While the air between us was much clearer, the Southern August air was not. Driving through North and South Carolina was sweltering. The cooler mountain air of the Smokies had given way to the humid coastal Carolinas. We drove for hours watching the canopy of maples and evergreens 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 very 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 scent and with the moss hanging off of the giant oak trees and the heaviness of the air you could feel age in the surroundings. An age that held wisdom and wonders that were only available to those willing to linger 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 when a sand crab of some kind jumped out from under some washed up algae mixed with sand and tried to nip at her toes. I chuckled a bit but she was done on the beach so we went back to camp.
We had a late supper and then off to the showers to wash off the long drive and the last of the Tennessee fog. The shower building was 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 (I think it was…?) had found its way into our tent and was scratching at the door. I had never heard such a yelp as the one Jaime let out that night…except for maybe mine. We were up an out of our bed in no time! The little domed tent shook as we stood up danced about shrieking trying to find the critter that had invaded. I ducked and dove to the door, unzipped it and with a sandal near the door shooed the beast out of the tent and quickly zipped it closed! I looked at my wide-eyed and fully awake wife 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 put on our sandals and got out of the tent and removed the poles, folded it in on itself with the bedding and everything still inside and threw the whole bundle in the back of the truck, then drove off out of the South Carolina night.
I drove as Jaime drifted off to sleep beside me. Our planned vacation was way off course now. While driving I realized that we were too early for our reservations for later in our plans and, being mid-August, there would be little chance of finding a park with vacancies – and after last night’s episode I knew Jaime would not settle for a park without a decent bathroom and shower. The sun began to rise as we drove back through the Smoky Mountains. We stopped for a quick breakfast and 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 had to loop around Nashville twice because I had missed our exit. The sun had just set when we drove through Paducah Kentucky. I remember it well because Jaime had been sleeping 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 hit Chicago early on the next 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 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 inside, and so tired that I do 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 25 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.