Since we started our life in the road, almost six months ago (!!), we have traveled a very specific way. We will drive the RV to a place, set up camp, and explore from there. We never really road-trip around in the RV. The size of her –and the fact that we can’t back up when we are towing the Saab– makes it more difficult to make last minute stops. We never know if we’ll be able to turn around in various parking lots, (or whether we will fit in the first place) and it can be a challenge to pull over if we drive past something cool. Furthermore, one never really knows if a less-traveled road will have clearance or weight limits. These are all the things we have to think about when we’re on the road. We’ve just found it easier to go from point A to point B, unhook the Saab and explore from there. This has been our routine, and it has definitely worked… but it also takes away the road-tripping style of travel that we hoped we would be able to do more of.
So we left the Ocala National Forest a few days before Jordan’s birthday, and I gifted him a “week with no plans,” other-wise known as “a week where Jordan makes all the plans.” His request was to road-trip our way up to Savannah, Georgia… stopping at any place that seemed interesting or worth checking out. This plan was a little out of my comfort zone; I was nervous because of the previously described reasons why we don’t generally drive the RV this way. But I was in right away, because I was tired of planning, and it was his birthday wish… but even more-so, because I knew that it had the potential to be a really fun weekend.
Our first stop was in Jacksonville, we were only going to stay for one night, but when we pulled into the Kathryn Abbey Hanna campground we knew pretty much immediately that we wanted more time there. Not only was the large county campground beautiful… it was also just a quick walk to the beach where the pups were allowed to roam on-leash. We arrived during a stormy evening, so we had the beach entirely to ourselves and let the pups loose so that they could get some of that crazy driving energy out. It felt so good to breath in the Atlantic again.
The following day was Valentines day, and after spending the day at home getting some work done, we drove ten minutes down to Atlantic Beach and found a wine bar with a tapas menu. It was the perfect valentines dinner. The place was also a retail store, so you could buy a bottle of wine from the store, pay the 10% corking fee and enjoy a fairly priced bottle alongside dinner. We hadn’t been out to eat in ages… probably since Key West… so it was really nice to have an occasion to celebrate our love and everything we have been through over the past six months.
But it wasn’t just Valentines day… it was also Jordan’s birthday-eve. So the next day, Jordan set off for a day of golf and I spent the day cleaning the RV and wandering down to the beach.
We met back up around 4PM and set off into Jacksonville. I may have mentioned in a previous post that we had a disappointing New Years Eve… having made last minute plans to get to a rooftop bar in Miami Beach, only to realize at the last minute we were super far away and that Uber would be crazy expensive on the way back. We wound up staying at home, eating Chinese food, going to bed before midnight, and waking up the next day feeling a little bit of regret. 2017 was such a crazy year for us, it would have been nice to say goodbye to it in style. Jordan has been lamenting our missed roof-top opportunity since then… so for his birthday, we found a rooftop spot in Jacksonville that served fresh southern style noms. It wasn’t exactly Miami beach, but we had such a great time. I had an amazing smoked trout salad and Jordan had a blue cheese burger. We left happy, full, and satisfied… drove back to the campground and took a moonless walk on the beach before getting back to the animals.
The next day saw us beginning our Georgia road trip! It was Presidents weekend, and we had not made any plans… but everyone else in the world certainly had! Every campground in the area was booked until Monday, so we knew we were going to have to get creative with parking lot overnights. At this point in our travels, we had spent the night in a couple of rest stops, and a few casino parking lots… but we had not yet experienced the infamous overnight at Walmart.
We woke up on Friday morning in Jacksonville, with nothing but a goal to be up to Savannah, GA by Monday. Jacksonville is just 2.5 hours away from Savannah, so that left us a lot of room to wander. Taking advantage of a later 1PM checkout, we stayed at our beautiful site in Jacksonville until the last possible minute. And then, it was finally time to leave Florida. We really pushed off this inevitable reality for a lot longer than we had expected. We fell in love with the state through our experiences in the Everglades and the Ocala National forest. But it was time to say goodbye, and we were ready after spending six whole weeks there.
This first day back on the road wasn’t very glamorous. We crossed into Georgia and found a Walmart in St. Mary’s. We checked All Stays for reviews of Walmart locations to make sure they allowed overnight parking. After reading a few people’s positive experiences at this particular store, we pulled into the large parking lot, found a level spot (read: 10 spots) and set up “camp” for the night. This was our very first Walmart experience, but it was not our first parking lot overnight… so we knew the drill.
