Last Thursday Skye and I headed off to Alabama to get the last high point the South East has to offer. Cheaha Mountain rises to a summit of 2,405 feet and there definitely some nice views on our drive up. We parked literally across the road from the sign, so it was one of the easiest high points.
There was a tower one could climb to get a better view. We did of course, but unfortunately it was a pretty hazy day so the views were less than spectacular. We’re up to 14 high points. It’s hard to say which one will be next as all we know is that we’ll be in Atlanta till February and then……
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View parking lot in Wytheville, Virginia, Sunday’s destination
Once again we were in a time crunch. Skye had appointments in Atlanta on Tuesday morning. We would be leaving Cleveland Sunday afternoon. The drive takes approximately 12 hours. That scenario on its own is quite manageable. But there was the unfinished business of summiting Mt. Rogers, Virginia’s high point. Depending on the source, it would take anywhere from 4 ½ to 6 hours to finish. On a road atlas it looks to be right at the mid-point of the trip, with practically no detour involved. On closer inspection you realized it’s accessible by smaller mountain roads. It looked like Sunday would be a long day and Monday would be a really long day.
Our first wild pony sighting
Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few maps from my road trips. When I would refuel, I would pick up a local map to give me the details that a US road atlas doesn’t. Lately I have gotten out of that habit relying on the GPS maps in my “smart-phone”, which works out most of the time. Unless you go beyond the range of you cell service which happens quite often on smaller mountain roads. Then it becomes a guessing game.
After getting a late start on Monday, I guessed wrong a couple of times which finally put us at the trail head around 11 am. We hit the trail practically running we knew we didn’t have time to waste but of course wanted to enjoy the hike.
At one point we contemplated biking to the summit. Fortunately bikes weren't allowed on the trail so we didn't have to think about it. As you can see a bike ride wouldn't have worked out very well. We would be boulder-hoping on several portions of the trail.
This was the view on the way up the mountain, by the time we were heading down, visibility was at around 50feet.
Mt. Rogers 5729 ft.
Our first summit in our Vibram 5 fingers, much of the trail consisted of gravel and rock which would eventually takes its wear and would wreak havoc on our tender feet making the last quarter of the hike a journey of pain. Bouldering with them was a blast and the stretches of dirt and grass were a pleasure, “just what the doctor ordered” as Skye would say.
We were concerned about rain, but even though the clouds would eventually shroud us in a blanket of mist and fog, it only rained a couple of times for less than a minute. We could lucky with that for sure.
We made it up and down the mountain in 4 hours and 40 minutes approximately 9 miles total round trip. We hit the road mindful of obeying speed limits as I had just been cited a few weeks before and could ill-afford another ticket. Around 6 ½ hours later, just shy of midnight we would arrive back in Atlanta.
I had read an article in USA Today about the growing number of farmers markets across the US. It came as no surprise that California had far more than any other state. Ohio coming in at number 5 was something I didn’t expect. But after driving through mile after mile of farmland I could see why.
After a not-so-wonderful farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoon (no reason to elaborate), I was hopeful that the North Union Farmer Market at Shaker Square would be a bit bigger and with more of an emphasis on “sustainable” or “organic” farming practices.
I was not disappointed. The number of vendors and selection would have been overwhelming on a normal outing, that mine was hampered by my chigger-massacred feet made it challenging to say the least. As my feet and ankles screamed at me in itchy frustration, I did my best to focus on the matter at hand. I traveled through the market surveying and considering what I contribute to the Sunday brunch at my in-laws house where they were expecting up to forty guests. I wanted to keep it very simple as to keep my presence and needs in the kitchen to a minimum. It was no easy decision. There were baked goods and deserts that would have needed only to be unwrapped and maybe sliced. There were beautiful vegetable of all sorts. I was tempted by a mushroom stand that had several varieties that I had never tried before. In the end, I went with baby potatoes with rosemary that is one of Skye’s stand-by dishes. I couldn’t resist the tomatoes that were in full swing. There were a multitude of colors that would simply need to be cut into simple wedges. Some thick-cut bacon rounded off the menu, Skye had specifically requested it, so it made it easy for me to indulge.
The day before we had driven through “Amish country” in hopes of seeing a horse-drawn buggy and such but had no luck. So I was thrilled that they had a couple of stands especially when I saw that they had ground cherries, something I had never seen at a farmer’s market and had had less than wonderful results in my own garden.
I would have loved to have stayed and chatted with the various farmers but my feet were getting the better of me and I still had to find a Home Depot for hula hoop making supplies. So off I went.
