Archive for the ‘Backroads South’ Category

Back when the Angel Oak first sprouted from the sandy earth, the Edisto and Stono tribe inhabitants of what we now know as John’s Island could not possibly have fathomed the possibility of Europeans existing, let alone visiting, and then acquiring, their sacred lands.

Back when the Angel Oak first sprouted from the sandy earth, Europeans were holed up in fortresses, battling fears of monsters in the forests and plagues that were indicative of the Dark Ages.

At 1,500 years old and considered to be the oldest manmade or living thing east of the Rockies, the Angel Oak has stood majestically through major hallmarks of our local and nation’s history, from the arrival of Native American tribes to the eventual expulsion of these tribes by European colonists, from the American Revolution to the Civil War, and from the Hurricane of 1893 to Hurricane Hugo, which severely damaged this great live oak.

The old man isn’t quite what he used to be.  He’s aided in his attempt to stand sentry over this portion of John’s Island by cables and wooded trusses for his massive limbs, many of which would dwarf the trunks of some of the larger live oaks in this area.  Nevertheless, his shadow, both figuratively and literally, still casts a wide swath over the Charleston area.  The Angel Oak tells his own history just as well as he tells us a little bit of our own.

To grasp an understanding of the sheer size of the Angel Oak, take a look at the photos below, paying particular attention to the one with the full-grown adult male staring up at its expanses.

Just don’t try to move the (millions) of signs positioned around the perimeter of the tree.  If you have questions concerning why you cannot move the signs, you are advised to see the clerk.  I would surmise that if you ask the clerk why you can’t move the signs, he/she will look at you over the top of their glasses in a ” do I really need to explain this?” kind of way.  I would also surmise that if you ask the clerk if you can move a sign, you’ll receive a gruff “get out of here.”


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There’s nothing quite like a fall drive through the countryside of Kentucky (unless, of course, a countryside drive through the Green Mountains of Vermont in autumn) and we didn’t hesitate to get our fill during the trip. Rolling hills, forested river bottoms of changing maples and oaks, and quaint churches graced our many meanders through Western Kentucky and the Bluegrass Region near Lexington, the appropriate-for-the-occasion music of Horse Feathers jangling their gothic folk mustily through the non-inputted speakers on my Iphone (I had forgotten the necessary audio cords, yet the effect of a lack in great amplification of sound actually added to the experience).

If you ever find yourself amidst the hallowed grounds of bourbon and thoroughbreds, do yourself a service and take a drive out Old Frankfort Pike and its appendage lane, Pisgah Pike, for some of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular examples of the term ‘horse country’ you will find on this planet. First-time travelers, I have found, are invariably left nearly speechless with surprise at the beauty along these thoroughfares, as any preconception and idealistic imagery of the lands Secretariat and Man-o-War once tromped come startlingly and breathtakingly into focus as visual truths.

Then you get hungry and you drive a little further down Old Frankfort Pike to Wallace Station, a newfound favorite haunt on trips back home due partially to the drive one happily partakes in to get there as well as the opportunity to embarrassingly and viciously destroy a Santa Anita Club, topped with a delicious spicy chipotle mayo that I would purchase by the gallon to drink by itself. Seriously.  Guy Fieri dubbed the Big Brown burger one of his Top 5 burgers in the country also, in case you wanted to get the image of me sloppily massacring a sandwich out of your mind.

The deli is a good 25 minutes outside of Lexington for most residents, if not more, but the crowds are a testament to its worthiness. Situated on a small “outparcel” (in the original intent of the term) within a picturesque rural setting a couple of miles from the charming old railroad and Three Chimneys Farm -residing town of Midway, Wallace Station is a perfect eatery accent for a day of travel through the Bluegrass.  In autumn, everything about it is just augmented.

Tomorrow, look out for photographs of Keeneland Racecourse, impressive even by Sooz standards, which will conclude the Kentucky trip portion of our broadcast.  We’ll then delve straight into the Halloween spirit of the Holy City leading up to the holiday this Sunday.  We will also consider creating a blog specifically for our frequent random adventures to spare you from non-Charlestonian posts, although we more than highly recommend a visit to these other locations.

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While our return boat ride from our excursion to Bull Island was chock full of fascinating scientific anecdotes regarding our Lowcountry estuary systems, there was more information to be gleaned from our captains besides environmental education.

As we neared the dock, Ron, the captain-in-training, quickly bounded back from the wheel and perched over a cooler, retrieving a glass bottle from its icy depths.  My eyes grew wide.

“Is that…Mexican Coca-Cola?” I enthusiastically questioned, half-choked in wonderment.  The reply back was affirmative and followed by a question: “Know where I got it?”