We put down all the shades and ran the generator so that we could use the AC and watch the Olympics (LOL!). We got a few groceries inside the store, and made beer braised tempeh tacos for dinner. When we do overnights like this, the RV is slid in and pretty cramped. Because we have an L shaped kitchen counter (which I love), when the RV slide is fully in, you have to side step through the space between the dinette and the counter. It is super tight, especially with the dogs and cat underfoot, but it is also pretty cozy. When we first started our trip, it used to frustrate me so much because we were still so disorganized. But now, everything has its place and we keep the RV really clean on driving days because there is literally NO room for clutter. We called it a night pretty early. There were 5 or 6 other RV’s parked around us. The people next to us ran their generator all night, but it didn’t really bother us. Parking lots are usually pretty loud, and this one was no exception, so the white noise of the generator was actually preferred to the sound of cars zooming in and out of the lot.
Staying in parking lots cracks me up. I used to think I would be nervous sleeping in the RV in places like parking lots or lonely dispersed campgrounds…. but we’ve had nothing but good experiences. We make sure the RV is secure, with windows and compartments locked. We have the two dogs who sound vicious at their first sense that something is not right. We also try to do research beforehand, to make sure the area is safe in general and to see whether there is a security patrol, etc. In all six months of travel, we have only had the one night in Parsons Kansas where we were nervous for our safety. In general, we park, shut down the RV, have a cozy night and and sleep well. The part that cracks me up is that for that night, you are living in a grocery store parking lot. Need some sugar? No prob! Run out of trash bags? You are just a few steps away from any brand of trash bag you might need. We do Walmart nights fairly often now and we actually kind of love them. For one thing, its free. For another, it is a lot easier than planning out a campground. Don’t get us wrong… we would choose a state park over a parking lot any day. But state parks on the East Coast can get expensive, and it has been nice to mix in some free nights here and there. This is especially true when we are doing a few days of driving. It is super easy to pull into a Walmart after a long day on the road. So needless to say, our first Walmart night was a success, and we woke up the next day ready to explore the Georgia coast.
Our first stop was to Jekyll Island. We spent the morning driving around the island, stopped at a rest stop and brought the dogs down to the beach. We weren’t completely impressed with this island; it felt really developed and not super scenic. But the beach was gorgeous and worth wandering along. Our next stop was St. Simons Island, another beachy spot and the home of Fort Frederica. We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach with the dogs. It was a hot day but a thick fog was rushing over the beach in waves. It was so dense you could hardly see a person standing ten yards ahead. The beach was crowded but people were spaced out enough that it seemed empty in the low visibility fog. The dogs got all their crazy out, which was so great for us. With sleepy pups, we zipped on over to Fort Frederica and got there right as the light was getting golden.
Fort Frederica was established in the early 1700’s to protect the new Georgia colony from Spanish Florida. What remains are ruins: the foundations of a handful of homes. The town is represented by avenues marked with plaques that place the villagers homes and businesses. Broad Street ran down the center of the town and it was lined with orange trees that still stand. Broad street lead us to the remains of a fort that sits by on the river. They used oyster shells in the mortar of the building, which was really cool to see; canon replicas faced out to the water. It was a beautiful place, and we were lucky to get there in beautiful light. The Spanish moss fell from the oak trees majestically. We wandered around the grounds for a while before getting back in the RV and setting our sites on our next overnight stop.
We were on our way to a nearby Walmart, when we passed a Lowes in a large plaza that had a ton of stores and restaurants. We pulled in and asked the manager if we could spend the night in the parking lot. He said no problem, and told us to park near the sheds. So we did, and we had a beer in the lot before heading over to a neighboring Olive Garden. Neither of us had been in over a decade, and we had been joking about it our whole trip, anticipating the night that we would finally cave and go to one. We loaded up happily on pasta, a meal we rarely eat, then wandered back home. This night was way more quiet than the night before, and we slept super well.
The next morning, we got up pretty early, grabbed some Starbucks and hit the road. It was Sunday night, and we wanted to make it up to the Savannah Visitors center by the end of the day. On Campendium, I read that RV’s were allowed to park overnight in their lot– right in the middle of the historic district– for 15 dollars per 24 hrs. We honestly thought this was too good to be true, and we were doubtful that it was a real thing. So we wanted to get there well before dark just in case we had to find somewhere else to go.
We were only an hour away from Savannah, and we still had a day to kill. So we moved onto a less traveled road, route 17, and accidentally found ourselves on the historic Liberty Trail heritage trail, a 25 mile route that features historic, cultural and natural sites. The first thing we stumbled on was “the Smallest Church in America.” It was so small that we drove right past it, but immediately found a place to stop and pull over so we could go back. IT WAS SO COOL. It was a real tiny church, with 12 chairs and a minister’s pulpit. There was a bell and stained glass, and it was kept super clean. It was such a trip, and a great roadside find.
Soon after we got back on the road, we found a sign that marked botanical gardens, pointing down a country road to the right. This was intriguing, so we followed the sign, and missed the next sign (we realized when we backtracked) that lead down a long dirt road. After a couple miles, we found another plaque, this time a metal historical plaque that was titled Woodmanston Plantation. We stopped to read it, before excitedly continuing to the grounds.
