Thursday, October 22, 2020 and Friday, October 23, 2020 – Days 1 & 2
Our first two days were driving days, to get us from Ada, OK, to Knoxville, TN. We left Ada at 9:40 am, had lunch at tiny Iwani Park in Fort Smith, and took smaller roads like US-64 instead of staying on I-40 all the way. We made chicken quesadillas for supper at Parkin Archeological State Park in Parkin, AR, and stayed the night in a Walmart parking lot in Jackson, TN.
Friday had us driving the rest of the way into Knoxville to see our friends, Ron and Meriam. We stopped for a sandwich at the City Lake Recreation Area in Cookesville, TN, and arrived at our friends’ home around 3:45. After visiting for a while, we went to their church’s property to make scout burgers and Dutch oven cobbler over an open fire. We parked for the night in the parking lot at their church.
Saturday, October 24, 2020 – Day 3
We spent the morning with Ron and Meriam, driving the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We had a boys van and a girls van since we would be parting ways in the afternoon. The foliage was at its peak in that area. The morning started out a bit wet, but we could still see the beautiful yellows, golds, and reds all over the hillsides and on each side of the road. We saw groups of Porsches and other racing cars out for a drive. Once when we pulled off for a scenic turnout, we counted 37 pass by! We ate lunch together in Wears Valley at the Hillbilly Restaurant. I had the Bananas Foster French Toast (yum!) and Shawn had a big BLT. Traffic in the Smokies got really heavy in the afternoon, which was not unexpected since it was such a beautiful fall Saturday.
After parting ways, we headed toward Franklin, NC. Once there, we found one of the trailheads for the Little Tennessee River Greenway and walked about 2 miles and then rested a bit. Shawn’s former youth pastor lives in Franklin, and Shawn had contacted him about getting together. We went to Robert and Kim’s house where we had pizza and salad for supper, with fresh apple crisp for dessert. We enjoyed getting (re-)acquainted with each other, since Shawn had not seen them in the 32 years since he had graduated high school. We had a pleasant evening of visiting and then they offered to let us stay in their driveway for the night, and so we did.
Sunday, October 25, 2020 – Day 4
The offer to stay in Robert and Kim’s driveway included the use of a shower in their spare room, so we were able to have a “real” shower Sunday morning. We attended church at First Baptist, Franklin, where Robert is the pastor. After the church service, Robert and Kim joined us at El Charro Mexican Restaurant for lunch.
We encountered some showers as we drove to Columbia, SC, but by the time we reached the capital of South Carolina, the rain had stopped. We walked around the State House, taking pictures of the building and exploring the memorials on the grounds. We drove through part of the University of South Carolina campus on our way to a park where we ate the stew that I had made and frozen before we left home. We found a Lowe’s store and walked around inside there for a bit before finding a spot to overnight at a nearby Walmart.
Monday, October 26, 2020 – Day 5
Congaree National Park seems to be one of the lesser known full National Parks, but it is great for people like us who enjoy spending most of a day exploring a site and then moving on. We arrived at 9 am and spent until about 3 pm in the park. Altogether we must have walked over 10 miles (my Fitbit logged 27,000 steps that day) on the Boardwalk Trail (most of the park is swamp land), Weston Lake Loop Trail, Sims Trail, and Bates Ferry Trail (at a separate location, but still a part of CNP). The Bates Ferry Trail is on a historic roadbed leading to the former site of a ferry across the Congaree River. Interestingly, it was the only place where we actually saw the Congaree River.
We then drove east to Sumter, SC, where we visited Swan Lake Iris Garden. Various types of swans, as well as ducks and geese, live at that city park. It was too late in the year for the irises, but we could imagine that it was very pretty when they are in bloom. We had our beans and rice (with chips and salsa) while at the park. We continued eastward and stayed overnight at a Walmart in Lake City, SC.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020 – Day 6
We were heading for the beach today, but first, we picked up some groceries in Walmart before leaving our overnight spot in Lake City. I have always heard of Myrtle Beach, so that was one of the places on my list for South Carolina. We avoided most of the touristy area, though, and headed for Myrtle Beach State Park. We walked out on the fishing pier, walked along the beach, and ate lunch on the beach, where we watched a fisherman pull in a stingray and then figure out how to release it back to the ocean. We then walked the nature trails under the canopy of tall trees.
Huntington Beach State Park is just about 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach and has a smaller campground, so we had picked that park out as our overnight spot for two nights. We checked in, got an ice cream from the gift shop, and set up at our camping site. We took it easy for a while, taking care of some computer work, then made Frito chili pie for supper. Then we enjoyed watching the sun set as we walked along the beach.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020 – Day 7
This was an unusual day for us in that we never left the park. We made our morning coffee and took it with us to the beach so we could watch the sun rise. It was a great morning for doing so, as the skies were clear except for at the horizon. One of the attractions (besides the beach) at Huntington Beach State Park is Atalaya, the winter home built by Archer and Anna Huntington in the 1930s. The 30-room castle is unique in that it was designed to reflect the Moorish architecture of the Spanish Mediterranean Coast. We enjoyed our time going through each of the rooms and taking pictures of the grounds.
