Anatomy of road trip South

... playing dodge-ems at 70mph is no fun, no mo ...

by Don Norris

Washington's crossing of the Delaware ...

Anatomy of a vacation trip? What's this all about?

Well, Lorry and I (both pushing a healthy 81) took some vital time off in
February to get warm, to forget our problems at home, and possibly see something
we had never seen before.

The trip was only partially successful, because 90 percent of where we went, we
had been there before. Like, our destination was loosely Charleston in South
Carolina, but we had visited that beautiful city at least three times before. We
knew where to walk, where not to walk, what's boring and what's good. We had
seen all it before. So we left after two nights at the Sleep Inn.

That's another point: Where did we stay all those 18 nights? Well, we have a
Choice Hotels credit card, which gets us points for free nights -- so we hunt
for a motel in that chain. They're usually pretty good -- clean, neat, warm, big
screen TV -- but not always. Like we found at least two Sleep Inns that were
getting worn, sort of rough at the edges. We made mental notes not to go there

The Cape Fear ferry, five  cars that winter day ... Nearby the evergreens
blossomed (Feb. 12th) with non-edible blueberries.

One good point about hitting the Carolina's in the winter -- you have a choice
of just about any room you want. No crowds and lowered costs.

What the heck, lets go to Savannah. It's a really beautiful city with lots of
history, a walking town with a nice waterfront where you can get fresh oysters
and a decent martini. Trouble was, it was raining, there was construction on the
highway, the fog was bothersome, and huge trailer trucks were barreling down
Route 17 -- all of which wasn't much fun.

Getting off the well-travelled path ...

So we wheeled off that road about 30 miles short of Savannah, onto a little
tarred road that lead through a ten-mile-wide lowland -- some would call it a
swamp. But it was beautiful: there was green growing in winter, and subtle color
changes, and small creeks, and maybe five rally classy estates tucked back off
the main road, almost hidden. It turned out to be the very backroad we were
looking for. Beautiful, scenic, quiet, and NO traffic.

Relics of home-grown agriculture, no longer useful. At right, a modern
shed with semi-modern farm implements.

At one point we crossed a short, low bridge over a creek, maybe 12 feet wide.
The forest was a subtle green, but the muddy banks were black as black could be,
as was the water. It was an unusual sight, and we spent almost a half hour
poking along, taking photographs of the heavy Spanish moss, looking for
alligators (we found none).

Our little road lead us to a hole-in-the-wall town called Yemassee, SC, and I
recognized it as soon as we came upon the mainline rail depot. I had immediate
visions of a troop train -- well, it was two cars, first class, filled with
young college guys from Boston, all on their way to an introduction to the U.S.
Marine Corps. They disconnected our two cars and a new engine took us the twenty
miles to Parris Island -- the boot camp of the world, if you're a Marine Corps
recruit. Life suddenly changed from club-car status to raw know-nothing boot in
the civilization's most intense training camp in the world. I am glad, now, that
I went there, that I spent two years with the Marines. It was an invaluable

That afternoon, the sergeant got us lined up by height -- I was the tallest, and
he singled me out. When I answered his simple question, at full attention and
still in civilian clothes, he wound up and sucker-punched me right in the belly
-- I had failed to look straight forward as he was addressing us. I survived
boot camp to eventually become a second lieutenant; several guys in our company
were dropped -- Marine Corps life wasn't for them.

Wandering aimlessly through the back roads of the Carolinas ... lots of
farmland, some lowlands, some industry and lots of small towns.

Criss-crossing South Carolina ...

Back to travelling back roads. We slowly made our way across South Carolina,
stopping at whatever small towns were in our path, talking with people, shooting
pictures, getting a feel for Southern life. It took us a full day to wander back
to Myrtle Beach, richer for the experience.

Myrtle Beach is a playground. Of course it has a long, white beach and nice
waves -- but too cold for winter swimming. There's a nice boardwalk, a ferris
wheel, some amusments. But the principle entertainment is, One, food -- or
seafood to be exact. Next to that are the six theaters that constantly have a
live show on stage. And there are endless golf courses. It is a tourist mecca,
with lots of restaurants (six that have a fixed fee and you go through the
foodline as frequently was you want). That fee is $25-to-$35, depending on what
discounts you can conjure, the time of the year (summer prices go up), and how
much you want to eat. For example, I ate Alaska king crabs, scallops and clams
until they came out  my ears. And we stop at "Captain Georges" every trip south.

The lady owner and her husband run an 'estate business' -- the store is about
half an acre chocked full of relics. Somewhere in the Carolinas.

Wilmington in North Carolina ...