Matter-of-factly, I replied, “Of course, Queen Street Grocery.”

William peered back at me, eyes narrowed in a slightly confused expression. “Nah man, Sewee Outpost.”

In my obsession with downtown Charleston, I tend to forget that good finds such as the peculiarly sensational tasting Mexican Coca Cola may actually be carried in other peculiarly sensational locations besides our beloved Harleston Village neighborhood.  The revelation called for a prompt deviation in our afternoon plans to pay the store a visit and stock up on some of imported treasure.

Sewee Outpost, a C-store that stands along Highway 17 north of Mount Pleasant just before you drive headlong into the timbers of Francis Marion National Forest, defies almost every stigma the term ‘C-store’ normally carries with it, at least from my experience in the land development world.  Visibly appealing in its architectural character from a corridor context perspective, the store is true to its namesake, an actual outpost in a relatively remote portion of Highway 17 that serves as the area’s grocery, clothier, tackle and bait shop, deli, and practically every other use under the sun besides a nail salon. Inside,we found Guy Harvey t-shirts, crab catching kits, hot reuben sandwiches, vats of hoppin’ john soup, outdoor cookware, locally made foodstuffs (including a selection of jams from Lowcountry Produce, a down-home country kitchen and store in Lobeco I frequented often in a previous life), and, most importantly, Mexican Coca-Cola.

We spent the better part of an hour browsing the Outpost’s wares and came away with a few items, including a coffee mug, that we never intended on purchasing that day.  The store very much fits the area it occupies and is a must-stop waypoint for travelers between Myrtle Beach and the Holy City.  Just bring your wallet since you will be leaving with assorted goodness.

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So, yeah, about the danger alluded to in yesterday’s post about Bull Island.

As I said, we had just escaped the Devil’s Armpit Insect Haven and had traversed the ominously named Alligator Alley without the slightest incarnation of wickedness.  It was thus time to complete the final leg of our journey through the upland forest by returning to Beach Road and, subsequently, the dock from whence we had arrived a few hours earlier.

Setting a course along Lighthouse Road, our leisurely pace was soon hastened by the realization that unless we upped the ante a bit, we were in jeopardy of missing the ferry back to the landing.  After a brisk 15 minute hike, we assumed we had finally spotted the intersection of Lighthouse and Beach Road but I wasn’t completely sure this was accurate.  Feeling even more pressed for time, I quickly closed in on a sign at the intersection that would act as our verification of the correct route, Suzanne trailing behind me by a few feet.  Approaching the sign from the back, I needed to whip around in front of it in order to read it.

Just as I was about to shout my validation back to Suzanne, she interrupted me with a shriek, then screamed “CHRIS! STOP!!!”

I instinctively jumped backwards and ran some weird panicked gait back down the other trail, my eyes darting around wildly as I tried to discover what had elicited such a reaction from Suzanne.  Being that we were in an upland section of the forest, I had my eyes peeled for a large snake.

No snake to be seen.

I looked closer, towards coalescence of the midday sun and the shadows created by the lush canopy above.

That’s when I saw it.

Lying just within the realm of the shadows, a mere 20 feet max from where I was then standing and less than 10 feet from where I originally had altered my course due to Suzanne’s scream, was an 9 to 11 foot alligator, nestled down in the grass right in the middle of the trail.  I had not expected to see a gator on that portion of the island and in my haste to get to the dock on time, I had not adequately scanned for wildlife amidst the shadows that had been obscuring his behemoth presence from my initial gaze.

Cue heart attack.

I had encountered many alligators at a rather close distance during construction site visits at my previous job but never had I been so close to such a large one and never had I been so unprepared for such a meeting.

Luckily for us, there was a spur off of Lighthouse Road that connected with Beach Road that spit us out directly behind the beast.  As my nerves were still screaming “DANGER!” and all of the blood in my body that was still left from the mosquito bombardment pooled around my heart, we watched as the reptile slowly rose to his feet and sauntered carefree down the trail towards the beach, giving his best effort to emulate the turkey walk mentioned on an adjacent trail sign.

Cue relief.

With wobbly legs, we turned and made our break for the dock, sinuses cleared and muscles relaxed from tension in a strange solace only possible when confronted by a close call with doom.

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Just a short 35 minute drive north of Charleston lies a wonderful bastion of natural seclusion, Bull Island, which is contained within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.  We decided to spend our Saturday morning amongst the gloriously isolated wilderness the island affords.  Accessible only via a ferry that launches from Garris Landing, we were treated to a nice 30 minute boat ride through a maze of tight water passages that meandered through what appeared to be an endless marsh of spartina grass.  Throughout the trip, our captain, William, gave us a comprehensive description of the complex ecosystem we were buoyantly skimming over.  It was very evident that William was in love with his choice of employment as you could discern honest exuberance in his voice when he spotted rare waterfowl, dolphins, and the like during our ferry crossing to the island.  His excitement was contagious and, truth be told, made me pretty envious of the fact that he legitimately enjoys what he does for a living.