This was an awesome find for a bunch of reasons. We realized as soon as we read the first sign that this was the ancestral home of two Le Conte brothers, both of whom taught at UC Berkeley (my–and Jordan’s parents– alma mater); one of the brothers was the school’s first president and the other founded the Sierra Club. I had classes in Le Conte hall, which was presumably named after one of these brothers (I haven’t looked to see which one). It was so serendipitous that we went so far out of our way to find this place, and it turns out it was a little gem of California history– the sort that was deeply personal to both Jordan and I– in the middle of nowhere Georgia.
But that’s not all. The second reason why this was an amazing find was because the grounds are completely abandoned and have not been maintained for about eight years. Besides briefly running into a local man and his girlfriend, there was nobody there and the place was eerie, and peaceful, and beautiful. We parked the RV next to the run-down office, grabbed the dogs, and made our way down the long dirt road.
While the home is no longer standing, the grounds featured an overgrown botanical garden, a nature trail that snaked through the old rice fields, a reconstructed slave cabin, myriad camellia trees, and a picnic area. First we wandered through the botanical garden. There were recently bloomed daffodils and clusters of snowbells creeped through the fallen leaves. The camellia flowers were only just fading, warmer weather having just concluded their season. Their petals had fallen all over the ground.
The gardens smelled of spring, and we wandered through the quiet lanes, reading the few species tags that were left on the ground to indicate which plant was which. Most of the plants were still dormant, waiting out the rest of winter. These tri-color camellias from 1832 were stunningly beautiful. We took a clipping that we are hoping to root and plant.
Because the grounds had not been maintained in so long, the majority of the signage was completely illegible…covered in years of weather with fungus having blotted out the words. We could make out enough of the signs to notice that they indicated natural features of the area. This one, for example, says something about owls.
Although we were without a guide, we were still able to explore the place relatively well. There were large wooden signs that designated sections of the grounds. We found one that indicated a “swamp trail” that led through the old rice fields. It was buggy and smelly but so very cool. All of the wooden boardwalks were rotting out so we had to be super careful as we crossed them. I watched a medium sized alligator slip off a mudbank about ten yards in front of me, skulking quietly into the swamp it disappeared into the water and we didn’t see it again. It was so quiet and peaceful, but also very eerie.
We have felt a great conflict in being tourists in the South. This is hard to articulate, but I am going to try to stumble through it. The history of slavery has made the South a land with a painful and torturous past, and a legacy of romantic misremembering. The history of slavery and discrimination in these places is a brutal truth. There are certainly efforts made all over the South to never forget this plain fact of Southern history. But. We have been to sites in the South where we felt like the history of slavery was brushed over and offered as a half-whispered side note, like a brief digression within a romantic story of a time passed. I am sure that this is not always true and that there are many exceptions, but it is just something came up for us. We have felt this to be especially true when visiting plantations. These homes and grounds are stunningly beautiful. They are old and have history and significance. But the beauty shines grey and tainted when you think of the trauma and injustice that also occurred on the land.
What moved me the most about this forgotten Woodmanston Plantation was that it was no longer maintained or glorified; it was no longer a monument of the old South. The grounds had become overtaken by time and nature, and we were left to surmise what we could about the lives of the people who once lived and labored there. We followed the swamp trail through the acres of overgrown rice fields. We trudged across the dirt where the plantation home once stood, and followed the borders of the property to the places where men, women and children– kept as slaves– may have once slept. We were met with an occasional birdcall, and then overwhelming silence.
We spent a few hours exploring the place, and left feeling exhilarated and moved. It was the perfect way to end our little road trip weekend, and we finally decided to make a straight shot for Savannah. Less than an hour later, we got to the Visitors Center parking lot. I went inside to pay, and found out that because it was over the holiday, we could spend both Sunday night and Monday night in the parking lot for free, we just had to leave before 8AM on Tuesday. There were at least ten other RV’s there… though we were the largest. It had been a fortuitous day! We both felt excited the way you do when you have a super lucky chain of events. We changed and got the dogs settled before setting off to explore the Savannah historic district.
I learned so much from these five days we spent wandering Georgia. I’m still adjusting to this life, and it is not always easy for me. As a homebody who loves routine… this lifestyle has really shaken me up, in a good way. I have had to do a lot of work to let go of my desire for control and routine. It has been the most rewarding process, and I have seen my resilience in the moment grow exponentially. I have watched the way my fear flares up when we are dealing with the unknown, and I have had to gently work through the emotions that come along with fear in order to get the most out of an experience. I never regret doing this. So this weekend brought all of that stuff up for me. I entered it nervous of the drive, of stopping in the RV, of where we would spend the night… and I drove into Savannah feeling super confident in our abilities and inspired by the adventures that found us. This life isn’t always easy… but it is ALWAYS worth it!