We had two days to get from Charlotte, North Carolina to Athens, Ohio which is around a 6 hour drive. The thing is there are 4 high points that we had yet to summit sort of on the way. It seemed from the descriptions I could find online that 3 of the 4 high points were just a short walk from the car, at the most a mile hike. Mt. Rogers in Virginia seemed like it would take 4 to 5 hours. On a map they all looked fairly close to one another. I charted several ways to hit all four in two days. At best we would be looking at a 14 hour day and a 12 hour day of travel and walking, while certainly possible it wasn’t the way Cindy wanted to spend her vacation which I completely understand. So I compromised and dropped the Virginia high point.
South Carolina, Sassafras Mt. 3560 ft.
We headed west and dipped south back into South Carolina. At 3560 ft. Sassafras Mt. would be the lowest of the high points, it would also be Cindy’s very first high point. We got to the parking lot for various trailheads, none of which mentioned any sort of high point or summit. So we started up the hill hoping it was the right trail and that once we got to the top it would make more sense. It didn’t. We found the survey control marker but there wasn’t much more than that. And there was no view of any sort. I tried to use my smart phone to confirm that we had indeed reached the summit, but unfortunately there was no service, so we snapped of a couple photos and headed back to the car again hoping that we had been to the right place. Around an hour later up the road on our way to the Mt. Mitchell we were able to conform that we did in fact reach the highest point in South Carolina.
North Carolina, Mt. Mitchell 6684 ft.
We were in a race to get to Mt. Mitchell and then as close to Black Mt. in Kentucky before 9 o’clock when True Blood started.
Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi and thusly gets much more recognition than its southern sister. The temperature was in the high sixties and for the first time in months, walking outside in the middle of the day was comfortable. There was a visitor’s center and gift shop. People were heading up and down the mountain to the tower. The views were beautiful. But we were on a tight schedule so couldn’t linger about for too long.
We found a hotel that had HBO and after going to the local market to find something that could pass as dinner we settled down in front of the TV with about 10 minutes to spare.
Kentucky, Black Mt. 4139 ft.
I was most concerned about this high point, not because of the hike which seemed to be about a mile each way, but because it was on private property that required a signed waiver to access.(I had already downloaded and printed it, but still). The access road was mainly intended for coal mining trucks and apparently many of the surrounding hillsides were ravaged by strip mining.
We were able to drive all the way up with no problem. We did get to a huge tower of some sort that was topped with what looked like a space ship. We looked all around but could find no survey marker or anything indicating that we had reached the summit so we drove a little further and hit paydirt.
We easily found the monument that marked the high point and after a little exploring we found the survey marker.
Skye and I have now reached the highest point in 12 states. We plan to hit Virginia on our way back to Atlanta. And some time before we leave Georgia, we’ll slide into Alabama for that one and then we’ll have bagged all of the highest peaks in the Southeast.
I saved an issue of Saveur that was dedicated to American BBQ and featured several legendary BBQ spots. One of these joints was in Hemingway, South Carolina. It would be a little out of our way, but according to the review, it would be well worth it.
Scott's Pit Cook B.B.Q
"To my mind, though, no pitmaster has better translated his craft for 21st-century audiences than Rodney Scott, of Scott's Bar-B-Que in rural Hemingway, South Carolina." John T Edge, Saveur
I've read things like that and been disappointed, mildly satisfied and then less often felt that the praise and accolades were due.
I was excited and nervous as we pulled up to this BBQ mecca which only served food 3 days of the week, the rest of the time it's a convenience store, with a lot of character but not much stock. There was only one table and a hand full of mismatched chairs. As we would see, everyone but us were locals and were getting their food to take away.
Reviews from magazines and newspapers as well as Scott's Rules were posted up on the walls of the kitchen end of the building.
The pulled pork had a vinegar based sauce which is what's considered North Carolina style and it was amazing. By far the best BBQ I've ever had and by now I've had a bunch. It was just the right amount of spicy and moist but not drowned in sauce. It was the perfect balance of spices and cooked to perfection. According to the article, they start cooking a whole hog the night before and turn the thing at around 4:30 in the morning. Whatever they did, it was done right. My hair was standing on end from the tingly sweet burn that was setting my taste buds on fire but some how not to the point where I wasn't thoroughly enjoying every bite. I polished of my 1/2 pound of hog and started in on what Skye had left. I was tempted to get more but knew I would regret it later. I left satiated and more than satisfied.
The bathroom was upstairs around back. It was beyond funky but from the window I got a good view of where the hard labor of love was done.
Some of the signage from nearby vendors gave a good indication as to what neck of the woods we were in.
