the problems returned with interest. To begin with the I-95 was closed for three days southbound around Jacksonville for repairs, so I was forced to go on a detour east of the city on smaller ring roads. That did not do good things for the traffic. It was also at this point that my bladder started complaining that I had not taken a break in a while, but since my GPS told me that it would only be 10 minutes before I was back on the interstate south of the city, I felt that it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately I had kind of forgotten where I was. As usual when we drive past Jacksonville a major thunderstorm came almost literally out of the blue and the rain came down in torrents. So much in fact that I had trouble seeing even the car right in front of mine in the jam that had naturally now formed. So in the end it did not take 10 minutes. It took nearly 1 hour to get the rest of the way around the city and back southwards.
Ok. The rain drifted east out over the Atlantic and all I had to do was to get 10 miles to the nearest rest area with a bathroom. Annoying yes, but nothing like what I had tried in Ohio only days before. That was when my GPS started to increase the expected arrival time in Flagler Beach. From around 30 minutes it shot up to over 5 hours. That did not sound right, but then I saw a blood red line on the GPS map further ahead and there was in fact a major accident coming up… BEFORE the rest stop I needed.
Fortunately I was at this point around Saint Augustine so, unlike many cars that probably drove without GPS, I had time to get of the interstate and take a route through the outskirts of my favorite Florida city in order to hit I-95 again further south beyond the accident. That turned out to be a good idea as I later heard that all southbound lanes had ended up being blocked for almost 4 hours while the accident was cleaned up. That could have been an awful development both for my ETA and my bladder and health if I had not gotten off in time. Anyway, the detour took another hour and because it was heavy traffic all the way, due to others trying to avoid the accident and the rush hour slowly beginning, I could not immediately find anywhere to stop and relieve myself, so when I finally made it back to the I-95 and got to another rest area, I had a good bit more speed on my way from the car to the restrooms than decorum might otherwise have dictated. Fortunately the restroom was a lot nicer than the one at the gas station in Ohio, so I got out of there without further excitement.
From then on it was only a quick trip down to Lexie’s family’s house in Flagler Beach after that - a lot of the traffic was after all stuck behind me at the accident. My father have previously written about her in an article from last year (The penguin girl) so it will come as a surprise to no-one that, apart from her, I also had to say hello to all the stuffed animals. I had even brought a few of my own from Denmark so they could hang out with their American counterparts J. (Yes we are adults I swear).
Lexie lives with her parents (I was going to stay in their guestroom for the 4 days I was going to be there), but they were out of the house when I arrived, so we simply chatted and caught up until they returned home. After that we continued to chat with Lord Steven and Lady Dianne for a while before Lexie and I drove out to get supplies and dinner. We chose a Zaxby’s like Skye and I had done some days earlier in Kentucky, since Lexie had not tried them for almost ten years and was longing for a fried mushroom and spicy French fry dish they had. So like a gentleman, I naturally invited her to go there… which she celebrated by immediately pushing over her cola and soaking both the table, spare chair, floor and some of the food when we sat down. Again, like a gentleman I went to find some paper towels to clean it up and when I came back she was sitting at a neighboring table looking exceedingly innocent.
We cleaned up as much as we could, since Lexie has worked in a fast-food joint herself and hated to be a bother to the staff, but we finally had to surrender and passed the job to the professionals. I got my usual BBQ glazed chicken strips, and she, as mentioned, some Mushrooms and fries. Even extra marinated in cola it was great food J.
After that we just drove back to the house to relax and enjoy the evening until bedtime as we would have a friend visiting the next day and we wanted to be rested.