The First Stop

Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , South Carolina
Wednesday, March 9, 2005

We made it out of Wilmington! We didn't pull out until two pm or so on Thursday, March 3, but we accomplished everything we needed to before leaving. However, we didn't even make it past Leland before something went wrong. The back door of the shell on the truck flew open, so we pulled into Leland and bungeed it down, vowing to tighten the shell later (hasn't happened yet). That secure, we merged back into traffic and headed for Hwy 17 which we followed into Charleston. The camper behaved itself the entire way and the truck ran smoothly, but Ed and I still held our breath every time we hit a bump.

By the time we neared Charleston more than three hours later, it was dusk, but we could still see little roadside stands on each side of 17 as we headed into Mt. Pleasant. We missed the exit for 526 (the Charleston bypass) and got stuck in traffic at the foot of the Charleston bridges. There were blue lights on the bridge, so we figured a wreck must have happened recently. The traffic was so thick that we couldn't turn around and get on 526, so over the narrow bridge we went. The bridge itself was very narrow - the new wider and solidly supported bridge isn't yet open to traffic - and Ed was worried about clipping someone or something. Ed was also worried about making it up the bridge then down then back up again. We held our breath and took a white knuckle flight over the bridge. Again, the truck and trailer exceeded our expectations.

It took us about 20 minutes to get through Charleston and another ten to get to Lake Aire RV Park. By this time, it was dark and the office was closed, so we picked up the campground map and found our way to our site. Thirty minutes later, we were hooked up and opened up. Not long after we arrived, we went to bed.

The campground itself was really nice. The roads weren't paved, but were still rather level. Our site was water/electricity only, so Ed got to check the grey and black water gauges often to see how long it took us to get 1/3 full . . . then 2/3 full . . . and so on. Lake Rantowles meandered through the campground and featured catch and release fishing. There was also a little island just for the ducks. Our site (I - 1) was on the end, so we had neighbors only on one side

The next morning (Friday, March 4) we headed into downtown Charleston. The parking deck Ed found was virtually full and our truck is a little hard to park in small spaces, so Ed took us all the way to the top of the parking deck. After descending 6 or so flights of stairs, we found ourselves somewhere between the Battery and City Market . . . and hungry. We wandered around Bay Street until we found the Market - the long, long Market. Each section of the open air market was about the length of a city block with roughly 15 feet between each section. I didn't realize how many little storefronts were actually housed in the Market and was surprised by the amount and variety of stuff: local paintings, glasswork, clothes, jewelry, herbs and spices, books, windchimes and on and on. There were people on each end of each section of the Market making sweetgrass baskets to sell. But we were hungry. After perusing several menus posted outside restaurants on Market Street, we decided on T Bonz, an open air restaurant with sandwiches and a brewery. We both tried a beer with our meal.

After lunch, we wandered around Charleston some more, checking out the houses and architecture. We also made it down to the Waterfront Park on the Cooper River and enjoyed the water for a bit. The pier is concrete and has hanging bench swings for people to sit in and enjoy the view. We could also see the new bridge, Fort Sumter, and Patriots Point across the bay. By this time we had been away from the camper for over four hours and decided to head back and take Bandit out. But first, we had to stop at KMart for a shower curtain because the one that came in the camper just wasn't effective (water, water, everywhere). Then home for a rather quiet night with me pouring over the maps planning what we were going to do Saturday.

The next morning, we got an earlier start and headed back through Charleston and over the dreaded bridge (which is wider going north than it is headed south) for Patriots Point. Housed at Patriot's Point is the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier; the submarine Clamagore; the Ingham, a Coast Guard Cutter; the destroyer Laffey; and a Vietnam Naval Support Base. Ed had been itching to get on the aircraft carrier. I later found out it was a goal of his that has now been accomplished.

After paying admission, we went onto the Yorktown - which is huge. Her nickname is the "Fighting Lady" and she fought in World War II and patrolled the Pacific during the Cold War and Vietnam. She also was the ship that retrieved Apollo 8 crew during 1968. On the flight deck, an F-8 Hornet and an F-14 Tomcat (both fighterjets), an HS-4 and HS-6 (helicopters), and other military aircraft were parked.