It's funny about time and blogging. When I have time to blog, I usually don't have to much to say and when I have a ton of stuff to post and talk about I don't have the time to do it. And that's where I'm at, Charleston which stirred me in so many ways is a week in the mirror and several other things have gone on since then and it's approaching midnight and so here goes....
A Morning Jog
I was less than impressed with Charleston after our first night out, so I figured I'd get out early and take a little jog before it got too hot. Only problem is that I headed off in the wrong direction twice and ended up seeing the lesser parts of town. It seemed to be a city that had seen better times, albeit around 150 years ago. I would realize the error of my ways but not for a day or so.
Boone Hall Plantation
There are several plantations to visit all boasting one claim to fame over the next and none coming out the clear winner. We decided on Boone Hall, one of America's oldest working plantations. The fact that the majority of the tours and sights were outdoors and that we chose one of the hottest days of the year to go would dictate how and what we saw. A tour of the entire plantation in an open air coach was just bearable. Our Southern surfer-dude guide who was obviously over giving the tour made for an interesting time. The House tour had a guide who was very into it and quite informative and in costume. It made the mansion that was built in 1936 seem much more authentic and significant than it actually was. The highlight of the visit was the "Exploring the Gullah culture" presentation. That the only African-American staff that I saw was relegated to being outdoors down by the slave cabins struck me as odd and darkly ironic.
The older gentleman was dripping with sweat as he paced the stage with the assistance of a cane. I learned a lot from his show and it made me curious to learn more, butin a place with air conditioning.
There were several original slave cabins, each with a pre-recorded presentation on black history, but again the stifling heat and humidity forced an early retreat.
Like so many other things in Charleston, I left the plantation glad to have gone but with mixed feelings overall.
Old Slave Mart Museum
Honestly I had had my fill of the history of slavery but Cindy insisted on going to the Old Slave Mart. As I expected it only increased my interest and confusion on the topic. Upon entering the museum on the first panel was a statistic that I had not heard before and brought to my mind many questions. It stated that of the 12 million Africans brought to the Americas on slave ships less than 7% landed in the British North American colonies. The implications of this are staggering and perhaps beyond comprehension. I was hoping to find out more about slavery's global impact and there was some more information but not enough. I went downstairs to the bookstore where there were books on the slave experience in the South, several Gullah cookbooks and some on the more general history of Charleston, but nothing that would answer the many questions I still had.
Upon future research, I would learn that of the estimated 10 million Africans that died due to the Atlantic slave trade, one to two and a half million would die in transport, a number that is horrific, yet the majority, with estimates up to 6 million were killed by other Africans in tribal wars and raiding parties aimed at securing slaves for transport to America.
Unsettling and not really too much to see but I would rank it as a "must see" to a visit to Charleston.
The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon
The highlight of this visit may have been that the building was air conditioned. We started our visit with a guided tour downstairs in the cellar. A costumed actor lead us from one animatronic presentation to another which included an original Tea party activist, (Charleston seized the English tea and sold it later to fund the patriotic movement rather than dumping in the sea), a talking parrot and a pirate.
By this time we were definitely reaching our limit of museums and history lessons. Skye and Cindy did however take the time to sign the Declaration of Independence.
On our last day we finally wandered over to the southern end of Charleston's museum mile, the more picturesque portion. Again the sweltering heat would rule the day and sent us retreating for whatever shade we could find.
I am a lover of trees, so when I read about the Angel Oak tree I was determined to shoe horn it into our visit.
Reportedly the oldest thing -- living or man-made -- east of the Rockies, Angel Oak is a live oak tree aged approximately 1,500 years.
Unfortunately we got there 15 minutes before closing but it was time enough to take in such an exquisite tree.
We finally got to the beach but only with enough time to take a quick stroll' dipping our toes into the warm sea.
Many of our travels and home school studies integrate food and cooking, which works out well because we often end up in culinary hot spots and we all love to eat. Charleston is definitely a place where one can enjoy food. In fact the only thing I scheduled for us ahead of time was a Culinary Tour.
Culinary Tour of Charleston
I've never been big on organized tours, but I have been gratefully surprised in the past and of course was hoping that would be the case this time around, but I didn't set my expectations too high. The tour took about 2 1/2 hours. I learned a couple of things about Low Country and Gullah cuisine, and sampled some things I might not have but truth be told, 20 minutes on the internet and a 30 minute walk could have yielded the same results. The tour guide while very nice and authoritative on the history of Charleston, wasn't a cook or even much of a foodie. I don't regret doing the tour but couldn't recommend it and will probably do a bit more research in the future.
