While the air between us was much clearer, the Southern August air was not. Driving through North and South Carolina was sweltering. The cool mountain air of the Smokies had given way to the humid coastal Carolinas. We drove for hours watching the canopy of maple, oak, and evergreen turn to moss-covered live oak and palm. This was uncharted territory for each of us and being from very northern Michigan, we were feeling much out of our element.
We arrived at Edisto Beach State Park late in the afternoon. The weather had turned murky with overcast skies and a heavy mist in the air. We set up camp and headed out to see the ocean for the first time. The soft breeze off the ocean had a faint salty smell and with the moss hanging off of the live oak and the heaviness of the air you could sense an age in the surroundings. An age that held wisdom and wonders that were only available to those willing to linger long and listen.
The ocean water felt thicker in a way from what I had expected. Growing up in and around the Great Lakes I had become accustomed to the coolness and clearness of the water. This part of the Atlantic was nothing like what I had expected. The waves were not roaring but lapping gently on the sandy shore – I had seen much angrier waters on Lake Superior. I’m sure much or our impression of the ocean had more to do with the weather conditions that we arrived in, but we were both a bit disappointed. My wife, in particular, who does not like creepy crawlies was finished with our walk on the beach after a sand crab jumped out from under some washed up algae mixed with sand and tried to nip at her toes.
We had a late supper and then off to the showers which were riddled with the absolute biggest bugs I had ever seen. I washed up as quickly as I could while keeping a wary eye on the critters and then headed back to the tent. We tried to sleep for what seemed like hours. Between the heaviness of the air and the unfamiliar noises we were both tossing and turning. Around two in the morning there was a scratching on the tent wall that gave us both a start! I turned the flashlight on to find that one of the giant roaches had found its way into our tent and was scratching at the door. I had never heard such a yowl as the one my wife let out at that moment…except for maybe mine. We were up an out of our bed in no time; the door was unzipped and with a sandal near the door I shooed the beast out of the tent and quickly zipped it closed. I turned and saw the fear in her eyes and knew that she was not going to stay another minute in this tent. We northerners were just not made for these southern parts. We got out of the tent and removed the poles, folded it in on itself with the bedding still inside and threw the whole thing in the back of the truck, jumped in the cab and drove north into the South Carolina night.
I drove as my wife drifted off to sleep beside me. Our planned vacation was way off course now. While driving I realized that we would be too early for our reservations for our next planned stop, and being mid-August, there would be little chance of finding a park with vacancies – and after last night’s episode I knew there was no chance of settling for a park without a decent bathroom and shower. We hit the Smoky Mountains as the sun began to rise and we decided to just head home stopping at rest stops to catch some shut-eye along the way if we needed to.
We got stuck for nearly three hours in construction traffic in Tennessee and then had to loop around the expressway in Nashville because I had missed an exit. The sun had just set when we drove through Paducah Kentucky. I remember it well because the love of my life had been sleeping in the seat beside me and woken up briefly and squeezed my hand. I looked over at her and she whispered I love you with a sleepy smile and then drifted back to sleep. That was when I knew we were alright and that our argument that had started this vacation was over.
We kept driving through the night and hit Chicago early in the morning as the sun was coming up; a bright, clear Sunday morning with little traffic. Over a quick breakfast after we were through the city we set out through Wisconsin thinking that maybe we’d stop near Green Bay for the night but when we got there we decided just to push on through the last three hours to home. (We also did not want to open up the bundled up tent heaped in the back of the truck for fear of what might still be lurking inside.) We had driven from Edisto Beach South Carolina home to Hancock Michigan in just over 26 hours, stopping only to eat and stretch our legs along the way. We had arrived home three days early with an unpacked truck bed containing who knew what kind of critters, and so tired I believe we slept most of those three days.
We still look back at that six-day road trip as one of the foundational lessons of our relationship. We were young, foolish, idealistic newlyweds learning what it would take to make this marriage last. We’re on year 23 now and there hasn’t been a road trip that we’ve been on that we haven’t looked at each other and smiled remembering that first vacation.
First Vacation (the set-up)…click here to read the first part of the story!
First Vacation (enough said)…click here to read the second part of the story!