We did a lot of walking and bicycling through the park. There were signs up about alligators, and to our surprise, we saw several at different locations in the park. They were all in ponds, and usually we just saw the head, but once we were able to see almost the entire body as it was in some very shallow water. Birdwatching is also a common pastime in the park, and we also took pictures of waterfowl. The park has a nice new-looking and new-smelling Nature Center, which was actually open during Covid. After our dinner of chili mixed with bowtie pasta, we took another sunset stroll on the beach.
Thursday, October 29, 2020 – Day 8
Once more, we took our coffee to the beach to witness the sun rising over the ocean. The sea was more turbulent than the previous morning, the tide was higher, and the weather was humid, and eventually, rainy in the afternoon. For breakfast back at the WanderVan, we mixed the last of the chili in with some scrambled eggs. I was delighted that we were able to see another alligator as we were driving out of the park.
Heading on down to the Charleston area, we stopped at the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Charles Pinckney was a signer of the Constitution and governor of South Carolina (among other things). The home was closed, but we walked around the grounds and had a picnic lunch there. Fort Moultrie was next on our agenda. The Visitor Center and buildings were closed, so walking the grounds and getting a glimpse of Fort Sumter across the harbor had to suffice.
Rain was coming, so it wasn’t going to be a good time to be outside, so we headed for a laundromat and took care of some housekeeping. Afterwards, we went to Laurel Hills County Park, where we hung out, walked, and made dinner – chicken and tortellini soup. We stayed overnight in a Walmart parking lot.
Friday, October 30, 2020 – Day 9
Today was all about the downtown Charleston area. We took a guided walking tour with Charleston Sole. Brian was an excellent guide, providing information and interesting stories from the beginnings of Charleston to today. He gave recommendations of several restaurants in the area, and we decided on Magnolias Restaurant. It was excellent! Shawn had the Seafood Platter (special of the day) and I had the Market Catch, which was flounder.
After lunch, we walked through Riley park along the shoreline and took pictures of the pineapple fountain. We had scheduled a Fort Sumter tour for the afternoon, so we walked up to Liberty Square where the boat departs from the Visitor Center. It was a 30 minute ride each way and an hour at the fort, where one of the park rangers talked about the fort for about 15-20 minutes and then we were able to walk all around the remains of the fort. Since we had had a big lunch, we just had a sandwich in the van for supper, then we drove to the south side of Charleston to stay in a Walmart parking lot.
Saturday, October 31, 2020 – Day 10
Our first stop was at “Angel Oak,” a 400 year-old live oak tree in a Charleston park. It was massive! Some of the limbs were not just touching, but partially under the ground, and limbs had moss and ferns growing on them. We headed on south to Charleston Tea Plantation, the only place in North America where tea is grown and processed. We sampled some teas, took the video factory tour, and purchased a few things from their gift shop.
Hunting Island State Park is touted as the most visited state park in South Carolina, so we thought that when we arrived in the middle of a Saturday afternoon that it would be packed with people, but that was not the case. We first went to the lighthouse to see if there were any slots available for climbing up in the lighthouse, but there were not two slots available, only one. That was okay, though, because it was extremely windy and partly cloudy that afternoon, not a great time to be at the top of a tower. We walked along the beach (it was low tide) and picked up shells and even found a sand dollar! We drove down to the end of the park, by the fishing pier, and visited the Nature Center and took the nature trail out to a desolate island. Then we went back to the main section of the park, walked most of the Lagoon Trail, then made White Chili in the van for supper.
We drove to Okatie, outside of Hilton Head, SC, and parked for the night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. We were able to pick up the OU football game from a Savannah TV station, so we finished our day by watching OU win over Texas Tech!
Sunday, November 1, 2020 – Day 11
Sunday morning started out with breakfast in the Cracker Barrel where we stayed last night. Then we went to a nearby Walmart for WiFi so we could stream the early service at our home church, Trinity Baptist, on Facebook. We continued our journey south and made our way into Savannah, Georgia.
We took a Savannah Riverboat Cruise, a narrated cruise taking us up and down the Savannah River and giving us some of the history of the area. Savannah is the 3rd busiest U.S. port, although it was not busy at all on a Sunday, but it did explain why there was such a high bridge over the Savannah River coming into Savannah from South Carolina. While on board we shared an order of hummus with veggies and pita chips for a light lunch.
After the cruise, we walked along the riverwalk to the Waving Girl statue, then around the old area of Savannah and its many squares, and down to Forsyth Park where we took pictures of its iconic fountain. We wandered our way back to up Savannah Shrimp Shack (you have to have seafood in Savannah, right?) where I had the shrimp boil and Shawn had shrimp tacos. We then drove to the outer edge of Savannah to a Walmart for WiFi and a free overnight stay.
Monday, November 2, 2020 – Day 12
First on our agenda for today was Tybee Island, a beach community just outside of Savannah. We stopped and took pictures of the Tybee Island Lighthouse, but it wasn’t open yet to go inside. We picked up an Americano and chocolate chip scone at Tybean Coffee and headed to Fort Pulaski. Fort Pulaski, a part of the national park system, was named for a Revolutionary War hero of the Savannah area, and of course saw action during the Civil War. It was cold and windy that morning, but we did walk around some inside the fort.