Whatever might have been lacking in the tour we more than made up for with our self-guided tour adventure of Charleston's many restaurants. They were all delicious, with menus that were similar yet different enough to make each dining experience unique.
"Blossom places local flavors at the forefront of its menu and aims to acquire a majority of its ingredients from area fisherman and local produce farmers. The result is American fare with a focus on simple preparations of the Lowcountry's abundant, fresh-off-the-boat seafood."
You can pretty much substitute the names of the other restaurants we made it to and you'd be on mark.
We could have continued eating our way through Charleston but decided to head out towards the beach for something a little different. A friend of ours described a place he saw on the Food Network that served oysters by the snow shovel and had holes in the table to dispose of the shells. Oysters by the shovel full, I'm in.
Except for when they're out of season, like when we went.
We ordered a couple of platters of fried seafood, atop of plates of french fries. There was nothing spectacular about any of it; the fish, oysters, shrimp. But the place itself had so much character and sat above the estuary which made for a wonderful experience and sunset. We saw sailboats that looked like they were gliding over the grasses and then several dolphins made their way up the river. Steamed oysters and beer would have been perfect. Oh well maybe when they're in season. I'm glad we went. It certainly was a side of Charleston we hadn't experienced until then.
But not before picking up Charleston Benne Wafers, the "Sweet Chip of the South", some Pralines from River Street Sweets and then pulling over at the Boone Hall plantation's Market Cafe where we picked up some Muscadine grapes (native to the southeast). Then we headed up towards Hemingway, South Carolina to Scott's BBQ. But that's another story.
A Wolf by Its Ears
Cindy's job came to an end, as did our lease at the wonderful house we were staying at in Atlanta. As of August first we would not know where we would be staying. Cindy did get another job and it too is in Atlanta but she doesn't start for a week or two. We have a couple of tentative housing arrangements but one is not available until the middle of August and the more preferable of the two isn't available until the second week of September. So it looks like more of our stuff is going into storage. And since we are as untethered as we are, we decided to take this one or two weeks to explore a little of the Southeast.
Charleston and South Carolina
I've only been to Charleston once, a long time ago and only briefly; neither Cindy or Skye have ever been. We were excited by the prospects of wonderful food and taking in new sights and experiences.
We had dinner at a yummy restaurant on the water, Fleet Landing. The water's edge did not have the romantic allure that Savannah did but it was great to be on the water. My first impression of Charleston was it being more built up than Savannah, less preserved in a way, but I base that on a quick walk and we have just barely scratched the surface.
We had another great meal, this time an amazing breakfast at the Hominy Grill. We attempted to walk off some of the calories, but the heat and humidity were such that we cut our walk short and sought refuge in our hotel room.
But there would be little rest for us as we headed back into the sauna and marched toward Cooper's River and the ferry to Fort Sumter.
I pulled out my "America the Beautiful;The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass" only to be told that the ferry was privately owned, thus an additional fee and that entrance to the park, once you get there by ferry is free. Oh well.
Fort Sumter and to a great extent, Charleston, is famous for being where the Civil War started. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. They seceded because they believed that newly elected President Lincoln wanted to abolish slavery. Growing up in California, I never really understood the Civil War or slavery or the South. Slavery was unimaginable and simply wrong. Now having been in the South for a while and attempting to teach my daughter about our country's history, it is mind-boggling to me how much of our country, our economy, our history was built on a morally indefensible model. I mean I have always known this intellectually but the museums and historic sites we've been visiting really bring it to the fore.
The Fort Sumter museum talks in detail about Charleston's place in the slave trade along with the hows and the whys as to it being the where the first battle of the Civil War was fought.
I was struck by one of the quotes looming above the rest. It was by Thomas Jefferson, speaking of slavery:
"we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other"
It was interesting to me that Jefferson's words would be given such prominence. It seemed to be trying to illustrate that slavery was originally the norm in the whole of the US, which of course it was. Another quote by Lincoln where he states that he has no intention on ending slavery seemed to push the idea of the North's abolitionist movement being fueled by political reasons more than moral ones, which I certainly would understand and not be surprised by. The truth is I realized how much I didn't know and understand about slavery, the Civil War and US history as a whole.
Slavery would be a topic of many discussions in the days ahead.
Fort Sumter itself was not much to take in. It had been mostly destroyed by the Union army. The original structure was almost as tall at the US flag in the picture. It was much smaller than I had imagined. It took around an hour to explore and read the few placards that there were. To get to the island and back took around an hour and half. That said we really couldn't go to Charleston and not see Ft. Sumter, particularly with a home school student.
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