And very well he should, as hiking Bull Island is an absolutely majestic experience that should be undertaken by all admirers of this Lowcountry environment.  The island is classified as a Class 1 Wilderness, meaning impacts by man are either non-existent or have had negligible consequences.  In terms of Bull Island, the only evidence of impact is confined to a solitary structure built during the 1920’s, the dock used by the ferry to transport visitors, and a network of trail features.  As a result, the environs contain some of the cleanest air and water in the entire country.

We were exceptionally ambitious (read: foolhardy) with our initial plan of attack to see as much of the island as possible.

Bull Island is massive.  It was quickly apparent that we would need to water down our expectations for the day as we set off through the upland forest towards the observation deck.

Bull Island is spectacular.   Its natural beauty coupled with the distinct sense of remoteness one experiences while exploring its forests, pristine beaches, and ponds is very unique for an area that otherwise seems obsessed with overdevelopment of critical environmental areas.

Bull Island’s mosquito population is also massive and their own feeling of remoteness resulted in the single worst swarming attack of the annoying blood-sucking pests that I have ever experienced, which is saying something.  To be fair, I have always been a mosquito magnet.  I can’t remember one instance in my entire life where I was the one in a group of people who was getting attacked the least by these little idiots.  Regardless of location, if a mosquito exists within a 3 mile radius of my location, it will find me and it will subsequently destroy me. A defense of copious amounts of bug spray is always for naught.  Suzanne ended up with about 4 bites on our trek through one particularly breeze-free portion of the forest.  I ended up with 4 billion bites and about 30,000 other marks from Suzanne’s slaps in her futile attempt to help me out.  Misery.  The mosquito attack did dampen our spirits a slight bit, but it shouldn’t dampen the expectations of other visitors to the island, as it seemed others were not nearly as bothered by the beasts and I always have an exceptional affliction with them anyway.

Following our speed walking adventure through the Rectory of Satan’s Mosquito Hell, we found ourselves in the aptly named Alligator Alley, a portion of the island that includes numerous ponds filled with the intimidating looking reptiles.  Suzanne’s uneasiness quickly turned to fascination, as we spotted well over 30 alligators in the ponds along the trail.  We delighted in our newfound bravery in regards to being in the company of these animals, unaware of the danger that would befall us 30 minutes later upon our walk back to the dock (check back tomorrow).

The ferry ride back to Garris Landing was a lot different from the first leg of the crossing due to the fact that we were the only two visitors aboard and this time were not subjected to horrible attempts at humor painstakingly dished out by a scruffy guy from Tennessee.  This allowed us to engage in a very intimate discussion with William that included more in-depth explanations of the various wildlife patterns we saw on the island, as well as some helpful advice on where to find a good Mexican Coca-Cola in the Awendaw area (again, check back later).

Bull Island is definitely on our list of places to return for multiple visits, only perhaps later in the fall when I won’t have to fear losing all of my hemoglobin.

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Remember when bocce ball was a game for old Italian men smoking cigars and drinking brandy on the beach in tacky flowered shirts?

Now, this game consisting of throwing a dense white ball out into the environs and then subsequently tossing denser, heavier balls closely towards it to accumulate points is practically everywhere.  It’s the new cornhole, or the old cornhole, depending on who you ask.  A bocce match is akin to a game of disc golf; you are outside and feel like you are exercising in a weird way but you really aren’t doing a whole lot besides becoming ultra-competitive and sometimes hostile as you heave these 5-pound spheres around on a sandy beach, sans tacky flowered shirt.  This weekend, we spent a fair amount of time bocce-ing on various cove beaches despite interference from the beast, who truly believed she could run away with the balls if she tried hard enough.

I’ll also lay down an open challenge to anyone to attempt to beat me at bocce, something that happened three times over the weekend and countless other times in the past but, hey, I did say it makes you ultra-competitive, didn’t I?  Bring it.

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This past weekend, we celebrated the Fourth in fine fashion with massive amounts of boating, floating, hors d’œuvr eating, and fireworks-ing at Buggs Island Lake in southern Virginia, not to be confused with Kerr Lake in North Carolina, whose name is apparently not to be uttered when boating on the portion that lies within Virginia despite being essentially the same body of water.

A great time was had by all, especially Finley, who showed us all up with her Michael Phelps-esque water prowess and her Ferdinand Magellan-esque thirst for exploration.  I’m a little bit under the weather today, so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.

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