Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Daylight in the Garden of Good and Great

Welcome to the city John Berendt made famous as home to some of the finest historical houses and strangest, almost hysterical denizens: Savannah.

After three wonderful days at Open Gates B&B in Darien GA, pictured here on a cool, sunny Wednesday as we were about to leave, we biked 48 miles to the outskirts of Savannah where we found a clean room at a reputable motel for the best price yet, $30.95.
Along the way we met the 4th and 5th long-distance bike tourists so far, this friendly couple from Iran who are biking around the world to promote peace, planting "peace trees" in various communities along the way.

The ride the next day into Savannah was complicated by the need to go to AAA for maps. With the help of Google maps on our smartphone, we were able to find lower-traffic streets through the suburbs to get there, then had the more user-friendly paper maps to guide us on into town, with the happy luck to discover a Thai restaurant along the way.

We had found a place to stay using Craig's List, and it was a great find - a small apt. in an 1852 townhouse with a kitchen, bedoom and living room, right in the heart of the historic district. That's Louise in front of our ground-floor unit.
The bike stayed safe and comfy under cover and locked up in the locked back courtyard down a narrow alley, and we had 4 home-cooked breakfasts, 2 home-cooked lunches and 4 home-cooked dinners in our 4 days there. It was SO nice to have a kitchen for a few days!

In Savannah, Berendt's story is officially referred to simply as "The Book," just as the Civil War is "The War."
We met no weirdos worthy of The Book, but the beauty and charm of the homes and public buildings and, especially, of the many many small parks in the historic district was incomparable. We've scattered in a very few shots of places that caught our eye, out of a few hundred we could have photographed and used. The historical district is an exceedingly attractive area.

One of the most interesting parts was the waterfront,
the source of Savannah's 19th century prosperity. While rice and some sea island cotton was grown locally, inland cotton created great wealth here once the railroad brought it in for the start of its ocean voyage to the mills of New England and old England. The cotton factors,
or brokers, had their offices in these grand old buildings built into the hillside along the Savannah River, and the walkway on the upland side is still known as the Factors Walk.
We also had a tour of the old roundhouse of the Central of Georgia and caught Louise standing next to an engine that did a mean imitation of the Little Engine That Could.

We planned our timing to miss Saint Patty's Day in Savannah,
which holds the second-largest celebration in the US, after NYC, and we did not want to get into that sort of craziness. We saw what seemed to be a warm-up parade six days beforehand, with a few dozen marchers, and a lot of decorations such as the green bow tie on the first picture in today's blog, but had no other Irish Troubles.

We've also been fairly concerned about how to leave Savannah by bike. We read another tandem couple's harrowing blog describing miles and miles of shoulderless roads with heavy traffic. We went to a bike store for advice and asked how cyclists got safely from Savannah to Hilton Head Island. "They put their bikes on their cars and drive there" was the response. Then we hit upon the luckiest piece of serendipity yet. As we walked down the waterfront, we passed a store that was attempting to lure passersby into building vacation homes on nearby Daufuskie Island. What caught our eye was a sign saying
"ferries from Savannah and Hilton Head." Hmmmm, could they take us to Daufuskie Island on one ferry and off it on another? "Yes, m'am!" said the sales associate. Could they take our bike? "Just $20 more, m'am."

What we got besides peace of mind avoiding 40 potentially hairy miles was a 1-hour boat trip down the Savannah alongside containerships and then up

the Intracoastal Waterway past pleasure craft and pelicans. Then a night in the largest hotel room of the trip so far,
with a view across the lawn to the ocean, and time to walk the beach and admire the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
Then another 1-hour boat ride the next day to Hilton Head Island, seen in the distance from Daufuskie Island.

We rode our bike over almost every paved surface on Daufuskie, consisting of the 4-mile road running the length of the island, and entry roads and winding streets through areas where
the resort owner is hoping that vacation homes will soon sprout. There were literally a few miles of roads in the development with only a few dozen homes so far, most of them unsurprisingly near the oceanfront.
The next morning however we saw 50 or 60 people hop off the ferry from Hilton Head. Golfers headed to the three high-end golf courses on Daufuskie, paying $30 ferry fare plus their grounds fees for their sport.

At one end of that island-long road was a public landing and picnic area where we set up our mini stove to heat up some soup. A boat had just docked and the owner came up to the park to walk his dog. We got to chatting and discovered that he used to do technical work for the School of Fisheries at the University of Washington. Before long we were exchanging names and email addresses with Jim and Anita and comparing trips.
Jim and Anita trucked their boat from their home in Port Townsend WA to Duluth MN, then sailed it across Lakes Superior and Michigan, across Chicago by canal and into the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, through the Tenn-Tom Waterway down to the Gulf, and down the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Keys. They are now running up the Atlantic Coast to New York, with tentative plans to go up the Hudson, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence, the Ottawa, Rideau Canal (there's a picture of us in a November blog, walking on the Rideau!) and Lakes Huron and Superior. What was surprising was that both couples have almost identical budgets for monthly expenses, just different ways of spending it. Our biggest expense by far is lodging, then food. Everything else is 13% (museums, kayak rentals, bike repairs, car rental in Key West, books, haircuts, etc etc). For our floating friends, it's moorage fees first (even though they use free anchorage about 25% of the time), then fuel, then food, then everything else.

Now it's on to Hilton Head and new friends Steve and Carol Huber. More about that in our next blog!

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