On this trip, both coming south and going back north, we stopped for two days in
Wilmington, North Carolina. It is not a new town, for it pre-dates our
revolution. But like most other old cities, the place has expanded some eight or
ten miles out since we lived in North Carolina in the '50s. Again, there is a
plenitude of seafood, a lovely waterfront on the Cape Fear River, and (of all
things) a huge battleship tied up across the river. It is the "USS North
Carolina", now decommissioned and parked in Wilmington's fresh-water harbor. If
you've never been aboard a real battleship ...

Cape Fear extends some forty miles south on a peninsula, which is populated with
beach towns, all the way to the junction of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic
Ocean. Wilmington was an important port for the Confederacy, and landed supplies
from Europe almost to the end of the war in 1865. Now Cape Fear is a great
seaside resort, generally less expensive than, say, Myrtle Beach or the beaches
of Florida. Same ocean, and a lot closer to New England.

Looks good, but that's a plaster horse and buggy, somewhere in Delaware. At
right, peanuts is one of our goals -- boiled peanuts, that is. This is North  

Avoiding traffic and the DelMarVa

To avoid heavy traffic of Baltimore, Washington and Richmond, we took what we
thought were local roads down the DelMarVa Peninsula -- which passes through
parts of Delaware, then Maryland, and finally Virginia. We had to shell out $12
to cross the Chesapeake bridge-tunnel, which dumped us squarely into the hubbub
of Norfolk traffic. DelMarVa is flat, nothing exciting, farm land. What amused
us, while doing a lot of side-roading, was the plethora of abandoned farm houses
--- historical remnants of and earlier way of life. The land around those old
places is still being farmed -- quite productively -- but the horses and mules
have been replaced by huge motor-driven machines.

We wondered what's to happen to those old homes, most of which were overgrown
with vines and shrubs.

While we brought a large stack of maps, we navigated, for the most part by the
sun. We got lost alot, but that was the fun of it. You get to see the
countryside that way. Besides it gets you away from the zillion-car racetrack.

A little longer, but easier, better views: Taconic Mountain. At right, a
backroad gas station from the fifties, out of gas.

Making the best of it -- back-roading ...

Speaking of backroads, here's a gem. We took the Mass Pike to the end, then took
the first exit in New York, back-tracking a couple miles to get to NY 22 -- a
dreamy, curvy, hilly little byway that parallels the Taconic Mountain, close-up.
Eventually, when the mountains went flat, we crossed over to the Taconic
Parkway, and hardly saw a car for some 20 miles. Absolutely lovely. And finally
we crossed the Hudson at Newmarket, picked up Superhighway 86, then the New York
Thruway (terrible traffic) and eventually picked up 287 in Jersey. It was

That's NOT the way to go. Traffic was heavy, going too fast, and there were
tolls. The best way to get around metropolitan New York and New Jersey is to
scoot over Rt I86 (which becomes I84) to Port Jervis on the Delaware River. Just
before Port Jervis, take Exit 1, in NY. At the bottom of the ramp, go left and a
half mile ahead, take a left on local route CR-16, going south -- this will lead
you to the Jersey state line, and the road gets renamed to NJ CR-521 on the
Jersey side of the beautiful Delaware River. You are now in the northern part of
the Delaware Gap.

The famous Delaware Water Gap, now co-occupied with Interstate I-80 -- a view
of the Jersey side. A little further downriver, one can drive along the old Delaware
Canal, on the Pennsylvania side -- an important means of transporting goods in the

It's advisable to cross the river to Pennsylvania at Dingman's Ferry, and pick
up PA 209. Some dozen miles south, watch for a little side road on you left, PA
T-633; another mile, stay left onto SR-2028 which will lead you back to river's
edge. Somewhere in the East Stroudsburg area, the old Delaware Canal begins,
running along side the river for countless miles. The ride is beautiful, lovely
homes, little villages, old locks to investigate. It is possible to stay close
to the river all the way down to Washington Crossing, just above Trenton.

From Trenton, everything is mostly interstates, through Philly, through
Wilmington ... study your map for a way around this mess. Or battle the traffic.

Traveling the way we do, we often got lost. We were totally befuddled in New
York, Jersey, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina. But who cares? Our
destination is usuallly where we feel like stopping. And we got to see much
more, getting lost.

All in all, in 18 days we travelled 2,728 miles. Four of those days were
considered days off, like two days as tourists in Myrtle Beach -- and
Wilmington, and Charleston. We averaged 25.7 miles per gallon with our Subaru
Forester, burned 107 gallons of gas with an average cost of $3.49 a gallon, for
a total $373 overall. Toll roads, ferries and bridges added another $63.95.

Summing it up, we had a good time. Not great, but a good get-away. Sixty years
ago -- even back into the '30's when my folks drove every summer from Jersey to
Pensacola -- things have changed radically. Those small towns are metropolises,
the roads are interstates, the cottages we stayed are replaced with huge chain
motels. Even grandma's cooking now comes in a can.

But it's a get-away, some place different.

You know, next time we'll fly.

April 6, 2012

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