Fort Frederica was next for us, but it was about a two hour drive down to it. Another NPS site, Fort Frederica was established around 1736 by General James Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia. Today visitors can see and walk around the ruins, mostly foundations, where the fort and supporting town existed nearly 300 years ago.
Our last stop on the Georgia coast before heading west was Jekyll Island. It started out as an exclusive beach club for the nation’s elite, but was sold to the state of Georgia which established a state park there. There are also nice hotels and new shops near a beautiful beach. This is the area we went to, as it was where Shawn and Bob started their cross-country bicycle ride 5 ½ years ago. After walking along the beach, we went to the shops for a frozen yogurt and a few souvenirs.
Heading west along the bicycle route, we went to Laura S. Walker State Park outside of Waycross to stay for the night. It is a pretty little park with a nice lake which we walked out to see before having some leftover white chili and a bean burrito for supper.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020 – Day 13
Also outside of Waycross, GA, is the Okefenokee Swamp Park. Shawn had visited there when on the bike trip, but I had not, so we went. We saw the exhibits there (think 1960s & 70s exhibits), climbed the 90-foot observation tower, and took the guided boat tour through the swamp. Also available were a train ride and a nature show, but we did not want to stay around that long. As we walked along the trails, we did note the irony of walking through the swamp on election day (we voted early, before leaving home).
Our plan was to drive home as much as possible along the bike route that Shawn and Bob had used. So, starting from Waycross we headed west on smaller highways. We stopped for lunch in Hahira, where we saw the bay window caboose. Driving through Georgia that day we saw many cotton fields (they looked ready to be harvested to us), as well as several orchards: pecan, peach, and unidentified berries. We stopped in Defuniak Springs, FL, where we walked the 1 mile circumference of the almost perfectly circular spring-fed lake in the town. After finding the traffic in Crestview to be more than we wanted to deal with to stop and eat, we headed on to Pace, FL, where we stopped at a Zaxby’s to get dinner (take-out only, so we ate in the van). We stayed the night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot in the Pensacola area.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020 – Day 14
One of the unique experiences of the bicycle trip was taking a ferry to get across Mobile Bay in Alabama. Since it only runs every hour and a half during the off-season, we wanted to make sure that we made it in time for the 10:15 ferry. We were on the road at 8 am (an early start for us), and drove along the peninsula west of Gulf Shores, AL, to Fort Morgan, where we snacked on a scone and some coffee while waiting on the ferry. The ferry takes about 40 minutes to take cars (or bicycles or walk-on passengers) from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island.
We tried to make a stop at the Gulf Shores National Seashore Park, but that did not work out too well for us. We drove on in as far as could until we reached a point where the road was barricaded. We thought we would just stop there and eat lunch (our plan for in the park, besides getting the National Park stamp), and it worked out okay until a park employee came by and told us we needed to move on because they were about to be bringing heavy equipment through. This should have given us a clue to the storm damage to come…
We drove over the bridge into Biloxi, MS, and stopped at the park just past the bridge and overlooking the Mississippi Sound. We could tell that the water had been up, but that park had been cleaned up pretty well. Unfortunately, we had not kept up with the news in the last week to know that Biloxi had been hit by Hurricane Zeta. As we drove along US 90 near the coast, traffic lights were still out and there were piles of debris everywhere. We moved inland, to the bicycle route, and it was still slow. We finally got out of Biloxi, but Shawn said it felt like the rode through the town faster than we drove through it!
By this time, we knew we couldn’t follow the bicycle route exactly, even through Louisiana, so we picked a few towns we wanted to go through to keep us close, and let the navigation system tell us how to get there. New Roads, LA, was definitely on our list because it is where I came down and met Shawn and Bob on their ride. We ate at Hot Tails, the same restaurant we ate at 5 years ago. We wanted some Creole food while in Louisiana, so I had the Seafood Gumbo and Shawn had the Crawfish Etouffee. Even though it was dark and later than we prefer to drive, we headed on to the Cracker Barrel in Alexandria, LA, for the night so we would not have to drive as far tomorrow.
Thursday, November 5, 2020 – Day 15
This day was just focused on getting home! We let our van’s navigation system give us a route and did not try to follow any of the bicycle route. We left at 8 am, had a picnic in Mt Pleasant, TX, at a city park, and drove up to the house just before 4 pm.
By the numbers:
|3085||Total miles driven on our trip|
|15||Number of days on the trip|
|206||Average miles driven per day|
|17.8||Overall average miles per gallon fuel economy|
|11||States visited (OK, AR, TN, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, TX)|
|4||Average number of days between emptying waste tanks and refilling fresh water tank|
|2||Number of times our diesel parking heater was used, averaging about 1.5 hours each morning those days, and using less than a quart total of fuel|
|65%||Lowest state of charge of our 430 A-Hr battery bank (50% is the recommended discharge limit). An electrical system post will be coming in the future.|
|$23||Average daily fuel (gasoline) cost|
|$11||Average nightly cost to camp or park for the night|
|1||Number of times plugged into shore power on the trip|