Ed and I went on three of the six self-guided tours; we saw the living and working spaces, the engine room, and the flight deck and bridge. There were exhibits set up throughout outlining what happened in each space and providing background information. The first tour through the living and working spaces had the most elbow room - which isn't exactly saying much. Many of the beds were bunked three high and suspended from the ceiling by chains. There was one main galley with several smaller ones scattered throughout. The medical and dental areas were also small. There were exhibits for other aircraft carriers, destroyers, and the like throughout that showed some of the battles these ships endure. As we were viewing some of the battle exhibits, I mentioned to Ed that I understand why decommissioned fighting ships are repaired before allowing the public to view them, but some battle damaged area needs to be preserved - gaping holes and all - so people can see with their own two eyes the ravages of war.

The second tour was of the engine room and featured those flooring grates that allow you to see directly through to the floor(s) below. I don't like being able to see through my floors; I like my floors solid and firm. The first room we came to with these grates, I remained by the door stubbornly believing the tour circled around and returned to this point before continuing. I was wrong. Ed finally came back and fetched me and chuckled while I hung onto the rails to walk over the grates. An escape hatch had also been left uncovered - except for an iron grate - so people could look down five or more levels below and see what the sailors had to climb during battle. Down in the dark, we could see loose change, most of it pennies, which people dropped down the hole. Here, too, I hung onto Ed's arm while I looked down. Iron grate aside, I'm taking no chances.

It was amazing in the engine room to see how large the engines are. Huge. Enormous. And probably loud and hot. Dials and switches covered almost every conceivable spot. We were awestruck by what it must take to build and then run and maintain a ship so large and complex.

For tour three, we went up into the bridge with all of the navigation maps. One room was a red light special so the radar could be read with minimal trouble. The bridge itself wasn't as open as I anticipated, but still allowed for visual. We also walked through the pilots' briefing room where the most comfortable reclining chairs are found. Ed pointed out that every one of the chairs had ashtrays in the armrests - a sign of the times, and how much has changed. Then it was out onto the flight deck to see the planes and helicopters.

After tour three, Ed and I each got a hot dog from the snack bar and refueled before heading to the submarine. Quite a bit smaller than the aircraft carrier, the tour through the Clamagore was mostly a small corridor separated by even smaller hatches. We entered by way of the forward torpedo bay then walked by the captain's and officers' quarters. If the spaces on the Yorktown were small, then the Clamagore was tiny. The submarine's engine room featured diesel engines with nicknames like "Speedy Gonzales" and "Road Runner" painted on them in script; the Clamagore was the last of the diesel subs commissioned before nuclear power made its impact. Topside again by way of the aft torpedo bay, Ed and I headed to the Vietnam base camp.

This true-to-scale exhibit featured a River Patrol Boat, ammo bunker, observation towers, and POW exhibit. Songs from that era played over an camp loudspeaker. We also saw 2 Hueys set up for viewing. It was by the River Patrol Boat that I got a bit irked that Kerry's service was called into question during the Presidential race. At least he went rather than using his money and family name to dodge service. Ed listened to me rant for a few minutes, then he offered me a soapbox. I got calmed down and we headed back to the truck.

After a brief stop at the Mt. Pleasant visitor's center to get directions, we headed up Hwy 26 to Cosgrove Avenue to see the H.L. Hunley. The Hunley was a Confederate submarine that sank the USS Housatonic in battle in 1864, the first time a submarine sank a battleship in war. The sub itself seated seven men who worked the propeller by a hand crank connected to a geared drive shaft; one more man sat at the helm to steer. The Hunley was approximately 40 feet long by almost four feet wide. Tight fit. A 20 pound black powder keg "torpedo" was attached to the front of the sub by a twelve-foot harpoon. The idea was that the crew would cruise out with the tide at night, mostly submerge, and poke a hole in the side of the boat it was attacking. The men would deliver the powder keg, then back away from the ship and detonate the torpedo after achieving a safe range. It seemed this plan worked just fine; the crew of the Hunley even used the "blue light" to signal to shore that the mission was completed. And that was the last anyone heard from them. What caused them not to return to shore is still a mystery. . After 136 years on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, she was raised in 2000. The whole Hunley tour only took 40 minutes tops, but Ed found it to be the most impressive of what we saw that day.

Although we could have taken a little time and headed out to Magnolia Plantation, we instead decided to return to our little home and rest some. That turned out to be a good decision because a thunderstorm came rolling through not long after we got back to the RV park. For the rest of the night, we just lolled around and worked on better organizing the stuff packed into our camper. The next morning, we got up, packed up and headed to Savannah.
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