Looping Around the South

Above:  Today was a long drive.  I left Wilmington, North Carolina after visiting Fort Fisher, then hopped on the Interstate and drove across the endless rolling hills of central South Carolina and Georgia.  I arrived at my cousin's house near Atlanta just before dinner.

I got up around 7 a.m. and strolled around my campsite at Carolina Beach State Park, outside of Wilmington.  I liked this park, and especially the campground:  my site was shady, secluded and sandy.  After eating breakfast – a muffin and banana, what else? – and taking a shower, I packed up and headed out, but I’ll definitely come back here someday and stay longer.  A lot longer.

I'm planning to make a crazy drive around the south these next several days with my eventual goal of reaching Florida in a week.  Florida is my main destination during this leg of my trip because it's the home of the last three of the 16 extreme geographic compass points in the contiguous United States:  the southernmost, southeasternmost and south-southeasternmost points.  I’ve been on the road now for five months and reached Extreme Point #13, the easternmost point of the U.S., in Maine, a month ago.  Just three more points to go, to become the first person, I believe, to visit all 16 points (“Collect the whole set!”) 

I've made a campsite reservation at a state park in the Florida panhandle on November 1, so I have about a week to explore the southeast before I begin my quest for the final three points.  And fortunately, a couple of my cousins happen to live in this part of the country.  Several days ago I sent emails to them both.  Steve, on my Mom’s side of the family, lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and works for Wells Fargo (who in Charlotte doesn’t work for a bank?)  And Gary, on my Dad’s side, is retired and lives with his wife Alice near Atlanta. 

Given that I was in Wilmington, and from looking at a map, the logical route would be to head over to Charlotte, about three hours east of here, to visit Steve and then drive south for another three hours to see Gary and Alice in Atlanta.  But according to their schedules, that plan wouldn’t work for either of them.  So I've improvised and have decided to go down to Georgia first to see Gary, then backtrack north to Charlotte and see Steve.  And, given their schedules, I need to throw in a layover day in between and kill some time.

So I devised a crazy looped route:  heading south to Atlanta, then north to see the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, then east to visit Steve in Charlotte, and then south again past Atlanta on my way down to Florida.  It's kind of nuts but it seems to work well with everyone, including me.  As a result, I had a pretty long drive ahead of me today, from Wilmington to Atlanta.  But first I wanted to visit Fort Fisher, a historic Civil War fort just a few miles from Carolina Beach State Park and near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. 

A Fabulous Foray to Fort Fisher

I left the campground around 8:30 a.m. and pulled into the Fort Fisher parking lot promptly at 9, just as the park was opening, then walked into the spacious and modern Visitor Center.  There wasn’t anyone around, surprisingly, so I spent 15 minutes watching a fascinating animated and narrated map/display showing the history of the battle for the fort. 

During the Civil War, Wilmington was one of the Confederacy’s major seaports, along with New Orleans, Mobile, Charleston, and Savannah.  By early 1865, however, the Union Army had captured all the other ports, so Wilmington was the Confederacy’s last lifeline to the rest of the world.  To protect the port of Wilmington, Confederate troops built a large fort, mostly out of sand, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River located just downstream from Wilmington, which they named Fort Fisher.  In January 1865, a fleet of 56 Union ships anchored near the fort and began bombarding it, then several thousand men rowed ashore and began an assault.  It was an intense battle but the Union army ultimately captured the fort and Wilmington fell soon afterwards.  Within four months, in April 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, thus ending the Civil War. 

Fort Fisher has been rebuilt and is now a North Carolina State Park, and they’ve done a great job describing its history.  I spent about 20 minutes walking around this fabulous fort, visualizing the final assault from the Union Army.  I've visited lots of historic Civil War sites over the years and I think this is definitely one of the more interesting and well-presented ones, and I highly recommend it.  Kudos to the State Parks department.

Fort Fisher, North Carolina

A Long March to Atlanta

After spending 40 minutes at the fort, I checked the clock.  I had to hustle if I was going to reach Atlanta by dinner time, so I got in my truck and headed east, traveling on a few backroads of North and then South Carolina until I hit Interstate 20, then continued east on a sunny day.  There’s not too much to say about driving on the Interstate across South Carolina and eastern Georgia, I’m afraid, and the trip seemed endless.  Really endless.  To amuse myself and stay awake, I started thinking that I was (sort of) following Sherman’s 1864 March to Atlanta, though going the other way.

I reached my cousin Gary’s home east of Atlanta in the town of Lawrenceville (named after, um … Lawrence?) around 5 p.m.  I hadn’t seen Gary in about 15 years so it was nice to catch up with him and his wife, Alice, and to meet their little dog, Crispy, who took an immediate liking to me because he excitedly kept trying to lick my face (or maybe it was the KFC I had for lunch).  They took me out to a quaint restaurant for dinner in the quaint downtown area of Lawrenceville, then we went back to their house and chatted for a while. 

Gary is halfway in age between me and my father, who died about 15 years ago, and he told me some interesting stories about my Dad.  I never knew it, but according to Gary, my Dad had a photographic memory when he was younger.  In fact, Gary told me some stories about a few memory demonstrations that my Dad gave Gary in the 1960s, stories that made my jaw drop, like reciting the exact words in a book that he had quickly skimmed moments before.  It was interesting to learn about a side of my father that I’d never known.  My Dad never bragged to me about having a photographic memory, but knowing him, that didn’t surprise me at all.

Across the Carolinas to Atlanta



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