I hate camping. We’ve been on the road a month now, and I have to admit it. Okay, maybe not all of camping. Just the part where you try to sleep on the ground and not get eaten by bugs, freeze, or bake in a plastic sauna. Beds. And roofs. I like beds with roofs over them.
We had a particularly miserable experience our first night back on the road. We stayed outside Savannah at Skidaway Island State Park, a swamp and woods barrier island between the Intracoastal and Atlantic. We got refused from the RV resort where we had made reservations when they saw our van and declared it “not an RV” — i.e., too white trash. The park was much nicer anyway: Giant oaks draped in Spanish moss amid palmetto-studded marshes. We rode our bikes through the trees, stopping at an observation deck overlooking the sprawling spillway. The ground was literally crawling with crabs; Cole scampered after them ecstatically.
The campground was only half full and we had plenty of room. Miraculously, there were no mosquitoes. It was a perfectly lovely experience — until, as it got darker, the hot, humid, Southern summer air just got heavier and stiller. If you moved a muscle, you sweated. Even with all the windows open, the tent condensed the heat.
Now, Cole is a hothead, literally and figuratively. He burns off so much energy in his sleep that his hair curls with sweat. He was miserable. Tossing, turning, moving off the air mattress to sleep on the cooler floor, clinging to me in despair, pushing me off as an added heat source. After hours of this, I finally took us to the van, turned the key, and we slept with the engine running and the blessed AC on. Ah, the great outdoors.
Admittedly, we’re traveling in epic heat. We drove to Savannah in the morning. I’d been foretold of the beauty of its canopied squares and grand 19th century houses. But what I loved was the riverfront, with its old brick buildings and trolley tracks. I felt like I was in Europe. Cole was enthralled by a busker’s “Amazing Grace” and watched another street vendor weave a flower out of palm grass. But it was too hot to move, too hot to leave the cat in the van. So we appreciated this American gem from the vehicle windows and vowed to return one day — but maybe not during the summer.
The city and the highways were packed with travelers. It was absolute madness at the Pilot gas station/McDonald’s on Highway 26. We saw two different crushed, overturned vehicles on the road to Asheville. Lives crumpled in a second.
How different our stay Sunday night was: An entire guest house to ourselves in the woods outside of Asheville. We stayed with the photographer and journalist Michael Carlebach and architect Margot Ammidown — two other Miami refugees, what the locals here call “Floridiots.” Wild turkeys roam outside and there was bear scat on the door sills. Paleface got to go outside for the first time in more than a week. Cole slept in as the rain came down on the tin roof. Ah, a roof, a bed, and the woods.
The mountains here are so different from out west: lushly soft and green, not rocky and arid. The Smokys lived up to their name, draped with mist as we drove up to them on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped by a river in Smokyy Mountain National Park, had lunch, and went swimming. The Smokys has butterflies like Skidaway has crabs: the air danced with purple, blue, and yellow wings.
Then, the second we left the park, we were in hell. Gatlinburg is the epitome of a tourist trap: You’re immediately and irreparably ensnared in its mile upon mile of T-shirt stores, ice cream parlors, wax museums, miniature golf courses, motels, hotels, etc. My “favorite” was Cooter’s, the Dukes of Hazzard Museum — go-carts also. Tourists cross the street like wannabe death-race victims — hard to resist the urge. Just when you think you’ve escaped, you drive into Pigeon Fork: More cheap, plastic commercial hawkery. One mall of fleeting entertainments had as its centerpiece a giant “Jesus Saves” sign. A more honest billboard would have read, “Jesus Spends.”